After Osaka, our next stop was Kyoto, Japan’s seventh largest city, with a population close to 1.5 million. Formerly the imperial capital of Japan for more than one thousand years, it is now the capital of Kyoto Prefecture, as well as a major part of the Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe metropolitan area. Kyoto is only a 15 minutes Shinkansen ride from Osaka, which was convenient since we didn’t have to use a lot of time on traveling.

Over the centuries, Kyoto was destroyed by many wars and fires, but due to its historic value, the city was spared from air raids during World War II. It was also removed from the atomic bomb target list by the personal intervention of Secretary of War Henry Stimson, as Stimson wanted to save this cultural center which he knew from his honeymoon and later diplomatic visits. Countless temples, shrines and other historically priceless structures survive in the city today.

Kyoto is home to the Gion Matsuri festival, supposedly the most Japanese festival. The festival takes place over the entire month of July and there are many different events, but two are particularly renowned: the Yamaboko Junko, a procession of floats on July 17th; and Yoiyama, the festive evenings preceding the procession. We arrived on the 15th of July and had plenty of time to experience Gion Matsuri.

Planning is everything.
Planning is everything.

In this restaurant they didn’t speak English, but understood "beer" and the hand signs for "large". So we got large beers.
In this restaurant they didn’t speak English, but understood "beer" and the hand signs for "large". So we got large beers.

A couple in traditional Kimono outfits.
A couple in traditional Kimono outfits.

One of the many temples along the Philosopher’s Path.
One of the many temples along the Philosopher’s Path.

Some of these temples are quite large.
Some of these temples are quite large.

Sun is setting over the Philosopher’s Path.
Sun is setting over the Philosopher’s Path.

Nijō Castle from the outside. No pictures from the inside since we managed to get there after closing time.
Nijō Castle from the outside. No pictures from the inside since we managed to get there after closing time.

If you’re going to Japan during summer, these will save your life over and over again. And they are everywhere.
If you’re going to Japan during summer, these will save your life over and over again. And they are everywhere.

As part of the Gion Matsuri festival, parts of the city was closed off for vehicles and local merchants started selling all kinds of stuff.
As part of the Gion Matsuri festival, parts of the city was closed off for vehicles and local merchants started selling all kinds of stuff.

Fish on a stick.
Fish on a stick.

Chocolate coated bananas on a stick.
Chocolate coated bananas on a stick.

Paper lanterns on Gion Matsuri float.
Paper lanterns on Gion Matsuri float.

More paper lanterns.
More paper lanterns.

Some of the Gion Matsuri floats are over 25 meters high.
Some of the Gion Matsuri floats are over 25 meters high.

The height often comes from just planting a huge tree on top of the float.
The height often comes from just planting a huge tree on top of the float.

Gion Matsuri parade.
Gion Matsuri parade.

Kids get easily bored no matter where they come from.
Kids get easily bored no matter where they come from.

This little guy is destined for Broadway.
This little guy is destined for Broadway.

Gion Matsuri parade.
Gion Matsuri parade.

I might have made a mortal enemy, not sure.
I might have made a mortal enemy, not sure.

Gion Matsuri parade.
Gion Matsuri parade.

Gion Matsuri parade.
Gion Matsuri parade.

The Gion Matsuri festival is supposedly among Japan’s most popular festivals.
The Gion Matsuri festival is supposedly among Japan’s most popular festivals.

We managed to find a quiet street.
We managed to find a quiet street.

The Nishi Honganji temple.
The Nishi Honganji temple.

Arashiyama bamboo grooves.
Arashiyama bamboo grooves.

From one of the many temples in the Arashiyama area.
From one of the many temples in the Arashiyama area.

Another temple in Arashiyama.
Another temple in Arashiyama.

For Gion Matsuri, many of the main streets are also closed and people poor out from everywhere.
For Gion Matsuri, many of the main streets are also closed and people poor out from everywhere.

Luckily, I left my rickshaw at home.
Luckily, I left my rickshaw at home.

People everywhere. Everywhere!
People everywhere. Everywhere!

Geisha.
Geisha.

And the sun sets on Kyoto.
And the sun sets on Kyoto.