Colors and Crowds: Fall in Kyoto

For most of my life, Fall was nothing more to me than an abstract concept, something that I saw on TV that probably happened somewhere but didn't affect me. September through November in the islands doesn't bring with it the vibrant colors and shorter days that it does elsewhere. Heck, the temperature hardly even changes. So it wasn't until I started college in Chicago that I really got to experience Fall

Fall in Chicago is beautiful - especially on the University of Chicago's Hogwarts-esque campus. As if by magic, the bright summer greens turn to gold near the end of October. And being away from Chicago this year, I've realized that because it was my first experience with the season, that I've come to associate Fall and all of its effects with the Windy City. But, I must admit, as wonderful as a Midwestern Fall is, Fall in Kyoto is on a completely different level.

Last week, all of the JETs in Hyogo Prefecture had a conference in Awaji, all the way on the other side of the prefecture from where I live, pretty close to Kobe. So instead of returning home straight away after it was over, I decided to take advantage of the location and pop over to Kyoto for the weekend to play tourist and visit my old host family. 

While the area that I live in has its fair share of trees turning red, yellow, and orange, the mountains are dominated by evergreens. Kyoto, on the other hand, is known far and wide for its abundance of firey-leaved maples (whether by intentional cultivation or not, I'm not sure). Among the best-known spots, and the two places I visited this time around, are Tôfuku-ji and Kiyomizu-dera. 

Unfortunately, you and I are not the only ones privy to this valuable information. Mid to Late November is one of the busiest times of year for the city of Kyoto, which means there could be, at times, hundreds of people trying to take in the sights at the same place at the same time - particularly so with these two sites. 

Kyoto also relies heavily on buses for public transportation, which can lead to problems if you're trying to get somewhere on a tight schedule - as was the case as I was going to visit my old host family. I ended up missing three of the bus that I needed because the route passed in front of Kiyomizu-dera, which is lit up in the evenings during the Fall. 

My advice for visiting at this time of year: You don't need to skip the big temples and shrines (they are incredibly gorgeous, after all!) as long as you spread them out to maybe one a day and do them early in the morning. Then, with the rest of your day, you can explore less season-centric places such as Kyoto's downtown, the Imperial Palace, Nara, and Uji (all of which are accessible by train/subway, allowing you to avoid the crazy crowded buses!).