MY KYŌTO TRAVEL DIARY
"You love Japan. What is there left to visit?" "Everything, because there is nothing to visit, but everything to feel" (Jean-Claude Ellena).
THE SOUL OF KYŌTO
Everyone has a different relationship to big cities, I've been a Parisian for a long time and I love Paris, in all its beauty and all its contradictions. I don't particularly miss nature on a daily basis and I can go months without seeing anything other than the trees in the square next to my house (I'm hardly exaggerating!).
But in Kyōto the city takes on a different definition, a singular mix of very urban, very grey, very banal fabric, in an architectural cacophony that sometimes seems out of control, and that lives alongside a universe of stunning beauty, at once historical (the city was the imperial capital for more than 1000 years after all), religious and contemporary, an assemblage of the micro and the spectacular, the hidden and the obvious. And above all, nature becomes an irresistible force whose importance one did not suspect; when one walks in Higashiyama to the east of the city, the mountain is often literally at the end of the street.
Kyōto is not revealed at first sight but by small touches, and above all by taking one's time, which does not necessarily mean staying very long on the spot (this is not always possible) but by accepting not to do and see everything, to be selective in order to leave room for contemplation.
FIND YOUR NEST
When you know a city well you develop a few obsessions, and one of them for me is defining the neighbourhood in which to stay. Spontaneously it is Higashiyama, close to the Ginkakuji (the Silver Temple) if possible, or even better, to Yoshida hill, where I have always spent my longest stays. The area is strikingly beautiful, with its quiet little streets of traditional houses, temples, nature, and it's easy to radiate anywhere in Kyōto from there. It's an area where you can find a few houses to rent, via Airbnb in particular.
For this trip in October 2022, and as it was under a number of constraints (related to the visa) I discovered another neighborhood, Gojo, close to the Kamo river and a few minutes away from Kiyomizu-dera, a very small and charming house and it was very good too even if Higashiyama remains my first choice.
Many more classic, but elegant and reasonably priced hotels have also opened in the last few years, they are often very good options, my only recommendation being to find one not too big (to avoid the less-personal environment) and not around Kyōto station.
On the other hand, 2023 is going to be a year of very strong tourist recovery, many houses are already rented and hotels are full during the most popular months, so you should try to anticipate your reservations (even if you only have cancellable options) as soon as possible if you go next year.
STROLL AND MARVEL
This trip was primarily business related but as I stayed in the city for 2 full weeks I was able to take time to wander around my favourite places and discover new ones (because it doesn't take a lifetime to know everything about Kyōto!).
The temples and gardens of Eikando, Shinnyo-do, Honen-in, Shōren-in, Nanzen-ji and Daitoku-ji are my favourites and I always find time to spend there, never getting tired of it because each season and micro-season brings a different experience. I also love
Katsura Imperial Villa but you have to book your ticket in advance, as well as Saihō-ji, the moss temple, which can now be booked on line,
which is good news. The site is in Japanese only it seems, but with google translate you get by!
I finally discovered during this stay the Otagi Nenbutsuji temple in Sagano, a wonder. And I went back to Rakushisha, the "hut of the fallen persimmons", in Arashiyama. I love the whole area of Sagano west of Arashiyama, which is quietly beautiful, a little corner of almost countryside to cycle through (there is a bike rental shop outside Saga-Arashiyama station). I also spent a long time in the Kennin-ji temple in Gion, which is remarkable.
And if you have time and are looking for real Japanese countryside, a day spent in Ohara, a 45 minute/1 hour bus ride (number 17!) north of Kyōto is wonderful, between walks in the rice fields, temple visits and lunch at Somushi which opened a few months ago.
In Kyōto I love living a local life by cooking at home, either doing some shopping at the supermarket or raiding the basement of Daimaru (visiting the basements of department stores is a must in Japan in any case!). But I also took the time to go back to some of my favourite places:
- The beautiful and very traditional Izusen within the Daitoku-ji complex. A Shōjin Ryōri restaurant, that is, temple food, vegetarian and delicious presented in a series of red oryoki bowls of the most beautiful effect!
- Kousagisha a beautiful vegetarian restaurant above an art gallery at the foot of the Jodoji bus stop a few steps from the Ginkakuji. Reservations required.
- Omen, my must-do in Kyōto, a great restaurant specializing in Udon, 5 minutes from the Ginkakuji
- Breizh café : at the foot of the Philosopher's Path. And yes, going to Kyōto to eat pancakes! But Breizh café is a really top concept which between France and Japan is a model of consistency and quality.
© Atelier Ikiwa
AND ALWAYS, TEA BREAKS
My favourite tea and wagashi (traditional sweets) in Kyōto, where I always go:
- Yugen : next to the Imperial Palace, a teahouse that is contemporary in style, decor (sublime) yet traditional in its respect for Japanese green teas and attention to gestures. I discovered Yugen and its founder a few years ago, and he has just moved to this beautiful address, which lives up to the quality of its concept.
- Toraya, 2 steps away from the Imperial Palace, where the house started its adventure 5 centuries ago.
- Saryo in Gion: a new place that I liked very much, very beautiful with its different style spaces. And their kuradashi bread is wonderful.
- La Maison Jouvaud Kyoto Gion, a Provençal patisserie in the heart of Gion, I love the place, the house, the street so beautiful, the table in front of the bamboo blind upstairs. It's French while being very Japanese.