KYOTO (TR) – As Japan’s seventh largest city, the ancient capital of Kyoto blends modern urban sprawl with traditional touches. Falling somewhere in between has been the development of an environmental movement considered to be one of the nation’s largest. What follows is a “green” guide to Kyoto for a single day’s stay.
09.00: Kyoto’s nearly 2,000 temples and shrines are well known, yet culinary delicacies are not to be overlooked, and numerous varieties are available at the Nishiki Market, where over 100 family-run shops have offered locally sourced products for four centuries. A walk down the narrow corridor reveals aromas of grilled fish and boisterous shopkeepers enthusiastically peddling sushi and other seafood (oysters, squid and sweetfish), sweets, fresh vegetables and some of Japan’s finest cutlery. For a sampling of the wares, order breakfast at Iyomata (Tel: 075-221-1405), which offers sushi sets, including chirashi zushi (various raw fish over rice).
10.30: In 1997, Kyoto hosted the United Nations conference that set greenhouse gas emission targets, but the streets of Japan’s former capital are often jammed with cars. As an alternative, the Kyoto Cycling Tour Project provides various types of two-wheelers from its outlet just in front of Kyoto Station. Cycle down to the Fushimi Inari Shrine, notable for its path of 5,000 orange entry gates, and back up the bike route hugging the Kamogawa River. Then venture over to the Kyoto Handicraft Center to peruse its selection of painted screens and kimono wear or partake in making your own woodblock print or folding fan in the center’s studio.
12.00: At the Kyoto Botanical Garden, dating back to 1924, guests can view over 100,000 plants assembled in special areas dedicated to everything from irises to hydrangeas to bamboo. The large central lawn includes numerous plum and cherry trees, a favorite when in bloom in the spring, and the dome-shaped Conservatory creates a tropical environment suitable for its thousands of climbing vines and carnivorous plants. In moving back to the center of town, point your camera at the Nakagyo Post Office. The red brick building has been designated by the government as an important cultural property, whose interior was restored in 1978 yet its facade remains the same as when it was constructed in 1902.
13.30: For lunch, there is Ambient Café Mole (Tel: 075-256-2038), tucked into a tranquil neighborhood just south of the grounds of the Kyoto Imperial Palace. The twenty-seat eatery greets guests with its jungle-like entrance of leafy plants and soothing background music. Try one of the delicious sandwiches on handmade bread or curries served with whole-grain rice, each prepared with organic ingredients.
The majority of the city’s buses — accessible all day with a $5 pass — are powered by biodiesel fuel refined from restaurant cooking oil. The immaculate Kinkakuji Temple, or the Golden Pavilion, has its own stop served by multiple lines. The top two floors of this three-story structure, which enshrines the Buddha’s ashes, are adorned in shimmering gold leaf. Enjoy one of Japan’s top spectacles by viewing its reflection from across the adjoining rock-lined Mirror Pond.
16.30: The traditional teahouse Bunnosuke Jaya specializes in the sweet, non-alcoholic drink amazake. Sip this beverage or matcha (green tea) inside this beautiful 200-year-old building, whose grounds are enhanced by a garden and courtyard.
17.30: The silk and cotton fabric of the clothing, accessories and linen products made by dyeing atelier Somenotsukasa Yoshioka are colored with organic dye derived from plants and not chemicals, as was customary for this family business up until two decades ago. The result is a store with pillows and bags in deep and radiant purples, pinks and blues — certainly some of Kyoto’s most unique souvenirs.
19.00: Stroll through the Gion area, the top geisha quarter, and later take a tatami mat seat at Gion Oishinbo, which offers a wonderful selection of dishes made with locally grown and acquired ingredients. Set in a wood building that evokes the traditional machiya style of craftsmanship, the restaurant serves dinner courses priced under $50 and feature sashimi and tempura. For washing it all down choose a couple of the half-dozen locally brewed sakes.
22.00: Relax at the tiny jazz bar Hello Dolly (Tel: 075-241-1728). You can settle back as Blue Note vinyl is spun and try a martini or cognac at one of the club’s dimly lit tables — a perfect finisher to a day not soon forgotten.
Note: All photos by Joseph Tame. This report originally appeared in CNN Traveller magazine in the November/December 2009 issue.