It had been two decades since I’d been to Kyoto, and my husband, Barry, had never been. So, since it’s just a train ride away on the superfast Tokaido Shinkansen from Tokyo, we decided to go, and I fell in love with it—once again. Unlike the capital city, Kyoto embraces both nature and architecture, creating a harmony between the two. From the traditional ryokans (Japanese inns with tatami for beds) to the beautiful geikos (the local word for “geisha”) to the amazing historical shops, no place is more refined than Kyoto.
Kasagen is the place for authentic oiled-paper umbrellas, called bangasa and janomegasa. Women in Japan use umbrellas to protect their kimonos from the scorching sun or pelting rain. Kasagen is more expensive than other shops, but it has been around since 1861, and the umbrellas are guaranteed to last almost as long. At 284 Gionmachi-Kitagawa, Higashiyama-ku; 81-75/561-2832.
Gion Naitou is a very famous and long-established sandal shop. People call the owner, Seiji Naitou, the Japanese Manolo Blahnik, but he looks like a Buddhist monk. At 47 Kamei, Shijo-kudaru, Gion-Yamamoto-Oji, Higashiyama-ku; 81-75/541-7110.
Tachikichi is a wholesale-retail firm specializing in Japanese tableware. Locals love the pieces, especially the styles that reflect the variety of the four seasons. Tachikichi items are not just for serving food; they are works of art unto themselves. At Tominokouji-kado, Shijo-dori, Shimogyo-ku; 81-75/255-3507.
DVF’s Kyoto Musts
Stay at a Japanese house. We decided to stay at a traditional inn, Hiiragiya Ryokan. I was a bit worried about Barry sleeping on the tatami and eating fish eggs and vegetable broth in the morning, but he was a sport and took it all as an adventure! At Nakahakusan-cho, Fuya-cho, Anekoji-agaru, Nakagyo-ku; 81-75/221-1136; hiiragiya.co.jp.
See Nijo Castle. We went here on a rainy day, and in spite of the weather we walked through the shogun castle and all the beautiful gardens designed by Kobori Enshu. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and truly one of the most magical places in Kyoto. At 541 Nijojo-cho, Horikawa-Nishi-hairu, Nijo-Dori, Nakagyo-ku; 81-75/841-0096.
Witness Nanzen-ji. Also called Zuiryusan, it is one of Japan’s best known Rinzai Zen temples. At the foot of Kyoto’s eastern hills, it is famous for its rock garden, sliding doors (fusumas), and large entrance gate called Sanmon, which was built in 1628 by Todo Takatora in memory of those who died in the civil war Osaka Natsu-no-jin. At Nanzenji-Fukuchi-cho, Sakyo-ku; 81-75/771-0365.
Eat at a traditional restaurant. The 100-year-old Kyoto Tsuruya, which has a beautiful garden, is on the must-eat list for many international dignitaries and celebrities (both Queen Elizabeth and Princess Di dined here). Created in the sukiya style by Isoya Yoshida, it also houses one of the sweetest proprietresses in the city, Kazuko Desaki. At 30 Higashi-Tennoji-cho, Okazaki, Sakyo-ku; 81-75/761-0171.
Visit an o-chaya. These teahouses are closed to the public, so to see one of their famous female entertainers, known as geikos, recite poetry, play musical instruments, or perform traditional dances, you must go with a person who is known and trusted by the o-chaya. We had the good fortune to be with Sherry Yamaguchi, a graduate of London’s Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design and an expert on everything Kyoto. When we first met her she was wearing a traditional kimono, but when we visited Takemoto, a teahouse in Miyagawa-cho, she wore DVF! email@example.com
Junkudo Kyoto is a great bookstore with a large foreign-language section. At Tominokouji-kado, Shijo-dori, Shimogyo-ku; 81-75/252-0101.