Nature and outdoors

The first time I saw … Kyoto

Hong Kong-based designer ALAN CHAN on getting inspired by his experiences in Japan's cultural city

I first went to Kyoto 20 years ago with my family. I wanted to experience Kyoto culture, much of which was modelled on that of China’s Tang and Song dynasties.

The one thing that stood out on that first trip (and I’ve been back many times since), was the bamboo forest in Arashiyama, on the outskirts of Kyoto. Here was this pretty grove of bamboo canes with elegant paths snaking through them – it was incredibly calming. I also fell in love with Kyoto’s food – particularly its seasonal kaiseki cuisine.

Toji Temple gave me an insight into Japanese culture and their way of life. As well as ancient Buddhist shrines, it also has one of my favourite markets. The market, which sells everyday items such as bowls, dishes, kimonos and plants, has been part of local culture for the past 200 years.

My experiences of Kyoto have inspired much of my work over the years: such as a bamboo forest installation, video installations showing Kyoto’s minimalist designs and wallpaper and carpets inspired by the city’s history.


It has provided such inspiration that last year I decided to open Kyoto 27, a gallery promoting traditional crafts and arts. We change the exhibitions every couple of months, inviting an array of artists to show their work. Some are more established; others are newer and younger.

Alan Chan is a Hong Kong-based designer and winner of DFA World’s Outstanding Chinese Designer Award