Kyoto, once the seat of the Japanese Imperial Court (794 – 1869), is also known as Heian-kyo meaning tranquility and peace capital. How could you not relax in this city with a name like that?
In fact, Kyoto is an ideal destination for any traveller seeking the pleasures of Japan—other than those bent on dissipations that Tokyo and other larger cities offer. The debauched might find Kyoto a bit sedate. However, for me, a woman of an inexact age travelling alone for whom nightlife means trading warm milk for a nightcap in a lounge with a city view, Kyoto is a perfect fit for many reasons.
First, Kyoto is safe. I can walk its streets alone, without fear and unmolested after dark. I don’t have to worry about theft. In a public place I can leave a suitcase and laptop at a table or outside the door while using the washroom, and they will still be there on my return. Japanese people are socialized not to take something that does not belong to them. They expect you to return for it and will safely keep your item—even something as small as a transit pass—sometimes for years.
Second, Kyoto is well organized. Built on an easy-to-navigate grid it boasts excellent bus, taxi, subway, and train service. Japan Railway’s Kyoto Station (the hub of the city) offers straightforward and convenient connections to numerous outlying areas with their own unique character as well as Tokyo, Osaka or other urban centres. In addition, the Kyoto Tourist Information Centre located in Kyoto Station provides superb guidance to visitors. Not only that, the city offers hotels, traditional ryokan inns and hostels at every price point.
Third, Kyoto recalls an old world charm. Because it was not razed by World War II bombing raids, Kyoto retains characteristics of a bygone Japan even though it is a thoroughly modern city. It boasts numerous world heritage sites and traditions upheld for centuries through multiple generations of venerated individuals.
But most important, Kyoto is an epicurean’s delight. Bursting with temples, gardens, museums, galleries, restaurants, spas, artisan shops of every kind, boutiques and department stores—you can overdose on any one of them multiple times in a single day. That fact can prove one of Kyoto’s worst temptations for anyone bent on relaxing.
It’s too easy to cram in too much. Resist those multiple-venue tours which leave you tired and cranky with very little idea of what you saw or the inability to recognize what’s on your camera afterwards. Kyoto is the perfect city in which to walk—a welcome counterpoint to the gastronomical excesses you’ll enjoy.
Since I am here to relax, the cardinal rule is to pace myself. Though I have a loosely-ordered list of things I might like to do while in Kyoto (especially places I want to eat), I gamely set agendas aside for happy surprise. Following my impulses, keeping my energy levels balanced and adjusting activities to the weather, I allow things to unfold rather than chasing them down. I prefer to be mindful in one place rather than mindless in many.
With that in mind, the first thing I do after disembarking is pause at Kyoto-Saryo, a delightful spot located between the Hotel Granvia and the Tourist Information Bureau for matcha and wagashi. Heian-kyo. Tranquility & peace. Bring it on.