Dodging Tourists in Kyoto
Kyoto was the old capital of Japan, and for this reason, it's on top of the list of cities to see in the country. Dodging tourists in Kyoto is hard, but it's possible. The first thing we wanted to see in Kyoto was the Bamboo Forest. We had seen photos and videos of huge crowds and it didn't seem a good experience to us. We dreamed of walking in the forest and listening to the sound of nature. The only way we could transform this dream in reality, was to set up our alarm clock at 5 AM to be there at 7 AM. It was worth it. There were just a couple of early birds, but everybody was respectful and silent. If you are willing to wake up at 5 AM you are definitely a traveler, not a tourist. If you spend one week or more in Kyoto I recommend this strategy for all the main attractions. It's hard to wake up at 5 AM every day so you might consider doing it every other day (maybe). We spent three nights in Kyoto so we had to make different choices based on the time we had available.
Kinkaku-Ji (Golden Temple) is another top attraction. The view of the shimmering temple surrounded by the pond will make you forget about the hoards of people walking in every direction and taking selfies. Something unexpected and cute happened to us while we were visiting the temple. Some kids asked us to do little surveys for school. They asked us where we were from and what we liked most about Japan. One of the groups was doing surveys and promoting world peace. We had to write a peace message on a paper. It was fun talking to these lovely students and taking photos with them. We were stopped twice by two different groups.
Gion is the touristy district downtown, but if you wander in the small alleys you will find some peace and great spots to eat. Many places have the door closed and they seem dark. Just be brave and try to open (they are not closed). We found a small lovely place where we enjoyed a delicious lunch: Tempura Takasebune.
Fushimi Inari Taisha is considered the number one attraction in Japan. Inari means "rice" in Japanese and locals go to pray in this temple especially for a good harvest and family safety. The famous torii gates extend from the main shrine up to the top of the mountain. The gates have been donated by people and companies and the donations continue to date. The park is open 24 hours so I recommend once more to wake up early to be there at least at 7 AM. Later it gets really busy. The only way to get away from tourists is to walk more than them. The majority of people will abandon the gates walk soon. If you want to do it all you have to save an entire day for this activity.
Wandering the small alleys of Gion at night was my favorite activity. You will spot geishas if you’re lucky. We did see a couple entering a restaurant with some gentlemen. Geishas are entertainers specialized in ancient arts (dance, music, and conversation). If you want to have a better idea of what a geisha is, you can watch the movie: "Memoirs of a Geisha." It has a romance component for commercial purposes but it can give you an idea about this ancient profession and the photography is stunning.
In terms of culinary experience, I recommend "Giro Giro." They serve a set menu of typical Japanese dishes. A little bit fancy and pricey but worth it if you want to immerse yourself in the food culture. You have to call a couple of days in advance and the price is $40 per person.
I’m not mentioning the place where we stayed in Kyoto because I wouldn’t recommend it.