Saturday, 2 January 2010

Kyōto: a radically different Japan

After going to Mount Fuji, we returned to Tōkyō for our last night and prepared for a final look at the city and a 400 kilometre trip on the bullet train (shinkansen) to Kyōto, one of three major centres in Japan’s second-largest conurbation, Ōsaka-Kōbe-Kyōto, also known as “Kansai”, which means “west of the barrier” (a reference to the central mountains of Honshū).

The trip on the shinkansen was remarkably easy and a shame to every citizen of ecologically fragile Australia who has allowed the road lobby to waste billions on freeways and highways not a single one of which was remotely needed in a flat country like Australia whose terrain suits rail so well!

Entering Kyōto was as much a new experience as entering Japan itself. Whereas Tōkyō epitomised the modern, high-tech Japan on an amazingly grand scale, Kyōto was another world. The city was quite spacious – at least apart from the residential areas of which I saw very few – and in accordance with Japan’s very wet climate extremely green even during the fresh winter weather. Even the houses I did see amongst the large streets were very traditional – made of wood, an extremely abundant resource in hilly, fertile and wet Japan. Our hotel, in perfect accord with this, was very traditional and lacked the comforts we had had in Tōkyō, but it was actually less uncomfortable from merely a little more space. Inside, the room was dark and quiet, which rather suited me, and I enjoyed the relaxing experience and not having to worry about the Internet – which has led me to unhealthy obsessions which tend to cause unpleasant reactions dating from many years ago.

The second day in Kyōto was spent walking round the historic heart of the city, and much more memorably a number of royal gardens dating from when Kyōto was the imperial capital of Japan. These were the most beautiful sight I have ever seen: the houses in the garden were so well-arranged as to give a great surprise, and so was the walking path.

So good were Kyōto’s gardens that there was never time to have a look at shopping in the city – which did not bother me as I had enough to read in my email and to look at on and eBay that there was very little time for this.

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