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.
Everything seems new, shiny and expensive when shopping in Japan, so the Toji Temple market in Kyoto is a refreshing find. It's open on the 21st of each month (in honour of the founding priest who died on 21st of March 835) and the stunning grounds of the temple and many of the surrounding streets, are filled with stalls selling various treasures. My favourites are the ladies selling beautiful antique kimonos and rolls of delicately embroidered kimono fabrics for astonishingly low prices. Among the Japanese antiques, new and vintage clothing and rows of shoes, bedding and cookware, priests wander past stalls selling sizzling "takoyaki" octopus balls, the temple bell tolls and clouds of incense drifts on the air. Best of all, being Japan, everyone is unfailingly polite so despite the crush you don't need sharp elbows.
Tō-ji is located in Minami-ku near the intersection of Ōmiya Street and Kujō Street, southwest of Kyoto Station.
Japan, Kyoto Prefecture Kyoto Minami Ward Kujocho １
Google map: bit.ly/ujghKE
We spent a fabulous afternoon with Taro and his family, learning to prepare a typical Japanese dinner. Taro responded to my online booking enquiry immediately and I was really excited about the experience. After all the temples, eating out, navigating Japanese menus, sightseeing etc it was lovely to spend a cosy afternoon in Taro's family home. We prepared a two course vegetarian lunch and were given recipes to keep. Taro has a genuine enthusiasm for Japan, cooking and meeting new people. If you are curious to know more about Japanese food and culture and want to see another side to the wonderful city of Kyoto, I highly recommend booking this class. Also, Taro's daughter is adorable and his wife is a lovely lady too.
+81(0)90 4284 7176
Kyoto is flat and is a warren of old narrow lanes with traditional architecture. The best way to get around and see its hidden gems is by taking a cycle tour of the city. If you don't like the idea of being part of a group tour then the guide will happily take just you and your party on the tour.
The tour will take you to some of the more popular sites in Kyoto and also some of Kyoto's back streets that tourists rarely venture into.
Cycling is a great way to see the city, stay fit and travel sustainably.
Kyoto Cycling Tour project. Very close to Kyoto central railway station. Ring them (354 3636) or check out they're website for further directions. www.kctp.net/en/index.html
My husband and I went to Japan on our honeymoon in May 2009. We spent our first week in Kyoto, staying in a furnished apartment which we found through Kyoto Stay Club. As we're both vegetarians and were travelling on a tight budget, we wanted to be sure that we had a cheap place to stay with access to local shops so that we could cater for ourselves.
The staff at the Kyoto Stay Club office are really friendly and helpful. We had identified a couple of apartments from the site, but they turned out to have already been booked. The staff made other recommendations to suit our budget, and we ended up staying in a lovely top floor apartment in the Marutamachi area of Kyoto - near to the Imperial Palace.
Kyoto is a walkable city, and the apartment was close to Nishiki Market, as well as having a Co-op and a Family Mart just around the corner, so we were able to cook for ourselves. There were also two vegetarian restaurants nearby, so we could sample Japanese cuisine. We were across the road from the neighbourhood shrine, in a residential area full of friendly people, too.
We are going back to Japan in October and contacted Kyoto Stay Club again. We received a "repeat custom" discount and are hoping to stay in the same apartment, as it really was a home away from home for us.
I'd recommend it to anyone travelling on a budget (it worked out as costing around £30 a night each - although the current exchange rate (July 2010) means that this is now nearer £40 a night each).
This is an old Kyoto merchant’s house (Machiya) which was very recently (January 2010) restored to its original splendor, but with modern western amenities in the kitchen, bath and toilet. The house has two bedrooms, a dining room, kitchen, toilet and bath. It is a small house on a very narrow cobbled lane close to the Shirakawa canal. The location was fantastic and resonably priced. The owners showed us how to use the house and how to find the nearby markets, cafes and restaurants. It was a really great experience, alot nicer than staying in some of the hotels we experianced on our trip.
Higashiyama area of Kyoto near Heian Jingu.
In Japan, there is the "licensed tour guide system", which means the Japanese government requires anyone working as a foreign language speaking tour guide to pass the national exams and get the national licence. If you are going to book a tour of Japan, make sure your tour guide has a licence. If she or he doesn't and is going to charge you, it's an Illegal act.
But if you are going to book a tailormade tour through a travel agency, it can be very expensive. So why don't you consult a local tour guide directly? There is the web site called "Tour Guide-interpreter Search System". This site is run by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism and all of the registered tour guides have passed the national exams, which are a foreign language, an interview in a foreign language, Japanese history, Japanese geography and Japanese general culture. These tests are one of the most difficult national tests in Japan and require a lot of knowledge.
Tour Guide-Interpreter Search System
Unassumingly tucked behind its traditional street wall, this beautiful historic ryokan in the heart of Kyoto offers calm and seclusion with exquisite personal service. A younger and much cheaper relative of the famous Hiiragiya frequented by Charlie Chaplin and Elizabeth Taylor, the Bekkan welcomes you to airy wooden rooms with floor to ceiling sliding glazed screens and bamboo shutters overlooking the small ornate gardens. Green tea and red bean pastries are ceremoniously taken on arrival, followed by donning yukata for an appointment in the private onsen baths before a 12 course dinner is served on tatami mats in your room. Finally your futon bed is unrolled and the staff glide backwards out of the room for a peaceful night in this vibrant city of opposites. In the morning breakfast arrives and the futons disappear while you are in the bathroom. Around 20000 yen with meals, and worth more.
Close to City Hall and Teramachi shops. Within walking distance or a bus most of the hundreds of places to visit. www.hiiragiya.com/index-e.html
If you decide to spend a decent amount of time in Kyoto - and it's definitely worth it - I recommend you hire a bike, or buy one second-hand (usually a few shops near the university and they are very cheap). Kyoto is generally very flat and laid out in a grid structure so it’s dead easy to get around and you won't need to use the subway. Everybody cycles on the pavement as well so no need to worry about traffic. If you're there during the Japanese holiday season the main attractions are busy during the day - especially the Gion area. Best to go early in the morning - and it’s worth visiting Sanjusangen-do, Ryoan-ji, Daisen-in etc, even if they are busy (though I wouldn't bother with Heian Jingu)
Other recomendations include the area surrounding and including Ginkaku-ji and Honen-in (which is free) You can always walk back to the city via the Philosophers path.
I could go on for ages but a couple of other places I loved whilst there include Ippodo, a tea shop on the Teramachi dori, where they will explain in great detail how to drink your tea and for something less traditional there is Cafe Independants, in the covered Teramachi arcade, which is a bit more western and atracts a younger crowd. There is also a brilliant CD shop tucked away in the corner selling all sorts of Japanese avant-garde CDs(with some jazz thrown in) - if you're into that sort of thing.
So Kyoto is all about historical Japan right? Wrong!
Most visitors to Kyoto arrive at the futuristic train station opened in 1997, and it’s virtually a sightseeing stop in its own right. Its myriad of floors contain department stores, food halls, underground shopping, and a great observation deck at the top, perfect for getting the bearings of the city.
Served by all trains of Japan Railways, including shinkansen, Kintetsu Railways and the subway.
Kyoto is famous for its temples and especially the gardens within them, typified by austere expanses of raked white gravel and ancient maple trees.
However, busloads of tourists know this too. Visiting some of the popular temples (for example, Kinkaku-ji and Kyomizu-dera) can be like going to a football match. If you want to get away from the crowds for some more zen-like calm, pick up one of the many small books of Kyoto's courtyard and zen gardens (in bookshops for around 1200 yen). These are a fabulous guide (usually with maps and directions) to the less-frequented temple gardens often not in the guidebooks - and cheaper to visit than the big temples too. Favourites include Ryogen-in, Tofuki-ji and Chishaku-in.
If Japan to you means Akihabara electronics and Shibuya neon at night, then this probably won't do it for you. Otherwise, highly recommended.
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