Japan is a rich, dense nation deeply routed in buddhist and shinto culture. Tokyo makes it incredibly easy to forget such roots with it’s metropolis of high rise developments, huge business and city life. Kyoto, Japan’s former capital however, offers a charming insight into Japanese culture.
As a UNESCO world heritage site, Kyoto is home to some of Japan’s oldest, most beautiful buildings. Traditions such as tea ceremonies and kaiseki dining offer tourists an opportunity to encounter such a beautiful culture. Kyoto mixes history, beautiful architecture, religion and natural beauty within a city demographic.
Kyoto’s charm and beauty is displayed throughout the city but the three most incredible and enchanting spots have to be, the Gion District, the Nansen-ji temple and the Fushimi Inari Shrine.
The Gion district is Kyoto’s most famous geisha district. Gesiha are entertainers who perform theatre and dance in tea houses. Traditionally, many women use to train at a young age and become Geisha. Performing for those in high society, it is still one of the best and most well-respected jobs a woman in Japan could have. A stroll by the river and then along the little lanes of ancient wooden houses can lead you to stumble across Geisha, dressed in typical kimono. The Gion is also home to one of the ‘most beautiful Starbucks in the world’ which offers a tatami style (typical of Japan) seating.
Kyoto is home to so many incredible temples. The Nansen-ji temple is one of the most impressive just by shear scale. A walk around the grounds is a pleasant stroll or you can head up the Philosopher’s Path, which is a hike up the mountain giving spectacular views of the temple and city from above. I didn’t get chance to do the hike but it’s definitely worth it if you happen to have time spare in Kyoto.
Kyoto’s must see attraction is the Fushimi Inari Shrine dedicated to the God of business. Many businesses donate a red torii gate, writing their business name on it. 10,000 of these gates create a trail up the mountain and it makes for a beautiful walk. The attraction is extremely busy however the further up the trail you get, the less people and the views are an added bonus!
Kyoto is beautiful. The heritage of the city is enchanting. Its also the place for souvenirs, Japanese food markets and good speciality coffee. Not to mention the stunning Arashiyama bamboo forest…
I am so thankful for the opportunity I had to visit Kyoto and I wish I could have spent longer there. It’s taken a piece of my heart!
The people of Japan are incredible! They are some of the healthiest people on earth and are very active. I couldn’t wait to get to Japan – it is a brilliant place for street photography. I’m calling this collection ‘Humans of Japan.’ I capture subjects unaware in order to reflect and document Japanese culture.
Please do not reproduce or republish these photographs.
Tokyo is an explosion of high-rise technology, conservative culture and tasty food. If you’re a fan of all things instantaneous and a sucker for a quirky vending machine, then Japan’s capital is for you!
Upon arriving in Tokyo, you are bombarded by bright reds, crazy billboards and colour-coded metro mazes. Restaurants displaying plastic models of the food on offer are juxtaposed next to huge department stores and office blocks. Locals move effortlessly through the crowded umbrella tetris, always dressed formally in navy, black and white.
Tokyo is made up of a number of districts, each entirely unique. The most famous, Shibuya filled with offices and the busiest intersection in the world is home to some of the largest sky scrapers. Crossing the intersection is compulsory. Yoyogi Park and the 1964 Olympic stadium are nearby. Yoyogi is the perfect picnic spot and often hosts festivals; a walk through the park leads to the Meiji Shrine and the famous Harajuku shopping district.
Another beautiful district is Ueno, home to Ueno park, Japan’s first ever public park. In these grounds you will find a vast number of museums, an art college, a few shrines and even the Ueno Zoo! Behind the park sits Ueno lake which again is a beautiful spot to experience Japan’s greenery. Ueno and Iriya offer some great accommodation options just along from Asakusa (Taito City), Tokyo’s beautiful old town and close to the Tokyo sky tree.
If red is more favoured, head to Shinjuku the famous red light district. The government metropolitan building offers a free trip up to the observatory. If you want to see the real electronic Japan, spend the day in Akihabara. Akihabara is Tokyo’s entertainment district and filled with arcades, anime shops and electronic stores. You’ll also find the freakishly Japanese maid cafes here. Many Japanese men pay to dine in maid cafes, where the waitresses flirt as they serve. I certainly did not try it but if that’s what floats your boat… A friend did try it and left saying, “that was the most uncomfortable experience of my entire life!“
The Hidden Districts
Tokyo has umpteen districts to discover. A couple more include the Tsukiji Fish Market, Ginza (home to the Tokyo International Forum) and Minato city. These are less touristic but worth a visit, especially Minato (home to google HQ and a large number of embassies) home to design sight, a pleasant sculpture park housing a Tadao Ando art gallery.
What about the food?
Now, you can’t come to Japan and avoid the food. It’s a no go. Whilst the capital does offer western alternatives, it’s basically a crime to eat in these when there is so much Japanese delicacy to try! Districts such as Ueno and Asakusa are brilliant for your cheap, authentic Japanese dinner plates: rice, meat, and miso soup. If you want incredible ramen, I heard you’re best off heading to Shibuya and Shinjuku. All department stores have basement food halls where you can pick your way through soy bean dumplings, takiyoka (octopus in batter) and all things sweet.
If you do your research (or just check tokyocheapo), you will be able to hunt down a street festival and grab at the street food! Also, you have to try the freshest sushi breakfast at Tsukiji.
(Please avoid the tuna – it’s definitely not a sustainable choice!)
On the note of sustainability
It was regrettably difficult to eat responsibly. Most fish is over fished, Blue-fin Tuna being close to extinction after falling by 96%. All restaurants use disposable chop sticks that have been chemically processed. Pretty much everything in sight comes wrapped in excessive plastic.
A few things you can do include:
- taking a reusable water bottle (all tap water is safe).
- buying reusable chopsticks in a 100yen store.
- refusing plastic bags in stores.
Some vending machines offer canned drinks which is at least better than plastic. Keep hold of the can and take it to the next vending machine as you often find recycling bins next to them!
Tokyo is a great place to explore regardless of the weather. I actually turned up during June’s rain season. Whilst it’s humid and you will be armed with umbrellas all day, it’s a cheaper and much quieter season. Alternatively you could battle the crowds in May to see the cherry blossoms or pay the price in August / September.
To go to Tokyo?
Everywhere you look, there is a building to surprise you, a colourful craze to gaze upon and a delicious meal to eat. I’d argue that Tokyo is a perfect city break with the addition of rich culture and new experiences!
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