Archive for May 27th, 2008

Intro to Kyoto 101

Kyoto is a very deep subject, so this will only be a quick introduction. On the surface, Kyoto looks something like this:


As you can see, It is indeed a modern city with all the trappings and ‘beauty’ modernity provides. But hey, we don’t die of diarrhea, and we don’t wash our laundry on rocks by the river. In contrast to Tokyo, Kyoto (they are anagrams you know) is very laid back and relaxed. Of course New York might feel relaxed after Tokyo as well. But there is an undeniable ease about the place.

When one reads about Kyoto, you get the impression you will be going back in time, with it’s centuries old temples and traditions. This is indeed the heart of Japanese cultural and spiritual life. Kyoto was once the imperial capital of the country. But that was then, this is now.  The first impression might be ‘what is all the fuss about?’, but of course all these grand sites are indeed here. One just needs to know where to look – or follow the hoards of Japanese tourists and religious pilgrims. And even when one is not looking, there amidst the crassly current, is a temple or old wooden house tucked away somewhere.


Yea, Kyoto is indeed two worlds. There are ancient temples hidden away in unlikely corners as well as in the hills surrounding the city. And at night, the glow of the lanterns can draw you towards an incense filled temple, or a fine Japanese restaurant, or maybe a Geisha house. One never knows. But the city has a low key mystery about it. As a foreigner, it’s a puzzle one can never crack.

So one might see a Geisha on the streets of Gion, the old Geisha district. Or is she just a Japanese wannabe, paying for the privilege to don the expensive kimono and the white face for a day. One never knows…

And away from some of the brash architecture of modern Japan there are these wooden homes and businesses, often down narrow lanes. So pristine and pure in form…


And I am very lucky to have been invited into the home of Matsumoto-san (a friend of a friend) who lives in the country outside of Kyoto. But that’s another post.

And of course there’s the Shinto shrines and the Buddhist temples and the confusing blending of the two all around the city.


But this is just an intro course, so we will have to dig deeper later.