I figured Kyoto wouldn't be that different from Tokyo, just with a few more temples and I wasn't overly excited to see them so didn't plan on going for long. I figured I'd spend half a day in Nara and then the rest of that day in Kyoto, then explore Kyoto the next day before travelling home that evening. After Nara I was so buzzed that I knew I had to stay an extra night, and thankfully my hotel was cheap enough that it wasn't any particular expense. I actually really loved my hotel, I was worried it might be a bit of a dump based on how cheap it was but it felt like a proper fancy city hotel and I felt like it should of cost a lot more than I paid. I guess that's a benefit to Covid?
I loved Nara - it's literally just a big park with wild deer everywhere. There are a few temples, but I didn't pay them a whole lot of attention and spent most of the time fussing over the deer. They were so, so tame and happily came right up to you. I found a quiet, shaded area in the forest and sat down for about an hour surrounded by them and it just felt like something out of a Ghibli movie. I begrudgingly got up as I knew I had to discover more of the area, and walked over to one of the major temples. I got an ice cream as it was so, so hot (38 degrees!) and got chased by a deer. I didn't see anyone feeding the deer general food and I have no idea what might make them ill so I tried to keep my snacks away from them, but I did let the deer have the empty part of my wafer ice cream cone - he was literally forcing his head under my arm from behind to try and reach it. At this point I went and bought some special deer crackers that they sell around the park as I'd spotted a disabled deer that wasn't really getting fed and I felt sorry for her, but the other deer literally chased me up to her and were tugging on my skirt for my attention.
There was a covered high street area near the station, and I went and explored it when I got too hot and had had enough of the deer. It was full of lovely little tourist-y trinket shops and was just a real pleasure to browse and look around. I want to find more shops like that around Tokyo, I'm sure they exist and I'm just not looking in the right places. It just felt really good to be unabashedly a tourist, and I think that's part of why I had such a good time, as I wasn't filled with the usual anxiety of trying to blend in.
My hotel had a brochure of local sights, and I saw the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove advertised and decided to spend my second day there after extending my stay. It was really understated but really beautiful - just a really old, traditional town that was lovely to walk around, the bamboo fields were beautiful, I loved seeing so many Japanese people in their yukatas and celebrating their culture (which became a theme of the whole time I was there, it was everywhere and it was so lovely). I literally just wandered around the grove all day, ate my lunch from a lookout spot high up on the mountain, walked back to the main street along the river, and browsed the local shops which were like Nara's and full of traditional trinkets and the like. I even wandered into one of them and bought two compact mirrors - one for me, one for mum - and the shopkeeper was so lovely and it just kind of showed me that I shouldn't be so scared of these places. Sometimes I think I get too concerned with ideas of cultural appropriation, but usually the Japanese actually love sharing that stuff.
It was only 5pm by the time I was done at the grove, so I decided to check out the Gion district. I didn't really understand where I was, I'd just heard it was the traditional hub, but to me it felt like a major high street like Oxford Street or something and I didn't really see anything traditional about it. I was able to walk down the entire length of it to my hotel though, which was nice.
My last day was spent entirely in Kyoto. I started by visiting Fushimi Inari Shrine which has the 1000 red torii gates. I know it's one of those iconic tourist spots so I really wanted to see it for myself, and it was truly awe inspiring. I did start to feel a bit of temple fatigue at this point though - yet another one, and walking through the torii gates was only impressive for so long. I feel bad admitting it, but the heat exhaustion was starting to get to me and I didn't want to climb up the entire mountain just to climb back down again so I cut it short and travelled back into the heart of Kyoto and back to the Gion district as it was where everyone kept recommending online. I ended up finding it proper, and explored the temple area there and wandered around the traditional buildings and old streets, before stopping for a rest at Starbucks. I was really surprised at how quiet everything was, I don't know if it was because of Covid or the heat but a lot of the traditional areas were closed so it didn't feel like a whole lot to see beyond admiring the architecture. So after a rest break I decided to pick up some souvenirs before heading home on the bullet train.
I really loved Kyoto, and it was absolutely nothing like Tokyo like I'd originally assumed. It has an entirely different vibe, mostly down to how steeped in history it is and how that influences the people that live there. Like I said, it was so nice getting to see people in traditional dress for no particular reason other than they wanted to wear it. Some wore all out traditional, some mixed their yukata with Converse and modern hairstyles, and was just such a nice mix compared to the more "fashion" and street style aspect of Tokyo. Kyoto gave me a strong sense of home at times too, especially when I left the subway a stop earlier at Gojo after after the day at Nara. I think it was the city lights combined with the fact that it's a main strip of road that's so much wider than they usually have here in Japan, and everything in general just feel more spread out and less compact than Tokyo which always feels very foreign no matter what. If I ignored the people I could of been in the middle of London or New York, and there was a real comfort in that. Some of the narrower streets gave me strong Amsterdam vibes too for some reason, and I literally have no idea why that was!
One thing I really noticed when I was away too is how much better I seem to sleep in a hotel. I guess part of it is because when travelling it's a very rigid schedule, and not in a way that feels gruelling like work as it's stuff I'm excited to get out and do. I'm getting up at a very regular hour, coming back to my hotel at a sensible time, and then there isn't much to do or distract me other than get ready for bed, and most nights I was in bed by 10pm. It's definitely a much better night time routine, and it made me realise how much I do prefer it. I love spending most of my day in the sunlight, of seeing the clock turn 3pm and feel like I'm halfway through my day instead of just beginning it, and my days feel so, so much longer. When I crawled into bed on Wednesday night, it felt surreal that I'd been at Nara the previous day as it felt more like a week ago due to how much I'd done.
The whole trip just did absolute wonders for my mental health, and I really hope I can hang on to that. I felt a sense of weight at coming back to my apartment, the usual anxiety and bad habits starting to gnaw at me, but I don't want to allow it. I want to force myself to stick to these better habits, be strict with myself. I want to spend less time on my laptop - it distracts me so much, I stay up late clicking through stuff and checking websites that I know I don't care about and sometimes it really feels like the bane of my life. I wouldn't be without it as I know I need it, but at the same time I feel like I can trace all of my worst habits back to it - poor sleep, less reading, I think it all began when I got my laptop. I need to be stricter with myself and notice when I'm not using it in a constructive way, which will help me to make time for the things I want to do.