Manga – literally “whimsical or impromptu pictures” – are as Japanese as sushi and sumo, verging more towards literature than mere comics, and an integral part of life in the archipelago for many. So, although the tourist bods in Kyoto might point towards the city’s plethora of temples, shrines, palaces and gardens, the International Manga Anime Fair (September 21 to 22, US$11 to get in) is just as much a window into Japan’s cultural capital. As Aramata Hiroshi, executive director of the Kyoto International Manga Museum (300,000 exhibits; closed Wednesdays), puts it so neatly on the museum’s website: “For over 60 years I have been reading manga, a medium which was at one time misunderstood as harmful [ …] But we have now left those days behind us, as manga has begun to be valued as one of the coolest cultural media, and I warmly rejoice in this.” New to the genre? Try Dragon Ball by Akira Toriyama, loosely based on the Chinese classic Journey to the West . Kyoto was pinpointed as a potential target for the atomic bomb in 1945 but was shifted to the reserve list after United States secretary for war Henry Stimson, who had apparently honeymooned there in 1893 and visited several times subsequently, cried foul. Where to stay Very much in a class of its own, Yoshida-Sanso was built for a member of the imperial family in the 1930s. Beautifully kept and with arresting views of the mountains, its three pristine rooms – named Nanten, Fuku and Kotobuki – are decked out in traditional style with futons and tatami floors. Naturally, aristo-heritage-design doesn’t come cheap at just under US$300 a night, though that does include breakfast. Elsewhere, there are boutiques and ryokans galore, many with baths built for wallowing and/or outdoor hot tubs. What to buy Could there be a greater gulf between a) dinky patterned smartphone cases, and b) professional kitchen knives whose manufacturing heritage stretches back to 1560? Both are on sale in Kyoto, the former seemingly everywhere, the latter at Aritsugu – one-time imperial blacksmith – in Nishiki Market. Superb steel and craftsmanship – both native to Japan – add up to thinner, harder, sharper knives; few professional chefs would disagree. And nobody balks at prices of around US$150. Three Kyoto markets are spaced out across every month: Chion-ji temple (15th) does handmade crafts, Kobo-san (21st) is mainly bric-a-brac, while Tenjin-san (25th) is reputedly the best place for vintage kimonos. More serious antique hunters (traders tend to regard casual browsers as an impertinence) should find plenty of entertainment in Teramachi-dori – an entire laneway of curios – and the adjacent Ebisugawa-dori, aka Furniture Street. Pulse Plaza, a positively humungous antiques fair, is held four times a year. The next edition runs from October 11 to 13. What to eat Kyotoites who’ve been out of town for a while tend to make a beeline for their favourite eatery as soon as they return, whether it’s somewhere that takes a pride in its tofu, a restaurant that specialises in Buddhist vegetarian or simply the confectioner they visited while growing up to fill up on kyo wagashi , the small balls of rice flour crammed with sweet azuki bean paste. But top of the list, and the most pricey option, is kaiseki , routinely referred to as Japanese haute cuisine and which Kyoto (with more than a smidgen of justification) reckons it does better than anywhere else. Kaiseki aims for both local and seasonal, and is presented like a mini work of art. In the general run of things, an appetiser is followed by sashimi, a simmered dish, then something grilled, and then a steamed course, with other items added as the chef’s whim suggests. It’s not so much a meal as a rite of passage. Getting around In brief, it’s a plane, then a train. To start with the second leg: nobody talks about “the bullet train” in Japan; shinkansen is the (delightfully onomatopoeic) word. It’s more expensive than the regular rail service, but the – nigh magical – 15-minute whizz from Osaka to Kyoto works out at less than US$1 per minute. From Hong Kong to Osaka (four hours ish), there’s a choice of Cathay, HK Express, Hong Kong Airlines, ANA or the rather fruity Peach Aviation, with return fares kicking off at US$150. In Kyoto, two subway lines – Karasuma and Tozai – knit most of the city together. A one-day pass, which also works on the buses, costs US$8.50. The city is also easily walkable, never more so than on a guided tour among such celebrated sites as Nanzen-ji temple and Southern Higashima. Prices for a four-hour stroll hover around US$47 per pair of legs. Plus Kyoto’s neatly placed on the main island of Honshu, and the shinkansen and its junior partners put a bevy of tempting sites within striking distance. Less than an hour away, Himeji Castle has dominated its city’s skyline for much of the past 700 years. The largest, best preserved and quite the most surreal of the country’s castles, it would be instantly recognisable to any character in a fairy tale. Fifty minutes’ to the northeast, the rather picturesque village of Nagahama lies on the shores of Lake Biwa: pleasure boats make the trip out to OkiIsland – no supermarkets, no cars, just a clutch of superlative fish restaurants. And Nara, a 45-minute ride south, is a verdant, easily navigated and compact town. The admittedly cute sika deer which roam the parks have grown weary of tourists trying to “engage” with them. Fractious, too.