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Kyoto: Food and Art in Japan's Imperial City

Portions of article excerpt below by Elaine Glusac appeared in Virtuoso Life, July 2014.

The spell-binding Shizuoka Performing Arts Center production of Antigone that just closed at Park Avenue Armory brought me such theatrical Zen, I decided to feature Kyoto this week. In contrast to Tokyo’s frenzy, Kyoto is the Japan of Zen Buddhism, traditional tea ceremonies, and kimonos as street fashion. With hotel upgrades, a produce-proud culinary scene, and a new museums, Kyoto embraces the past without seeming stuck there.

See A years-in-the-making Collections Hall designed by Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi, who redesigned New York’s Museum of Modern Art, opened just five years ago at Kyoto National Museum 527 Chaya-cho, Higashiyama-ku; 81-75/541-1151), with galleries for eleventh-century scroll cases, early Buddhist sculptures, and calligraphy. Nearby Sanjusangendo Temple houses 1,000 sculptures of the Buddhist deity Kannon. I can arrange a culinary walking tour that combines old and new, from the five-block-long Nishiki Market to the sleek Soutatu tasting shop.

Eat Traditional Japanese cuisine known as washoku – from obanzai home cooking to sushi – recently received UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage status, exemplified in Kyoto’s vegetable-focused fare. Sample vegetarian Buddhist or multicourse kaiseki meals at Daitokuji Ikkyu (20 Murasakino Shimomonzencho, Kita-ku; 81-75/493-0019). Purportedly the oldest restaurant in the country, Honke Owariya (322 Kurumayacho-Nijyo, Nakagyo-ku; 81-75/231-3446), specializes in soba noodles. In the Gion geisha district, squeeze into Sou (Oonishi-Bldg II-1F 216-2 Nishino-cho, Higashiyama-ku; 81-75/551-4515), a tiny teppanyaki storefront where the owner prepares grilled Kobe beef, prawns, and market vegetables for just ten counterside diners.

Drink Kyoto’s pristine spring water makes for superior sake. Visit the family-run Matsui Sake Brewery (1-6 Yoshida Kawaramachi, Sakyo-ku) for a tour and tasting. Try the thick green matcha tea, focal point of the ancient tea ceremony developed here, at En (272 Matsubara-cho, Higashiyama-ku; 81-80/3782-2706). I can even arrange a teahouse meeting with a geisha.

Shop Teramachi Street hosts a mix of high-end royal merchants, artisans, and antiques. Pewter specialist Seikado (462 Myomanjimae-cho, Teramachi-dori Nijo) offers everything from sake pitchers to silver chopsticks and bronze incense holders. Sample (and buy) tea at Ippodo (52 Tokiwagi-cho, Teramachi-dori Nijo), tea purveyor to the imperial family. Next door, Kamiji Kakimoto (54 Tokiwagi-cho, Teramachi-dori Nijo) sells handmade paper known as washi.

Contact me to find your Zen in Japan! 


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