Sunday, February 12, 2017

Kyoto is for lovers (of crowds)

Maybe it's because we were there on a weekend. But Kyoto has become a bit of a miserable place due to the crowds.

That's a really negative way to open up a post about one of Japan's most famous towns.

The day started at Kyoto Station. Our rail pass allowed us to make the trip from Himeji quickly on the bullet train. We walked the mile from the station to Sanjusangendo, a famous temple where, a few hundred years ago, Miyamoto Musashi fought a famous duel. There's not much to the walk. Leave Kyoto Station's north side where Aqua Fantasy is. Turn right (east). Keep the tracks over your right shoulder, in sight - you don't have to walk directly beside the tracks. Try to be on Shiokoji Dori; this takes a bit of navigation, I guess, but with a basic map and basic map skills it's easy. Cross the river and head up the hill. Shiokoji Dori goes up the east side of Sanjusangendo.

When you go to Kyoto, you better have a bit of money set aside for the entry fees to the temples and shrines; we've been so often that we don't have to go inside too many. One thing you learn is that they are all very similar, with a couple of exceptions, and we're lucky to have years during which to visit the historic places. Also, there are some great temples and shrines in other parts of the country that are free; when I feel a need to get my Zen on, I can go to one of those.

Anyway, we arrived at our destination. Longer than a football field, Rengeo-in (the more formal name for the temple) is the largest wooden structure in the country. It is difficult to remember sometimes that what a tourist might see as a "tourist destination" is, to many, a religious experience. I felt that in the temple.

From there we walked to the area around Kiyomizu Temple. We didn't actually go in any more temples; it's pricey, and I've been to them all before. Besides, there are many free (or cheaper) temples and shrines all over the country that are just as pretty, just as historic.

Here's the thing about Kyoto, though. In that day of walking around, we never had a moment's peace. The one constant were the people. Everywhere. Shops. The alleys. The streets. The parks. Once upon a time you could walk the streets of historic Kyoto and feel a bit of that old time magic, so to speak, a relaxing vibe. Only once or twice did we get to a spot where, for a moment, it felt like Kyoto of old. Then we'd turn a corner and the crowds were back.

We headed for a coffee shop that had some great reviews. As we approached, in disbelief I looked at the line of fifty people waiting to order. Sitting down was out of the question. We walked away. It's just coffee, and I've had excellent coffee before; there was no need to wait in line for what can easily be had in other coffee shops.

I'll be fair: I hate crowds. And tourists are good for business, and that's good for Japan.

We ended the day with the quick bullet train ride home. There wasn't much conversation. Jet lag, exhaustion from walking around all day, the rhythm of the train. Some combination of those things made it easier to sit and star out the window.

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