All the world is a stage...
Reviewed by Jennifer Herlein
I have to admit that although I was leery of the concept, the atmosphere at the ryokan was amazing. We could hear the fountain as we slept and were served a gorgeously presented breakfast in our own tatami room next to the pond. We opted for the Japanese breakfast and like most meals we've had here, it consisted of about a dozen small (2-3 bites) portions of various items. There was miso soup, rice, nori (seaweed), tofu, pickles (a Kyoto specialty), Japanese omelet and a variety of other vegetables, each in their own vessel. The proprietress was so kind and gracious, even though I'm not sure we were always wearing our robes when we should have been.
It was another beautiful day in Kyoto so we started with one of the shrines that was on the top of my list, Fushimi-Inari-Taisha. The shrine consisted of multiple series of stunningly bright orange torii (shrine gates) winding up a wooded mountainside and it was truly an amazing sight. This shrine was dedicated to the gods of rice and sake in the 8th century and the statues of foxes scattered about represent the messengers of the god of cereals. Like the other statues we've seen in Kyoto, the foxes were wearing what appear to be bibs. I still don't know why that is.
We wound back down the mountain and took the train to the Nishiki Market, which is a long, covered pedestrian street filled with over 100 shops. Something we've noticed in Japan is that with the exception of the market, people don't walk down the street eating or drinking. Even when we've bought iced coffee, the cashier has put it in a bag for transportation to wherever we plan to consume it. I imagine this is one reason that litter is pretty much nonexistent here. On the same note, it's probably why there isn't a big need for garbage cans on the sidewalks and why we've been stuck walking with garbage for blocks before finding a public trash can.
One of the shops we were specifically looking for at the market is one that roasts hojicha tea. We could smell it before we saw it and I've grown to love that smell, which sometimes makes me think of marijuana. After our tea purchase, we meandered through the colorful stalls and started the search for our tempura lunch spot, Ten Yu. For the most part, Kyoto was way easier to navigate than Tokyo and the only thing that gave us trouble here was that the restaurant was on the second floor, making it hard to see. This was another small restaurant (10-12 seats) where diners sat around the counter and watched the chef prepare the food in the center. As usual, we didn't really know what we'd ordered until the food arrived but this system seems to have been working for us since we've yet to be disappointed.
After a hearty lunch, we thought we were up for a walk through the Northern Higayshiyama area so we hopped on a subway and started the journey. Our goal was to see Nanzen-ji and Ginkaku-ji, which are about 30-45 minutes from one another via the pedestrian Path of Philosophy. Nanzen-ji is a series of Zen temples, which we quite welcomed given that we were surrounded by busloads of middle schoolers. We took a wrong turn looking for this apparently well-marked Path of Philosophy and it probably ended up taking us longer to find it than it did to walk it. Wandering around these beautiful areas would usually be fine except that it was really hot and we were overheating. We finally found our way and the Path of Philosophy was worth the trouble. It was nicely shaded as it runs along a canal that is flanked by houses and nature. About 30 minutes later, we ended up at Ginkaku-ji, which is known as the Silver Pavillion. I personally found its landscape to be the most beautiful that we'd seen - it was lush, serene and had gorgeous white sand gardens.
Sightseeing for the day completed, we really wanted to sit outside and have a drink. We've unfortunately learned that this must not be a common desire in Japan. I've yet to see an outdoor terrace in Tokyo and the only outdoor options we'd seen in Kyoto were the seemingly overpriced restaurants along the river. We went back to my favorite street, Ponto-cho, and found a bar with an open door near the seating, which was going to have to work. Our chat with the bartender led us to choose Issian Pontocho for dinner. There were eight seats at the bar and four tables along the wall and each grouping had a hot stone on which the food was grilled. Much to our surprise, the owner, Chef Ken, lived in the United States for 15 years and spoke English. We went with one of the chef's choice menus and it was fantastic. He grilled the food on our hot stone and explained which sauces went with which grillables along the way. It was a delicious meal and the chef made the experience a lot of fun.
Bellies full of tasty grillables, we meandered back through Ponto-cho and took the subway back to our ryokan.
Filed under: Japan