A letter to Washi and wagashi in Arashiyama, Kyoto
When was the last time you wrote a letter, dear readers?
Letter writing is becoming a lost art. Yet, they are irreplaceable, physical mementos of a particular moment in time. A card celebrating one’s birthday or anniversary, a note memorializing one’s love or tears, a letter recording one’s fears or aspirations. Pieces of paper documenting old-fashioned copperplate cursive, or the more blunt script of the modern writer. One part of these Dessert Correspondents, she keeps a box filled with such old mementos, including old envelops crackled with age, embossed with a rare red wax seal or postmarked with sticker stamps of many different countries. For her, wishes and soundbites sent by email just don’t compare.
A district to the west of Kyoto, bordered by the Oi River, Arashiyama keeps alive the art of letter writing. The papyrus of the East, we found so many washi paper shops in this area of Kyoto – paper made of natural fibres, crafted by hand in the old way. It’s a wonder to feel washi paper – rough yet smooth, delicate yet strong, rustic yet elegant, and print-blocked in many different colours and designs. With sheafs of washi paper in toll, now we only needed to find two other things. First, desserts, of course. Traditional wagashi by the name of namagashi was the sweet of choice. Commonly used at tea ceremonies, namagashi are intricately crafted by hand, and usually reflective of a particular season. (We will soon publish a review of traditional Japanese desserts, so bookmark us!). Second, we needed a refuge to ponder, pontificate, contemplate, dream and write. To the latter, we blinked an eye and made a splurge reservation at the rarefied Hoshinoya Kyoto ryokan, a sanctuary accessed by private yakatabune boat.
Never in our lives have we found such serenity on a holiday away from home. Hoshinoya Kyoto was a new world and an old world – the traditional quiet elegance of sliding doors and walls papered with Japanese woodblock motifs, contrasted with the modernity of heated wooden flooring, a bed on a raised platform, and of course – because you are in Japan – a toilet so high-tech that you will hunt for the flush button. No matter which room you stay in, you will fall asleep to the murmurs of the river, and awake to the rustle of the surrounding forest and distant chime of Shinto temple bells. In the morning, you will relish an abundant breakfast buffet of bubbling fish and vegetable broth, amid an abundance of privacy. You could partake in the “cultural activities” that the place offers, but truly to absorb Hoshinoya Kyoto, and Kyoto itself, one only needs to sit quietly – in your river-view room or in the gardens outside among the blossoms, maple and bamboo – slow one’s breathing and one’s heartbeat, and simply see. In the afternoon, you inscribe your drifting thoughts into the permanency of a washi paper note, while nibbling at wagashi and intermittently glancing up to take in the floating blossoms.
Once the hazy sun sets, in the evening, you have an kaiseki dinner so exquisitely crafted that each course is both an evocation and an exhibition of the chef’s professional journey and of the season that you visit. It will be a dining experience etched in your forever memory. You will inhale the uplifting and soothing aroma of cedar, cypress and yuzu when you bathe, and exhale when you bounce into the fluffy white linens of your bed. You jump back up momentarily, to write down your last thoughts of the day and then you let the soft fragrance of sakura and the evensong of the river overtake your thoughts and dreams. You will simply, re-find you.
Dessert adventure checklist
- ☑ Dessert destination: Hoshinoya Kyoto, 11-2 Arashiyama Genrokuzan-cho, Nishikyo-ku.
- ☑ Budget: $$$$$.
- ☑ Sweet irresistible: Wagashi.
- ☑ Must-eat: Don’t miss the kaiseki dinner. The wagashi featured here were purchased from a sweet shop in the downtown city area.
- ☑ The short and sweet story: A letter to washi and wagashi in Arashiyama, Kyoto.
*Note that the above visit to Kyoto was undertaken a few years ago, although we read that the offerings remain just as splendid. This is not a sponsored post. The trip was at our personal expense.*