You should know, if you have been reading this blog carefully, that between the years 794 and 1868, Kyoto served as Japan's capital. You should also know that it is located in central Japan, in a region known as Kansai. It lies about an hour northeast of Osaka, Japan's second biggest city, and an hour north of Nara, Japan's oldest permanent capital. Kyoto is surrounded by scenic mountains to the East, North, and West. These mountains not only provide a picturesque view of the city, but also act as its natural borders. Thanks to this topographical feature, Kyoto is not as big as Osaka or Tokyo which lie on enormous flat plains near the ocean. In fact, wherever you are in Kyoto, it will not take you more than forty-five minutes to walk to the nearest city's edge and disappear into the surrounding hills.
Now let me tell you about the things which you may not know. First, because of the fact that Kyoto was Japan's capital for over a millennium, it contains many old, beautiful buildings. These are usually Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, but there is also a castle and an enormous imperial palace complex. Though these buildings are old, there are rarely any which are older than a few hundred years. This is because many times throughout its long history, the city of Kyoto was burnt down by fires, destroyed by wars, or both at the same time. Even though the Japanese took many construction technologies from the Chinese, they did not take over the use of bricks, but instead built their buildings of wood and covered them with paper walls. Thus with any major fire, the whole city burnt down to ashes, and then had to be rebuilt only to be burnt down a few years, decades, or centuries later. Because of this, there are only a few buildings which are actually a thousand years old and even the buildings which claim to have a thousand year old history are mere replicas built after the last time they burnt down. This, though, does in no way take away from their beauty. The most famous structures in Kyoto are the Nijo Castle, the Kiyomizu Temple (the pictures of which I used to accompany two of this blog's entries), the Golden Pavilion, the Silver Pavilion, the Meiji Shrine, the Kamo Shrine, the Kamigamo Shrine, the Shimogamo Shrine, the Enryaku Temple, the Nanzen Temple, the Tenryu Temple, the To-ji (also a temple), and so on and so on. There is, as you can see, little point in me listing any of these buildings' names as they will mean little to most of you and because the list would be inexhaustible. The point is that wherever you go in Kyoto, you are bound to bump into a temple or shrine within the next one minute, and into one listed by UNESCO as a world heritage site every half hour. Literally.
Despite having all these old, pretty temples, shrines, castles, and such, Kyoto is also known to be the city of modernity. By this I mean that these old buildings are mixed with modern glass buildings which serve as the headquarters of many famous companies. The most well-known one is Nintendo, every Japanese teenager's first love. Another well-known one is the advanced ceramics producer Kyocera, in Japanese 京セラ, which literally means Kyoto Ceramics. There are numerous others, more or less known, such as Intelligent Systems, which produces games for Nintendo, or Kyoto Animation, another animation and game developer. Kyoto is also famous for its film and Manga industry, both of which attract many foreigners into the city. Two other buildings of note are the Kyoto Tower and the Kyoto Station, both controversial because many people see them as too modern, not fit for a historical city like Kyoto.
The point is that Kyoto is a city of contrasts, a place where the old and the new meet to create a unique mixture unseen anywhere else. Old and new buildings stand next to each other and people wearing Kimono are almost as frequent as people wearing suits. In fact, the city promotes its centuries old identity by providing discounts for people who are wearing a Kimono. If you wear a Kimono, you get discounts on all kinds of things, from taxis to dinners in expensive French restaurants; a smart way of investing money into the city's beautification.
On March 1, it will be exactly six months since I landed in Japan, and on March 7, it will be six months since I first set my foot in the city of Kyoto. On February 27, it will also be exactly two months before I depart this amazing place for my beloved homeland. Because there are so many places in Kyoto that I would like to visit before this happens, I have created a checklist for myself. This checklist is, just like the number of potentially interesting places in Kyoto, almost infinite. Every day since I created this checklist, I have been trying to visit at least one of the places on it, but with every place I erase from my list, I add two others, getting one point closer and yet one point farther away from my goal.
By now, however, I have visited more places in Kyoto than most of my Japanese friends who have been living here for three or four years. They all have the same excuse as to why they did not explore the city too much: there is always a next time, they say. However, because their time in Kyoto as well as their lives are finite, and because the list of interesting places in the city is not, I hope for their own sake that they will one day be able to say that they really lived in Kyoto. Kyoto, however, is not the only interesting place in Japan or around the world. Whatever place on this planet you are in, I am sure that there are many interesting things to see and do. More, in fact, than you will ever have the time to visit. Therefore, go out and explore! It will be worth it in the end.