FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

Kyoto: Kyoto Cool

May 1, 2012
2012 / May 2012

First-time visitors to Kyoto come to experience the religious sites that made this city, founded in 767, so famous, including its 1,600 Buddhist temples and 400 Shinto shrines. These beautiful, peaceful places easily fill up one or two full days of absorbing sightseeing.

But there is another aspect to Kyoto, as of course there would be in a city of 1.5 million people, part of the sprawling Osaka/Kobe/Kyoto metroplex. Kyoto also has a “cool” side where strikingly modern architecture, quirky design studios and high-end cuisine are treated with as much respect as the city’s fabled temples and shrines. Kyoto’s large and diverse artistic community offers an eclectic range of modern artistic attractions. The Japanese word for modern — モダン — is pronounced similarly (“modan”), but the essence of modern design in Kyoto is much more serene.

With the Shinkansen (bullet train) taking a little more than two hours to cover the 320 miles from Tokyo to Kyoto (or just 15 minutes from Osaka), you can easily reach the city by midmorning, but it is a treat to overnight at the 29-room Hotel Kanra, where several Japanese interior designers created an amazing, esoteric hotel experience using traditional and contemporary design.

If you arrive by rail, spend time exploring Kyoto Station, a 15-story, futuristic-looking glass structure designed by Hiroshi Hara in 1997. Check out its curved glass and steel roof and the bustling interior restaurants, museums, gaming centers, theaters and shopping mall.

After the “20 Vegetables Power Breakfast” at the Kanra’s intimate restaurant, set out for a look at some of the city’s cool sites, including the International Manga Museum, opened in 2006, whose 50,000-plus manga items (colorful and sophisticatedly designed comic books) will interest aficionados and those curious about the current manga phenomenon in Japan.

The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto (aka MoMAK) opened in 1963, but its newest building was designed by Fumihiko Maki in 1986 and constructed of stone veneer, aluminum and glass panels. The American Institute of Architects named Maki the 2011 Gold Medalist for his lifetime achievement in modern design. The museum houses an extensive collection of 20th-century art from both Western and Japanese artists.

A short walk away is another fascinating Kyoto building, designed by noted architect Tadao Ando, who placed his stone and steel Times Building alongside a stream in the city’s upscale Pontocho area. Have a cup of green tea in the building’s small café at the water’s edge and feel as if you are on a boat and the café is floating on the peaceful waterway. If you want to experience the ultra-hip Kyoto far above its busy streets, the nearby Ace Café is a trendy bar located on the 10th floor of a high-rise office tower. It offers spectacular views of the city (especially at sunset) through its glass walls and has a retro, mid-20th-century ambience.

Be sure to visit the Kyoto branch of Tokyo’s Taka Ishii Gallery, a contemporary gallery showing new works by Japanese photographers, many from the Kyoto area.

Before leaving Kyoto, have lunch or dinner at one of its 102 Michelin-starred restaurants (yes, that many) and stroll through the Gion District which, in addition to being the site of dozens of ochaya (tea houses) where guests are entertained by geisha, has a number of remarkably restored, wooden machiya (merchant townhouses) now converted into exquisite restaurants, shops and designer studios. In Gion, as in other areas of Kyoto, the juxtaposition of old and new, bamboo and brushed aluminum, paper lanterns and neon is stunning.


Hotel Kanra

International Manga Museum

Kyoto Station

Kyoto Tourism Council

National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto

Taka Ishii Gallery


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