Nobody knows how to travel quite like Wolk Morais designers Brian Wolk and Claude Morais, who write in with another incredible adventure. Last month they filled us in on their travels to Toyko and today the boys write in with the deets on the rest of their trip to Japan.
The Fast Paced Journey to Historic Kyōto
Bidding farewell to Tokyo was sweet sorrow. But to truly understand Japan’s history, we were determined to travel back in time and investigate its origins. Our journey on the Shinkansen (the Bullet train) at 325KM per hour from Japan’s city of the future to its original capital was emblematic of the country’s unique ability to merge antiquity with modern technology. As we settled into our luxurious green class (premier class) train car, the attendant offered us a cornucopia of gourmet delights. We opted for tea service, which included a variety of exquisitely crafted mini sandwiches. As the train sped through the rural villages and tea plantations, we were captivated by breathtaking views of the majestic snow-capped Mount Fuji. In two short hours, and after traversing 513 KM to the south, we pulled into Kyōto Station.
Staying in Kyōto
After a quick taxi ride we arrived at The Ritz Carlton Kyōto, located on the banks of the historic Kama-gawa River. Staff dressed in traditional kimonos greeted us in a demure, elegant manner, which we quickly understood reflected the spirit of the city. Upon entering the lobby of the hotel our eyes were drawn to the subtle luxury and impeccable details of every design decision. Whether it was the hand-loomed, silk-upholstered furniture, the custom carved wood screens, or the meticulously manicured gardens and bonsai trees, everything within our sight was crafted to utter perfection. Our traditional Japanese suite was a cinematic feast for our eyes. After removing our shoes, we discovered the liberating ease of tatami living. Soothing jasper-colored hand-woven tatami rice floors made every step a pleasure. All of the luxuries of traditional Japanese living were counterbalanced with modern amenities. With a remote control, we were able to raise the shoji curtains in our living room to reveal a private Zen garden with 180-degree views of the river Kama-gawa and the mountains that cradle it. Other standout details included a glass enclosed wet room with a traditional Japanese soaking tub, a beautifully appointed living room and dining area, and a striking tatami-floored Zen room, which the hotel staff transformed into a bedroom every night with a futon mattresses and bedding.
A wonderful way to gain insight into any foreign culture is to dress in its national costume. The kimono, Japanese for “What to wear” is a traditional T-shaped garment worn by men and women in various styles ranging from austerely minimal to highly formal and embroidered. Deceivingly simple at first glance, in fact this multi-layered garment requires great skill and assistance to dress in. The team at The Ritz Carlton Kyoto has created the kimono experience to give its foreign guests a firsthand immersion into this ancient way of dressing. After being measured and slipping into our traditional Japanese undergarments, we selected a kimono, accessories, and shoes to suit our personalities. At that point the experts jumped in and the ritual of layering robes and tying the obi (belt) commenced. We then were treated to a traditional Japanese tea ceremony and headed downstairs for an unforgettable dinner at Mizuki. Chef de Cuisine Masahiko Miura is not only a culinary genius, but also an artist. After an aperitif of peach-infused champagne sake he shared with us his visual inspiration for the meal. Inspired by frozen landscapes of the Japanese countryside he conceptualized individual ice waterfalls depicting two distinct winter vignettes. Layering the rarest slices of sashimi upon the ice sculptures, he and his team created a visually compelling and mouth-watering composition. This was only the beginning of an epic eight-course meal, which took us on an aesthetic journey revealing Chef Miura’s intimate love affair with the food of his country. No stay at the Ritz is complete without a swim in the incredible pool, and lunch at La Locanda, where Italian cuisine and Japanese savor faire are seamlessly merged into a masterful epicurean experience.
Discovering Kyoto by Foot, Cab and Rickshaw
Kyoto is a city that prides itself on its mystery. Many establishments have no signs, and most of the restaurants lack English menus. This presents its own unique set of challenges to the adventurous visitor looking to scratch below the tourist surface. With the help of our concierge we found our way off the beaten path.
The Imperial Palace
No trip to Kyōto is complete without a visit to the Imperial Palace. One must make reservations in-person the day before with your passport. Well worth the work, this incredible playground is filled with extraordinary architecture, paintings, sculptures, and manicured gardens.
This neighborhood was built in the Middle Ages in order to accommodate tourists visiting the Yasaka shrine. Eventually it became the most exclusive hub for Geishas in Japan. Today, little has changed; the neighborhood is still defined by small streets lined by charming teahouses. You will need help from a local or your hotel concierge to penetrate the most exclusive establishments, because they don’t have signs above the door, nor do the employees speak English or have English menus. Regardless, we recommend taking an evening stroll through the mysterious streets filled with red lanterns in hopes of getting a glance of a Geiko (the proper term for a Geisha) or their attending Meiko (Geiko in training). Our serendipitous restaurant discovery on one these promenades was Komodesu. Discreetly hidden behind bamboo walls, in a centuries-old stable, the restaurant’s mid-century modern décor, hip Japanese clientele, and innovative cuisine was a perfect unexpected surprise.
This charming old neighborhood situated along the river is most magical at night and is known for its lively bistros and clubs. The maze of narrow streets, barely large enough for a bicycle, will lead you on a wild journey that always results is a serendipitous discovery.
Named for Kyoto University professor Nishida Kitaro, this promenade along the canal is a perfect scenic route that includes some of Kyoto’s most beautiful temples and shrines, particularly beautiful in the Cherry Blossom Season.
Located in the hills of the eastern mountains, Higashiyama is the city’s most preserved historic district. The neighborhood’s restaurants, cafes, and traditional merchant shops all retain their age-old splendor, which has lured tourists and pilgrims for centuries. Meandering through winding lanes of craft, spices, and incense shops toward the impressive Yasaka-no-to Pagoda (the Eiffel Tower of Kyōto), make an afternoon in this romantic neighborhood an unforgettable experience. Be sure not to miss Rakuten, the most impressive and extensive incense shop in all of Kyōto, and grab a perfect cup of coffee at the exquisite Arabica.
The Sajusangendo Temple
Known to visitors as The Temple of a Thousand Buddhas, this spectacular temple was erected in 1164 and contains 1,000 life-size gold leaf covered statues of Buddha. No cameras are allowed in the space, but the visit will surely be imprinted in your memory forever.
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