FAMOUS for its Shinto shrines, Buddhist temples and geisha girls, Kyoto is Japan’s spiritual heart.
A feast for the eyes and the senses, this vibrant city on the island of Honshu nurtures its ancient traditions while embracing the new.
A great way to get your bearings in Kyoto is on a free walking tour. Simply sign up to the Facebook event for the day you want to attend and turn up. As long as at least one tourist says they’re going, then it’s on.
Our guide shepherded the international crowd with enthusiasm, providing information about the city, its landmarks, the two main religions of Shintoism and Buddhism and the geisha district of Gion. Although there are hundreds of temples and shrines in Kyoto, you must see Fushimi Inari – a place recognisable from the hit movie Memoirs Of A Geisha.
My tip is to rise early and get there for dawn. We arrived at 6.30am and had plenty of uninterrupted views as we made our way from the shrine at the bottom through the thousands of torii gates.
These famous red sacred symbols are purchased by businesses to bring them fortune and cost around £9,000.
Mount Inari is also stunning in the morning light and as we reached the summit, Ithinomine Station, my wife profoundly spoke: “There’s bound to be some rare Pokemon up here”. And, lo, she did trap an Ivysaur.
Kyoto is home to the geisha, or geiko as they are known here. Local guides are quick to point out they are not part of the sex trade. It was US soldiers at the end of World War II who often called single Japanese women “geisha girls”.
The arduous journey to become a geiko begins between the age of 15 and 20 and girls spend about five years as trainees, called maiko, learning the art form.
The private entertaining of geiko and maiko in the secretive buildings of Gion is off limits to most. You must be wealthy and connected.
And for that reason there are many wardens who usher the tourists to one side to allow taxis carrying the rich and famous or travelling geiko to pass.
There are also signs telling tourists not to touch, talk to or try to take a selfie with the geiko and maiko.
However you can witness the geikos’ skills during the Miyako Odori festival in April, when performances are held several times a day. The sets are elaborate and the performances