It was rewarding to stroll along Kyoto’s paved streets of traditional-style wooden houses, shops and cafes with a knowledgeable insider….
In Higashiyama’s narrow lanes, you get a powerful sense of how Kyoto must have looked in Japan’s feudal era. This beautifully preserved historic district is packed with centuries-old shrines, temples and pagodas, but just as rewarding for me was strolling along paved streets of traditional-style wooden houses, shops and cafes with a knowledgeable insider to point out the things I would have missed by myself. One of the quirkier things that my guide Mari Nakai showed me was the discreet local Starbucks, which has a tea-ceremony room with tatami mats, surely the only one in the world. She also encouraged me to try cha no ka – matcha biscuits sandwiched together with white chocolate – which are a relatively new local speciality, and absolutely delicious.
The day I visited was Shichi-Go-San, a festival for three- and seven-year-old girls and five-year-old boys, which explained the huge number of children in kimonos at the shrines. Mari’s memory of it from her own childhood was that it was horribly uncomfortable, but at least you got a bag of sweets at the end of it all.