|A view of Kyoto Tower from the free 8th floor observation deck at Kyoto Station|
Why isn't Kyoto as important as Tokyo? Well, the "experiences" you can have in Kyoto are generally available or replicated in Tokyo - it has its own traditional temples, tea houses, historical arts, traditional foods from all over the country, and great museums. That doesn't mean Kyoto isn't worth a visit, because a day in Kyoto is a different experience from a day in Tokyo.
|At Kyoto Station, a very modern structure in a historic town.|
I had a busy schedule in Kyoto, and I did a lot of walking in each of the historic districts. But even so, my urban exploration felt unique from other Japanese cities. In my "walking" photos in the next couple of months, you'll see some young women wearing kimono or yukata. Going to Kyoto, especially during Golden Week, is an experience even for many Japanese, and it was so much easier here to stop and snap photos of a cat taking a nap, or watch a preschooler feed some ducks in a lake, or admire cute ladies trying to take the perfect picture in their traditional clothing in front of a flowering bush.
|These tracks near Keage, in Kyoto, were used to move boats along a portion of the Lake Biwa Aqueduct due to a difference in elevation. Restored tracks, boats, and rail cart along this area help with the historic flavor of Higashiyama, near Nanzen-ji.|
|Kyoto Tower at night|
I think this is probably the best post to make this note as well: Kyoto is the number one "traditional Japan" destination. As such, the traditional experiences - wearing kimono and yukata, tea ceremonies, traditional meals, shows, and so on - are very expensive. If you have a lot of money to spend on such things, go for it. But it is possible to have several of these experiences at other places in Japan at lower prices, if you're willing to look for them. Many open-air museums have these kinds of events on the weekends. Abashiri Prison has what I've heard to be an outstanding traditional Japanese lunch - just like the prisoners eat. Traditional restaurants are everywhere in Japan, and tea houses aren't that tough to find (check the gardens, especially). Even Koshigaya, a suburb of Tokyo, has a garden with a tea house and a Noh theater, so if you think outside the box a little you can save some money and still experience Japan.
As for the kimono and yukata, I haven't seen anywhere reasonable yet, but you can probably buy a nice but somewhat-lower quality yukata for less than the experience of just trying on a kimono, and I'm sure the store clerks will help you dress. Ladies, putting on a kimono is pretty complicated and time consuming. And both kimono and yukata experiences seem to include some hair styling and makeup. In Kyoto, you can be done up fully like a Maiko girl, which includes the white face makeup and hair styling too. If you're planning on taking photos, you might not want the full Maiko treatment, but you should probably pay for the extra attention to looking traditionally pretty. In the summer, though, most women will wear yukata, and you can too. I think they're just as attractive as kimono, and much cheaper, too! Kimono wearing is generally saved for very special events like graduation parties and coming of age ceremonies.