On my birthday this year, I was taken to Kyoto to fulfil my wish of being at a new place on every birthday. Kyoto was simply the most desirable of all Japanese cities for me due to its historical connection to China's Tang dynasty and the numerous UNESCO World Heritage sites to admire. The cherry-blossom in early April would also add a romantic and exquisite touch to the atmosphere.
The City of Kyoto at first glance was tidy and clean, but not extremely charming or picturesque. People looked polite, reserved and uniformed, with younger women in girly outfits seemingly churned out from the same doll factory and most men in dark suits with occassional exception of individual expressions in the form of a weird hair style of a young wayfarer. Public transportation was convenient and things were expensive.
The beauty of Kyoto started to unveil when we set our feet onto its temples, gardens, shrines and the traditional neighbourhoods surrounding them, and the best way to explore such beauty is on foot. Japan National Tourism Organization recommends a few nice routes ranging from a few-hour to a full-day walk. We were only a few days too early to be blessed with the "pink clouds" of full cherry blossoms but in Maruyama Park, where local families already occupied areas under Sakura trees with camping sheets, I was still awed by how pretty the fresh new flowers were, when I tried to photo the light pink petals on which there were still glistening rain drops from a light spring shower. It was a very pleasant scene when Japanese women dressed up in kimonos and posed under the Sakura trees for photos. The atmosphere was refined, so was the style of Kyoto temples. Unlike many Chinese temples and palaces of later days with red and gold as their main colour scheme, these temples here took on influences from the Taoist simple, other-worldly, spiritual elements and were built with natural colours such as dark brown and off white. The Zen gardens were especially interesting with strange layout of sands and rocks, inviting wild imaginations of one's mind and tranquilzing one's soul simultanuously. Ryoan-Ji was one of these Zen temples and my favourite in Kyoto.
Nara was a fast train ride away from Kyoto and defintely worth an overnight stay. It was more beautiful and peaceful than Kyoto, with a lot less modern development and a lot more open space. The cluster of temples and shrines was very impressive and often visually striking. I also enjoyed the stay at Nara Hotel, a reasonablly priced place with strong sense of history and an easy walk to everywhere.
During this trip, I turned 44. I feel lucky to be an early spring person and witness every year at my birthday the reviving and thriving of lives after the long and cold winter. There are many more years to come and I will look forward to each one of them with an early spring heart.
Photos from trip to Kyoto and Nara can be seen in the album Kyoto and Nara.