If there's one place guaranteed to instil instant calm, it's the bamboo forest at Arashiyama in Kyoto. The dense forest of bamboo soars so far up it almost obscures your view of the sky. Each bamboo stalk can surge to a height of up to 35 metres high making even the tallest person feel small and awe-struck.
Our next leg on our Japan trip would be Kyoto, a 3-hour shinkansen ride from Kanazawa. Kyoto, the former imperial capital of Japan, is also known as the City of Ten Thousand Shrines.
Fushimi Inari Shrine
Mandatory selfie inside the gates of Fushimi Inari Shrine
We headed straight to one of the biggest shrines of them all, Fushimi Inari Shrine famous for its trail of vermilion gates that climb up the sacred Mount Inari.
Outside view of the gates of Fushimi Inari Shrine
Inari is the Shinto god of rice as well as the patron of business. Individuals and companies donate money to construct a gate which will be inscribed with their name and date of donation. Small gates are said to start at AU$4,000 with large gates costing over AU$100,000.
The seemingly never-ending gates
Walking inside the tunnel of gates is quite a surreal experience, a sense of beauty in its repetition and reassurance in its strength.
Locals in kimonos
Needless to say, the place is usually swarming with tourists so moments when the tunnels are empty are brief and fleeting. We didn't fare too badly mid-afternoon, but it would be worth visiting in the very early morning or late evening for maximum tranquility.
Inscriptions on the gates
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
Dwarfed by the bamboo forest
We headed straight from Fushimi Inari to Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. This would be my third visit to this forest but it still continues to amaze with its silent beauty.
It was still weather today, but on previous visits, strong winds cause the bamboo stalks to bend and knock together, creating a musical bamboo chime that is pretty magical. And it's hard not to picture that fight scene from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon as you wander through.
Bamboo shoots soaring skyward
This time we spied young bamboo shoots, aubergine in hue, that were pushing their way up toward to the forest canopy.
Chozuya water pavilion with ladles for Shinto worshipper purification
Ema wooden plaques for Shinto worshippers to record their prayers or wishes
Tourists onboard a jinrikisha Japanese rickshaw
We walked along the path instead of taking a rickshaw, but we were super impressed by the athletic strength of the running drivers!
Soft warabikko 400 yen / AU$4.40
Green tea ice cream on bracken starch dumplings
Today's soft serve was all about green tea on cubes of bracken starch jelly - two desserts in one! The jelly was cool and chewy, dusted in kinako roasted soy bean flour and everything drizzled with a sweet brown sugar syrup.
Kinkakuji Golden Pavilion
Kinkakuji Golden Pavilion
The spectacular Kinkakuji Golden Pavilion is hard to eclipse when it comes to the bling factor. It's a breathtaking sight, especially when blue skies create a mirror reflection in the pond waters beneath.
Food-wise we mostly ended up eating at Kyoto station. The Kyoto station building feels like a mini-city in itself, with fifteen stories enclosed in an impressive structure that includes a 60-metre high atrium.
On the tenth floor you'll find Kyoto Ramen Koji or Kyoto Ramen Street, a collection of eight distinct regional styles of ramen from around the country.
Menu vending machine at Bannai Shokudo
After examining the menus of each restaurant, we settled on Bannai Shokudo serving a Kitakata-style ramen of soy and salt soup with roast pork on top. We justified our decision on the fact we wouldn't be visiting the Fukushima region on this trip, but to be honest, we were mostly swayed by the promise of fatty roast pork!
Shy chefs in the kitchen
A seat at the counter gave us a birds eye view of all the action in the kitchen, even if the young chefs were a little shy and embarrassed about all the attention.
Baskets in boiling water for cooking ramen noodles
To say that these chefs worked hard would be an understatement. There wasn't a moment when these guys stopped and stood still. Every second involved a flurry of hands and practised efficiency.
Draining the water from the cooked ramen
Slicing the roast pork made in-house daily
Watching them slice the strips of pork belly was the best TV we could hope for.
Ramen bowl assembly
Watching the chefs assemble a row of ramen bowls was like viewing a well choreographed ballet.
Roast pork ramen 940 yen / AU$10.30
In a full restaurant, it only takes about four minutes for our ramen to arrive. The standard roast pork ramen is covered in a layer of fatty pork belly slices. The meat is so juicy, tender and succulent.
Scallion roast pork ramen 1040 yen / AU$11.40
For an extra 100 yen you can get a pile of finely shredded scallions on top, their peppery freshness helping to cut through the richness of the fatty pork.
Nitamago soy sauce eggs 120 yen / AU$1.30
And you can't have ramen without a side order of nitamago or soy sauce eggs. The yolks are a deep orange in colour and satisfyingly sticky.
Thick handmade noodles
I'm a big fan of the noodles too, noticeably flat and thicker in width than the usual kind.
Henri Charpentier at Isetan
In the basement of the Kyoto station building is the food hall of the Isetan department store. It was tempting to buy one of everything there but we decided to focus on Henri Charpentier for that night's hotel room dessert party.
Mont Blanc from Henri Charpentier 594 yen / AU$6.50
The Japanese obsession with Mont Blanc, a chestnut cream cake, is one close to my heart. And, er, stomach. There are many variations on Mont Blanc but they almost always involve piped strands of whipped chestnut puree across the top. The Henri Charpentier version includes a sponge cake base and a core of whipped cream.
Strawberry shortcake from Henri Charpentier 616 yen / AU$6.70
Japanese patisseries also worship the strawberry shortcake, another one of my favourite things. There's an exquisite simplicity about a light-as-air sponge cake combined with whipped cream and fresh strawberries. The Henri Charpentier sponge was impressively light and fluffy.
Millefeuille from Henri Charpentier 486 yen / AU$5.30
And we had to have a millefeuille too, assembled to order so the pastry doesn't get soggy from the layers of pastry cream. It made a delicious mess, as any good millefeuille should.
Glistening ikura salmon roe
We had dinner one night in the dining strip at Porta Shopping Mall alongside Kyoto station, although the place we ate at - Menya Kanjin-do - has closed in the six weeks since we visited.
Kaisen don with salmon, salmon roe and tuna belly 1400 yen / AU$15.40
We were gluttons for salmon roe throughout our Japan trip, seeking it greedily everywhere we went. Kaisen don, rice topped with an assortment of sashimi, is a budget way of getting a raw fish bonanza with enough carbs to keep you satiated for several hours.
Kaisen don with salmon, sea urchin, raw prawn, squid, freshwater eel, tuna belly and salmon roe 1600 yen / AU$17.60
A sit-down sashimi dinner for less than $20 is proof that Japan isn't half as expensive as many people mistakenly think. I went for the most expensive option that included raw sweet prawn, uni sea urchin roe and anago fresh water eel, and even that only cost about AU$17.60. It also came with a bowl of noodle soup that I struggled to finish.
Complimentary noodle soup
Vats of pickles at Takakuraya
We didn't have much time in Kyoto so we could only visit Nishiki Market on our final morning. The shops don't officially open until 9am but we stopped by at 8am hoping to find a few of them trading.
Early morning scene at 8am
Most shops were still setting up for the day, but it was a lovely behind-the-scenes view of the market as we watched it slowly come to life.
Nishiki Market runs for several blocks, covered by a pointed coloured glass awning that seems common to so many markets in Japan.
Glazing skewers of unagi eel
We trawled up and down the street several times, admiring the hardworking shop keepers and everyone's pristine displays. There were hardly any tourists so early in the morning, allowing us to see the market primarily filled with locals doing their daily shopping.
Unagi glazed eel on skewers
French bulldogs at the market
Fishmonger with a customer
Pickled daikon white radish at Takakuraya
Stallkeeper tidying his display
Tamago production line at Miki Keiran
Watching this row of chefs making tamago was mesmerising. They worked non-stop: pouring batter, rolling and flipping omelettes with barely a word to each other.
Compressing the rolls of dashimaki tamago
Soy milk doughnuts at Konnyamonja
Our breakfast treat was soy milk doughnuts from the Konnyamonja stall.
Soy milk doughnuts in the deep fryer
We could smell these babies before we could even see them. Watching them march through the deep fryer and then up the conveyor belt was mouthwatering.
Cooked soy milk doughnuts making their way up the conveyor belt
A bag of ten mini doughnuts for AU$3.30 was our bargain of the day. The batter was a little sweet so you didn't need any dusting of sugar, and they were so hot and fluffy from the fryer, they warmed you from the inside out. A perfect start to the day.
>> Read the next Japan 2015 post: Nara deer and Johnny's Fried Chicken
<< Read the first Japan 2015 post: Toyama black ramen and firefly squid
Japan 2015: Toyama > Kanazawa > Nagano > Kyoto > Nara > Osaka > Kobe > Kagoshima > Hakata > Hiroshima and Miyajima Island > Sapporo > Otaru > Hakodate > Tokyo
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove 右京区嵐山
Ogurayama, Saga, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto, Japan 616-8383
Nearest JR station: Saga Arashiyama (10 min walk)
Free - open 24 hours
Fushimi Inari Shrine 伏見稲荷大社
68 Fukakusa Yabunouchicho, Fushimi Ward, Kyoto, Japan 612-0882
Tel: +81 (075) 641 7331
Nearest JR station: Inari (3 min walk)
Free - open 24 hours
Henri Charpentier at JR Kyoto Isetan
Higashi-Shiokoji Shiokoji-Sagaru Karasuma Street, Shimogyou-ku, Kyoto, Japan 600-8555
Tel: +81 (075)352 1111
Open daily 10am-8pm
Kinkakuji Golden Pavilion 金閣寺
1 Kinkakujicho, Kita Ward, Kyoto, Japan 603-8361
Tel: +81 (75) 461 0013
Nearest JR station: Kyoto then a 40min bus ride on Kyoto City Bus 101 or 205
Open daily 9am-5pm
Kyoto Ramen Koji 京都拉麺小路
Level 10, Kyoto Station Building, Higashi Shiokoji-cho, Karasuma-dori, Shiokoji sagaru, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto, Japan 600-8175
Tel: +81 (075) 361 4401
Open daily 11am-10pm
Menya Kanjin-do (now closed) かんじん堂
Level B1, Porta Shopping Mall, Kyoto Station
Nishiki Market 錦市場
Nishiki-dori, 596 Nishidaimonjicho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, Japan 604-8054
Open daily 9am-6pm (some stores close Wednesday or Sunday)
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6/15/2015 02:27:00 am