Sleepless in Kyoto


I woke at 2.30 on Sunday morning having passed out with exhaustion early the previous evening.  Around midnight there had been a thunderstorm but it was no longer raining.  I was sure I wouldn’t return to sleep so decided to get up and walk.   I was out with my camera at 3.15 knowing that it would be light in about an hour.



How tropical it was.  The lens of my camera steamed up when I took my first photos of the night/morning, creating digital haloes around the lamps.  It was quiet but not completely empty in the Gion streets.  I never felt the slightest bit unsafe.  This was Kyoto.


I wandered across to Pontocho and slowly walked its length, marvelling all the while at the lights reflecting and glowing in the wet pavement.  I knew that I was capturing what I would later turn into drawings.  And I will…



Around 4 a m the sky got a little lighter.  (Can you find the cat in the photo above?)  I meandered back to Shinbashi, buying a roll and an iced coffee on the way to fully wake myself up.



Can you imagine the reverie I was in, alone in Kyoto with my thoughts and the beauty all around?  It still makes me swoon to think about.  After observing the streets transform in the increasing light I walked up to the nearby eastern hills; Higashiyama.


At 4.45 the birds were awake and singing.  In the distance I could hear the low powerful thrum of a temple gong being struck at intervals – reverberating with satisfaction.  Close up, summer flowers glistened from the previous night’s rain.  The senses were inspired; sound, sight – and smell – the latter from the flowers’ scents plus lingering incense from the (still-closed) shops.




I walked, stopped, composed…on and on.  By now it was thoroughly light though not even 6 a.m.  Higashiyama was all spirit and soul.  The tourists were still asleep.  Just the odd local walked his dog, “Ohayo gozaimasu”.  But mostly, it was just me.


I took my portrait in front of the ‘Blue Stocking’ dress shop.  No; I didn’t even notice my reflection in this photo (below) until today.  I took the photo originally because I was fascinated with the conservative frocks on display.  They reminded me of the 1950s.


Around 7.30 a.m, with full heart but empty stomach, I returned to my hotel for breakfast.  Then I went straight out and caught the subway to the botanical gardens in the north of Kyoto…but that is another story.

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PS: To really appreciate the Kyoto morning, please click on photos to enlarge them.





22 thoughts on “Sleepless in Kyoto

  1. Vicki Truman

    Julie, I love this post……you made me feel like I was there with you. What a lovely way to spent an early morning. Heavenly. Thanks so much for sharing such an awesome experience. Fondest regards, Vicki Truman

    1. juliepodstolski Post author

      Vicki, thanks so much. I’m happy that you felt like you were there with me. When I WAS there I knew I’d want to share the experience once I returned to Australia. Thank you for coming along.

  2. Lisa Gibson

    LOVE this post & photos, particularly the very 1st (top) one – I felt as though I was there! You are a kindred spirit, walking around in the early a.m. alone in a foreign country…my heart is there. I can’t wait to see the drawings you bring to life out of this experience!

  3. Lissa Rachelle

    Really stunning photos, Julie. You tempt me to get up at 2 am and go walking in my own neighbourhood just to see what’s out there! LOL I doubt the scenery would be anything like this though!

    1. juliepodstolski Post author

      Not sure if it’s the same in one’s own neighborhood, Lissa. This morning I woke too early. Went on computer for a bit then went back to bed and back to sleep. Besides MY own neighborhood right now is in winter. This kind of mad activity is a warm weather thing.

  4. Sherry Telle

    What a wonderful treat to be fully awake and all alone in such an interesting place! I of course spotted the little black kitty right away! I think I would love to go on an adventure with you, and our cameras, we would have such a great time!

  5. anna warren portfolio

    A lovely progression through those early morning streets. Each one I could see your trademarks in. The small details – the cat, the wires across the sky, the glowing lights all appeal. I especially liked the one with the glowing red lights, tge composition is semi abstract, and the lovely one with the bicycle. Can’t wait to see the new drawing!

    1. juliepodstolski Post author

      Lovely to ‘hear your voice’ Anna. Sounds like you are having a wonderful time travelling deep within Australia. Re new drawing – working on something from my trip right now – but not from any of the above photos.

      1. anna warren portfolio

        You have a wealth of material there when you finish the new one, but I expect there are plenty more too! Am sort-of back in ‘civilisation’, by phone anyway, but will be gone again tomorrow hoping to see some rock art.

  6. Meleena Davey

    Hi Julie,
    My husband and I met you in Kyoto in June/July in Gion out the front of that tea house in Gion. We had no idea why everyone was standing on that street until you explained that they were waiting for a maiko. I thought I lost my little notebook that you wrote down your website, but thankfully found it.
    Looking through these photos of Kyoto just reminds me of how beautiful that place is.
    Your work is truly amazing and I particularly love the Japan/geisha artwork. I’m glad we randomly met you that day and would love to go to your next exhibition and have one of your artwork on our wall!

    1. juliepodstolski Post author

      Meleena,I remember meeting you. What a delight to hear from you. Just so you know, my next exhibition is planned for mid 2016 (I exhibit every two years). It will be at Early Works Gallery in South Fremantle. However if you don’t want to wait that long get in touch, I have a few drawings at home now plus a limited edition print. My email is Thank you so much for contacting me.
      I will be back in Kyoto in February for more inspiration.

  7. CROeu

    It’s midnight here in EU. I am sleepless and surfing accross the internet i found this. Is there anything better then having the beauty of the world for yourself even just for the glimpse… hoping one day will be visiting japan 🙂

    1. juliepodstolski Post author

      I truly hope you get to Japan one day. There is certainly something magical about being up and out when most of the population is asleep. It helps when you are in a place where there is no feeling of threat!


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