Located in the centre of Japan’s main island, Honshu, Kyoto was the imperial city of Japan for 11 centuries and is thus the site of some grand architecture in the form of temples, palaces, shrines and parks. UNESCO has included seventeen historic sites on its World Heritage List under the title of Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto.
The temperature in Kyoto is most hospitable in the fall months of October and November and spring season from March to May. In mid-March the cherry blossoms in full bloom turn the city a pretty shade of pink. Summer and winter sees extreme temperatures while typhoons may play spoilsport in September and early October.
Kyoto was the prime target of the atomic bombs in WWII. But, Secretary of War Henry Stimson had spent his honeymoon in the city and could not bear for its city centre to be destroyed. The city was spared the atrocity and today, it is the most preserved city of Japan.
A Lucky Break
There are many reasons why the number thirteen is considered unlucky but the number works well for The Screen Hotel in Kyoto. The Hotel has 13 rooms each one designed by a different artist both from Japan and abroad. The outcome was the result of the direction that each one’s imagination took.
In one of the rooms hand-painted screens invoke the ambience of the Japan of yesteryears within a contemporary set-up. In another one, the extensive use of mirrors give it an ultra-modern appearance but the purpose of the mirrrors is to reflect the self.
In some rooms light plays a key role, like the one inspired by a forest where light filters in like sunlight through foliage while in another light and colour have been used together to depict the different seasons of Kyoto.
Colour has also been used in varied forms to create varied moods. In one of the executive suites, metallic touches on the walls and a red desk infuse the space with a glamorous touch. On the other hand, one semi suite has been done up entirely in white with smoky white curtains separating the different spaces – the designer’s inspiration here was a palin enveloped in fog.
The idea behind thirteen different rooms was to tickle the curiosity and the intellect of the visitor and make the process of choosing a room fun. The result is a hotel which reflects the history of Kyoto and passed down Japanese traditions with an innovative creative approach.
Path To Nirvana
The Ryoanji garden takes up a rectangular space of about 248 square metres behind the temple by the same name. White gravel is spread evenly over the rectangular space. It is painstakingly raked by the monks, every day.
A total of fifteen rocks in five clusters of different combinations have been randomly placed on the gravel. Only fourteen of the stones are visible from any angle in the garden, one popular theory says that the fifteenth is visible only to those who have attained enlightenment.
The trees along the border leaning over the Ryoanji garden and the wall that is tinted orange with the passage of time add to the serenity of this Zen rock garden.
Throw Out The Bath Water
Sarasa Nihijin was the most beautiful bathhouse in the city when it shut down but when it reopened in 2000, it had turned into a café to supplement the growing coffee culture in Kyoto. Fortunately, a soft hand was used on the remodelling and most of the interesting featues of the original structure were retained. The façade crawling with ivy, the intricate mosaic walls in myriad colours and wooden beams of the erstwhile bathhouse have been supplemented with a kitchen and wooden furniture to make a quaint café.
Packed With Nostalgia
When Izawaya started in 1865, it very quickly became the best stop for kimono accessories especially a high-end bag featuring exquisite Nishjin brocade which went with kimonos and Western dresses.
Over the years this 140 year old shop has innovated its product list to include business card cases, scented Japanese paper, drinking flasks, phone covers and even toothpicks that are individually wrapped in traditional paper. Izawaya is a must stop for a souvenir wrapped up in some Kyoto tradition.
Text By Himali Kothari