As my trip was nearing its end, I decided to spend a few more days around Kyoto before returning to Tokyo. I think Kyoto has a very particular and interesting atmosphere. While it has a long and impressive history, it also feels like a student town (apparently students make up about 10% of the city population, more than anywhere else in Japan), with bicycles flying everywhere, cheap drinking spots hidden in tiny nooks and alleyways, and lots of creative energy. There’s kind of a balance between sophistication and shabbiness, or sophisticated shabbiness, or sometimes just the former. I think it’s very multi-layered, and I’d like to get to know it a bit better, but haven’t been able to spend that much time there. During this visit, the Kyotographie photography festival was still on, and I walked around town visiting most of the exhibitions, which offered the perfect excuse to get to know different neighbourhoods slightly better.

This time, I also ventured a bit further out to Arashiyama, a very popular spot west of the city centre, and spent a day in Nara, a former capital city a short train journey away. I was staying in a place just south of Kyoto station, a neighbourhood that felt surprisingly suburban and unremarkable for its location, but very convenient for getting out of the city centre.

In lovely weather, Arashiyama looked dreamy. It was also full of people, wholly unsurprisingly, since Golden Week was still going on, and this is one of the most popular sightseeing spots in the whole country. There’s lots of temples to see, bamboo-grove paths to walk, snacks to eat and boats to row. However, peace and quiet wasn’t hard to find, either - I started following a forest path along the river and soon found myself completely solitary.

This path led up to Senkouji temple, which had great views over Arashiyama and towards Kyoto. It was a very active temple, with classes and seminars etc. for people who want to study Buddhism. The walk up was quite steep but definitely worthwhile. I sat on the veranda of the temple for a long time and just enjoyed the view.

After descending back to street level, I wandered around the area for a couple more hours, trying some snacks and walking through the famous bamboo grove.

It was pretty late by the time I got back to the city centre, and I walked straight to Ren, a Taiwanese vegan restaurant I’d been meaning to try. They served very good dumplings and mapo tofu. (The restaurant is in an alley just off Oomiya station, tucked between izakaya, liquor stores and pachinko parlours, and definitely recommended).

Kaisa Saarinen