Friday 10th July 2015, Kyoto (Part 2)

That evening I felt like eating Kaisen Don which is basically sashimi (sliced raw fish) on sushi rice maybe it was the heat but I felt like eating something that wasn’t going to be hot and heavy. Kyoto probably because it’s inland is not well known for sushi of course that’s not to say there aren’t great sushi restaurants in the city, it’s just not famous for seafood.

After trying to find out if there was anywhere close by with reception which proved to be more tricky than anticipated simply because of my choice of food, I have the feeling that had I said a good restaurant though, I probably would have been directed to an Italian or French restaurant since that seems to be what Kyoto likes. Eventually I got directed to a suitable restaurant and given a map with an ‘x’ marked on it.

The thing is in the dark in a strange city, I think I may or may not have found the right street a close distance to the hotel but I’m pretty sure I didn’t go to the restaurant suggested or that I decided not to if I did find it. Behind the main street and little way down I turned into a smaller street seemingly where only pedestrians were allowed and both sides had restaurants.

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I wandered up and down that street looking at steak restaurants and then round the corner there was a fish restaurant but it was empty to the point that you start to wonder if there’s a reason that it’s empty. I went back to the street and decided upon a restaurant called “Miki”, please see below:

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I had to wait outside for a little while for a space to sit and there was a rudimentary English menu, I can for the most part work out certain parts of a menu but in no way would I confidently claim to be able to read a menu in Japanese.

When I did get in, they sat me at the counter and gave me my menu, the place was busy and evidently very popular. The staff consisted of three people. Two chefs behind the counter and a junior who would assist behind the counter as well as coming around to work the restaurant floor. It was a sushi restaurant, that would most certainly do for my fish requirements! I chose to have omakase which means “I’ll leave it up to you.”, I have a funny feeling that there may have been a set number of omakase that you could choose although I might be wrong.

What followed was an absolute treat as I was served sushi  that I was told not to put shoyu (soy sauce) on unless directed to. Sitting at the counter lets you see the sushi being made and I couldn’t keep taking pictures each time as I merely wanted to enjoy what came to me.

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I don’t even remember everything that I ate that evening except that it was very good and I would recommend the place, the only caveat being that I did find a note in my book telling me to budget my meals! It had been one of the more expensive meals that I had had, worth it?

Yes.

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Friday 10th July, Kyoto

I have been to Kyoto before and despite the seemingly small nature of it there is a surprising amount of things to see with many on must see/do lists for the visitor to Japan. There are still many attractions there that I always say to myself that I will go and see each time I visit but somehow don’t manage to.

Due to downloading all my pictures in one batch on the same day from the memory card, I discover pictures that I don’t recall taking or couldn’t find previously. So here’s a picture that I wanted to accompany the previous post of my rather cramped room with too much furniture.

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Nice and clean with new furniture just pretty tight on space!

As mentioned previously, my research into when to go and so on and so forth was somewhat erratic due to a sudden burst of work before leaving and being overwhelmed by the amount of information that my little brain was trying to process in terms of where to go in Japan. I had heard of the Gion Matsuri in passing from friends who lived there who more often than not would complain about there being too many people. I knew there were floats and traditional costumes but not much more, I was about to get a first hand look up close.

The webpage at Kyoto Visitor’s Guide does a great job of succinctly explaining the background of the festival and then outlining the activities that lead up to the final parade.

Outside on the street, the construction of the floats was already well under progress, no nails are used.

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The rain that I’d been experiencing the last few days had made way now to temperatures that were rapidly rising with a high of 34° predicted, the temperature is one thing then the humidity is often in the 90% region. It was bright and sunny at least I’d had the foresight to buy my hat the evening before!

One of the places that I had meant to see on previous visits to Kyoto was Kiyomizu-dera, which is an independent Buddhist temple in East Kyoto. The temple is the temple of the Goddess of Mercy, although in all honesty I am only learning this as I research things to write here. It was also registered on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List as one of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto.

When you first arrive at the site after making your way up the hill through a street lined with shops and restaurants offering food and souvenirs.

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At the top you reach the Deva (Gate) and Three Storied Pagoda and the bell that then lead into the temple complex.

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As you make your way round passing the different buildings, you do start to appreciate with some awe and wonder at the work that was undertaken to construct and then to maintain the buildings.

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At almost every large temple in Japan you will find a place where they sell Ema Votive plaques where people write their wishes and hang them up. Typically they might be for the zodiac animal of that year, the zodiac in Japan uses the Chinese animal types. Sometimes the designs might be something that the particular temple or shrine is known for, a good example is foxes at Fushimi Inari. The money for the plaques is used by the temple for upkeep and so on, you don’t have to write your wish and leave it there sometimes people buy then and keep them as a souvenir.

I took the picture from this angle because I found it somewhat amusing that the street artists had been diligent tourists as well and made the effort of visit the temple but still felt the need to slap their stickers. Before you start tutting though, there is actually a Japanese precedent for sticking things on buildings, called Senjafuda. Originally left by shrine worshipers, they became frowned upon by temples as less people would follow tradition and not pray nor buy a stamp from the shrine before applying their senjafuda. I’m sure there must be an article somewhere linking street art slapping/sticker art and sejafuda somewhere.

However, I digress, the main hall of the temple has a large veranda supported by pillars that gives an impressive view of the city and makes for the hall itself being an iconic image in its own right.

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I had a good wander around the site and must admit the heat was starting to get to me as well as the number of tourists, dotted around the temple are numerous smallish refreshment cafes although I use the word cafe with uncertainty since they don’t look anything like their European counterparts. In need of cooling down and some sort of refreshment, I chose a Japanese summer staple called  Kakigōri which is shaved ice flavoured with syrup.

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My lemon flavoured Kakigōri.

And yes, I did manage to eat all of it!

I still hadn’t had lunch…already feeling the heat and starting to hire I headed out and down the hill, I’d passed a promising looking restaurant earlier and had decided I’d go there. However, it seemed to have disappeared and I was starting to consider other options, sometimes the smaller streets in Japan have this way of looking the same adding to the confusion of not always being able to read the street signs. I also got sufficiently distracted and taken off course by some of the shops along the way.

It was 1337h by the time I found the restaurant, the reason that the time is so ptrecisely noted is that it says as much in my notebook. The restaurant’s name was Yoshimura Kiyomizuan, (the website is in Japanese).

There are also Tripadvisor reviews of the restaurant, I had picked it probably because I felt like eating soba and that the menu appealed to me.

I chose their Higashiyama Zen set which consisted of Zaru Soba, Sansai Soba, Mini Tempura and pickles.

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Zaru soba is buckwheat noodles served cold and dipped in sauce and eaten by slurping, one of my favourite summer foods.

The Sansai Soba, bottom left in the picture was served in hot soup and again used the same soba noodles except this time topped with mountain vegetables.

Above that is the small bowl of Tempura on rice, a larger portion can be a meal in itself and is called Tendon  which comes from combining the words Tempura and Donburi (bowl), it has nothing to do with the English meaning of the word!

I really enjoy the lunch sets in Japan since it allows the glutton in me and the indecisive part of me to try several of the foods that take my fancy on a menu at the same time.

I was particularly impressed with the Sansai Soba at the time from my three dishes.

I made my way down the hill after lunch, the walk down was easier and perhaps with some renewed vigour from eating

, I made my way to the bus stop.  The fact that I ended up walking from the bus stop to the top part of the main shopping street probably came about from just a natural curiosity of what was around me. As much as I might complain and moan about the temperature, there is still part of me that will wander off with eyes wide open.

I got as far as the street that turns into Gion, called Hanamikoji, I started to head down it but my energy level had waned again and I decided not to explore that time. However, that is not to say that you shouldn’t go and see for yourself in fact I would recommend that you do go. It has many preserved traditional buildings as well as being one of the most well known and exclusive geisha districts in Japan.

Which is where I spotted this Maiko, (the make up and the hairstyle is the give away) apprentice geisha or geiko,  she slid out so quickly that I’m not even sure which building she came out of. I got my picture before the other tourists suddenly cottoned on then it was a kind of mayhem with tourists behaving like paparrazo, chasing her down the street and taking her picture. I wonder if secretly they love the attention or just find it incredibly cringe worthy. She had to stop at the crossing for the lights to change and then she was off again, bear in mind that she’s wearing kimono and sandals so a full on run is out of the question but I have never seen anybody move so fast in that footwear.

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It’s not common to see them but it is possible and so there is an palpable sense of excitement when one does appear either on the street on sometimes at the station.

I think I must have wandered back towards to my hotel stopping in various shops along the way as a way to cool down in the air conditioned spaces as well as just to see the strange and wonderful things you can or could buy.

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Thursday 9th July, Kanazawa to Kyoto

I awoke to a day with no rain and since for whatever reason I hadn’t selected a breakfast option and didn’t fancy the hotel buffet so headed out. My breakfast in the end was a couple of bread rolls from a chain of bakeries called Donq, it seems they’ve been around in Japan for quite a while since my Japanese friends all knew it whenever I mentioned it. I found it amusing that in Japan that I should end up with a plastic carrier bag adorned with a map of Paris on it. I suppose I take it for granted but the Japanese do do very good artisan bread.

My plan was to take the 1519h train from Kanazawa to Kyoto. This would give me time to explore Kanazawa a little more. After asking for opinions on where to go with a limited time to the tourist office, the consensus seemed to be to head for the Higashi Chaya District.

The buildings there are an opportunity to see authentic buildings from the Edo period and something which many people expect to be found  all over Japan having seen those style buildings in films but in fact are not so frequent anymore. Kanazawa has three, well preserved chaya (lit. teahouse) districts, Higashi Chayagai (Eastern Chaya District), Nishi Chayagai (Western Chaya District) and Kazuemachi. A chaya was where guests were entertained by geisha, I will not be going into detail about geisha, since I cannot afford to be entertained by or have never been invited to any function where one or more have been present. For what a geisha is and does, please click on the blue link for the wikipedia page, thank you.

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One of the tea houses there has been preserved and is now a museum, another is open to the public, for the most part the other buildings now house shops and cafes. There are also many shops selling the crafts of which Kanazawa is famous for and some have what are either called “traditional” or “cultural” experiences that let you get a very quick and easy feel for a craft or art. For the most part the difficult parts are done by the master craftsmen but nonetheless it can be a worthwhile experience and you get the satisfaction of having made something. One of which as well as selling gold leafed items has a tearoom entirely covered with gold leaf interior and exterior.

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It seemed I was a little enthusiastic with my sightseeing as I arrived in the district with many places still closed, on the plus side that meant it hadn’t been swarmed upon yet and so I could wander back and forth a couple of times. There was plenty to see and it was strange stepping off a busy road and ending up on a street lined with wooden buildings.

Under the eaves of the buildings was also quite a treat…

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Packed into the nests sometimes up to six chicks at a time were swallow chicks, their parents flitting back and forth but never dangerously close enough to the abundant people walking by. The adult swallows make their presence known enough to let you know that they are there. I didn’t see anybody behaving irresponsibly towards the birds and I think much like myself for the most part, people were just astonished to be able to see the chicks up close.

In retrospect it seems I haven’t actually taken a picture looking down the street with the preserved tea houses for which I apologize and find very strange that I didn’t take a picture of!

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These girls are wearing yukata, lightweight summer kimonos.

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Not the main street but one of the smaller streets off from the main one but gives a good feel of the architecture there.

I decided to try one of the traditional experiences and chose the Sakuda Gold Leaf Shop, from the street it’s dominated by their showroom/shop which has plenty of examples of gold leafed objects for sale. The experience is advertised as a do-it-yourself gold leaf application and takes around an hour to an hour and a half.

You are shown various items that can have gold leaf applied to them from boxes to plates, the price is different according to the size. I chose a small lidded box, then you’re taken into a small space with tables to work on, since I was an early bird I was able to walk in and have a go without a reservation but it might be better to reserve ahead depending on when you go and if you want to do it.

The first thing to do was to choose a design, in the top right of the picture you can see the corners of various metal stencil sheets, I chose this rabbit and moon design which you then draw onto a masking tape square. Then you cut the design out, so far easy enough. Then you need to apply the tape to the lid of the box, all of this is done under the watchful eye of an old gentleman who is leafing items to sold in the shop. Once you’ve completed the stencil cutting, he takes your item from you and applies the gold leaf, I had wondered how that would actually work since it needs some dexterity and I could imagine the delicate sheets going all over the place in the hands of clumsy tourists like myself. With leaf applied, you’re then asked to wait half an hour, I wonder if this is a ploy to make you go back in the shop. 😉

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Here’s the finished box with the rabbit and moon design I selected, they pack it up for you and instruct you to leave it for 2 weeks before applying nail varnish topcoat. (It took me a bit of time finding top coat in the supermarket, I now have a small bottle of topcoat that I don’t use!) Not bad and a nice memento to have of my brief visit…

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That said I did actually buy a couple of items while waiting though fully aware that due to trying to very limited luggage space for the next 3 weeks that I would have to limit my purchases to small items only. This was actually a good thing in the end because it meant I had to be very selective in what I did buy.

This small Daruma that I bought, came in various sizes, this being the smallest. While I waited for my daruma to be boxed and up and until my box was ready, I was served some cold summer tea which also contained tiny bits of gold leaf!

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This is the small daruma that I bought.

(The following text is from Wikipedia: The Daruma doll (達磨 daruma?), also known as a Dharma doll, is a hollow, round, Japanese traditional doll modeled after Bodhidharma, the founder of the Zen sect of Buddhism. These dolls, though typically red and depicting a bearded man (Dharma), vary greatly in color and design depending on region and artist. Though considered an omocha, meaning toy, Daruma has a design that is rich in symbolism and is regarded more as a talisman of good luck to the Japanese. Daruma dolls are seen as a symbol of perseverance and good luck, making them a popular gift of encouragement) came in various sizes, this being the smallest.

I made my way from Higashi Chaya with the intention of having a leisurely lunch but for some reason due to impatience on my part for a bus that wouldn’t arrive, I decided to try to get one more attraction in even if it was briefly. Rolling up my shirt sleeves I walked on, hen the sights are new, I find myself able to walk relatively grumble free because natural curiosity will distract me from the heat or the strain.

A few people and not just those at the tourist office in Kanazawa had recommended or at least told me to try to see Kenrokuen Garden. The garden originated more than 300 years ago and is one of the most famous gardens in Japan, originally the garden of the secondary residence of the feudal lord, it attracts visitors year round. I have a feeling that my speedy tour of the most photographed section did not do it justice. The rain also started to fall again calling time on my visit as well as my stomach starting to grumble at not having had any lunch.

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Detail of the moss found in the grounds of the garden, the star like pattern is something I found to be pleasing when seen in multiplied repetition.

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The Kotoji Toro, a two-legged stone lantern than is emblematic of not only the garden but of the city itself. (You can see the rain was back if you look at the surface of the water!)

I made my way back to the station and the hotel and had a late lunch in the shopping centre next door to the station. I chose a restaurant called Keisuke Ramen which was located in the Forus Shopping mall. My choice was a Shio (Salt Broth) Ramen set which came with fried rice and 3 gyoza,  which cost 1180 Yen which is just under $10 or £6.50! Puts the eating ramen in London for £11 a bowl into perspective!

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Satisfied with my lunch and since I was next door to the station, I collected my luggage and set about finding my train, platform and carriage with time to spare. I would be taking the:

Kanazawa to Kyoto Limited Express Thunderbird 32 (Yes, really, Thunderbird!)

Departure: 1519h

Duration: 140 minutes

Distance: 224.8 km

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image257 (2)Please click on the map to see it in detail, Kyoto is central section of the map below the bold type that reads Kansai.

No need for a bullet train this time but even this time the train the still huge compared to what I was used to in England, again I wish I could tell you about the scenery but it happened again and I slept for almost an hour and a half!

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I have a feeling that is Lake Biwa which is some 30 minutes outside of Kyoto and somewhere perhaps I might explore and visit sometime in the future.

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I arrived at Kyoto Station and despite a little recognition at being there before still felt somewhat surprised at the level of activity there. Kyoto was once the capital of Japan and today retains a strong identity for its temples, shrines, wooden houses and gardens as well as other traditional arts and crafts.

There are so many things to see and do in Kyoto that despite several visits there remain many places that I intended to to see but was not able to on this visit or on previous visits. Some of the more iconic images of Kyoto that you might know or might have seen will not be seen here since I had been to them previously in 2012. These would include places like Fushimi Inari, with their seemingly endless red torii gates which I would recommend going to and did consider going to again but didn’t this time round.

I booked into the Hotel Unizo Kyoto Shijo Karasuma which was a short subway ride from Kyoto Station, thankfully Kyoto’s subway system is nothing like Tokyo’s spaghetti consisting of only two lines! The hotel is from what I gather a new build so everything was very clean, I didn’t specify where I would like my room though and the frosted window opened partially to reveal an apartment block next door, the room was quite cramped and if anything had too much furniture in it. There was no wardrobe to speak of just some hangers extending out from a couple of poles, I used a small round table for my suitcase and headed out. The location of the hotel is minutes away from the main shopping streets where there plenty of restaurants and branching off more streets with restaurants and shops, it was all somewhat familiar and I even found the branch of Loft that I had mistaken to be in Tokyo, in anticipation of the hot weather to come and with the added bonus of a sale I bought myself a cap.

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What I hadn’t realized when making my itinerary was that the Gion Matsuri was coming up in Kyoto, of which I will go into in further detail in upcoming posts. It was both strange and familiar being back in Kyoto, the air was humid, the voices a mixture of American English, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, French and Spanish in and around the streets.

I chose to eat Okonomiyaki that evening, which is a savoury type of pancake which is made with various ingredients and cooked on a hot plate, in some places it’s cooked for you, in others you cook it yourself. The batter is made mainly from water, flour, eggs and cabbage. To this then different ingredients like pork, squid, spring onions can be added in any combination, yakisoba (fried noodles) can also be incorporated.

I went to a restaurant called Hana Tanuki.

I ordered the Special Tanuki Okonomiyaki although first things first I did have this… 😉 🙂

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I can’t remember which mix I had with my okonomiyaki and I suspect I might have eaten something else as well…

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With my belly full and buoyed with a nice cold beer or was it two, I ambled back to my hotel and picked up a couple of bread rolls from the nearby convenience store for breakfast and slept well.

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