Courtesy of Kinmata Ryokan

Japan’s ancient capital has one foot in the 14th century and the other firmly rooted in the 21st.

Jaime Gross

While the megalopolis of tokyo catapults itself into the future, Kyoto—renowned for its temples, shrines, and vibrant geisha culture—has grown cautiously. Two years ago, the government banned rooftop and flashing ads and put a cap on building height to preserve the centuries-old landscape. Now, a surprisingly modern city is emerging as stylish restaurants, shops, and inns pop up in 19th-century machiya, or wooden merchants’ houses. Read on to learn more about the new Kyoto.

1. Scene

For a glimpse of the city’s spiritual heritage, head north along the Kamo River to Daitoku-ji, a 685-year-old Zen monastery with 24 temples, and to Okochi-Sanso, the five-acre residential gardens of the late samurai film star Denjiro Okochi. Then fast-forward to the present at the new Iyemon Salon Kyoto, on the lower floors of a kimono company, with a contemporary crafts shop, chic café, and steel-and-glass gallery exhibiting 450-year-old embroidered kimonos. At night, taste rare brews at Sake Bar Yoramu, a low-key bar run by an Israeli expat.

 

2. Food

 

The restaurant at Tenryu-ji Temple (lunch for two $60) serves vegetarian meals such as sesame tofu and soup made of dried gourds and sea kelp. Sounds of slurping fill Honke Owariya (lunch for two $38), which has been dishing up handmade soba, udon, and tempura since 1465. If you’re not a guest at the tranquil 208-year-old Kinmata Ryokan (dinner for two $330; doubles from $907, including meals), reserve a table for a seafood kaiseki meal made with ingredients from the nearby Nishiki Market. Check out the envelope-pushing Bassano del Grappa (dinner for two $150), where the sashimi comes with a side of pesto.

 

3. Rooms

 

Billed as Kyoto’s first design hotel, Screen (doubles from $482) opened in 2007 with 13 unique rooms: No. 201 has a sexy red, black, and white scheme. Super Potato is one of the designers behind the Hyatt Regency Kyoto (doubles from $415), where 189 rooms have cedar tubs and silk headboards. Great Value Hotel Monterey (doubles from $190) has spotless guest rooms near shop-filled Sanjo-dori. Opening in December is Hoshinoya Kyoto (doubles from $625), a 25-room ryokan near the Oigawa River with rice-paper screens and intricate woodwork.

 

4. Shops

 

On one of the city’s best shopping streets, Ippodo Tea Company resembles an old-fashioned apothecary, with white-jacketed attendants measuring green tea onto scales. The gallery-like Kyoto Design House sells lacquered bamboo boxes and handwoven silk capes by local designers. At Karacho, 11th-generation craftsman Kenkichi Senda creates woodblock-printed washi paper for temple doors, as well as chic handmade pendant lanterns. And at Eitarouya, tailors stitch men’s overcoats from wool, cotton, silk, and hemp.

Kinmata Ryokan

This intimate 1801 ryokan near the Nishiki food market serves owner Haruji Ukai’s seafood kaiseki meals.

Daitoku-ji

The riverside 685-year-old Zen monastery has 24 temples on the property.

Okochi-Sanso

The five-acre residential gardens of the late samurai film star Denjiro Okochi.

Iyemon Salon Kyoto

Located on the lower floors of a kimono company, the complex includes a contemporary crafts shop, chic café, and steel-and-glass gallery exhibiting 450-year-old embroidered kimonos.

Sake Bar Yoramu

Taste rare brews at this low-key bar run by an Israeli expat.

Restaurant at Tenryu-ji Temple

The temple's restaurant serves vegetarian meals such as sesame tofu and soup made of dried gourds and sea kelp.

Honke Owariya

The noodle shop has been dishing up handmade soba, udon, and tempura since 1465.

Bassano del Grappa

At this envelope-pushing restaurant the sashimi comes with a side of pesto.

Screen

Billed as Kyoto’s first design hotel, the property opened in 2007 with 13 unique rooms: No. 201 has a sexy red, black, and white scheme.

Hyatt Regency Kyoto

Just shy of East Tokyo, in the Higashiyama Shichijo district, is the Hyatt Regency Kyoto. The 189-room hotel is decked out in traditional flourishes—kimono fabric headboards, washi paper lampshades, and deep wooden Hiba tubs in the bathrooms—though international luxury standards still apply. Warm up your credit card at Shop Kyo, the hotel’s boutique for Japanese arts, such as silks and crockery.

Hotel Monterey

This centrally located 327-room value hotel has spotless accommodations near shop-filled Sanjo-dori.

Hoshinoya Kyoto

The Arashiyama neighborhood of Kyoto, full of bamboo groves and Zen temples, is the site of the city’s newest—and most exquisite—ryokan, or traditional inn. Hoshinoya Kyoto has 25 guest rooms along the banks of the Hozu River, each with Japanese futons, yellow cedar bathtubs, and delicate rice-paper screens. In the morning, you can have a Japanese breakfast delivered to your room—nabe hot pot served with tofu and local vegetables—and sit by the window, against a backdrop of maple and cherry trees.

Ippodo Tea Company

This tea shop resembles an old-fashioned apothecary, with white-jacketed attendants measuring green tea onto scales.

Kyoto Design House

The gallery-like shop sells lacquered bamboo boxes and handwoven silk capes by local designers.

Karacho

11th-generation craftsman Kenkichi Senda creates woodblock-printed washi paper for temple doors, as well as chic handmade pendant lanterns.

Eitarouya

The store's tailors stitch men’s overcoats from wool, cotton, silk, and hemp.

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