Kyoto: From Day into Night

Posted by on Sep 7, 2017 in Travelogue | No Comments

We arrived in Kyoto under the rain.

Yet even under the grey skies and the dampness hanging in the air, there is something ethereal about Kyoto. On the Haruka train into the city from Kansai Airport, the buildings were rather uninspiring and frankly the architecture veered towards the ugly, but once you step into the old part of Kyoto, you are walking into pages of history books and a bygone era.

Houses that seem to be made solely of bamboo sticks and rice paper, little canals that meander through cobbled streets with weeping willows by their side and fat catfish lazing within. Of all the modernity associated with Japan and the crazy trends in the latest gadgets, Kyoto give you a taste of the opposite and is definitely my favourite Japanese city so far.

Besides eating about 8 meals a day, you can escape the centre by venturing out only slightly, towards the Silver Temple (Ginkakuji) up in the hills. Even with the heavy weather and crowds, it is absolutely stunning. The air was crisp and humid while being cool, almost tasting of mint as it went through our tired lungs. The Philosopher’s Path nearby is an essential retreat, following a long canal where large herons guard their eggs and cute coffee shops and stationery shops tempt you in. This did not help my Japanese paper and washi tape addiction, but only made me love it more.

Back down in the old part of Gion, Shiro-Dori and Pontocho areas, the mornings are quiet, as bars and restaurants are still recovering from the pace of last night’s adventures. The only ones out and about are the extravagantly decked out couples posing for their wedding photos. Along the canal, the girls sashayed with their red paper umbrellas as the grooms followed behind with adoring gazes. 

By late morning we had made our way to an older protected area of Gion, where there was a kind of betting centre heavily frequented by older generations. There was a scene that we could not stop staring at. In the small corner of the mainly pedestrian area stood about 12 traffic wardens taking their jobs very very seriously. Every single time a car passed, they would all move to one side, raise their arms and wave them around while reciting something I can only assume was profusely polite. Once the car passed they would step straight back into formation in the middle of the road, protecting any pedestrian who might want to cross the 4 metres to the other side. This went on Every. Single. Time. If there was only 20 metres between two cars coming along, they would repeat the whole procedure between the two cars! It was rather hilarious. #onlyinjapan

As the winds blew night into town, the colours changed and the city’s grey backdrop took on hues of bright red and golden glows.

The public buses reminded me of Totoro’s bus, with some kind of magical power that could transport you anywhere you wished to go. They also seemed like something straight out of the 80s.

The Gion area comes to life with people pouring into Pontocho, locating their favourite izakaya, and jazz bar. The secretive houses light up, some with only a tiny sign at the entrance, others, the most exclusive ones with no hint at all of what lay beyond. We look up at the silhouettes behind the thin rice paper shutters and try to guess.

Some rooms seem to exist for the sole purpose of hosting a massive round lampshade, hanging precariously just above the floor, glowing in the dark. As the night grows deeper, the geishas to appear, making their way between appointments and VIP rooms like beautiful ghosts navigating a secret world.

It is a moment where you wish you could hide behind them just like Totoro and follow them into this mysterious underground world where magic and sake conjure up unimaginable pleasures.

We only saw Kyoto under grey skies. But I could not imagine it more exquisite than that.

Share on FacebookEmail this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterPin on Pinterest

Leave a Reply