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Souvenirs from Japan

This post is part of my 2015 Japan series. For the rest in the series, please see below.

Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo Marunouchi
Exploring Tokyo – Part One
Exploring Tokyo – Part Two
The Ritz Carlton Kyoto
Exploring Kyoto
Hiiragiya Ryokan – Kyoto
Souvenirs from Japan

I’ve been sharing snippets from our last Japan holiday for the last month or so now, and in that time I’ve received some questions/emails about shopping recommendations. Japan is such a mecca for all kind of goodies, but to be honest I didn’t do too much shopping on this trip. It was definitely in my plans, but we ended up just having too many other sights to see and food to eat! That being said, I did pick up a few souvenirs that I would like to share with you.

The first piece I’d like to share is this lacquered tray. I love Japanese and Chinese lacquer – the very best pieces involve so much technique, and so many steps in preparing and treating the wood, and the end results are gorgeous.

There are lots of places for wonderful lacquer at a variety of price points in Japan, but I found my treasures at Zohiko – probably the most famous lacquerware house in Kyoto. Zohiko has been creating beautiful lacquerware for more than 350 years and has an incredible collection.

Zohiko Lacquer Tray

We picked up a few items at Zohiko, but my favorite is probably this antique tray, from the 1940’s. It was from the Zohiko owner’s private family collection and in absolutely pristine condition. Both Mr. Feather and I were drawn to it on display, and thought it was just one of the new designs – we were so surprised to hear it was actually one of a kind, and over 70 years old!

I love the beautiful gold leaf work, and now the tray holds some small items that were given to us for our upcoming baby boy. Continue Reading

Asia Food Hotels Travel

Hiiragiya Ryokan – Kyoto

This post is part of my 2015 Japan series. For the rest, please see below.

Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo Marunouchi
Exploring Tokyo – Part One
Exploring Tokyo – Part Two
The Ritz Carlton Kyoto
Exploring Kyoto
Hiiragiya Ryokan – Kyoto
Souvenirs from Japan

For our last stop in Kyoto (and this Japan trip), we decided to stay at a ryokan – a traditional Japanese inn. We would have loved to return back to our old favorite Shiraume, but it was closed for renovations. So instead we decided to stay in another one on our list – Hiiragiya.

Hiiragiya is a six generation ryokan established in 1818, and is probably one of the two establishments mentioned most frequently in relation to Kyoto (the other being Tawaraya). Both are famous for being old and having high profile guests – our host kindly let us know that we were right next door to – but sadly not in – the Elizabeth Taylor room.

Hiiragiya was located very close to Kyoto downtown, which was a nice change of pace from Shiraume, which was in the Gion district. Our taxi driver pulled up to a very unassuming building, right across the street from Tawaraya, and we were greeted at the entrance.

Hiiragiya Entrance

Inside, the decor was what we’d come to expect from a traditional ryokan – carefully selected pieces, spotlessly clean room. If you’ve never stayed in a ryokan before and are used to more traditional luxury hotels, you might find the decor sparse at first. After some time though, you’ll find the environment perfect for relaxation.

HIiragiya Common Areas

And…our room! There was a large open space where by day we dined, and by night we slept. Room attendants came in each evening and put away the dining set, and set up our sleeping mats.

We booked Hiiragiya maybe a month out or so, which in high season would be unthinkable (reserve as close to a year in advance if you want your choice of rooms). At the time of our booking, we still had a few rooms left to choose from,but they were quickly filling up due to Chinese New Year. I was worried that the room we chose would be too small as it was one of the ryokan’s smaller ones, but it was fine for the two of us. For a family, I would have selected something a little larger. Continue Reading

Asia Food

Exploring Kyoto

This post is part of my 2015 Japan series. For the rest, please see below.

Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo Marunouchi
Exploring Tokyo – Part One
Exploring Tokyo – Part Two
Exploring Kyoto
Hiiragiya Ryokan – Kyoto
Souvenirs from Japan

Even though we loved all of our accommodations in Kyoto and could have stayed in the entire time, of course we didn’t. Kyoto is such a gorgeous city, with so many things to do, that it would have been a shame. Today, I’d like to share some of our favorite sights and eats from around the city.

Each morning, we’d start with a walk along the riverbanks (this is also where we’d end our day). Not only was the scenery beautiful, but it also allowed us to traverse the city to wherever we wanted to go.

Kyoto River Banks

From the riverbanks we could easily go to explore wherever we wanted. One of my favorite activities was just to pick an alleyway and walk down it and discover all the little shops and restaurants.

Kyoto Passageways

The photos above and below were from the Gion District (where I was obsessed with one local cracker shop I found, below.

Ginza Crackers

There are temples everywhere in Kyoto, and everyday we tried to explore a new one. On our first day, we went to Kennin-ji, a Zen temple that had a beautiful painting done in India ink on the ceiling. Beautiful (and reminded me a bit of Dragonball Z, ha!)

Kennin Ji Temple

On another day, we went to visit the very famous Kinkakuji – the Golden Temple. Unfortunately it was raining that day, so we didn’t get the super picturesque view of the temple shimmering like a mirror image in the water. It was still beautiful though. It’s also worth noting that this was by far the most crowded site we went to in Kyoto. I was surprised as it was February, but it was probably due to the Chinese New Year holiday. Continue Reading

Asia Food Hotels Travel

The Ritz Carlton Kyoto

Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo Marunouchi
Exploring Tokyo – Part One
Exploring Tokyo – Part Two
The Ritz Carlton Kyoto
Exploring Kyoto
Hiiragiya Ryokan – Kyoto
Souvenirs from Japan

We started our stay in Kyoto at the newly built (opened in 2014!) Ritz Carlton Kyoto. I was very interested to try out this hotel because it was, and still is, the only “Western” style luxury hotel in Kyoto (ryokans of course are another matter). I have to admit that I haven’t had the best experience with Ritz Carltons in the past few years, and will almost always choose a Four Seasons or Mandarin Oriental if I have the choice in any given location.

I am happy to report however, that the Ritz Carlton Kyoto ended up being one of my favorite city hotel stays, ever. It is such a beautiful property, and you can tell that an incredible amount of thought and attention to detail was put into it. Mr. Feather and I had such a great time here, and loved our stay. A warning – this is a picture heavy post!

When arriving at the hotel, we were immediately taken by how well it translated to its traditional surroundings in Kyoto. No tall modern skyscraper like structures here – very unobtrusive yet still elegant.

Ritz Carlton Kyoto Opening

We were greeted at reception and after a welcome drink, were walked up to our room to do check-in in the room. I loved the details on each of the doors  – there were thoughtful touches like this all over the hotel.

Ritz Carlton Kyoto Hallways

And then, our room. So pretty! And, quite a nice size! The couch was super comfortable to lounge on and the perfect place to perch while the other person hung out on the bed.

Ritz Carlton Kyoto Living Room

My favorite aspect of the room – the view. There was a gorgeous sitting area that looked out onto Kyoto’s Kamo River. Often we’d just sit and have tea and look out over the water and people watch. And then when we walked back to the hotels ourselves, we’d head down the same riverbanks!

I loved that there was an individually selected bonsai tree for each room, and it was switched out each day.

Ritz Carlton Kyoto Bedroom

Little details all throughout the bedroom/living space – individual robes which were hung in the closet, and Tivoli alarm clocks. I don’t know how many times I’ve entered beautiful, super expensive hotel rooms only to encounter cheapie and very old alarm clocks. No stone left unturned!

Ritz Carlton Kyoto Bedroom Details

There was also a lovely minibar area that not only had the ubiquitous Nespresso machine, but also a contraption for making the perfect tea via pod capsule. I had never seen this before, am I just behind on the times? Continue Reading