One often sees along the streets of Kyoto a signboard titled “Arukumachi Kyoto (Kyoto, the Walking City)" in bright pink characters against a white background. I have yet to look closely yet, but from what I see it is mainly about a constitution by the Kyoto City government to create a friendly environment for walking around the city of Kyoto. One of measures being the reconstruction of the southern entrance of Kyoto Station.
Kyoto is really a great city for walking. It is said that when the Heian-kyo was built the design of the new capital was based on Onmyodo, and while the city was covered by Siimaabandha, it was also divided into four regions: Blue Dragon of the East (Yasaka Shrine), Vermillion Bird of the South ( Jonan-gu Shrine), White Tiger of the West (Matsunoo-taisha), and Black Tortoise of the North (Kamigamo Shrine), and protected by these dieties.
Hachijo-doori, where Kyoto Station is situated, is joined by Higashiooji-doori to the east, and Nishiooji-doori to the west. Higashiooji-doori and Nishiooji-doori are in turn joined by Kitaooji-doori to the north. Follow this circle and one has basically navigated around the city of Kyoto. The major national treasures, cultural properties, and heritage sites lie within this circle. And there are more of these than convenient stores, one always comes across something within a few steps’ distance.
In Higashiyama district where I live, there are many famous shrines and temples along the mountain side. Beginning from Kiyomizu-dera, towards north along the path dotted with small shops, passing by the grave of Ryuma Sakamoto, Kodai-ji, at the end of the elegant stone-paved path called “Path of Nene" one reaches Maruyama Park and Yasaka Shrine, outside of which is the bustling Gion district, further west of which brings one across the Kamo River to the most fashionable shopping area of Kyoto, Shijo Kawaramachi. If one walks south from Gion, one sees Kennin-ji, Kyoto’s oldest Zen temple, Rokuharamitsu-ji, Kawai Kanjiro’s House, Hokoku Shrine, Kyoto National Museum, Sanjusangen-do that houses 1,001 Thousand Armed Kannon statues. Whichever position one takes, one always sees something. The roads here are wide and straight, while paths are quiet and clean, immersed in the aura of the ancient city so that it is a delight to walk, and one can easily spend one day just walking.
Gradually, not having studied any of it, I begin to sense the history of this ancient city: places and how people and events were related to them, the passing of time and changes of atmosphere between regions, Shintoism and Buddhism and the spirit of the Japanese.
I have been to Kyoto twice, and every time I followed the same short-trip point-to-point model: bought the same city bus pass, went to the most popular spots, looked and then jumped onto the bus again for yet another popular spot. But I never saw the real city of Kyoto.
And now I can look at the map and try a different route each day. Slowly I walk, and slowly I learn more about Kyoto.