Thursday, March 3, 2011

A Perfect Weekend in Kyoto

After completing my meetings in Tokyo last week, I traveled to Kyoto with my family for the weekend.    Kyoto is one of the world's great cities, with remarkable history, culture, and food (especially for vegans who eat the same foods as Zen monks).   Here's where we walked on Sunday and Monday before returning to Boston on Tuesday.

On Sunday, we started the day with a great Japanese breakfast of Yudofu (boiled Tofu), pickles, rice, and tea at our ryokan in Central Kyoto, the Watazen.  After breakfast, we walked south to the Buddhist temples of Higashi and Nishiki Honganji.   We purchased coils of our favorite incense from Kungyoku-do, near Nishiki Honganji.  From there, we walked east, crossing the Kamagawa river and passing Sanjusangen-do, the temple where samurai used to practice archery (you can still find the arrow holes in the beams).   From there, we  climbed Kiyomizu-yama on our way to the temple of Kiyomizu-dera, which is surrounded by pottery shops.   We bought a pair of rustic tea cups, and a simple sake cup and bottle set made of fine clay at the Asahido pottery shop.

From there, we walked north through the park of Maruyama-koen and the shrine of Yasaka-jinja, then up Shijo-dori to buy incense at another great incense store adjacent to the Kyoto Craft Centre.

We walked back to the Kamagawa river and north to Sanjo-dori, passing our favorite rice cracker shop, Funahashi-Ya.  We stopped for lunch at the conveyor belt sushi restaurant Musashi which has numerous vegetarian options.

Afterwards, my wife and daughter explored the shopping streets of Teramachi dori/Shinkyogoku, while I walked to north Kyoto and the temple of Ginkaku-ji.  Just to the right is an unmarked path that leads up Daimonji, a 1500 foot peak overlooking Kyoto.  At the top, I met a mountain biker named Yoshi, who gave me directions for a 5 mile ridge walk along the mountains between Kyoto and Lake Biwa, ending at the temple of Nanzenji, the starting point for the Philosopher's Walk.  From there, I walked back to our ryokan and we went to dinner at our favorite tofu restaurant on Sanjo dori near the Kamagawa river.    A great day with remarkable incense, pottery, and foods to take back to Boston.

On Monday after breakfast, we walked the Nishiki market street, with its wonderful pickles, tofu, yuba (tofu skin), and roasting chestnuts.   We purchased dried yuba to prepare great stews back in Boston.   From there, we returned to the Teramachi shopping street to visit our favorite tea shop, Horaido.   The owner made us fine Gyokuro tea and provided precise instructions so we could make it at home. The key is to use 105F water for the first cup, creating a sweet. concentrated, viscous tea.  We purchased Gyokuro and Sencha tea, as well as some cherry bark tea caddies to store our tea.   If you visit me in my office at Harvard or BIDMC, I'll brew you a cup.

From there, we walked to the Imperial Palace and the textile areas of northwest Kyoto.    It's always great to find clothing dyed with indigo at shops like Aizen Kobo.

From there we walked east and south, making our way back to the Gion, the Geisha quarter with its wooden shop fronts, antiques, and plum blossoms blooming over the canals lined with tea houses (pictured above) .   We walked the antique shops of Shinmonzen, browsing in our favorite shop, Yagi, where I found several old Shakuhachi which the shop owner let me play.   I purchased an old hammered incense scoop which I'll use for Koh-do, the incense ceremony.

At sunset, we wandered past the secretive lanes and alleys where Geisha and Maiko entertain their clients at chaya teahouses, with conversation and music.  It was truly a magical moment.

We packed our treasures and readied for the commute home  - 26 hours from point to point.    Of all the cities in the world outside of the US, Kyoto is the one I am always reluctant to leave.


Suki Tsui said...

Please save me "three cups of tea" - Gyokuro, Sencha and Cherry Bark!

Thanks for sharing you magical moments in Japan with us.

As much as I felt like I was in the Healthcare IT Wonderland last week at HIMSS11 when I spent an awesome time with 31,000+ people who share my passion in HIT, Kyoto sounds much more fascinating to me! :P

TechScribbler said...

Great Post! And very redolent imagery, makes me wish for a "scratch it" Web and touchscreen for my computer.

I live in Portland, OR, so it's relatively easy to meet my vegan needs, but not so much when I travel outside of the city. Maybe I need to transplant to Kyoto.