One of my best friends has been living in Japan for a while, and I recently spent some time with her there. I wish I could've seen more of the countryside, but with my very limited japanese ("hai", "arrigato", "sushi" = yes, thanks and - well - sushi, all you need to know) and my japanese-speaking friend's busy schedule, I spent most of my time in cities. Still I enjoyed it very much and found Kyoto, where I stayed most of the time, a very relaxed and interesting city to wander around and get lost in.

Kamo-gawa, southern Higashiyama, Kyoto. My first impression of Kyoto.

Tokyo was different. I'm glad I went there, but I've never ever felt so alone, small and "gaijin" (=foreign) before as I did during those three days in Tokyo. I'm very glad I don't live there. Everything seemed to circle around consuming. What does one do in Tokyo without spending money? I could only find two things that didn't cost anything: Yoyogi park and walking along the concrete/neon lined streets. A few things that did cost money, but didn't involve any shopping that I enjoyed were riding the subway and the rest of the excellent public transit system, visiting various parks and gardens, watching the view from the top of tall buildings, and a boat-ride in the harbour.

One of my best memories is from Tokyo and Koishikawa Korakuen gardens, where I spent 3 hours on a rainy wednesday morning. A well needed break from the people, concrete and city noise.

Koishikawa Korakuen Garden. Water lily pond.

Koishikawa Korakuen Koi.

Another oasis in Tokyo, Meiji Jingu, a shrine in the Yoyogi park. Here, a camphor tree with hundreds of votive boards circling the trunk.

Tokyo. The city that never ends. Taken from Roppongi Hills, a supermodern shopping/culture/business complex. Not my typical place to hang out in, but I quite enjoyed the hours I spent on the 52nd floor, waiting for sunset. And they had really good gelato.

Kurama-dera on Kuramayama (Kurama mountain), north of Kyoto. A little stone shrine. I love the mix of Shinto and Buddhism at Japanese temples and shrines, different religions don't necessarily have to clash, they can actually carry on side by side, and maybe even merge on some parts as they seem to have done in Japan.

Kiyomizu-dera temple, Kyoto. Beautiful ornamental paintings on the insides of the pavillion roofs. Orange is typically Shinto, the ancient Japanese religion.

Buddha statue at Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto.

Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto. Lanterns.

Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto. Prayers, fortunes or wishes, tied to strings. Which, I'm not sure, my japanese wasn't good enough. But they make pretty motifs.

Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto. A three-storey pavillion, where 2 storeys are covered in gold. Impressive, and interestingly, buddhist.

Kennin-ji, Gion, Kyoto. I spent three hours searching for the temple that houses these twin dragons, until I realised I was in the wrong part of town. At least it was 3 fun hours of discovery.

Maruyama park, Kyoto.

Japanese rebellion at it's best. The green and white sign says that bike parking is prohibited, as it is in most of downtown Kyoto except for bike parking garages where you have to pay for a space. Ridiculous in a city where everyone bikes everywhere.

Fushimi-Inari, One of my favorite places in Kyoto. The hills in this area are lined with orange "torii", shrine gates. I would have loved to come back here at dusk and wander around with a torch. Both my friend and I to paint and draw, so we brought materials and got some sketching done.

Another favorite memory. Yakiniku, japanese barbeque on the shore of Lake Biwa. Great company, good food and a stunning view. A few people even brought their own smoke-box, made of a grill and a cardboard box lined with aluminium foil. Clever! My friend and I brought sake-cured salmon and new potato salad to add a Swedish touch to the buffet.

Arashiyama, Kyoto. Bamboo, a lovely piece of nature in an otherwise over-exploited and quite drab area. A bit of a tourist trap, except that it didn't cost anything to watch, and hey, I've never seen a bamboo grove before.

Kyoto. Moss gardens, a concept I think more Swedish people should adapt, instead of the constant struggle most people put up with against moss, to grow the perfect lawn.

Food is one of my favorite parts of travelling. The japanese food was no exception. I made my friend take me to a new place each evening, this particular evening japanese smörgåsbord was on the menu: cold soba, tempura, sashimi, sushi, smoked fish, egg dishes, pickles and rice of course. She also introduced me to food from Korea, Laos and Nepal. In Tokyo the best eats I found were ridiculously expensive and equally fresh sashimi at Tsukiji (the fish market), and ridiculously cheap o-nigiri at the conbini stores. Why can't we have fast food like that here. Out with the hot dogs and in with seaweed-wrapped rice pouches filled with grilled salmon. Yum!

Also, Kyoto is known for it's tofu. Walking around downtown I didn't see many signs of that. But then, surprisingly, on an aimless walk in the neighbourhood where my friend lives I found a tofu café by the great Fujino - apparently a very famous Kyoto tofu-maker. In retrospect, although the tofu sampler platter I had was interesting, I wish I had gone there for dessert rather than lunch.

And finally, Downtown Kyoto. Citylife has its perks too. One of my very favorite things to do is to aimlessly walk around in cities at night.