We had such amazing and varied experiences that it is almost hard to put into words.
Once the imperial capital of Japan, Kyoto was built in 794, modeled on the Chinese capital of Chang'an. During World War II, Kyoto was spared much of the devastation that other Japanese cities faced, and as a result, retains many of its historic buildings - so much so that there are almost 20 UNESCO World Heritage Sites within Kyoto. Indeed, so well-preserved is its old quarter that many buildings are as ornate and stunning today as they were during Kyoto's heyday as the capital of Japan.
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Our co-founder & CEO Catherine Heald loves Japan's beautiful gardens, especially when covered in winter snow. Her favourite? Kenrokuen Garden in Kanazawa.
Have a private lesson or ceremony in one or more traditional Japanese arts, such as ikebana (flower arrangement), calligraphy, sushi-making, tea ceremony, sword-fighting, or kimono fitting.
In terms of shopping, Kyoto is famous for its traditional handicrafts, which be roughly divided into three categories – Buddhist art, tea ceremony accoutrements and everyday household items. The area around Pontocho Street in particular has high-quality wooden products, such as bowls and other dining ware crafted from local zelkova and cherry trees.
Have a private dinner in the Gion neighborhood accompanied by traditional geisha performance and socializing. Kyoto is the birthplace of this time-honored custom, which began in the 17th century and typically includes songs with shamisen (a three-stringed instrument). Though once a central part of Japanese culture, today the art of the geisha is largely one of historical preservation.
Visit Daitoku-ji, which was founded in 1319 and was historically one of Kyoto’s principal centers of the “Way of Tea,” and tea ceremony and related arts like calligraphy flourished here. To this day, it remains a subdued oasis in Kyoto’s northern reaches. It is a vast temple complex containing 21 sub-temples, of which Daisen-in and Obai-in both have excellent Zen gardens.
Take a day trip to the I.M. Pei-designed Miho Museum, located about 1 hour by car southwest of Kyoto. You will be met and guided on a private tour by a museum curator. The museum houses Koyama’s private collection of Asian and Western antiques, as well as other pieces with an estimated value of between US$300 million to US$1 billion. Each exhibit in the Miho Museum was carefully selected as much for its artistic beauty as its historical significance, and careful attention is paid to how the collection is displayed.
Explore Nishiki market, where myriad food stalls serve yakitori (grilled chicken on a stick), fried fish, oshinko (pickled vegetables), and much more. Nishiki is where many residents of Kyoto do their grocery shopping if they have time; it is similar to wet markets in Hong Kong, except they are much cleaner and more dedicated. Generally, each storefront only sells one thing: bonito fish flakes, root vegetables, fresh fish, or locally made sake, for example.
Historic Noodle Restaurant
Have lunch at Honke Owariya, Kyoto’s oldest noodle restaurant (nearly 550 years old). During the Edo period (1603-1868), it served its famous dishes inside the Imperial Palace itself, and it continues to tout its status as the Imperial family’s noodle purveyor of choice in Kyoto.
Go on the “Philosopher’s Walk,” named after a Kyoto University philosophy professor, Nishida Kitaro, who trod this path along the Shishigatani canal daily. The route takes you past several temples and shrines within a park that is also home to coffeehouses, boutiques and craft shops. Cherry blossoms and maple trees line the walkways; this is indeed the perfect place to reflect and contemplate.
The Kinkaku-ji, or "Golden Pavilion," is one of the iconic sights of Kyoto. Built as a pleasure pavilion by a 15th-century shogun and burned down by a deranged monk in the 1950s, it has now been rebuilt to is previous exquisite perfection.
Stop by the Ginkaku-ji, the “Silver Pavilion” to Kinkaku-ji’s gold. Like the Golden Pavilion, Ginkaku-ji was built to be the retirement villa of a 15th-century shogun and was converted into a Zen temple after his passing. Ginkaku-ji is renowned for its meticulously landscaped gardens, including a dry garden dubbed the “Sea of Silver Sand,” unique for its huge sand cone nicknamed the “Moon Viewing Platform,” and a sizeable moss garden with pond, islands and bridges.
Fushimi Inari Grand Shrine
Visit the Fushimi Inari Grand Shrine, one the most mysterious and haunting Shinto shrines in all of Japan. This iconic image of Japan was the inspiration for Bulgarian artist Christo’s Central Park Gates; the shrine grounds are home to tens of thousands of vermilion torii (gates) which create tunnels that run for miles up through the forest of Mount Inari.
One of the oldest temples of the city, Kiyomizu is built high on massive stilts in the eastern foothills, with excellent views of Kyoto. Kiyomizu means “pure water,” and the temple takes its name from the Otowa waterfall that flows within its grounds. The waterfall tumbles in three streams, said to represent wisdom, health and wealth. Visitors typically queue up to sip from ladels provided (first use one cup to rinse your hands, then a second cup to sip from, and finally a third cup to stand on the ladel’s end to allow water to flow down and rinse the handle). Please note that Kiyomizu-dera is an attraction of great renown, and as a result, it is often one of Kyoto's most crowded temples.
With its world-famous stone garden (karesansui) Ryoan-ji is another of Kyoto’s UNESCO World Heritage sites. The Zen rock garden, measuring 2,659 square feet (247 square meters) in area, is believed to have been originally landscaped in the 15th century. It consists of 15 moss-covered small boulders in a sea of raked white gravel, and is laid out so that when viewing the garden from any angle (other than a bird’s-eye view), only 14 rocks are visible – the 15th becoming visible, it is said, upon enlightenment.
An imposing, quintessential Zen temple that made a cameo in Sofia Coppola’s film Lost in Translation, the Nanzen-ji contains an enormous two-story sanmon, or main gate, that is one of the largest in Japan. The ascent up steep stairs to the second-story balcony rewards visitors with breathtaking views. In the main temple building, pause and enjoy a cup of green tea; savor the sound and sight of a waterfall emptying into a pond, and you will understand why Nanzen-ji has been a Zen holy place since the 13th century.
Visit Shiga Prefecture
Surrounding the largest freshwater lake in the nation, Shiga Prefecture is a diverse and gorgeous region. From the white beaches of the west to Mount Hira’s Oku-Biwako Parkway road, from pristine Lake Biwa to the countless rice fields, one is constantly surrounded by natural beauty. Shiga is renowned for funa-zushi, or fermented crucian carp sushi, and wagyu, also known as Omi beef of supreme quality. For lovers of history, Shiga offers a number of impressive relics dating back centuries. Among these, Hikone Castle stands as a reminder of classic Edo architecture, one of the oldest castles in the nation and considered a treasure amongst Japanese people.
Take in the best of Japan’s must-see sights on this intriguing 7-day journey. You’ll take in the world-famous Tsukiji Fish Market, board a bullet-train for Kyoto, and spend time at the cultural capital’s ancient temples, shrines, and palaces, spending your nights in some of Japan’s best hotels.
Spend time in Japan’s historic countryside on this 4-day tour of Takayama and Noto Peninsula. Admire the tranquil, mountainous surroundings, take a rickshaw ride through the “Old Town,” explore an ancient UNESCO-listed farm village, and learn the ancient art of silk kimono painting.
Discover Japan’s exciting history on this exciting 11-day luxury journey through Japan’s most fascinating age-old cities. Explore the colossal Todaiji Temple, visit ancient shrines, take an emotional tour of Hiroshima, and embrace Japan’s old world charm, while staying at some of Japan’s most luxurious hotels.
Hit the trails and paths of Kyoto’s enthralling mountains and bamboo forests to uncover the mysteries of esoteric Japan, which can be found within the 88 Buddhist temples of the Shikoku Pilgrimage. From city nights to mountain treks, you’ll experience the cultural charm and natural beauty of the countryside of Japan without compromising on luxury.
Step off the tourist trail for this exciting 11-day luxury journey through Japan’s less-visited areas. Take to Japan’s southwest shores as you journey from Kyoto to Osaka, stopping at UNESCO-listed sites, old castle towns, Shrine Island, and Asia’s largest limestone cave, while staying in luxury hotels like the Hyatt.
Experience fun for the whole family on this 8-day luxury Japan tour through Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and more. Your kids will love rides on bullet trains, walks through mystical forests full of deer, a visit to the home of Pokemon, chewing delicious mochi, and watching the scenery go by aboard a river cruise.
Immerse yourself deep into Japan’s art and culture scene on this fascinating and fun 13-day luxury tour. You’ll tour historic landmarks in hotspots like Tokyo and Kyoto, dine on traditional kaiseki cuisine, and learn the ancient art of Japanese flower arranging, tea ceremony, or calligraphy.
Take a deep breath and inhale the sweet scent of cherry blossoms on this 7-day luxury tour of Southern Japan. You’ll travel from Osaka to Hiroshima, visiting ancient temples and museums, and being entertained by puppets and Geishas, while staying at luxurious Japan hotels like Hoshinoya Kyoto along the way.
Spend 14 luxurious days traveling between Japan’s most sacred sites, taking in the incredible natural beauty en route. You’ll walk along Kyoto’s famed Philosopher’s Path, hike one of the world’s most active volcanoes, and visit famed castles and shrines, while staying in some of Japan’s most luxury hotels.
This five-day itinerary promises to expand your mind as much as it stretches your limbs as you follow the ancient Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage. Travel through the sacred shrines and temples of the Wakayama prefecture, into a diverse and awe-inspiring landscape that will capture your soul.
See Japan’s ancient traditions and state-of-the-art technology juxtaposed before your eyes on this fascinating 10-day luxury journey. You’ll get an insider perspective on the country with visits to everything from ancient shrines and palaces to contemporary design museums and Akihabara electronic market.
Opened in December 2009, HOSHINOYA Kyoto is a brand-new private retreat located on the banks of the Oigawa River in the city’s Arashiyama neighborhood. The property’s 25 rooms, all with river views, reflect the heritage and modernity of Kyoto itself, combining traditional ryokan dwelling with contemporary western comfort. The Arashiyama area is a designated scenery protection area, regarded equally for its cherry blossoms in the spring and brilliant foliage in the autumn. With its famous Togetsukyo Bridge, Arashiyama evokes “old Kyoto” at its best, as no new buildings are permitted. The property itself was the private vacation home and library of Suminokura Ryoui, a wealthy Kyoto merchant, until its conversion to an inn about 100 years ago. HOSHINOYA’s Library Lounge and bar, whose shelves hold many books on Kyoto’s history, looks out on the contemplative water garden, while its traditional landscape garden incorporates a view of Arashiyama Mountain using the ancient technique of shakkei, or "borrowed scenery." HOSHINOYA Kyoto has a sister property in Karuizawa.
Hyatt Regency Kyoto
Kyoto’s newest luxury hotel, the Hyatt Regency is centrally located in the city’s historic Higashiyama neighborhood, and blends Western luxury with Japanese decor, while displaying works by Hiroshi Sugimoto and other modern artists in its reception lobby. The Hyatt is located near some of the city’s iconic sights, including Kiyomizu-dera Temple (Kyoto’s “Notre Dame”), Sansujangendo, and the narrow streets of machiya (traditional townhouses) and ochaya (tea houses) within the historic geisha district of Gion. Rooms include flat-screen TVs, DVD and high-speed Internet access, while the property’s Riraku Spa offers a variety of treatments incorporating Shiatsu, acupuncture, moxibustion, aromatherapy, and reflexology. The Hyatt’s restaurants are Touzan, serving a variety of traditional Japanese cuisine; The Grill, specializing in meat and seafood dishes, prepared in an open kitchen with woodburning stoves; and Italian fare from Trattoria Sette, while Touzan Bar includes an extensive menu of boutique sakes.
Just steps away from the popular streets of Gion, Kawaramachi and Pontocho, the hotel is the perfect gateway for seeing Kyoto’s fabulous sights. The large meeting facilities and services also make the hotel ideal for business. Respecting the ancient traditions and culture of Kyoto, the extravagant space is inspired from the natural surroundings and traditional architecture. Famous for Zen Temples, palaces and gardens, the Kyoto atmosphere is incorporated in the Ritz-Carlton’s design. Built in the style of a traditional Meiji House and courtyard, this is truly a cultural experience. A four-story waterfall is featured in the hotel entrance amidst patterned motifs. Guests are always guaranteed world-famous luxury at Ritz-Carlton, and Kyoto is no exception: guests enjoy high-thread count linens, plush Japanese “IMABARI” robes and towels, complimentary WiFi, Kyoto soap and seasonal bath salts, LED TVs and touch-panel environmental controls for automatic drape closure. Accommodation amenities include a concierge service, swimming pool, banquet room, babysitting service, four delicious dining options and a spa for any pampering needs.
One of the finest ryokans in Japan, Tawaraya opened 300 years ago and has stayed in the family ever since. Today, the 11th and 12th generations, a matriarch of the family and her son, share the majority of management duties, continuing the renewal of the beautiful house such that your stay here is a perfectly calibrated immersion in Japanese culture and history. There are three types of rooms, no two alike in design: bedrooms, small rooms and suites. The suites offer the best views of the garden, which is meticulously kept such that peering upon it from any angle gives one the sense of looking at a classic Japanese painting. Rooms have traditional tatami mats and futon mattresses, although low-rise beds are options for guests who prefer them. Breakfasts and dinner are served ryokan-style, meaning rice, miso soup, grilled fish, and Japanese pickles for breakfast, and traditional multi-course meals for dinner. There are two libraries, one with English language books and the other with Japanese ones, filled with art and design tomes, as the general manager, the son, is a lecturer on architecture at Kyoto University. Your stay here will assuredly be a highlight of your time in Kyoto.