If you happen to be in Kyoto right now and see a tall, lanky boy who kind of looks like Keima from The World God Only Knows, that’s my son. He went down to Kyoto with some friends to do some sightseeing and make some memories of his last summer in high school, and will be exploring Japan’s ancient capital for a few days. They’re all going down on the “Youth 18 Ticket,” a discount ticket sold by Japan Rail that lets you travel anywhere you want on slow but charming local trains for around $24 per day, which is great if you have more time than money and/or want to see the countryside in a way that’s not possible when traveling by air or bullet train. My son asked me what sights he should see in Kyoto, and I listed some of my favorites: the Gold and Silver Pavilions, the Hall of 33 Bays with its 1000 carved Buddha statues, and Ryoanji, the ancient zen temple with the “sea of rocks” that you can spend hours contemplating. I gave him another piece of advice: search for sightseeing information in English rather than Japanese. There’s an odd tendency for Japanese people to take their own country for granted, to think that amazing places like Kyoto are “kind of okay,” whereas we foreigners can really appreciate them with the passion they deserve. As a result, searching for tourism information in English could yield very different results compared with searching in Japanese.
My son is in Kyoto now, and I’m jealous.