Tag Archives: kyoto

Lost In Japan: Day 7 – Shabu Shabu and the Golden Pavilion

For these posts in Japan I actually wrote the bulk of the text during downtime (train/plane/bus journeys and late evenings mostly) so I could have a nice way to properly look back on my honeymoon.

Are the Japanese worry-worts or are they just practical. This thought went through my mind during a walk to a temple when we saw four separate traffic directing personal on the same road. I mean this is a land of earthquake and typhoon after all. Then again, there have been times (like walking down through all the Inari torii gates) where I would have given my eyelashes for a handrail. I guess it’s priorities?

Anyway, I’m off track. Today was our last full day where we could explore Kyoto, so we had a number of places to try and cram in. We didn’t manage to see all the “essentials” in Kyoto as according to Tripadvisor. Then again, when you have two days to explore it is all about prioritisation and the chance to let yourself deviate from the path when you can.

We began the day back at Nishiki market. Based on the recommendation of a few nice lady in Kyoto Tower we got ourselves a bag of soy milk donuts, fresh from the fryer, for breakfast. We happily munched on these passing a number of weird looking (and in the case of the photo, moving) storefronts. A trip on the train was needed for we were going for another one of the lonely planet places.

Before heading there we stopped by the Tenryuji Temple. It was here, the large gardens where we first began to notice that some of the trees had started to change colour. Coming in mid-late October means that we are still going to miss the larger scale changing of the leaves, but the fact that everywhere is starting to look like part of a frozen timelapse makes it very beautiful.

In terms of temples and shrines, of which we have now seen an awful lot of, this is one where the attraction is clearly more the gardens than the building. I don’t mean to downplay this grand old building, but the gardens are the reason to come.
There was also this very beautiful statue that can be scene near the Shinto shrine in the complex. I think it’s a very elaborate grave marker, must have been someone important, or rich.

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 48/100Sight: Arashiyama’s Bamboo Grove
Location: Kyoto, Japan
Position: #75

It’s very hard to get photos to so this justice. The bamboo is just so high and the tourists are just too plentiful. I know that this is very much a pot-kettle situation, but the swarming of tourists meant that this was probably not as magical as it could have otherwise been.

The best bit, for me, was slightly further on where they had made a clockwise waking circuit out of the bamboo. It really allowed for some of the best pictures of the bamboo forest, and was probably the most peaceful part of the forest.

Here I was able to actually appreciate just how beautiful this forest of bamboo was. Considering how quickly bamboo can grow I doubt that anything in the forest is more than a year or two old. Plus, judging from the piles of bamboo in different places, this is a forest that must undergo regular crowd control.

List item: Waste a lot of money in a Japanese arcade
Status: Completed

We took the train away from Arashiyama in order to visit the golden pavilion at Kinkakuji. However, there was a large arcade enroute to our bus stop and I was itching to go inside. Then there it was: a Tekken 7 machine. I have a long history with Tekken. I have been playing it since I was 8 and I was a major addict for the following ten years. I had to try it, a few times. The rush of beating a random stranger on my first go was probably the reason why I should be glad that arcades are dead in the UK. I would have no money left otherwise. I managed to stop and we got onto the bus to Kinkakuji.

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 49/100

Sight: Kinkaku-ji
Location: Kyoto, Japan
Position: #175

It is ridiculous just how beautiful this golden pavilion is. Like pure decadent absurdity. We both spent a while trying to find the perfect picture taking location on the bank of the pond. Unlike our visit to the silver pavilion yesterday, there was no one in our immediate vicinity making Pokémon references when looking at this. Both fitting and somewhat disappointing. Unlike this pavilion which was more beautiful that I could have expected.

List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food books

Food items: Oyakodon and Sanuki Udon noodles

It was lunchtime, and we spotted s nice enough looking restaurant on the walk to our next temple. I, being the list fanatic, went for the daily special which was also a dish featured in the second 1001 foods book. Oyakodon (literally meaning mother and child, apparently) is basically a rice pot containing chicken and egg. It is also the last dish that hubby would have wanted in front of him. To be honest, and I think this may have been the place, but this dish wasn’t that great. Once you are done with the chicken (which was nice) all you are left with is raw egg and scrambled egg with rice. There is only so much of that you can eat before feeling bored and sick.

The sanuki udon noodles, on the other hand, were gorgeous. These I are my second favourite noodle after ho fun noodles and I really enjoyed the flatness to these sanuki types compared to other udon noodles

Food items: Matsutake and Shiso leaf

I think hubby enjoyed his meal a lot more. Since he is awesome he allowed me bites of the list items (as is, now, customary). The shiso leaf that was tempura battered on one side was interesting. The fact that it was one side only is a thing apparently, I guess it stops it from just being completely destroyed in the battering process or it is done this way for the sake of prettiness. Either way, it tasted good covered in tempura batter.

The matsutake mushroom rice that hubby had was really good. The mushroom, with its meaty flavour was not at all lost in the rice despite it being sliced up.

After out meal we stocked up on some Pepsi Ghost and arrived at the Ryoanji Temple. This temple is particularly famous for having a reiki garden with 15 stones in it. The interesting thing being that you can’t see all 15 at once unless looking at it directly above. Also, no one knows it he significance to the size and placement to these particular stones, or if there actually is any meaning. It was actually pretty soothing to be sat there contemplating these stones. Maybe that was the point all along?Now, this temple had some of the most beautiful gardens that I have seen so far in Japan. One of those things where everything seems to have been placed for a reason. It is also yet another example of a temple that uses ‘borrowed scenery’ to emphasise things. I am in love with a language that has a specific word for this.

We swung by the imperial palace gardens before heading back to the hotel. The imperial palace itself is massive! Obviously we didn’t have a tour guide so we couldn’t have seen inside it. It’s not as if they couldn’t have heard us coming if we tried to sneak in, pretty much the whole park uses gravel instead of paving stones. Poor hubby was pouring it out of the front of his shoes when we left.

Food items: Arrowhead Spinach, Shabu Shabu and Flying Fish

This is the first time where I have eaten in a top 10 restaurant according to trip advisor. Usually because a top 10 restaurant usually costs gargantuan amounts. We at at restaurant #9 – Agotsuyu Shabu Shabu Yamafuku –  and it only cost us £28. This includes a rather nice plum wine that hubby had with his meal.

The whole idea of Shabu Shabu is that you cook your food in the stock (in this case one with Nagasaki flying fish and soy milk) then when it’s done you put it in dipping sauce before eating. To cook we had some fatty strips of pork, lettuce, tofu and arrowhead spinach. The place we went to was perfect. The staff were so friendly, and one of them properly showed us how to do it. The cardinal rules being move the vegetables, but don’t move the pork.

In many ways this is like the Japanese version of a fondue, and it was one of the best meals we have had since arriving in Japan. I also love how it is named after the swishing sound you make when moving the food in the stock.

Progress: 763/933

When we had exhausted the meat and vegetables some buckwheat ramen noodles were added to the broth (which had now absorbed a lot of flavour) and we got a new noodle-specific dipping sauce. I wish this was back in Britain!

We ended the day with a cute donut and a trip to the hotel reception to explain we had somehow lost a key during the day. It was also time for ‘free drink and snack’ in the hotel restaurant for all paying guests. So I may have had some rosehip and hibiscus tea with a side of soup. I love the Hotel Grand Bach.

Lost In Japan: Day 6 – First Day in Kyoto

For these posts in Japan I actually wrote the bulk of the text during downtime (train/plane/bus journeys and late evenings mostly) so I could have a nice way to properly look back on my honeymoon.

Red. I have seen more of this colour in the last few days than I think I have in the rest of the year. It’s obviously a very important colour here in Japan, but today it’s something that really struck me.

Anyway, starting at the beginning.

Nishiki Market! Since our hotel is just off of Shijo Road (a major road for shopping) we are remarkable close to the most famous market in Kyoto. With so many sights and smells and wonderful things to buy I was in my element really early on today. Once again the problem arose – what to eat for breakfast!

List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food booksFood item: Akashi tako (assuming this after hearing the word Akashi being mentioned by the vendor)

So I settled for a whole baby octopus on a stick with a quail’s egg stuffed inside its head. It was so good! Hubby decided not to indulge, something about no baby octopuses for breakfast. I dunno. Men!

At the end of the street was a shrine with a rather lovely bronze pig inside. It’s getting to the point now where I am no longer surprised by the sudden appearance of a shrine. It’s starting to feel a bit normal, although I will still go in there and have a proper tourist noseabout.

Our first port of call today was the Gion District, although we went there in a bit of a roundabout way by walking through the wooden building of Pontocho. I have just been informed by hubby that there was some signage indicating that this street was one of the more gay areas of Kyoto… which now makes for an awkward segue where I talk about the fruit I ate:

Food item:  Hachiya persimmon

Yesterday I got my persimmons mixed around and bought a Fuya persimmon (that is so like me). That was nice enough, but this ripe Hachiya was so much better. When not properly ripe the Hachiya is meant to be firm and highly astringent. This one that I purchased in Nishiki was really soft, so I felt confident as I just bit right into it. It was so sweet and juicy! You could tell that in the past there was some astringency there… but honeyed sweetness overpowered everything.

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 47/100Sight: Gion District
Location: Kyoto, Japan
Position: #147

We were here in the late morning so I knew there was no chance of spotting a geisha at work. (anyway, we spotted two of them yesterday being rushed into a car as we walked back to the hotel so I am not going to be greedy) . What we did managed to spot, however, were a lot of shops that allowed people to rent kimonos. So there were a lot of people, mostly women, in gorgeous kimonos being photographed with paper umbrellas and other such props. As funny as it would have been to see hubby in traditional Japanese dress we didn’t feel too up for it

It was after the Gion district that we started racking up the temple and shrines starting with the Yasaka Shrine complex. It just boggles my mind not only how big these shrines can be, but just how many of them are here in Kyoto. Probably why Kyoto is a major spiritual centre within Japan.

They are also a huge money making opportunity. I’m just not talking about the hairy man that was in the complex selling rather large crab legs on a stick, but the number of charms and other such items that are sold in these shrines. At some point I should buy some as a souvenir, also there are times where I need help finding lost things.

The shrine connected to a really beautiful park called Maruyama Park, this connected Yasaka Shrine with the neighbouring Chion-in Temple.

Now, if the entrance is anything to go by, Chion-in Temple must be absolutely massive. Sadly, it was under a serious case of building repairs so I didn’t get s chance to see it in all its glory. We had a look around the grounds and saw a rather lovely looking Buddha… which was outdone rather quickly.

The Ryozen-Kannon is a huge concrete and steel Buddha that acts as the centre of a memorial to the 2 million Japanese soldiers that died in World War Two. When we went in we were given a lit incense stick each to place at the foot of the Buddha to show respect. Considering that this manifestation of Buddha represents compassion this is a truly beautiful way to remember them.

A brief visit to the Hokanji Temple was next. There was a plaque that said how inside this pagoda structure are some bones from the Buddha and that this version of the building is from 1440. All I can say is that it looks amazing despite being nearly being 800 years old.

Now, the Kiyomizu-dera Temple was one of those many places that was on my original list of places to see. Ever since it was a finalist in a New7Wonders vote a few years ago. The building is massive, and the complex is (like with the Yasaka Shrine) huge. One of the many things I have really come to respect about Shintoism and Buddhism is how well they co-exist together. The complexes tend to festive elements of each other’s religions and that’s really how it should be.

The Kiyomizu-dera is best when observed in a way that just enhances the hanging over. The way that it just juts out into the forest looks lame what surreal. Borrowed scenery is a phrase I saw to describe this.

Food item: Gobo

We were now quite a bit after lunchtime and hunger was creeping up on both of us. Seeing how snack food is in great supply whenever you are near a major temple/shrine in Kyoto we agreed to try some of these. The first was on the walk between Kiyomizu-dera and the nearest bus-stop. A ‘special beef’ dumpling flavoured with gobo (dried burdock root) was the first on the menu. Now, apparently it is rude in Japan to eat and walk… and I wish I had  know this as it would have explained some of the looks I was getting.

Food item: Yuba

A 20 minute bus ride later we were on the Philosophers Walk up to Ginkakuji Temple (also known as the Silver Temple). Yuba, or tofu skin, is something I have seen all around Kyoto so I am guessing that this is a regional thing. All I can say is that they made for the perfect wrapper for this fish paste cake on a stick.

The Silver Temple is a misnomer because it is not, nor has it ever been, properly silver. It was meant to be but, you know, wars happen. Going here had another meaning for us since it was the basis of the Silver Pavilion in the Pokémon Gold and Silver games. There is even a bird at the top that looks like Ho-Oh.

The gardens of Ginkakuji were immaculate. Sand was raked into perfect mounds and waves, there was a huge bamboo growth at the back and it has a number of scenic ponds. So much work has clearly gone into making it look so “natural”.

Now, by the time we were done at Ginkakuji it was about 4 o’clock. Most shrines and temples close at 5, most that is. Thanks to a tip-off on the Something Awful forum we knew there was a good place to be at sunset. We just needed to get to Kyoto Train Station and travel two stops South.

The Fushimi Inari Taisha is one of those places that, now that I have been there, strongly believe should have been in the Lonely Planet guide. To experience it at sunset is something that I will not easily forget. At the foot of Mount Inari, the shrine complex is awash with vermillion and is already incredibly beautiful (interestingly, it has a series of tri-lingual flags indicating how well reviewed it is on TripAdvisor).

The star of the show are the torii. The many thousands of you that form a tunnel on the many paths that wind up the mountain. There are just so many of them in very different states of repair. Some are brand new, others are in need of a fresh coat of paint and then there are those where the wood has begun to rot.

List item: Watch a Sunset
Status: Completed

We quickly made our way up through the first paths to catch sight of the sun as it was setting over Kyoto. The picture doesn’t do justice to it to be perfectly honest, but how do you get a picture of a sunset on an iPhone that isn’t the latest model? Not actually that easy.

In total we must have spent an hour and a half walking up and down parts of this mountain with the torii acting as our guide. We were even doing this on the pitch black of the mountain with only lanterns dotted along the way to provide us with light. The crickets were so loud… and then there were some animals whose noises I couldn’t identify and really did not want to find out what they were (of course my first thought went to a pissed off tengu).


Food items: Sake and Maitake

Dinner time in Kyoto! My first pick for a place to eat was shut because it was a Monday (boo!) but I did find us a brilliant sushi place! Sushi as a concept has been ruined for me by visiting Japan. I used to love my very occasional trips to Yo Sushi. That’s going to taste so plain after this holiday. Hubby ordered himself a sake (I got a Sprite) and I tried some for he sake of research. It has been a while since I last had hot alcohol, and this was pretty strong. I just stuck with my Sprite and the free green tea.

The first of three list foods up for grabs was maiitake in tempura form. This went on to become one of our favourites of the night alongside a rather nice eel and fried shrimp roll. For a mushroom it tasted faintly sweet, and the texture was well preserved despite being, essentially, deep fried.

Food items: Bluefin Tuna and Abalone

Now, in Britain these pieces of sushi would be so extremely expensive. I think that together these were 950¥ or £5. It’s pretty damned crazy. The abalone was nice and fresh (nothing much more than nice to be honest), but I was surprised at how hard it was to bite through in places. Them bluefin tuna was a true revelation. No more tuna from a can! This bluefin was so soft, mild and meaty. A bit like the Kobe beef for fish. If I can find it on our next sushi trip I will be going for more.

Progress: 756/933

We are still eating, but approaching full, when I saw something that made me lose my appetite: fish prepared in the ikezukuri style i.e. alive sushi. I could tell it was still alive because the tail would flap occasionally and it looked like the head was gasping for air as it moved from side to side. Not only did I lose my appetite, but I just wanted to be out of there as soon as possible whilst people were taking video of this poor fish not their phones.

Since we were still a bit hungry we grabbed a small burger from the Japanese chain Mosburger on our way home (really nice for a burger chain) and hubby got some radioactive looking melon Fanta.

Wow, it’s been a busy day. A lot of sleep will be needed before we tackle the next one.

Lost In Japan: Day 5 – Hiroshima to Kyoto

For these posts in Japan I actually wrote the bulk of the text during downtime (train/plane/bus journeys and late evenings mostly) so I could have a nice way to properly look back on my honeymoon.

I was sad to leave Hiroshima. Although I was only there for 3 full days I had really fallend for Japan’s 10th largest city (10th largest yet still has over 1 million residents, as a Brit this astounds me). It’s been the perfect host for the first leg of my honeymoon, as has the Sheraton Hiroshima.

List item: Ride in a high-speed train
Status: Completed

I know that since seeing one of these on Blue Peter many years ago I have always wanted to ride on a Japanese bullet train. By the time I leave Japan I may have been on seven different trains (including two return journeys).

In order to get to Kyoto from Hiroshima (using our JR Pass) we needed to make a change at Osaka. In retrospect, I wish that we had time to spend in Osaka since it does have some gorgeous sites. Looks like I have another reason to return to Japan!

I can not emphasise enough just how luxurious the bullet train between Hiroshima and Osaka felt on the inside (better than Osaka to Kyoto, but that train was still jolly nice). The seating alone feels like British first class. All the seats recline, there are neat foldaway cup holders and coat hooks. Each pair of seats comes with its own power socket. Needless to say, the cumulative two hours between Hiroshima and Kyoto just flew by whilst I stared at the scenery.

That is, apart from we broke open the ekiben! Now, the ekiben are something that hubby really wanted to get whilst we were in a Japan, and boy are there a whole mess of choices. The big one is his, I had some real ekiben-envy when he opened up his official Hiroshima Carp (local baseball team) ekiben up. In the end though, that would have been way too much food. My box, aka the smaller one, really filled me up (it had chicken, rice, red cabbage and something that I assumed was puréed Japanese yam salad). It’s actually quite amazing at how good the quality of the food in the box lunches was.

We arrived at about 14:00. The differences between Kyoto and Hiroshima became evident by the time we got to the hotel room. Firstly, the smell if different. When you are in Hiroshima the air feels just that bit fresher because of all the rivers. Then there is the pace, Kyoto is a lot faster and a bit more impatient than Hiroshima. Where previously I would rarely see someone cross a street without a green man being shown, here I have already seen it a number of times. However, the most profound difference is age – the population of Kyoto feel a lot younger.

We freshen ourselves up at our hotel room, which is done in a more traditional style with tatami flooring, a futon and sliding windows. I mean sure it’s all capped off with a toilet that warms up the seat and a scary looking shower, but the thought was there.

By the time we left the hotel it was nearly 16:30 and I was getting hungry. Luckily, since I have done some research, I had a place in mind. It meant heading back to Kyoto main station (some 30 minutes away from where we were staying in Shijo), so,etching I was more than happy to walk seeing how I’d spent two hours sitting down on trains.

As we got close to the station we suddenly see a massive temple complex come into view – the Higashi Honganji. Sadly a lot of it was under renovation works (which will be done by the time this blog post goes up. According to a sign in the main temple, this is the largest wooden building in the world. It is also one that demands that you take your shows off in order to enter the temple… which is fine if I hadn’t chosen today as a day to wear my pink ‘raveasaurus’ dinosaur socks.

It was pretty spectacular on the inside. I grabbed a few photos and then had a guard rushing towards me gesturing that no photos were allowed. I suddenly became very aware of my pink dinosaur socks and that I had not seen any signs saying not to take photos. We scarpered pretty quickly because I became all British and felt rather embarrassed.

Soon we arrived back at the mammoth building that houses Kyoto railway station. Since we previously went straight to the subway I hadn’t been able to take it all in, but with over 11 floors in some places, it is huge. The restaurant that I wanted to get to was on floor 10, which meant riding up a fleet of escalators and appreciating the cool light up steps on the way.

 List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food booksFood item: Kobe beef

There are six main foods that I wanted to get whilst in Japan. This is second one achieved after Hiroshima oysters and Kyoho grapes. A Kobe beef burger. Easily one of the best burgers I have had in my life. When you bite into it a lot of fat just oozes out, something to be expected since Kobe beef is highly marbled. The thing with the beef having such rich marbling is that as you bite into it the burger just seems to melt in your mouth. I don’t think that is a mouthfeel that I had ever quite had before, but I wish we had ordered a second one each. We didn’t order anything with it, so we were still hungry.

Before going on the hunt for more food we roamed the station a bit more and found our way to the Skyway walk which gave us some amazing views of Kyoto being lit up at night. Especially Kyoto Tower, which just dominates the skyline.

We went into the department store located in Kyoto station in order to scout for an extra snack. Since it was getting late a lot of the food was getting discounted and there was a lot of hubbub as differs stalls tried to get rid of their wares. Poor hubby was getting a bit overwhelmed by all the shouting and the choice so we just got three random croquettes (turned out to be one kelp, one shrimp and one that was chicken, ham and cheese) and some other things.

I am trying not to be too western with my food choices out here (Pepsi Ghost is just too good for me to not have), but we both really fancied ice cream after the burger. The Baskin Robbins on the way home was a god send with it’s ‘Trick or Ice Cream’ which was with dark chocolate chips and an orange syrup that I guess is meant to be pumpkin. It’s amazing how much you can get in a store with smiling, pointing, nodding and quantitative hand gestures.
Food item: Shizuoka Melon

Now, this melon is the fourth of the six foods I really wanted to find. In order to get a whole one I have seen prices ranging from 1800¥ to nearly 5500¥. If you ever play a Japanese computer game with a melon featured you will know what it looks like, perfectly round with a neat stem cut to form a capital ‘t’. This is a melon they people gift each other, I’m guessing more as a ‘get well soon’ or housewarming gift rather than at a child’s birthday party.

The fact that we were able to find some pre-cubed that been discounted down to 390¥ just blew my mind. This saved me quite a bit of souvenir money! As we opened the plastic box the smell of the melon just hit us. It has such a strong fragrance of, well, melon. Taste wise… I was hoping to be able to slander it, but it was just too delicious to even start. Think of a regular melon from a supermarket. Now take that essence of melon flavour and remove all the watering down that regular melons have. Slightly honey the flavour and then at is what you have. It made me annoyed that all melons are not like this.

Progress: 748/933

Tomorrow is our first full day in Kyoto. We are not here for long so we are going to make it count.