During the World War, Kyoto was on the list of 5 cities to be considered for the atomic bomb. The only reason it was taken off the list was because of the US Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, who had his honeymoon there, had witnessed its beauty and cultural importance. Such fortune, saved it and its 1600 temples from annihilation. My four days here is enough to see a good sample of these buddhist temples and shinto shrines. I’m lucky to find a kind couchsurfing host, Agathe from France, who also lends me her bike so I can tour the city as I please. Agathe is a student and fluent Japanese speaker who knows the culture well. She works at a hostel/temple part-time and gets me a discount on a meditation/tea-ceremony session with a Zen master. The Zen temple is stunning in its own simple way – I love the aesthetics and architecture and think to myself how great it would be to live in a place like this, at least for a while. The Zen master, leads us (a small group of tourists) through a 45 minute guided meditation session. In the serene environment he boasts about how he teaches meditation to rich CEOs and Goldman-Sachs executives. I consider questioning him about how he reconciles getting paid handsomely for making people calmer and more efficient at plundering and raping the planet with the core values of buddhism but decide against it as I know it wouldn’t end well and would ‘spoil’ the morning session (getting into an argument with a Zen master in his own place isn’t something I’d enjoy). I put him in the charlatan category in my head and enjoy living in the moment with the meditation, macha tea and lovely surroundings.
Capital of Japan for over a thousand years, much of Kyoto’s history has been preserved as a modern infrastructure has developed over the past century. It’s as calm as I expected it to be, especially outside the city centre in the area I stay; it’s not yet the peak season when the surrounding forests’ foliage turn completely red. There are still a lot of people, mainly Japanese tourists and school children, visiting the temples but there’s a pleasant atmosphere. Although chilly, the weather is mostly fine and cycling around the old streets in between temples fills my time during the days. Arashiyama bamboo grove and nearby temples, just outside the city, is one of the highlights of Kyoto and it’s the busiest place I visit. I hate to sound like a tour guide but with all this on its doorstep along with temples you could explore for the rest of your life, Kyoto has to be one of the most liveable and interesting cities in the world.