In part two of the Beautiful Japan series we head to the island of Naoshima, traditionally a small fishing village and now housing a host of world class art galleries on a mountainous terrain. From there Michaela takes us to Kyoto, known as Japan’s cultural capital for its abundance of museums, galleries, traditional wares and ancient temples.


 

We travelled back up north, taking two trains and a boat before arriving at an island known as Naoshima. Naoshima was traditionally a small fishing village, more recently converted into a so called ‘art island’ housing some of the best art in the world through several galleries scattered across the island.

We decided to hire bikes to explore, all thirteen of us picking a different coloured bike to ride on. We spent our three days at Naoshima exploring the galleries, taking in the scenery, eating at the few cafe’s who mostly served a western menu and just relaxing. The island was definitely the calmest place we visited, far from the 24 hour buzz of Tokyo and removed from the history of Hiroshima, Naoshima was somewhere you could just be content

From Naoshima we headed towards Kyoto. Kyoto is known as the cultural capital of Japan, housing many of Japan’s best museums, galleries, traditional wares and temples. We spent our first day in Kyoto just exploring the streets. There were many shops selling traditional crafts and Japanese clothing like the Kimono, they were interesting to explore like mini museums in themselves.

Our week in Kyoto was split between the old and the new. We visited historical sites like the 1000 Red Gates at the Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine, the famous Golden Temple and the historic city of Nara, Japan’s capital city many years ago.

We also visited some of the many museums including the Kyoto Museum where I was lucky enough to see the exhibit ‘Kyoto Kimono’ looking back on the history of Kimono from the 1200’s to today. The textiles museum was another highlight where, despite a big language barrier, we witnessed handcrafted Kyoto at its finest. Thinking we had just come to a museum full of artefacts on display we were amazed to be taken upstairs to a studio of traditional hand woven fabric weavers working away. We were introduced to the head weaver, a man of 76 years of age. Upon asking how many years this man had been weaving I was astonished to hear it was 62 years! He had been practicing his craft since the age of 14. He worked with such patience and precision, and absolute pride in his work. It was inspiring to see.

Our week in Kyoto also had much of the new. Despite not having the manic rush of Tokyo, Kyoto is a large city in its own right. We spent days exploring the streets and shopping in the various department stores and boutiques, taking home many a souvenir which would later need to be crammed into our overflowing suit cases.

After a week in Kyoto our trip had almost come to an end. We headed back to Tokyo on the train and made our way to the airport. We had one last Japanese meal before we boarded the plane – soba noodles and vegetable tempura, delicious as always. My three weeks in Japan was truly unforgettable and I really can’t wait to return. Japan so elegantly balances the old and the new that there is always something different and unexpected around the corner, and always something new to explore.

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