Imagine a city where once you go off into the little side streets, you could be 20, 80, 200 years earlier. That’s the eastern part of Kyoto, including Poncho-Cho and the eastern part of the city. It’s an area where Geishas still work, and if you’re lucky (as I was), you might see a Meiko who has just become a Geisha in full costume being promenaded and introduced to each tea house in the area.
Have the luck to arrive in a city in time for the last two days of an event called Hana Touro where the temples on the eastern hill of the city are illuminated after dark and you wander up and down the narrow streets in a stream of humanity, occasionally stepping aside to one of the shops in traditional Japanese buildings to window shop or bit street food like mochi or something like bao.
Picture pouring rain and a deserted passageway between two temple complexes where suddenly you see a painted wood gateway that lets you know why Nishi Temple is a UNESCO world heritage site.
Trek up and down yet more stairs at the lovely Chionin Temple, where you can’t do your tourist thing inside because you have the luck to listen to the monk’s chanting reminding you the temple is an active place of worship.
Do a double take at the train station when you see a Cafe du Monde (next to something called Mister Donut). Starbucks I can see as a world brand, but, really, Cafe du Monde? I might need to try it just to see how different it is.
Be grateful to stumble into things you could never have planned: a Japanese bride and groom in traditional clothing coming out of a shrine in the gardens of the Imperial Palace, a Meiko going through the tea houses, the Hana Touro, being too early for cherry blossoms but still being able to see plum and apricot blossoms in the Imperial Palace grounds.
Realize a hundred yen store in Nishiki (a covered market/arcade of stores) is very much a dollar store, but with chopsticks and cool bento boxes.