The capital of Japan from 794 until 1868, Kyoto is a treasure house of Japanese culture, with more than 2,000 temples and shrines. Among the most celebrated are Kiyomizu-dera, a magnificent wooden temple supported by pillars on the slope of a mountainside; Kinkaku-ji, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion; and Ryoan-ji, famous for its Zen rock garden of raked gravel. Kyoto is set in a bowl of wooded hills and was built on a grid pattern, which makes finding your way around unexpectedly easy.
We particularly recommend the “Philosopher’s Path,” a beguiling walkway that skirts the eastern foothills and traces the route of a canal from Ginkaku-ji, the Temple of the Silver Pavilion, in the north to Nanzen-ji temple in the south, passing several other temples along the way, as well as an alluring collection of small shops and restaurants.
A ryokan is a type of traditional Japanese inn that originated in the Edo period (1603-1868). These inns typically feature tatami-matted rooms, communal baths and areas where visitors may wear cotton yukata kimonos. We recommend ryokans in Hakone, Kyoto and Takayama.
When in Kyoto, we like to follow the Philosopher’s Path, a beguiling walkway that skirts the eastern foothills and traces the route of a canal from Ginkaku-ji, the Temple of the Silver Pavilion, in the north to Nanzen-ji temple in the south, passing several other temples along the way as well as an alluring collection of small shops and restaurants.
Dating to the 1600s, the Katsura Imperial Villa is considered by many to be the crowning achievement of Japanese landscape architecture. A collection of wonderfully preserved buildings and meticulously maintained gardens, it has been an inspiration to designers for centuries. To visit, you must secure permission from the Imperial Household Agency. Your travel consultant can arrange this.
If you are a fan of drinking sake, head to Sake Bar Yoramu. This beautiful spot curates exquisite flights of unpasteurized small-batch sakes that are nearly impossible to find back home. The Israeli proprietor, whose passion for sake, despite a subdued demeanor, shines through as he leads guests through their tastings. This is a popular bar with both locals and visitors alike and has counter seating for only eight or nine people, so try to visit outside peak hours. Note that Yoramu is closed Sunday through Tuesday.
Okochi-Sanso Villa, located in Arashiyama in western Kyoto, was once home to the famed actor Okochi Denjiro (1898-1962). The lovely estate contains some of the most beautiful gardens in Kyoto, designed to highlight all four seasons. The admission fee includes a cup of steaming matcha in a small teahouse.
The small, private Raku Museum is an inspiring expression of Japanese aesthetics. Made by the Raku family since 1574, these ceramics, inspired by the Sancai ware of Ming Dynasty China, have been prized by tea masters for centuries. The muted earth tones and “rough” finish of the pieces embody the wabi-sabi aesthetic, the Buddhist-inspired world view that everything is imperfect, impermanent and incomplete.