Our day began at the Shunkoin Temple for the Zen Meditation & Tour. // © 2013 Janeen Christoff
I love Japanese culture. From the off-beat style of Harajuku Girls to the movie “Lost in Translation,” I am fascinated by Japan. So during a visit to Kyoto, when my itinerary included meditation at a Japanese temple, dining on soba noodles, dressing up in a kimono and touring a museum devoted to manga (Japanese comics), I knew it was going to be an eye-opening day.
1. Becoming Zen
Our day began at the Shunkoin Temple for the Zen Meditation & Tour. The 90-minute program includes instruction on meditation, two guided 15-minute mediation sessions and a tour of the temple and its Zen gardens, ending with a tea ceremony.
After participating in a meditation session, we toured the Zen Buddhist temple and learned how different cultures shaped the religious practices of Japanese society. The experience concluded with a tea ceremony with Reverend Takafumi Kawakami, the temple’s vice abbot, who imparted his wisdom and advice as we sipped maccha green tea and ate sweet Japanese cookies.
The program is offered twice daily, for approximately $20 per person. www.shunkoin.com
2. Slurping Soba
Despite the cookies, our spiritual journey left us hungry, so we headed to Honke Owariya, a famous noodle house that has been operating in Kyoto since 1465. The traditional tastes of the noodle house have been preserved for hundreds of years, and it now offers four locations in the city.
The menu includes a variety of hot and cold soba (buckwheat) and udon (mixed-flour) noodles. The hourai soba is Owariya’s signature dish and those hungry enough to order it are in for a real treat. The meal comes with five stacked dishes of soba noodles and eight different toppings. www.honke-owariya.co.jp
3. Traditional Textiles
With our bellies full of noodles, it may not have been the ideal time to try squeezing into a kimono, but a visit to the Nishijin Textile Center transformed me from a California girl into a traditional Japanese woman.
Visitors to the textile center have the opportunity to see a kimono fashion show, watch demonstrations of hand weaving and view a variety of ancient fabrics. For those who want a more in-depth experience, the center offers guests the opportunity to dress in a variety of different kimonos, experience hand weaving and even weave a traditional shawl of their own.
Men can also participate by trying on a sokutai, an ancient ceremonial court dress. www.nishijin.or.jp
4. Manga Museum
Our next stop was a walk through the Manga Museum, which is home to more than 300,000 items on manga, from foreign forms of the comic writing to historic manga.
The main gallery features the permanent exhibition “What is Manga?” and explains the historical aspects of the genre. Five other galleries are home to revolving exhibitions.
The museum’s “Wall of Manga,” stretching from the first to the third floor of the museum, includes 50,000 paperbacks that patrons can pick up and read while they are at the museum. www.kyotomm.com
5. Kaiseki-Style Dinner
We ended the night at another noteworthy Kyoto restaurant, Harise, which dates back to 1656. The restaurant features kaiseki-style dining, which means that a series of small, artistically designed plates are brought out during the meal. Dishes feature a variety of food types, including simmered foods, grilled fish, a clear soup for cleansing the palate and more. www.harise.com