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Kyoto Insider Sake Experience
In Japan they say one hundred different sake brewmasters create 100 different types of sake. Like varietals of wine, each production of sake is completely different from the next. Kyoto’s district of Fushimi – near the famed shrine of the same name with 10,000 orange torii gates – is the historic home of many famous sake breweries. This half-day tour takes small groups around a local brewery, introducing the basic brewing process in a way that’s engaging enough to leave guests with plenty of anecdotes to take home. The cherry on the top of this experience, however, is the post-brewery tasting session. The session’s leader offers a range of flavours to try, on a mission to help each guest find their favourite. A second session, when each sake is paired with a specific type of food, is a complete revelation in terms of how to enjoy the drink and what type – sweet, dry, added alcohol, cloudy or sparkling – is the one you’ll want to go home with.
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Start after lunch at the Silver Pavilion – a Zen temple with an immaculate raked garden – and wind your way down this famous path, named after Nishida Kitarō, one of Japan’s most prominent philosophers who reputedly strolled this path daily practicing meditation en route to Kyoto University. Along the path, quaint shops selling handmade items are interspersed with moss-covered temples and a tranquil, tree-lined stream. Finish off at Nanzenji temple complex – its enormous gates are particularly impressive once the crowds have dispersed in the latter part of the afternoon. The grounds are free to wander and offer plenty to see.
In just an hour at Gion Corner it’s possible to see a selection of Japan’s best performing arts in an easily digestible chunk. There is no need to speak Japanese to enjoy these performances, as explanations are offered in English to give visitors a taster of Japan’s traditional music and dance styles. Seven types of performance are typically included in each hour, including kyo-mai (the dance of trainee geisha), bunraku puppet theatre, gagaku (music of the imperial court) and ikebana (flower arrangement). Performances take place every day at 6 and 7pm and cost 3,150 yen – around £24 – with discounts sometimes available. Consider this a 101 in Japanese culture.
A 10-minute walk from Nijo Castle you’ll find Cotoha, a very cool plant shop with a gallery and Brooklyn-esque coffee shop downstairs called Clamp. Originally a bath house, it’s a tiny space with refurbished wood and antique finds. It’s getting easier to get a good cup of coffee in Japan and these guys are leading the way.
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The Higashiyama District
This is where you put Google Maps away and just wander. The district is the best place to experience old Kyoto, Japan’s former capital. Burrow between the narrow streets and the wooden buildings to reach Yasaka Pagoda, perhaps the most photographed spot in the district.
It may be touristy but don’t miss this famous geisha area, packed with shops, restaurants and teahouses. Running along the canal, Shirakawa Gion is bordered by traditional wooden buildings on one side and trees on the other. If you are here when the cherry blossoms (April) or when the leaves turn in autumn it is incredibly beautiful.
Fushimi Inari Taisha
The Higashiyama District
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