Kyoto – Part One

Stephen: We left the bustling metropolis of Tokyo behind us, clattering away at some ridiculous speed on the Shinkansen bullet train. It was remarkably comfortable, and got us all the way to Kyoto in just a shade over two hours. Getting the tickets had been a breeze too, with help from the friendly staff at the train station.

For the first night, we had decided to stay in a Capsule hotel, so we made our way to ‘9h’ to check in, and take some photos of the awesome looking pods where we’d be sleeping.

The hotel was split into separate floors for men and women, and looked amazing. It was like stepping into a spaceship. This was one of the nicer, more modern capsule hotels it’s probably worth saying; not all of them are quite like this…

The inside of the pods were much bigger than you might expect – not claustrophobic in the slightest – and they were also pretty comfortable (if you ignore the terrible pillow). I slept like a baby when I turned the light off… with the idea being that you set the ‘alarm’ so that the lights come on gradually in the morning to wake you up silently. For whatever reason, mine didn’t quite work, so I was woken with a start fifteen minutes to checkout time by a member of staff. Ugh. Overall though, it was a pretty great experience, and I’d gladly do it again… maybe for longer next time. As long as you get past the Matrix vibe that is…

Kyoto itself felt completely different to Tokyo immediately, and tbh, despite having some cool bits and pieces (including the first unusual Kit Kat flavours we have seen), it didn’t really impress us too much at first. There were a lot more tourists, and we got our first knock back at a restaurant where they told us there were ‘no seats’, even though there quite clearly was. Maybe saying ‘no whites’ would have been more accurate. We did find a couple of cool bars though, and then a more traditional restaurant where we had to take off our shoes, and the waitresses came to kneel by the table to take the orders. I had horse meat, which was interesting. I figured I may as well try it given that we’ve been eating it unknowingly in the UK for years anyway.

The whole shoeless dining thing made for a very different eating experience. It felt much calmer and more personal, which was interesting. Definitely the right atmosphere for shoving some horse balls into your mouth.

The next day we couldn’t check in to our AirBnB for ages, so we left the bag at the capsule hotel and headed off to explore some of the countless shrines and temples that Kyoto is famous for. 

It was here that Kyoto began to win us over. The city itself wasn’t a great place to hang out or drink by the feels of things, and it was far more tourist orientated than anywhere else we’ve been so far, but… even all that didn’t detract from just how earth shatteringly beautiful large parts of it are. There are the usual famous temples, but head down any street, and before long you’ll come across some equally stunning, deserted shrine. We actually ended up coming across a few that were seriously amazing by accident (and partly because of my mistaken map reading). 

Either way, people seemed to get into the Kyoto spirit, with people dressed in kimonos, and sometimes even full geisha dress everywhere – many of whom were perfectly happy to have their photo taken. I guess that for many it must be like getting done up in full Highland dress… you feel amazing, and understand that it’s partly theatre. In general though, whenever I’ve taken shots of people here in the street and they’ve noticed, I’ve simply smiled back and bowed my head a little to say thank you, and have often received a warm response.

I really loved the symbolism of the Buddhist temples, and the rituals contained within: lighting a stick of incense and inhaling the smoke from the communal burning cauldron; walking from one marker to another with your eyes closed; ringing bells; writing your worries on rice paper then casting them in to a bucket of water to have tanhem dissolve away… a much better, and more easily accessible form of engagement than Christianity seems to manage a lot of the time.

Of course, like a tit, I did charge up my camera overnight in the capsule, but I then forgot to turn it off, so the battery was dead for the whole day. It was a good excuse to crack out the Leica M2 though, and I ended up shooting a pile of film. I can’t wait to get it developed when we get home.

Al: A reminder – these images are all clickable – indulge to see them in gross detail. 

Let’s start with some repeat pictures; the bullet train & the capsule hotel. Coming from the UK, the bullet train (Shinkansen) feels like the future (despite being in operation since the mid-sixties) – sitting watching the Tokyo metropolis melt away at speeds that take your breath away, whilst remaining virtually silent on board is one of the great experiences. If I’m being honest, when we arrived in Kyoto about 2 hours later, I was disappointed that it was all over – travel shouldn’t be this pleasurable (easy to say when you live in the UK).

Next was the capsule hotel – it’s a cliche, but had to be done. I suspect the one we used wasn’t in the spirit of the originals (somewhere for drunk salary-men to sleep before the next day’s work); it was hi-tech, catering to travellers with its locker space for large luggage, etc. It doesn’t matter, it was both a surreal, and a wonderful experience – from the mood lighting, to the supplied pyjamas etc, I’ve rarely slept so well (I even powered through the alarm, which awoke you with a gently increasing balanced light) – a thoroughly fine experience

Kyoto itself was everything that Tokyo was not – slow paced, large open green spaces and the feel of a small city at the periphery of civilisation. Of course, there was the obligatory main shopping thoroughfare (nowt to write home about), but that was easy to avoid;

The main reason to visit Kyoto are its historical sites – not just the temples, but the ‘old town’ areas, too – despite the tourists, it really feels like the world of one of those Miyazaki films (I’m thinking ‘Kiki’s Delivery Service’, here) – narrow, twisting lanes with all manner of gorgeous, low rise wooden buildings. A delight to spend the day walking through. Of course, there’s also the temples;

As Stephen mentioned, these areas were very busy – we did happen to luck across a temple that was off the beaten path, that was virtually empty – as we wandered its grounds, I can see how these places could be considered meditative – the atmosphere is quite unlike anything I’ve experienced before;

As always, I have a selection of people shots to punctuate the myriad of ‘place’ images;

We had a notable meal in a small booth with submerged tables, to watch Stephen eat horse. Note; it tasted great. But then anything deep fried would (vive l’ecosse)

Grace: It’s already been mentioned, but Kyoto is a completely different pace to Tokyo.  It was nice to have a few days away from the constant busyness and flashing lights.  

There are temples and shrines everywhere in Kyoto – too many to see all of them in our allotted time frame.  We were there for three nights, and I think one more night would have been perfect in order to see everything we had in mind.  

The first evening we spent a fair amount of time wandering around the main marketplace.  I got some green tea ice cream, which Al and Stephen were completely uninterested in after tasting their first green tea Kit Kat.  It was good! I don’t know what their problem is. 

We went to a couple shrines and temples the next day.  Of course they were beautiful, and I think one of the highlights was getting to see a couple Geishas in full ragalia.  It was definitely something special. 

There were tons of people dressed up in kimonos which was cool.  There are multiple places dotted around where you can rent one for the day. 

A bit later, we stumbled across a temple that hardly had any other people in it at all.  It was nice to see one that wasn’t so overcrowded with tourists, and a big bonus to see as many monks as we did. 

Oh, and NO Pokemonon the premises! 

5 thoughts on “Kyoto – Part One

  1. Brilliant photos capturing the essence of Kyoto, I travelled through Japan including a pit-stop in Kyoto although I much preferred the buzz of Tokyo, Im heading back to Japan early next year and was just wondering if you would recommend using Air BnB? thanks 🙂


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