We were on a mission to try to beat the rush at Fushimi Inari, one of the most iconic tourist sights in Kyoto, so we quickly grabbed some breakfast at a convenience store in Kyoto Station. I had their tuna and egg sandwich which was simple and lovely especially encased in the fluffy cloud-like white bread. Aaron had the udon which was not bad for a convenience store udon. Then we shared the tuna mayo onigiri which is always a good go-to item. Really wishing that we have all these types of food items in Canadian convenience stores as well!
Then right before we got on the train to Fushimi Inari, our noses were overwhelmed with a smell of apple caramel. We found the origin of this smell and got some caramel apple waffles which tasted as good as it smelled. It was not too sweet and had a nice apple flavour.
The Famous Fushimi Inari
We took advantage of our JR passes to take the local metro to Fushimi Inari – the shrine with the beautiful layers of red torii gates. We cleansed our hands with sacred water, paid our respects by tossing a coin and ringing the bell, bought some more lucky charms for loved ones and of course, snapped a few photos.
We cannot leave without first trying some food stalls. Aaron was attracted to the 500 yen Wagyu-on-a-stick. To our disappointment, it was not that good. The meat was a lot more tough and chewy than what I would expect of Wagyu. You get what you pay for. Can’t expect too much from a 500 yen beef-on-a-stick.
A Nice Coffee Break
It was the perfect time for a coffee break, so we stopped by Vermillion Coffee for some coffee and tea served by a nice man with an Australian accent. It was a very cute cafe with a modern design. They were even considerate enough to have cozy blankets at the seats in case their patrons were cold.
Make Your Own Sushi
After our coffee break, we took the train back to Gion for a nice walk and browsing before heading over to our lunch reservation at AWOMB. Apparently Bear Woman had to make reservations 2 months in advance for this special dining experience. It is a set menu of various items and sauces and we were provided with rice and nori to make our own hand rolls. It also came along with a lovely duck meat soba. The food so beautifully presented, it was like an artwork in front of you. The most difficult part of this meal is to know which food items to pair with each. The items ranged from Wagyu beef, to mashed potato, to boiled astringent skin of chestnut, etc. It was really fun just picking at the various pieces in front of us.
After lunch, we headed over to Okamoto Kimono rentals while Aaron went to get his favourite cheese tarts at Bake. Again, Bear Woman had graciously made reservations online for our kimono rentals today. We just had to show up. We then picked our kimonos, obi (belt), bag and shawl, then we were brought to the changing area to be all prettied-up. We were dressed in a plain white under layer, then had many layers of towels, belts, fabric wrapped around our mid-section. I had brought leggings to wear under in case it was too cold. I was warned to not wear it too high or else the belts would wrap around it so tightly I would not be able to pull it down to use the bathroom if needed. Important tip! Eventually we donned our kimono, with another belt, after some more tucking and straightening up, the obi was meticulously tied on with a lovely bow at the back. The whole process didn’t feel very long given the speed at which the stylists were working. Next, we had our hair done. We chose our hair styles, then again an intricate-looking hair style seems to appear in only a few minutes. Overall, the entire appointment took around 1 hour. I was very impressed with the friendliness and speed at which the stylists here operated. This is all for a reasonable price of 4000 yen + 500 yen for hair styling for a day’s rental. I was advised by Bear Woman, however, that it would be difficult to use the bathroom in a kimono, so we chose to only rent it for a couple hours.
When in Kyoto, Must Have Matcha
Because the store was already right by Kiyomizu-ji, we just walked right out to explore the stores nearby in our new outfit. We blended right in with many other people wearing kimonos. We had wanted to go to the Starbucks here which had a traditional seating area with tatami. Unfortunately, it was too busy. Instead, we headed over to Maccha Tea house for some matcha and matcha tiramisu, which was the most delicious tiramisu I’ve ever had. This is a must-eat!
It was soon 5:30pm and it was time for the light-up event at Kiyomizu-ji. The punctuality of Japanese people is so amazing that it lit-up even a few minutes early! We then paid our 500 yen entrance fee to walk around the temple grounds to admire the beautiful maple trees, strategically lit-up to produce a gorgeous sight.
Time flies, as it was time to return our kimonos before the shop closes. The removal of the kimono was definitely at lot faster. In no time, layers flew off and we were in our regular clothes again, but still with beautiful hair.
Negi – Lots of It!
With that, we headed back downtown to Pontocho to look for dinner. This narrow alley housed many restaurants. Don’t forget to check the even more narrow side streets as well. We eventually decided on Negiya Heikichi. We chose their sukiyaki and had 3 orders of the regular Wagyu beef as well as 1 order of the special Wagyu beef. Once we had ordered, a small appetizer appeared in front of us. This was an otoshi, or a compulsory appetizer which will usually add another few hundred yen per person on the bill. It’s like a cover charge and usually seen when visiting izakayas (drinking establishments). This one had a memorable price tag, on the higher end of the price scale, but the taste was not as memorable. Then our main dish arrived. What we hadn’t clued in until now was the piles of negi (or onions) outside the restaurant as well was the word negi in the name. As our sukiyaki pots arrived, there was a mountain of green onions, leeks and onions. It was quite the sight. Eventually these boiled down a bit and we were able to see the broth to dip the beef in to cook. The regular beef was very fatty and delicious. It’s already very flavourful from the broth but tasted even better when dipped in the raw egg provided. The special Wagyu beef was even more fatty. We felt that for only 4 pieces of meat, it was not worth the 6000 yen price tag, given the regular beef was already so good.
After another successful food day, we withdrew some more cash from the ATM with ease at a nearby convenience store and picked up some onigiri for breakfast tomorrow before retiring back home.