I had so much fun writing the first round of ten that I had to make another! I dedicate this article to my friends back in Japan who weren’t afraid to go off the beaten path and take me with them to try the weird, the wonderful and the just plain delicious.
Be fancy at the Ritz-Carlton
My time at the Ritz with my parents was a lot of fun; it’s a world of luxury and hospitality you don’t want to leave in a hurry. Plus, I got a kick out of pretending to be fancy for a few hours. The hotel opened its doors in 2014, making it the youngest addition to the Ritz family. Dark, rich tones fill the space where Japanese and Western tastes meet, from the furniture to the menu.
The staff are warm, welcoming, multi-lingual and are available for any help you need. Afternoon tea can be served with or without champagne and the variety of tea and coffee available is extensive. The menu is seasonal so taste and flavours constantly change but quality remains the same. Pierre Herme Paris is the supplier of all things sweet and dainty at the Ritz, and exclusive Kyoto flavours are available in the store across from the lounge room.
Go fabric hunting in Nishijin
Nishijin is the famous textile district of the city, where looms and fabrics are a way of life. It’s not the first place someone would imagine visiting when they think of Kyoto, but the area is full of fabric shops, a textile centre where kimono fashion shows are held and there are plenty of cute café’s along Imadegawa street.
Get some tofu doughnuts at Konnamonja
The one time doughnuts are acceptable (?) for breakfast. The shop is located down Nishiki Market and is wildly popular with both locals and tourists. Doughnuts come plain, with sesame powder or chocolate sauce and other treats are available. My personal favourite is the soymilk ice cream; it always managed to disappear too quickly somehow.
Go clubbing at Kitsune
Two levels, world class DJs and lots of beautiful people. Kitsune opened in 2015 and quickly became the hot new place to be seen in the city, hosting the likes of Timmy Trumpet, Steve Aoki and other Hot 100 musos.
Get your drunk-noms on at Nagahama Ramen
If you like ramen and alcohol it. Will. Happen. This place is small (less than a dozen seats) but renowned, and they are open all hours of the night if you’re in need of a late dinner or an early breakfast. It’s a welcome break from all the neon along Kiyamachi Street and has consistent reviews for its outstanding service.
Be Frenchy at Le Petit Mec
The original little red Le Petit Mec on Imadegawa Street is only open on weekends and usually sells out before 3pm, but there are at least two other outlets to stock up on croissants, fresh baguettes and a few tarts located in Daimaru and on Oike Street. Use of elbows is not recommended but may be required.
Refuel at CHIERiYA
Pros; amazing food for less than a thousand yen with a bit of peace and quiet on the side. The con; those stairs.
CHIERiYA is the baby of a local called Chieri (ya (屋) means house). In typical Japanese style, the business is attached to her home, where she and her family whip up amazing meals for their customers. Lunch plates include a main dish with lots of little sides with the main event ranging from hamburger steaks, to fish to tempura. Curry, bahn mi sandwiches and cheesecake are also available. The space is intimate and you might be able to share a joke with Chieri if she’s not too busy.
Have a moment at Ippodo
You can get away from the hustle of downtown and step into Ippodo teahouse in Teramachi Street, one of the most famous in the city. Seasonal sweets are served alongside their warming brews; think sugar and mocha shaped into flowers, fruits and other tidbits of nature, often with red bean paste in the centre. The staff teach the customers how the tea is served and how long to steep it for. Matcha is also on the menu if you want to try the authentic stuff.
Explore the pubs and bars down Kiyamachi
They are everywhere; on the main drag, in the alleys and up hidden staircases. Kiyamachi is an unabashed, candid glance at Kyoto’s nightlife and the party often goes on until the sun goes up. As a people watcher myself, I enjoyed observing how workers and students would let their hair down (and loosen their ties) after a long week. Jazz bars, hostess clubs and ramen joints constantly pull customers, and you find a few hidden gems here and there. A-Bar is a cheap izakaya popular with foreigners and has businesscards stuffed in the walls left behind by customers, and Barcode is the place to go to sing your heart out, have a drink and sing some more until your voice is raw.
Kiyamachi is also where maiko entertain their clients; it is not unusual to see them in a taxi or walking with a customer. Ponto-cho is right next door, making it easy to go from their training house to work.
A popular sweets shop in Katsura, suburban Kyoto. Daifuku, dango, green tea soba, matcha and a traditional favourite, zenzai, can be enjoyed here. Nakamura-ken was founded in 1883 and has been making the sweet stuff for five generations, providing pounded rice cakes, manju and other delicacies for locals and even royalty at one time. The business occupies a tea house on the Katsura river. It is busy all-year-round and is a step off the beaten path for tourists, but it is worth it if you want to try the real deal. There are seasonal delicacies and mainstays to try and during festival seasons the tea house is decked out appropriately.
Get lacquerware at Zohiko
Forget Hello Kitty plushies and Astro Boy keyrings. If you want an unusual souvenir to make people jealous, a trip to Zohiko will do the job.
Lacquerware is painstakingly handmade when the piece is for ceremony or just for showing off; my Douda students in this major would spend months building up the layers of a single piece by painting, polishing and repeating the process until it was complete. Inlays like mother of pearl and gold are not uncommon, which can be found in lacquer items across all periods of Japanese history. Zohiko was established in the late Edo period and has been providing items like plates, tea sets, chests, mirrors and more for over 350 years. Nature scenes, animals and dancing fans used by geiko are usual decorations, created in gold on a black or red base.