Nishiki Market

Kyoto has a kitchen in a vibrant retail market specializing in all things related to food –

assortments

espresso-milk-jam

fresh seafood, fresh produce, fresh fruits, sweets, knives, cookware, etc. – 5 blocks long, lined with more than one hundred shops and restaurants.  This is where to find Kyoto’s specialties and many seasonal foods.

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Located in central Kyoto, this narrow market has supplied Kyoto’s residents with high quality traditional ingredients for centuries.  The history extends some 400 years ago, and many shops are still operated by their founding families.

nishiki-market

A walk down Nishiki-koji will give you a sense of what Kyoto is all about.  This may not appeal to just any visitor, but this can be pure heaven to lovers of food and the kitchen.

teriyaki-squid

figs

fish-roe

In the narrow alleys of the market, the stalls are filled with food items of any kind – some already prepared while others yet to be cooked.  A great place to eat too, with so many intriguing eateries to choose from and we could have, but they close at 5.

sweets

shitake

Local markets, I believe, reflects the culture and economy of a place and visiting these markets is one of my joys in traveling.  Whenever you can on your next trip, go hit the market.  It usually is a plethora of everyday stuff that characterizes a city.

flowers

roasted-mochi

gourds

japanese-slippers

Useful Info

Getting There:  From JR Kyoto Station, take the Karasuma Subway to the Shijo Station.  It is a 5 mins walk to the market.  The market is parallel to Shijo Ave., connected to the Teramachi Shopping arcade.

Nishiki Market
Nishikikōji-dōri between Teramachi & Takakura
Opens daily except Wednesday from 9am – 5pm

The Train Station and The Ramen

steel-and-glass

It is a feast of steel and glass with a concave shape interior that opens to the sky, massive with a 60-mile long atrium and 171 steps of stairs.

171-steps

With a hotel, a shopping mall, a movie theater, a department store, a food court and 2 tourist information centers in one roof, the Kyoto Train Station is a splendid example of modern architecture and somewhat controversial when it was built in the mid ‘90s.

hub

It is, nevertheless, a chic way to enter or leave Kyoto.

platform

It has an old fashion charm to it, but I am partial to traveling by train because not only is it easier on the budget, it is also less of a hassle and more flexible in terms of schedule.  However, purchasing train tickets and finding your way around stations can be confusing if English is not spoken fluently.  We believe that being there a day before to get the tickets and familiarize ourselves with the place makes it less stressful on the day itself.

modern-art

And spending the morning at the incredible Kyoto Train Station was enjoyable.  With the essentials done and over with, we explored the building.

view-from-the-top

stairs

The Cube is a shopping mall that starts at the basement and goes all the way up to the 11th floor.  Kyoto Ramen Koji is on the 10th.  It is a “ramen alley” with seven different ramen shops and a coffee and dessert station.  Choosing a place was a daunting task – never thought ramen could be so complicated.  So we decided to choose the one with the longest line – the popular one, we thought.  The problem was we needed to order through a vending machine, which was all in Japanese.  The restaurant staffs do not speak English and therefore, could not explain the process.  We finally chose Hakata Ikkousha because:

a) girl at the door knew some English.

vending-machine

b) they had the 2nd longest line

waiting-in-lineIt was a long line… really!

c) it also has an English name and it promises to make people happy with their dish.

ikkousha

No way of comparing, we decided that the ramen we had was fantastic, though I could go without the rice with fish roe, which came as a set for  ¥1,000.

ramen

The pork literally melts in the mouth; the broth flavorful and the noodles are al dente.  It could be, by far, our cheapest meal in Kyoto.

chasen

display

On our way out of ramen alley, I could hear the desserts at the corner ever so softly but persistently calling my name.

green-tea-ice-cream-with-mochi

Thank you Chasen, for calling out to me.  You did not disappoint.  The mochi was exceptional.

Useful Info

Kyoto Train Station
901, Higashi-Shiokojicho (JR west)
1-3, Higashi-Shikoji Takakura0cho (JR central)

East of Kyoto: Of Geishas and Wagyu

Their world a mystery to me, my fascination with Geishas is one reason I am walking the streets of Gion.

Gion-Kaikan

To catch a Gion Odori  (a geisha dance performance) at the Gion Kaikan Theater was high on my list of priorities but the timing was off.  So the next best thing is to take the streets where they frequent.

Filled with shops, restaurants and ochoyas (teahouses), Gion is Kyoto’s most celebrated geisha district, Hanami-koji being the most popular.

hanamikoji

The street and side alleys are lined with beautifully preserved traditional wooden townhouses called machiyo.  Many of which have become expensive restaurants, serving Kyoto-style kaiseki ryori (Japanese haute cuisine), some even extend to dance performances by real maiko dancers.

The number of geishas has significantly declined in the last one hundred years and to catch a glimpse, of either a geisha, or a maiko is scarce today.   But despite the dwindling lot, the present “women of art” still practice her skill with the same diligence  as those before her.

More than my fascination with geishas, my obsession with food brought me to Gion.  The best way to get acquainted with the places I visit (in my opinion) is to immerse in the local cuisine.  Japanese food is no exception even if it is arguably among the top in the international cuisine scene these days.  In fact, as I ventured into its different cuisine, I went home with a deeper appreciation and understanding of its food.

shinbanshi-st

The cobbled-stoned Shinbanshi St. is a traditional building preservation area in Gion Shinbanshi.

Shirakawa-canal

The street runs along the Shirakawa canal lined with willow trees, making it one beautiful, scenic stroll.

Shinbanshi

On top of that, it is a restaurant row, most of which overlooks the canal.  We walked the strip of high-end restaurants and teahouses partly in search for a place to dine that evening.

Kamo-River

Pontocho-restos-overlooking-KamoPontocho restaurants overlooking the river transform into a spectacular view at night.

Across the Kamogawa river is Pontocho, said to be home to many geisha houses and traditional teahouses.

pontocho-alley-daytime

The alley that runs parallel to the Kamo River, once a leading geisha district, is also one of Kyoto’s most atmospheric dining areas.  It is packed with a range of dining options, including affordable Yakitori, traditional Kyoto cuisines and private establishments.

Kyoshikian-interior

In this small alleyway, we found Kyoshikian – a well-appointed teppanyaki-style restaurant that had us at Wagyu.

wagyu-dinner

So relieved that we opted to share, as I could only take so much of the beef sirloin due to its intense marbling.

sides

A side of grilled vegetables and seared tuna was perfect to tone down the richness.

pontocho-alley-at-night

Walking back to Shoji-dori, Gion’s main street, after a truly filling dinner, a woman totally made up and in full kimono regalia walked pass me.

shoji-dori-at-nightShoji-dori at night

“There’s a geisha”, I whispered to my friends.  “She could also be a maiko”, one whispered back.

Useful Info:

Gion Kaikan Theater
Address: 323 Gionmachi Kitagawa, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto 
Tel: +81 75 561 0160
Transport: Gion Shijo Station
 
Kyoshikian
Address: 227 Nabeyamachi, Pontocho Shijo-dori Agaru, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto 
Schedules:  click here

East of Kyoto: Shrines, Temples and Garden

Lunch was very satisfying…  and the rain abated after all.  So walk some more we did.

chion-in-entrance-from-street

Chion-in Temple was not easy to find.  The map was confusing.  We walked back and forth several times between the Yasaka Shrine and the Maruyama Park.  It was tiring, walking back and forth looking for the right turn, but the scenery was a sight to behold so I didn’t mind so much.

murayama-trees

Once you find the temple, it isn’t difficult at all, we realized.   We just had to trust our instincts more.

Yasaka-jinja Shrine is a colorful downtown shrine that stands at the end of a main street, Shijodori St.  Long connected with the Kyoto Geisha community centered in the nearby Gion District, the shrine dates back to the 9th century, when it aimed to stop the run of epidemic and other disasters that were afflicting the Kyoto residence at that time.

yasaka-shrine

Many visit the shrine today to pray for good fortune.  The shrine was quiet on our visit with only a few visitors praying.  Come early July, the shrine will be full of visitors as it plays host to the Gion Matsui Festival, a festival to drive away evil spirit.

murayama-pond

Right behind Yasaka Shrine is Maruyama Koen Park.  Best known for its many weeping cherry blossom tree or shidarezakura.

murayama-entrance

It may attract thousands of people for the hanami or the cherry blossom viewing parties in spring, but in autumn, the warm hues of fall can be quite enchanting.

Now this was where we didn’t make the turn.  We should have turned left at the corner where the “tallest” shidarezakura stands, instead we went straight and found ourselves on a road leading to a trail up a hill.

chion-in-steps

Close to the northeast corner of Maruyama is Chion-in Temple, which now serves as the headquarters of the Jodo (Pure Land) sect of Buddhism.

chion-in-entrance

A huge and very popular temple, its colossal front gate is the largest of its kind in Japan, delivering a vision of grandeur.

chion-in-renov

Unfortunately, the main temple is under major maintenance and will not be ready for viewing till 2019.   Yeah…  all the effort for this 🙂

chion-in-looking-out

Useful Info:

Yasaka-jinja Shrine
625 Kitagawa,
Gion-machi, Higashiyama-ku
075-651-6155
*8 minutes walk from Gion-Shijo on Keihan line
 
Maruyama Koen Park
473 Maruyama-cho, Higashiyama-ku
075-222-3586
*5 minutes walk from Gion-Shijo on Keihan line
 
Chion-in Temple
400 Rinko0cho, Higashiyama-ku
075-531-2111
*Take bus 206 and get off at the Chion-in Mae stop.  20 minutes walk to temple
 

East of Kyoto: Southern Higashiyama Neighborhood Walk

higashiyamaCredits: Papers by Designs by Tater from ScrapMatter’s Life’s Little Surprises Kit.

The guesthouse took sometime to find.  Tucked away in a street where cars aren’t allowed.  The driver of our shuttle service eventually found it; he led us into a narrow residential street.

garden-at-entrance

The house is charming, even at night.  A young man let us in, cheerfully welcoming us at 10 in the evening.  The real owners of Yamato Guesthouse are his parents, Kenzo and Nagako.

kenzo-and-Nagako

He was there for the weekend, I figured.  I noticed a group was enjoying some drinks at a corner so I asked if they served dinner — we were hungry, arriving straight from Kansai International Airport.  Of course, they only serve breakfast but they accommodated our request and prepared something simple after seeing our hungry faces.  The other group, it turned out, are friends visiting hence the beer and the snacks – I felt a bit embarrassed about our dinner request.   😯   Such is the hospitality of the Japanese and of our host.

breakfast

Nagako served quite an exquisite breakfast and for 2 days I felt very pampered

The former capital of Japan is famous for its temples and shrines, a beautiful city with tradition and culture filled to the brim.  Kyoto is one of the oldest cities and there is so much to see.  Even just zooming in on an area – the east side – we still barely scratched the surface.  Two whole days is obviously not enough but that was all we had.  We were merely passing through and we made the most of it.

Yamato, I estimate, is a good 10 minutes stroll away from Kiyomizu Temple — actually, it could be 20 if you window shop and ogle at everything interesting along the way.

store-chawanzaka

The neighborhood consists of many interesting stores, delightful cafe and food stalls, which actually make for a pleasant stroll to the temple.

chawanzaka

The street of our guesthouse comes out to Chawan-zaka, it actually leads to the temple but we chose instead to turn into a complex that has several flights of stairs,

asahizaka-mapA map of Asahizaka complex

asahizaka-steps

stores and cafes line the way leading to Kiyomizu-zaka, where we chanced on more stores and tourists.

kiyomizuzaka-from-templeKiyomizu-zaka from the temple

If you turn right, you will end up in Kiyomizu Temple.

kiyomizudera

Inside the temple, the tourists escalated in unbelievable proportion.

tourists

Half way through the temple, we gave up and settled for a much-needed coffee break and cream puffs.

Yatsuhashi-cream-puff

Kiyomizu-dera is perhaps the most beloved of Kyoto’s temples.

kiyomizu-temple-entrance

It is a famous hilltop temple offering sweeping views of the old capital.

view-of-the-city-from-kiyomizudera

Popular with tourist and pilgrims, the temple is part of the Historic Monument of Ancient Kyoto and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The narrow cobbled street of Kiyomizu-zaka (if you walk away from the temple) will lead to Sannen-zaka and Ninen-zaka, a restored neighborhood oozing with old world charm.

Ninenzaka-and-shannenzaka

Both streets are lined with old wooden houses, traditional shops and restaurants.  It is  a good example of the old Kyoto, the Kyoto everyone imagines.  Despite the drizzle, it was a wonderful walk, quite uplifting I must say.

Following the route suggested by Lonely Planet, we found the street the guidebook described as “the most beautiful street in Kyoto”, Ishibei-koji.  It is a quiet alley lined with high-end restaurants and ryokans.  I saw a photographer taking shots of the street at the end of the stone-paved road.  I went to where he stood and this was what came out.

Ishibei-koji

Have to admit that this quiet street has character with its own stories to tell perhaps but to be identified as “the most” beautiful street puts too much pressure don’t you think?  Beauty is indeed in the eyes of the beholder.  Developed primarily as an area for luxurious rental homes, it is presently a favorite site to shoot TV dramas, movies and TV commercials.

At this point, it was already more than drizzling and it didn’t look like it would let up.  We decided it was time for lunch.

Useful Info:

Guest House Yamato
6-539-23 Gojohashihigashi,
Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture
Kiyomizu Temple
1-294 Kiyomizu
Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture