MenuBack

Category Archive for Art + Design

Park Hotel Tokyo: luxury art & culture hotel in Shiodome! Japanese artist project, decorated theme rooms.

snapchat fashion bloggers, style influencers

As that Italo disco song goes: “Tokyo by night / City full of light. I will lead you through / Tokyo by night.”

That sums up the feeling of my stay at Park Hotel Tokyo, a modern skyscraper filled with Japanese design and culture. Every evening, I looked out from my Artist Room on the 31st floor — decorated floor-to-ceiling in wabisabi — at the neon twinkle of the Tokyo Tower.

(Above: I’m wearing a rose gold cuff bracelet and this exact 90s style choker by Shashi Jewelry. And clearly I’m on Snapchat, at username @lacarmina.)

tokyo tower hotel window view

As you’ll recall, I was traveling around Japan using a JRailPass, which gives me unlimited access to JR trains (including shinkansen, buses and some ferries). If you purchase a Japan Rail Pass like mine (for 1-3 weeks), I recommend beginning your trip in Tokyo. Spend at least 5-7 days here, and then activate your pass to start riding the rails.

I’m glad I stayed at Park Hotel in Shiodome (near Ginza), as the entire experience is designed to immerse you in Japanese art and culture. My Instagram lit up when I showed you the soaring views from my hotel room window.

(Find out more about Park Hotel, and book a stay.)

grey green haircolor, asian gray dyed hair

From the moment you step into the 25th floor lobby, Park Hotel lives up to its reputation for omotenashi, or Japanese-style hospitality. The kind staff anticipates all your needs, and everyone speaks fluent English.

(For my Japan travels, my stylist Stephanie Hoy at Sugar Skull Studio made my hair grey and green.)

colorful artist rooms, park hotel tokyo

In 2012, Park Hotel Tokyo initiated an “Artist in Hotel” project, which brings in local artists to decorate a room on the 31st floor.

To date, there are over a dozen art rooms on this floor, each inspired by some aspect of Japanese culture. The creative themes include Sumo, Zen, and Lucky Cat. Photographer John S and I got to take an inside look — read on for the details and to learn about each artist.

asian goth 90s choker, japanese hotel art

That day, I wore a corset-style tank top by C/Meo (Cameo). They specialize in romantic, unique cuts, such as this similar cut-out black shirt and this bodice top .

My black lace necklace is this exact choker by Shashi. With embroidered detailing and a lobster claw clasp, this choker is 90s Gothic perfection.

(Shop my look below, and click the arrows for more:)

 

art boutique design hotels tokyo

At Park Hotel, the art immersion begins in the lobby. The artists who took part in the room project also have designs on display, and for sale.

review park hotel ginza

There’s so much to see in the lobby lounge. I admired the glowing circular halo paintings by Nobuo Hashiba, and peeked into glass cases of contemporary design. At night, the tall atrium walls light up with colorful projections.

japanese woman smoking mural

At this hotel, even the most unexpected spaces become canvases for creativity. Indoor smoking rooms are usually glum and bare-boned spaces. Fortunately, the funky artist Akihisa Hayashi (“Marron-chan”) stepped in, and turned the walls into a retro-sexy painting of a geisha, with golden clouds drifting out of her elegant pipe!

Look closely and you’ll see Tokyo landmarks along with flying sushi and ramen girls, Godzilla, a UFO, and cats.

park hotel tokyo japan review travel blogger

Guests can book any of the Art Colours rooms on the 31st floor of Park Hotel Shiodome. I’m lounging in “Kabuki” by Yamaguchi Keisuke: he painted this horse and flowing circles while staying in this room for 16 days.

His inspiration is “Yanone,” a Kabuki performance that captures the beauty of ancient Japanese traditions. The arms and legs blur into curves, representing the expressive movements of the theater.

lucky cat painting japan

In another room, painter Nanami Ishihara took the concept of “Festival” as her theme. The party never stops: every inch of free space is covered in rainbow rabbits, elephants, deities and schoolgirls doing the “Bon odori” matsuri dance.

She even turns functional objects into playful art. In the closet, the air vent becomes the mouth of a dancing lion!

artist rooms, park hotel tokyo

Yuka Ohtani lived in Akita prefecture (in the north of Japan), and the peaceful landscapes and lifestyle inspired her to create this room. The panels are framed with cedarwood from the region, with a view of the local moat and flowers in bloom.

She pays tribute to Akita with elegant details: a “cracked ice” pottery pattern on the ceiling, camellia flowers over faux sliding screens…

art decorated room, japan hotels

… and paintings of glowing lanterns from the Kanto festival, hidden in the closet.

(I couldn’t resist going inside and doing a Sadako impression!)

dragon black white mural

One of my personal favorites was the “12 signs of the Zodiac” room by Ryosuke Yasumoto, which was completed during his 11-day stay. His black and white animal illustrations flow through the walls, and emphasize the humorous side of the Asian folk tale.

park hotel tokyo artist floor, zodiac room

I had fun finding all the animals in the room. Ryosuke Yasumoto takes full advantage of the three-dimensional space, mounting a cat sculpture on one wall and reflecting creatures in the mirror. (The cat was left out of the legendary race, but makes a comeback here.)

5 star design hotels tokyo

I stayed in the Wabi-Sabi room, which I recommend as it has a brilliant view of the Tokyo Tower. Artist Conami Hara created this work over four months, using silver foil to transform the walls into shimmering colors that will change over time. She painted driftwoods and ripples, inspired by the Zen stonen garden Ryoanji in Kyoto.

tokyo luxury art hotel

Castle by Kazuki Mizuguchi was constructed over 454 days. His transcendent vision depicts Edo Castle, which was lost in a fire, over a black background. The room entrance mimics a stone wall, and even the lampshades reflect the archtecture of the roof.

At night, a surprise appears: when you gaze in the direction of the Imperial Palace, the castle appears in a reflection on the glass.

park hotel shiodome lobby, breakfast buffet

The 25th floor harmonizes a functional lobby with natural surroundings of Japan. Looking up, the atrium soars up into a triangular prism of light.

Every morning, I came downstairs for the freshly prepared breakfast, with both continental and Japanese options. (I feasted on the gobo, hijiki, soft tofu and miso soup.)

pokemon go nail art

Eggs, anyone? Next to the yogurt and fruit display, I came across these alien-like sculptures. (My Pokemon Go nail art is by Glam Nail Studio in Vancouver.)

interior design park hotel japan

Park Hotel’s mission is summed up in “Art”: Atrium, Restaurant, Travel, and of course the artist rooms project. They succeeded in bringing Japanese aesthetics to the forefront, and made my stay feel like a cultural integration.

travel instagram looking out windows views

Park Hotel is right by Shiodome and Shimbashi train stations, and a short walk to Ginza. The location gives easy access to the major districts of Tokyo, while letting you feel as if you’re in a peaceful hideaway, up in the clouds. 

Scotch Malt Whisky Society japan

John S and I had a memorable drink at The Society, the first bar in Japan to be officially recognised by The Scotch Malt Whisky Society.

These connoisseurs stock hundreds of bottles of whiskey from around the world, each with poetic names that reference the taste or feeling. Such as: “Jingling Jalapenos,” “Hospitals on Guy Fawkes night,” and “BBQ in Pine-Clad Dunes.”

tokyo japan whiskey bar, park hotel

We took in the Blade Runner views from the windows, and sipped one of the bar’s finest Japanese single malt whiskeys. Prices are steep at The Society, but a tiny taste goes a long way.

tokyo hotel best views

I’ll miss my mornings in my Artist Room, drinking green tea and reading The Japan Times while curled up on this sill…

Arigato Park Hotel Tokyo for a beautiful stay that immersed me into the art and history of Japan. (You can learn more about this hotel and book rooms here.)

Which is your favorite of the Artist Rooms? Doesn’t this city view remind you of the movie “Lost in Translation”? (PS: check my Instagram Stories and Snapchat @lacarmina for cute daily updates from Asia right now.)

SHARE & COMMENT

Bali’s spiritual culture & temples! Elephant Cave, Pura Saraswati Ubud, Tirta Empul Temple sacred springs.

ubud water temple

It’s true what travel bloggers say about Southeast Asia: you’ll find the warmest, most generous and welcoming locals here.

So far, I’ve been to IndonesiaVietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Singapore and the Philippines (click these country names to see the stories). These were some of my favorite trips ever, and I’m excited to announce I’ll be adding one more to the list… Keep reading to see where I’m journeying! 

In this spirit, I’ve decided to finally release Part 2 of my Bali, Indonesia temple tour (see part one here). I put on my Indian robes and pink-tinted glasses, and visited some of Bali’s most sacred spots — including the Pura Sawaswati water temple…

elephant cave bali, Goa Gajah

The Elephant Cave temple in Ubud…

bali temple gates, altars architecture

… and Tirta Empul, where Hindu devotees bathe under a row of fountains, sourced from the sacred springs.

Myanmar burma punk rockers, band punks

This month, I’ll be back in S.E. Asia… I’m thrilled to announce that I’m going to Myanmar (Burma) with Yukiro! HK Express, the airline I’ve worked with since its launch, has added a route to Yangon — a destination that was basically closed off to tourists until a few years ago.

I can’t wait to discover this Buddhist country, and hang out with monks and punks. That’s right: Yangon has an old school punk scene, with studded and Mohawked bands like Rebel Riot (above). They rock hard, but also run charities that help the local homeless and children. We’re excited to find out more about this subculture, and take part.

Also, you may have seen on my social media that I’m currently in Hong Kong, filming with Stakk Factory! I’m honored to be working with this new media site, which produces original videos about style tips, travel, food and more. We’ll be shooting nail art tutorials, fashion lookbooks and more that I can’t wait to share with you.

bali indonesia custom guided tours

Now, back to my Ubud, Bali temple story. The locations are quite spread out, so I was glad to have Destination Services take me around on a custom tour.

They provided a car, driver and guide for the day, and brought me to all the temples on my wishlist. I’m a big fan of hiring local experts, as they’re versed in the history and culture, and can answer questions about anything you encounter.

elephant temple ubud bali

Destination Services planned an efficient route that started early to avoided traffic. We got to the Goa Gajah Elephant Cave in Ubud before the crush of tourists (it’s about 30 km from Denpasar).

This has been a holy ground for both Buddhist and Hindu practitioners, for over a thousand years.

elephant temmple purification fountain

Water from these stone statues is used in religious ceremonies. Look closely, and you’ll see large fish swimming in the pond.

(Photos by my friends Cohica Travelwho offer a worldwide guide to sustainable and socially responsible travel.)

bali buddhist fountains, elephant cave

There are six of these female water-bearing fountains in total. An endless stream flows out of their pots.

elephant cave entrance bali

And there it was, the famous entrance! I felt like I was being swallowed up by the iconic “Elephant Cave”. (The demon-like figure was once thought to be an elephant, hence the name.)

ubud goa gajah cave

Blown away by these intricate Balinese stone carvings of creatures and nature motifs.

elephant cave ubud bali

Inside the cave, there are three stone idols wrapped in cloth (known as a trimutri of Shiva-lingams). In the past, monks came to meditate inside these dark passages.

hindu indian statue ubud

Hindu statues like this are found all over Bali. I often drove through intersections that had deities standing right n the middle. Such energy in the poses and expressions. 

pink green sari, indian dress

Outside the rock entrance, a fierce protector raises a sword against negative spirits.

holy water temple bali Tampak Siring

Next, we went to the beautiful purification temple Tirta Empul (or Tampak Siring Temple) around 20 minutes north of Ubud. I could have spent hours taking in the details of the Balinese temple architecture.

ubud sacred sprints source

The temple pond is considered to be holy, as it was supposedly created by the god Indra.

bathers bali Tirta Empul

Bathers come here to purify themselves in the holy springs. 

incense offerings tirta empul

In addition to the purification baths, the Tirta Empul temple has areas for giving offerings and making prayers. 

bali roof architecture

As with any cultural site, it’s important to be respectful to the pilgrims who come here as a spiritual journey. Tourists are welcome as long as they wear the sarongs provided (I didn’t need one because I was already covered), and don’t interrupt the bathers. Photos are allowed, but to be safe, check before taking images.

hindus praying, bali temple

The inner courtyards are for worshippers only, in order to give them some peace and privacy from the tourists.

ubud temple tour

Our guide spoke about the mythological stories associated with the water temple.

bali barong temple gate

I exited through this tiny gate guarded by a barong (lion-like protector spirit).

ubud layered rice paddies, rice terrace

We drove past the famous Ubud rice paddies, or Tegalalang Rice Terrace. The distinctive layered steps are called subak, and make up a traditional Balinese irrigation system.

(There is a entrance fee to walk inside, so we didn’t stop.)

bali stone carvings art

After a scenic twisting drive (past farms, collectives and yoga retreats), we stopped in Ubud city center for lunch and a walk around.

gold lion gate ubud

The main Ubud streets are jammed with traffic, and you’ll see a number of touristy gift shops. However, you’ll also see gorgeous puras and other artistic details like these.

lotus water temple bali

Megan and Ryan of Cohica Travel showed me Pura Saraswati, a temple with a long dramatic path bordered by blooming lotus flowers.

Holy Spring Water Temple bali

The pond and flowering trees make this one of the region’s most beloved temples.

Pura Saraswati Ubud

Pura Taman honors Saraswati, the goddess of wisdom and arts. She certainly looks over Ubud, which is considered the cultural capital of the island.

Saraswati Temple, ubud city center

At night, there are dances and performances in this area that surrounds the water gardens.

Pura Taman Saraswati water temple

The Hindu water temple is relatively new — built for the royal family in 1950, by artist and architect Gusti Nyoman Lempad.

ubud city temples pura

Lempad was an accomplished stone carver, and brought these creatures to life.

famous ubud water temple

Many travellers describe Bali as a place of peace and joy. It’s hard not to agree.

buddhist statues temples bali

Spirituality is a huge part of the Balinese consciousness, and the ritual offerings are unique to the island. Religion is also expressed here an inclusive way (you’ll often see homes with statues of both Ganesha and Buddha).

balinese warrior statues

I hope you are able to spend at least half a day in Ubud, seeing the temples and culture for yourself. Here are all Indonesia travel posts, including a video of traditional dances, to help you plan a trip to Bali.

Finally — I’m glad you found my Black Friday / Cyber Monday discount codes helpful, for finding the best shopping deals! I’ve just come across a new site, Woznow, which lets you easily search for fashion (by brand or category), and access sales in over 200 stores. For example, the site let me compare leather jackets, see how much they were discounted, and shop them with a tap.

Thanks, everyone, for supporting my fashion and travel adventures over the years! Here’s to finishing 2016 strong, and keeping the momentum going into the New Year.

SHARE & COMMENT

Visiting the Depeche Mode theme bar in Tallinn, Estonia! DM Baar, Estonian restaurants & mobile responsive blog theme.

pink hair emo scene girl

Before we descend into the Tallinn Depeche Mode bar… look closely. Adjust your glasses. Notice anything different? Yarr, La Carmina blog got a makeover!

I’m happy to announce that this site is now fully mobile-friendly, with a streamlined and responsive design. My designers updated the social shares at the bottom, and added a “related posts” option. They made various backend tweaks to prioritise your user experience (such as improved readability, and dynamically scaling images).

mobile friendly fashion blog theme design

If you visit LaCarmina blog on your phone, there’s a handy Menu drop-down bar at the top. The theme also fits your exact screen size (see above screenshots).

A million thank yous to Naomi Rubin of Naomiyaki (my Pirate first mate, illustrator and web designer) and Kevin Wilson (designer, writer and cartoonist) for the magnificent coding and design work. I’m thrilled with how they updated the site. Both of them are based in Portland, OR — please keep them in mind if you’re looking for web design or illustration work! They’ll rock your socks, guaranteed.

fashion blogger luxury purses bags

One more announcement: as the holidays near, I’ve put up more cute items on my shop — including the striped Peace Now jacket in the first photo!

I’m selling hundreds of items from my personal collection, from $5 + up. These include Japanese Gothic Lolita / Kawaii / Gyaru purses, coats, dresses, accessories, makeup and more. I also have a selection of designer purses (LV, Valentino, Prada) Sanrio Hello Kitty, vintage, Asian labels, you name it.

* Intrigued? I invite you to check out my sales listings here (there are photos, prices and details).
* Then, email gothiccarmina @ gmail dott com, letting me know what you’d like. 
I’d be glad to do bundle discounts and exact shipping, and work out a great price! Talk soon.




depeche mode bar

Now, back to tales of travel. Unless you were closely following my Snapchat (@lacarmina), you may have missed that I was in Tallinn, Estonia earlier this year.

I discovered an unexpectedly cool underground culture here — including a dive bar dedicated to the band Depeche Mode! Ever since I heard of DM Baar, “All I ever wanted, all I ever needed” was to visit. Read on for lots of photos.

tallinn estonia red roofs, skyline

My travel filmmakers and I spent a few days in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. I’d heard that there was a hip, emerging art / food scene here — and with the help of Visit Tallinn, we got an insider’s look.

tallink silja ferry, captain's deck

You might recall that we were in Helsinki, Finland. From here, it’s only a two hour ferry ride south to Tallinn (which borders the Baltic Sea and Gulf of Finland). If you’re in Helsinki, we highly recommend that you take this scenic ride to Estonia — it’s possible to do a day trip, but I suggest staying for several days.

There are a few ferries and dozens of departure times each day, as this is a popular route. Definitely book with Tallink Silja, which provides the best service and sailing experience. Tallink Silja’s ships are large and modern, and the VIP area has a full buffet and free magazines. We were even invited up to the captain’s deck to say “tere” (hello in Estonian).

helsinki tallinn estonia ferry boat

I went out onto the deck to take in the landscape. Before long, I spotted the signature pointed spires of Tallinn: we had arrived!

tallinn town hall square, main old town courtyard

The capital is small and easy to get around by foot. We stayed in a hotel by the Old Town Square (Raekoja plats). This quaint public area, pictured above, has a town hall and colorful buildings that that date back to 1322. 

dm baar, depeche mode bar sign logo

Not far from Tallinn’s main square is DM Baar, the world’s only Depeche Mode bar! (Address: Voorimehe 4, Tallinn, Estonia). That’s right: there’s a theme bar in Europe entirely dedicated to Depeche Mode, the synthpop / electronic music pioneers from the 80s and 90s.

Look for a black door and hanging red sign, which features the flower cover design of their Violator album (“Personal Jesus” and “Enjoy the Silence” are on this LP.).

depeche mode theme bar interior

Estonia’s Depeche Mode Baar originally opened in 1999, by a die-hard fan. The interior is a homage to the much-loved English band, filled with posters, photos, and rare memorabilia.

depeche mode joy division bar, 1980s band

As you might expect, DM Baar only plays songs by one artist: Depeche Mode. I adore them, and was excited to drink and listen to their music all night long.

On the left, you can see the giant menu with dozens of cocktails named after Depeche Mode songs, like “People are People” and “Just Can’t Get Enough.” The drinks are standard concoctions (such as gin and orange, rum and Coke) but served with a generous pour.

depeche mode baar, tallinn fan bar

In 2001, Depeche Mode members Martin Gore, Andy Fletcher and Christian Eigner came to Tallinn to perform a concert. That evening, they graced DM Bar with their presence and parted all night! The walls are filled with photographic evidence, as well as snapshots of other visiting celebrities.

estonia depeche mode club

The bar has several large TVs, which continuously broadcast Depeche Mode live concerts and music videos. There typically aren’t too many customers here, and they tend to be fellow fans. I enjoyed relaxing on the lounge chairs with my friends, and nodding along to their famous tracks.

depeche mode band, europe theme bar

DM Baar has a large, cavernous second room. (If scientists ever invent teleportation, I’d have a big birthday party here.) I spotted a red lamp with the “Playing The Angel” album cover logo.

weird crazy theme bars tallinn

The adjoining room has private booths, lit by the glowing DM font from their “Tour of the Universe.”

I uploaded a short video on Instagram, which lets you see and hear the Depeche Mode bar for yourself. You can hear the sounds of their 1987 single: “I’m taking a ride. With my best friend. I hope he never lets me down again.”

depeche mode fan memorabilia merchandise

If you’re a Depeche Mode fan, you simply must make a pilgrimage to their themed bar in Tallinn, Estonia. And even if you’re not familiar with their music, I’d recommend coming here for the magnificent songs and atmosphere. After all, as Dave Gahan sings, “Is it a sin / To be flexible / When the boat comes in?”

(The bar had lots of Depeche Mode items on display — you can shop their music and merchandise below, with a click.)

Fabrik estonian restaurant, tallinn

In addition to a cool nightlife, Tallinn (pronounced “Tahh-lean”) has a creative culinary scene. I didn’t know anything about Estonian food, and was pleased by what I discovered.

We ate lunch at Fabrik, one of the city’s top rated restaurants. As you may have seen on my Snapchat (@lacarmina), their Nordic style menu and interior decor are feasts for the eyes.

estonia hipster cafes, restaurants

We sat down in this modern / minimal interior (my favorite type of decor), and whetted our appetites with shots of Vana Tallinn. This is a dark, spicy rum-based liqueur that warms your bones right up.

estonian modern cuisine, fabrik menu

Fabrik’s menu is inspired by the seasons and high-quality produce: the dishes are playful, and presented in eye-catching color. Case in point above: beetroot with sea buckthorn (little orange berries with medicinal properties), goat milk yogurt and shiso — three ingredients that play unexpectedly well together.

The same goes for the smoked eel consomme with king trumpet mushrooms, and seabass with leche de tigre and coriander. And don’t leave without trying a sweet or two from Fabrik’s glass case of desserts. 

tallinn buildings architecture

As you can see, Tallinn is a study in contrasts. It’s an old city filled with historic architecture, but with a hipster creative culture that has sprung up fairly recently. 

estonia open faced sandwich

Estonia is a wonderful destination for foodies. In Nordic Europe and Scandinavia, open-faced sandwiches on dark grain breads are a favorite dish. The local version is called võileib, which means “butter bread” — and once again, it’s prepared in tantalising colors.

Leib Resto & Aed, tallinn estonia

We had another memorable meal at Leib Resto & Aed, an atmospheric restaurant with a large garden, surrounded by Tallinn’s old Town Wall. Chef Janno Lepik and sommelier Kristjan Peäske create local, seasonal food that is innovative, yet based on traditional cooking. 

estonian brown dark grain bread

The word “leib” refers to Estonian black bread: warm, honest, filled with dark grains. The fresh-baked bread that they served was so good that I took home an entire loaf for later!

The menu’s simple farm-fresh ingredients come together in creative dishes, such as Kalamatsi dairy soft cheese with Intsu farm tomatoes, marinated onion seeds and coriander.

best tallinn estonia restaurant, Leib

We started by tasting their homemade liqueurs, made with black currant or rhubarb. Next came a clean, soulful soup and flatbreads; as always, the presentation was delightful.

tallinn traditional high end dining

The mains proved why Leib Resto ranks consistently among the best restaurants in Tallinn: it’s a fine-dining menu, in an unstuffy and rustic setting. 

Highlights include the pike perch with cauliflower cream, slow-cooked Liivimaa grass-fed beef cheek with potato foam and marinated vegetables, and desserts topped with fresh edible flowers.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Tallinn church

It’s fascinating to see the contemporary culture in Tallinn, a city with numerous historical influences. Above is Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, built when the country was part of the Russian Empire. Estonia was also a republic of the Soviet Union from 1940 until its independence on August 20, 1991.

tallinn bicyclist, liberty cross statue

Above, a cyclist performs tricks in front of the Liberty Cross monument in Tallinn’s Freedom Square. This was established in 2009 as a memorial for those who died while fighting for Estonia’s freedom and independence.

pointed roofs estonian houses

Let me assure you that Estonia is a safe and modern country today. There’s a feeling of young energy here, especially in the artistic scenes. (Photos by La Carmina and Borderless Media.)

sugar skull themed bar

From street art to sugar skull bars, Tallinn rocks!

tallinn Telliskivi mural, art factory

Coming up, I’ll take you inside Tallinn’s art factories and collectives, run by young creatives. There’s so much to discover here — I’m glad we spent a few days exploring.

estonia tourism, tallinn viewpoint

Isn’t it wonderful that there’s a Depeche Mode bar in Estonia? (I uploaded a short video of our visit here.)

If you also love this UK synthpop band, enjoy these favorite items below that I’ve picked out. And don’t forget to check out my clothing and accessories sale, before items are gone!

Kyoto Fushimi Inari shrine: famous red-orange Japanese temple gates! Hotel Gracery Sanjo, kabuki themed room.

kyoto fushimi inari gates, fashion travel blogger girl

Kyoto! Hello! Even though I’m frequently in Tokyo, I haven’t been to the city of temples in years.

I had the perfect opportunity to visit Kyoto with my Japan Rail Pass, which gave me unlimited access to Japanese trains, buses and ferries for a week. In less than 3 hours, I arrived by bullet train and made it to the famous gates of Fushimi Inari shrine.

Heian Shrine Kyoto, famous temples

I have a feeling you might be seeking a sense of peace… so in this post, I’ll show you some of Kyoto’s magnificent temples. This was the Imperial capital for over 1000 years, and is still considered the cultural and spiritual center of Japan.

Kyoto was spared from the WWII bombings, which makes it one of the best preserved cities in the country. With nearly 2000 Buddhist temples, 500 Shinto shrines and world class art museums, this is a culture-lover’s dream destination.

kyoto temple travel guide, day tours

If you only have a brief time in Kyoto, I urge you not to stress about seeing all the temples. Go with the flow, wander into small shrines and graveyards, eat the seasonal and local cuisine, browse artisan shops — that’s the magic of Kyoto, Japan.

(I’m wearing an Alien Botany dress by Zoetica Ebb, illustrator and designer. Here are more detailed photos of me in this dress, shot in NYC.)

kabuki theme hotel room design

I wanted every aspect of this trip to be immersive — so we stayed at Hotel Gracery Sanjo Kyoto, which has a special kabuki themed room!

This hotel is affordable, and in an ideal location: right in Teramachi Shopping Arcade, which is filled with antiques, cute goods, kimono shops, you name it.

kabuki dancer performer painting

You can request to stay in their unique kabuki theme room, which is inspired by the classical Japanese drama. Kabuki performances date back to the Edo period, and are characterized by stylized movements, elaborate makeup and traditional tales.

hotel gracery sanjo kyoto kabuki room

I was impressed by how Hotel Gracery captured the ambiance of Kyoto’s theater culture. The room is gracefully decorated with cherry blossoms, glowing red lanterns, and silky red floral prints that match the kimono in the painting. Even the ceilings are painted with elegant panels.

(I’m wearing a circular metallic choker similar to this necklace.)

alien undercut hair tattoo

All of the hotel’s rooms are comfortable, with modern toilets and giant bathtubs. There’s a fantastic spread of international and Japanese food at breakfast: every morning, I ate my fill of soft tofu, matcha, seaweed, and rice with tiny fish.

Hotel Gracery Kyoto Sanjo has my thumbs up. You can book a stay and find out more here, including room prices and options.

heian jingu shrine main gate

Our hotel was a quick walk to Gion (the geisha district) and the major attractions in Kyoto. Many tourists rush around trying to see everything, and end up getting “templed out.” I preferred to explore at a leisurely place, an approach that jived with the peaceful atmosphere of the city.

We walked to Heian Jingu, one of the most famous Shinto shrines. Built in 1895, this shrine is dedicated to the Imperial family, and commemorates the first and last emperors to live in Kyoto.

sake barrels in front of shrines, japan

Let’s talk about the rituals and objects you’ll usually encounter, and their special meanings.

Outside many Shinto shrines, you’ll see a stack of empty sake barrels. These are “kazaridaru,” or decoration barrels marked with brewery labels. Sake represents the spiritual connection between humans, brewers and gods, who drink and rejoice during festivals.

平安神宮 heian shrine courtyard

In the courtyard of Heian Shrine, I made my way to the chozura or temizuya — a Shinto water pavilion found at the entrance of shrines. Before entering, visitors perform a purification rite: they scoop up some of the water to wash their left hand, right hand, mouth, and handle of the ladle.

shinto shrine wash hands water purification

A Japanese dragon watches over the water ablutions. To the right, a closeup on the ema: Shinto worshipers write their wishes and intentions on these wooden plaques.

O-mikuji japanese shrines paper wishing strips

Both Shinto and Buddhist shrines often have wire racks or tree branches covered in strips of paper. These o-mikuji are fortunes that you randomly choose from a box. If the news is good, you can keep it or tie it up. If it’s bad, you’ll want to tie the paper securely so that it doesn’t go home with you.

buddhist zen temples kyoto gion

Finally, these zigzag paper streamers are called shide. They’re often attached to a wand and shaken, as a Shinto blessing. These ones hang from a prayer rope called a shimenawa, warding off evil and delineating a sacred space.

kyoto temple architecture tours, tourism

While it’s nice to see the biggest and most popular sights in Kyoto, they have their downsides. Some places, like Nijo Castle, have entrance fees and hoards of tour buses, which can spoil the mood.

I highly encourage you to wander around and visit the smaller, local temples. My friends and I came across this one (we don’t even know the name of it) on a walk, and it turned out to be one of my favorites.

old kyoto temple, most beautiful temples shrines

The dark wood architecture was beautiful and rather Gothic. There was also nobody else there, which let me pause and take in the surroundings in peace.

japanese shrine graveyard, tombs

Another bonus: we discovered a traditional graveyard in the back! These tall wood tablets or sticks are sotoba. They’re carved with the Buddhist names that practitioners receive after they die. (Photos by John S.)

travel instagram accounts follow blogger

Kyoto is one of my favorite destinations for architecture. So many forms, natural materials and textures in a single photo.

(I’m wearing an Alien Botany dress by Zoetica Ebb, you can see more photos here.)

kyoto japan temple tour, photography

Kyoto is home to Ryoan-ji, the most famous Zen rock garden. However, in the little temples, you’ll find unexpected and lovely gardens such as this. Don’t miss out on these little-known gems.

fushimi inari fox protector statues

On the other hand, I encourage you to see one of the most famous sights in all of Japan: Fushimi Inari Taisha. I’m sure you have seen photos of this unmistakable shrine, with a path lined with thousands of orange torii gates.

You’ll likely to take a taxi or subway to Fushimi Inari, which is about 20 minutes from Gion. This is the head shrine of Inari, a Shinto god with thousands of dedicated shrines (as well as Buddhist temples) all over Japan. These fox statues (kitsune) are the messengers of Inari, bearing symbolic objects in their mouths or paws.

shinto priests ceremony ritual worship

We saw Shinto priests performing a ceremony, clad in white robes and black hats.

red orange famous shrine gates path japan

Founded in the year 711, the shrine sits at the base of Inari mountain, and has trails that go up several kilometers. If you walk the entire pathway, lined with vermilion torii gates, it’ll take you about two hours. (We only went up part of the way.)

kyoto fushimi inari taisha gates

The gates are arranged so that everyone walks upward in the same direction, and down on the opposite side. If you want a photo without anyone else in the shot, walk further up and be patient, since the path can be quite crowded.

fushimi shrine kyoto 伏見稲荷大社

There are about 5000 red-orange gates in total. Walking through these seemingly endless arches turns into a type of meditation; you feel protected by the warm tunnel, and can peer through the posts into the trees and sky.

(The engraved Japanese characters, or kanji, represent the names of donors.)

kyoto shrine shinto wishing boards

The kami Inari is the god of foxes, fertility, agriculture, and general prosperity. We couldn’t resist buying one of these blank wooden boards shaped like a fox for 500 yen. Fushimi Inari provides black marker pens for you to draw a face on the front, and write down your name and wishes on the back.

japan most famous popular shrine temple

Who else but La Carmina and friends would decorate it with a Miffy X-mouth, Satanic pentagram, decadent eyelashes, and kawaii cheeks? 

When the ema is complete, you hang it up with the others. How fun to see the creativity of everyone’s drawings.

Kyoto, Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine

Fushimi Inari is rich with history, and the gates are magnificent to see in person. There’s no entrance fee, so you have no excuse for missing it!

daruman kyoto restaurant だる満

Now, how about lunch? I could spend weeks in Kyoto simply trying all the fantastic food.

On the recommendation of DJ Mistress Maya, we ate at Daruman Kyoto (8-4 Okazaki Saishojicho, Sakyo Ward). This is a vegetarian obanzai restaurant, which means everything is cooked in the traditional style, and at least half the ingredients are produced locally. Obanzai cooking is simple, healthy and focuses on avoiding waste — and yet, the dishes are imaginative and incredibly tasty. 

kyoto vegetarian vegan restaurants

I love homey, local restaurants such as Daruman. The interior is filled with adorable touches such as this owl toothpick pot, and a chopstick holder shaped like a daruma (round dharma doll). (My Pokemon Go nail art is by Glam Nail Studio.)

The owner is an electro/techno musician, and he came by the table to personally greet us and offer suggestions. We chose the hot sake that he recommended, and at the end, he brought out a special green tea and red bean dessert — on the house.

daruman obanzai restaurant kyoto japan

How enticing is this vegetarian “moriawase” spread? Obanzai cooking relies on seasonal produce: I was happy to see kabocha, or Japanese pumpkin, for the fall. The matcha (green tea) tofu is a local specialty, made by monks at a nearby Zen temple. We also got to choose between hot or cold soba, perfectly prepared with a side of crispy tempura.

japan vegan vegetarian restaurants menus

You’ll find fantastic vegetarian or vegan food in Kyoto, and Daruman is proof of how well it can be executed.

On the non-veg side, I am still salivating over the spicy miso ramen I had at Sen no kaze, a counter-style restaurant run by women wearing hats. It’s quite possibly the best ramen I’ve ever had — and I’ve had a lot.

cafe dong kyoto, sfera

Later, I stopped by Cafe Dong, located inside the modern Sfera design building. I slowly sipped at a whisked matcha and took in the surroundings — such a change from fast-paced, go-go-go Tokyo.

sfera modern tokyo architecture minimalist design

The Sfera building also houses a design shop and museum with changing exhibitions. The minimal, Zen interior decor gave me inspiration for my apartment.

hotel gracery kyoto sanjo lobby reception

I hope you enjoyed reading about the temple culture of Kyoto. Coming up, I’ll post photos of the vintage and artistic boutiques I found during my stay, as well as another cute shrine.

Arigato to the kind staff at Hotel Gracery Kyoto, and JRailPass  for a week-long unlimited train pass that made these travels possible.

red gates japanese shrine kyoto

Have you heard of Fushimi Inari shrine before? If you’ve visited Kyoto, what did you love best about your experience? I hope this post brings you a sense of tranquility, in these crazy times…

SHARE & COMMENT