Saturday, March 29, 2014

A Writer’s Guide to Kyoto

My first impression of Kyoto was not a good one.
It wasn’t really Kyoto’s fault. 
It was mine.
I hate temples. 
And I hate tourists.

Kyoto was on the tail end of a three-month power-trip through Japan, and by the time I arrived I was exhausted. I slept all day in the hostel, then at night I wondered around the city. I tried to go to temples and shrines, but was so overwhelmed by the number of tourists, that I simply lost interest.  Instead of going to the famous Kiyomizu-dera which had long queues at the ticket counter, I happened upon an amazing cemetery nearby and spent a quiet afternoon in solitude there.

Refusing to take buses, I was limited by areas within walking distance of my hostel, which was basically no where. I found nothing of peculiar or unique about the city, so small pockets of oddities or interest. I ate generic food from generic restaurants and walked along well-lit streets. I had arrived in Kyoto with no agenda, and three brief days passed in boredom.

Returning to Japan for work five years later, I decided to give Kyoto another chance. I still hadn’t developed an interest in historical buildings or tourist sights, so I picked up the Kyoto Café Book and planned a trip tailored to my interests: food, coffee, and atmosphere. I narrowed down the options based on location and ambiance. I wanted a space where I could sit and write uninterrupted. I was also looking for unique, local settings, off the beaten path preferably.
And what was the result? I fell in love hopelessly in love with Kyoto. When I say I love the cityI’m talking about the quiet back streets in Karasuma, not the shop-filled streets of Shijo. When I spend four days in Kyoto I spend walking from one café to the next, talking to strangers, and telling stories, not peeking at the world through the lens of a camera, or hurriedly reading up on the details of an ancient temple, or trying to read a map instead of just simply looking around.

Kyoto is a city for the senses. It’s a quiet place.
 It has an easy going culture which sharply contrasts with the anxiety that colors most Japanese cities.
It is a place to be savored, not scheduled.

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