Japan was the destination I have been most excited for over the past year. I’ve never been and from this American’s perspective everything about it seemed modern, unique and interesting. Kyoto contradicted my expectations. This city is hundreds of years older than the United States of America and based more on tradition more than the glitzy, crazy and humorous depictions publicized by western media. In fact I’ll go so far as to say things here in Kyoto are sort of Vanilla but I’ll stipulate that vanilla is one of my favorite flavors. The culture here is subdued, passive and extremely introverted. The city itself is far from the hyper-modern society I had (unfairly) expected (in ironic contrast to Seoul) — and really hangs its hat on the impressive array of historic monuments, temples, gardens and sites surrounding it. They are certainly wonderful to behold.
I have never been to a place whose architecture is so strikingly, naturally beautiful, distinct and also unique within its style. This is a place where OCD can be at peace — the historical styles are classic and beautifully aesthetic. It is easily the most photogenic of destinations I have ever visited. I can stand or sit and simply stare at any number of temples and shrines I have visited — the effect is not unlike watching fireworks — my eyes continually swallowing what it sees, as I walk past, constantly looking back over my shoulder to watch its form change from different angles.
The language barrier cannot be understated. Along with the reserved nature of the Japanese people in Kyoto it’s easy to feel invisible as a white guy who doesn’t speak Japanese. That isn’t so bad and actually a part of travel that I have come to enjoy. Tangential, background conversation becomes white noise and you are absolved from the overhead of trying to fit in; as effect your autonomy is underscored. People are very polite and gracious considering the fact I have nothing to say to them other than Hello and Thank you.
The food in Kyoto is average and somewhat expensive. Ramen is delicious and omnipresent but not the fare I can accustomed to eating on a daily basis. It gets old fast and the variety of vegetables and meat is meager and lacking. Coming from Vietnam the month before where I cooked all of my meals from fresh meat and fruit and vegetables from the supermarket across the street — this has taken some getting used to.
My favorite place to loiter in Kyoto is a Starbucks which sits alongside a large, impressive shrine. There’s a giant glass wall that you can sit in front of and work while soaking in Buddhist vibes. It is without a doubt the best Starbucks I have been too internationally and a hidden gem in that it is small and not very crowded. If there’s a list for top Starbucks in the world this should be on it.