Impressions of Kyoto

This corner features the words of non-Japanese people who live in Japan. You can learn even more about Kyoto by reading these columns, which are about Kyoto through the eyes of non-Japanese visitors and residents.

Hanatouro in Kyoto

Japan is a place where one can experience a completely different world from their own, and Hanatouro is an event that transports a person more than any other. With the pleasant flower lantern-lined streets stretching ahead amid numerous revelers and goings-on, the senses are at once excited by the bustle and entranced by the dancing shadows. There, a visitor can envision not only how old Kyoto may have looked in bygone times, but also how it may have felt to walk the old capital’s storied streets.

The sheer scale – just how many lanterns line how many streets – is another delightful surprise. One can stroll along alone and explore at length as their thoughts wander in the distinctively soft light, or they can enjoy the fascinating atmosphere with friends or loved ones. And of course, the romantic feel of a walk among the gentle lantern light goes without saying. The lanterns are not the only feature of this event, however. The exquisite glow rising up from the streets serves to enhance and display the beauty of Kyoto in an unmatched, timeless way. Flower arrangements seem to have finally found their true venue of exhibition, and the priceless buildings of Kyoto are shown in what one is constrained to think must have been their intended showcase.

The natural elements so prevalent in Kyoto – reflective ponds, soaring bamboo, and majestic trees – are lit up in a manner that brings out an entirely new beauty. Indeed, Hanatouro is perhaps most enjoyable because it delights the senses by placing an already impressive city in a literally different light.

Winter in Kyoto

Kyoto really takes on a different feel in the winter. The reflective stillness of the season seems to seep from the very rocks and trees. That’s not to say that Kyoto is not serene in other seasons; it is, and famous for being so. It’s just that in the stark and quite brittle cold of this time one can sense something that can almost, but not quite be described. The stars glimmer more brightly over the surrounding mountains. The strikingly vivid colors of Kiyomisu temple and Kinkakuji leap out from their monochrome backdrop. The simplicity of a Japanese garden is accentuated.

If you’re brave enough to venture out at night you may be able to enjoy a light-up at one of the temples or gardens, which is especially dramatic after a fresh fall of snow. Spare a thought for the priests, who are often dressed in their traditional garb even at this time of year!

It’s during this time that the many taverns of Kyoto really come into their own as bastions of boisterous warmth and sanctuary between sightseeing spots. Make sure your luggage can take some beating (i.e Samsonite) and enjoy a Japanese hot pot, some grilled chicken or perhaps even some seasonal crab brought down from the north of the prefecture, all rounded off with a serving of piping hot sake.

Kyoto Fan Painting

Kyoto encapsulates the two images of Japan that I feel many around the world have of the country; the simultaneously held, though almost opposed conceptions of a country that maintains traditional beauty and ritual from a history rich with examples worth preserving, yet also a dynamic, vibrant innovative country with an almost futuristic bent.

The former idea of the preservation of art and culture is perfectly embodied in the Kyoto Handicraft Center, where I tried my hand at painting a folding fan in a combination of styles from the many examples on display. Though my efforts came nowhere near the quality of the displays, it was a fun experience, with clear instruction as well as explanation on the historical background of both the fan as an artifact, and the paintings that they were adorned with. One could also try producing a woodblock print, and would no doubt receive the same quality instruction and information regarding the historical significance of the art.

The view from the seventh floor of the Center also brought to mind the idea of there being both modern and traditional Japan existing in the same location. One could see a modern city, yet also the quintessential image of Kyoto; Daimonji on the eastern hills above and beyond the city proper, as well as individual shrines, temples and houses that long predate the other elements comprising the urban backdrop. I think this location combined with the activity to create an experience that truly demonstrates the unique culture that Kyoto offers to both residents and visitors.