Some people travel to see places, while others travel to unfamiliar surroundings far from home. Perhaps a few would take journeys as time-travellers, diving into an period that had long vanished, or into an era that foretells what will come.
Today, Japanese cities are synonymous with the future. Wrecked by the devastation of World War II, most cities underwent massive rebuilding and redesign after the war. Fused with the Japanese fascination with machines and the ingenuity of the its people, the new cities became urban landscapes that inspired the future. When Ridley Scott was searching for a city for his vision of a future Los Angeles in Blade Runner, he didn’t pick New York or or any American cities; he chose the bright lights and sounds of Tokyo. Still, there is one city that old Japan lives on today. It was spared from the fires of the war by the grace of the enemy, and have enough cultural capital and traditional artists to resist the surge of western modernity that engulfed Japan from the 1950s. And that city is the former imperial capital of Kyoto.
Just over an hour away from the bustling metropolis of Osaka, the Japanese ancient capital of Kyoto offers a welcome reprieve from modernity. As you walked along the streets of Gion, one is transported back in another era. In the light summer rain, young men and women dressed in traditional yukata strolled along Hanami-koji street. You joined the tourists in the alleyways, hoping to catch a glimpse of the mythical geisha, or geiko in local dialect. If you are lucky, a geiko will be hurrying along for her next appointment hidden behind the red-walled of ochayas (teahouses). She might stop, turn around and offer a smile. The bells of the nearby shrine and wind chimes ring as they have for centuries, bringing a sense of serenity. The delicious smell of Okonomiyaki lingers in the air in the Pontocho district, drawing you into one of the machiyas that have been spared from the war. As you walk further, an elderly lady slides open the window of her traditional Japanese coffeeshop, politely ask you about the weather. A salaryman comes along, nods to you politely, He disappears into a lonely alley illuminated by soft lights, most probably into a ramen shop that only locals know of. Undeterred by the speckles of rain, lovers sat along the banks of the Kamo river, catching up at the end day in their own self-contained worlds. As night falls and the day trippers leave, the red lanterns that line the streets offered a dreamlike atmosphere. Only the occasion laughter and the soft strings of instruments give gave a glimpse of the inner world behind the walls. Kyoto doesn’t seem to be in hurry; she is contented.
1. The best way to get to Kyoto is taking the train Haruka Limited Express from Kansai International airport in Osaka. The journey takes about 75 minutes to reach Kyoto Station. For those new to Japan, we strongly recommend getting the ICOCA and Haruka package from JR West.
2. The ICOCA card is handy for transportation uses and shopping not just in Kyoto, but in whole of Japan as well. Best of all, the bonus of getting the package is that you can get a Hello Kitty ICOCA card!