Japan 2015 — Day 14: Kyoto

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On our first vis­it to Kyoto, we left hav­ing seen all the major (and some minor) temples and not much else. Indeed, we saw so many, most of them became a blur in our memor­ies (but we have pho­tos!). So, after skip­ping Kyoto in 2014, I’d man­aged to con­vince D this time around that there are indeed things oth­er than temples in Kyoto, an easy 40 minute train trip from Osaka on a rap­id train or in 15 minutes on the shinkansen for 2.5x the price.

We’re head­ing towards the last few days of our trip in Japan, and D and I have fallen into our habits of sleep­ing in. Running late, we find break­fast after arriv­ing in Kyoto.

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Heading out of the exit for Gion at Keihan Railway Gion-Shijo Station, we’re greeted by crowds.

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We find out it’s the geishas stand­ing out­side the Minamiza Kabuki theatre, allegedly the ‘best place in Japan to see kabuki’.

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I join the large crowds wield­ing cam­er­as — how often do we see geisha? People wear­ing kimonos, yes, but not geiko or maiko (the lat­ter evid­enced by the loosely hanging scar­let-fringed col­lar of the kim­ino, the stripes of bare skin exposed on their nape, and the ware­shinobu hairstyle).

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Above the entrance to the theatre are ukiyo-e prints (of kabuki actors?).

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Having stumbled right into one of the most quint­es­sen­tially Kyoto of exper­i­ences upon arrival, we con­tin­ue down Shijo Avenue towards Hanami-koji Street. On the way we pass by a cari­ca­ture of Matsuko Deluxe (a pop­u­lar Japanese TV per­son­al­ity known for his cross-dress­ing stage per­sona) hold­ing mom­iji. We first came across him in 2011, and it took us four years to fig­ure out his name, through some Google-fu involving search­ing for the Japanese TV guide and then trans­lat­ing it into English one night while watch­ing a TV show fea­tur­ing him in our hotel room.

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Before we hit Hanami-koji Street, we stumble into the grand open­ing of a pull candy store. We spoil our appet­ites with samples of azuki and yuzu candy, but can’t find either being sold as indi­vidu­al fla­vours. Instead, we head across the street into Tully’s Coffee for breakfast.

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This Tully’s Coffee is decked out in dark wood and chan­deliers, with a full English menu and staff speak­ing flu­ent English.

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We have a break­fast com­pan­ion! D and I join the Tully’s bear for break­fast and even flip through one of the pic­ture books in front of him.

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D has a hot­dog with an iced cof­fee, while I have the salad pizza bacon and mar­ina with a Cabernet & Strawberry Tea.

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I thought the pizza would be too doughy but it was just right and the innards deli­cious — noth­ing like some cheese to bind everything togeth­er. The only thing miss­ing from the salad of lettuce and car­rots was some juicy tomatoes.

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The Cabernet & Strawberry tea (left) is a black tea with 20% fruit juice from red wine grapes in Cabernet Sauvignon, topped with fresh straw­ber­ries. The grapes bring a mel­low sweet­ness to the drink while the straw­ber­ries add punches of sweet and sour to the tea. Yum!

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Having a closer look at their menu, it seems they call their ice blen­ded drinks swirkles. Interesting choice of (non)word.

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Freshly ener­gised we head across to the Gion area around Hanami-koji Street.

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Gion is fam­ous for its high con­cen­tra­tion of tra­di­tion­al wooden machiya mer­chant houses, which are now filled with res­taur­ants and chaya. There aren’t too many shops, though.

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The houses in the dis­trict were built with nar­row facades only five to six meters wide as prop­erty taxes were formerly based upon street front­age. Each house extends up to twenty meters in from the street, though.

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At the end of the Hanami-koji area is Kenninji Temple.

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Kenninji Temple is con­sidered to be one of the “five most import­ant Zen temples of Kyoto”, and claims to be the old­est of the five.

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It’s not as charm­ing as we’d ima­gined, though it’s prob­ably more atmo­spher­ic at night when the geiko and maiko entertain.

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This is Kaburenjo Hall and Yasaka Hall (behind), both of which are blatantly geared towards inter­na­tion­al tour­ists. Maiko and geiko give present­a­tions in the former, while the lat­ter has one-hour crash courses in sev­en of Kyoto’s pro­fes­sion­al per­form­ing arts — kyo­gen clas­sic­al com­edy, kyomai dance, gagaku music, koto harp, bun­raku pup­pet theat­er, the tea cere­mony, and flower arrangement.

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There aren’t too many shops along the street, so we’re through the area rather quick.

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We pass by this rather fancy look­ing Lawson with its mono­chro­mat­ic and wooden palette.

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Opposite the Lawson we bump into an Irish Pub. Pretty ordin­ary, right?

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Except for their quirky sign invit­ing cus­tom­ers inside.

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We see some sak­ura dec­or­ated fencing.

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And after just a short walk, we’re at the Shirakawa area of Gion. It’s rather quiet.

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As you approach, the road forks out into a Y shape at the Shinto Shrine.

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The left fork is the one that runs next to Shirakwa canal. We see ojis­ans with their fol­dup chairs paint­ing the view.

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The area imme­di­ately left of the shrine has tamagaki (fence of the shrine) and a notice board.

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The tamagaki fea­ture names of fam­ous people who have vis­ited the shrine.

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This geisha dis­trict is a lot quieter than the earli­er one. Here, we see a couple donned in tra­di­tion­al dress, fol­lowed by a pho­to­graph­er tak­ing pho­tos of them.

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On the oppos­ite side of the canal are shops and teahouses.

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There’s an art gal­lery of sorts along the street with these pretty lan­terns lin­ing the entrance hall.

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This tea house has a par­tic­u­larly beau­ti­ful entrance framed by maples.

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Shirakawa is Kyoto’s ‘most beau­ti­ful street’ lined with wil­lows, maples and cherry blossoms.

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At the oth­er end of the street we find a small shrine.

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And some red umbrel­las with make­shift stone seats.

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And with that, we cross to the west of the river.

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It’s a scramble crossing.

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Australia is so vast that we don’t get the lux­ury of moun­tain­scapes in the sub­urbs. We can see the Blue Mountains from Sydney but they’re much furth r away.

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The west side of the river is much busier than the east.

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D and I idle around this inter­sec­tion try­ing to con­nect to wifi to find a 7-Eleven with an ATM.

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Walking towards Teramachi Street, we stumble into the Sanrio store to be greeted by a Hello Kitty in a kimono and vari­ous oth­er char­ac­ters hanging from the ceiling.

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We find Gudetama, a lazy egg, rather endear­ing. There’s even a make­shift shrine to him in the store (not for sale).

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Passing by anoth­er Floresta Nature Doughnuts, we spot the frog and vari­ous bears that we’d missed in Hiroshima. Alas, they don’t taste as good as deep fried doughnuts.

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One of the things we’d tried last trip in Tokyo that we were very keen to try again, was the corn pot­tage fla­voured chips at First Kitchen. Throughout our trip, we were dis­ap­poin­ted to not find any stores in west­ern Japan. That is, until we reach Kyoto! This is the 1000th First Kitchen store in Japan.

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These corn pot­tage fla­voured chips are deli­cious. Corn pot­tage is homey and chips are com­fort­ing carbs — there is noth­ing bet­ter. Now I just need a way to eat these more often without, you know… Travelling to par­tic­u­lar areas of Japan.

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Outside First Kitchen is the entrance to Nishiki Market.

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We make it about 50m down Nishiki Market before we take a detour to the 7-Eleven to vis­it the ATM and find a cheap drink as we’re super thirsty after the salty chips

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On a side street facing an ele­ment­ary school is this Western-style build­ing covered in vines.

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It’s not too far to the 7-Eleven, and we try the yuzu and lem­on cider. Refreshing as always!

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We take a detour back to Teramachi Street (we’ll head back to Nishiki Market later).

A sign out­side this sukiyaki res­taur­ant explains the his­tory and ori­gin of Teramachi Street.

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Opposite the plaque explain­ing Teramachi Street, there’s a res­taur­ant serving crab.

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Round the corner, we stumble into the biggest Lupicia store we’ve seen. It has the entire col­lec­tion avail­able with samples for you to sniff. It is amaz­ing. I wish I could just take this store home with me!

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There are three teas avail­able only in their Kyoto store: Karakuro (yuzu and plum green tea), Tattoo (longan jas­mine black tea) and Houjicha and Cinnamon. Their Kyoto loc­a­tion is also the only store in Japan to offer tax-free shopping.

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I’m keen on many teas at this Lupicia store, but not this onion peel tea.

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I’m temp­ted by this tast­ing cup set, but decide on the Hario One Cup Steeper instead.

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We make our way to the end of the covered Teramachi Street before turn­ing back. There’s Ippodo a fur­ther walk down the street, but Lupicia is more my type of store.

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We spot a store selling toys made from mech­an­ic­al parts.

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Chips haven’t sat­is­fied our crav­ing for First Kitchen so we’re back at the inter­sec­tion of Teramachi and Sanjo Streets for lunch. They sell KitKats for Cafe here.

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With our meal sets, we get the kogashi but­ter shoyu (soy sauce and but­ter) fla­voured chips (left) and curry and cheese fla­voured chips (right). The kogashi but­ter shoyu chips are addict­ively more­ish, while the curry and cheese chips were more curry than cheese and tasted like the curry fla­voured pop­corn we had at Disneyland in 2014.

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I have a tomato based spa­ghetti with egg­plant and bacon. This was tasty — the egg­plant was tender and firm and the bacon gave salty bursts of fla­vour. Yum!

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D tries their sig­na­ture Premium Bacon and Egg Burger. He was very pleased with it, and I ima­gine it’d taste like a more awe­some ver­sion. Of a bacon McMuffin.

All the meal sets come with a drink, and of course, being in Japan, we choose mel­on soda.

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We spend the entire time we’re eat­ing lunch on the second storey of First Kitchen watch­ing this taiyaki store. The store is hugely pop­u­lar with a con­stant stream of cus­tom­ers. What’s most fas­cin­at­ing, though, is watch­ing the guy on the left work like a well oiled machine. The left cab­in­et is for cus­tard filled taiyaki, while the right cab­in­et is for the tra­di­tion­al azuki bean filling.

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We back back down Shinkyogoku to Nishiki Market.

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The mar­ket is teem­ing with people, just as it was this morning.

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We pass by this sea­weed store, which is rather unremarkable .…

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…except for the scale rep­lica of their store, which is pretty true to life!

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There are shops selling vari­ous pickled foods.

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There’s a store near the end of Nishiki Market enti­cing cus­tom­ers with potato chips covered in chilli powder — the kind that sets your mouth on fire.

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D buys some to sprinkle on his Pringles, as he’s forever dis­ap­poin­ted that chilli fla­voured chips are either too sweet or just warm.

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We reach the west­ern end of Nishiki Market.

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There are beau­ti­ful prints depict­ing vari­ous pro­duce — a roost­er, some fish, a pump­kin — hanging out­side the west­ern end.

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I’ve read that Nishiki Market, unlike the Ometocho Market in Kanazawa, is geared more towards tour­ists. You’d be unlikely to find loc­als doing their gro­cery shop­ping here.

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Back out­side the mar­ket, we see one of the many shrines relo­cated from areas in Kyoto to the east side of Teramachi street (oppos­ite the first First Kitchen we visited).

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Further to the east, par­al­lel to Teramachi Street is Shinkyogoku Street, a step down from the more ‘refined’ stores of Teramachi.

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Dozens of paper lan­terns are hung out­side the shrine.

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By now, it’s dark out. We had ini­tial plans to vis­it the Kyoto Imperial Palace, but we opted to explore the shops instead. No regrets, though, as we saw parts of Tokyo we’d not seen before.

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Walking back towards the Keihan Gion-Shijo train sta­tion, we see Minamiza Kabuki theatre lit up at night.

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Back in Osaka, we vis­it the 7-Eleven out­side one of the exits to Tanimachikyuchome Station and try out the yuzu lem­on drink — we really can­not get enough of yuzu fla­voured things!

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After a short rest, we head back out to the Coco Ichibanya Curry House near our accommodation.

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We’d spot­ted it dur­ing the first leg of our trip and inten­ded to come back. It always blows our mind that their menu can be so ridicu­lously extens­ive and yet run by at most three staff mem­bers with speedy service.

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I con­vince D that he needs to eat some veget­ables so we order a salad. I try to leave D a few corn ker­nels before inhal­ing the rest (I love corn!).

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D orders the curry dish that comes with chick­en cooked three ways — chick­en pieces in the curry, katsu chick­en, and kar­age. He loves his meat, and it’s deli­ciously juicy and tender here.

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I stick to my favour­ite crab cream cro­quette, but this time I swap out the asami clams for egg­plant. The cro­quettes nev­er fail to impress, while the egg­plant is a bit on the oily side, but still tasty non­ethe­less. Next time, I might get clams and egg­plant with my crab cream cro­quettes! Yum!

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It’s really quite cold out­side, so the per­fect time for ice cream! So, to fin­ish off the night, we head to Family Mart for this wafer cone. The ice cream tends to be a lot more ici­er in Japan than we’re used to in Australia, which is per­fect for lactose intol­er­ant people like me.