Imperial Kyoto

It’s a little over two hours by bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto. Kyoto is not anywhere as busy and loud as Tokyo; the highrise downtown is fairly small and surrounded by more traditional small two- and three-story houses. People visit Kyoto because it was the imperial capital before Edo, now known as Tokyo, and it still has a large number of temples and an imperial palace, many of them very scenically located on the hills to the east and west of the city. (In Tokyo, the imperial palace was almost completely destroyed in WWII, and is mostly a large park today.)

On my first day I was visiting the temples on the east side of town, across the river, that are lined up on the hills like pearls on a string. There is usually a large gate building on massive wooden pillars, and a number of bright orange or red pagodas with multiple roofs. The path to walk is carefully signed, the occasional ugly construction fences carry signs with profuse apologies, and crowds of tourists carrying selfie sticks and making V signs snap pictures of everything. But the temples are also still places of worship; people kneel and pray, sound gongs, and follow ancient ceremonies. Prayers and wishes are written on wooden tablets or small pieces of cloth, and tied to racks or handrails. In most temples, photos are not allowed.

Many women, including some western visitors, wear traditional geisha costumes with something that looks like a small backpack or a large bow on the back. Men in costumes are rare. Outside the temples is usually a souvenir and food market. I found that green tea ice cream is really good.