By Nathalie H. Seoul, South Korea

I would like to share with you my trip to Kyoto, Japan, to take you on a little journey…

From Seoul, where my family and I currently live, it’s only a 1-hour and 50-minute flight to reach Osaka, the nearest airport to Kyoto. This is the 1st week of the winter school holidays, but since Christmas is not really celebrated in Korea or Japan, let’s go explore the Japanese archipelago… We decided to visit only Kyoto because, for 1000 years, it was the capital of Japan (794-1868), full of large and magnificent heritage sites preserved from wars. We didn’t want to visit Tokyo, as it seemed less pleasant than Seoul, despite its similarities to our capital.

As with every trip, I did my research and listed all the interesting sites and the most typical experiences to enjoy.

But our arrival in Osaka was complicated: an impressive number of tourists crowded the airport in endless queues, and the situation was similar at the train station, with no one available to provide information.

We faced numerous automatic ticket terminals, each designated for a different train type, destination, and payment method, whether for normal or express service.

After more than three hours navigating through doubt and stress between Osaka and Kyoto, we were relieved to arrive at our small, quintessentially Japanese apartment hotel, complete with sliding paper walls, translucent paper blinds, and a raised living room inviting us to sit on the floor.

The architecture features compact, cube-shaped buildings: traditional wooden and concrete houses with fabric privacy screens, Zen décor, and well-maintained, flower-adorned exteriors—a stark contrast to Korea.

On the streets, there are compact, cube-shaped cars navigating the narrow one-way streets of Kyoto, along with uniquely cubic scooters—yes, really! There are also numerous bicycles and remember, in Japan, they drive on the left.

As my daughter said, it felt like we had entered a Japanese anime, as if stepping into a manga!

People are distinctive here: men with long, tousled hair; women sometimes sporting flashy coloured hair and daring fashion; schoolchildren and workers in vintage uniforms, all reflecting a style deliberately reminiscent of the 60s and 70s.

The food is also distinct: subtle, refined, and uniquely flavoured, served in small portions and artfully presented on Japanese pottery, reminiscent of a miniature dinette. Dining often requires removing your shoes, and enjoying your meal in socks at the table!

Restaurants and convenience stores are everywhere, open continuously, similar to Korea but more expensive.

Matcha tea is ubiquitous, even featured in beer!

Here are the grandiose and magnificent tourist sites that we discovered:

Imperial castle Nijo (1603), residence of the 1st Shogun during the Edo period (the particularity is its floor, when we walk on it, we hear the “singing” of nightingale, by the friction of nails on the parquet floor).

Kinkakuji temple or Golden Pavilion, covered in gold leaf, with a splendid pond and a garden. The Eden on earth, some said!

Fushimi Inari Shinto sanctuary, on a hill with 10 000 torii gates (donations) all in orange colour and forming a long tunnel.

Kiyomizu-dera Buddhist temple (8th c.) is made of wood on stilts with an exceptional panoramic view.

Yasaka Pagoda, from the 7th century, also known as the Tower of Yasaka, Buddhist Zen, with a 5-story tall structure made with wood and roof tiles

Gion geisha quarter, an old, typical neighbourhood, that we could visit whilst wearing a rented kimono, and where we discovered the tea ceremony

Nishiki market: covered, narrow, with street food, craft and knife stores, clothes and kimonos

Samourai and Ninja Museum, with an experience: throwing star knife.

Arashiyama bamboo forest; there were probably more people than trees!

Wild Monkeys Park, Japanese macaques free.

Kyoto Tower and the ultramodern station where we can take the Hello Kitty train to go to Osaka

Universal Studio Park in Osaka immerses you in a Harry Potter world, or Nintendo’s one and its Mario, the Minions, Jurassic, Jaws, Snoopy, Hello Kitty… attractions, carousels, theatres, parade and musical shows, reconstituted American neighbourhoods

Amid all these experiences, one downside was the overwhelming crowds at these sites, where we found ourselves swamped by an incessant flow of tourists, unlike anything we had seen before.

Kyoto is magnificent, boasting exceptional sites, yet its charm is somewhat diminished by the excessive influx of tourists from around the globe.

Today, I read the latest world tourism statistics: In December 2023, Japan welcomed a record-breaking 2.73 million tourists!

I hope that Japan will not become a victim of its own success.

The crowds in Kyoto.
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