Kyoto Food and Art

Sanjusangendo Temple.
A vendor’s tasting table at Nishiki Market.
The Hyatt Regency Kyoto.

Kyoto Protocol

Japan's Imperial City updates its historical appeal.


By Elaine Glusac
Photography by Raymond Patrick (food, temple, tea, geisha)

In contrast to Tokyo’s frenzy, Kyoto is the Japan of Zen Buddhism, traditional tea ceremonies, and kimonos as street fashion. But with hotel upgrades, a produce-proud culinary scene, and a new museum addition, Kyoto embraces the past without seeming stuck there.

In September, a years-in-the-making Collections Hall designed by Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi, who redesigned New York’s Museum of Modern Art, opens at Kyoto National Museum 527 Chaya-cho, Higashiyama-ku; 81-75/541-1151), with galleries for eleventh-century scroll cases, early Buddhist sculptures, and calligraphy. Nearby Sanjusangendo Temple houses 1,000 sculptures of the Buddhist deity Kannon. Your travel advisor can arrange a culinary walking tour that combines old and new, from the five-block-long Nishiki Market to the sleek Soutatu tasting shop.

Traditional Japanese cuisine known as washoku – from obanzai home cooking to sushi – just received UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage status, exemplified in Kyoto’s vegetable-focused fare. Sample vegetarian Buddhist or multicourse kaiseki meals at Daitokuji Ikkyu (20 Murasakino Shimomonzencho, Kita-ku; 81-75/493-0019). Purportedly the oldest restaurant in the country, Honke Owariya (322 Kurumayacho-Nijyo, Nakagyo-ku; 81-75/231-3446), specializes in soba noodles. In the Gion geisha district, squeeze into Sou (Oonishi-Bldg II-1F 216-2 Nishino-cho, Higashiyama-ku; 81-75/551-4515), a tiny teppanyaki storefront where the owner prepares grilled Kobe beef, prawns, and market vegetables for just ten counterside diners.

Kyoto’s pristine spring water makes for superior sake. Visit the family-run Matsui Sake Brewery (1-6 Yoshida Kawaramachi, Sakyo-ku) for a tour and tasting. Try the thick green matcha tea, focal point of the ancient tea ceremony developed here, at En (272 Matsubara-cho, Higashiyama-ku; 81-80/3782-2706). Your travel advisor can even arrange a teahouse meeting with a geisha.

Teramachi Street hosts a mix of high-end royal merchants, artisans, and antiques. Pewter specialist Seikado (462 Myomanjimae-cho, Teramachi-dori Nijo) offers everything from sake pitchers to silver chopsticks and bronze incense holders. Sample (and buy) tea at Ippodo (52 Tokiwagi-cho, Teramachi-dori Nijo), tea purveyor to the imperial family. Next door, Kamiji Kakimoto (54 Tokiwagi-cho, Teramachi-dori Nijo) sells handmade paper known as washi.

Originally appeared in Virtuoso Life magazine, July 2014.

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Hyatt Regency Kyoto
Neighbor to Sanjusangendo Temple, this hotel showcases Japanese decorative arts. At Touzan, order the omakase menu. Get More Details
Hoshinoya Kyoto
Guest rooms overlooking the Ooi River and a ryokan-style retreat await just ten minutes from the city. Get More Details
Your Advisor can plan a teahouse meeting with a geisha.