Japan’s capital for over 1000 years can also be named the Zen capital of the world. Moving away from the collection of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, we focus on the Zen vibes brought by temples, dry rock gardens, old streets, tea ceremonies and even in hip cafes. Here’s a selection of some of the iconic Zen experiences.
Kyoto’s most symbollic imagery is perhaps Kinkaku-ji’s golden reflection shimmering across the surface of the pond in front of it. The Golden Pavilion, as it’s also known, got its colour only in 1955, when it was reconstructed following a fire caused by one of the temple’s monks. The scenery in Kinkaku-ji’s is zen all year around, be it surrounded by snow in winter or set against a rich green background in the summer.
Ryoan-ji Temple is one of the finest examples of Zen landscaping, with its dry rock garden of 15 rocks scattered across a raked white gravel field. Nobody knows the meaning of it but the interpretations are many, from a tiger carrying a cub across a stream to an ocean accented with small islands, leaving much to be thought about when sitting before it and contemplating.
Kyoto most iconic Geisha street is Gion, with its collection of teahouses, exclusive Japanese restaurants and the old wooden buildings which define the streets. Spending an hour in these streets will guarantee a glimpse of a geisha or two, probably being stalked for photographs and shuffling in and out of teahouses in their zori sandals and delicate kimono.
While not limited to this city, with its Zen vibes Kyoto is the ideal setting for Chado, or sado, as the ceremony is known. The ceremony itself is embedded with zen, from the cleaning of the tea utensiles, to the gentle bow, the three clockwise turns before you take sip. While in the Gion district, you can find the ‘authentic tea ceremony’ experience in the En Teahouse.
East side Art and hangouts
Heading towards the east end, Kyoto begins to reveal its artistic side. This is the home to the National Museum of Modern Art, a museum with a focus on local 20th century artists, the Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art, a collection of Japanese art and artefacts spanning the 4th to the 19th centuries, and the Hosomi Museum, known for its sleek architecture.