A (very) brief tour of Kyoto

Kimono'd selfie at the Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto

There is a lot of Japan I have yet to explore. Kyoto was towards the top of the “must see” list for a while now and the itinerary for our recent trip included time in town. Alas, due to a few other things that time got trimmed to only a long afternoon and evening which, while a lot of fun, left me wondering if I really need more time there or if it is just not for me.

Okay, so Kyoto is all about history and the temples and tradition. I can handle that, though like with many trips I do tire a bit of the temples by day 4 or so and this was day 9 or 10 of the trip. So probably just exploring the temples was not going to lead me to a happy place at the end of the day. Which is not to say that I was disappointed by the Yasaka Shrine as such, but after a while the nuance and detail of them all starts to blur together.

Sunset silhouttes at Kyoto's Yasaka Shrine
Sunset silhouttes at Kyoto’s Yasaka Shrine

Kyoto does have the allure of the kimono-wearing geisha culture, which I guess I just really do not understand. I respect the performance part of it and I guess the crowd of 40 people waiting for women to come out of one of the theaters isn’t all that bizarre compared to people in NYC waiting for Broadway performers after a show, but something about this version of that scene left me with a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.

A wide variety of attires near the Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto
A wide variety of attires near the Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto
Getting her hair done just right to match the kimono dress. It is not a trivial process.
Getting her hair done just right to match the kimono dress. It is not a trivial process.

Then again, seeing some of the women dressed up in the traditional garb but behaving every bit the modern citizen did make me laugh a bit. I assume some of the newer kimonos will eventually have a special pocket sewn in to store that selfie stick.

Kyoto Kimono Selfie action
Kyoto Kimono Selfie action
Kimono'd selfie at the Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto
Kimono’d selfie at the Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto

The small side streets and paths around the Gion area were mostly what I expected of them – lots of tourists and a bit of the classic style. Way more crowded than our prior “traditional” experience in Tsumago and even more crowded than Tokyo, though, which left me just a bit frazzled.

Quiet on the canal near Shinbashi in Kyoto
Quiet on the canal near Shinbashi in Kyoto
Along the side of the canal in Kyoto's touristy area
Along the side of the canal in Kyoto’s touristy area

And then we left. We were up early to catch a flight on to Hong Kong and finish up the trip. Maybe it takes more time to find the parts of town where I’d have more fun, see things I find more interesting and get a snack which is not neon green.

I’m sure there is more to Kyoto than what we experienced and maybe some of that would hold my attention better. But after this introduction I think it might get knocked down a few notches on my list of places to explore in Japan. At least I picked up an awesome souvenir at one of the tchotchke shops in town.

More posts from the Japan 2015 Vacation

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. The problem is that Kyoto’s great stuff isn’t really in the center of Kyoto. I was also left a little underwhelmed by the Gion district. But Kinka ku-ji and Ginka ku-ji are awesome, the Arashiayama Bamboo Forest is nuts, and some of the other far-flung shrines are really cool too

  2. Seth;
    Any comments about how to get to Hokkaido? What to visit?
    I am trying to do 4-5 days from Tokyo and there are no flights under $600 pp. for Feb or Mar 2016
    UA.com has no mileage awards for that time.
    I know it is “high” season but I really don’t want to do a 10 hour train trip.

    Should I just plan on visiting in the fall instead?
    would it be less expensive?

    thank you

    1. Look in to the ANA or JAL AirPass to get cheaper flights in Japan. It can save you a lot if the inventory is available. Even award tickets secured by buying miles will likely be cheaper than the revenue rate you’re seeing there.

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