Well, this is the home stretch. We're (hopefully) home by the time this gets posted. It's a place where Mother Nature intervened the last time we were here, so we wanted to take care of some unfinished business.
Which we managed to do. Along with enjoying the colors of the season.
We managed to revisit a couple of our favorites.
And got to meet up with one of my favorite food bloggers and catch up on things.
And try a few we had on our list as well.
We even made a side trip to a place with ties to San Diego!
So please enjoy Cathy's and Ed from Yuma's posts while I regroup.
The Missus had made some plans for our third day in Kyoto. Unfortunately, the impending arrival of Typhoon Vongfong made us change our plans a bit. Masae, the owner of our Machiya kept us apprised of the Typhoon situation, as did Kat. So instead of doing the Philosopher's Walk, we headed off to Shijo-dori to wander around and do some shopping.
Strangely, most things seemed like business as usual. We walked through the Gion and over the bridge, first heading to Nishiki Market, which, unlike the mass of humanity we encountered on our first day in Kyoto was quite sedate at this time of the day.
A handful of businesses were closed, but for most it was just another day it seemed. Like these two who were out scrubbing the walkway in fornt of their shop.......right before a Typhoon?
My favorite stop was the knife shop....with all the handmade scissors and knives.
At the east end of Nishiki Market on Teramachi street is Nishiki Tenmangu Shrine.
The lanterns are quite stunning.
The water that comes from the deep well in the shrine is supposed to be so pure and clean that it has no odor and the temperature is usually at a steady 65 degrees.
The shopping arcades were quite empty at this time of the morning......in startk contrast to our previous visit to the area.
We couldn't help but notice all the "Kyoto drip" gear in a shop called Holly's Cafe as we walked past.
The Missus, who's become a bit of a coffee nerd over the last year just had to stop. So I had a nice Kyoto cold brew....which was very cheap compared to the states....like about $2.50 or so!
It was a nice and relaxing break.......sitting and watching the folks walk by on a slightly wet Sunday morning.
Refreshed we headed off, across the Kamo River for the umpteenth time.
On the corner of Hanamikoji and Shijo streets the Missus found a bustling shop.....full of make-up and other stuffs. One of the objectives of this trip was to stock up on various brands and products, so the Missus was in heaven.
The store was a outpost of Yojiya a time honored Kyoto brand known for their facial blotting paper. The Missus had a blast and purchased a good number of gifts.
We'd done a pretty good job of passing the time and the Missus was getting hungry. She was still craving that karaage from Karako, so we headed up Higashishoji-dori, first stopping off to unload our purchases.
Unfortunately, Karako was closed due to the impending storm. I recalled a couple of shops across the street and we found one of them open. We decided on eating here based on the plastic food display.
No English spoken, but not a big deal..... I had the Tempura Soba, which was nice and hot.
The Missus had been wanting to have a Katsudon, one of Her favorite dishes since we got to Japan, so She got Her wish...though what She really wanted was a Chicken Katsudon, which seemed to be pretty rare.....anyway, She finally got a katsudon.
She actually enjoyed the miso soup the most. As for the katsudon? I think it did the job, though She did tell me; "you know what....you make a pretty good katsudon."
Usually, when we travel, I get some aches and pains from all the walking......with the Missus making fun of all the "grandpa" noises I make. On this trip, I could tell that all the walking was taking a toll on the Missus as well. Somehow, it just made all my aches feel that much better....I guess sharing the wealth does that to you.
Heading back for a post lunch nap we passed this shop.
This place specialized in Yatsuhashi, one of the most well known confections of Kyoto.
We decided to get a few nama yatsuhashi....the soft, unbaked version to try.
I'm not big on sweets and the Missus doesn't care for cinnamon flavored confections, so while it was nice to try these, I don't think we'll be racing back to buy any.
We headed back in a rather roundabout way, taking our time. It had started to rain intermittently, the sky was getting pretty dark, and the wind was starting to pick up.
Even the ducks in Shirakawa Canal seemed to think something was up as they all faced the same direction....upstream.
We headed back to the machiya, the Missus took a nice long bath, and I worked on a post. We'd been going at a pretty good pace so an easy day was a nice treat and just what we needed.
After a short nap we awoke and decided to take a walk around. It was starting to rain pretty hard and the wind was blowing pretty good.....but there were still quite a few people and cars out and about.
We wandered around a bit, then headed back....
Meanwhile, many of the shops in the shopping arcade started closing up early. Even with all of this; things just seemed to happen at a very relaxed pace. Before leaving Tokyo, we chatted with Reiko about the Typhoon. She said, "yes Kirk-san, there will be some rain, maybe some wind......." Some rain? Maybe some wind?
Darkness seemed to fall quickly, like someone pulling a shade down. The big question was, "what are we going to eat?" There was always picking something up at Family Mart....you could basically live out of convenience stores in Japan....though I'm not quite sure what your sodium levels would be after a couple of weeks.
We'd noticed a gyoza shop right around the corner from the shopping arcade the previous day. This seemed like a simple, light meal.
Just one of the many shops you see everywhere.... Serving basically one thing; here it's gyoza, with a few small "salads" on the menu. And cold beer......nice, cold, and refreshing beer.
The gyoza was as good a gyoza can be; crisp on the bottom, the filling nice and light....nothing like a good guotie, mind you, but still good.
We actually enjoyed the onion salad more.
Earlier in the evening, Kat sent me a text, reminding me to pick up some snacks since we wouldn't be going out and about this evening. Thanks Kat! So on the way back, we dropped by the market, which was pretty busy........ I guess everyone was buying some snacks on typhoon night!
So that's what we did as typhoon Vongfong passed. The Missus was upstairs reading....while I turned on a television for the first time during this whole trip and watched storm reports....
While having a couple of beers and some snacks.
Sometime before drifting off to sleep the Missus said, "you owe me......another trip to Kyoto". I told Her, "no problem, we can come back anytime you want." We have unfinished business here. Which I'm hoping to take care of in the near future.
On the way back to the machiya, we ran into Masae, the owner of the property and also the craft beer bar in the shopping arcade. We asked her about finding some tea. She recommended a visit to Ippodo Tea. So after a nice shower and a short nap, we headed off to find Ippodo. Up Higashioji-dori, then west on Marutamachi, crossing the Kamo River.....left on Teramachi-dori right when you hit Kyoto Imperial Palace Park......about four block down, you'll find Ippodo.
The shop and the connected Kaboku Tearoom, where you learn to make and also taste various teas was doing some brisk business. One of the young ladies spoke excellent English. We didn't have time to dally, but she went over all the main types of tea with the Missus and we got to sample a few. We ended up purchasing a few packages.....which the Missus loves. I'm thinking we'll be back.
Ippodo Tea Teramachi-dori Nijo, Nakagyo-ku Kyoto
We really weren't sure of exactly where our dinner destination was. I'd heard of a place serving rustic wild game; I recall the term "mountain food" a couple times when reading about the place. It really didn't take us long to find the place. Masae pointed out it was near the Hotel Heiannomori, right past Okazaki Shrine.
The rabbit is the spirit of the shrine and is also said to house the god and goddess of easy childbirth.
It's a nice peaceful place to visit.
Right past the shrine, you can't help but locate Okariba. You can't miss the signs. The place is dark, warm, and very rustic looking. The trappings are simple; a large grill in the middle of the room; beer kegs lie about, the lines drawn to the taps. The owner is a very gentle and soft-spoken bespeckled gentleman named Aoki-san....whose mild manner belies the name of the place; "Hunting Ground" as well as the firearms hanging on the wall.
The Missus took a quick look at the sake bottles on one of the tables and said; "he has his own sake, with the name of the place on it."
And so we sailed off on our maiden voyage at Okariba, with simple, but nicely braised slices of daikon and aburage.
The sake was mild and sweet, but really, this type of food called for beer. After starting with this; it was beer all the way.
Things started off with what is probably the signature dish here (though folks who came in later all ordered trout); the grilled wild boar. Wonderful, surprisingly tender chunks of wild boar with a classic Japanese marinade and tare; smokey from the charcoal, slightly sweet, nicely porky, but mild. The portion size was quite a surprise for us; this is enough for two or three to start.
We weren't going to Kyushu, but I knew I could get a specialty of that area here; basashi - horse sashimi. I really love the flavor of horse; I know, it's not PC.....but it's not endangered either, right?
This was very nice; served just slightly frozen, just the way I was told it shoud be, the flavor is quite clean, with a mild sweet finish. The texture is like beef, with a tad more toothfullness. I love this dish.....
Arriving with the basashi was a combination of preserved vegetables and something else....more on that in a bit. I grew up eating items like takana-zuke, so I loved the pickled greens. I'd never had fuki-miso, basically akunuki butterbur, stirfried with miso, then preserved.
The most interesting thing was the "Inago" - locusts, which had been glazed with a wonderful sweet mirin-soy. These were nice and crisp and so sweet and salty....going well with beer.
The Missus's favorite dish by far was the hobamiso.......
A wonderful, savory, but not salty miso with mushrooms and scallions grilled on a leaf. It was funny; we thought we were doing pretty well; but Aoki-san came by......and decided he needed to show us how it was done....it became this wonderful, miso-mess of flavors.
This just screamed for another beer; so we ordered one. And were soon surprised with this....Aoki-san brought it over and said "gift-tu"..... Some nice home made tofu.
Then another "gift"....this was fantastic. I'd never had Wasabi-zuke before. This was wonderful; made from the leaves and stems of the wasabi plant; on occasion you'd get a super pungent bite, but the flavors were amazing, sweet-pungent-bitter-sour-salty...totally my kind of dish.
When this arrived, I just thought I needed to have another beer.....he's giving us free food. So I had another beer....at which time fried tofu arrived.
By this time I figured out...the more we drank, the more stuff would be coming out. I'd better quit here or we'd be literally rolling back! If there was a time I wished we could tip in Japan, it was here. The warmth and hospitality made me want to do something. I should have brought some omiyagi, or something......
We decided to follow the Shirakawa canal through Gion. I took this photo on one of the cement bridges, the type with no handrails that passes over the canal near Shinbashi.
Crossing over the Kamo river, we then headed up, the now busy Ponto-chō, restaurants now going full tilt.
As we passed by a hair salon, something caught my eye. I pointed out the one guy doing "hair" in the salon, which was closed to the Missus. She said, "yeah, he's doing hair, so what?" I told Her to take a look....that head had no body! He was actually working on a wig placed on a mannequin head. I'm not sure if this is SOP....but it just seemed a bit, well, strange......
And finally, there as Shijo-dori....while not crazy as Tokyo; which seems to actually be pulsating with it's own heartbeat, the crowds and objective sure were a contrast to the Gion.
The Missus really seemed to take to Kyoto. The size, the crowds, the shops, were just Her speed.
At this point, we decided to head back.......the Missus was tired for a change.
As we crossed Furumozen-dori, we noticed some activity up ahead. Lanterns, laughter, drums......and strange specters seemed to float ahead.
Suddenly we both remembered. Masae had told us that Awata Matsuri was happening this weekend. This was the Awata Jinja Lantern Festival! We were told that one of the key points of the Matsuri was that this was the day when both the Buddhist and Shinto Priests actually get together and celebrate together.
Then of course, there's the inevitable intermingling that occurs when everyone takes a break at Family Mart!
Once things got started, we quickly made it back to the machiya. Why? Well, because the lantern parade went right through the shopping arcade, right past where we were staying.....
It's quite amazing. The paradox, the new, modern, somewhat glitzy, but there's always the respect for tradition that pulls things in....bringing order to things.
And also very thankful. For the fire control, who instantly put out all the burning embers from the fire which was placed on the ground for some symbolic reason. Once it was lifted back up, they sprung into action and made sure everything on the ground was put out in the blink of an eye.......that's Japan in a microcosm.
Having started our day before 5 in the morning, we'd walked at least 7-8 miles easily. The Missus, for the first time I can recall was totally bushed. It had been quite a day. I'd planned our "red-lettered day" in Tokyo; starting with Tsukiji Market and meals at Michelin starred Sushi Iwa and Suzunari. And while that was an epic and unforgettable day. This rather unscripted, hastily planned day was its equal.....Sushi Iwa and Suzunari showed me the skill, execution, and polish of a great restaurant. Karako and Okariba displayed the heart and soul......each has its place in my eating universe.
Our first day in Kyoto was pretty tiring......I gotta admit, I get pretty wiped out when we travel; but man, the Missus was totally fried as well. I was asleep before my head hit the pillow and up before 5am. After encountering the crowds at Fushimi Inari the day before, I just knew that the best way to experience the place would be early in the morning or late at night. So we got on the Tozai line, transferred at Yamashina to the Biwa line, got off at Kyoto Station, which wasn't quite as confusing as the previous and got on the Nara line....getting off at Inari Station. Fushimi Inari-taisha is literally right across the street.
Fushimi Inari is the head shrine of Inari Okami, the Kami.....which is hard to describe in English, let's just say it's the spirit, god, or deity of most importantly, rice, but also fertility, sake, and foxes...... which, if I recall serve as messengers for the Kami. At the entrance of the shrine, you'll see a statue of a fox (no, it's not a "doggie") holding the key to the granary. I remember learning about the kitsune serving the rice god in elementary school....funny what you recall at odd moments in life.
For most folks......us included, the most stunning feature of Fushimi Inari are the 30,000 plus gates that line the paths up the mountain, which is also named Inari. Each torii (gate) is paid for and donated by businesses....which you totally forget about when you see it.
It is both beautiful and haunting seen at dawn with nary another person around. Just the sound of your footsteps and the wind whispering through the trees.
No loud chatter or folks brandishing "selfie poles".
This is what I saw in my mind's eye when I thought of Kyoto.
After taking in the atmosphere of Fushimi Inari, we headed back to Inari Station, got back on the Nara line, getting off at the first stop at Tokufuji and hopping on the Keihan line, getting off at Kiyomizu-Gojo. from there it's about a 20-25 minute walk past all the shops.
This most well known feature of this temple complex is the veranda of the main hall, which has great views of Kyoto. Though, I think more people take photos of people taking photos on the veranda.
I understand that not a single nail is used for any structure in the temple complex.....
Heading past the three story pagoda and down below the main hall is Otowa Waterfall. Drinking of the water from the waterfall is supposed to bring good health and a long life.
So of course the Missus had to partake!
Heading back down the mountain, you'll notice some steps and a sign to your right, this leads to Sannenzaka, then Nannenzaka. Two well preserved neighborhoods.
This was one of the most pleasant walks we had on our trip. It was early, with few tourists, so you could really enjoy the restored structures. It felt like a trip back in time.
We took a break at a little shop near Yasaka Pagoda and Kodai-ji Temple.
The coffee....all pour over, was great and restorative. We made plans for what we'd do on our next leg. It was nice respite.
We'd head up to Maruyama Park and Chion-in Temple.
Somehow, we got a little of course and ended up at Higashi Otani Honganji. There was a large service going on.....
As we righted our course and headed toward Maruyama Park, we could hear country and western music playing.....the singing was of course, in Japanese. Apparently there was a Country and Western Music Festival close by....it was just another one of those strange and rather surreal moments.
Past the park is Chion-in Temple, which was going though some major restoration at the time of our visit.
By now we were "hitting the wall". We'd seen the places we really wanted to see and temple fatigue was setting in. It was time to change our focus.....so we headed bacl to the machiya to freshen up...and then off to lunch.
We had decided on a ramen shop I had heard off named Karako. The address 12-3 Okazaki Tokusei-cho was a bit difficult, but it looked like it was right on Higashioji-dori....which is kind of where we found the place.
We were the first customers to arrive and the older gentleman pointed to some seats at the end of the counter.
We quickly placed our order and he spoke the only English I heard our whole time there, pointing to the hijiki, tofu, and green salad on the counter he said, "helpu you self....."
The prices were very reasonable - ¥650 for the Kotteri Ramen.
The chashu was wonderful, full of flavor, just melt in you mouth delicious. The noodles were fine, just chewy enough. In spite of being "kotteri", as in extra rich, the broth really lacked the tongue coating texture and the richness in flavor I enjoy. This was my least favorite bowl of ramen during our trip.
The Missus got the Chashu Rice Bowl ¥320 - which had the wonderful chashu.
The one item which was a total surprise was the karaage. It has got to be one of the best I've ever had.
Light and crisp, moist and succulent, with wonderful flavor, a touch of ginger, slightly sweet, shoyu tones, and something else.....deep and savory. And a bargain at ¥500 - like five bucks!
This was just fantastic fried chicken......probably worth a side trip to Kyoto!
A few minutes after we sat, folks started streaming in. The older gentleman ordered the special, which was a bowl of ramen, a bowl of rice, and chicken....which turned out to be an entire order...five pieces for ¥880!
We kept watching to see how he heck he was going to finish his food...well, he's got his own system down. He ate the ramen and took the rice and chicken to go!
We actually tried to return to Karako the next day, but they were closed.....bummer. But hey, next time we know what to order, don't we? As in this old saying.
Karako 12-3 Okazaki Tokusei-cho Kyoto
There was of course, a requisite short nap after this lunch, so we headed back. Little did we know that we'd be having another wonderful experience for dinner.
One of the great things about train stations in Japan is the abundance of storage lockers. For about five bucks US, you get a good sized locker for the whole day. Since we left Tokyo quite early in the morning we arrived way before check in time at the residence where we were staying. We managed to stow our bags....we travel light, I have a Tri-Star and the Missus an Aeronaut 30, which She loves. How the Missus ended up agreeing with me about Her Aeronaut is a story for another day. Anyway, these two bags are European carry-on size and we can easily travel for a month (or more) with what we pack in these bags......mine weighed out at 9 kilos for this trip.
For some reason, we found Kyoto Station to be bit confusing....Tokyo Station was a slam dunk; but Kyoto Station just seemed like a maze at first. After finding the gates to the JR Nara line, which wasn't that hard, we got on the train.....which ended up being the Express, which bypasses the Inari Station! We actually didn't feel too bad, since there were at least a dozen people (all Japanese) who did the same thing. We got off at the first express stop after Inari Station and headed back...with the other folks who took the wrong train and made it to Fushimi-Inari.
Our first impressions of Fushimi Inari-Taisha? It was so strikingly beautiful.......and so crowded!
And while we could enjoy the vibrancy and character to the shrine; the packed crowds, the noise (remember we had spent a couple of days in Tokyo, so it's all relative), and the lines to walk through the colorful torii (gates), were just a bit too much for us. I told the Missus that the shrine opens at dawn.....if we woke early enough, we could get here at dawn, and really enjoy the place.....so we decided to return the next morning. We'd bundle Fushimi Inari and Kiyomizu-dera for the next morning.
Having read enough about our travel, I'm sure you realize that the Missus was not going to stop and proceed to sit on Her hands. She decided we should walk up the street...... It was an interesting walk as the shops gave way to temples, several of which we walked through.....ending up at the impressive gate of Tōfuku-ji.
This massive Sanmon is the oldest in Japan and is considered a national treasure.
The Dragon painting on the ceiling in the Hondou (Main Hall) is by famous Kyoto-born artist Insho Domoto.
The temple is known for the stone and moss gardens and the Tsuutenkyo Bridge.
I can just imagine what this view would be like during autumn when all the leaves turn color!
There are many temples and shrines in the area.....
So we just meandered around.......
We ended up at Shorinji Temple.....
It was nearing noon and our check in time, so we headed down the hill to Tokufuji Station, back to Kyoto Station, where we got confused again....this time trying to remember where our locker was. Once located we headed off to our destination. A Machiya in the Southern Higashiyama area.
First off, the owner wasn't kidding when she said it was one minute from Higashiyama Station....it was literally one minute! Located in a shopping arcade - Furukawacho shopping arcade, this is among the top ten places we've ever stayed....it was huge; two floors, a large kitchen, an awesome bath....of course the sleeping arrangement was traditional Japanese.
Masae was fantastic, so organized, she even had a map of the area around the arcade, with restaurants and shops listed. There was a typhoon, Vongfong headed our way....she kept us appraised via emails. She made our stay wonderful.
Meanwhile, we had asked Reiko about things we should buy in Kyoto. While on the way to the Machiya, Reiko mentioned getting a Furoshiki. And Masae knew just the spot. A few blocks away was Kakefuda. The Missus was taken with the various patterns. The young man here did a demo....a couple of times, showing the Missus how to do some of the basic tying methods. Somehow, no matter how many times She's practiced....it just doesn't look quite right. That's alright though......the Missus got something for herself from Kyoto.
We then headed West, over the Kamo River, finding Nishiki Market. Man, this placed was packed. It was wall to wall people. My first instinct was to bail....but the Missus was hungry and getting a bit grumpy, so we decided to hunt for some "snacks", starting out with an ok Takoyaki....kind of too soggy for my taste. It was just meh......very dull...so I'm thinking a black and white photo describes it best.
We came across a stand selling Hamoyaki; grilled conger eel brushed with a tare. They had a little standing table and we really wanted a respite from the masses. This was actually pretty good. Hamo is very mild in flavor, so it's basically a palette for the tare. We really enjoyed the light texture of the eel.
We made our way further down the market and something caught the Missus' eye.
This place made yakimanju and yakimochi....grilled rice cakes. We tried a yakimanju....
I have to say....I love the fragrance of these....but as a whole, I'm not a fan of yakimochi and this was basically the same thing.
Nothing amazing, but enough to keep us going......we spent the rest of the afternoon shopping around Shijo-dori. When it was time to head back, I asked the Missus what She watned to do for dinner. We'd had a long day; I awoke at 330am and actually did a post. We'd need to wake by at least 5am tomorrow and we were bushed. So, Daimaru's resutoran-gai ("restaurant town") just made sense, especially since the Missus was craving salad, which is rather hard to come by.
This stuff ain't cheap, but the variety is staggering.....as I mentioned previously; large department stores have an entire floor full of food stands and vendors. It's easy to get lost in all of this.
Dinner in hand, we made our way back to the house. Not directly of course......
This thin, alley-like street is named Ponto-chō, it is one of the Hanamachi, Geisha districts in Kyoto. The street runs parallel to the Kamo River and is full of restaurants, bars, and, after being absolutely shocked to see a Geisha walking down the street, Geisha houses I guess?
The wooden buildings and hanging lanterns sure adds to the atmosphere.......
Having come from Shijuku and seeing the Robot Restaurant, then Shibuya and the goth-Hello Kitty chicks, to this in less than three days is something to wrap your head around.
Crossing over to the other side of the Kamo River, we made our way back to where we were staying.
We followed the Shirakawa Canal, into the Gion, another Hanamachi district, and the street folks told me was the most beautiful in all of Japan.
I can see why.......
The sound of the water; the wooden buildings, the trees.....take a photo and ask someone where this is and they'll say, "well, Japan of course....."
Getting back to the machiya, the Missus decided a nice long soak in the wonderful tub was on the agenda. I went upstairs to the sitting area.
I had some tea while watching the folks pass through the marketplace below. There's a meat market and a small convenience type store right across the walkway from the house.
Dinner was a a simple affair......but perfect as we were pretty tired.
As you can see, the Missus got Her "salad fix".
Here's the rather unique Furoshiki the Missus chose. She said it would always remind Her of Kakefuda.
After dinner, we took a walk up Sanjo-dori and some of the side streets in the Gion...packed with bars and Izakayas. There was a Family Mart and a Grocery Store right around the corner from where we were staying as well.
Life is full of happy coincidences. When we arrived, Masae told us that she had just opened a craft beer bar in the same arcade, a few yeards from where we were staying. Really? A craft beer bar? Awesome!
We headed over for a nightcap. The tiny spot was busy, but they found us a small table. Looking at the beer list, I had to crack up; Stone, Lagunitas, Pizza Port, Saint Archer.... you gotta love it!
Of course there was a selection of Japanese craft brews as well. The Missus likes Her sours, so She went with the Morita Kinshachi Fruits Draft Lemon.
I mentioned that we were from San Diego and had recently visited Belgium to Masae....who apparently loves her beer. we had a nice conversation about San Diego breweries, along with a promise that if she visits San Diego, the beer is on us!
I had the Kure Beer Belgian IPA, which was interesting. Less hoppy than an IPA and not veyr boozy; this was on the sweet side and not unpleasant.
Man, it had been quite a long day; from Tokyo and a view of Mount Fuji, to temples, then shopping, and finally a nice quiet self catered dinner, followed by a visit to a craft beer bar......
So this was Kyoto, huh? Though we were dead tired, we were having fun.