Day 7 – Kyoto

It was a chilly morning as we started our day early to avoid the crowds. We took the train west to Arashiyama to see one of Kyoto’s most famous sights, the Bamboo Grove.

Arashiyama:

Apparently we didn’t get there early enough as a herd of people got off the train alongside us. We decided to trek to the Bamboo Grove first before exploring the rest of Arashiyama.

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

The bamboo were unbelievably tall. Probably the same height or taller than most trees. It’s definitely a spot you have to check out if you’re in Kyoto.

We checked out a Shinto shrine, Nonomiya nearby the grove as well. It was interesting to see kitsune statues (Japanese word for fox) everywhere.

Kitsune are pretty common in Japanese folklore. Most stories depict them as intelligent being and possessing magical abilities. Kitsune has become heavily associated with Inari (a Shinto kami (spirit) and serve as its messenger.

Kitsune statues.

It was almost noon and we haven’t eaten breakfast yet – so we grabbed a quick bite at a nearby market with street stalls.

A plate of Gyoza

Crab meat on a stick (right)

I read that tofu was a big thing in Kyoto and that there were many different kinds. Tofu icecream came up a couple of times as I was reading a couple of blogs so I knew I had to try it if I saw it.

Tofu icecream and black sesame on the bottom.

Personally I love tofu so I wasn’t weirded out after learning that tofu icecream was a thing. It has a very similar taste to regular vanilla icecream, but I guess the closest flavor I can compare it to would be soy milk. I love the flavor and how smooth it was. Not too creamy either.

As we got back to the main area near the bridge, it was time to try this one coffee shop that my coworker discovered on Instagram – % Arabica Kyoto Arashiyama. % Arabica has a couple of other locations within Kyoto but this one was special because it had a view. There was a long line of people waiting for coffee and we really needed to try it (it was mostly for the gram.)

After 30-45min we got an iced americano an iced latte and a great picture.

Look at that view!

It was around 1 at this time and were hordes of tourist. So much foot traffic that it took us 10 minutes just to cross the bridge. We had a sudden realization that it was Sunday which explained why there were so many people out and about. What made our walk even less pleasant was the sun showers. There was heavy rain periodically, thank god we had an umbrella and often we had protection from the rain when it did rain hard.

Next destination – Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama. The admission fee was quite cheap, ¥550 per adult. What we didn’t expect was that it was that there was a hike up before you even get to see the monkeys. Pro tip – make sure you have the right footwear or else it’ll be hard to hike up. I saw a couple of poor souls trek up in heels. At the very top that’s where you’ll see monkeys running around and playing.

Monkeys!

There’s a rest house in the middle where you can feed snacks (¥100 for a bag) to monkeys! They just grab it from your palm through the gated window.

A monkey taking a sliced banana from my hand.

Another monkey reaching for a snack.

If you’re hesitant to do the hike, I just want to let you know that it’s definitely worth it! Especially once you see the monkeys and get the chance to feed them.

Before leaving Arashiyama, I had to soak my surroundings one last time.

Katsura River

If the weather was better, we would’ve done the boat ride and could’ve enjoyed the view more.

Gion-Shijo:

Exhausted from a half day of physical activities, we had afternoon tea at Kagizen Yoshifusa Honten. After we were seated, we were given house tea paired with a sweet snack. Right off the bat we were already feeling relaxed because of the view of the garden and overall ambiance.

I wanted to try this really fancy ice matcha latte that I saw a picture of, but it wasn’t on the menu as it could’ve been a seasonal drink. We opted for iced matcha and Warabi-mochi instead.

Afternoon tea

Warabi-mochi is a jelly like confection made from starch and covered in sweet toasted soybean flour.

The Warabi-mochi was pretty good, the texture was more so jelly-like than mochi. It was pretty easy to chew and the flour made it sweet.

Karasuma Oike:

After our break it was time for a real meal. We took the train west to try soba from Honke Owariya, a restaurant that has been opened since 1465. Owariya has been patronized by the Emperor’s family and monks from Kyoto’s temples. In the Edo period, their noodles were served in the Imperial Palace. We had to try it.

We ordered the Honke Owariya specialities, Hourai Soba and Rikyu Soba.

Hourai Soba. Cold soba with 8 small toppings: shiitake mushrooms, shredded thin omelet, sesame seeds, shrimp tempura, wasabi, nori, Japanese leeks and grated daikon.

Rikyu Soba. Hot kake soba topped with Rikyu-fu (tofu), mitsuba and yuba.

I’m not a fan of cold soba but the Hourai Soba was delicious. It was also interesting that the soba was portioned by each stack (see above for the picture). It’s almost like a DIY soba since you’re adding toppings on your own. Mixing wasabi with the soba sauce is AMAZING.

I love the rikyu-fu from the Rikyu Soba. I love tofu and this was easily one of my favorites. You can really taste the buckwheat as you’re chewing on the Soba noodles. 550 years of making the best soba.

After lunch, we went to the Kyoto International Manga Museum. Unfortunately they didn’t allow pictures at all and that totally makes sense due to potential copyright infringement from all the manga they had. The most interesting part of the museum wasn’t the manga itself but the fact that the building used to be a school. Overall, it was interesting learning how much manga has shaped Japan’s culture. They even have manga to educate people about real world problems like climate change. I’m not sure if I would recommend this museum to everyone, but if you’re interested in manga or have ever read any – its worth checking out.

Kawaramachi:

We ended the night grabbing dinner with Jackie’s friends at Kyoto Gogyo Ramen. They were known for burnt miso ramen (the ramen wasn’t burnt but the soup was).

Burnt miso ramen from Kyoto Gogyo Ramen.

Other than the color, nothing else was extraordinary. The taste was slightly unique, personally I didn’t get too much of that ‘burnt’ flavor. It was worth trying but I’m not too crazy over it. I didn’t think it was worth the wait to be honest.

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Day 6 – Osaka to Kyoto

Kitahama:

It was a gloomy morning as we packed our bags and soaked in our last few hours in Osaka. We got lucky as there was only a light drizzle when we were dragging our luggage to train station.

Shin-Osaka:

We killed a couple of hours near Starbucks before we boarded our train and the ride itself was way shorter than we expected. It only took around 20 mins to get to Kyoto.

It was a quick train ride!

Kyoto:

Kyoto used to be the capital of Japan. Famous for temples, gardens, shrines and traditional wooden houses.

Within 5 mins of walking in Kyoto, we already notice how different Kyoto is compared to Tokyo and Osaka. There were fewer high rises and the architecture is completely different.

Karasuma:

Our first meal in Kyoto was at Katsukura Shijo Higashinotoin, which was a tonkatsu restaurant.

Tonkatsu: a Japanese dish, which consist of a breaded deep fried pork cutlet and often served with shredded cabbage.

We got the loin cutlet, along with yuba rolled seasonal vegetable cutlet and savory tofu.

First meal in Kyoto!

Our meal came with unlimited miso soup, rice, shredded cabbage and pickled vegetables! This was by far the best pork cutlet I ever had. I was surprised at how light the whole meal was. Usually I’m in a food coma after eating pork cutlet because of how heavy it is. I guess it might be the pickled vegetables and yuzu salad dressing that helped to negate the oiliness of the cutlet.

Nishiki Market:

We explored Nishiki Market afterwards and it was very similar to Shinsaibashi but more narrow and more crowded.

Nishiki Market

Majority of shops sold mochi, honey, seafood and tea. These food stands were completely different compared the food we often saw in Osaka. Too bad we were too stuffed. We passed by a matcha shop, Sawawa and made room in our bellies for dessert.

Matcha icecream with matcha mochi.

We got the Okoicya & Warabi, which is thick matcha icecream and matcha mochi. It was creamy and refreshing, with a slight kick of bitterness. The mochi was the star of the icecream. It was so soft that it didn’t require much chewing at all. There was no line when I ordered the icecream but as I was taking a picture of it, there was a sudden influx of people lining up for icecream. You’re welcome Sawawa.

We spent the rest of our night browsing the rest of the market, which was way bigger than we expected. Outside of the market and on the Main Street, it felt like we were walking down Herald Square. We decided to end our night early as we have an early start the next day.