Kyoto may be full of hushed streets steeped in tradition and hidden institutions run by kimono-clad custodians but don’t be fooled: there’s more to this captivating city than timeworn teahouses and graceful geiko. Japan’s former capital has its own distinct identity, dialect and dishes, and beyond the Buddhist temples and Zen gardens you’ll find a dynamic city that’s constantly evolving. Slip off your shoes and step right in.

Need to know

Get to grips with the basics

  1. House rules: If you’re new to staying in a traditional ryokan (Japanese-style inn), don’t expect to find a bed. After dinner, staff will roll out a futon mattress encased in crisp sheets and topped with a soft quilt.
  2. Local lingo: Like most Japanese cities, Kyoto has its own dialect. Known as Kyoto-ben or Kyo-kotoba, it has a delicate, elegant intonation and pronunciation.
  3. By invitation only: The business of ichigen-san okotowari – new customers not welcome without an introduction – has protected Kyoto’s finest institutions and their loyal clientele for generations.
  4. Route finders: Although the city centre is laid out in a grid, directions can be confusing. Both locals and taxis tend to locate a place by its proximity to two intersecting streets.
  5. Holey moley: There will be plenty of times where you’re asked to take off your shoes upon entering ryokan, restaurants and temples. Don’t embarrass yourself by padding around in socks riddled with holes.

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Hospitality at its finest

  1. The Ritz-Carlton Kyoto, Central

    Riverside peace and quiet

    Local artisans have brought an authentic touch to the Ritz-Carlton’s design, which incorporates tranquil Zen gardens and a collection of 400 works of contemporary Japanese art.

  2. Hoshinoya Kyoto, West

    Traditional accommodation

    A modern reinterpretation of Japan’s traditional ryokan, Hoshinoya Kyoto has 25 rooms with river views, western beds and cedar bathtubs.

  3. Genhouin, East

    Serene setting

    This peaceful five-room Japanese inn is housed in a century-old wooden building renovated by late architect Akira Watanabe.


Local lingo

  1. Conbini: Convenience store
  2. Dori: Street
  3. Geiko/maiko: Geisha/trainee geisha
  4. Genkin/Kaado: Cash/card
  5. Kanpai: Cheers!

Food and drink

Smart bites and top stops

  1. Shiki Nakamura, North

    Solo effort

    Masai Nakamura trained in kitchens around Kyoto and is now a one-man operation, serving multicourse lunches and dinners. The corn, orange juice, edamame and cucumbers he uses are all sent directly from his parents’ farm.

  2. Monk, Northeast

    Wood-fired wonders

    Monk serves inventive contemporary cuisine using local ingredients. A master of wood-fired cooking, owner-chef Yoshihiro Imai starts early every morning, visiting farms in Ohara for fresh vegetables, herbs and flowers.

  3. Honke Daiichi Asahi, Central

    All-day ramen

    This decades-old shop is easily recognisable by its lengthy queue of diehard fans. They line up for the thick tonkotsu (ramen) with soy sauce – strong or weak – and green onion and beansprout toppings.

  4. Rokuyosha, Central


    Rokuyosha was started by Minoru Otono and his wife in 1950 and today is run by their sons Takashi and Osamu. The ground floor opens at 08.30 to serve breakfast, while from 18.00 the wood-panelled basement becomes a bar.

  5. Bar K-ya, Central

    Whiskey a-go-go

    Owner-bartender Junichi Kurono’s extensive menu includes seasonal cocktails and Scottish and Japanese whiskies. Sit at the seven-metre-long African Bubinga wood counter and watch the exemplary bartenders in action.


Shop talk

  1. 45R, Central

    Dyeing to be worn

    45R is famous for aizome (indigo) dyed clothes made in Japan. At the Kyoto branch you can find the brand’s full line-up for men and women, including indigo-dye shirts, smart-casual tweed suits, Supima organic-cotton jeans and hand-woven Indian Khadi blouses.

  2. Arts & Science, Central

    Mixed disciplines

    South Korean-born, Hawaiian-raised Sonya Park made her name as a fashion stylist before founding Tokyo-based Arts & Science in 2003. She now has three shops in Kyoto, each offering thoughtfully made clothes and accessories.

  3. D&Department Kyoto, Central

    Kyoto-centric designs

    Selling “long-life” designs specific to Kyoto, this shop is a joint venture between D&Department, Bukko-ji Buddhist temple and Kyoto University of Art and Design. Among the items on offer are saké made in Fushimi by Fujioka Shuzo.

  4. Naito Shoten, Central

    Brush with greatness

    Sachiko Naito’s shop near Sanjo Bridge sells a mix of handcrafted items, including traditional hand-tied scouring brushes made of shuro (hemp palm), brooms for sweeping tatami mats and artists’ brushes made of sheep, boar and horse hair.


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