After just one week, Japan currently vies for top spot with New Zealand in Zara’s ranking of favorite countries, knocking Thailand down to #3.  It’s been easy to fall in love with Kyoto.  We’re staying in an old tea ceremony house of the traditional Kyo machiya style, where we sleep on futons placed on tatami mats and as we are based in Kyoto for four weeks, we have the luxury of slow exploration, rather than a mad rush to the top tourist destinations.

The house is located at the bottom of Funaoka-yama (Funaoka mountain) in the Northwest corner of Kyoto and steps away from a Buddhist temple (Daitoku-ji), yet away from the hustle and bustle of the more central tourist districts.  We can go days without seeing another Westerner in this part of the city, yet Jonathan’s Japanese skills allow us to navigate the traditional restaurants and cafes with ease.

We’ve been busy visiting shrines and temples galore, more on those later…but what has really captivated us aren’t the tourist sites, but in the quiet beauty found everywhere — the ready smiles and cheerful Japanese of the people, the attention to detail in everything, the narrow alleyways that wind through the neighborhoods, the personal shrines and the hidden gardens.  And I can’t help but be envious of an environment where it is normal for 5-year olds to walk or bike home from school alone.  And of a city that rivals Amsterdam in its cycling population, where moms bike with babies in slings and octogenerians cycle to the grocery store.  The one downside to this is that their practice of biking on sidewalks requires pedestrians to be on constant alert, however, so Zara is our unofficial bike alert monitor.

And I most not forget the FOOD, which is a highlight of each day and will deservedly have its own post.

What has been a completely unexpected (but happy) surprise is the cost.   Prices are significantly cheaper than the US, NZ or the UK, especially once outside the main tourist centers.  With the dollar at a 5-year high against the Yen, that is one factor, but Jonathan’s impression is that Japanese prices just haven’t risen in the 20 years since he lived here. The one exception is lodging, but consumer goods and food are seem significantly cheaper than what we’re used to at home.

So much more to write about so stay tuned!

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On grounds of Kinka-kuji

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In front of Kokinen, our rental home.

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Kinka-kuji

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Daitoku-ji

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Downstairs of Kokinen

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