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"Introducing Kyoto" by the Four Seasons

PHOTO: Becoming a Geiko at Tondaya Kyoto Nishijin (c) Sery Kim

Being here in Kyoto has been a revelation, mostly because my fantasies of what Japan is like has both been dispelled as well as proven. Dispelled in the sense that Japan is far more accessible and interesting than the movies make it, as well as proven in the sense that the Japanese are fastidious in all things, particularly hospitality.

Of the two cities, Tokyo and Kyoto, I would say I vastly prefer Kyoto. Having been in Japan for all of six days, I can't really say I am an expert in either city. It's just a gut feeling. Tokyo, for me, was bland and boring. All skyscrapers and imported luxury products. Now, admittedly, I didn't get to see anything beyond Harajuku and the briefest of visits to Ginza so I will have to come back to Tokyo to see the city which everyone raves about. Or, maybe, I just prefer Kyoto because at heart I am old and traditional. I prefer the regulatory mandates in height restrictions -- I live in D.C. (height restriction), used to live in London (heigh restriction) and my favorite city in the world is Paris (also height restriction) -- because it provides air and space while still respecting historical architecture.

PHOTO: A geiko dancing in Kyoto (c) Sery Kim

Also, the Four Seasons Kyoto here has done a brilliant job in bringing the ancient traditions of Kyoto to accessible modernity. They have a program here called "Introducing Kyoto" which opens up the city to outsiders. Popular items are to visit the ancient castle of the Edo Empire, as well as taking you into the heart of the Meiko and Geiko District, aka what we known as "Geisha."

PHOTO: A Geiko experience (c) Sery Kim

PHOTO: Me and two Geikos, as well as a Meiko (c) Sery Kim

Meiko (the apprentice) and Geiko (the actual "geisha") reside in several areas here in Kyoto. Only 70 of them exist and for tourists it is not easy getting to meet an actual Geiko. They don't walk the streets during the day in their full garb. In fact, the only way to get to see them in their element is if someone local to the area makes an introduction. I would never have guessed that a Geiko experience was much like joining a finishing club at Harvard but that's exactly what happens: can't get in without a membership/introduction.

PHOTO: Four Seasons Kyoto General Manager Alex Porteous with the best photo of the trip (c) Sery Kim

For me, I thought the Geiko experience was interesting because it was a part of history come to life but it also made me feel a little sad for the women. I am still trying to iron out why I felt sad. Maybe I felt sad because they work so hard only to entertain mostly men, making them feel good about themselves, but I think that is too basic. Perhaps I felt sad because the young Meiko who was seated near me most of the night was a young age of 16. Instead of being in school trying to become a CEO or an astronaut or some modern-day equivalent of "success," she was learning how to please men by dancing and singing and laughing at their jokes. So yeah ... I guess it may just come down to the fact that I would never EVER want a life like that for my daughter or myself.

But for $500 a person it may be worth it to have Four Seasons Kyoto to make an introduction. You can decide.

PHOTO: The most beautiful mochi (c) Sery Kim

I much preferred the other food-and-drink activities the Four Seasons Kyoto curated for us such as visiting a brilliant candy-shop. I have the receipt somewhere in my enormous suitcase so will need to find it and post it so you can go and get this magical treat for less than $3 U.S. If you can read Japanese, I took a photo of it below.

PHOTO: The best candy and mochi in Kyoto (c) Sery Kim

Perhaps my favorite part of the food-and-beverage experience (outside of the ones at Four Seasons Kyoto) was at this fabulous two story bar called L'Escamoteur. Founded by an ex-pat Frenchmen who married a Japanese woman, his bar is deeply sexy and the drinks are divine. You walk up a very narrow set of stairs to the bar on the second level and immediately your senses are overwhelmed with a moody smoke. It isn't related at all to cigarettes but most akin to the smell of burning cedar woods in a fireplace. I loved it and inhaled it in while my eyes took in the mood lighting flooding a darkened interior which would not have felt out-of-place in Moulin Rouge.

PHOTO: L'Escamoteur (c) Sery Kim

The cocktail menu is extensive and fun, but I ordered the Smokey Old-Fashioned because the owner highly recommended it. Once he began the preparation with a beautiful precision, the drink was ordered at least four more times by random people around me. FUN.

While L'Escamoteur does not have a website, they do have a really cool video on Youtube which you can watch here: It shows you how the Smokey Old-Fashion is made. You can visit it here: Kyoto-shi Saiseki-dori Shijo sagaru 138 banchi 9, Saitocho, Shimogyo Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 600-8012. Call 075-708-8511 if you can't find it.

PHOTO: The Japanese beauty company Yojiya (c) Sery Kim

Outside of food-and-drink, the Concierge can really help with anything which for me was trying to find Japanese beauty products. I had already bought a bunch of stuff in Harajuku in Japan but the Four Seasons Kyoto has these amazing blotting sheets made by Yojiya. Turns out that Yojiya is the most famous of all Kyoto made beauty products, selling everything from bath producs to facial products, so I made the pilgrimage over and was not disappointed. Everything in the above photo is my stash from Japan!

Actually, that is one thing I have failed to mention yet about the Four Seasons Kyoto. The entire hotel, particularly the products within the rooms, are directly sourced and related to Kyoto. I really love the intimacy of that: as if you are not only traveling to fully immerse yourself in a culture but that while WITHIN the culture you are living as they live -- albeit, at the Four Seasons, at the most luxurious level!

More to come on Kyoto later! Need to drink more coffee and get ready for a big travel day.

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