5 Best Cultural Experiences for your Kyoto Itinerary
by Lucy Dayman
Kyoto is undeniably one of Japan’s cultural meccas. Home to an incredibly rich history of traditional arts and culture, it can seem almost impossible to really immerse yourself in the city’s rich art community, but it is not. One of the best ways to really understand the history of this city and experience Japanese cultural traditions that were born here is to dive right in and sign up for a local workshop or two!
Whether you’re an dedicated creative or someone who hasn’t touched a paintbrush since 8th grade painting class there’s something for everyone. Expert locals and friendly guides can help you embrace your inner artist. So if you’re looking for some cultural experiences for your Kyoto itinerary, throw out your preconceptions of art class, pick up that brush and discover a new level of appreciation for Japanese culture with 5 of these fascinating and (English-) accessible activities.
1. Calligraphy Courses
Japanese calligraphy, also known as shodo (書道) or shuji (習字), is an incredibly expressive artform that has been cultivated in Japan since the introduction of writing. Like Japanese writing itself, calligraphy has its roots in Chinese culture. However, the invention of Hiragana and Katakana led the art of calligraphy down its own path, and it is now considered as authentically Japanese as sushi.
At Calligraphy Kyoto both beginners and slightly more experienced guests are invited to take park in a variety of different course. The cheapest and shortest lesson is the one hour beginner’s calligraphy class which costs ¥5,500 (US $50) and includes quality board and mount, and classic Japanese letter paper. Here you can learn the absolute the basics of calligraphy and create a character in your own language using makigami (rolled up) letter paper. For the more ambitious, a 10 hour license acquisition calligraphy course is also available for ¥75,000 ($665).
For more information on calligraphy lessons, visit Calligraphy Kyoto.
2. Woodblock Printing Class
Spend even a short time flicking through Japanese art books and you’ll stumble ukiyo-e. Flourishing during 17th through the 19th centuries, this vibrantly colored, bold lined artform looks like the early stages of the nation’s manga obsession! Carved woodblocks were used to produce these prints covering many aspects of Japanese culture, from kabuki actors and sumo wrestlers to flora and fauna, and even erotica.
The Kyoto Handicraft Center offer Japanese handicraft courses in a variety of traditional crafts, among them woodblock printing, for the price of ¥1950 ($17). Follow the age-old techniques of ukiyo-e and create your own bold and beautiful incarnations of two popular motifs: Heian Shrine and Maiko.
For more information on joining a woodblock printing class, visit the Kyoto Handicraft Center. Kyoto is one of the world's best places for crafts, find out why here:
3. Roketsu Dyeing Workshop
For one of the more unique cultural activities in Kyoto, those with an interest in textiles might be eager to explore the world of roketsu: one of Kyoto's traditional textile dyeing methods. In these Japanese textile workshops you will learn about the technique also known as wax-resist dyeing. It begins with the application of wax on a cotton fabric to create the desired design. When the fabric is dyed in the deep natural indigo dye, the pattern concealed beneath the wax stays white. Like a reverse stencil cross with tie-dye!
Kyoto’s Roketsu Dyeing Studio is officially the only place in Japan where visitors can experience the entire dyeing process for themselves. Bear in mind, this class isn't for the easily distracted: Roketsu dyeing involves around 20 steps! The courses typically take from one to two hours, and prices start from $20 depending on the size of fabric you want to use.
For more information on taking a roketsu textile dyeing course visit Kyoto’s Roketsu Dyeing Studio.
4. Ikebana Lessons
For many there is nothing more classically Japanese than Ikebana: the soothing and meticulously curated art of flower arranging. Also known as kado (華道 - the way of the flowers), the tradition of Japanese flower arrangement has religious roots. From as early as the 7th century floral offerings were in shrines, as plants play an important role in the nation’s native Shinto religion. More than just throwing some flowers together in a visually appealing way, Ikebana is all about developing a close appreciation of nature and finding the balance between human interaction and natural beauty.
The classes at Ami Kyoto are some of the Japan’s most well respected, and highly reviewed. Open to foreign guests as well as locals, don’t worry if you have little knowledge of this historic art or Shinto religion as a whole; a few hours with the floral experts and you’ll be a little expert yourself. An Ikebana class here can be arranged for ¥5,000 ($45).
For more information on Ikebana courses, visit Ami Kyoto. Once you've taken part in this unique Japanese cultural experience, check out our guide for art lovers to help plan your Kyoto itinerary:
5. Yuzen Dyeing Courses
If you’ve already tried your hand at roketsu dyeing and woodblock painting then why not combine your two newly discovered loves in Yuzen Dyeing, which is painting on fabric. This art form came to mainstream appreciation during the 17th century with hand painted designs on silk fans and kimonos.
Classes at Marumasu-Nishimuraya bring this long-loved art to the 21st century, applying the technique to modern day items like purses, clutches and glasses covers. Prices for these Yuzen courses range from $15-65 depending on what you wish to paint. A store as well as a workshop, Marumasu-Nishimuraya is the perfect place to pick up a unique Japanese gift or of course even better create your own.
For more information on learning Yuzen Dyeing, visit Marumasu-Nishimuraya.
Have you joined any of these craft workshops? Do you have some ideas of other one-of-a-kind Japanese cultural experiences for your Kyoto itinerary? Let us know in the comments below!