Arriving into Kyoto station you’d be forgiven for thinking that this ancient capital was perhaps not so well preserved. The station building; a towering structure of glass and steel surrounded by neon signs of karaoke bars, shops and the illuminations of the Kyoto Tower, an antenae-like symbol jutting from the city’s skyline.
Don’t get me wrong, I love modern Japan. The ‘bright lights big city’ feel speaks to my soul, but the essence of Kyoto is in the old capital, where the cobbled streets and picturesque machiya are often accompanied by the sound of geiko practicing their koto, the sounds floating from open windows behind bamboo blinds.
This is what the majority of visitors to Kyoto come to experience. Tiny winding streets, pretty pagodas and maybe even the odd maiko hurrying from one appointment to the next. It’s this that captured my imagination and stole my heart when we moved to Kyoto. The beauty and the whimsy are undeniable and even during the busiest seasons of the year (sakura and momiji) I can almost forgive the crowds as the spirit of Old Kyoto just has to be shared.
There are of course, many traditional areas left in Kyoto (Nishijin, the famed weaving district, in the northwest part of central Kyoto, is one of them) but to me, the most beautiful is Higashiyama. On the east side sitting under the mountain, the area is filled to bursting with ancient temples, tea houses and rickety looking rickshaws on hand to chauffeur you through the crowds and on to the next sightseeing hotspot, of which you are spoilt for choice.
My perfect afternoon in Kyoto would be spent wiling away a few hours exploring the sights and sounds of Higashiyama. Pick up a coffee at % Arabica and head towards the Hokanji pagoda, stopping in the trinket stores along the way. From here are a number of routes to explore the area and none of them are any better than the last. Allow yourself to get lost and I promise the experience will be even more enjoyable! Just be sure not to miss ninnenzaka and sannenzaka (two charming streets adorned with classic architecture boasting souvenir shops and tea houses) and the famous temples and shrines of the area; Kiyomizu-dera, Kodaiji, Yasaka-jinja, Chion-in and Shoren-in, all of which are easily accessible along a beautiful walking route.
Here’s to Higashiyama!