7. Tea Ceremony
Zen again, but this time in a tea cup. The cleansing of the tea utensils, the gentle bow as you receive your cup, the three clockwise turns before you take a sip: it’s not difficult to see how deeply rooted the slow and graceful movements of the tea ceremony are in Zen Buddhism. Chado or sado, as the ceremony is known, is by no means limited to Kyoto, but with the city’s rich Zen connections, it is an ideal place to experience it. Try visiting En, a small teahouse in Gion with tatami tearooms and English-speaking Kimono-clad servers. You’ll find it next to Chionin Temple, a short walk from the Chionmae bus stop on route number 206 from Kyoto Station.
8. Kyoto International Manga Museum
Few museums are as hands-on as this old elementary school turned shrine to manga, or comic books, and its collection of some 300,000 comics and manga-related exhibits. Visitors can read any piece of manga they fancy from the towering wooden bookcases that line every wall and hallway. Some read propped up against the walls or sitting crossed legged on the floor; others hunker down with a coffee at the museum’s wood-decked outdoor café. The eclectic and universally transfixed crowd is a testament to how much a part of mainstream Japanese culture manga has become.
The museum is a one-minute walk from Karasuma Oike Station on the Karasuma and Tozai subway lines. Admission is ¥500 and it’s open from 10am to 6pm. Closed Wednesdays and New Year’s holidays.
9. Shopping on Shijo-Dori
The futuristic glass and steel facade of Kyoto’s train station, though not universally welcomed by locals when it was unveiled in 1997, is proof that Kyoto is not stuck in the past. So too is Shijo, Kyoto’s brand-name adorned central shopping precinct. It begins near Shijo Station, with the Daimaru department store, eight floors of cosmetics, jewelry and fashion that are topped off by a restaurant floor. Fifteen minutes east, by Kawaramachi Station, the edge of the district is marked by the larger Takashimaya department store, which sits directly across from Koto + (pronounced Koto Cross), home to eight narrow floors of fashion, beauty salons and cafes aimed at a young female crowd. Inbetween you’ll find brand-name boutiques like Louis Vuitton and Armani, plus several traditional Japanese craft and high-end souvenir shops. If it weren’t for the wooded hills in the distance, you could easily think you were in Tokyo.
10. The Arty East End
Head east of the Kamogawa River, toward Ginkaku-ji and Kyoto University, and Kyoto begins to reveals its artistic side. Besides the extremely worthwhile National Museum of Modern Art, which focuses on local 20th-century artists, this part of town is also home to an impressive array of post Meiji-era fine art at the Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art, as well as a collection of Japanese art and artifacts spanning the 4th to the 19th centuries at the architecturally sleek Hosomi Museum.
Yet it’s the smaller, alternative places that really stand out. Tranq Room, on Shirakawa-dori, combines a small contemporary art gallery and hip, Asian fusion café-bar that sometimes turns into a live music venue. Further up Shirakawa-dori, the laidback A Womb is an even more fashionably understated place for a drink. It stands in its own minimalist grey concrete building and includes a small studio where the owners sell their own anti-brand fashions.
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