There are certain places in the world which pull you back time and again, no matter how hard you try to resist. For me, the list is long, so I’ll just mention a few: Paris; Edinburgh, Scotland; Santa Fe, NM; Tofino, BC; Bandon, OR; and now, Kyoto, Japan has joined the list. After my second trip to Kyoto just a short month or so ago I realized that the city is starting to haunt my every thought and pull on me to return.
What is it about the traditional art and cultural center of Japan that elicits such affection?
Maybe it’s just that: tradition, art, and culture. Kyoto is filled to the brim with historic and important temples and shrines, craftspeople creating traditional arts, and the all important honoring of Japanese culture. Combine all that with fabulously picturesque locations and you have a photographer’s dream.
In my humble opinion, the perfect time to visit Kyoto is autumn when fall foliage is at its prime. An astounding variety of Japanese maples are evident everywhere, dressed in colors ranging from yellows, oranges, and reds to pastel peaches and pinks. If you are lucky enough to choose an overcast day, those colors will be rich and vibrant beyond belief. Even in the rain the maples are a fine photographic subject in any garden or temple grounds that you may happen to wander into during your stay. Each garden is tidy and well-designed, filled with Japanese aesthetic and philosophical ideas, and definitely without ornamentation. Some may feature Zen sand & rock gardens, some may include ponds with koi, and one in particular features moss. Some gardens (Scroll Gardens) are meant to be enjoyed from inside a temple building, with the large windows creating viewing frames. Other gardens (Stroll Gardens) are best enjoyed while wandering about. Whichever you choose, you’re sure to be overwhelmed with photographic
Kyoto is rich in temples and shrines, both Buddhist and Shinto. However, visiting more than one of either on any given day seems to dilute the experience, so I would advise you to choose carefully and find one which is special, yet not over run by eager tourists. Those who enjoy architectural photography will be enthralled with the ornate roof designs of the traditional temple buildings. If you’re willing and able, getting up early to observe the Buddhist monks chanting and the fire & drum ceremony at the Chishaku-in Temple is not to be missed. The interior is magnificent and you’ll be wishing that photography was allowed as you watch the
rising sun cast reflected light around the room.
Subtle delights abound around every corner in Kyoto. The people are charming, and even though English is rarely used, somehow you’re never made to feel awkward. Just a few words and phrases (hello, please, thank you, and the like) and the willingness to bow occasionally are all that are necessary as you bask in the beauty all around you. You are after all in a foreign land, but what an easy transition you’ll make.
Perhaps Pico Iyer truly captured the essence of Kyoto in this quote:
“I loved the quiet places in Kyoto, the places that held the world within a windless moment. Inside the temples, Nature held her breath. All longing was put to sleep in the stillness, and all was distilled into a clean simplicity.”
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