During our full day trip in Kyoto, we visited the famous Kiyomizu-dera Temple and the stone paved streets of Ninenzaka. I would highly encourage people to leave the metropolitan cities in Japan and to discover the culture and tradition in the outside areas.
Kiyomizu-dera Temple and Ninenzaka were not far from the Kyoto JR Station. We caught a bus once we got off the train and it took us 15 minutes to get to our destination. Since the temple was situated up on a mountain, we had to tread up a long way to get there. The journey wasn’t unbearable to walk up but instead, it was a pleasant trip with traditional Japanese buildings along the streets and tourist shops all the way till the temple. I also noticed a lot of people wearing kimonos around the area but almost all of them were tourists.
When I got to the temple, I fell in love with the tradition and culture in the architecture. Kiyomizu-dera Temple (Pure Water Temple) is an ancient Buddhist temple in Eastern Kyoto on the site of Otowa Waterfall. The temples were all wood built and the structure was held only by the perfect and strategical placing and sliding of massive blocks of wood.
I took this picture before I went into the Kiyomizu-dera Temple. The lady in the kimono and her child seemed fitting with the surrounding.
The temple was clearly re-painted but no colour or building alterations were made.
A stunning view of Kyoto from the Kiyomiza-dera Temple. We were lucky to see it when the sun was just about to set and the temple was an absolute eye opener as I walked around it. Kiyomizu-dera Temple is also famous for their large wooden stage in their main hall. Below the temple, there was a place for people to drink from the pure waters of the waterfall. To give myself more luck, I got a chance to take a sip from what seemed to the best water I have ever drank.
Next stop was Ninenzaka. If you wanted to get back to the city, you could just walk down the hill from Kiyomizu-dera Temple and into the historical Ninenzaka street. The street was wide but paved with polished and slippery rocks which would have been very dangerous if you were wearing traditional Japanese wooden shoes. There was a saying that if you slipped on the Ninenzaka streets and survived the fall, you will have good luck.
This Kyoto trip could not get any more perfect. The sun was setting as we were making our way down Ninenzaka and even when the stores were closing, the scenery was stunning.
By the time we got down from Ninenzaka and into the bustling streets of Gion, we were hungry. While my family was searching for a restaurant, my empty stomach did not get in the way of my ambitions for my Kyoto trip. Gion is Kyoto’s most famous geisha and geiko district and I was determined to see either one. It was expensive to have a geisha or geiko at a private event so as I stepped onto the red lantern lit street of Gion, I was praying for good luck. Since geishas and geikos have to attend several events in one night, you would usually find geishas and geikos walking on the streets of Gion to get to the next private tea ceremonies, banquets or upper class business meetings.
Seeing a geiko walking on the streets was practically impossible because they are like hidden gems. They are more expensive than geishas and are often seen wearing more elaborate clothing and make up. As I was walking down Gion, I was hoping that I would see at least one geisha or geiko. The gods answered me because I saw a beautiful geisha in a sky blue and feather white kimono heading to a banquet. Her face was painted white and her hair was held up in the most elegant way possible with no single strand of hair flying out. I didn’t get a picture of her because I believed she was in a rush but this trip has been overloaded with luck!
The street was full of these red lanterns placed outside of tea houses. Many people think that the geisha area is a red light district but I consider geishas as a form of art and talent.
After a long walk, we decided to stop at a crowded Japanese hot pot restaurant. I was told that the second floor of the restaurant was reserved for private meetings with geishas so we were charged 15% service charge regardless.
On the table we have the Shabu Shabu set, Shabu Shabu Deluxe set and a Yudofu Set. Everything was served on small plates and the presentation was of the finest. I did not take photos of all the dishes because my family digged in before I could even take my camera out. To fill you in on the details, the meal included mashed beans, pickled vegetables, shabu shabu beef, assorted sashimi, rice, miso soup, tofu, vegetables and tempura.
The Yudofu (Japanese soft tofu) was cooked in a metal rectangular pot inside a wooden box. I had my first bite and the taste was unreal and so fresh. The soup did not contain any additional flavours so I could really taste the silkiness in the tofu and the soy richness in the soup.
Keeping the flavours as natural as possible, the restaurant only used water for the hot pot “broth”. The beef was very thin making it easy to chew and rich in meaty flavours. If you wanted some extra taste to the meat, you can dip it into ponzu sauce (shabu shabu sauce) for a sharp and citrus kick.
The table wasn’t too big and since there were so many small plates, we were beginning to lose track of what dishes were supposed to be in our set meal. This was my Shabu Shabu Deluxe Set and I was not full from it.
Food was placed everywhere but we started with our fresh sashimi before getting into the hot foods.
The presentation was beyond expectations. If this was served in Vancouver, this would cost at least CAD25 for fish that wasn’t even caught on the day.
What’s in it: Tuna, amberjack, squid, horse mackerel and grated wasabi.
I usually cannot eat a lot of raw fish but since I was in Japan, I had to push myself to my limits. I was definitely not a fan of the horse mackerel’s texture but the tuna and squid were savoury and not fishy. I reluctantly finished the amberjack but I definitely wouldn’t order it if I was at a Japanese restaurant.
Assorted Seafood Set
What’s in it: Uni, pickled daikon, baby cuttlefish, grilled fish, tuna wrapped with tamago, broccolini and uni mochi.
In all of my meals in Japan, the assorted seafood set in the Shabu Shabu Deluxe set had the most unique and memorable presentation.
I’m not going to go into detail on anything but the baby cuttlefish and the uni mochi. The baby cuttlefish was a savoury delight with a fresh taste of the ocean. I’ve never seen raw cuttlefish presented to me like this but it was a delicious addition to the seafood set. Their size makes it so easy to just eat a box of them as a side snack.
The highlight of the entire dinner was the uni mochi. I was mind blown when I had my first bite, thinking it was a fish ball or something. Like all mochis, the external had a pillow and dough like texture. As I bit into it, I was pleasantly surprised when I tasted the fishy and rich uni tastes embedded in the centre of the mochi. Needless to say, I loved it so much that I wanted the lady to give me a bowl of them. I’ve never heard or tasted anything like this but I really hope that it will become a popular thing.
I hope you enjoyed reading this long post on my Kyoto trip!
Onward to Shirahama!