A Japanese rickshaw in Gion, Kyoto with overhanging cherry blossoms make for a perfect backdrop for a romantic snapshot
A Japanese rickshaw in Gion, Kyoto with overhanging cherry blossoms make for a perfect backdrop for a romantic snapshot

When people think of romantic getaways, the usual suspects come to mind: seductive Paris, mesmerising Maldives, exotic Bali. Kyoto is not a usual contender. Having lived here for four years, though, the quiet charms of the city have totally won over this Tokyoite.

Kyoto is a city of wondrous colours: the pink blush of cherry blossoms in Spring, the lush green of Summer, the fiery red and orange of Autumn, the cool white of Winter. Having been Japan’s capital and the residence of the emperor for well over a millennium, the city still has an air of dignity about it. Kyoto is definitely a place steeped in romance.

For a dreamy stay, come to my serviced apartment, Citadines Karasuma-Gojo Kyoto. We were
recently accorded fifth place in the 2014 Travellers Choice under Top 25 Hotels for Romance in Japan by Tripadvisor

Romance of the Past

The romance of the past is never more perfectly captured than in the district of Gion. Japan’s most famous geisha (person of the arts) district just a half hour’s walk from Citadines Karasuma-Gojo Kyoto, a short distance from the city’s business district and tourist belt. Located around Shijo Avenus between Yasaka Shrine in the east and the Kamo River in the west, Gion is a collection of wooden buildings, ochaya (teahouses) and restaurants that echo with the voices of a bygone era.

Spend a few hours wandering Hanami-koji, the main street, and the alley ways; and soak in the culture. I like to do it in a kimono (traditional Japanese garment) to really get into the spirit of things. Along the way, you will see pretty geiko (what the geishas in the district call themselves) and maiko (apprentice geiko ) shuffling daintily along on their way to various engagements.

Spring is a spectacular time to visit because the cherry blossoms in bloom lend the historic place a magical feel. Another season to visit Gion is during Summer when the Gion Matsuri or Gion Festival takes place. It is the country’s most famous festival. The month-long festivities include parades, floats, night markets selling Japanese street foods and traditional sweets.

One of the best things about living in Kyoto is that there are thousands of Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples that have been left virtually untouched by war or the ravages of time. I love to visit them whenever I have the time to say a prayer for happiness and hopes fulfilled. For those who want blessings for their love life, Jishu Shrine in the Kiyomizu Temple is the place to visit. This shrine is dedicated to good fortune in love. A pair of stones known as Koi uranai-no-Ishi stands guard over the shrine some 10 metres away. It is believed that if you walk from one to the other (set 18 metres apart) with your eyes closed, you will find true love.

A 20-minute walk away from my serviced residence is Kiyamachi Street, a kilometre-long stretch between two boulevards. On one side are little shops and restaurants; on the other is a tree-lined canal. Duck into the shops and sample the different cuisine – from the bohemian to the traditional – on offer. During Spring, the trees burst with cherry blossoms and the street becomes a lovers’ lane as sweethearts stroll hand in hand.

A 50-minute bus ride or 30-minute train ride away is Arashiyama in western Kyoto. The area is famous for its bamboo groves that form a canopy of green. You can go on boat two-hour boat ride that will take you down the winding Hozu River to the Togetsukyo Bridge (Moon Crossing Bridge), the area’s central landmark. The bridge cast against a mountainous backdrop makes for a romantic setting for an outing. Be careful, though. According to a local legend, going to the bridge on a first date may bring bad luck.

Romance Over a Meal

When the day is done, take a 20-minute walk to the Gion area or to Pontocho near Kiyamachi Street for a romantic dinner for two at Machiya traditional wooden townhouses, structures typical of Kyoto. During summer, I like to sit at the wooden terrace along the Kamogawa River and enjoy the Kyoto view as I dine.

You can sample meals that boast the Kyoto cuisine. Kyoto food spans a range from aristocratic kaiseki ryori course dinners to the vegetarian shojin ryori of the monks with tofu as a central ingredient and the simple obansai ryori or home-style cooking made of small, easily-prepared dishes.

If you want something that is more budget-friendly, visit Nishiki Market which is located just one train stop away from my serviced residence. The food market is nicknamed “Kyoto’s Kitchen” for a good reason. The five blocks of shops has plenty of food stalls and restaurants proffering anything from fresh and dried seafood to Japanese sweets, pickles and sushi. Many of the stalls in this centuries old market has been run by the same family for generations.

To take home a piece of Kyoto, get cookies and cakes from Malebranche. The premium bakery makes Japanese confectionery with a French influence. Try their Green Tea Cookies that are melt-in-your-mouth good. You can find Malebranche products at most major department stores like Isetan, Daimaru and Takashimaya. Isetan is just one train station away from my serviced residence.

For the visitor seeking love in the air, Kyoto is certainly a place to be. Just ask the five members of my team (out of a dozen) who got married in the four years since the serviced residence opened its doors. Romance was definitely in bloom for them. Working and living in Kyoto does fuel the romantic heart.

Come stay with us:

Citadines Karasuma-Gojo Kyoto
432 Matsuya-cho Gojo-dori Karasuma-Higashiiru
Shimogyo-ku Kyoto 600 8105
Tel: (81-75) 352 8900
Fax: (81-75) 352 8901