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Why Kyoto?

The day before I left for Kyoto, my friend Sarah offered these thoughts on my trip: "Kyoto? What's in Kyoto? If you're going to Japan, you go to Tokyo. Why Kyoto? And go to hell." As it happened, she had other issues with me besides my travel itinerary, but before cursing me out, she did pose a fair question. I didn't have a good answer. I just wanted to go to somewhere in Japan and eat real sushi. But if you're going to Japan, why the hell would you go to Kyoto and not Tokyo? I told her to chill, I'd bring her back a Tshirt, and that I'd have an answer for her when I got back. She was right, no one talks about Kyoto. The party, it seems, is in Tokyo. No one cares about Kyoto. That means many travelers to Japan are missing out. Kyoto is one of the most underrated and overlooked vacation spots in the world. It's an amazing place. Kyoto offers ancient Japanese history, with much kept intact from earlier centuries. It also boasts of some of the most gorgeous landscapes I've ever seen, and the green tea ice cream rules. I've been to Taiwan and China during summertime, and one of the major drags about both places is the weather. It's terrible during the summer. As the saying goes, it's not the heat, it's the humidity. The climate in Kyoto was spectacular. No humidity whatsoever. The July days were splendid. That was a huge plus, and made for an even more pleasant experience. Kyoto can put a dent in your wallet, but it doesn't have to. There is an abundance of cheap lodging, but the place to be, without question is Kyoto's best and most popular youth hostel, the Higashiyama Youth Hostel. Of the several youth hostels in and around Kyoto, this one is the closest to Kyoto Station, to which you will surely want convenient access. The best value is the two to fourperson rooms with bath. Don't expect to pay more than $35 per person, and the rates include both breakfast and dinner. Facilities include coinoperated laundry and rental bicycles, which I advise you to use. A bike ride through Kyoto can be amazing. As for good eats, Kyoto is a pricey city and the sushi ain't cheap, but there are some gems. Be sure to hit Ganko Sushi in central Kyoto, an inexpensive restaurant with damn good sushi. In addition to great weather and raw fish, Kyoto's history deserves its props: Most people don't know this, but Kyoto, from 794 to 1868, was Japan's capital. It has quietly stood as the country's cultural, artistic, and political center for centuries. Kyoto is not even one of Japan's five most populated cities, but it is its richest in history. While major cities in Japan were bombed flat in World War II, Kyoto survived. What remains is a countless number of breathtaking temples and shrines. Kyoto is a great walking city, and if you wander around for an afternoon, chances are you'll end up in the gardens of several temples, each with its own character and striking beauty you can't find anywhere else in the world. The most popular temples include the Temple of the Silver Pavilion and the Temple of the Gold Pavilion, and they are well worth the hype. The Gold Pavilion is my personal favorite. It boasts a spectacular park in its backyard with mosscovered grounds and teahouses. Scattered throughout the city are 1,600 Buddhist temples (30 of which are the headquarters for major sects spread throughout Japan), 200 Shinto shrines, and three imperial palaces scattered throughout the city. And while the most popular temples charge an admission price (usually around $5), some of my favorite experiences come from the days that I wandered into a smaller temple and spent time in its gardens. During my last days in Kyoto, I visited the Ryoanji Temple and the Nijo Castle. Ryoanji is perhaps the most popular attraction in town, and its worldrenowned rock garden is a perfect site for contemplation and a lateafternoon nap. The most spectacular site of all, however, was the Nijo Castle. I know nothing about architecture, but I know you won't find anything like it anywhere in the world (at least that's what the tour guides said). The castle grounds are breathtaking, with truly spectacular gardens (have I said enough about gardens?) After spending time in Kyoto, I had an answer to Sarah's "why Kyoto?" I wanted to get away, and Kyoto is a total escape. It's an ancient, beautiful city, and while there you can walk around all day without seeing the Golden Arches. So I brought Sarah back a cheesy Tshirt of a Buddha from one of the temples I visited. I explained to her the serenity and tranquility I found in Kyoto, and also showed her a tidbit from my Frommer's book that explained what I learned in Kyoto: "If you go to only one place in all of Japan, Kyoto should be it." Albert Chen hopes Kyoto never gets too overrun with tourists because he likes napping at tourist attractions.
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