Higashiyama is one of the most traditional and prettiest areas of Kyoto, providing a buffer between bustling downtown and lush green mountain forests beyond. It is a great place to experience old Kyoto with many traditional wooden buildings and shrines as well as a myriad of food and craft shops that cater to its constant stream of visitors. The area is particularly popular in mid-March when its picturesque narrow lanes are adorned with small lanterns for 10 days of evening illuminations. While officially this is one of the many local events that signals the start of Spring, the temperature is still a bit brisk at that time of year, particularly when the sun goes down. However, Jules and I decided to brave the chilly evening in order to experience a very different perspective of this wonderfully historic part of town.
Having spent plenty of time exploring, we were both starting to feel a little frozen and in need of a warming drink. Thankfully Jules had heard about a place that was not too far away, so after a quick taxi ride we found ourselves walking down an inconspicuous street looking for what is regarded as one of Kyoto’s most secretive bars. Eventually we came across a magnificent old Buddhist temple and true to the theme of the night, we were led along a lantern-lined pathway to its doors, where we discovered something quite special. With no signage to be seen anywhere, it was inconceivable to imagine that just to the side of the main temple was a small, yet classy 10 seater bar. Established by the enterprising monks in 2008, this tastefully designed watering hole, set amongst a beautifully manicured Japanese garden is only now beginning to be discovered by visitors to Kyoto. I must say that sitting there with a warming glass of Yamazaki whisky in hand and looking out of the floor to ceiling windows toward a lantern lit courtyard garden was all a little bit surreal. However, it was clearly the perfect way to end an illuminating evening of sights and discoveries.