Josko, librarian and part-time researcher on religion in Japan and Asia, is German and lives in Japan with his partner Sho. His great love is the old imperial city of Kyoto, for which he has lots of great tips.
There is probably no better place than Kyoto to familiarise yourself with Japanese culture. What fascinates you most about the city?
The fact that it has countless mystical places of power, so-called “power spots”, and despite its modern development has lost none of its ancient grace. Nestled in a valley surrounded by five sacred mountains and crossed by the clear Kamogawa River, Japan’s ancient capital reveals a journey for the senses to its visitors.
How many days should you plan for a visit?
Gladly a whole week, but in any case at least three days. Kyoto’s surroundings, such as Ohara or Kameoka with its Onsen springs, are also perfect for a day trip.
What highlights are not to miss?
In Kyoto’s city centre, most of the famous sights are quite close to each other, such as the geisha district of Gion and all the shrines and temples in the Higashiyama district. In addition, a visit to the fox shrine Fushimi Inari is an absolute must. The shrine with its hundreds of gates is crowded at all times of the year, but only at the lower part. Everyone should therefore climb the stairs to the top of the mountain in the evening hours (approx. 1 hour) and indulge in the indescribably magical world up there by lantern light. My absolute favourite is a visit to Japan’s largest monastery, Enryaku-ji, on Mount Hiei-zan. Accessible by both bus and train, getting there automatically catapults you into a kind of pilgrimage. Especially in the early morning, when the fog only hints at the spiritual power of this sanctuary in the Japanese cedar forest.
At what time of day should you plan your visit to the most famous sights?
The rule of thumb is: in the morning! Especially because it’s nice and quiet and idyllic. Shrines such as Fushimi Inari are also worth visiting at night because of the great atmosphere.
What time of year do you like Kyoto best?
In autumn, when the leaves change colour (Jap. “koyo”) and add even more colour to the already magical scenery.
What would be your tip for a temple or shrine off the beaten track?
My absolute insider tip is Tanukidani Mountain and its temple in the northern district of Sakyo-ku. It is not far from the foot of the holy mountain Hiei-zan and has a few surprises in store. Once you have seen it, you not only get an incredibly beautiful view of the city, but you can avoid crowded temples like the Kiyomizu-Dera. We also recommend a trip to Kurama Temple, whose sacred sites are protected by mountain goblins (Jap. “tengu”). In summer, you can dine on sômen and other Japanese delicacies above the river.
What can you do in or around Kyoto if you have had your fill of temples or want to escape the cultural overload a little?
Then you should treat yourself to a quiet moment at Cafe Hygge near the main station, a very creative and stylish place. If you still want to take it easy Kyoto-style, you should take a trip to one of Japan’s oldest fragrance houses, the Shoyeido manufactory, where in addition to Japanese incense in all kinds of colours, fragrances, shapes and price ranges, you can also sharpen your olfactory senses in the fragrance museum next door and set off on a special kind of olfactory journey.
In Japan, it’s often not so easy to get in touch with locals. Do you have any tips for gay holidaymakers in Kyoto?
I would recommend Offsait Studio, which opened in November 2020, an artistic concept store with its own guesthouse in an old Machiya house that focuses on sustainability, diversity and design – always with the desire to support local manufacturers and creative actors. In addition to a shop and gallery, the owners Onur and Takuji also publish their own magazine. The gay couple also like to give tips for places in Kyoto where they feel particularly comfortable. Offsait Studio is also located in a very exciting neighbourhood called Shimabara near the train station, where high-ranking courtesans once strutted through the alleyways on metre-high stilt shoes in a glorious parade in the former red light district and were celebrated.
Is there such a thing as an LGBT scene in the city?
Rather than a long-established scene, there are individual bars such as the Apple, where the bar owner Yuji also warmly welcomes foreign visitors and gives tips for the next trips.
What is your favourite district in Kyoto?
Sakyo-ku in the north-east of the city. Simply because there are so many hidden temples and hiking routes there, and the picturesque Philosopher’s Path is located there. Not far from there, you can sit and relax by the Kamogawa River Delta and gaze at the mountains while enjoying the locally typical black bean mochi (kuromame daifuku) from Futaba Manufactory. This is right next to a retro shopping mall and just minutes from the river delta.
Japan’s cuisine is known for its variety of regional specialities. What is the best thing to try in Kyoto?
For vegetarians, I recommend Hale at Nishiki Market, where you can enjoy Kyoto’s delicacy yuba, a type of tofu. Vegans are also in the right place in Kyoto, where the restaurant Ain Soph.Journey offers vegan cakes and desserts as well as hearty dishes. Another typical Kyoto dish is the refined dashi broth, which tastes best in the form of udon noodle soup at Uneno near Sanjô. In the north-east of the city, in the Sakyo-ku district, there is a very authentic restaurant for okonomiyaki and yakisoba called Daruma. Despite the language barriers, the chef is hardly afraid to have a hearty chat with her guests; facial expressions and gestures alone can be quite enough!
More information on Kyoto and Japan as a travel destination can be found at www.japan.travel/de/de/kyoto/.
- IMG_9224_Original: By Shota Tadano
- Kyoto (1): By pixabay.com
- Kyoto3: By pixabay.com
- Image: By Shota Tadano