Japan – April 2013 – Day 7 (Nara and Kyoto)

Friday April 19, 2013

Nara is only an hour from Kyoto, so not a bad idea to get an early morning train and check it out.  Within a few hours you can be back in Kyoto and you still have the full day to sight see. The big attraction in Nara is Tōdai-ji Temple and Nara Park. Inside Tōdai-ji Temple is the Great Buddha, the world’s largest bronze statue of the Buddha.

Tōdai-ji Temple has beeen rebuilt twice with the current structure complete in the 1700’s, It was the world’s largest wooden building until 1998. Close to the Tōdai-ji Temple entrance is a statue of Binzuru, one of the disciples of the buddha. It is believed to that if a person rubs a body part on Binzuzru and then rubs the same part on their own body, his ailment there will disappear. You wouldn’t believe what part on Binzuru had the most wood rubbed down.

Nearby Nara Park is flooded with friendly deer and worth a quick stroll. The deer keep to themselves for the most part.  If you have any expensive food gifts in sight or smell, they will become more aggressive. Jen found this out the hard way when a deer made quick work of our Sembikiya fruit bag to get the apple inside.  She was freaking out, but I showed her how to interact with these gentle creatures on the way back to the train station.

02 Nara

Trains from Kyoto, Japan to Nara, Japan

01 Nara

Deers eyeing Jen’s Sembikiya fruit in Nara, Japan

02JPG

Deers eyeing Jen’s Sembikiya fruit in Nara, Japan

03

Deers eyeing Jen’s Sembikiya fruit in Nara, Japan

03 Nara

Deers eyeing Jen’s Sembikiya fruit in Nara, Japan

04 Nara

Deer successfully grabbing Jen’s Sembikiya fruit in Nara, Japan

05 Nara

Deers in Nara Park, Nara, Japan

06 Nara

Statue at Todaiji Temple, Nara, Japan

07 Nara

Todaiji Temple, Nara, Japan

08 Nara

Todaiji Temple, Nara, Japan

09 Nara

Buddha at Todaiji Temple, Nara, Japan

10 Nara

Buddha at Todaiji Temple, Nara, Japan

11 Nara

Buddha at Todaiji Temple, Nara, Japan

12 Nara

Binzuru at Statue at Todaiji Temple, Nara, Japan

13 Nara

Buddha at Todaiji Temple, Nara, Japan

14 Nara

Todaiji Temple, Nara, Japan

15 Nara

Todaiji Temple, Nara, Japan

16 Nara

Binzuru at Todaiji Temple, Nara, Japan

18 Nara

Todaiji Temple, Nara, Japan

19 Nara

Todaiji Temple, Nara, Japan

20 Nara

Todaiji Temple, Nara, Japan

22 Nara

They call me the deer whisperer – Nara, Japan

Follow the rules

The nail that sticks out gets hammered down, so the saying goes in Japan. There are signs, rules and etiquette  that we observed.  The same could be said for the U.S. The only difference here is they actually follow the rules. They walk on the left, they only smoke in designated areas and they don’t eat while walking. Shinjuku is excluded from most of these rules and they follow that rule as well.

02 Signs

Walk down on the left, walk up on the right – Japan

03 Signs

Only smoke in these areas – Japan

04 Signs

Keep to the left here sign – Japan

05 Signs

Carry your dog in a bag sign – Japan

06 Signs

Women only on this subway car – Japan

07 SIgns

Don’t turn our mall into the X-Games sign – Japan

01 Signs

Stand here sign – Japan

If you only had time for one attraction in Kyoto, it would have to be a visit to the Temple of the Golden Pavilion.  It’s one of the 17 sights that make up the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto World Heritage Site. In 1950 the temple was burned down by a young apprentice monk that was attempting suicide at the temple. It was rebuilt in 1955. In 1984 the gold leaf coating was brushed to a thicker layer of 5/10,000 mm. The temple is three stories, but no access is granted to the interior. To say it is beautiful would be an understatement.  It’s near perfection.

On our visit, we were approached by a group of school kids practicing their English. They asked some weird questions from a prepared list and we tried to answer them as best we could. I’m not sure what type of country the U.S. is. We took a picture with them after we got through their questionnaire.

01 Golden Pavillion

Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Kyoto, Japan

02 Golden Pavillion - Copy

Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Kyoto, Japan

03 Golden Pavillion

Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Kyoto, Japan

04 Golden Pavillion

Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Kyoto, Japan

05 Golden Pavillion

Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Kyoto, Japan

06 Golden Pavillion

Picture with Japanese school kids – Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Kyoto, Japan

07 Golden Pavillion

Their leader – Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Kyoto, Japan

08 Golden Pavillion

Their questionnaire – Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Kyoto, Japan

Ryoan-ji is regarded as Japan’s most famous rock garden. The date of construction and designer are unknown. The meaning of the garden is also a mystery.  Some believe it is symbolic to tigers carrying cubs across a pond.  Others speculate it is islands in the sea.  Perhaps it’s an abstract piece of work. After viewing it firsthand I think it’s clear that it’s commercial in nature. There are five main rocks formations.  The three smaller ones near the right represent shoppers, shoppers at a Labor Day sale in Ginza. The sales manager of a Hermes store is represented by the largest rock at the left. The rock in the middle is the prized Birkin Bag. And all the little pebbles represent a maze of clearance items that the shoppers must negotiate to get to this rare piece. What makes the artist’s vision so ingenious is the Hermes Ginza location doesn’t have a Labor Day sale. Jen’s take is that it’s a garden and not one to write home about. The grounds are large, so it will take you about an hour to get through the rock garden and the surrounding walking trails.

01 Ryōan-ji

Ryōan-ji, Kyoto, Japan

02 Ryōan-ji

Ryōan-ji, Kyoto, Japan

03 Ryōan-ji

Ryōan-ji, Kyoto, Japan

04 Ryōan-ji

Ryōan-ji, Kyoto, Japan

06 Ryōan-ji

Ryōan-ji, Kyoto, Japan

07 Ryōan-ji

Ryōan-ji, Kyoto, Japan

08 Ryōan-ji

Surrounding gardens – Ryōan-ji, Kyoto, Japan

09 Ryōan-ji

Surrounding gardens – Ryōan-ji, Kyoto, Japan

10 Ryōan-ji

Pond – Ryōan-ji, Kyoto, Japan

11 Ryōan-ji

Pond – Ryōan-ji, Kyoto, Japan

12 Ryōan-ji

The sole cherry blossom tree – Ryōan-ji, Kyoto, Japan

Shoraian
Ukyo-ku Sagakamenoo town Kan’yu land within
Kyoto, Japan
http://www.syouraian.jp/
http://tabelog.com/kyoto/A2604/A260403/26003826/

01 Shoraian

once you pass the Togetsukyo Bridge, the taxi will drop you off within a block – Shoraian, Kyoto, Japan

02 Shoraian

walk by the boats decked – Shoraian, Kyoto, Japan

03 Shoraian

continue along this walkway to the dead end – Shoraian, Kyoto, Japan

04 Shoraian

keep walking and enjoy the view – Shoraian, Kyoto, Japan

05 Shoraian

walk past this sign – Shoraian, Kyoto, Japan

06 Shoraian

dead end, walk up the stairs – Shoraian, Kyoto, Japan

07 Shoraian

turn left at this sign, the restaurant is where the little guy is in the middle of the photo – Shoraian, Kyoto, Japan

08 Shoraian

you’re here – Shoraian, Kyoto, Japan

09 Shoraian - Exterior

Entrance – Shoraian, Kyoto, Japan

11 Shoraian - Small Pond

Pond at the entrance – Shoraian, Kyoto, Japan

Tofu has a long and complex history that dates back to the B.C. era. Without getting into the details, or may I say in “soybean” shell, tofu is the result of grinding and cooking soybeans, then pressing the resulting soy curd into blocks. There are a vast array of types of tofu; fresh, fermented, stinky, flavored, processed silken, etc. And each country has its own variations and uses. Tofu may not sound like the most appetizing ingredient to indulge in while on vacation, but it is a specialty of Kyoto and there are dozens of restaurants that specialize in it. If you research Chowhound and various blogs, Shoraian appears to be a step above the rest. It’s located 25 minute by taxi from the city center. And once you’re dropped off, you still have to earn your way to the entrance. Hidden within the mountains of Arashiyama, you need to walk along the Hozu River to a dead end, then walk up the stairs to the restaurant sign and turn left for a final few steps. But once you arrive, you’ll be graciously welcomed inside to dining room offers great views overlooking the region. We had to sit on the floor for a majority of the meal, but after the staff noticed I was visible uncomfortable, some hybrid chairs were offered.

There are two tasting menus available, a shorter one and a lengthier one. You advise the reservation of your order when you book. We went with the lengthier menu.  The meal consisted of 10 courses; the beef was the sole dish absent of tofu. Although it did incorporate have soy sauce. It was a lot of food, but from beginning to end it was a memorial meal. Who knew tofu could be so good.  All preparations when soft, silky and dare I say sexy.  It’s difficult to pick the standout dishes here, they have really mastered their menu. Nonetheless, our favorites were the tofu with Japanese keko salt, the dish of various vegetables and seafood, steamed abalone on tofu, the gratin, beef with wasabi and the ice cream. It was our best meal in Kyoto and a must if you’re visiting. It’s so ironic and refreshing that a restaurant can limit the amount of meat and shine so bright.  It was the same case at Ubuntu in Napa; it just blew the other restaurants away.

12 Shoraian-Interior

Dining room – Shoraian, Kyoto, Japan

13 Shoraian - View from Table

View – Shoraian, Kyoto, Japan

14 Shoraian - Menu

Tofu with Japanese keko salt and Tea – 8/10 – Shoraian, Kyoto, Japan

15 Shoraian - Tofu with Japanese keko salt and Tea

block – Shoraian, Kyoto, Japan

16 Shoraian - vegetables with shrimp - akorm squash, plain bamboo, bamboo in a. Grass sauce, mochi, sesame tofu, fish wrapped around broccoli, radish, squid, scallop,fish on a lime with miso

Vegetables with shrimp – akorm squash, plain bamboo, bamboo in a. Grass sauce, mochi, sesame tofu, fish wrapped around broccoli, radish, squid, scallop,fish on a lime with miso – 8/10 – Shoraian, Kyoto, Japan

17 Shoraian - Egg yolk,  fish cake and foam

Egg yolk, fish cake and foam – 5/10 – Shoraian, Kyoto, Japan

18 Shoraian

The dish is meant to resemble the sun and the moon – Shoraian, Kyoto, Japan

19 Shoraian - Steamed abalone on tofu

Steamed abalone on tofu – 8/10 – Shoraian, Kyoto, Japan

20 Shoraian - Yuba, baby shrimp tempura on a shisho leaf with salt and ground matcha

Yuba, baby shrimp tempura on a shisho leaf with salt and ground matcha – 7/10 – Shoraian, Kyoto, Japan

21 Shoraian - Gratin with squid, eggplant, bamboo, tofu

Gratin with squid, eggplant, bamboo, tofu – 7/10 – Shoraian, Kyoto, Japan

22 Shoraian

Our host – Shoraian, Kyoto, Japan

23 Shoraian - - Tofu Simmering

Tofu simmering – Shoraian, Kyoto, Japan

24 Shoraian - Simmered Tofu in a light soy sauce with seaweed leaf, green onion and a Japanese seasoning

Simmered tofu in a light soy sauce with seaweed leaf, green onion and a Japanese seasoning – 7/10 – Shoraian, Kyoto, Japan

25 Shoraian - Beef with wasabi, dark soy sauce, scallions and eggplant

Beef with wasabi, dark soy sauce, scallions and eggplant – 10/10 – Shoraian, Kyoto, Japan

26 Shoraian - Fried tofu

Fried tofu – 7/10 – Shoraian, Kyoto, Japan

28 Shoraian - Baby fish

Baby fish – Shoraian, Kyoto, Japan

29 Shoraian - Rice mixed with baby fish

Rice mixed with baby fish – 3/10 – Shoraian, Kyoto, Japan

30 Shoraian - Pickled vegetables

Pickled vegetables – 5/10 – Shoraian, Kyoto, Japan

31 Shoraian - Tea

Tea – Shoraian, Kyoto, Japan

32 Shoraian - Tofu Ice Cream

Tofu Ice Cream – 8/10 – Shoraian, Kyoto, Japan

01 Sagano

Walk to the bamboo groves – Kyoto, Japan

While in Arashiyama, there are numerous attractions to visit; you could walk along the Togetsukyo Bridge, stop by the Monkey Park Iwatayama, take in the 1.200 statues at Otagi Nenbutsuji Temple, or cruise in a boat down the Hozu River or rail along the river in a train.  We chose the walk through the bamboo groves, which is a five minute walk from the restaurant. The walkway is scenic and a way of life for many locals as the bamboo is used in various products from food baskets.

02 Sagano BW

Sagano, Kyoto, Japan

03 Sagano

Sagano, Kyoto, Japan

04 Sagano

Sagano, Kyoto, Japan

07 Sagano

Sagano, Kyoto, Japan

Kyoto was the capital of Japan until 1868 when it was reluctantly moved to Tokyo.  As is the case with most of these moves, emotions can get involved.  Take the confusion it has caused in Bolivia, Parisians never got over their loss in 1419 and Jerusalem is still struggling to get international acknowledgement. Reeling from defeat, the people of Kyoto, whatever they are called, united to build a better city to be rivaled by no other. It was during these strong emotional times that the Heian Shrine was built. What’s with the Japanese obsession with fires? In 1976, the shrine was set ablaze and subsequently rebuilt to include one of Japan’s largest torii. It’s worth it to stop by for a few minutes and it was a just cherry blossom’s throw away from our next snack.

01 Heian Jingū

Heian Shrine, Kyoto, Japan

02 Heian Jingū

Heian Shrine, Kyoto, Japan

03 Heian Jingū

Torii outside Heian Shrine, Kyoto, Japan

Yamamoto Menzou
Sakyo-ku, Kyoto Okazakiminamigosho town 34
Kyoto, Japan
http://tabelog.com/kyoto/A2603/A260301/26002504/

Udon is the thicker of the variety of wheat based noodles offered by the Japanese and Yamamoto Menzou is one of the better places to try this in Kyoto.  It’s a popular place and there can be long lines at peak hours. Fortunately for us, we stopped by in the afternoon and only had to wait about 10 minutes for seats as the bar. The service was very welcoming.  As we sat down we planned on ordering one hot udon dish and one cold udon, but as we perused the menu we ended up zeroing in on the Kyoto style udon to replace the cold udon.  We also decided to add a side of the burdock tempura.  When you see the chef in the kitchen excessively rinsing the noodles it doesn’t take long to realize how seriously he takes his craft.  The original hot udon was a great dish.  Aside from the broth and the other ingredients that were all respectable, what stood out for us was the noodles.  They were the best udon noodles we’ve ever had. They were silky smooth with a slight bowl.  The only things missing was a little spice to give the dish a kick.  On the other hand, the Kyoto style curry was underwhelming.  If you’re expecting a thicker version of a curry, you’ll be disappointed.  What came out was the flavor of a curry, but with the consistency of a broth.  Thinning out the sauce wasn’t to our liking.  As we got up to go the staff sat us back down and served us the complimentary, and apparently mandatory, dessert of Chinese milk custard.  We’re glad we did.  It was soft and creamy with a hint of sweetness.  The chef was even kind enough to escort us outside as we left.  If you’re a noodle fan I would definitely recommend this place, but I would order the hot original or the cold udon.

01 Yamamoto Menzou - Exterior

Yamamoto Menzou, Kyoto, Japan

02 Yamamoto Menzou - Sign

Sign – Yamamoto Menzou, Kyoto, Japan

03 Yamamoto Menzou - Interior

Bar area – Yamamoto Menzou, Kyoto, Japan

04 Yamamoto Menzou - Interior

Kitchen – Yamamoto Menzou, Kyoto, Japan

(Kitchen at Yamamoto Menzou in Kyoto, Japan)

05 Yamamoto Menzou - Spices

Udon accoutrements – Yamamoto Menzou, Kyoto, Japan

06 Yamamoto Menzou - Original Udon

Original udon – 7/10 – Yamamoto Menzou, Kyoto, Japan

07 Yamamoto Menzou - Burdock Tempura

Burdock Tempura – 5/10 – Yamamoto Menzou, Kyoto, Japan

08 Yamamoto Menzou - Kyoto Style Curry Udon

Kyoto Style Curry Udon – 3/10 – Yamamoto Menzou, Kyoto, Japan

09 Yamamoto Menzou - Chinese Milk Custard

Chinese Milk Custard – 8/10 – Yamamoto Menzou, Kyoto, Japan

(Driving By Philosopher’s Path in Kyoto, Japan)

The New Miyako Hotel is a westernized, middle of road hotel and for $120 a night it was reasonably priced.  The standard rooms are very small, but it’s centrally located just across the street from Kyoto station.  Overall we were pleased with the choice.

01 New Miyako Hotel

Lobby – New Miyako Hotel, Kyoto, Japan

02 New Miyako Hotel

Room – New Miyako Hotel, Kyoto, Japan

03 New Miyako Hotel

Bathroom – New Miyako Hotel, Kyoto, Japan

Isshin
51 Motoyoshicho, Shinbashi-dori, Gion, Higashiyama-ku
Kyoto
http://tabelog.com/kyoto/A2603/A260301/26003825/dtlphotolst/

Given the reputation of Japanese beef we were worried that we wouldn’t be trying enough on our trip, therefore we decided to add a beef specialist in Kyoto.  Chef Hideichi Katagiri opened Isshin, a restaurant specializing in beef in 2003.   His expertise was recognized by Michlin when he was awarded two stars.  In an ideal setting we would have preferred to try 10 small portions of varying grades of the best beef from different regions in Japan.  We wanted to try Kobe, Matsuzaka, Omi and Mishima among others.  We would have also liked to see the difference between an A5 and an A10 cut in the same seating.  I wouldn’t even have minded a couple US breeds for comparison. Unfortunately we couldn’t find a restaurant to accommodate this, but seeing that Isshin was one of the most well regarded beef restaurants in the city we decided to give it a try.   We were able to try a variety of cuts that we weren’t expecting including high and low tongue, shoulder and oxtail.  All in all the beef was superb quality and we were able to experience a range of different dishes.  Our favorites were the trio of beef presented in a sushi format, steak served with horseradish and soy sauce foam and the tongue with bamboo soup.  Isshin delivered and gave us a pleasant break from the local Kaiseki cuisine.  All of the beef in one sitting was a lot of calories and I can see now why tasting menus are progressive.

01 Isshin - Exterior

Isshin, Kyoto, Japan

03 Isshin - Raw beef shoulder with tofu skin

Raw beef shoulder with tofu skin – 7/10 – Isshin, Kyoto, Japan

05 Isshin - Roast beef with curry sauce, Pickled stomach, Thigh with seaweed and sesame

Roast beef with curry sauce, pickled stomach, thigh with seaweed and sesame 7/10 – Isshin, Kyoto, Japan

06 Isshin - Tongue and bamboo soup

Tongue and bamboo soup – 8/10 – Isshin, Kyoto, Japan

07 Isshin - Beef and eggplant

Beef and eggplant – 7/10 – Isshin, Kyoto, Japan

08 Isshin - Low tongue with seaweed and soy sauce

Low tongue with seaweed and soy sauce – 6/10 – Isshin, Kyoto, Japan

09 Isshin - Oxtail and onion in a consomme

Oxtail and onion – 8/10 – Isshin, Kyoto, Japan

10 Isshin - Fatty beef, A roll with beef, crab and avocado, and beef sushi Marinated with soy sauce

Fatty beef, beef roll with crab and avocado, and beef marinated with soy sauce – 9/10 – Isshin, Kyoto, Japan

11 Isshin - Oxtail and Japanese miso

Oxtail and Japanese miso 6/10 – Isshin, Kyoto, Japan

(Chef Hideichi Katagiri Plating Beef Dish at Isshin  Wagyu Steak in Kyoto, Japan)

13 Isshi - Wagyu Steak

Steak with horseradish and soy sauce foam – 10/10 – Isshin, Kyoto, Japan

14 Isshin - Horseradish and soy sauce foam

Horseradish and soy sauce foam – 10/10 – Isshin, Kyoto, Japan

15 Isshin - Rice soup

Rice soup – 3/10 – Isshin, Kyoto, Japan

16 Isshin - Pickled Vegetables

Pickled vegetables – Isshin, Kyoto, Japan

17 Isshin - rice soup, pickled vegetables and tea

Rice soup with pickled vegetables – Isshin, Kyoto, Japan

18 Isshin - Red bean creme brûlée with sake ice cream

Japanese red bean crème brûlée with sake ice cream – 7/10 – Isshin, Kyoto, Japan

19 Isshin - Inside of Red Bean creme brûlée

Japanese red bean crème brûlée with sake ice cream – Isshin, Kyoto, Japan

20 Isshin - Tea

Organic Tea – Isshin, Kyoto, Japan

21 Isshin - Coffee with sugar

Coffee with sugar – Isshin, Kyoto, Japan

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