It‘s called the City of Ten Thousand Shrines. It was once the imperial capital of Japan — for more than a 1000 years. Kyoto (the Japanese say, Kio-to), is on the island of Honshu. The city was built based on traditional Chinese feng shui. Even today, the streets follow a grid pattern.  SSQ chats ups Mathew George architect, George Design Group (www.gdgindia.com), who visited Kyoto.

Matthew George

Why Kyoto?

Kyoto being the old capital had more history and the outside the central city had amazing works of architecture and landscape by old masters of the trade.

Your first impression of Kyoto 

When you arrive in Kyoto, what strikes you the most is its old world charm that is lacking in Tokyo. You realise there is a lot of history in this place.

How many days did you stay in Kyoto?

Nine days.

Ryokan Tofukuji, a traditional home stay

Where did you stay?

In Kyoto, I stayed in Ryokan Tofukuji. It was a traditional house managed by a lady named Akemi. The rice paper partition walls opened out to a beautifully laid out Japanese Zen garden, and the place was located close to Gion and other must-visit locations.

What did you do in Kyoto?

Walk, walk, and walk along Gion, the serene landscaped gardens, the shrines, etc. And of course ate a lot of food. Sushi was right on top of that list.

What are the three must-visit places in Kyoto?

Denkakuji — for the shrine, the amazing Philosophers Walk and gardens.

Fushima inori — for the mountain climb.

Gion — to experience a page out of Memoirs of a Geisha and the nightlife; and the Nishiki food market and a visit to the world famous aritsegu knife-makers.

Tell us about the food scene in Kyoto 

Kyoto has a rich culinary tradition. The local food culture is diverse and ranges from aristocratic Kaiseki Ryori (it is a traditional multi-course Japanese dinner) to the vegetarian Shojin Ryori (Buddhist cuisine) of monks and the simple Obanzai Ryori (traditional) home style cooking.

What are the three must-eat foods in Kyoto? 

Sushi, sushi, sushi. The Pontocho nightlife district is one of the best places to find good fusion restaurants alongside traditional establishments. The Gion district also offers a broad range of interesting dining opportunities, as does the Kyoto Station area.

What are the people like in Kyoto?

Kyoto had been Japan’s capital a long time ago. People here have not forgotten that. They are kinda proud of that; sophisticated and somewhat look down at people from Tokyo or other areas.They are evidently more aloof than the people from Tokyo. But they are friendly people.

What sort of place is Kyoto?

With ancient temples, winding canals lined with cherry and willow trees, and narrow alleys, Kyoto’s past is all around. For a rich experience, make your way to Gion, the old geisha district still redolent of the world’s first novel, The Tale of Genji. Here, tiny cobble-stoned lanes are crammed with old wooden structures housing tea rooms, restaurants and small shops specialising in one craft item or another.

Is it a safe place?

It’s very safe. Oh, I also got to experience an earthquake which is a part of life for the Japanese.

What is the one place in Kyoto that you will never forget?

The Kinkakuji (Golden Temple and its gardens)

Tell us about the architecture in Kyoto?

Kyoto architecture has traditionally been typified by wooden structures, elevated slightly off the ground, with tiled or thatched roofs. Sliding doors (fusuma) were used in place of walls, allowing the internal configuration of space to be customised for different occasions. People usually sat on cushions or otherwise on the floor, traditionally; chairs and high tables were not widely used until the 20th century. Since the 19th century, however, Japan has incorporated much of Western, modern and post-modern architecture into construction and design, and is today a leader in architectural design and technology

How can one travel to Kyoto from Bangalore?

There are many flights to Japan. I took the Malaysian airlines as I got an incredible deal on return ticket (Rs 25000)

How many days does one require to spend in Kyoto to enjoy it?

About five days

How much money do you need to have a decent holiday in Kyoto — including airfare, boarding and lodging? 

About IRS 100000 for seven days

 

All photographs: Matthew George