Kyoto
Overview

Let’s discuss Kyoto by the numbers: 2,000 Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, 1,000 years as Japan’s Imperial Capital, 200 Geiko (or Geisha as you may know them), over 80 Michelin starred restaurants, 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites, and one trip you will never forget - just ask Diane von Furstenberg, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jessica Alba. An air of peaceful tranquility pervades this place, and due to its suspended-in-time preservation, one could easily forget the current year is 2017 — if only there wasn’t an iPhone-ready photo op every five cobblestoned feet. Kyoto’s most famous season is Spring, due to the exuberant explosion of cherry blossom blooms, when millions of petals paint the city pretty in pink. This yearly occurrence has captured the imagination of many, yet few can stay in town proper due to tricky timing. Accommodations are all part of the pleasure, from a Ritz-Carlton if you like luxury to a ryokan if you like authenticity (and sleeping on the floor). Should you miss the mark, there are plenty of other places that incorporate nature to meditate on the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi - the beauty in impermanence and imperfection - such as Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, the Ryōan-ji rock garden, Saihō-ji moss garden/Koke-Dera moss temple, and any number of Zen-tastic onsen (hot spring) spas. Kyoto is a lesson in patience for the hyper modern-day traveler, and it may be just what the doctor ordered for our overworked, underexamined lives.

Back to our Gion-based Geiko friends with their painstakingly painted faces and exquisite manners — snagging a date night with these impeccably trained beauties certainly isn’t as simple as swiping right (required reading: Memoirs of a Geisha). A local expert will facilitate your booking — and the experience will cost you more than a pretty penny. More commonly, a still expensive Maiko, or, geisha-in-training, will entertain you - reciting poems, singing, playing instruments, doing traditional dances and serving tea are her specialities. Tea, including its cultivation, service and enjoyment, is not a ritual taken lightly in Japan. The perfect gift to bring for your snarky Starbucks ‘green tea’ swilling frenemies is a real deal matcha from 300 year old firm Ippodo, the purveyor to the Imperial Court. Yet a girl cannot survive on matcha alone — get ready because the umami-packed culinary offerings of Kyoto can be overwhelming. Beyond the restaurant-stuffed Nishiki market, indulge in meat and seafood during teppanyaki, discover the city’s appreciation of a vegetarian diet through their elevation of not-so-modest tofu, or count your carbs via a steady intake of soba and ramen. In Kyoto, it isn’t just what you eat, but how you eat it—from omakase to kaiseki—and let’s not forget the drinks, Kyoto’s sake, made with fresh filtered spring water, is not to be missed either accompanying dinner or during a night of bar hopping.

While visions of Yohji Yamamoto and Comme des Garçons may be dancing in your head, when packing for Kyoto, comfort is key as you will want to get the most out of every day. Think about the simplicity of Japanese design and try mix-and-match monochrome looks to which you can easily add on-trend accessories. In summer, we see a Issa or Cushnie et Ochs jumpsuit with Joshua Sanders sneakers and a suede Balenciaga backpack. In the winter, layer with an Adrienne Landau fur vest or Tsumori Chisato poncho and a minimalist M2Malletier frame bag. Give the geishas a run for their money with a stroke of bright red Tom Ford lipstick - okay, you lost that one, but good effort! Don’t forget to leave room in your suitcase for stylish souvenirs such as fans, parasols and of course a custom kimono. Your bags sufficiently over the weight limit, saying sayonara to Kyoto will be a bittersweet parting...

Stay

Where to stay

Indulge

Indulge

DINING

Kikunoi is in a traditional Japanese home, this family-run restaurant is the place to go for a big night out. The elegant spot serves a multicourse meal made with seasonal ingredients. Guilo Guilo is a funky restaurant with a cutting-edge Japanese cuisine and served at this hot spot housed in a refurbished warehouse. Nakajin has only ten seats and there is no English menu but the esteemed soba master of Kyoto, Kazuomi Nakamura, serves the best buckwheat noodles and tempura in town. For more than three hundred years, the same family has been serving homemade soba noodles, attracting generations of patrons who come to revel in this warm comfort food. Misoka-an Kawamichiya was dubbed the best noodle experience by Steve Jobs. Gion Karyo is one of the more accessible kaiseki restaurants in the heart of Gion. It’s a great place to eat while out exploring Gion. Chihana opened in 1946 in the district of Gion and, since then, has become a prime destination for Japanese foodies. Founded by Motoo Nagata and now managed by his son Katsuyoshi Nagata, this little restaurant is hidden in a side street of one of Kyoto’s busiest districts. Chihana specializes in kaiseki, which is Japanese haute cuisine. Sou is deeelicoooous. The serve Wagyu A5, which in Japan only the highest quality of beef can attain the prestigious grade of A5, and the owner and head chef at Sou has mastered the art of cooking this Japanese delicacy. Though more commonly associated with Osaka, you can have great okonomiyaki in Kyoto at Donguri.

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It’s a savory pancake made with a base of wheat flour, eggs, and cabbage, with a slew of other ingredients thrown in like seafood, beef, pork, and cheese. Really yummy! One of the must talked about restaurants in Japan, Takazawa has only three tables and serves a maximum of 10 people each evening. Kitcho for over-the-top spare-no-expense kaiseki, Kitcho Arashiyama is THE place to go in Kyoto. Le Musée is at the cutting edge of a new style of Japanese cooking where a traditional, minimal approach is fused with innovative ways of cooking to express each seasonal ingredient. For elegant sushi, sashimi and a variety of accompanying dishes, Sushi-kappo Nakaichi is one of Kyoto’s better choices. Ippudo Ramen is one of the best ramen restaurants in Kyoto. Karaka Men is one of Ippudo’s special ramen dishes and is served with a special blend of hot spices and topped with pork chashu, sesame kikurage mushrooms, cabbage, onion, minced pork, and scallions. Sumibi-kushiyaki Torito is “haute yakitori” – dynamite yakitori in a fashionable surrounding. Good restaurants are hard to find near Kiyomizu-dera Temple, which is why Omen Kodaiji so special: the noodles are unique and the location is superb.  Honke Owariya is located in an impressive old wooden building, Honke Owariya is arguably the best soba restaurant in all of Kyoto. A vast downtown sushi specialist, Ganko Sushi is one of the most approachable and reasonably priced sushi places in Kyoto. Yoshikawa Tempura serves up some damn good tempura in a beautiful old wooden building built around very scenic Japanese garden. Kasagiya is a beautiful little tea house in Kyoto, which is worth stopping in for a hot cup of matcha tea and a sweet. The Nishiki Food Market is a series of covered blocks lined with kiosks and shops selling all kinds of Japanese food that you can spend the whole day trying. Spend an evening with a Geisha! It is a not to be missed experience. The most famous and well-produced one is the Kyoto Cuisine and Maiko Evening, which is offered by Gion Hatanaka ryokan. Here, you eat dinner with a small group of other people and are entertained by several geisha, who demonstrate their dancing and also play a few drinking games with the guests. The geisha circulate during the meal so you can talk directly to them. It’s well done and a lot of fun.

NIGHTLIFE

Gion – Japan's largest Geisha district – is a great spot for lively restaurants, bars, souvenir shops and karaoke its so much fun just to stroll through and people watch after dinner. Sfera Bar Satonaka offers an incredible mixology experience in Kyoto. The décor is elegant and modern, with black lacquered walls and a beautiful wooden bar that is the focal point on the entire building. K6 is one of the buzziest bars and biggest cocktail bars in Kyoto. Below K6 is a serious members-only whiskey den called Bar Keller, which is definietly a place to check out! Kanga-An, this quiet little temple in Kyoto had a hidden secret: a bar. Once a private salon in which the priestess would entertain her friends – has opened to all.  While it still remains hush hush with no signage – with your back to the Buddha hall and eyes towards the garden, Kanga-An is undoubtedly a great place to unwind in a Zen temple. Butterfly is the place of places to dance the night away. The area around the Ritz Kyoto, called Ponto-chō, is a great area to bar hop and explore.

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Explore

Explore

Visit the famous moss garden Kokedera (book reservations required several weeks in advance). The Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is one of Kyoto’s top sights and for good reason: standing amid these soaring stalks of bamboo is like being in another world…and is extremely magical at dawn. Kinkaku-ji is one of Kyoto's most famous attractions, this temple was originally built in 1397 as a residence for shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. The structure was completely covered in gold leaf, earning it the name Golden Pavilion. Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art has an amazing collection of international art. Sanjusangendo Hall was originally named Rengeoin Temple, this site has taken on the name of the great hall within which houses 1001 life-sized, wooden statues of Kannon, the goddess of mercy. Ryōan-ji Temple's dry rock garden is a puzzle. Nobody knows who designed it or what the meaning is of the 15 rocks scattered across its expanse of raked white gravel. One thing everyone does agree on is that Ryoan-ji is one of the finest examples of Zen landscaping in the country. Kyoto International Manga Museumfew museums are as hands-on as this old elementary school turned shrine to manga, or comic books, and its collection of some 300,000 comics and manga-related exhibits. Kiyomizu-dera Temple is the most-visited temple in Kyoto was built to honor Kannon, the goddess of mercy. It's beautiful hillside location offers spectacular views of the city and valley below. Nijo Castle was the home of Tokugawa leyasu, one of the most powerful men in Japan.

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The castle was built as a residence and not for defense purposes. However, to protect the shogun from enemies, special creaky floorboards were installed to warn of anyone approaching. Gion is not the only geisha district left in Japan, but Gion, a collection of streets defined by its old wooden buildings, teahouses and exclusive Japanese restaurants, is by far the most famous. Head to En, a small tea house, to experience a traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony, or Minokou restaurant for an 11-course Kyo-Ryori eating experience. Spend an hour wandering the area and chances are you'll glimpse a geisha or two shuffling between teahouses in their zori sandals and kimono. Every July, their charms are eclipsed by the Gion Matsuri, a festival that attracts in excess of a million visitors for its procession of festival floats and traditional musical performances. Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama is inhabited by 120 wild monkeys known as the Japanese Macaque, or the Snow Monkey. It is located on the left bank of the Oi River and provides a magnificent view of Kyoto City. Shugakuin Imperial Villa was created as an imperial summer retreat, the garden complex is a fine example of Japanese landscape design. Ponto-chō Alley is arguably the single most atmospheric street in all of Kyoto, Pontocho Alley is a great place to do some geisha spotting in the evening. Teramachi and Shinkyogoku Shopping Arcades are covered shopping arcades are the most popular shopping streets in all of Kyoto, and they’re often crammed with kids out on school excursionsNanzenji Temple whose spacious grounds are located at the base of Kyoto’s forested Higashiyama mountains, is one of the most important Zen temples in all of Japan. Kyoto Imperial Palace is rich in tradition, Kyoto Imperial Palace preserves the look and ambiance of the Palace as it had been in the time of Japan's ancient imperial dynasties. Philosopher’s Path is a pleasant stone path through the northern part of Kyoto’s Higashiyama district. The path follows a canal which is lined by hundreds of cherry trees. Usually in early April these trees explode with color, making this one of the city's most popular hanami (cherry blossom viewing) spots. The path begins around Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion) and ends in the neighborhood of Nanzenji. Tenryū-ji Temple is the headline attraction in Arashiyama, a sprawling Zen temple with one of the finest gardens in Kyoto and wonderful mountain views. After all that sushi and soba you are going to want to find a way to burn it off and what better to see the city the do a little hiking. Climb Mt. Daimonji-yama for the best view in Kyoto. Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Pilgrimage Circuit to have the most unique experience. Kurama to Kibune is the best half-day hike near Kyoto, Kurama to Kibune has it all: mountain temples, shrines, plenty of greenery and a quaint village. 

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SHOP

Where to Shop

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There are two main shopping districts in Kyoto: The Kyoto Station area and Downtown Kyoto. Kyoto Station has a lot of shops right inside and underneath the station building, as well as some vast electronics and camera emporiums. Downtown Kyoto has several large department stores, hundreds of smaller shops and the famous Nishiki Market. All told, Downtown Kyoto is the best place to shop in Kyoto, especially when you consider the number of cafes and shops in the area. Sou-Sou is a unique shopping experience and a welcome departure from the extremely expensive shopping streets showcasing high-end fashion. This place is home to offbeat clothing, selling younger and more affordable fashion. The long standing Kimono shop, TATSUMIYA is located along Higashioji-dori street in the sightseeing area of Higashiyama where you can find famous temples such as Kiyomizu-dera temple and Kōdai-ji temple. Green tea, or matcha, connoisseurs shouldn’t miss Ippodo Tea Co., easily one of the best tea shops in Kyoto. For nearly 300 years, Ippodo has sold  high-quality Japanese green tea; enjoy a pot next door at the Kaboku Tearoom. Who doesn’t love a good flea market and Kyoto has many, our favorites are held on 21st of each month at Toji Temple, which is located south of the Kyoto Station and the other flea market is held every month on 25th at Kitano Tenmangū Temple. Both flea markets are full of amazing clothes, arts, and antiques.

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