Picture your most elegant image of Japan–a woman in a floral kimono walking under the shade of her paper umbrella or a zen garden perfectly manicured in a courtyard of red maples–this is Kyoto. Even in a country that was tragically razed in World War II, this former capital remains pristine. Having all their cultural relics intact gives its residents, and all the Japanese who visit, a special sense of pride for their heritage. This is a place where kimonos are daily attire, ancient shrines overflow with offerings, and geishas still rule the night. It's hard not to fall in love with Kyoto, but to really make us smitten, we had the most amazing stay at the Hyatt Regency Kyoto, complete with a romantic suite, incredible food, and some of the best service to date on our 650-day honeymoon.
The Hyatt Regency Kyoto in the historic area of Higashiyama Shichijo, the land of the former Palace of Kyoto, was the perfect (and super luxurious) home base for some of Kyoto's prime attractions— it's across the street from the Kyoto National Museum, next door to the 12th-century Sanjusangendo temple, and just down the road from the UNESCO Kiyomizu-dera temple.
We walked in to the lobby and were bowled over by the glamour of the interiors---a sweeping staircase, chic furnishings, graphic wall patterns, and all the trappings of honeymoon hotel.
We arrived to our suite to find a bottle of champagne and fruit waiting for us in our living area. The room was super spacious and decorated with a perfect balance of east meets west.
Then their was the zen bathroom. With a bamboo bathtub, fluffy white towels, and views to the French Colonial-style Museum, this was such a dreamy place for a soak.
After a bath and a pot of green tea, we went out to explore the neighborhood, starting with the 12th-century Sanjusangen-do Temple. This Buddhist site is filled with 1001 beautiful kannon sculptures and is the longest wooden structure in all of Japan. Fun Fact #1: Being so long and narrow, the temple grounds have doubled as an archery range for national competitions since the 12th Century. Fun fact#2: One of the competition highlights is the yakazu 24-hour marathon where contestants shoot as many arrows as possible for 24 straight hours. The current record holder shot 13,053 arrows with 62% hitting the target from 198 feet. Unbelievable!
We continued up the road to the Kiyomizu-dera Temple to see its incredible 17th-century architecture and as it turns out some of the best people watching. Women and men dressed in full kimono regalia were out to see the vibrant complex amongst the fall foliage. The local ladies looked so exquisite in their flowing silk and wooden shoes that we couldn't help but sneak a few photos.
We built up an appetite walking the neighborhood and couldn't wait for dinner at the Hyatt Regency's Touzan. To get the best view of the sushi chef at work, we grabbed two seats at the bar and watched the artistry unfold.
We indulged in a kyo-kaiseki meal where each course was more beautiful and delicious than the last.
On our way home that night we went to the legendary Geisha district, Gion. Geishas are highly skilled entertainers only performing behind closed doors and by invitation only. We saw the dimly lit facades of the tea houses and caught a glimpse of a few being chauffeured to their next appointment . It was all a bit mysterious so we went back by day and found a place with old-world charm, where artists come to paint and where young couples go to photograph their wedding portraits.
To help us take on more of Kyoto's 2,000+ temples, shrines, not to mention palaces, gardens, and museums, the general manager arranged a car for us to make sure we truly squeezed every last drop from our Kyoto experience...and this was no taxi. Our driver, Tsubo-san, was a professional guide for Bill Gates, Tom Hanks, the Dalai Lama, and the almost famous HoneyTrek. The first stop was the Temple of the Golden Pavilion. Originally constructed as a lavish retirement villa for a retired shogun in the 1390s, it has since been enhanced with even thicker layers of gold leaf. Seen on a sunny day, it so beautiful it's blinding.
Fushimi Inari Taisha may have an impressive 1000+ years of history but what makes it a star attraction is not the age of its torii gates but the volume. This shrine to the patron of business is made of 1,300 orange gates all sponsored by various businesses in Japan, each trying to get in good with the god of success. Walking the winding corridors of the tightly packed structures is a beautifully hypnotic experience.
In addition to taking us to Kyoto's top sites, Tsubo-san's insider guiding brought us to local gems like the Shozan bonsai nursery—a place not for tourists, but locals looking to continue this ancient botanical art form.
Kyoto is a magical place and completely enhanced by the service, location, and luxury of the Hyatt Regency. For a hotel in the center of the city's action but with the feeling of a luxurious retreat, this where honeymooners want to be.
Much love from Kyoto,
Anne & Mike
*The Hyatt Regency Kyoto invited us to be their guest; however, all opinions are our own.