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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Rain and a bamboo forest

NB. Photos and edits in purple added 31/05/07

OSAKA with a day trip to KYOTO: It was all about food today. Of course it was :)

Breakfast was a salmon and natto set at Yayoiken. My second encounter with natto was somewhat less offensive to the senses, but the sticky tendrils that stretched between the fermented soy beans as I stirred the soy sauce in with my chopsticks were still somewhat disconcerting. The Japanese love their natto. It's the Japanese equivalent of Australian Vegemite, and in fact it tasted a little like fishy vegemite with an extra sock or two. Yes, it really is that good.

Yayoiken restaurant, Umeda

Diners inside Yayokien

sausages and eggs
Fried egg and sausage set 420 yen

sausage and egg close-up
Sausages, fried egg and cabbage close-up

hamburger set
Hamburger, sausage and chicken steak set 890 yen

salmon and natto
Salmon and natto breakfast set 490 yen


This was a little salty as though it had been salted and preserved.

Natto fermented soy beans

mixing natto
Stirring natto with soy sauce and mustard

The lady next to our table at breakfast did demonstrate a neat little trick to us though. Open your packet of seasoned nori sheets, then slick one side with soy sauce and then use your chopsticks to wrap it around a mouthful of rice and some natto beans. Instant natto sushi roll! And the rice and seaweed really does make the natto more palatable.

natto sushi
Natto sushi

Chilli flakes and toothpicks

bench seating
Bench seating at Yayoiken

We did a day trip from Osaka to Kyoto today, a flying 15 minute journey on the shinkansen.

traffic police
Traffic police in wet weather suits at Umeda, Osaka

His hat is covered with a special shower cap!

Newspapers at Shin-Osaka train station

We had a small wait for the train so I got a little snap-happy at the shops on the station platform.

Magazines (they're really thick but on thin paper)

Bags of four mandarins 400 yen

The Japanese love healthy snacks!

Takoyan octopus snacks

hello kitty keyrings
Hello Kitty keyrings

I particularly like the middle one where she's wearing a giant Dotombori-style crab.

instant curry
Instant curry


Our shinkansen to Kyoto (how sexy does it look?)

train seats
Seats inside the shinkansen

The seats are super roomy with space for a cabin-sized rolling suitcase in front of you.

snack trolley
Snack trolley

Three of us had been to Kyoto before so we skipped the temple tour and headed east to Arashiyama on the local train, a picturesque town with temples, shrines and a bamboo forest --just like the one from House of Flying Daggers! It rained unrelentingly for much of the day (the traffic cops in Osaka were all dressed in crisp white raincoats with shower caps to protect their navy-like hats), but we still managed to check out Tenryuji Temple and Nonomiya-jinja shrine.


Japanese tourists

Japanese maple
Japanese maple leaves

tenryuji temple
Tenryuji Temple

Tanuki raccoon dog

Tanukis are often found outside temples and restaurants, and are known for distracting and tricking travellers. They are also gluttonous and supposed to have magic powers that enable them to creating illusions.

Lunch at Arashiyama

All the restaurants at Arashiyama seemed pricey. The pitfalls of being in a tourist area, we presumed.

chicken udon
Torinanba boiled chicken set 800 yen

Katsudon 800 yen

yuba udon
Yuba udon set 1300 yen

I splashed out on the yuba udon set which was quite a feast (the other meals were fairly small).

yuba udon
Yuba udon (soy bean curd skins)

side dish platter
L-R: Smoked gammon, eggplant, siu mai and mushroom

The eggplant was particularly sweet and tasty.

strawberry sponge cake
Strawberry sponge cake (giant strawbs! and check out the cream!)

We were the only table eating mains. Everyone else couldn't resist the towering slices of strawberry sponge cake. The strawberries on top were giant, although the cream looked very fake and sickly.

The bamboo forest was amazing. Thousands of giant bamboo stalks rose majestically above us, and with plenty of wind accompanying the driving rain, they swayed in rhythm, knocking each other like wooden xylophones creating a melodic echoing chorus.

bamboo forest
Bamboo forest

Jizo statues

hello kitty
Hello Kitties in kimonoes at a souvenir shop

Back in downtown Kyoto we drooled over the counters of French cakes, pastries, sushi, tempura, mochi, seafood, pickles and fruit at the Daimaru department store food hall. The strawberries here are particularly amazing, such perfect forms that you could easily mistake them for being plastic. The stalks are a crisp green, the leaves are unfurled, and each seed is clearly visible with barely a bruise to be found. They're not cheap of course, at about 380-800 yen per punnet (AU$4-AU$8.20) but they smell so delicious and intensely of strawberry.

giant strawberries
Giant strawberries at Daimaru 788 yen

box of strawberries
A box of perfection (they smelt incredible too!)

Sushi boxes

Japanese food is definitely cheap here, but anything Western seems to come at a (happily paid for) price. Cakes, biscuits and pastries are showy creations of magnificence. They become artworks that cost a small fortune.

berry cafe
Berry Cafe at Kyoto station

fig cake
Fig cake

Read the next Japan entry Read the first Japan entry

14 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 5/10/2007 11:52:00 pm


  • At 6/01/2007 1:12 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hi Helen

    I've been lucky to go to Japan a few times. Tokyo and Sapporo to be exact. It's one of my favourite countries and your fantastic pics have certainly brought back a lot of memories. And I agree the food is amazing. I love trying everything and the Japanese have the best department sores, especially the food sections. Have spent hours there!!!..lol
    Great reading

  • At 6/01/2007 6:18 am, Blogger gaga said…

    I absolutely LOVE natto! My Japanese co-workers were very impressed that as a blonde, blue-eyed American I took one bite and loved it. I think that's when they adopted me. Unfortunately here in Atlanta, GA, USA the only natto you can get at the Japanese markets has been frozen for weeks and somehow it doesn't have the same kick.

    Love your photos. I feel like I'm back there.

  • At 6/01/2007 6:29 am, Blogger MissK said…

    The fig cake is beautiful!

  • At 6/01/2007 10:31 am, Blogger fennalia said…

    Hi Helen,

    I really love looking at your blog. The picture really makes me hungry. Keep up the good work! Japan sounds fun, I'm drooling over the giant strawberry!

  • At 6/01/2007 11:12 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Oh my...that fig cake looks heavenly! And I feel I can smell the strawberries just by looking at the photos...

  • At 6/01/2007 3:18 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    enjoyed the pics. made me want to go to japan. :)

  • At 6/01/2007 4:00 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    wow the strawberries are so perfect!! doesnt it make you want to turn one upside down...

  • At 6/02/2007 10:57 am, Blogger peggy jean said…

    Hi Helen,

    The cakes are so beautiful! I think i'd be willing to pay a lot for them - and come back for seconds...!

    Love your photos =)...your blog never fails to make me hungry!

  • At 6/02/2007 6:00 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    i remember on my trip to tokyo this year, the strawberries looked exactly like that too! luckily, we found a punnet (slightly bigger then those found in sydney fruit stores) for only 400 yen!!! they were the sweetest strawberries i had EVER tasted in my life. i love love love japan and ur photos and descriptions bring back the fondest memories. i cant wait to go again!

  • At 6/02/2007 7:42 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Peter - We really wanted to go to Sapporo but it was just a little too far to squeeze into a two-week holiday. I love depaato food halls too. So much to eat :)

    Hi Gaga - I'm yet to be convinced by natto, but I certainly admire your love for it. I do love my Vegemite though. I had it for breakfast my first day back!

    Hi MissK - It looked even better in person. I would've loved to have had a slice (or two, or three!).

    Hi Fennalia - The strawberries were fantastic and the smell was intoxicating!

    Hi Lorraine E - lol. I've never seen such perfect looking strawberries. We had to peer clser to make sure they were real!

    Hi Blogger_on_hiatus - You should make the trip. Japan is so worth it!

    Hi ChocolateSuze - lol. It made me want to eat a whole punnet!

    Hi Adrian - We didn't get to try these giant ones (we had smaller cheaper versions!) but yeah, Japan kicks ass anyway!

    Hi Peggy Jean - Japan never fails to make me hungry :) And glad you're enjoying the photos!

    Hi Kimmy - I can't wait to go again either :)

  • At 6/02/2007 8:43 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hey Helen,

    Good to hear you enjoyed your trip to Japan :) I looooove natto ... It's one of my favourite foods, but then I'm Japanese by descent so I was raised on it. (I have some in my fridge right now!). How cool are the food halls? I think Tokyo's Nihonbashi Mitsukoshi food hall is maybe the biggest I've ever seen ... Absolutely spectacular, blows DJs out of the water really! Excellent photos ... Your blog is great, keep it up.

  • At 6/05/2007 12:34 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Anon - Thanks for your comment. I don't think I ever made it to Nihonbashi Mitsukoshi. Maybe that's a good thing. I might have fainted! :)

  • At 6/10/2007 1:36 pm, Blogger Hungry Hamster said…

    Hey Helen!
    I'm still enjoying ur Japanese trip posts! Do you mind if I ask what camera you use? The pics are so pretty!

  • At 6/13/2007 10:41 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Hungry Hamster - I alternate between a small and snappy Sony Cybershot and a heavy but happy Nikon D70s. Glad you're enjoying the photos :)


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