I have a couple of confessions about this post.
Confession 1: This is a long delayed post and I have very good reasons to procrastinate – I just didn’t want to say ‘farewell’ to our first Japan trip which we did DIY-style.
Confession 2: Kyoto is chronologically not our last stop. Osaka was but I’ve decided to make Kyoto our last post to wrap up the entire ‘epic’ Japan vacation.
Why Kyoto? Quite simply because of all the places we’ve visited this trip, Kyoto left the most indelible impression for the simple reason that here, we feel, we found the true essence of quintessential Japan.
First, I must pay tribute to the excellent service given by the staff at small but very clean and very personable ‘Hotel Maifukan’ in Gion, Kyoto. The front desk staff personally attended to our every need – from laying the futons in our Japanese–styled rooms and carrying our luggage up and down the room to making dinner reservations for us. The day before we checked out, they also arranged for our luggage to be couriered to our next destination, Osaka. In every request, they did not show a hint of reluctance but instead, every bit of willingness to help. Complete with warm smiles, polite bows and that eagerness in their eyes to be of service. It’s a quaint little Ryokan but it left a big impression. We say again to the three staff at the Hotel Maifukan, ありがとうございま Arigatogozaimasu – Thank you very much!
Located right in the heart of the Gion district, we took a leisurely stroll to various temples and eateries around the Ryokan right after check-in. One of our first pit-stop was this little dessert shop selling macha sweets which Kyoto is famous for!
Second, our goodwill volunteer guide, Miss Mana, a University undergrad completing a degree in International Relations. In fact, we have all our Goodwill Guides in various cities to thank for making our inaugural visit to Japan such a memorable one. There’s nothing like being brought around by locals. Like them, Miss Mana was very eager and accommodating. From the time we corresponded with her via email, she asked about our preferences and personally planned an itinerary which took us off the beaten paths.
On the day we were supposed to meet, she turned up bright and early at our hotel lobby and led us on a most enjoyable Kyoto day tour, answering our queries of the attractions the best she could. For Miss Mana, there was no language barrier (as she has interacted with many foreign visitors from all over the world) but even if there was, like the other guides we met, it was all part and parcel of making new friends. We were greatly enriched. Honestly, as discerning travellers, we have met many commercial guides but to talk about your own country with that immense pride and personal anecdotes…that’s different. Here’s a tribute to all our wonderful Goodwill Guides, you have passed on that love for your country that has set the bar for all our subsequent travels.
Third, the character of Kyoto – simple, elegant and spiritual. Yes, it doesn’t have the gloss of the big cities like Tokyo or Osaka, that sheen which modern commercialization brings with it but really, I don’t need those. It’s the rustic, elegant charm, frozen in time which says something about the place and its people. There is no pretence here – from the old wooden doors on the small houses to the narrow cobbled streets of Gion…From the quiet unassuming Geisha (yes, we saw some!) to our unpolished attempts conversing with the locals at the market….Who can ever forget those ‘Oishii’ (delicious) ramen meals or mochi snacks from unassuming shops at the back lanes. THIS is Japan and THIS is why we travel: to experience the character, to soak in the local culture and learn about its heritage.
Finally, my last confession. People, including my wife, have warned me about Japan and specifically about Kyoto. Being an avid photographer and someone who frames the shots in my mind even before I shoot them, Kyoto literally drove me nuts. Every nook, every turn, every glance there are picture perfect moments. Not so much of just a well-framed photo but more so of photos that tell of the essence of the place. Photographing Kyoto was such an experience.
So, my last confessions. I’m lost for words to describe Kyoto’s charm and would leave it to my photos to do the talking. I hope they speak the emotions of a people so technologically advanced yet so rooted in their culture and most of all, with a deep respect for nature. Tbe unparalleled level of pride for all that is Japan. To all in Japan, we say ‘ 今度また来ます。(kon do ma ta ki masu – We will come back again)
“Japan never considers time together as time wasted. Rather, it is time invested.” ― Donald Richie, notable writer on Japanese Culture and Style
A photo journal of the places we visited in Kyoto, Japan.
“Fushimi Inari Shrine”
“Arashiyama Bamboo Forest”
Ride the “Sagano Scenic Railway”
(from Arashiyama to Kameoka)
“Streets of Kyoto”
“Shinkansen to Osaka”
Our DIY Japan Trip 2015 (Summer):