Kyoto, Japan

“minimalism is an appreciation of space”

To be quite frank, Japan was the location I was least excited about on this 12-month trip. Not because I didn’t think that Remote Year did its due diligence and would pick a location that wasn’t epically amazing. I just had false pretenses of what I would be walking into when I got to Kyoto. Prior to January, when I thought of Japan, the first 3 things that popped up in my head were: crowded, dirty and uninviting. I pride myself on being able to admit when I am wrong and in my pre-Japan assessment, I was BEYOND wrong. I would shout it from the rooftops if I must! It’s like when your mom tells you at 15, “Life only gets more difficult and complicated from here, Danika!” I’d roll my eyes in disagreement, and BOOM here I am 12 years later wishing I still had a flip phone, a lunch card with my parent’s money on it and braces. Okay, maybe not the braces.
ANYWAY…back to the amazingness that is Kyoto.

Acts of Inspiration:

Architecture-

First and foremost, most people in my life are aware of my fear of small spaces. When word got to me that our living quarters would be around 40 square meters, I had a slight panic attack. Will I feel confined? Will I have to warn my fellow remotes that they may see an episode?  I must say, I grew to actually enjoy the confinement. It forced me to find comfort in something I once hated. It also made me realize, you really don’t need a heck of a lot of space to live a comfortable life. In Japanese culture, where you live is where you sleep and sometimes eat. There are no living rooms to hang out in. Rarely does one enter a home beyond the front vestibule. To socialize, we’d typically meet at a restaurant or maybe dabble in some karaoke, which was entertaining.

“When you look at Japanese traditional architecture, you have to look at Japanese culture and its relationship with nature. You can actually live in a harmonious, close contact with nature – this is very unique to Japan.” – Tadao Ando

The city of Kyoto had such a harmonious mix of modern architecture and traditional temple architecture all nestled into nature. I recall many train rides where my eyes danced along the skyline so gracefully I could almost hear the music. Each building flowing into the next with little effort, while still holding onto their own unique style. Most of the buildings were made of natural woods, which added a warm and inviting characteristic to the streets as well.

Culture-

Being the capital for 1000 years, most Japanese people try to go to Kyoto at least once in their lives. With so much rich history, the people of Kyoto have such respect and pride in their city. This was so evident in how they took care of their streets, homes, and establishments. Impeccable to say the very least. To eat or drink as you walked was not acceptable and there were little to no garbage cans down any street or alley. They are so ahead of the game on recycling that I was actually scared to throw something away in the wrong container. So much so, that I waited until the end of the month to throw away all my garbage from my apartment so that someone could help me! Not one of my prouder moments in life, BUT I didn’t want to disrespect or disrupt something their culture had worked so hard to enforce.

Japan’s service industry sets the global standard for excellence. What’s even more impressive is they’re not doing it in hopes that you’ll leave a good tip. They are hardworking and courteous to a fault. I found it difficult most times not to tip, as I felt they deserved it and it’s such a standard thing to include in the United States. But to them, they’re just doing their job.

 

Although Kyoto is quite a large city, with busy streets and an abundance of people, I always felt safe and comfortable anywhere I went. There wasn’t excessive honking or people knocking into you on the sidewalk because they’re rushing to get somewhere. Shootout Chicago!! 😉 There was a gracefulness to the way people got around. A calmness that I really appreciated and was inspired by.

Tradition-

Have you ever heard of a bow battle? Well, the chances are very slim because a fellow remote actually coined the term. Bow battles were seen throughout the month, on every street corner, entrances to restaurants and down every alley. Each person backing up slowly while taking turns bowing back and forth until eventually, one dies. JUST KIDDING. I counted 15 bows one day while not even hiding the fact that I stopped in the middle of the street to look on (No shame). In all seriousness, it is the way Japanese culture is taught from a young age to say anything from thank you to I’m sorry. It also seemed to be shown as a sign of respect and honor to their elders. I grew to really enjoy my daily bows paired with “arigatou gozaimasu”! (thank you – in Japanese)

Traditional Maiko and Geisha girls are still seen within certain areas of Kyoto such as Hanami-koji Street and Pontocho. The Maiko (Geisha apprentices only found in Kyoto) are typically seen more often, walking the streets wearing the traditional Japenese kimono. Each wearing a unique color and pattern from the gal next to her. Wooden shoes, white painted faces and dark hair elegantly twisted at the back of their neck were also traditional characteristics seen by Geishas.

I could essentially talk your ear off about all I witnessed of the Japanese traditions and culture. But I’m hoping by giving just a little taste, it will make you want to experience it for yourself! These traditions that are so deeply rooted in the community, from its youth to its elders, all are proud of the culture they have built so many years ago.

Summation-

The word that just keeps coming to mind when describing Kyoto is, harmonious. Harmonious in the connection between nature and architecture. Harmonious in the way the locals respect and cherish their environment. Harmonious by keeping so many historical traditions alive with such grace and compassion.

Part of me is glad that I had such a misguided perception of Japan before this month began because it really made me appreciate it that much more. What other locations have I built up negative thoughts around? Time will tell. But, I sure hope I will be proved wrong about them as well.

 

 

Events/Highlights:

Local tracks which included:
Saki tasting, dessert making, Hanko making, a hike and onsen and traditional Japanese drumming with a legendary drummer!


Girls Day – Where we got all dressed up and sassy. It was just the positive energy we all needed after quite a cold and sometimes dreary month.

Kawasaki Distillery – Taste testing the local Japanese Whisky was an awesome experience. Though Canadian Whiskey will always be my #1, it was nice to try something new and delicious!

 

The beautiful temples-
Kinkaku-ji, The Golden Temple

Kiyomizu-Dera

 

Things I enjoyed:
-The quiet yet busy streets
-7Elevens on every corner
-My morning walks to the workspace
-Mountains on the horizon
-All of the beautiful temples
-Karaoke and pool
-Free hot chocolate and happy hour at AndWork
-Fast food: when I wasn’t feeling noodles & rice
-Gyoza, all of the gyoza
-The few days I had a bike to roam around
-The polite manner everyone lives

Things I struggled with:
-Sleep.  I swear I was just in a constant state of confusion. Not knowing if it was morning or night. Taking 5-hour naps or not sleeping at all. It definitely was a true test of my ability to prioritize work while struggling to get an adequate amount of rest.
-The cost of everything
-Communication and signage
-Ramen + Soups..two of my least favorite foods
-CHOPSTICKS..uffda.

New things tried:
-Fluffy pancakes
-Reunited and found a new appreciation for sushi/sashimi
-A cooked minnow (wasn’t that bad actually)
-Japanese whisky

 

Thanks for STAWPIN’! 🙂

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