Asia, Japan

Asia Day 57: Kyoto (Arashiyama – Kinkaku-Ji)

Photo of the day: Arashiyama bamboo grove. Photo credit: Aaron.

We were hoping to see the beauty of the Arashiyama bamboo grove but Aaron also read that it gets really busy, especially since it is the weekend; therefore, we got up early for the earliest seating for breakfast at the Ryokan at 8am. We had ordered the traditional set menu. I really enjoy eating traditional meals because there were so many little dishes to try. Our breakfast came with fried salmon, Tamago, tofu, pickled goods, Nori, pumpkins, rice and miso soup. The food was not bad except the fish was too salty.

Traditional Japanese breakfast @ our Ryokan.

We had a bus to catch so we quickly finished our meals and were off! The buses here were boarded through the back and then you would pay when you got off the bus from the front. We made use of our one day pass which provided us with unlimited bus access and limited subway access. The train system is not as extensive here and it made more sense for us to bus. It took us around 1 hour to reach Arashiyama, meaning we arrived around 9:30 am. It was another 10 minute walk to reach the bamboo grove. It wasn’t too busy when we got there but it was still difficult to snap a good picture without any tourists in it. I was a little disappointed amount the appearance of the bamboo first since it looked not as vibrant and magical as in pictures. We later tried to do some colour editing on our phone and was able to get the same appearance. With today’s technology, it is easy to be deceived. Please note the photos here are unedited, so you can fully appreciate how it would look in real life. It was still a very nice area to walk along especially in the morning when there were still not too many people. There were many temples and shrines along the path. We visited Nonomiya-jinja, where princesses used to come to purify themselves. Here you can pray for marriage and even a smooth delivery.

Arashiyama bamboo grove. Photo credit: Aaron.

Next, we visited Okochi Santo, the villa previously owned by a famous actor, Okochi Denjiro. He put a lot of effort to build a beautiful environment for him to meditate and enjoy the mountain views.  Perhaps the 1000 Yen (~ $12 CAD) entrance fee was a bit of a barrier to entry, there weren’t too many people when we visited, creating a very peaceful environment. The views were definitely worth the visit. I can imagine how much more spectacular the views would be with Sakura blossoming or snow falling. There were various lookout points throughout the villa/garden and there were signs everywhere to show you which way to go on this one way circuit trail. At the end, you can visit their teahouse, where you will receive free matcha tea and sweet. It was a particularly lovely day, so we were able to sit outside to soak up some sun while enjoying the tranquil ambience.

View from Okochi Santo.

We loved our visit to this garden/villa so much, we decided to also visit Tenryu-Ji, a Buddhist temple, which a supposedly gorgeous garden. We entered via the north gate and got our tickets for the garden only visitation, meaning we needed to purchase another ticket to visit the interior of the temple at the main entrance, if needed. We were again pleasantly surprised by the amount of blossoms on the trees. We then reached the area temple was situated by the pond and it was absolutely gorgeous. Again, I can only imagine how beautiful it would look during cherry blossom season or with the autumn foliage.

Plum blossoms in Tenryu-Ji. Photo credit: Aaron.
The central pond within gardens of Tenryu-Ji. Photo credit: Aaron.

We were getting hungry, so we headed to the Main Street for some lunch. There was a good Kaiseki place called Hanana but it had a significant line up. We waited for 30 minutes without much progress before giving up and deciding on eating some “soy milk skin” or Yuba instead. Apparently, this is a thing in Kyoto. The restaurant which caught our eye was 嵯峨とうふ稲 北店. There wasn’t too much of a wait to be seated, which was nice. We took the seats by the window with a good view of the busy street down below. Unfortunately, it took maybe 20-30 minutes before someone took our order and perhaps another 15-20 minutes for our food to arrive

People watching, while waiting for my food.

During that time, I watched as the people walked by downstairs, many dressed in kimonos. I started researching how kimono rental worked. So many kimono rental stores are set up at main tourist attractions, where you can get dressed and then do sightseeing in the kimono. They usually allow you to keep the kimono until the end of the business day. The cost is around 1500 Yen (~$18 CAD) and up depending on the quality of the kimono you wanted. There were packages for friends as well as couples. There were also optional add-ons such as luggage storage, a studio photography session and hair styling. I really appreciated how so many people dressed up, since it really adds to the ambience of the whole area. I feel like I’m transported back to ancient Japan. It made sense that a lot of people decided to rent it and walk around at old temples and old streets. It’s a great photo shoot opportunity. Imagine walking around modern Shibuya wearing a kimono. It just doesn’t work as well.

Finally our food arrived. It was again full of little dishes. I had the Yuba in a tub (Kumiage Yuba) and Aaron had the Yuba in a thick sauce in some rice. Our sets were similar, with some gelatin on a stick dipped in a hoisin like sauce (Namafu No Dengaku), a homemade tofu, white miso soup, “Kyoto pickles”, as well as a powdered rice cake. My meal had a bowl five-grained rice on the side instead of with my Yuba like with Aaron’s set. Aaron had some tempura vegetables which is dipped in this deliciously addictive green powder, while I had the seasoned Okara, a byproduct of Yuba making. My Yuba came with two dipping sauces and according to the instructions on the table, I can dip the Yuba in or add the sauce to my tub and drink it like a soup. The Yuba was pretty bland, relying on the sauce for some taste. The soup tasted like a diluted, unsweetened soy milk. Overall, I wasn’t too impressed with the Yuba itself. I did really like the tofu, which was super flavourful especially paired with wasabi.

Aaron’s Yuba set meal. Photo credit: Aaron.

We still had some time before our bus was due to arrive, so we had some soy milk and matcha ice-cream from the stall just outside the restaurant. Both were really good. It was sad to say that this 300 Yen (~$3.50 CAD) soy milk soft serve was so much better than the soy milk meal we had at more than 10 times its price.

Soy bean and match soft serve. Photo credit: Aaron.

We headed over to line up for our bus. Unfortunately, our bus did not arrive and after waiting for some time, we decided to take the more reliable train instead. Again, I must emphasize that the train system is not as developed as Tokyo’s since we still needed to transfer to another bus to get to Kinkakuji Temple with the famous Golden Pavillion. We arrived at 4pm and the temple closes at 5pm. One would hope that there would not be as many people near closing time but the temple was packed. I felt like I was in the Louvre again, where everyone was trying to get a selfie with the Mona Lisa. Aside from the pavilion, there is also a tea house to relax in and the Fumo-do, where you can pay your respects, get some fortune slips (Omikuji) from a vending machine (they even had English scripts!) and little stalls to get lucky charms and shuin stamps.

Kinkaku-Ji. Photo credit: Aaron.
Omikuji from vending machines.

The temple was soon closing and my feet were really hurting, so it was time to bus home. I guess the last two months of daily 10+ kilometres walking has finally taken a toll on my feet, even with my trusty Merrell trail running shoes. The bus ride home was long and incredibly crowded, so when we arrived at the Ryokan, we immediately asked if the bath was available. There’s nothing like soaking in a nice hot bath after a long day of sightseeing.

For dinner, we decided to stay close by, since my feet aren’t up for too much more walking. We decided to go get a simple Gyoza a meal at Sukemasa. It was a cozy little place, mostly with locals. We ordered two of the Gyoza meal sets. One set consisted of 12 Gyozas, rice, soup, and pickled vegetables. The Gyozas were perfectly fried with a tasty filling. I appreciated how every restaurant we’ve been to had their own take on miso soup. Here they had minced pork in it, which Aaron thought to be the same pork as the one they put in the dumplings. I saw they had Yuzu liquor available here, so I ordered one with soda. Aaron liked it so much he ordered one for himself too! I definitely was overly ambitious with my sightseeing goals today and underestimated how long it would take to get from one place to another here. I was pretty exhausted and ready to call it a night!

Gyoza @ Sukemasa.

2 thoughts on “Asia Day 57: Kyoto (Arashiyama – Kinkaku-Ji)”

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