Each day was a slow unveiling of some new form of beauty. One night, we ate fresh fish next to an open hearth and drank sake that was brewed from melted snow high in the Northern Mountains. The waiter shuffled us to a nearby bar, invisible from the street, with dark wooden shelves brimming full of seemingly-ancient bottles of spirits, all served in antique glassware, collected over a lifetime in France and Osaka.
Arriving in Kyoto is like stepping back in time. Each day was a slow unveiling of some new form of beauty.
On a quiet narrow street lined with residences in Gojo-zaka is the former home and working studio of potterer and artist Kawai Kanjiro.
Walking through the house, on the old creaky wooden floors, the diffused light dapples in through the hand pressed rice paper sliding shades on perfectly framed vignettes of slow living.
The potter spent most of his life working, teaching and housing students in his home. The kilns behind the house are so large everything had to be custom built around them, including the deep rooted tree, shaped to provide shade on a small bench overlooking the property.
Kawai Kanjiro's House
While exploring the east side of Kyoto, not far from Kawai Kanjiro’s house, is the temple of Nanzen Ji.
The temple grounds are sprawling and give you the overwhelming sense of what life might have been like living inside her walls.
Upon entering the main temple is a long room with a picture frame window overlooking a natural waterfall where you can remove your shoes and pray, meditate or enjoy tea in a small white ceramic cup reflecting on life.
Through the temple I enter a raked rock garden and the clouds finally clear after days of grey sky letting the sun shine down through the trees. In this moment of warmth it began to rain with the sun on my face, like the sky telling me a poem, I try not to cry from its inexplicable beauty.
Nanzen Ji Temple
Wandering back in to town through the streets the sun began to set.
We arrived to a kaiseki dinner at, Tan, where we found the whole restaurant had been closed down to service only us for the night. We were sat upstairs in a warm quiet room overlooking the canal and flowering trees. We ate fresh fish next to an open hearth and drank sake that was brewed from melted snow high in the Northern Mountains.
After finishing our meal the waiter shuffled us to a nearby bar.
Off the canal, you’ll find, Ueto, with a single hung bud vase behind the bar and dark wooden drawers brimming full of seemingly-ancient bottles of spirits, all served in antique glassware collected over a lifetime in France and Osaka.
The next morning, the air was brisk and smelled of wet rocks from the rain the day before, but the sun shone down and as we walked we found ourselves along the quiet canal of Philosopher’s Path. The cherry blossoms were blooming wild and petals softly danced in the air.
We passed by a white plaster storefront with a bright blue glossy ceramic roof. Through the window was a wood burning oven that moved our attention inside where we discover the small 15 seat restaurant of Monk. Owned by former Noma Chef, Yoshihiro Imai, he was hosting a pizza pop up that was so good I can still taste the venison and natural wine.
Across from Monk you’ll find Kiso Artech, a small shop housing beautiful ceramics, carved wood cutting boards, Japanese wallpaper. Kiso also has a tiny cafe situated on the second floor where you can escape the crowds and have a glass of green tea or coffee overlooking the canal.
Kiso Artech Ginkakuji Showroom
A 30 minute bus ride north from the center of town is Wife and Husband Coffee. Owned by Ikumi and Kyoichi who roasted coffee beans together on their first date.
Their first day was they best day and so they wanted to recreate this moment to spend the rest of time together in the same perfect way as the day they met.
The entrance of the shop has stacked wooden folding stools, woven straw hats, picnic baskets and on the inside bouquets of hung dried flowers and antiques collected from all their travels.
The food is paired back and simple, and the couple offers picnic sets for you to enjoy coffee in the overgrown grassy fields by the Kamo river.
Wife and Husband Coffee
Entering Bar Bunkyu is otherworldly. Nestled down an alley, invisible from the street, we pushed through the split hung faded Japanese fabric at the entrance and made our way to the front door. Upon entering there is a single spot light situated over a 9 seat bar where owner, Nao Sakauchi, is pouring a mixture of his own green tea infused Japanese Whiskey for regulars.
At the end of the bar, two older gentlemen are smoking tobacco out of an antique wooden pipe blowing a haziness in the air that bounces the light and fills the room with a delicious smoky, woody scent.
Nao is one of the most kind, curious and hospitable bartenders I have met in all my years of travel and that is reflective of the experience one has when joining him at Bunkyu. By the end of the night become friends with every patron from all walks of life and countries around the world who also found themselves in this tiny bar. Each person finds themselves sharing favorite local haunts and Nao saves a list for each area with the intentions of exploring them all and releasing a book one day.
Gion Shirakawa Canal
“Memories and thoughts age, just as people do. But certain thoughts can never age, and certain memories can never fade.”
OTHER NOTABLE THINGS TO EXPERIENCE
Located central to most things in the Gion district, Kyoto Granbelle has all the comforts of home in well designed (though very small) hotel rooms. The concierge was also very helpful in booking all of our dining reservations.
Modern machiya off the beaten path. Also has a great staff and amazing breakfast,.
Kichi Kichi Omurice
The experience of ordering an omelet and watching the owner and chef, Motokichi Yukimura put on a spectacular and hillarious performance is something not to skip.
In the words of Anthony Bourdain, one cannot go without experiencing “The Unnatural, Inexplicable Deliciousness of the Lawson’s egg salad sandwich.” Do yourself a favor and wash it down with a Kirin grapefruit Chuhai.
Access to our google map for all these places and more, View Here.