Going far, very far away, to experience the marvelous and discover with fresh eyes 2 fascinating destinations, guided by Laurence, founder of Atelier Ikiwa, a regular contributor to Escadrille who has been sharing her love of travel with us for the last few months.
With her photographic sensibility, we follow her in vibrant Seoul, thrilling Tokyo and gentle Kyoto, a loving look at Asia that is entirely focused on the crafts and heritage of two exceptional countries.
Visits to workshops, tea houses, places of dreamy contemplation, immersions in timeless traditions or to experience the new creative scene… A trip full of emotions for this return to Asia after long months that kept us away from these parts of the world. Precious addresses to keep in order to prepare a next trip to Japan or Korea, or both, which complement each other so well!
IN JAPAN, TO REDISCOVER OUR ABILITY TO MARVEL
TOKYO, LOST IN TRANSLATION
When was the last time you literally got lost in a city? With GPS in our smartphones indicating where we are at all times, even without a network, getting lost while travelling is mission impossible. And yet… in Tokyo you have to accept to get lost, really, put your phone on aeroplane mode and let yourself be guided by your sensations. There is absolutely no danger in doing this, but everything to gain, to reconnect with the taste of travel and the unexpected.
Re-learn to be surprised, like a child who discovers something wonderful for the first time. You will find everything surprising: the forests of multicoloured neon lights, the crowds crossing in Shibuya, the view of Tokyo from the 52nd floor of a Shinjuku tower, the noise of the pachinko parlours, the announcements and music in the metro, the salesmen handing you pochettes of advertising tissues, the karaoke lounges, the muzzle of the shinkansen, the kombini that are open 24 hours a day, and the calmness of the gardens… These images remind you of something?
Before leaving for your next trip to Japan, watch Lost in Translation again, Sofia Coppola’s fabulous film that has not aged a bit and imagine yourself lost in Tokyo, in this world that resembles no other, which alone could be the definition of the word disorientation. All the superlatives apply to Tokyo, the most populated city in the world after all, and yet it is incredibly human and delicate, and can be discovered by wandering aimlessly through its neighbourhoods, which are like villages.
So, get lost in Tokyo, and keep this quote in mind, “It’s not written on any map; real places never are.” (Herman Melville)
KYŌTO, EMOTIONS GUARANTEED
The first steps in Kyōto are always confusing. Oh really, is this the city that is praised for its beauty: this grey and sad urban fabric, this frenetic traffic?
My advice would be, even if you don’t have much time in Kyōto, to leave the train station far behind as quick as you can and not to start with the most touristy temples and shrines, but rather to choose one that is not talked about so much for that first immersion, to be alone in the world or almost.
And then, all at once, you will understand what forms the beating heart of Kyōto, its softness and its splendour, in the whispers, and the songs of the birds, the old wooden floors that creak under your feet, the scent of incense and cedar, the courtyards from which the garden unfolds, sumptuous whatever the season, because it was designed for that purpose. Then you can rest for a moment, or for a very long time, and savour this moment, this tranquillity. Emotions that will always be renewed, whether it is the first or the 15th trip.
My favourite temples in Kyōto to avoid the crowds and have wonderful experiences.
EAST: Honen-in; Eikando (but during the red leaves it is crowded); Shinnyodo; Shōren-in
NORTH: Daitoku-ji (including the kōtō-in, closed at the moment but due to reopen soon)
To the WEST: Otagi Nenbutsuji (Sagano)
To the SOUTH: Chishaku-in; Tōfuku-ji
TOKYO, THE CALM IN THE CHAOS
Tokyo fascinates as it exhausts and from time to time the need to rest from so much light, sound and movement is felt. At such times, best option is to head to tea houses. But not the traditional Japanese tea ceremonies, whose codes are a little too intense for us neophytes.
No, rather contemporary places of unbelievable beauty that reinvent contemplation, the pleasure of taking time, ceremonial but accessible, gentle sophistication, in minimalist and sublime settings. Precious addresses hidden from view and guaranteed favorites.
Sakurai Japan Tea Experience. In chic Aoyama, on the 6th floor of the Spiral building, a tiny tea room, seating only 8, the buzz of the city far below. We whisper and admire the gestures, the contemporary architecture, the wood of the table, the sublime warm tones, the beautiful ceramics, the strict uniform of the tea mistress. It is our Tokyo Proust’s madeleine, the first place we stop at on arrival.
Yakumo Saryō. In Naka Meguro, a little off the beaten track, reservations required. The place is exceptional, a house with a very Japanese atmosphere while being ultra-contemporary, with a crazy elegance. In the room reserved for the sabō (the tea ceremony), a large window overlooks perfect nature. You lose track of time, you are overwhelmed by the details, the discoveries, all your senses are called upon. Magical, really.
Yamamotoyama Fujie Sabō. In Nihonbashi, overlooking a large boulevard which you forget about as soon as you enter, a tea room that plays on simplicity while being extremely sophisticated in its décor and the quality of the tea experience, stemming from a heritage of over 330 years. A perfect address if you are short of time but want a truly Japanese tea experience.
KYŌTO, AUTUMN IN MAJESTY
The changing colours of the maple leaves is an exceptional time to be in Kyōto! The very serious official leaf-reddening tracking calendar had announced it, in Kyōto, from November 15, 2022 this year, a wonderful spectacle awaits those lucky enough to be in the ancient imperial city.
The spring hanami (during which the sakura, the cherry blossoms, are admired) is now famous all over the world, but did you know that kōyō (the red leaves) and momiji (admiring the red leaves of the maple trees) are equally magnificent times in Japan? In Kyōto it’s dazzling everywhere, a poetic contemplation that expresses the passage of time, a nostalgic moment that is enjoyed precisely because it is ephemeral.
Kyōto is an important urban centre but the mountains are often at the end of the street, and nature is everywhere with its thousands of temples and sanctuaries, so admiring the red leaves is a pleasure that everyone can enjoy, and the cameras are out to “hunt” for the most beautiful ones.
Our favourite temple to admire kōyō is the sublime Eikando Temple, at the foot of the Philosophy Path. You have to go there as soon as it opens, otherwise the place is far too crowded. But there are other temples where you can enjoy a fairy-tale show: Shinnyodo towards Yoshida hill, Nison-in and Jōjakkō-in in Arashiyama, and for those who like hiking, the walk to Enryaku-ji at the top of Mount Hiei and the one between Kurama and Kifune on Mount Kurama are magnificent at this time of year.
JAPAN, IN PRAISE OF BEAUTY
The curve of a temple roof, the half-light in which a vase of discreet simplicity holds a single perfect flower, the dark wood with the patina of age, the petals of cherry blossoms that form a silky carpet on the ground, the matcha tea that unfolds its intense green in the bowl that you turn with your hand, the path of stones polished by the centuries… The beauty of Japan always brings a lot of emotion to even the most seasoned traveller, because in its microscopic details lies a perfection that has nothing to do with ostentation.
On the contrary, because Japanese beauty is notably that of wabi sabi, when the value of a thing is measured by its tranquillity and simplicity, by what cannot be seen, by the emotion of time that inexorably passes and makes it even more beautiful, in its perfect imperfection.
The Japanese style soothes our contemporary lives, that’s why it continues to have a great influence in interior design, with small touches, a beautiful object, old wood, letting time do its work, not looking for accumulation. We love it! And while waiting for the next trip, the Gardens of the Albert Khan Museum for Parisians allow to escape for a few hours.
IN KOREA, WATCHING THE FUTURE BEING WRITTEN
SEOUL, OUR ADDRESSES FOR A SWEET BREAK
Seoul has energy to spare, and you quickly get caught up in the rhythm of the city between walks and visits. But the pleasure of travelling is also knowing how to put your feet up, settle down somewhere and watch people passing by, life unfolding, taking the pulse of the city by observing it.
Our luck is that Seoul has a great tea culture, and also a great coffee one, and that the city has no shortage of superb places, contemporary or traditional, to rest for a few minutes…or a few hours. Here are our favourites, to add to your address book!
Tteuran Tea House (@cafe_innergarden). In the labyrinth of Ikseon-dong’s alleys, this traditional tea house is a haven of peace and greenery. Try the Ssanghwa tea, which means “harmony between ying and yang”, a real medicinal tea that helps fight jet-lag, a unique taste with its mysterious spice blend!
Haap Wonseo. Choose the address at the foot of Bukchon to discover the delicacy of traditional Korean pastry. The space is upstairs, it’s small, wonderfully decorated, they only speak Korean, but what an experience to put your finger at random on the menu only written in Hangeul to choose something!
Hanoks (traditional houses) have been rehabilitated to host superb cafes, and the mix of old and new is very rewarding. The most famous, @cafe.onion (in Bukchon), is usually pretty crowded. Also worth trying, @lake_coffee_more and @pieceisland_seochon, next to Gyeongbokgung Palace, are superb.
And our favourite contemporary tea house is @Osulloc in Bukchon, which is an ode to the tea culture of Jeju Island. Everything there is beautiful and good!
SEOUL, MARVELLING AT ITS CULTURE
In sprawling Seoul to discover Korean culture. Beyond the worldwide success of K-Pop, K-Drama and other “Ks” that are part of the hallyu, the Korean wave, and the images of a city turned towards the future and of a crazy energy, what a luxury to be able to slow down, to wander outside the ultra-urban districts, to push open the doors of old hanok houses that have been perfectly restored, and to discover places preserved from the frenzy but perfectly anchored in an elegant modernity. An approach that brought other, softer, calmer images of this less-identifiable city, less so than Tokyo, its Japanese neighbour.
In this Seoul of K Craft, we saw the sumptuous mix of old wood, the beautiful Hanji paper of the sliding doors, and discovered the sublime art of pojagi, a piece of textile dexterously folded to contain everyday objects or gifts, a symbol of luck and prosperity.
As well as the absolutely spectacular art of maedup, the decorative knots, without forgetting the tea heritage, mixing tea leaves with herbs, spices, fruits, for a very holistic approach that reconciles body and mind.
Seoul is a journey of all the senses, vibrant and exciting.
Text and photos: Laurence Corteggiani, Atelier Ikiwa