Japan 2015 — Day 14: Kyoto


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.


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


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


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).


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


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.


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.


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


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.


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


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.


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!


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


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


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.


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.


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


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.


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


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.


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


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


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


Except for their quirky sign invit­ing cus­tom­ers inside.


We see some sak­ura dec­or­ated fen­cing.


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


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


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


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


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


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.


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


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


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


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


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


And some red umbrel­las with make­shift stone seats.


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


It’s a scramble cross­ing.


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.


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


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


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


Outside First Kitchen is the entrance to Nishiki Market.


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


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


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


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.


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


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!


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.


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


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


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.


We spot a store selling toys made from mech­an­ic­al parts.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


We back back down Shinkyogoku to Nishiki Market.


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


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


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


There are shops selling vari­ous pickled foods.


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.


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


We reach the west­ern end of Nishiki Market.


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


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.


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).


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


Dozens of paper lan­terns are hung out­side the shrine.


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.


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


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!


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


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.


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!).


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.


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!


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.