I know it sounds very cliché but do you think it’s possible to fall in love with a place?
What is love? (Baby, don’t hurt me!)
First off, what does it mean to “fall in love”? According to this article by Psychology Today, it means to become preoccupied with someone and to desire to be with that person a lot. It’s also described as “a headlong, pleasurable feeling that, everyone seems to agree, colors judgment so that the loved person is not seen clearly.” I think the same applies to how I reacted to Kyoto, Japan’s cultural capital.
Not love at first sight
Let me admit. I had mixed feelings about Kyoto when I first visited. It was definitely not love at first sight. First off, I didn’t like the Airbnb Jesse and I rented. It was s***. Maybe it was a blessing in disguise because we hardly spent time in that musty old room.
When we visited the city’s famous temples, gardens, and shrines, I quickly grew tired of being smushed into the narrow pathways and bridges with other visitors. At Kinkakuji, that famous golden temple, I felt like an animal herded along a conveyor belt in one direction only: see the trees, peek into the buildings, then shamble along so someone else could take a selfie. Also, I didn’t like that some of the sacred places were so commercialized, selling sake and kitschy souvenirs.
Tofukuji was the worst. We visited in November and the tourists (Japanese included) went selfie-stick crazy for the koyo or autumn leaves. I guess I wasn’t surprised when in 2016, the temple banned all photography during the peak of the foliage season.
A change of heart
Now, don’t get me wrong. Tofukuji was exquisitely beautiful, with peaks and valleys of mossy green, vermilion, gold, fuchsia, and rust. However, Jesse and I really fell in love with the non-touristy places of the city. In fact, we experienced the best koyo in a little enclave in Umekoji park. There were no crowds, just small families and school girls enjoying the brilliant weather. And best of all, it was free.
Arashiyama was also one of the more gorgeous parts of Kyoto. Although the Sagano bamboo grove was crowded and a bit overrated, for me, the best thing about this part of Kyoto was overlooking the green Oi river, where river boats paddled by.
Strangely enough, we had one of our most memorable travel experiences at Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kyoto’s number one attraction, because we visited when it was virtually empty. In spite of the heavy showers, we relished walking through miles and miles of dripping, red torii gates that snaked all the way up the Inari mountain.
We also had one of our best meals in a tiny cafe that doesn’t even feature on TripAdvisor. The walls were covered with sketches of pugs and poodles and stuffed dogs modeling doggie sweaters rested in the cafe’s front window. Eighties’ music poured in, setting us at ease. An old lady with crinkly eyes and wrinkly clothes leaned over and asked where we were from. When we said karibukai (Caribbean), she opened her eyes really wide and said, “Aaaaaaaaaaye! Sugoi! (Amazing!)”
Kyoto changed our hearts when we discovered its small spaces. Just walking through its quiet back streets and observing locals making street food, smoking cigarettes in the rain, sweeping, hopping on and off the city buses, walking their dogs, or hanging out their laundry was rewarding. Spotting an orange hibiscus in the concrete jungle also called out to me and reminded us of our Caribbean roots.
A final word
What’s my final advice? To “fall in love” with a place, you have to travel mindfully. Even if you visit the big tourist attractions, deliberately pay attention to the details, the beautiful and the mundane. Seek out and appreciate the ordinariness. Sometimes, paradise can be found right under your nose.
Photos: © Live Lyfe Photography
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