Green city escape: Kyoto

 

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Cherry blossoms decorate a traditional home in Kyoto, Japan.

Few cities in Asia are as charming as Kyoto in Japan. The ancient Japanese capital offers much to green seekers from a bamboo forest to nature hikes and outdoor floating cafes and hot springs. All of this is cloaked in a historic city full of temples and shrines. If you visit Japan and seek a quiet refuge from Osaka, this is the place to be. You can choose to stay in any of the many areas of the city and base your itinerary on the local attractions. And it’s super safe so feel free to explore the city at night with many business owners and locals that speak English.

Eat 

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Soybean doughnuts for sale.

Kyoto is home to Buddhist monks, and as such, many restaurants and cafes are known for its vegetarian fare (kyo yasai), with tofu being the rule, rather than the exception. Enjoy a variety of tofu and veggie dishes including miso soup, vegetable tempura, yuba (skin of heated soy milk) and a brown sea veggie called hijiki.

Explore

Kyoto is also home to thousands of Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. In fact, there are more than 2,000 within the city. Start your journey at Teramachi Street, home to Nishiki Tenmangu Shrine and numerous other shrines and temples, then move to areas like Gion, where you can also explore a bit of Geisha history.

After exploring the many temples and shrines, take a stroll through the Bamboo Grove in the Arashiyama area of Kyoto. Here, you can walk through towering bamboo stalks winding past small shrines and temples, leading uphill to Okochi-Sanso Villa.

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Bamboo Forest in Arashiyama.

Sleep

Sleep in a traditional Japanese inn called a Ryokan, where you can choose between Japanese and Western rooms and meals, with access to public baths (onsen). You can get a feel for the more traditional side of Kyoto and walk around in a yukata, or cotton kimono (www.ryokan.or.jp).  For a less traditional headrest, try sleeping in a capsule. One of the few capsule hotels that accommodate both men and women, Nine Hours Hotel (www.ninehours.co.jp) offers an alternative to a traditional hotel room and is located on the main drag in Kyoto. More like an upgraded hostel, it includes private showers, a break room and a computer lounge area. Although an attractive option for backpackers, it also offers a less expensive option for an overnight stay in the city especially for those interested in this unique experience.

Kyoto is a convenient stop on both the JR Line and Hankyu line that both run through central Osaka.

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