ANNEMARIE LUCK FINDS HER ZEN IN THE ANCIENT CAPITAL OF JAPAN
all countries have their rival cities. In Japan, it’s Tokyo versus Kyoto. The modern capital is famous for its buzzing, concrete edginess, while prettier predecessor Kyoto is where time is suspended as you wander through bamboo forests, marvel at historic temples and imagine yourself to be on the set of Memoirs of a Geisha. Luckily, you don’t have to choose between the two: Kyoto is a 2,5hour Shinkansen (bullet train) ride away from Tokyo, so it’s easy to factor in a quick visit – and a spot of kimono-browsing.
TOP SPOTS & PAUSES
There are 1 600 Buddhist temples in Kyoto.To avoid ‘temple burnout’, hire a bicycle and visit the most popular ones, including Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion), which really is covered in gold leaf, and Kiyomizu-dera (Pure Water Temple), one of 17 World Cultural Heritage sites in the city. Japan-guide.com Particularly beautiful during cherry blossom season (late March/early April), The Philosopher’s Path got its name from Nishida Kitaro, a Japanese philosopher who used to walk this route to work every day. Follow the stone path from Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion) to Nanzenji neighbourhood. Japan-guide.com Stroll through the otherworldly Arashiyama bamboo forest to Okochi Sanso, former home of actor Denjirõ Õkõchi, which boasts a mystical Japanese garden. Japanvisitor.com There’s nothing quite like the awe-filled peace you experience when seated before a 15thcentury zen garden. Ryoan-ji Temple’s karesansui (dry garden) consists of 15 rocks surrounded by white gravel, still raked daily by monks. Ryoanji.jp
DRINK & EAT
Eat like a monk at Ryoanji Yudofu, a restaurant in the grounds of Ryoan-ji Temple that serves the same tofu-based dishes enjoyed by the holy men. Take your shoes off at the three Michelin-starred Kikunoi and revel in ryotei (multi-course Japanese cuisine) at the foot of the Higashiyama mountains. Kikunoi.jp The owner at Yoramu Sake Bar will help you tailor your sake to your taste buds and pair your choice with suitable snacks. Sakebar-yoramu.com Add a little rock ’n’ roll to your evening at the Rolling Stones-themed Ing, an izakaya (Japanese-style pub). Kyotoingbar.com
The Gion district is home to Kyoto’s geisha. Browse the arts, crafts and souvenir stores, and you might spot the kimono-clad entertainers shuffling about.Visit Yojiya, a cosmetics company that sells local products such as Aburatorigami (oil-blotting facial paper). Yojiya.co.jp In downtown Kyoto you’ll find the famous Nishiki food market, as well as fashion brand-rich department stores like Daimaru. Daimaru.co.jp
Spend the night on a futon bed at a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn), complete with tatami mat floors. Hiragiya, established in 1818, is one of the most sought-after ryokans in Kyoto, while Nishiyama is an attractive, no-frills option. Ryokan-kyoto.com
Clockwise from top left The Gion district; Annemarie and partner Kevin at Kinkakuji; a local at Ryoan-ji Temple; kokeshi dolls; the Okochi garden; one of Kyoto’s many temples.