Traveling Photographer’s Love Letter to Kyoto Highlights Its Technicolor Glow

Kyoto Glow by Xavier Portela

Photographer Xavier Portela is known for capturing the energy of cities at night. Focusing on the neon-soaked streets of vibrant urban centers, Portela's Glow series is a surreal look at life in the city. And now, after Tokyo and Kobe, Portela is back in Japan. This time, he's ventured to Kyoto. Considered the cultural heart of Japan, the former capital is known for its wealth of temples and shrines. But, as Portela's photos demonstrate, the city is also distinctly modern.

In Portela's photographs, the streets of the city glow with paper lanterns and neon signs. Because, while Kyoto isn't as built up as Tokyo, it is still a thriving metropolis. Between the ancient shrines and monuments exists a bustling city full of life. It's a city that Portela has visited twice and one that so enchanted him that a visit that was supposed to last just a few days transformed into two weeks.

The photographer's affection for the city is clear in how he also takes care to capture the men and women that call Kyoto home. Whether eating a bowl of noodles or riding a bike, these people bring the city to life and make it a special place that is much more than a tourist destination.

“You need to take time to appreciate the real value of Kyoto mainly because the best parts are hidden,” Portela writes. “When you arrive in the ultra-modern train station, you are just seeing the tip of the iceberg; you'll have to move further around and outside the center city to really discover all the best places. I don't think I will ever have enough time in Kyoto.”

Though it took him several years, Portela finally finished Kyoto Glow. It's a beautiful tribute to the city, which is one of the cities Portela misses the most. He's counting the days until he'll be able to visit again, stating that Kyoto is “one of those places where you will feel home even if you are very far from it.”

Photographer Xavier Portela is known for his Glow series, which takes us to neon cityscapes around the world.

Kyoto Glow by Xavier Portela

Kyoto Streets at Night

Kyoto Glow by Xavier Portela

Woman in Kyoto at Night

His latest series takes us to Kyoto, which he calls “one of those places where you will feel home even if you are very far from it.”

Man in Doorway in Kyoto at Night

Man Riding a Bike in Kyoto at Night

Girl Eating Noodles at Night in Kyoto

Taxicab in Kyoto at Night

Man Walking on the Streets of Kyoto at Night

His nighttime photographs give a unique perspective on Japan's cultural capital.

Neon Storefronts in Kyoto

Neon Storefronts in Kyoto

Kyoto Streets at Night

Kyoto Glow by Xavier Portela

Xavier Portela: Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter 

My Modern Met granted permission to feature photos by Xavier Portela.

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Staff Editor and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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