#949. Kyoto: An Autumn Sojourn

By Nancee Rostad | Travel Photography

Jan 05

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.

Golden Pavillion
Shadow play

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.

Red Umbrella #1
Red Umbrella #2
Traces of bamboo

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

Ryona-ji garden
Buddhist shrine
Pond study

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.

Pond study 2
Kyoto reflection
Swan Song

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.

Naoshima Island
Naoshima Island 2
Nanzen-ji Temple
Kurashiki tile

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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  • Philberphoto says:

    Ah, Nancee…. You remind me of the movie “memoirs of a geisha”. An American book, a Chinese director, actors actresses from all walks of life, and the result so essentially Japanese, to my eyes at least. And beautiful too. Similarly, you capture the essence of Kyoto so well, and make it so beautiful…. and you give me hope that the city is not (yet) fatally blighted with overtourism. My faves? Golden temple, watercolour, red umbrella (both), persimmons…. Please will you give us more, Lady N?

    • Nancee Rostad says:

      Thank you for your very kind words, Philippe! It’s hard not to take a beautiful photo in such a stunning location – and I for one, find nothing wrong with a beautiful photo, unlike the current trend for harsh reality images. On this trip I experimented a bit with camera movement (Watercolor) and using my iPhone (Red Umbrella, Maiko, Traces of Bamboo). With “Watercolor” I was trying to capture a Japanese style painting from the stunning array of trees in the temple grounds. The light that day was perfection, very soft and filtered, so the colors of the foliage were vivid and enhanced…..I can’t wait to return.
      In answer to your question, yes, I will be posting more.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Fabulous and enchanting, Nancee. For me, the distinguishing characteristics of Japan are the aesthetic, and”less is more”. It’s a truly extraordinary country. And since I’ll probably never get there, now, I love seeing photos that you and others bring back from there. Thanks for sharing them with us. 🙂

    • Nancee Rostad says:

      Thank you for your encouraging words, Jean Pierre. You’re so right, Japan is an extraordinary country and “less is more” runs the gamut from art, architecture, landscaping, and all the way to the food. Everything is subtle and slightly mysterious so that one has to stop and spend some time to absorb the true essence of the Japanese aesthetic.

  • Beautiful photos and wonderful words. You really have captured the essence of Kyoto.

  • Sean says:

    Hi Nancee,
    Such a wonderful collection of images. You’ve caught the vibe of Kyoto so incredibly well – through speaking clearly and distinctly in your own style. All your words do justice to your selected images, and I do like where you’ve clearly identified “… that: tradition, art, and culture…” go to helping hit the nail on the head, for me, in support of how your’ve crafted your images and penned your article. You are good at articulating a sojourn and a vision – it shows in how your values extend in respect of Koyoto.

    • Nancee Rostad says:

      Thank you for your very thoughtful comment, Sean! I’m so glad that my respect for and love of Kyoto was apparent in both the images and the text. It’s such a beautiful place and iconic photographic possibilities abound, so it can be a bit of a challenge to find a different way of showing its “treasures”.

  • Paul Lasky says:

    Kyoto . . . one of my favorite places too. Been there many times. Beautiful images but missing important Kyoto elements. How about Kyoto’s incomparable women, especially at night or in the rain or both? Or Kyoto’s unique buddhist temples. Oh well, image those on the next trip!

    • Nancee Rostad says:

      Thanks, Paul! Kyoto’s beautiful women and Buddhist temples don’t really interest me as photographic subjects. No group of images could totally capture Kyoto’s charms, even including women and temples.

  • Jean-Claude Louis says:

    How fascinating. Your images have captured its spirit and the concept of “wa” (和), or harmony, that is at the heart of Japanese culture in a wonderful way. And it’s obvious that you, too, were in harmony with your environment.

    • Nancee Rostad says:

      I’m so pleased that my images are expressing my love and respect for Kyoto and its culture, Jean-Claude. Harmony (or wa) is a wonderful way to verbalize the mood and spirit of Kyoto and all its charms. Thank you for your thoughtful and insightful comment.

  • Pascal O. says:

    Dear Nancee, having been to Kyoto more than once, I know it relatively “easy” to take postcard type pictures. What you have shared here sits on a much higher realm altogether. If I had to choose one, I would probably pick Kinkaku-Ji (Golden pavilion), but all in all, this contribution of yours is remarkable, because while the essence of Kyoto is there, it is presented with exceptional subtlety. A lesson, an inspiration for us all. Thank you, I look forward to many more contributions of yours on DS.

    • Nancee Rostad says:

      Thank you for your lovely comment, Pascal. You’re so right about the ease of taking postcard type photos in Kyoto, but all it takes to capture the true beauty of Kyoto is to slow down and spend some time observing before pressing the shutter. I’m so pleased that you find my images subtle since that’s what I see everywhere in Kyoto – the art, culture, and even the food is subtle, and I find that uttering magical.

  • Kristian Wannebo says:

    Lovely photos, Nancee!

    I’ve been enjoying them a couple of days and many of them keep growing on me.

    I won’t say anything about Japan as I’ve never been there, but you were obviously inspired and they look like you really enjoyed yourself photographing!

    • Nancee Rostad says:

      Thank you, Kristian! I’m glad that you’re enjoying my images. You’re right, I was inspired by beautiful Kyoto and its environs. Can’t wait to go again.

  • Frank Field says:

    Travel photography at its best. Thanks for posting. Kyoto is now on my travel list.

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