5 Reasons Kyoto Is the Paris of Japan

After the hustle of Tokyo—which, in many ways, reminded me of New York—we were thrilled to land in Kyoto. It was a warm spring evening, and as every other couple I heard spoke French, I couldn’t help but think: If Tokyo—with its bright lights, all-night convenience stores, skyscrapers, chic restaurants and overachiever residents— is New York, Kyoto is Paris. Here, five ways Kyoto is like the Paris of Japan (or why Paris is the Kyoto of France…):

1. It’s a woman. As the Angela Carter said…London is a man, Paris a woman and New York a well-adjusted transsexual. Kyoto is a woman, too, with a romantic, well-dressed vibe. Like Paris, all of the low-lying buildings envelop you—five stories or less seems to be the formula—built on cozy, winding streets. Gion (Kyoto’s old geisha quarter) is in many ways Montmartre (Paris’s old burlesque quarter)—with its chic boutiques and restaurants perched on a hill.

Kyoto street

2. Big-time heritage. The Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, Notre Dame. If there’s anywhere in the western world people go to get a dose of culture, it’s Paris. (Yes…there’s Berlin and London and Rome of course, too…but Paris does see the most tourists hands down.) Kyoto, similarly, is chock-full of temples (2,000, actually), each beautifully ornate and unique. There’s also a burgeoning art scene, with loads of galleries selling Japanese art. You could spend all week, as we did, visiting all of it and only scratch the surface.

Kyoto Kiyomizudera Temple

3. That river. Paris has the Seine—the scene for more than one romantic moonlit movie stroll. In Kyoto it’s the Kamo river, where families come to picnic, musicians jam and—if you’re a fitness nut like we are—take a long, peaceful run.

Kyoto Kamo river

4. And the food! If the nonexistent kitchens in the apartments we stayed at were any indication, people in Kyoto don’t cook…but they do know how to eat. Most restaurants we visited at least were pricier than Tokyo, featuring delicate, multi-course fish tasting menus. Though you also could easily find many other gourmet cuisines—French especially—lining the streets.

food in Kyoto

5…Especially boulangeries. Speaking of food culture—Kyoto is big on the boulangerie; like Paris, you almost can’t walk a block without running into one (we LOVED Le Petit Mec Oike…because, um, awesome name, besides of course awesome pastries). Though Kyoto’s definitely take a page from the French formula, Japan has its own take on French pastries—fluffier, sweeter versions of brioche, flavored with lemon or stuffed with bean paste. (I was also amazed to see the super-slim residents take their pair of tongs and load up their trays with five, six pastries…definitely a weekend splurge.)

Le Petit Mec Oike boulangerie Kyoto

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