An amazing traditional ryokan in the heart of the preserved area of Kyoto (the next street along is where you can spot geisha in the evenings)
It's a prime spot for shopping for lunch at the amazing department store food halls, a walk along the river, transport links and also very close to some of the most beautiful shrines.
They provide a traditional Japanese breakfast and dinner in your room. We were blown away by the daily variations.
Dinner was an experience I want to repeat - outstanding.
The staff were also incredibly helpful in creating a vegetarian option for my mother and were really concerned about giving her the best they could.
The service is incredible, the atmosphere fantastic, and I wouldn't miss the opportunity to experience a tea ceremony in the ryokan's own tea house located in the courtyard.
229-2 Nishinocho, Yamato-Oji Higashi-Iru, Shinmonzen, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 605-0088
Kyoto is beautiful in October, when palace and temple gardens are aglow with the blaze of autumn. It is also when the Jidai Matsuri (Festival of the Ages) takes place - a feast of incredible colour and elegance, involving 2,000 participants wearing costumes from the Heian to the Meiji periods. The procession starts at noon, heading from the Imperial Palace to the Heian Shrine, but don't wait until then. Go to the palace early in the morning when it's quiet and watch the performers getting ready. The 'samurai' are happy to chat and pose, and you can snap a close-up of ladies in the beautiful and complex kimonos of the Imperial Court.
A journey or destination takes on life-changing status when you suddenly feel that inexplicable frisson that stirs your soul. It can be something as simple as a smile, the quality of light, or a hand carved wooden bowl, that can make you see life from a new perspective.
The country that affects me that way above all others is Japan; a hypnotic mix of rigid convention and outlandish weirdness, and the home of Zen. Japan showed me how to appreciate beauty in a single moment or a simple object - the sweet hay smell of a tatami floor; a screen door sliding open to reveal the colours of the autumn trees; the sound of tea pouring.
The Japanese understand how beauty is most clearly seen in imperfection, and more importantly they understand the transience of nature - which is why cherry blossom is the perfect symbol of the Japanese soul.
The guidebooks warned us that we would be very fortunate to actually see any Geisha in the Gion district of Kyoto. The women are not there as tourist attractions, but they are actually working as entertainers. Wandering around the narrow side streets and up steep hills leading towards the beautiful Buddhist temple and gardens would have been enough, but as dusk settled we were lucky to not see just one Geisha on her way to work but we saw and photographed several. Two were generous enough to stop and be photographed with our son. So if you want to see this traditional aspect of Japanese culture, patience and exploring the area at dusk are more likely to provide lasting memories.
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