Affectionately known as Emma Japan, Emma Eldridge completed her Masters at the Kyoto University of Foreign Languages and went on to work in Japanese media for four years. A proud member of the team at Young and Well CRC by way of the National Gallery of Victoria and Melbourne Recital Centre, she's a lover of all things art, nautical, news and Nippon. This is her Kyoto.
1. Best thing about Kyoto.
Oh dear, where to start? The maples in Autumn, the cherries in Spring. The backstreets of Kawaramachi, filled with super beaut cafes, restaurants, emporiums and some of the best vintage you'll ever glimpse. Bamboo forests, temples, shrines and ryokan. The best traditional Japanese fare you'll ever eat. Shrine markets where you can buy kimono and bric-a-brac for next to nothing. Tadao Ando architecture. The Kyoto Costume Institute. The Isetan food court (the Curry House San Marco has a pork cutlet curry with pineapple and sultana relish that will bring a smile to the darkest dial). The Nishiki market (try everything). Sento, onsen and rotenburo where you'll learn all about hadaka tsukiai or 'the naked relationship.' Running on the banks of the Kamo river. Taiyaki, red bean-filled fish-shaped waffles, sold by vendors on the edge of Teramachi. Zazen at Shunko-in. The people - so kind, chic and graceful. The fact that, like Xi'an (upon which it was based) and indeed Melbourne, Kyoto is a grid city which means it's perfect for navigating - a day spent ambling about Karasuma, Kawaramachi, Gion or Ponto-cho will be one of your best ever.
2. Worst thing about Kyoto.
Pretty much everything - restaurants, bars, stores - closes down over the New Year period. So if you're planning a trip to Kyoto, or more broadly, Japan over Christmas/New Year's, be sure to get your shopping done before 29 or 30 Dec and expect your favourite izakaya to be closed on 1 Jan. That said, the traditional way to spend New Year - at a temple, listening as a bell tolls 108 times for all the sins of Buddhism, then eating soba (for long life) and mochi (glutinous rice cakes) - is quite the delight.
3. Favourite secret spot.
The tiny, decrepit shrine on the river at Arashiyama at which my husband and I got married last December, the Yakuza Sento or bathhouse near Kyoto Station, or the Buddhist cemeteries behind Kiyomizu-dera and Choin-in.
4. Favourite everyone-knows-about-it-but-it's-still-good spot?
You can't visit Kyoto without eating at Mos Burger or shopping at Muji and Uniqlo at least once.
5. What was your newest discovery in Kyoto? What about somewhere you've been going forever but can't quite give up?
For my husband's thirtieth birthday dinner, we dutifully lined up outside Kyoto Gogyo and, around 45 minutes later, enjoyed the best ramen of our life (they apparently pioneered 'burnt ramen,' an almost black soup that somehow transfers the taste of the best Japanese BBQ into liquid form!) I'll never give up the cafe above Mumokuteki, a 'goods and wears' emporium - everything is gluten, dairy and sugar-free, and beyond delish.
6. Where is the best place for:
a) Morning coffee/pick-me-up?
I can't drink coffee, but my husband was rather taken with Kyoto's Omotesando Koffee outpost at United Arrows. Coffee Rodin, just off the Nishiki Market, also has [an] incredible atmosphere.
b) Meal with friends?
We had a wonderful, rowdy dinner with friends at Rakuza, an izakaya near Kyoto Station. Their kakuni pork is incredible, as is their fried fugu.
c) Romantic rendez-vous?
We enjoyed a charming Christmas dinner at Aux Bacchanales in Cocon Karasuma (the best steak frites), and Seryo - the ridiculously amazing ryokan with private garden / hot springs bath at which we spent our wedding night - is worth the one hour trip out to Ohara, a mountain village that time forgot (that is, apart from vending machines).
d) Late night drink?
The various spots within Flowing Karasuma, a complex housed in a grand Taisho-era bank, are great - as are the tiny little bars in the Karasuma streets on either side of it.
7. Where are Kyoto's style spots? Where is the best shopping?
I like Fuji Daimaru - a kind of boutique depato with Beams, Comme des Garcons, Margaret Howell, Petit Bateau, Tsumori Chisato and Zucca stores galore. Kyoto's A.P.C. flagship is gorgeous (and conveniently located next to a lovely katsu cafe). Yojiya, the traditional beauty store, is a must-visit for yuzu lip balm and gorgeously-packaged blotting paper. Lisn, in Cocon Karasuma, sells an extraord array of incense along with modern burners. As mentioned above, if you can time your visit to coincide with a shrine market, you'll be treated to an array of vintage kimono, traditional art, pottery and 1960s paraphernalia, super cheap. Aritsugu, the knife store in the centuries old Nishiki market, is beyond compare, and Ippodo in Teramachi sells Kyoto's best green tea.
8. What is something you can get/read/experience/eat that you can only do in Kyoto?
There's so much mega-metropolis stuff you can only experience in Japan, but what makes Kyoto special is it's foot in that world, but also in an ancient one - walking the Philosopher's Path or through Arashiyama's bamboo forest and temples like Gingaku-ji in Kyoto or Enryaku-ji at Mt Hiei and Nanzen-in in Ohara, you feel an old energy, something you don't encounter often. The scent of incense, the chant of prayer, the rich purple, and vermillion and gold hues - the atmosphere is otherworldly. Before visiting a temple or shrine, be sure to buy a 'shrine book,' then ask the attending monk to stamp and it - this makes for an incredible souvenir of your time in Kyoto.
9. You can tell a lot about a city from its airport. Describe Kyoto's.
To visit Kyoto, you fly into Kansai Airport, which is just outside Osaka. Designed by Renzo Piano and built on an artificial island, it's very Gattaca-esque (and has great Hermes and Muji to Go outlets!)
10. How would you describe Kyoto to someone who has never been there before?
[Kyoto is] one of the few cities in the world where modernity quite perfectly co-exists with a glorious past. You must visit!
Benah's This Is My City guides: