I got off the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) at Kyoto Station, which was a hustling and bustling place, just like Tokyo Marunouchi Station where I had embarked. In fact while the layout was different and so were the shops, there wasn’t all that much to differentiate this building from all of the other major ports I had visited. I might as well still be in Tokyo for all the difference it made.
I walked outside, and by the time I was a couple of blocks from the station I realized I was in a very different world from the Tokyo I had left behind less than three hours earlier.
Don’t get me wrong… Kyoto is busy and bustling and there are lots of people around… but unlike Tokyo (where everything is modern and neon, unless you are around a temple or shrine), this city had a different look, a different feel… a different vibe, if you will.
At first I thought it was the slightly smaller scale. When you exit the station it feels more manageable, less overwhelming. It might be like traveling from Montreal to Calgary – the smaller city being easier to manage.
Then I thought it might have to do with the people… Tokyo is a very stressful place after all, but Tokyo moreso than the rest of the country. Maybe it was like going from Montreal to Vancouver – a little less stressed, a little more laid back.
And then someone told me that Kyoto had been spared the aerial bombardment that Tokyo endured during World War 2; he told me a story about American Secretary of War George Stimson who had honeymooned in Kyoto, and spared the city because of his wonderful memories of it. In fact, Kyoto, was the top choice of the Targeting Committee tasked with deciding where to drop the first atomic bombs (this committee included Robert Oppenheimer). Stimson did veto it, but it might have had more to do with the fact that Kyoto had little military significance, and the destruction would have been entirely civilian. (Source: https://www.quora.com/Is-it-true-that-Kyoto-Japan-was-nearly-bombed-in-WWII)
So instead of having a city completely rebuilt after 1945 (while there are many older sites in Tokyo, many of the temples and shrines have been rebuilt to look like the originals), Kyoto actually has buildings and sites that date to the 15th century… and earlier. Maybe a more accurate comparison would be to equate the Tokyo-Kyoto trip to the Toronto-Quebec City trip. Tokyo and Toronto, the busiest metropolises in their respective countries, modern, crowded, stressed; both replete with modern skyscrapers reaching for the heavens. Kyoto and Quebec City, calmer, quieter, shorter… while there are modern buildings, they are smaller, and there are many historical sites dating back hundreds of years, lovingly preserved; both more concerned with history, beauty, and culture than with the race to be the best.
I could have spent another week in Kyoto and not seen everything there is to see. I don’t know when I will be back, but I hope I will have the opportunity soon.