The Kyōto you don’t expect

Kyōto is surely Japan’s capital of temples, of maiko, of tradition. It’s also the city that most closely coincides with Western stereotypes of Japan, where every corner seems to hide a torii (鳥居) or a temple (be it a Shintoist jinja 神社 or a Buddhist tera 寺). It’s not unusual to take a stroll and cross paths with a girl wearing an elegant wafuku (和服). But there is more.

 While it may come as a surprise, the new millennium has arrived in Kyōto too, and the accessory that goes with the wafuku is no longer the kinchaku (巾着), but the selfie stick.

Kyōto equally hosts imperial palaces and skyscrapers, parks and suburbias. Arashiyama, a bamboo grove in the north of the city, can seem a whole different world compared to Kawaramachi, a wilderness of shops and stores in the south.

Shijō-Kawaramachi, the area where Shijō-dōri and Kawaramachi-dōri intersect, is - along with the Kyōto station area - the perfect counterbalance to your typical tourist spots such as Gion or Nijō. A more fast paced side to the city, where boutiques, department stores and skyscrapers envelop the visitor in a sea of swirling lights.

Having just left the bus you boarded in one of the city’s quiet suburbias, you get the impression that maybe you got the wrong first impression of what Kyōto really is all about. You expect matcha 抹茶 shops and the Kiyomizudera, instead you get Kyōto Tower and Starbucks Coffee.

Kyōto embraces incoherence, and will let you discover a different culture with a pinch of that globalization that always makes you feel at home.

Kyōto should not be merely visited, but experienced. It’s a needed stop for every Japan aficionado, but it takes time to be truly appreciated.

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