Coordinates: Kyoto

Coordinates: Kyoto

過去が未来を満たす場所. Can’t read that? Neither could we, until a friend and Kyoto local tipped us off to the phrase that defines her city: “Where past and present meet.” Indeed, no place straddles past and present quite like Japan’s first capital. Centuries-old shrines stand next to workshops in which artists are forging the future. Eateries that once served the royal family lie across the street from galleries showcasing today’s most innovative design. All that and more, on this installment of Coordinates.

Upon Arrival: Whether you’re fresh off the plane or train, grab a quick pick-me-up at one of Japan’s famous convenience stores. We’re suckers for the egg sandwich at Lawson. We know what you’re thinking: Convenience store? Egg sandwich? But trust us—or our friend Anthony Bourdain, who lauds their “inexplicable deliciousness.”

Get Lost: The best way to get to know a city is to not know it—to wander without a map, to take that unexpected turn. Do so in Kyoto known for its many important Buddhist temples, gardens, Shinto shrines and wooden houses and you’re sure to stumble upon many of the city’s monuments from yesteryear.

Here are some of our favorites: the tight alleyways and winding streets of the Geisha District; the Zen Garden with a sea of raked sand and rocks representing sacred mountains at Tofuku-ji Temple, which, although less famous than that at Ryoan-ji, comes without the droves of tourists; the Golden Pavilion at Kinkaku-ji, despite the sea of selfie-sticks; the some 14,000 vermillion gates and green tea ice cream at Fushimi Inari (34.9671° N, 135.7727° E); and a ricksaw ride through the Bamboo Grove at Arashiyama (be sure to visit the oft-ignored mountaintop garden and tea-house). Visit Kiyomizudera Temple with its iconic wooden stage and gardens and then walk the traditional shophouses in Higashiyama District.

Fuel Up: All that wandering have you itching for some grub? Stop by Bass, adored by locals for its no-frills Ramen, or Nishiki Market for more street-food than you ever knew existed.

Shop: Swing by Sfera for a carefully curated selection of homewares and furniture, all designed by Shigeo Mashiro. Pop into Rainmaker, one of Kyoto’s most promising ateliers. Mine the archives as Books & Things, a vintage art/book shop set in a traditional teahouse.

Caffeine Fix: Japan is a tea culture, sure. But a new wave of coffee shops is challenging that. Our favorites, among them: % Arabica, Vermillion, and Weekenders.

Dine: Japanese cuisine extends far beyond sushi. In Kyoto, try kaiseki, the elaborate multi-course traditional meal based on seasonality. Indulge in flaky goodness at Endo, the go-to tempura restaurant for Kyoto cognoscenti and international gourmands alike. Feast on the freshest of teppanyaki at Mikaku. Or sample the best of the city’s new-wave food scene including pizza cooked in a wood fired oven at Monk.

Night Cap: Polish the night off with a drink (or three) at Yamatoya, a backstreets whiskey bar that serves up smoke and whiskey over smooth jazz; Oil, a hidden rooftop gem; or Rockingchair, home to Kenji Tsubokura, one of Japan’s top mixologists.

 

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