Enjoying Kyoto in the Heat of Summer
Why Kyoto in Summer?
If you'd asked me what my favorite season of the year was years ago, summer would've been my very last choice. Summers in Tokyo are incredibly hot and humid and the heat is so amazingly intense, it has the ability to zap all the energy out of the most energetic human being.
After having lived here in Tokyo for two decades, I've gotten used to the heat and have learned to somewhat cope like the rest of the Tokyoites. There are many ways to cool down during the hot summers so it's not all that unpleasant if you make the effort to stay cool. Eating foods that have a cooling effect on the body ( i.e. cucumber ) helps cool your body down, while drinking lots of water throughout the day will keep your energy levels high.
Every summer I treat myself to a trip. Anywhere is fine really, as long as it's someplace relaxing and rejuvenating, hopefully a place that's not as hot as Tokyo. The only other city in Japan that I know of that's even hotter than Tokyo in the summer, is Kyoto. You'd have to be pretty crazy to visit the ancient capital during this most intense and uncomfortable season.
So why in the world did I decide to visit Kyoto during the hottest months of the year? Keep reading to find out why. And along the way, I'll show you how to stay cool and comfortable in one of the most beautiful cities in all of Japan.
*All photos taken by myself unless otherwise noted.
Have you ever been to Kyoto before?
Wearing a Yukata Keeps Your Cool
Kyoto is 320 miles, or just a 2 hour 18 minute bullet train ride away from Tokyo. Arriving at Kyoto Station, we immediately head to our hotel to get changed into our yukatas. The Yukata is a traditional Japanese garment worn by both men and women during the summer months. Although they are usually worn to fireworks or summer festivals, you can wear them to just about anywhere.
When I first wore the yukata, it was hard to comprehend why it was meant as summer garb. I mean there is a lot of fabric for something that's supposed to keep you cool. However once I'd spend a day in one, I found that the yukata is actually comfortable and surprisingly kept me cool in a different sort of way than normal clothing. Of course nothing beats a simple t-shirt and a pair of shorts but certain occasions call for a less casual ensemble. Believe me, a yukata is so much more comfortable and cool than a summer suit.
After being in one for an entire day in the hot sun in a yukata, this is how I see it. The only part of the entire outfit that's constricting in any way, is the belt portion. With wide openings in the arms, the yukata is basically a light-fabric one-piece ensemble. Its loose and flowy fabric lets air rush through the areas between fabric and skin, and as a result, keeps the body quite cool. A Japanese fan stashed away in the yukata sleeves makes the perfect accessory that's not only cool looking, but also practical.
Once we got into our yukatas, we were ready to hit the streets.
*Photo : Me and my friend Michael in our yukatas.
Traditional and Authentic Yukatas
When buying yukatas, make sure to buy authentic ones. Yukata "robes" made of satin or silk is only worn outside of Japan by tourists. Fans can be stashed away in the wide sleeve of the yukata.
A Stroll through KyotoClick thumbnail to view full-size
This Best Guidebook to Kyoto
I find the Lonely Planet guidebooks to be superior to others. This particular one includes all the essential information you need for a visit to Kyoto. Color maps and images throughout show you how to get the most out of your trip. Information include reviews on eating, sleeping, sight seeing, shopping, and even night life as well as hidden gems that many people miss out on.
Along the Kamo River
As afternoon aproaches, we head down to the Kamo River, a popular strolling spot for residents and tourists. In the summer, restaurants along the riverbank open up their balconies for patrons to dine al fresco. In the past, Kamo River was a source of pure drinking water for the locals. The river was also used for Kyo-yuzen dyeing, a craft that was made famous in Kyoto.
Strolling along the river bank is a nice way to cool off during the summer. The breeze feels just a bit cooler here and the pace is much slower. Festive ornaments line both sides of the river announcing to the world that summer is here. Summer is a time of celebration and a variety of festivals are scheduled throughout the entire city.
We sit for a good 10 minutes just gazing at the river, letting the gentle flow of the waters heal our souls. The Japanese have always taken to riverbanks to cool off during the hot months and not surprisingly, the riverbank is most active during this time of the year.
Strolling Along the Kamo RiverClick thumbnail to view full-size
Dining at Nanzan Hitoshina
Tonight we're in for a treat. We've made reservations at one of the most sought after seats in Kyoto - Nanzan Hitoshina, a restaurant that serves up modern versions of the very traditional and elaborate Kaiseki cuisine of Kyoto.
My friend and I have been wanting to come here for the longest time and numerous friends have raved about how good this place is. You could even say that I made my trip down to Kyoto just so that I could experience dining at this modern Kaiseki restaurant. They have three restaurants around the world - Hawaii and Paris with Kyoto being the main branch of the Nanzan enterprise. Earlier this year I heard that they have opened a branch in Tokyo, which I plan on visiting in the near future.
Kaiseki is a traditional multi-course dinner usually consisting of various dishes that reflect the seasons and the chef's culinary skills. True kaiseki must carefully balance taste, texture, appearance and colors using only the freshest seasonal ingredients and prepared in ways that aim to enhance rather than mask natural flavors. Kaiseki is truly an art form.
It took us a good 20 minutes to finally find the restaurant which was tucked away into a side street in a back alleyway at the end of a small stream so without my GPS to guide me, I probably would have never found it. Fortunately we got there in one piece and as we were dressed in our yukatas, we weren't sweating all that much.
Nanzan Hitoshina does kaiseki with a modern twist, so we went without expectations. Needless to say, I was quite blown away as each dish took me by surprise with new flavor combinations and textures. It was the first time in a long time that I was challenged by the new taste sensations, some to the point where I wasn't sure what to make of it at first. Each dish was like a symphony that harmonized perfectly only by following precise instructions. Perhaps one ingredient tasted bland on its own, however eaten with the other three ingredients on the plate, created the perfect balance of flavors.
Good Kaiseki cuisine always has the ability to take me on a culinary journey and leaves me feeling excited, thrilled and beyond satisfaction. Kaiseki is truly a feast for the senses.
Finding the Restaurant is Part of the FunClick thumbnail to view full-size
Kaiseki - The Highest Form of Japanese Cuisine
This illustrated book is a feast for the eyes as well as the palate. Chef Murata's Kaiseki book is a cookbook that's truly a work of art. Learn how the seasonal style of cooking began as a tea ceremony accompaniment developed into the highest form of Japanese cuisine. A great gift for those who have a love for Japanese food and Kaiseki Cuisine.
Fushimi Inari Shrine
This morning we have a mission and it's one I had been looking forward to. Those who've been there talk about how beautiful this place is and rave about it's magnificence. On previous visits to Kyoto, I never managed to fit this shrine into my schedule as there were always other sites to visit.
At first glance, the shrine looked like any other sharing I've been to and immediately decided that it was going to underwhelm me. How wrong I was to judge a shrine by it's entrance.
The Fushimi Inari is the main shrine of all Inari shrines in Japan. The Inari God depicted as a fox, symbolizes rice and good harvest but the shrine is especially favored by merchants and businessmen, who visit here to pray for good business.
After visiting the main shrine complex, hundreds of vermillion-colored torii gates lead to other smaller shrines. It's a long 4 kilometer trek up the mountain taking approximately two hours to make it to the top. I really wanted to go all the way but the intense heat and humidity made it impossible to continue for more than an hour. Halfway to the top, we decided to turn back and save the complete climb for another visit.
Kyoto's Most Spectacular ShrineClick thumbnail to view full-size
Food Culture in Kyoto
A visit to Kyoto is never complete without experiencing its culinary delights. The city is known for some of the highest-quality produce allowing them to create the best pickles in the nation. The best green teas are grown in this region and many pastry shops make good use of them. Even the simplest bowl of noodles is a treat.
We've managed to eat a lot of food on this trip. From the haute cuisine of Kaiseki to the simple bowl of Kyoto style noodles, we ate, we conquered and we devoured to our heart's content. Still there never is enough time for all the foodstuff I want to sample in Kyoto so I promise myself to come back for a foodie's tour of this wonderful city.
Kyoto's Culinary TourClick thumbnail to view full-size
What would you enjoy doing most?
Kyoto's Seasonal Charms
There are many places of interest in Kyoto and too many to visit on a single visit. For most visitors, temples such as the grand Kiyomizu Temple and the Golden Pavilion, are absolute must-sees. Being that this wasn't my first trip to Kyoto, I opted to go for more local experiences this time around, rather than visit the tourist hotspots.
Yes, summertime may not be the most optimal time to visit Kyoto. Still if you know how to keep yourself cool, it's one of the most festive of seasons. With the various summer festivals taking place around the city and the opportunity to wear a traditional yukata while sampling various summer dishes, there's really no reason why you shouldn't go.
Make no mistake, Kyoto is hot during the summer months. Crazy hot! But if you wear appropriate clothing, pace yourself and make sure to eat cooling foods throughout the day, you're sure to have a great time...unless you're planning to make the 2-hour climb to the top of Fushimi Inari Shrine. For that, you really should go during the spring or fall seasons as it's much cooler.
I'm already planning my next trip to Kyoto to see the autumn foliage with my own eyes. I've seen the incredible cherry blossoms of Kyoto but yet to experience the intense beauty of Kyoto in the fall.
For more information on visiting Kyoto, visit the Official Kyoto Travel Guide.
I hope you enjoyed reading about my short trip to Kyoto. Have you ever been to this beautiful part of Japan? What did you most enjoy about it? If not, did reading this article make you want to visit? Please let me know you dropped by. Thanks so much.