Metro Manila · A Weekend Getaway to Kyoto
'Two things usually leave a lasting impression to foreigners visiting Japan: the country's love for high-end technology and the exquisite politeness of literally everybody you talk to'
Kyoto has been the capital of imperial Japan for many centuries. It still has an abundance of beautiful temples, palaces, shrines and other historic buildings, due to the fact that it was pretty much spared from the bombings during World War II. But the city of 1.5 million does not only provide you with the highlights of a milleniums-old culture. A weekend trip to Kyoto via Kansai Airport is also a soothing temporary escape from the crowdedness, the heat, the traffic and the noise of Manila.
Cebu Pacific compensated me and my girlfriend with a free international round trip, after one of the airline's international flights was delayed twelve hours last year. We checked the map and naturally chose one of the airline's destinations farthest away: Kyoto, in the south of Japan. We could not get a flight for the famous Cherry Blossom Festival, so we went to Kyoto a few weeks earlier instead, for the blooming of the plum blossom.
Two things usually leave a lasting impression to foreigners visiting Japan: the country's love for high-end technology and the exquisite politeness of literally everybody you talk to. We noticed this as soon as we entered the train, when the seats automatically changed their position to face the driving direction, and the conductor bowed down after entering the car, formally introducing himself before checking the tickets.
These little details make a Japan-trip a very comfortable stay. Few people speak English, but they will just keep smiling and talking in Japanese, always trying their best to figure out what you need. The Japanese high-tech inventions sometimes take a little getting used to, though, e.g. when it comes to toilets: the heated seats are great, but the control set for the cleansing jet of water seems so complicated, we did not dare to touch it.
Kyoto is a clean, well-organized and a pleasantly quiet city - all the things you often miss in Manila. There is no honking on the streets, no loud talking or advertising, and - best of all - no loud pop music in most cafés and bars; patrons rather listen to soft jazz music, bossa nova or Edith Piaf. For those who need some noise, there are pachinko parlors and other arcades, where young and old leave their loose change in a constantly blinking and beeping surrounding.
The quietness of the city can be partly explained by the fact that Japan has a really old population, especially compared to the Philippines. Manila is full of teenagers and even in the business district the twentysomethings seem to dominate the street scene. In contrast, Kyoto's buses are full of senior citizens, and public bathrooms and buildings are all older generation friendly.
If you want to see as many of the tourist spots and the 14 cultural heritage sites as possible, it is advisable to make a plan beforehand. Kyoto has a well developed public transport system and walkways leading from temple to temple. Most famous is the marvellous Philosopher's Walk, a path alongside a little creek, lined with cherry trees. However, we recommend to take your time rather than aiming to see everything. What we enjoyed most was to just relax in the isolated Zen gardens for a while and to absorb the calming atmosphere of the wooden temples. Wear durable socks and shoes you can easily slip into and out of. You will have to take of your shoes when visiting the temple buildings (same as in in many guest houses and restaurants). On weekends, a lot of women visit the temples in Kimonos, with traditional make-up and hairstyle. If you ask politely, many of them will gladly have a picture taken with you. Do not forget to say "Arigato" ("Thank you").
Drinks, Food and Souvenirs
In case you get thirsty during the day, there are vending machines on nearly every second street corner, offering sodas, tea and cold coffee. Beer and other alcoholic drinks are expensive, but some bars have happy hour and promo offers. Japanese food is great, but it is not always easy to find a restaurant with an English menu. Our personal favourites are Okonomiyaki, Japanese pancakes, and the wide range of sweets prepared with Matcha, a green tea powder. Macha candy also makes for a perfect pasalubong. Other typical souvenirs are cat-items: the Japanese seem to be crazy for kittens and you will find them as little figurines, as stuffed toy, on t-shirts and in many other forms.
A tip for those who want to get the Kyoto-feel for a while but are not able to leave Manila: try out the Japanese Garden in Rizal Park or the authentic Japanese restaurants in the quaint patio of Little Tokyo, Makati.