Captivated by Kyoto

Kyoto straddles two worlds. Elegant Japanese women glide to work in high-end fashion and designer bags, while adventurous tourists rent kimonos and totter on wooden sandals to connect with an exotic culture.

Fit young men with rugby-player legs steer modern-day rickshaws through throngs of instagramming tourists. Two tiny, old women, probably friends from childhood, stroll arm in arm, leaning on each other for support, warmth, and to share an old joke.

This is the Kyoto we’ve entered and we’re enchanted. We steal a private, early morning moment on a hidden gem street in Gion (the Geisha District) before the tourists intrude on our reverie.

Marveling at the Machiya, Kyoto’s minimalist wooden townhouses, we’re struck by the ingenious engineering that artfully bends bamboo to cover modern utilities.

Both spiritual and secular, Kyoto’s grasp on the future is firmly rooted in its ancient past. Kyoto Tower, built for the 1964 Olympics, and the gleaming, modern Kyoto Station stand juxtaposed with the vermillion Torii gates and gracious architecture of the sacred Fushimi Inari Shrine.

Brides and grooms celebrate private moments in very public spaces.

And a jumble of centuries-old, hillside houses step down a tiny lane in Higashiyama.

You can see why Kyoto has stolen our hearts and we’re totally captivated.

Wishing you peace, Terri & James

P.S. After leaving Hawaii, Japan has been the next stop on our RTW. We started in Tokyo – so cool! And now Kyoto. We’ve really been looking forward to seeing some of Old Japan – and we got our wish. Next we’re heading to South Korea.

Origami offerings – the folding acts as a meditation to clear the mind.

Photo Credits: 2. Kyoto Higashiyama Rickshaw Tour. 9. Kok Leng Yeo


We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at

31 thoughts

    1. Beth, luckily Kyoto escaped much of the damage inflicted on Tokyo in WWII, so much of its historical architecture is original. In addition, I think that the presence of tourists has also helped encourage the city to maintain its traditions, while keeping abreast with contemporary trends. Fascinating! ~James

  1. Trying not to get too green with envy on a National Express coach back to Leeds from Nottingham. Not quite in the same league but it’s been wonderful to see our youngsters. Happy travels, both 🤗💗

    1. Jo, I’m sure your kiddos will be happy for you to sacrifice a bit of travel so they get to see Mum & Dad for a bit.

      And we just arrived in Busan, S. Korea today and I would have paid serious money to be on a National Express coach with its understandable English and predictability. We took the right bus but in the wrong direction and were hopelessly lost for a bit. Ahhh … good ol’ National Express. ~James

    1. Gilda, the tourists renting kimonos is interesting to watch. We saw a Western family with entire family in kimonos for a photo shoot; including Dad and Sonny. They even had a professional photographer.

      As for food, we’ve enjoyed some of the typical Japanese things, but as a novelty, we’ve tried lots of interesting local favorites from the 7/11 convenience chain. Before you laugh, go to YouTube and check out some of the hilarious videos about the 7/11 food. Unlike the US, it’s not all junk food and there’s some tasty, quick stuff. The stores are called “combini” and they’re packed with locals. It’s a hoot! When you get to this part of the world definitely put Kyoto high on the list. ~James

    1. Since you’ve been here you know how photogenic it can be. We split our time between Tokyo and Kyoto, and we’re so glad we spent the majority in Kyoto. One pleasant discovery is that even though it can get quite busy with tourists, the locals are still gracious, welcoming, and helpful with foreigners. And this isn’t the case everywhere. ~James

  2. Kyoto is a gem in Japan. Our favourite location both times we visited. That was 30 years ago. Would like to come back to see all the changes. Thanks for the memories. Allan

    1. Allan, we split our Japan time between Tokyo and Kyoto, and we’re so glad that we spent the lion’s share in Kyoto. There really is a lot to see there, and the local transport is easy, cheap, and effective (all our favorite adjectives!). Every place changes in 30 years, but I’m sure the timeless factor is still the same. ~James

    1. Natalie we haven’t been to Asia in a while so it’s great to be back. This is our first trip to Japan so it was a visit of discovery. And in addition to the culture we found the people charming. We had so many positive experiences it was refreshing. Kyoto was the bomb! ~James

  3. Can’t wait to go there someday. Your experience and photos only reinforce that. Your comments about 7-Eleven remind me of the stores in Oahu where locals and tourists alike flocked for spam musubi!

    1. Lexie, we passed through Hawaii on our way across the Pacific and we saw the Spam wasabi. But I have to say these Japanese 7/11s are on another level from the US versions. One evening we had goat cheese salads with roasted sesame dressing, and a delightful smoked chicken breast followed by chocolate sundaes … all from 7/11. Yes they have the typical ramen and chips, but there’s some tasty stuff to be had. ~ James

  4. This brings back some good memories. I loved my visit to Kyoto seven years ago. Speaking of the juxtaposition of old and new, we stayed in a hotel occupying an old-style Japanese house. While the building was not new, the check in process was all digital. First, once we arrived in the city, we connected to the free WiFi available at the train station to check our email to which the hotel had sent a code to enter the property. Once inside, there was no one to greet us, only some tablets to help guests to do self check-in. Then we got another code to access our room. It was surreal, yet fun and very efficient.

    1. Greatly enjoyed reading your post on Kyoto’s Gion District! Whets my appetite for our upcoming visit there in October. Continued safe travels on your next adventure.

      1. Annie, you are going to love Kyoto. We saw autumn photos from Kyoto and it’s gorgeous. Plan some time in the Gion Geisha district; early morning on a quiet walk is best. The nearby Higashiyama District is also wonderful, but it’s a tour bus magnet so plan accordingly. You won’t be sorry. And BTW, the locals we encountered were lovely. ~James

    2. Bama, your experience in Kyoto was exactly what we were trying to describe in our post. We’d see an old-style Japanese building that had seen better days, and through the window we’d see a state of the art computer system. I guess it shouldn’t surprise me, but it always does. I guess ultimately, in the East and Southeast Asia there’s a respect for the past that many cultures just don’t have. Not sure how it develops and continues but it certainly is interesting. ~James

    1. Hannah, the Inari shrine is the most popular sight in the area so it’s absolutely chock-a-block with tourists. But there’s no doubt it’s not to be missed. As I’ve said to others, when you visit Japan you almost have to come through Tokyo, so a few days there is a good idea. However, I recommend spending the lion’s share of your time in Kyoto. Exceptionally cool. ~James

  5. I liked your choices for photos, James and Terri, from the laughing rickshaw drivers to the historic houses tumbling down the mountain. I’ve always been impressed by the simple elegance of Japanese art and architecture. –Curt

    1. Curt, as you know, if your objective is simplicity and attention to detail, Japan is the place. As an example: we’ve been staying in Japanese hotels and it’s been wonderful to have a small, simple room with just what’s necessary and without the usual clutter that’s so common in the US. I also appreciate that this culture can make anything a meditation. There’s a lesson there. ~ James

    1. Alison, Kyoto will definitely go on our list of special places. I’m sure there at other attractive places in Japan, but Kyoto’s history as the capital for hundreds of years provided a deep, rich history which lives on there today. ~ James

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