By Rupal Bhatikar: Kyoto is a city ageing gracefully. Whether it is in slow Kaiseki meals or the traditional architecture, it is a place that begs you to slow down and savour instead of speeding through life. It’s quite the contrast to the bustling Tokyo!
Things to see, do, and eat in Kyoto
To get a true feel for the city, start off at the Nishiki Market where every imaginable vegetable is pickled in a different way! The art of food preservation is well and truly an integral part of Japanese food culture. So many myriad textures and flavors, some mild, some shocking.
Get lost in the alleys of Sannen-zaka and Ninen-zaka, a pair of gently sloping lanes that lead down from Kiyomizudera Temple. Stop by at Yoshimura Kiyomizu-an, for a bowl of traditional vegetarian hand-made Soba Noodles in broth. This is also one of the most tranquil settings you’d find. I highly recommend an early morning alarm to beat the rush – for both the peace and the great photo opportunities. Walking through the torii gates of the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto. The trails lead into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari, dedicated to the Shinto god of rice. To arrive here before the maddening crowd does, and soaking in the fresh air and calm, is an experience I’ll remember for a very long time.
A walk around the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove in Kyoto and standing in the midst of soaring stalks of bamboo, gives you the feeling of being in another world. Sneak in a cup of coffee by the lake at Arabica. A seafood-focused Kaiseki (below) at one Michelin star Gion Nanba should definitely be on your bucket list – a special experience with the chef cooking exclusively for the guest, one on one over 10 courses. To relish every mouthful, every texture of local seasonal ingredients in it’s prime, this is easily some of the best seafood you’ll ever eat. The simplicity and respect for ingredients makes the dining experience here truly special and unlike any other.
Where to Stay in Kyoto
Hotel Granvia Kyoto (and Japan Tour Operator Ayabex, in conjunction with Cathay Pacific, have launched a number of special holiday packages with exceptional value, tailored to visitors from the United Arab Emirates, and allowing them to easily visit Kyoto and enjoy Forest Bathing.
A 7-day family package for a minimum of 6 persons highlighting the best of Kyoto and Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido, starting from AED 8,400 per person. The package includes return economy class flights from Dubai with Cathay Pacific, 3-star hotel accommodation with breakfasts, seat-in-coach tours in both Kyoto and Hokkaido and airport transfers by English-speaking drivers. Starting from AED 15,300 per person, the package can be easily upgraded with business class flights and accommodation at higher grade hotels such as the Sapporo Prince Hotel and Hotel Granvia Kyoto, which includes private tours in Hokkaido and Kyoto. (Packages do not include domestic flights between Hokkaido and Kyoto and seasonal surcharges might apply).
These packages are available through local U.A.E. travel agents and is valid until the end of December 2017.
- Flight Time : minimum 9 hours 45 minutes (direct) though lots of people fly via Tokyo and take in Kyoto as part of a tour.
- Time Difference to UAE : Kyoto is 5 hours ahead of Dubai
Japanese Style Starbucks…
And we say why not? The world’s first-ever traditional Japanese style Starbucks with noren curtains at the entrance, opened very recently in Kyoto. In this Japanese style zashiki space, you have to take off your shoes, sit on a zabuton or traditional cushion covered with Tango chirimen, a silk fabric produced in the Tango region of Kyoto and enjoy a cuppa. The Kyoto Ninei-zaka Yasaka Chayaten is located on the Ninei-zaka street which leads to the Kiyomizu-dera temple, a World Heritage Site. The store is in a two-story, 100-year old traditional Japanese townhouse in an area lled with historic and cultural atmosphere from the Taisho era.
Out & About
Shinrin-yoku or Forest Bathing
Kyoto, Japan’s ancient imperial capital for over 1,000 years and home to Japan’s many cultural traditions, arts and crafts, has struck a chord with the hearts and minds of an increasing number of nationals from the Gulf States of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman, with the total number of visitors from the region choosing to overnight in Kyoto increasing by 33% in 2016 compared to 2015 figures. In 2016, nationals from UAE increased by 51%, followed by nationals from Qatar at 43% and KSA at 11% respectively. According to the latest figures available, 2017 results for the months of January and February show the trend is continuing at a 30% increase across the region.
To further encourage Middle Eastern guests to visit and return to Kyoto, a new attraction known as Shinrin-yoku in Japanese, or ‘Forest Bathing’, is being touted as a new attraction to not only experience the natural beauty of Kyoto’s Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, but provide visitors with wellness effects that are reported as reducing stress and increasing wellbeing. Says Shuhei Akahoshi, Managing Director Kyoto Convention & Visitors Bureau: “Contemplative walks through the woods that reconnect the individual with nature can lead to decreased stress, natural mood elevation and even a stronger immune system. This means of mobile meditation has been recognized by the Japanese government since 1982 and has been endorsed by the Forest Agency of Japan as a means of improving quality of life. We invite visitors from the Middle East to share in this unique Kyoto experience, to not only enjoy the cultural, shopping and gourmet offerings that Kyoto is famous for, but also to return home feeling uplifted, healthy and inspired by nature.”
Forest Bathing can be enjoyed throughout the year, with each season providing its own unique experience. In addition to strolling along the bamboo grove paths, visitors have the option of traversing the groves by rickshaw. For female visitors, there is even the possibility of choosing a female rickshaw driver. Dr. Qing Li, President of the Japanese Society of Forest Medicine and senior professor at Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, has studied the effects of Forest Bathing and found that by using a mood profile, participants’ feelings of stress, anxiety or anger had decreased through Forest Bathing experiences, and their perceptions of energy or vigour had improved. In two other related studies, Li and fellow researchers sent groups of young men and women on three-day trips that included several forest baths and a stay in a hotel in the middle of the forest. Blood tests taken before and after these trips showed a significant boost in natural killer cells, which play a vital role in the immune system’s ability to fight off illness. Li speculated that forest bathing allows participants to breathe in air that contains essential oils from surrounding trees with active components such as limonene that have antimicrobial and immune-boosting properties.