Kyoto is unlike any other city I have visited while exploring Japan with both with some good and some bad. Here are my thoughts on Kyoto and how it differs from Tokyo.
Let’s start with the good. Kyoto is a beautiful city, mixing the old with new. The shrines and temples are simply breath taking. I recommend Tofukuji Temple as a place that is often overlooked but is flat out amazing. The areas of Gion and others are everything you read about then you are researching the city. It is simply amazing how the old is mixed in with the modern, it’s a unique blend. You can walk from an ancient shrine and right into a modern street with incredible restaurants. Overall, the city, people, and food were amazing but there is however a downside to this historic city.
Japan is always busy and Kyoto is no different but there are too many people exploring at all times in the tourist spots (even by Tokyo busy standards). I can see why the locals often get tired of the endless crowds that swarm the sites. For example, the way to get to a lot of places in Kyoto is just by walking, which will lead you down the side streets that are all residential. These streets are charming, but also very narrow (we had to walk single file at times to avoid getting run over), meaning they are often congested with people walking around throughout the day. It just leads to large crowds of people, at all times, which can make it a little annoying to get around some of the bigger spots.
It’s an issue, but even for a tourist like myself, I found it annoying at times when you wanted a moment of peace at a temple, but the constant tour groups made it hard to find a quiet spot. I can’t imagine how the locals feel during the busy seasons. I feel so many people can take away from the charm of the ancient capital. I see why they even ban people from taking photos in areas, it’s just too crowded in what should be a very tranquil city (especially in the older parts of it).
Overall Kyoto is a must see, but expect crowds at every stop, even at the smallest of shrines. Next will be an overview of Osaka, a city that blew my mind.
(I wrote this over a year ago, so times have changed and temples and such are much more quiet at this time. Perhaps if things get better, folks will be able to explore the ancient capital with more freedom due to the lack of people around).