Hotels in Kyoto, Japan
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Kyoto – an agreement between beauty and tradition
The first thing that springs to mind nowadays when we hear of Kyoto is the international climate-change protocol, agreed here. This is quite appropriate given the pretty natural environment of what many would regard as Japan's most beautiful city. However, Kyoto, which was the capital of Japan for over a thousand years (until it was moved to Tokyo in 1868), remains the country's cultural heart and soul. Hosting no less than a thousand temples and the birth place of the Geisha, Kyoto, unlike ultra-modern Tokyo, gives you an eye-full of traditional Japan and its worship of beauty.
Seeking traditional Japan
If you arrive in Kyoto by train into the modern steel and glass railway station, you may wonder what all the fuss is about. The central Shimogyō-ku district, with its distinctive Kyoto Tower overseeing it, is the contemporary part of town. If you choose a hotel here, you will find luxury department stores and restaurants aplenty. You can sample traditional Japanese dishes such as Sushi and Tempura until your heart's content, as well as some of Kyoto's Kaiseki cuisine and tofu-based vegetarian dishes. However, you may still get that feeling that the traditional authenticity that you were seeking in Kyoto is somewhat lacking.
The neighbouring Nakagyō-ku Ward offers you a tad more culture with some captivating sights, including Nijō Castle, housing the Ninomaru Palace, a former seat of feudal power and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can also enter the universe of Manga in a trendy museum dedicated to the Japanese popular culture comics and explore the sights and sounds of the wonderful Nishiki market, offering fresh fish and traditional crafts. There is a wide selection of hotels in this part of Kyoto too, however, you may still crave for something more typical.
To get a real flavour of traditional Japan, Gion is no-doubt more like what you are looking for. This traditional part of Kyoto hosts many exquisite wooden-buildings and four-star hotels. It is also Geisha town. If you are lucky, you may see one of the white-faced iconic ladies scurrying off to an early-evening appointment in one of the Ocayas, the traditional tea houses.
Although Geishas exist throughout Japan, they originated from Kyoto, when the city was undoubtedly the country's cultural centre. A Kyoto Geisha is still to this day regarded as the crème de la crème, after going through five years of rigorous training to reach the qualified status of Geiko. Geishas are fully-trained professional female entertainers in Japanese high society – and much respected. A Geisha is certainly not an upmarket call-girl, and will set you back a pretty penny if you want to pass an evening in her charming company.
If you crave fresh country air you may prefer to stay in, or around, Kyoto's Higashiyaha mountains. The most luxurious four and five-star hotels with spas are based in this district, near the famous Philosopher's Walk, which leads to some of the most sublime temples in the city.
Kyoto is said to be home of a thousand temples. Being so spoilt for choice, you may wonder which ones should you visit. The decision is personal: you may be drawn to certain temples and not others. There are, however, some shrines and temples that are simply unmissable.
Arguably the most remarkable is the Fushimi Inari-Taisha shrine complex, created in the 8th century by the Hata family. There are five shrines at the foot and literally thousands of reddish-orange torii gates, weaving up the Inari mountain, that are said to help bring about prosperity. The trek takes two or three hours to complete but is worth it for the incredible views over Kyoto and the more peaceful atmosphere at the summit. There are even restaurants interspersed on the way.
The glorious zen Buddhist temple Kinkaku-Ji, with its shiny golden pavilion overlooking a beautiful pond, is another memorising and unmissable sight, as is the fellow UNESCO World Heritage Site: Kiyomizu-dera. Half way up mount Otowa in the Higashiyama mountains, this temple, respecting the Kannon deity, is worth a visit, if not only for the spectacular views.
If you wander along the Philosopher's Walk you can pick and choose from a variety of other memorising temples and shrines – many with fabulous Zen gardens. One of the most outstanding is Eikan-dō Zenrin-ji, right at the end of the path, particularly in the autumn, when the striking red maple tree leaves are out in force.
Change with the seasons
The season in which you choose to visit can radically change your experience of Kyoto. The golden or vivid colours of the temples contrast beautifully against the snow, whilst the red maple leaves in the autumn or the spring cherry blossom adds vibrance to the already idyllic scenery. The seasons are very important to the Japanese and the whole atmosphere, including the flowers and decorations on display, changes as the year progresses. The Geishas encapsulate this change with the colour and motifs of their kimonos and the flowers in their hair corresponding to the month in question. There are even five Geisha Odori or dances organised to celebrate the cherry blossom in the spring and the maple leaves in the autumn.
No matter when you visit Kyoto though or which district your hotel is in, you cannot help to feel enchanted by its tradition, spirituality and appreciation of beauty.