Kyoto, the former capital of Japan, has been a centre of Japanese culture for over a thousand years. Easily reached by bullet train from Tokyo, there are hundreds of temples, shrines, parks and gardens to wander through. It is best to allow several days for a visit, if possible.
Kyoto was one of the cities targeted for the atomic bomb at the end of World War 2, but was spared and so remains today one of the best places to get a sense of historical Japan.
The city is popular with both Japanese and international tourists. Spring and autumn are the best times to visit.
The gold building in the middle of the water is Kinkaku-ji, also called the Temple of the Golden Pavilion. It is a symbol of Kyoto and one of the biggest tourist attractions.
Although Kinkaku-ji dates back to the end of the 14th century it has burned down several times, most recently in 1950 due to arson. (It was reconstructed in 1955.) The pavilion's top two floors are completely covered in gold leaf.
The word 'sushi' may conjure up images of fresh, raw fish on top of rice. However sushi began as a preserving technique in the days before refrigeration. Kyoto is some distance from the coast, and the traditional sushi of this region is different to the Tokyo-style more familiar outside of Japan.
For over a century, Izuju restaurant has served the local version of sushi. Mackerel and other fish are packed with rice and vinegar, wrapped in kelp, pressed together and left to cure.
Izuju is located directly across from a temple, so immediately after the meal one can jump back into more sightseeing!
Nishiki Market is a long, narrow shopping street that runs for several blocks and is lined by over one hundred food-related shops and restaurants. Fresh, dried, pickled - it's all here. Doughnuts made with soy milk? Check. Raw oysters? Tick. Skewers of baby octopus, heads hollowed out and quail eggs stuffed inside, for the more adventurous eaters to snack on? They are also available...
Time for a proper meal at one of the restaurants in the sidestreets off Nishiki. Okonomiyaki is often translated on menus as "Japanese Pizza" but that is a pretty loose description. This local comfort food from nearby Osaka is more like a pancake - a batter griddled on a flattop with various topping mixed in such as seaweed, bonito (dried tuna) shavings, pickled ginger and squiggles of MSG-laced Japanese mayonnaise.
We extend an invitation to you to come see what Kyoto is all about, raise our glasses and say "Kanpai (Cheers)!!"
Pictures by Maile Kop