Kyoto – a city with a Zen village feel

The former capital of Japan is the delightful Kyoto. This is a very beautiful place and the people are hospitable and… well, just nice. It could possibly be the Zen atmosphere that envelops it. Steeped in history and culture, Kyoto is at its best during cherry blossom time, though in reality it is extremely impressive all of the time.

Shimogamo Shrine, Kyoto

The city is also associated with its many Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines and the intriguing and beautiful geishas. There are also palaces and gardens to admire and much of the original architecture of the imperial city has been retained and maintained, making this city so enticing. The food is fresh, plentiful and adventurous while retaining a lot of the traditions of Kyo-ryori.

Temples

You will actually not tire of seeing temples here, as each are so distinctive. The Golden Pavilion is a much photographed and iconic temple, in a stunning location. The name comes from the gold leaf that covers it and the reflections from the surrounding waters, which make it a must see experience, regardless of the season.

The Kiyomizu Temple means pure waters, which come from the nearby Otawa Waterfall. It has a large deck that allows you to enjoy the hillside surroundings and the magnificent views over the city.  This temple is really amazing and there are many stalls nearby giving out samples of “yatsuhashi,” which is Kyoto’s specialty sweet. It is a cinnamon-flavoured “mochi” flattened into a small, triangle-sized pancake and filled with various flavours like apple and cherry. They are very good indeed and each shop owner is very proud of “their own” product, so be prepared to accept quite a number.

The Nanzen-ji temple is also a highly significant Zen temple set in a very large complex, with stunning gardens and shrines. It is worth taking some time to see it due to its size.

The cherry blossoms

You cannot mention Kyoto without associating it with the cherry blossoms. The city is blanketed in the stunningly delicate cherry blossoms amidst some of the most beautiful gardens of Japan as well as being pretty well everywhere.

Cherry blossom

Kyo-ryori and the tea ceremony

Kyo-ryori is the Japanese term for the cuisine associated with Kyoto. It is not solely about the food.  It is a journey to be experienced by all the senses. This is taken very seriously and is a ritual in itself as is the traditional Japanese tea ceremony, which can be found especially in the old area of Gion. The markets of Kyoto are known as Kyoto’s Kitchen and are worthy of wandering around to see and to smell and indeed taste the many delicacies at these markets, particularly the Nishiki Markets. Similarly, the department stores food levels are ablaze with colourful food, all of which is beautifully packaged. There are many samples being offered to entice you.

Kyoto Imperial Palace

The imperial palace was built in 794 and was home to the emperor and his family until 1868. Using a tour guide really allows you to understand the history and indeed lifestyle of the imperial family, which is absolutely compelling. The gardens are striking.

Geishas in Gion

Gion is a very interesting area of Kyoto because it is juxtaposition between tradition and tourism. Getting off the main streets is where you will come across the very traditional tea houses, and ‘real’ people at work and at play. It pays to get lost in the back streets where you will more than likely see the genuine geishas.

Geisha

In fact, the geisha and maiko (the apprentices) still speak the pure Kyoto dialect, and their voices are said to be the best of all the geishas in Japan, apparently they are very soothing to weary businessmen.

The kimono

The Nishijin Textile Centre is where you can watch the crafts people at work weaving and hand painting the exquisite kimono. You can learn about the process of making silk right from the live silk worms through to the finished products that are showcased in daily fashion parades. And you are not discouraged from buying one of the beautiful pieces.

Festivals in Kyoto

There are around 40 festivals a year in Kyoto so you are unlikely or unlucky to miss one. Many have fireworks and all are colourful and festive. The Jidai Matsuri, Festival of the Ages, which celebrates Kyoto’s past is held in October and is an excellent spectacle. Here you see the various costumes worn throughout history and it is amazing.  The Japanese do festivals extremely well, wherever you are in the country.

Staying

Being a city of class and culture there are many accommodation options. The very trendy option at the moment is to stay in a temple lodging called a shukubo and to embrace the Zen atmosphere and relax and regroup. Another popular option is a ryokan or traditional Japanese inn and Kyoto has some extremely luxurious ones. Some of the high end boutique hotels also offer a very authentic Japanese experience and some indulgent packages.

Kyoto is a very beautiful place with a very serene attitude.

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