Kyoto was a cherry blossom dream.
According to the locals we were there at exactly the right moment; the three best days.
What does that mean?
It means that everywhere you look there are cherry blossoms in profusion. They crop up randomly all over the ancient capital but what is most impressive are the lines of trees that border the canals and waterways in and around Kyoto.
What I could never have comprehended were the amount of people who come to celebrate the cherry blossom. Needless to say I never captured the photographs I would have liked but I did feast my eyes on these beauties and was happy to settle for that.
My observation about travelling to Japan during the festival of “sakura” is to accept the crowds and that access to the most famous and beautiful of temples and shrines may be difficult and long winded. The queues are exceptional and in many cases not even possible; it can be very overwhelming.
We were extremely lucky and found an English-speaking taxi driver who knew his way about and where to go at what times. He was invaluable and while I was disappointed not to see all the famous temples and shrines on my list, he showed us much to be awed by.
If cherry blossom is your desire then early April is the time to go but be aware of the numbers and what it entails. I would love to venture back in the winter and brave the cold in order to capture some of the places we missed.
When we didn’t need to travel distance and use the guided taxis we walked in Tokyo and Kyoto, much to the locals shock and it was really the way to get the feel of the cities. Kyoto is an easy grid system and it really doesn’t take that long to get around. Tokyo is a little different; the 37 million residents who make up the greater area might be the reason.
What I really appreciated was experiencing Japanese culture first hand.
Travel to an unknown and exotic destination is so much more than famous tourist sites and history lessons. I like observing the people and how they live their lives; the way they dress, express themselves and even move around together. Japan is a fascinating culture and while every aspect was unfamiliar that made it very exciting. English, while spoken is not as widely used, as I would have imagined. It was very humbling to be in situations where the communications came down to wild hand gestures.
As for eating, there was a lot of pushing around the plate and hiding “secrets” at the bottom of the bowl. I like much of the Japanese cuisine but sometimes I was challenged. Their taste and palette for texture is very different; some I loved, some not so much. The fun was in the trying and the presentation.
The Japanese must be the masters of presentation.
The way they wrap a parcel, all angles and perfect intersection of corners is spellbinding. Packaging is layered and it would seem nothing is thrown in a bag with haste; all care and attention goes into the most meagre of parcels. Like their gardens; I was blown away by the delicacy of their clipping and the combinations of planting. Not to mention the Ikebana floral style; I am now a fan.
We stayed in the most wonderful boutique style hotel in Kyoto and if this city is on your travel agenda, I would consider it. The hotel is small but so well located in an area with lots of wonderful restaurants close by. It was a great find and while not as glamorous as the big name hotels, it was beautifully run and so comfortable.
If you go you must try a restaurant called Ryuen. It is tucked away, permanently packed and has exquisite food. Ok I’ll let you in on a secret, Ryuen might look Japanese and sound Japanese, the chefs are young and not a soul speaks English but it’s Italian and the kind of Italian that leaves the mouth watering and you wanting for more.
Just saying, in case you feel like a sushi, sashimi switch. xv
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