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Kaiseki dinner in Kyoto

Our landlord highly recommended that we eat a kaiseki dinner during our stay in Japan. Kaiseki, or Kaiseki-ryori is a traditional multi-course Japanese dinner that’s usually quite expensive. However, Mariko-san knew of a place that serves good and affordable kaiseki for ¥5000. Of course, we set out to find this restaurant called “Otaya” but following her hand-drawn map proved to be harder than we thought when it’s dark outside. Luckily for us, we ran into a nice Japanese couple and asked them for help. They didn’t just point us in the right direction but actually took their time to walk us to the restaurant! And when we reached our destination they even bowed and thanked us. I wish people at home would be this kind and caring.

The funny thing is, as we were walking towards the restaurant, my husband said to me, “It would be pretty funny if we end up at the same restaurant we tried our first day in Kyoto”. And yes, this was the exact same restaurant. On our first visit we weren’t sure on how to operate the restaurant’s sliding doors so when we finally stepped into the restaurant, all the guests, waitress and chef looked at us curiously. That day they were fully booked and the same thing happened now but this time we made sure to make a reservation for another night. When we were back out on the street, we heard someone calling “Martin, Nicole!” and it was Mariko-san! She kindly offered to take us to another great restaurant nearby and hungry as we were, we accepted. The place she took us to was amazing! We got a table on the second floor with a view over the small river right outside the house. The service was excellent and the food very good.

Two days later, we returned to Otaya for the kaiseki dinner. We ordered nihonshu to drink and of course the kaiseki. We had prepared ourselves by just eating a light lunch but I still had trouble eating everything. My favourite courses were the pumpkin (I love pumpkin) and the vegetables (never have I tasted so perfectly cooked vegetables).

OTAYA: http://otaya-kyoto.com/

1) Fig and cheese with miso dressing

2) Soup with fish and lime

3) Sashimi (tuna and some white fish I don’t remember). The purple flower petals were supposed to be put in the soy sauce together with the wasabi

4) Grilled mackerel with chestnuts, ginkgo seeds and lime

5) 20 different vegetable with dipping sauce

6) Mashed pumpkin “dumpling” in a thick sauce

7) Sushi and miso soup

8) Crème brûlée

When we were about to leave the restaurant, the waitress congratulated us on getting married and gave us two beautiful coasters she’d made. I think it’s wonderful how a complete stranger goes out of her way to make you happy. A little kindness really goes a long way :)

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Kinkaku-ji and Fushimi Inari Taisha

The Golden Pavilion, or Kinkaku-ji as it’s commonly known as, is a Zen Buddhist temple located in the northern part of Kyoto. Visiting Kyoto without seeing Kinkaku-ji is like going to the Louvre and not be bothered to see Mona Lisa. So of course, we had to see what all the fuss what about!

kinkaku-jiWe got there by taking a JR train (forgot which line) to Enmachi Station and then a taxi to the temple. If you’re not on a tight budget, I can very much recommend grabbing a taxi. It cost us around ¥1000 one way but because there is pretty much no traffic, you’ll reach your destination in no time. The only downside is that taxi drivers speak almost no English at all. If you don’t speak a word of Japanese, I recommend writing down the address on a piece of paper and/or bring a map with you.

At the temple grounds there were a special exhibition showing the high priest’s house. It was in Japanese only and the cashier seemed very concerned that we wouldn’t enjoy it and told us several times that English wasn’t available. We assured him that it was fine and bought our tickets. Just as we had taken off our shoes and put them in a plastic bag (yes, you carry your shoes with you, in a bag), another ‘museum attendant’ came up to us with some papers. They weren’t official or anything, he said, but they were in English and explained the layout of the house, what rooms had been used for what etc. Then he did his best to give us a quick guided tour. It’s things like this that I love about the Japanese. We’ve met so many lovely and friendly people who really go out of their way to help two slightly confused foreigners.

The special exhibition was very nice even though we didn’t really understand everything. The best thing about it could actually be the calm atmosphere that surrounded the house. Almost everyone went straight for the Kinkaku-ji, making it a bit crowded but at the house we were just a handful of people. Also the stone garden surrounding the house was memorable.

kinkaku-ji_stone_gardenKinkaku-ji itself was very beautiful but I have to say that I think the crowd of people was a little bit disturbing. I would probably have enjoyed it more if we could’ve just sat down on a bench contemplating the view of the garden like we did at the Tenryu temple. In summary, I’d say that the Kinkaku-ji was well worth the visit but I would recommend visiting early in the morning.

Outside the temple grounds, there’s a café selling the wonderful green tea ice-cream that I miss soooo much. I just had to take a picture of the plastic food they got on display. That green tea/vanilla ice-cream is to die for, yum yum!

foodAfter the Kinkaku-ji, we took a taxi back to Enmachi Station and took the train back to Kyoto station, switched to the train for Nara and got off at the Fushimi Inari Taisha, known for it’s “Thousand Torii Gates”.

We didn’t know much about the shrine when we started climbing the stairs and like with most temples/shrines we visited, I severely underestimated this one as well. I never thought that it would be such a long walk with stairs pretty much all the way. Luckily, there are several vending machines on the way (even on mountains they’ve got vending machines!!). We even reached the wonderful vantage-point with a café just before closing time. Nothing beats enjoying the sweet taste of a soy-bean ice-cream and the view of Kyoto in sunlight after a long walk. Filled with new energy we continued our walk and finally reached the top. It was an amazing feeling but to be honest, I was expecting more of a view from the top. The coolest thing was that the sun had started to go down and the lanterns were lighting up. Unfortunately, that also meant “mosquito time”! With that said, we hurried down the mountain. We almost got lost on our way down but it wasn’t that serious since we turned back before completely walking down the mountain on the wrong side. Apparently quite a few people hike the mountain even in the evening so we weren’t alone. After walking past a house that looked very much like a pub(!?) we met a couple of hikers chanting their mantra “Give us a beer, Give us a beer” while climbing the stairs. I guess what we saw earlier really was a pub :)

I didn't count but I don't think "a thousand" is an exaggeration when it comes to the torii gates.

I didn’t count but I don’t think “a thousand” is an exaggeration when it comes to the torii gates.

A Kitsune (Fox) statue. Foxes are very common at Inari Shrines.

A Kitsune (Fox) statue. Foxes are very common at Inari Shrines.

Back were we started! As you can see, it's rather dark outside

Back were we started! As you can see, it’s rather dark outside

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Nishiki Market and Ishin-no-Michi

Sometimes you find great places just by walking around and just go where your feet takes you. This day we started out with an awesome breakfast where we finally got hold of some bread. Back home we usually eat a lot of bread and in Japan it’s a scarce commodity so we were thrilled when we saw the plates. You might wonder “well then, what do the Japanese eat for breakfast?” and the answer is, pretty much what they have for lunch and dinner. Another lovely thing about meals in Japan is how they are presented. I mean, just look at that tray with everything neatly placed! The attention to details is just remarkable and they truly follow the rule “less is more” (see the one dried fruit in the yoghurt).

japanese_breakfastAfter the breakfast we browsed the shops that was lining the narrow streets up towards the Kiyomizu-dera temple. Where there are temples, there are “touristy shops” but in the middle of it all, we found several nice shops selling tea, earthenware, sweets etc. Inside a small alley, we even found a shop selling Studio Ghibli stuff with an enormous Totoro outside!

Totoro! If only you could fit in my bag!

Totoro! If only you could fit in my bag!

Loved the cosy and narrow streets :)

Loved the cosy and narrow streets :)

After leaving the crowded streets we walked up Ishin-no-Michi st, a steep road leading to what looked like a temple. For a small entry fee of a couple of hundred yen, we entered the Ishin-no-Michi grounds and started climbing the stairs. It was a tough climb because of the heat but I’m glad we made it because the view from the bottom of the graveyard was amazing. The graveyard is the resting place for over a thousand people, both royalists and samurai that died around 1867. On the steep mountain slope and under the lush vegetation, it was a beautiful and peaceful resting place.

The view over Kyoto.

The view over Kyoto.




This is what we found right outside the toilet, a gigantic mantis! I've never seen one in real life so I was very excited

This is what we found right outside the toilet, a gigantic mantis! I’ve never seen one in real life so I was very excited.

In the afternoon we also paid a visit to the Nishiki food market in the more central part of Kyoto. There where “no photo” signs pretty much all over the street so I couldn’t take many pictures :( There were all kinds of food there. Fish, vegetable, tofu, tea, mochi sweets and also weird things I’ve never ever seen before (and don’t expect to in the future either). The weirdest thing must’ve been the tiny octopus with a cooked quail egg inside it’s head. Unfortunately, I couldn’t take any pictures of it but luckily, someone else did!

Here’s me trying a steamed sweet potato patty on a stick! It was rather tasty :)

Yummy :)

Hot but yummy :)

We also bought some green tea (sencha) and at the end of the street we found this super cool machine that was making matcha tea! Basically, you mash tea leaves completely with a stone and get a fine grain powder that you mix with hot water and drink. It’s said to be very healthy since you drink the entire leaves. It’s also very popular in ice cream and sweets. The slightly bitter matcha goes perfect together with the sugar in sweets.

If you ever find yourself in Kyoto and are even remotely interested in food, I recommend checking out the market. It really was an experience.



Kobo market in Kyoto

When we checked in at Ninya House, our landlord Mariko-san highly recommended a visit to the Kobo market held at the Toji Temple once a month on the 21st. She also recommended to be there quite early if we wanted to get our hands on the good stuff. We took her advice and made sure to be there at around 8:15 in the morning. At first we thought that what you see in the picture was the entire market. That was nowhere near the truth. In reality, this was more like 5% of the market. There where lots of different food, for example takoyaki, okonomiyaki, noodles etc. You could also buy antiques, pottery, beautiful bonsai trees and wonderful vintage kimonos.


I, of course, had to buy myself a kimono! There were sooo many beautiful garments to choose from but I found a lovely red/purple-ish one for ¥2000, a haori (kimono jacket) for ¥2000, an obi (sash) for ¥1000, an obijime (string to tie around the obi) for ¥2000 and an obiage (a scarf used to tie up the obi) for ¥1000. The quality of everything I bought was very good. I never saw anything for that price with that quality in any of the “proper” stores. To give you a little perspective, I can tell you about the nagajuban (undergarment for kimono) I bought a day later. It cost me ¥15.000. Sure, the quality was good but still the price felt a bit bonkers in comparisson. Since I’m a complete newb when it comes to dressing up in kimono, two lovely ladies at the market tied me up in the obi :) They even gave me two koshihimo (silk ropes to tie the kimono) as a gift!

See the obiage sticking out. Apparently I should tuck it in more since I'm now a married woman :)

See the obiage sticking out. Apparently I should tuck it in more since I’m now a married woman :)

When walking out from the market, we stumbled across a both that was selling fabrics for ¥800/m!!! With that price, I couldn’t just walk away without buying anything so I got a nice woven fabric. I’ll post some pictures of it when I get home, right now it’s lying somewhere in my bag :)

Caaakee! Yum, yum!

Caaakee! Yum, yum!

When we got home, Mariko-san came by with two yummy cakes and some sweet plum wine as a wedding gift. (Thank you Mariko-san!) Excitedly, I told her about my awesome bargain and she got just as excited as I was. She even helped me dress up :)



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Kyoto – Arashiyama

The southern part of Arashiyama was greatly affected by the flooding caused by the typhoon a day before our arrival. This made the Hozu-gawa river look more like Ganges than a clean and beautiful river. However, the people working and living around the river all worked hard to restore everything. Our landlord, Rico-san told us that it would probably take about a month before everything was back to normal.



The first stop on our tour of Arashiyama was the Tenryu temple. To begin with, we visited the dharma Hall which had a very cool painting in the ceiling picturing a huge Cloud-dragon. Because one of the dragon’s eyes was painted right in the centre of the large circle surrounding the dragon, it looked like it was looking right at you wherever you were in the room. After the dragon painting, we went for a stroll in the beautiful garden.


Exiting the Tenryu garden, we found ourselves in a bamboo forest.

Me In the beautiful yet mosquito infested. bamboo forest

Me in the beautiful yet mosquito infested bamboo forest


After the bamboo forest, we paid a visit to the garden of the famous samurai actor Okochi Sanso. Apparently, he wasn’t a samurai that also did some acting but an actor playing the role of a samurai. His garden was absolutely gorgeous and the entry fee also covered a cup of matcha + sweet, yum!

Matcha. and sweet :D

Matcha. and sweet :D

The samurai garden

The samurai garden


After the garden, we went to look for monkeys in the nearby park. Unsuccessful in our search, we resorted to the backup plan, namely visiting the Arashiyama Monkey Park. It’s home to around 200 japanese snow monkeys and for ¥500 we entered the park and climbed the monkey mountain. At the top, we even got to feed them!

Cool tree on our way up the mountain. The roots were huge!

Cool tree on our way up the mountain. The roots were huge!