An Arctic ski expedition with backcountry adventures and otherworldly beauty.
KYOTO, NICKNAMED JAPAN’S “Eternal City,” is the undisputed guardian of Japanese tradition. Japan’s ancient capital from 795 A.D. to 1868, the city was modeled after the elegant Chinese Tang dynasty capital Chang’an (now called Xian) and today remains awash in mossy Buddhist temples, secret Shinto shrines, and family-owned heritage businesses, some dating back to the eighth-century Heian era when the city was founded.
While Kyoto’s ancient sites remain firmly planted, a modern city has sprouted up around them. Many visitors keen on ticking off temples are surprised by the glassy towers, mega train stations, blocky malls, and contemporary landscape of this city, Japan’s ninth largest. Its population of 1.5 million is downright microscopic for a nation where heavyweight populations like Tokyo and Osaka reach a whopping 13 million and 2.7 million residents respectively. By comparison, Kyoto is tiny, but its magnificence and auspiciousness are not to be underestimated.
While it takes very little effort to find and access Old Kyoto — the Kinkaku-ji Golden Pavilion, Kokedera Moss Temple, and Arashiyama Bamboo Forest to name a few — visitors would be remiss to tackle them without a game plan. During the last 20 years, Kyoto has become a sort of antidote to Tokyo’s crowds and Osaka’s lightning pace, emerging as one of the most tourist-heavy cities in Japan and, ironically, the least likely place in Japan to experience authentic Japan. Getting off Kyoto’s very beaten path, making reservations in advance, and timing your visits to avoid crowds is essential. If you only temple hop, you’re not doing it right. Don’t skip the temples but opt for weekday morning or late-evening visits. Seek out lesser-known sights in outlying neighborhoods, and casual restaurants. And don’t be afraid to venture further afield — Kyoto’s riches sprawl far and wide.
Aman Kyoto and Park Hyatt Kyoto are both Fine Hotels + Resorts properties. When you book with American Express Travel, you’ll receive an exclusive suite of benefits including daily breakfast for two, a $100 experience credit that varies by property, guaranteed 4pm check-out, and more. Plus, book on AmexTravel.com and you can earn 5X Membership Rewards® points, or use Pay with Points, on prepaid stays. Terms apply. Learn more here.
Adam H. Graham is an American food and travel journalist based in Zurich, Switzerland. He’s a frequent contributor to the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, Afar, and more. He typically spends a few months every year in Japan, and recently spent several weeks visiting Japanese vineyards in several different prefectures.
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