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Published: February 1st 2012
5 Days in Kyoto
Kyoto was the next stop on our Japanese adventure, but first we had to get there and that meant a ride on the world famous bullet train! There are a few epic rides in the world you can take, if you were to compile a list of the top 10 the Bullet train would have to be on it!
We waited eagerly in our little bay in Tokyo central station for the bullet train to arrive glancing up at the clock counting down the minutes. Exactly a minute before it was supposed to arrive I see a white mirage in the distance streaking towards us and thirty seconds later exactly on time it glides silent past me. First impression are it massive, in terms of length it’s a good 15-20 large cars and is much wider that a normal train. Inside is very much the same with it being comparable to business class travel on an airplane, which for the price it should be!!
The Bullet train cruises at 250mph so a ride the length of the island was scheduled to take just under three hours. The line passes under Mt Fuji and on
a clear day the view is awesome. Sadly this wasn’t that day and Mt Fuji spent most of the time hiding behind a cloud layer.
We arrive into Kyoto central station exactly on time and eagerly grabbed our rucksacks and headed out the station keen to explore and find our hostel. Kyoto is called a city of a thousand temple but it actually has more - an astonishing 1,600 Buddhist temples, plus 400 Shinto shrines, 17 of these are world heritage. Add to this the world famous Geisha district of Gion and I was expecting to be transported back into 10th century Japan when I left the station.
The reality of this is completely different, downtown Kyoto is a very modern city, a far cry from what I had expected and as we made our way to our hostel on the edge of Gion is looked like any other modern city in Japan. I wondered if we had got off at the wrong stop, where were all the temples! Everyone we saw was in business or western clothes, where were the Samuri warriors and Geisha’s?
It’s not until you get to the streets next
to the river that divides central Tokyo from Gion and the other temple districts that you finally get a glimpse of old Japan, its still not what I was expecting but we were definitely getting warmer, with narrow pedestrian old streets full of lanterns and tea rooms. The Kyoto I was expecting was there its just buried under a 21st century layer and you have to work a little to find it, but when you do its totally rewarding.
When planning our visit we decided to spend new years in Kyoto as a lot of Japanese visit the sacred shrines in the area around new years as the first prayer of the years is the most important. Needless to say the place was packed, on new years eve we couldn’t get near the main temple, there must of been nearly a million people making there way to it. A large percentage of the women and children were dressed in traditional robes which added to a sense of excitement about the new year and we joined the crush on the streets of Gion heading to the temples.
We spend 5 days in Kyoto and
barley scratched the surface of the city let alone the surrounding area. There really is an incredible amount to see and we spent 12 hours a day wandering around temple complex’s and gardens and shrines, eating local street food and taking in the sights, it’s a great city, completely different to the neon hustle bustle of Toyko. Kyoto completely deserves is status of the cultural capital of Japan and was one of the highlights of our trip.
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