An Introduction To Kyoto: The Best Afternoon in Gion
I stumbled across the Yasaka Shrine entirely by mistake. I have arrived in Kyoto just a mere couple of hours before laying eyes on this 14th-century Shrine. Although relatively tired from the Shinkansen ride, I was most excited about wandering through Japan's old capital city. I grabbed my camera and started meandering through a maze of narrow streets. It must have been around 3 PM, mid-December when the sun has already started to lose some of its flickering shrines. The air was crisp and the streets were quiet.
The picturesque urban landscape forced me to stop every few minutes to admire old Japanese houses, timeless wooden constructions which seemed to have been jumped straight out an Edo museum. Little I knew at the time, that in Japan, one must knock down and reconstruct their house, every 20 years or so. It's so beautiful, that this very old style architecture managed to resist the test of time.
From street to street, I found my way right in the heart of Gion. The previous footstep echos have now been replaced with tourist murmur. There was a tension in the air, which reminded me of a forested jungle when the hunter waits for the pray. The pray here was a glimpse of a real Geisha. I followed the lead and waited around for a while, hoping to be the lucky one, the great photographer who captures Japan's most mysterious beauty but had no luck.
By the time the sun almost finished its shift for the day, I continued my journey, on another set of quaint Japanese streets.
It was just as I decided to turn back towards my Kyoto hotel when I saw the vermilion entrance to the Yasaka Shrine. At the time, I had no previous knowledge of this place, but the prevalent curiosity pushed me towards learning more. The shrine's main hall combines an inner sanctuary and an offering hall. It featured a relaxing path dotted with vermilion wooden lanterns and plenty of small shrines all along. Towards the back, there was a large torii gate, which invited me to pay my spiritual respects, as I left the temple grounds, only to exit to another Kyoto's secretive world: the Maruyama Park. Since the sun was almost entirely set, the park was empty. No meandering soul through the forested paths. There was this predominant silence, and you could only hear the soft wind blowing through the maple trees and my footsteps over the pink-hued leaf carpet.
I explored Maruyama for about an hour. The sun had entirely set and darkness replaced the vividly coloured surroundings. Hungry, tired, I started making my way back to the hotel. As I left the Yasaka Shrine behind, once again, the silence got replaced with Kyoto's temperament of roaming tourists and busy streets. The approach to the Yasaka Shrine is called the Shijo Dori, one of the Kyoto's largest shopping streets, with countless bars, eateries, street foods and confectionery shops. It was on that street, on that night I first tasted the true nature of the Kansai Region food. Tired as I was, I spent several hours, walking from establishment to establishment to sample the goods and purchase the world's best Matcha sweets. It was in that evening, that I fell in love with old and the new Kyoto.
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