One week in Kyoto

The capital of Japan for more than 1,000 years, Kyoto is a place you have to visit here. It has temples and shrines and shrines and temples. Over 2,000, according to the guide books, and it boasts 17 Unesco World Heritage Sites. It’s also a good spot to experience some old Japanese culture, so you won’t run out of things to do.

We didn’t warm to the flat and, in our opinion rather ugly, city centre, but the hills surrounding Kyoto, full of old streets, beautiful architecture and a lot of those thousands of temples and shrines, were beautiful. We weren’t the only ones to think so. It became very clear just how popular this town is with tourists. At times we were literally standing in line to go through this famous torii gate or look at that important pagoda. That was in September. I can’t imagine what the cherry blossom and autumn foliage seasons are like.

We mixed our sacred buildings up with some culture:

A small shrine put on a festival and we saw performances with swords and traditional harp (not simultaneously) and dances by a maiko and a geiko. A geiko is a geisha and a maiko is an apprentice. This particular maiko told us that it would take 30 years to become a geiko and that the process was very difficult. It was really interesting, especially since we got to talk to the performers briefly, and the audience was full of older locals rather than western tourists.

We also watched a noh performance, a kind of dance/theatre – a mistake we won’t be repeating anytime soon. We gave up after four hours, but I have no idea how long it actually lasted. People came and went all the time, stopping for snacks in the hallway outside, so I got the impression this is nothing you sit through from start to finish. I suppose it makes more sense if you understand Japanese, but as we don’t we found it slow and repetitive. There is a limit to how many times you want to see a half-crouching man do a fan dance while throat singing, accompanied by random drum beats and yelps from the four-man band in the background.

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