“Life is a mystery. But listen. Why did I turn up in your life in the first place? Do you believe in fate? Was your fate controlled by me, or was being controlled by me your fate? But in the end, aren’t they just two sides of the same coin?”
― Fuminori Nakamura,
In the third installment of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, Captain Barbossa tells Jack Sparrow that: “The world used to be a bigger place.” To which Sparrow replies: “World’s still the same. There’s just less in it.”
In our contemporary world, this often seems to be the case. Modern day travel is, after all, different from the good ‘ol days where you set out without even the smallest clue of what to expect on the other side. These days, with blogs and social media, you can find information on almost any corner of the world, making traveling mainstream and much, much easier.
The downside to this, of course, is that too often beautiful, mystical parts of the world are turned into tourist traps with thousands of travelers flocking to take pictures of the same exact things. It’s a pre-packaged adventure.
Now, travel to Japan is still relatively tourist-trap free because the culture hasn’t developed in a way which intends to take advantage of tourists. At the same time, this doesn’t stop some locations from being overflown with the anxious, camera-toting traveler.
Kyoto has long been touted as one of the most beautiful places in Japan. In fact, Kyoto’s famous giant bamboo forest and Fushimi Inari Shrine (famous for its thousands of orange gates) are some of the most photographed sites in the world! And why not? These places, without a doubt, are absolutely gorgeous.
However, if you are looking to achieve a state of Zen or quiet while touring either of these two locations, you’re going to be in for a big letdown. During the spring and fall these two places are flooded from 8:30am onwards, making taking that ideal quiet photo a bit difficult.
There are a couple things you can do about this. If you are someone who doesn’t mind being around a lot of other travelers, continue on your merry way. But if you are like me and are searching for peace and quiet, then I recommend the following tips for traveling to Kyoto:
- Go during off-season.
Traveling during off-season can be great because not only will you find fewer people, but prices tend to drop. For Kyoto, there are two low season: summer and winter. Summer (June – August) is hot and humid in Kyoto so many people aren’t as comfortable traveling during this time – especially since seeing Kyoto involves a lot of walking outdoors. Winter (December – February) can get quite cold in Kyoto with temperatures as low 1 degree F (9 C). If you don’t mind the cold (you can always bundle up) then winter might be the ideal time for you as both the bamboo forest and the shrine can look particularly wonderful and romantic in the snow and ice.
- Plan your time.
For those traveling during high tourist season, you can avoid scores of tourists if you plan your day right. The bamboo forest and the shrine gate walk are both open around the clock. Showing up early in the day (around 7am) can save you the trouble of having to shuffle around surrounded by strangers. If you are spending a few days in Kyoto, plan one activity early in the morning for each day. That way you can find your peace and quiet and get an early start to your sight-seeing!
Now, would I rate Kyoto a tourist trap? Not yet. Even with so many travelers heading to this part of Japan, it still manages to retain that magic that makes braving the crowds totally worth it. After all, it may seem like there’s less in the world to see, but it is all still worth seeing, tourist trap or not!
What I was reading: Check out my review of The Thief by Fuminori Nakamura!