Kyoto, Japan: A cure for the soul and the senses
Cleanse your spirit and your mind with a trip to Japan's angelic former capital.
Getting there The Japan Railways Shinkansen is a bullet train that takes about three hours to go from Tokyo to Kyoto. Order sushi bento and green-tea ice cream from the cart girl.
Where to stay The Westin Miyako Kyoto, located in the eastern foothills, has a Japanese-style room in the private annex with ikebana flower arrangements, pale tatami mats and a long lacquer table set for tea.
Where to pray Nanzen-ji is the most famous Zen temple in the world. The compound, which dates back to 1264, consists of 12 subtemples and covers 11 hectares. Visit the Tiger and Cubs Zen Garden, where six small rocks are surrounded by pure white sand. Sit down on the weathered boardwalk and stop thinking. Take a tea ceremony in an adjacent tatami room with its own waterfall. The matcha tea is frothy, emerald-coloured and slightly bitter. Sip slowly and empty your mind. Try a free hour-long zazen session, a Zen Buddhist sitting meditation. Focus on the fleeting nature of existence. If ephemerality gives you an appetite, the Nanzen-ji compound has been offering vegetarian meals for more than 300 years — the fresh tofu lunches are sublime.
Getting around There’s a rickshaw stand right outside Nanzen-ji. Ask for Yutaro — this handsome rickshaw boy, who also happens to write poetry, will pull you along curving mountainside roads to the Path of Philosophy, a narrow path along a canal lined with kilometres of cherry trees. Philosophers have watched their falling petals for centuries, contemplating the evanescence of the world.
Check out ELLE Canada’s other travel trips here!Sustenance So much soul-cleansing can leave you feeling peckish. Stop for espresso and a large piece of chocolate-and-lemon-mousse cake at Cafe Terrazza, close to the end of the Path of Philosophy.
Wash the world away Leave the Shinkansen at the seaside resort of Atami, about an hour and a half before you reach Tokyo. At the very edge of town is the seven-storey Sagamiya Ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn and spa. Soothe your spirits in the orchid greenhouse and public, private and in-room onsen (hot-spring baths). Linger over a traditional 32-course kaiseki dinner. Originally a light meal that accompanied tea ceremonies, kaiseki features tiny, detail-conscious courses of fresh, seasonal ingredients garnished with tree leaves or flowers. The next morning, get up early, fix a cup of green tea and watch the sun rise over sparkling Sagami Bay.
Photo courtesy The Westin Miyako Kyoto