A spirited journey to Kyoto

Japan Storytelling

It is reputed that here, precision is a national passion. And the railway world, a religion …

So when we see it appear, under that look of long white snake, escaping from Tokyo to take us to Kyoto, there is immediately something magical to watch the clock in the station, and find that the Shinkansen scheduled for 10:34 starts to move at 10:33 …


Shinkansen high speed train in Kyoto station


Once seated, still marveling at the absolute accuracy of the schedules, the time of the trip takes us both back in these first days spent in Japan: the city of Tokyo, its excess that have unveiled so far a country with unexpected codes, unusual behavior, but also carefully codified … You just can’t grasp all these millimeter rules in one trip, because these first days were enough to understand that the discovery of a country as rich as Japan is not measured in extent, but in depth. Result: with such a cultural and artistic strength, it is again a city with a thousand colors that we fall in love with, on arriving in Kyoto.

Spared by the bombings of war and earthquakes, Kyoto offers a real plunge into the feudal past of the country, and displays without any restraint the marks of time. It’s walking in an almost medieval Japan, and reconnecting with a time when we walked in with wooden socks.

We are at the end of March, and it floats upon our arrival a slight wind of joy on the city: cherry blossom is early this year, and all the streets are dressed in pink and white, proudly wearing the colors of spring that explodes on every corner. The yama sakura are the first to bloom, then the white species gives way to shidare sakura, beautiful weepers with pink corollas.


Sakura along the philosophy path


Young Japanese, prepared for the occasion with kimonos matched with the petals, pose under the branches laden with flowers. The streets run endlessly between these old tea houses and these wooden buildings of time. A life-size show that gets even bigger as the day begins its descent: the crowd then rushes along the Takasegawa canal on the “Path of Philosophy”, to admire the play of light blazing a corolla vault. Bordered by artisan stalls, the romantic stroll extends for two kilometers. The poetry of the colors is all here: on this initiatory course which is then melancholic or joyful according to the mood, the seasons are used to mark their passage.

Once the evening comes, it’s the interlacing of alleys of Pontocho which offers paths full of history and mischievous moons, on which you must wander to track the soul of Kyoto. The nights are then lightened by the lights of the lanterns and the alleys too narrow to let more than four pedestrians in front. At that moment, nothing dares to tear the cozy silence of this district of Gion: you try instead to settle your step on the one of a geisha perched on her geta, exercising her art in one of the tea houses in the alley. If you have the chance to see one!


Gion district - Kyoto


This is the kind of immobile place that carries us with it in its past, its history and its culture.

Also witnesses of a static world, fixed for eternity, the gardens. Designed like paintings created to charm the eye when seated in front of, all that composes them encourages serenity: it is first and foremost the darkness of a tea ceremony that unfolds silently inside the pavilion, then the sliding rice paper doors that open onto the dry garden and a sea of white sand. From there, emerge a few scattered rocks standing on edges of soft green moss, punctuating an ocean of stone. The philosophy of “zen” then freezes in an unreal perfection, and it’s an extreme simplicity that finally confuses you. Your eyes jump from stone to stone in a perfect meditative atmosphere.


Zen garden - Kyoto


Near the Ryoan-ji dry garden, the incredible “Golden Pavilion” stands in front of a lake that sends us all its majesty and its brilliant light. Its walls are covered with gold leaf, and the pavilion is literally lit up by the weight of the sun in the middle of the day. The shogun’s former home has become a national landmark in the Land of the Rising Sun. At the end of the circuit encircled by the cloud-cut pines, a bell is sounded to implore the divine blessing, and a piece is placed in the kettledrum before making a prayer.


Golden Pavilion - Kyoto


But it’s impossible to capture Kyoto’s spiritual life without crossing the thousands of red porticoes that overlook the Fushimi Inari shrine.

This sanctuary is one of the oldest in Japan, and reveals a cult that punctuates the daily life of millions of Japanese: the path of deities, or shinto in Japanese, is a multifaceted cult with more than one hundred million followers, and whose roots are lost at the end of the ages. When you take the hiking path that opens into the valley, it is under more than ten thousand red torii that this shrine dedicates the pilgrimages to the goddess of rice, Inari. At the foot of the venerable mount which rises to two hundred and thirty three meters, the entrance of the sanctuary separates the profane space from the sacred space. From there, the ground is trampled every year by millions of pilgrims who have come to attract the good graces of the goddess, praying for prosperity and protection. Thus protected from the outside world by these thousands of torii, surrounded by bamboos and dark forest, the path of the ascent of Mount Inari has a multiple small sanctuaries along the way, most often adorned with torii votives miniature, or fox figurines.


Tori of Fushimi Inari sanctuary - Kyoto


The sun is already setting when we start the way back. It is now necessary to leave the magic of this place taking care to cross again the vermilion portico, not to be stuck in the spiritual world …

Check our complete portfolio Kyoto and surroundings and all our posts about Japan.

  1. Reply

    Jos Grims & Martien

    5 June 2018

    Hello Nam & Nico,
    I viewed your postings on Kyoto and Venice today with pleasure and lots of recognition.
    So cleverly done together with the stories in 2 languages. Keep the postings coming.
    I am still busy with my photo’s of Japan, it’s time consuming to view, correct and select out of 2700 pics.
    Of course I will let you both know when they are on my photo-website
    Best wishes to U both
    Jos & Martien

    • Reply


      10 June 2018

      Hello Jos and Martien,
      Thanks a lot for your feedback. It actually takes some time to work in two different languages but hope to share more of our experiences that way 🙂
      Where did you go when you visited Japan ? Would love to know more of your trip guys !
      And looking forward to seeing the pictures on your website, of course ! Are you planning another travel together soon ?

      Best regards !
      Nam & Nico