Photography: Almost Alone in Kyoto

Photo above: Early morning at Kiyomizu Temple, Kyōto.


If you are in Japan within reasonable distance of Kyoto and have time, go there, and go now. Last weekend we took a family trip to catch up with friends and take in some sights. Kiyomizu temple (清水寺) was by usual standards deserted. Ginkakuji (銀閣寺) too. There were parts of Fushimi Inari Taisha (伏見稲荷大社・the shrine we all know with the thousands of red torii gates) where you could actually take a photo with nobody around. It felt like being in Japan 20 years ago.

Kiyomizu Temple
A couple at Kiyomizu temple.
Ginkakuji, Kyōto
School kids at Ginkakuji.

Of course there were tourists, but only a handful compared to the hundred-zillion-mostly-from-across-the-water tourists that would be the norm on an average clear-sky autumnal weekend. There were bored school kids on trips learning of their ancient history, a scattering of young couples, OLs away from the city for a weekend, retirees, and a resident foreigner or two, but the numbers were down, way down.

Kiyomizu Temple, Kyōto
Sunrise looking out from Kiyomizu temple.

Peace and quiet is one reason I tend to go hiking alone in the mountains instead of hitting the touristy spots (Kyōto is only two hours from home) where you’ll often find hordes and hordes of people sheepishly tagging along behind a tiny flag-bearing obasan taking photos where they’re told to take photos, buying the gifts they’re told to buy, and where the concerns and awareness of private space of other tourists is an afterthought. Not something that is unique to Japan of course.

Fushimi Inari, Kyōto
A boy wandering alone Fushimi Inari Taisha.

The original plan was to find some quiet trails and shrines in the nearby hills but we came to the realisation that it would be a missed opportunity if we didn’t go to some of the famous spots while we had the chance.

Ginkakuji, Kyōto
Ginkakuji garden. Deserted.

Kyōto for the first time in years was a delight. So much so in fact that I might go back before the end of the year.

Cycled since I was a kid, moved to Japan in 2001, bought my first 'serious' camera in 2005. Spent the later half of the 1990s travelling in Australia, Hong Kong, India, Nepal, Japan, and the Philippines and wish I'd photographed a lot more back then.

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