After touring two distinctly different parts of Japan, the bustling and modern metropolis of Tokyo and the quiet devastation found in the wild and scenic northern region of Tohoku, we arrived in Kyoto for the final leg of our trip. Once the Imperial capital of Japan, Kyoto is largely viewed as the most "traditional" Japanese city with over 2,000 religious places scattered throughout this beautiful city nestled in the valley of the Yamashiro Basin and surrounded by majestic mountains. Our visit to Kyoto provided yet another exceptional way to experience and learn about Japan-in a city deeply embedded with rich culture and historical significance.
While our time in Kyoto was short, our fabulous tour guide Mari made sure that our group toured the most special spots in Kyoto upon our arrival. Our first stop was Nijo Castle, once the home of the Tokugawa Shoguns. Here we learned that while the shoguns of Japan were fairly distrustful of outsiders (they kept castle visitors seated at a distance during all gatherings while bodyguards secretly lurked behind hidden doors) they were exceptionally trustful of their geishas, who were the only people permitted to enter the shogun's living quarters (surprise!). Highlights of Nijo Castle included beautiful architecture, stately manicured gardens, and "nightingale floors" designed to squeak like small birds to alert the shogun to any potential intruders.
Our next visit was to the Golden Pavilion, perhaps the most beautiful sight I have ever laid eyes on-it would be hard to argue with this characterization, as this temple is literally covered in shimmering gold leaf that is reflected in a surrounding lake. We spent our time circling the pavilion admiring it from various angles and snapping photos. While the Golden Pavilion is clearly one of the main attractions in Kyoto, as evidenced by the swarming crowds we found ourselves caught up in, I still managed to find great peace and tranquility in my visit here. Our last stop was to visit Kiyomizu-dera, a buddhist temple resting on the side of the mountains of eastern Kyoto. The stunning views of the entire city from the temple were not to be believed. As we left, the sun was starting to set and we spent our early evening wandering the famous quiet side streets of the city, passing by small craft shops, traditional restaurants and numerous small shrines tucked away from the street.
The rest of our time in Kyoto was spent wandering the city and enjoying the various landmarks that tell the distinct and proud story of Japan's history, the modern bustle of city streets and markets filled with local delights, traditional cuisine and accommodation, and even a bit of karaoke. Our group left Kyoto and Japan knowing that in such a short time we had truly been given an incredible range of views of the ways that traditional and modern Japan has merged, and we couldn't have been more grateful for the experience.