I love a good identity crisis. There is something intriguing about it; the wrestling of the conflicting bits to create a mosaic whole. It’s indicative of the capacity for growth. Of unlearning and restoring. Of the possibility to co-exist in imbalance with a constant striving for balance. Maybe I have a soft spot for it because of my own experience with it. Maybe I’m a sucker for anything that points to the fallibility to humans, of the not knowing that we have to humble down to.
There are cities around the world seething at its brim with identity crises: Berlin, Istanbul, Mumbai. There is nothing like visiting these complex, charged places and getting lost in their streets filled with fragmented identities.
Kyoto is not one of those places. The cradle of Japanese traditions held tightly to the chest, Kyoto is sublime in its self-assurance in retaining the architecture, artifacts, and arts of a historic past while seamlessly integrating modern structures and conveniences to woo tourists and locals alike.
As the imperial capital of Japan for over a 1000 years, Kyoto is resplendent with elegant Buddhist temples, tranquil zen gardens and colorful Shinto shrines. Visiting Kyoto in the autumn season allows you to see the whole city in tints of pleasantly worn rust oranges, wisely aging reds and somber yellows, all adding to its existing poise.
Walking around Kyoto with seasoned rice crackers and matcha green tea cakes, staring up at vermilion colored tori gates of the Fushima Inari shrine, observing the rustling leaves rest on the garden grounds of the Tenryu-ji temple, experiencing the bustle of the Nishiki fish market or the coy glamour of the Hanami-koji geisha street, watching young Japanese girls donning colorful kimonos paying homage to the traditions that surround them; every corner of Kyoto oozes old-world charm in an immersive way. It’s not just symbolism or staging, it is thorough and restrained in a way only the Japanese can manage.
While Tokyo might be the boisterous, worldly older sister, Kyoto is the charming, pretty younger sister. Go to Kyoto not to watch an identity crisis unfold but to see a fully formed if evolving identity. There is a lesson to be learned here; something about letting traditions satiate your core and keep you rooted while flirting with modernist fads with the ease of an open mind.
Click here for a two-day itinerary for Kyoto complete with my trademark Veggie Delite tips: