Holiday – Japan: Kyoto

Thurday 18 June

After a late breakfast and check out we left Nikko and caught 2 trains to Tokyo station where we had 30 minutes to grab some lunch for the 3 hr journey to Kyoto.
We rode the super shinkansen train this time which is super fast. The super express shinkansen was super fast. It took less than 3 seconds for a shinkansen travelling in the opposite direction with at least 14 carriages to pass by.
The super express shinkansen was super fast. It took less than 3 seconds for a shinkansen travelling in the opposite direction with at least 14 carriages to pass by
We then arrived in Kyoto which it’s huge.

First stop is a visit to the Nishiki food market which sells all kinds of things and takes about 10 minutes to walk end to end.
Entrance to Nishiki food market which sells all kinds of things and takes about 10 minutes to walk end to end
The Kyoto food market is impressive offering patrons a variety of shops. It’s like a supermarket of sorts but just way better. I tried some soy milk doughnuts which were delicious and just like normal doughnuts but much lighter.
At Nishiki Food Market - grapefruit with a straw stuck in add liquor for extra kick
There are some unusual things too like grapefruit with a straw stick in but spiked with different alcoholic spirits. This is just a stall, not a pub, because there’s heaps of school kids wandering through.
We continued on walking through various parts of Kyoto and getting a feel of the city and all the different foods on offer. By luck we managed to run into some real Geishas.
Koyo-San - Monastery Garden

It’s a beautiful city and there’s plenty of interesting shops to visit. I’m so full so I’m really disappointed I can’t eat all these interesting things.
After a few hours exploring, it was time for dinner and we made our way to a shabushabu restaurant called Gion Gyuzen. It’s all you can eat so you press a button to call for service.

There’s a bowl with two sections – 1 being water, the other a soy sauce broth. The bowl is placed on a stove and it bubbles away.

Place vegetables in either side and cook. Very thin slices of meat are placed in the soy sauce broth with chop sticks and swayed side to side on the mixture for about a minute till the colour of the meat goes brown. This swaying motion to cook the beef is called shabushabu. When done, place vegetables and beef in soy sauce or sesame sauce for additional flavour and eat. It was delicious!
The night's damage after all you can eat shabushabu which was delicious

Friday 19 June

Today we set off to see the Rock Garden and Ryoanji Temple. It’s like a massive Zen garden, peaceful, beautiful, and tranquil. There’s a lovely lake in the center and plenty of moss covers the ground.
Next we walked to the Golden Pavilion. A short while after you have passed through the large Japanese gate that is common in several temples and shrines, you see a 3 storey building in the center off a lake.
The top 2 levels are covered in gold leaf. It’s quite an amazing sight.
Before you know it and it was time for lunch so we headed to restaurant that does a sushi train (Japan invented this idea). This place was really interesting. We sat in booths and there’s a variety of Japanese condiments: soy sauce, sweet light soy, wasabi, and ponzu. There’s a bowl of green tea powder and a hot water tap is nearby to make tea. You can help yourself to water, draught beer, and sake.

On the conveyor belt, each plate has a cover so you lift the plate up which opens the cover and then you remove the plate. Alternatively, there’s an LCD panel which you can order dishes freshly made instead of what’s on the conveyor belt. These dishes come flying on a second conveyor belt above and stop at your table (there’s a line of booths with the conveyor belt to one side). It’s pretty cool and many of us took recordings.
Tempura Prawn in Udon Noodle Soup, Stuffed Sushi
Seared Salmon with Cheese
Prawn Tempura
Our tour guide offered this dish to try so I did: cod’s sperm sushi with ponzu jelly – it’s rich and creamy (a bit like oyster) but balanced with the sweet ponzu jelly and sauce. Tasty.
You can also order other dishes including desserts which I took advantage of. I had soy doughnuts with red bean paste and ice cream and it was amazing! So happy!
The experience is excellent, the food delicious, cheap (each sushi plate is only 100 yen and others cost a little more), and the surronds are comfortable. I wasn’t too hungry so I only had 3 plates, shared 2 others, and got a dessert but that was all less than $10 AUD.

At the end of the meal you need to note how many dishes you had, them you place the dishes in a slot at the table and it quickly disappears on another conveyor belt to the kitchen (and knowing the Japanese, probably goes straight into a dishwasher!). Each lot of 5 plates plays a game on the screen. If you win, a prize is made available (like a Kinder surprise). You press a button, the waitstaff note how much you’ve eaten and mark a slip which you take to a cashier and you’re done.
Time to catch the bus again and walk some more. We went to the bamboo forest which is man made but very peaceful and tranquil. Each part of the walk is different and some sections are pretty amazing.
We walked more to an area called Arashiyama which goes uphill but then reveals a lovely view of the hills and a river.
We kept on walking to a monkey park which I decided to skip and instead relaxed in a cafe, before grading back worth our group to the hotel four a break.

For dinner we went to the restaurant, Obanzai Mizumi, where we were about to new treated to a Kyoto obanzai dinner. An obanzai is like a surprise degustation – many courses where the chef chooses what will be served.
Mizu Mi Interior
We were seated along a bench so we had full view of the kitchen. The interior contains many figurines of transformer characters and such.

Mizuna and Deep Fried Tofu
Very refreshing and a great start to the meal, like a palette cleanser of sorts.
Mizu Mi - Kyoto Obanzai Dinner - Potato Salad with a hint of tuna; Mizuna Salad and Deep Fried Tofu
Potato Salad with Deep Fried Onion
Lovely soft potato in a lovely Japanese mayo, a little bit of tuna for additional flavour, slightly creamy but really tasty. The crispy onions present a contrast in texture.

Lotus Root
Mizu Mi - Kyoto Obanzai Dinner - Lotus Root
The earthy flavours of the soft lotus root presents a muted flavour to ease you in to what’s to come.

Devil’s Tongue with Sesame Seed
Mizu Mi - Kyoto Obanzai Dinner - Devil's Tongue Sesame Chili Dressing
I had this a few days ago and devil’s tongue was quite tasteless. This version presents much more depth of flavour thanks to the sesame seed, but particularly the chili, which adds some much needed kick to the dressing.

Two Day Snapper Marinated Kelp;
Seared Sea Eel, Soy Sauce, Wasabi, Horseradish
Mizu Mi - Kyoto Obanzai Dinner - Seared Sea Eel, Snapper Marinated In Kelp, Wasabi, Soy Sauce
The seared sea eel had a very different flavour to that of sea eel sushi. With a dob of wasabi and a touch of soy sauce, this is very tasty. The snapper is more like sashimi but had some seaweed type flavour from.the kelp. Pretty good but I prefer the eel.

Pork Cartiledge, Taro Like Balls, Horseradish
Mizu Mi - Kyoto Obanzai Dinner - Pork Cartiledge, Taro Like Balls, Horseradish
OMG!!! How can pork taste this good? This is just amazing! Succulent tender melt in your mouth pork with a honey like slightly sweet sauce just makes the pork sing. The balls with an earthy flavour, contrast against the sweet and rich flavours of the pork and marinade.

Chicken Teriyaki
Mizu Mi - Kyoto Obanzai Dinner - Teriyaki Chicken
A classic dish, this was so delicious. Succulent juicy chicken immersed into a lovely teriyaki sauce that is more on the sweet side (you can taste the honey) rather than salty. The sauce also serves as a dressing to the tasteless lettuce. Excellent.

Vegetable Tempura
Mizu Mi - Kyoto Obanzai Dinner - Vegetable Tempura
Tempura sweet corn, green capsicum, eggplant, mushroom
Deep fried vegetables in a light crispy golden brown batter. Do I need to say more? Which kids would give trouble to eat their vegies if they taste like this? I’ve never eaten sweet corn on this format, not mushroom. But I have no complaints as I love anything deep fried.

Red Miso Soup, Tea, Sushi
Mizu Mi - Kyoto Obanzai Dinner - Red Miso Soup, Tea, Sushi
I’m really stuffed at this point but there’s still more food! And I was hungry to begin with and the start off the dinner. The sushi is delici delicious and I love the black sesame crust. The red miso soup has a slightly different flavour but it’s tasty and soothing. The tea also has a similar effect to aid digestion.
Mizu Mi - Kyoto Obanzai Dinner - Husband and Wife team that took great care of us and treated us with great hospitality. Big thanks to both of you!
Oh so full. What an amazing dinner! The venue is like being in someone’s home. What a lovely couple who looked after us. I appreciate their kind hospitality.

Saturday 20 June

With all the eating over this trip, I definitely need a light breakfast.

Unfortunately our tour guide has to leave us to begin another tour so we bade farewell and are introduced to our new tour guide who will see us through to the end.

Our first tour guide has been excellent in helping us get the info we need, assisted us with attractions, and for our free day today, provided individual itineraries with directions to help us out even more. I got some tips for other cities I will visit after the tour.

For our first activity of the day we went to Women’s Association of Kyoto (WAK), which is an organisation which showcases women’s talents apart from being a housewife. Cooking isn’t the only class offered with oragami, calligraphy, and Kimino dressing being some of the other classes offered.

The cooking isn’t particularly intense with activities shared amongst the group. We made miso soup, the egg roll for sushi, and then rolled our own sushi. The lady running the class was an excellent teacher and very warm and friendly.

We got a mini recipe book with other recipes included apart from what we made.
Kyoto - WAK Sushi Cooking Class - Sushi which I rolled and made myself
Then it was time to sit down to lunch and enjoy our creations. My sushi turned out well but the pros compress the rice far more. This was evident in the mouth feel of the sushi. We also enjoyed that with a spinach salad with sesame dressing which was delicious. The smoked tea was excellent too and we even got dessert: vanilla ice cream with brown sugar syrup and soy bean powder which tastes a bit like peanuts.
After that I set off for the shopping district and had a good look around. Then it was off to browse the Gion District which we saw on our first day.
Several hours passed and our was time for the Gion Show, very touristy, but you get an idea of different forms of Japanese entertainment. Unfortunately, the seating area is not tiered. As soon as the curtains opened, phones, cameras, iPads were pulled out and held above headhigh which made the view even more obstructed. Please ban photography. The show wasn’t really worth it but I did see meiko (apprentice geisha) perform, a short play, and a bunruku (puppet) performance.
One of the performances of the Gion Show included a meiko (apprentice Geisha) dancing

Next it was time for Kaiseki dinner at Karyu (like a degustation). This is going to be interesting because the menu is not in English and the waitstaff do not speak English. So every dish is a surprise and we have no idea what we’re eating, till we remembered our tour guide sent an email with a course listing.

Zensai (appetizer) – five kinds
Prawn cooked in something sweet which was nice, a red bean mixture wrapped in banana leaf, a few other items I had no idea were but tasted nice, and an alcoholic drink of some sorts.

Otsukuri (sashimi)- assorted sashimi
Kyoto - Kaiseki Dinner - different salts to enjoy with sashimi course
The fish is so fresh and flavoursome with the soy sauce, wasabi and different salts. One of my favourites of the night.

Takiawase (steamed or stewed)- Edamame rolled with deep fried tofu skin
Taro, daicon, fish cake wrapped in yuba, broth. The taro like vegetable we keep eating at different restaurants is really growing on me and I’m pleased to eat it here. The daicon is like zucchini, watery and a little tasteless. The fish cake is ok, I prefer the real thing. The broth is amazing! So warming and soothing.

Yakimono (grilled) – Sawara mackerel pickled in Saikyo miso (sweet miso)
Fish, pickled ginger, okra
The fish is really delicious and there’s a slight crunch to the skin. The pickled ginger is refreshing and helps take the fishy taste from your mouth. The okra is lovely too.

Atsumono (warm meal) – Yudofu (boiled tofu)
Tofu in boiling water, soy sauce with minced ginger and benito flakes. Not sure how to describe this but is was fun. There’s a stove which is lit with a flame, then a mesh basket is placed on top, lined with paper, filled with water, then the various varieties of tofu. The water boils, yet the paper does not catch fire. You pull the tofu out with a spoon and dunk into the soy sauce.

Sumono (vinegared) – vinegared mozuku seaweed
Very finely cut cucumber in a refreshing, slightly acidic seaweed kind of mixture. So yum.

Shokuji – Steamed rice from Fushimi area (Kyoto)
Komono (pickles) – Kyoto style pickles
Tomewan (soup) – Aka (red) miso soup
I like the red miso soup which has more depth and just goes down smoothly. As too the tea. The pickles are also different and tasty.

Kanmi (desert) – Warabi mochi (bracken root starch jelly covered with soy bean powder)
I bought some warabimochi at the Rock Garden. I prefer it to mochi. Warabimochi is a jelly-like concoction made with bracken starch and dipped in soy milk powder which tastes like peanuts. This was dipped in green tea. Mochi is similar but made with gluttonous rice. Dessert was pretty good.

Despite the language barrier, the lady serving us was really nice and the dinner was excellent, filling, and light on the stomach. Fantastic experience.


Sunday 21 June

Today is our last day in Kyoto and we still haven’t seen the Fushimi Inari (Thousand Red Tori Gates) so we head there in the early morning.
The gate to this sight is quite grand.
As is the temple.
We make our way up several steps to the beginning of the gates. The path actually goes up the mountain. We complete only a small portion but it’s enough to get an idea. The gate is donated by several companies who are praying for something. Obviously a lot of donations made.

Our time in Kyoto is about to end but we need lunch after checking out of our hotel. We have several reasons to catch to get to the world heritage listed Koyo-San.
Looking down from Kyoto station
Kyoto station is deceptively large. We made our way to the very top (12 floors) which gives you a lovely view of Kyoto.
Panoramic view of Kyoto from the top of Kyoto station
While you’re up there why not relax at Happy Terrace.
At the very top of Kyoto station is a viewing platform and Happy Terrace
I settled in katsu chicken and a dessert for the road – monte blanc. I also got some yummy mini doughnuts.
Kyoto Station - Monte Blanc something sweet for the road