Surrounded by mountains, Kyoto is just over 200 miles from Tokyo – or around two hours by Shinkansen bullet train. Although it was the capital of Japan for over a thousand years, Kyoto is quite different to modern Tokyo. This city of over 2 000 temples and shrines has a more spiritual feel – as you arrive here, you may well find that you instinctively begin to breathe and walk more slowly. The city isn’t a time capsule though – there are modern aspects to it as well, but these exist in wonderful harmony with the wooden temples.
Kyoto is the birthplace of a certain cartoon plumber, but the beeps and flashing lights of Nintendo systems will seem a world away as you spend time in artfully raked zen gardens, stroll through the waving stems and sunbeams of a bamboo forest or feed the sacred temple deer.
Spend the night in a traditional ryokan inn (with tatami mat floors) in the Gion district and explore the narrow streets – you may even catch a glimpse of an impeccably dressed and coiffured geisha.