Observations in Kyoto Japan

Approximate population 1.5 million

Founded in 794, Kyoto was once the capital of Japan hence the name Kyo + to – both mean “capital.” The city is calm and beautiful and filled with classic Buddhist temples, imperial gardens, shrines and ancient wooden houses.

While Kyoto is the ancient Japanese capital and Tokyo is the shiny new one, Kyoto is still sleek and chic. The city has gorgeous modern architecture in the downtown metro area, including a shiny rail station that connects travelers to both the local subway and cross country bullet trains.

I accessed Kyoto easily after I flew into Osaka International Airport, as it was just a couple hours away by bullet train. I stayed in a capsule hotel that is also an onsen, or a hot bath spa. Located on the main street downtown, it was just a few blocks from Gion, the beautiful ancient district on the other side of the river. After I finished my travels in Kyoto, I took a different bullet train to Tokyo.

I loved Kyoto and would have liked more time there to see the many temples, the grilled food and fresh noodles including Yakitori and Ramen, and relax in different onsens.

Kyoto: Where Ancient Meets Modern
  • Kyoto is smooth, shiny, clean and beautiful
  • Kyoto is also ancient and traditional, with many temples and shrines
  • Like Japan, Kyoto is also is sunny, clean, smiley and friendly
  • Kyoto is surrounded by mountains with temples and lots of outdoor activities
  • The air in Japan is fragrant, which reminds me of Sydney Australia, where eucalyptus trees make the air smell like an aromatherapy spa.
  • Japan is a highly volcanic country and Kyoto is known for its many hot springs and onsens, or Japanese hot springs, which are scattered within and just outside the city
  • The ground is so incredibly clean it looks like you could eat off it
  • Airport and train station attendants are kind and smile, including passport and customs agents
  • Japan welcomes tourists with enthusiastic greeters and a tourist counter in the airport’s international terminal. Travel advisors answer tourists questions and even help book tours
  • Most Japanese people are very gracious, and many bow or nod even if just to give a slight greeting or acknowledgement of your presence
  • People politely wait in line at subways, airports, public places, and don’t cut
  • People consistently and patiently abide by pedestrian green and red lights
  • Most Japanese women are soft spoken
  • Kyoto has Geishas in the ancient part of the city called Gion
  • People err towards extreme honesty; including taxi drivers who tell you walking is easier if the ride is short
  • Taxis in Kyoto look like 1950’s Rolls Royce’s
  • Kyoto is known for Ramen noodle soup and Yakitori – skewered & grilled food with a variety of sweet or savory sauces
  • Surprisingly, sushi is hard to find in some parts of Japan including Kyoto
  • Grilled food and fatty steaks are prevalent, with an abundance of wagu beef
  • Beer is popular and both men and women drink it and its served in tall bottles with short glasses
  • Like China, at breakfast time, Japanese restaurants serve lunch and dinner foods like noodles, fried rice, dumplings and spring rolls
  • Coffee shops are everywhere and are very chic
  • Mountains are tall, striking and green
  • Women dress very feminine with lots of skirts, ballerina flats and gauzy fabrics
  • People wear bright colors and accessorize brightly too, including playful luggage fabric covers
  • Summary: Kyoto feels like a beautiful fairy tale city
Written by Suzi Albrecht
Digital Project Manager and Traveler