Saturday, October 25, 2008

Kyoto in pictures

Being a full-time student in Japan doesn't leave me with a lot of time to be a tourist. But I don't want to create the impression that my life out here is all work and no play. I make a point of setting the books aside and carving out time for myself on the weekends.

It would be a waste to live in a city like Kyoto and not be able to enjoy it. So every weekend, I hop on my bike and explore a different corner of the city. Allow me to be your tour guide on a virtual trip through this strange and beautiful place.

It will be a few more weeks before fall officially arrives in Kyoto. It's still too hot and humid to allow the foliage to be any other colour than a bright shade of green. But a few renegade leaves have started to change colour, hinting at the coming explosion of red, yellow and orange leaves that will soon blanket Kyoto.

Kyoto is a great place to explore on foot or by bicycle. There are many lovely streets.

And even lovelier alleyways.

Japanese food is amazing (although, over here they don't call it Japanese food. They just call it food). Even the convenience stores have good food at cheap prices. You can buy delicious bento boxes for $3.50 at 7-Eleven. Can you imagine doing the same thing at a 7-Eleven in Canada? Then again, maybe the bento boxes at Japanese convenience stores are considered the equivalent of those wrinkled, rotating hot dogs at Canadian convenience stores.

The plastic food featured in almost every restaurant window is much less appetizing.

There is a large park near my apartment. I discovered it by accident when I went out for a run. I took a wrong turn down a back road and suddenly found myself in the middle of a forest. I went back again the next day (on purpose this time) and discovered that it's actually a huge park with lots of trails.

I live in Northern Higashiyama, one of the most scenic neighbourhoods in all of Kyoto. Unlike downtown Kyoto, which is crammed with cars and concrete, Northern Higashiyama is a mostly residential area filled with trees and mountain views. The area is criss-crossed with shrines, temples and canals.

If you look closely, you can kind of see my apartment in the bottom right-hand corner of the picture below.

It may look somewhat remote and tucked away in the mountains, but it's actually just 15 minutes away from downtown Kyoto by subway.

I think this is what I like most about Kyoto. It is the best of both worlds. It has the concrete, neon and hyper-modern feel of a large Japanese city but it also has the quiet temples, secret alleys and wide-open views of a small Japanese town.

Kyoto also has a ridiculous amount of festivals. There is a different festival every week. One of the city's biggest festivals, the Jidai Matsuri, was held last week. It was a parade of more than 2,000 people dressed in costumes from the 8th to the 19th centuries.

The crowds lining the parade route were at least 12 people deep. It was almost impossible to see the parade so I wandered over to the area where the participants were cuing up, waiting their turn to march along the parade route.

Later that night, I took the train 30 minutes north of Kyoto to the village of Kurama to watch the town's ancient fire festival. Which mostly just consisted of bare-assed men carrying large torches up and down the main street. It felt like a witch hunt but with sexy half-naked men.

So there's traditional Kyoto and modern Kyoto. There's also quirky Kyoto. There's a lot of stuff in Japan that doesn't really make sense. Like the Rasta-themed menu at an otherwise nondescript ramen restaurant. I half-expected the waiter to ask, "Would you like a spliff with that?"

Should you ever be in the market for visceral organs, Heart-in is the place to go. Because they have a "heart" in their shop.

The cute.

The creepy.

The rest of the photos are on my flickr page.

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