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A short travelblog: Spending CNY in Kyoto

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Originally, we intended to spend this Chinese New Year in Hong Kong. We have travelled a lot last year and will need to attend a wedding already next month in Germany, so I was happy to spend some quiet days at home (and keep the spendings a bit under control as well). As a consequence, we had not booked any flights in the busiest travel time of the year in this region …

But – despite all good intentions – I found myself two weeks ago calling the hotline of my favourite airline in the region, essentially cashing in on three years of extensive business travel and checking where I could get on short notice over CNY on miles. I was expecting a laughter on the other side of the line but this is the one time my status in their loyalty reward program paid out big time: three seats for either Seoul or Kansai International (earliest morning flights, of course). No need to choose, really – Kyoto, here we come !



Edited by Duvel (log)
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The flight day started early … very early. Despite us basically living next to Hong Kong airport (25 min door to door), we had to get up at 5.00h, which was not appreciated by all members of the family.


The airport was packed, but we were allowed to pass through the “special” lane with the (actually not so) little one. Hong Kong airport is quite efficient, especially for residents, so about 20 min later we could enjoy the perks of the lounge. The eggs royale were good as usual, enjoyed with an iced lemon tea. The little one enjoyed his “stinky cheese” and cold cuts, before tucking into a bowl of granola.






Maybe a bit of history: There was really no contest between the Seoul and the Kansai option – my wife (then girlfriend) and me lived in Kyoto from 2003 until 2006. I did my PostDoc at Kyoto University and my wife joined and did a kind of master course at the graduate school. We have not been back for the last 13 years and this trip is – if anything – a recollection of our time there. Thus a little disclaimer: there will be not necessarily the Japanese food porn you’d expect from @rarerollingobject or the exotic dishes you’d see in @shain travels through Georgia. Just down to earth food memories enjoyed by gaijins on a (virtual) students budget ^_^



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After an uneventful flight we touched down at Kansai International airport in the early afternoon. I usually skip the food on board, so off to the first Konbini (convenience store), in this case a Lawson’s, to get a Onigiri.






There was a small change in climate conditions from Hong Kong (24 oC, sunny) to Kansai (3 oC, rain). Luckily, the Konbini had already the right suggestion for that dilemma: Oden! It will be featured as a late night snack in one of the following days (after some alcohol and even more frozen limbs) …




We took the Haruko express to Kyoto, dropped off the luggage at the hotel and headed out into “town”, more specifically an area called Shijo-Kawaramachi. This is the main shopping/entertainment area of Kyoto, featuring a roofed shopping alley called Teramachi.  




It is funny how many details you can still remember after all this time. This shop is selling very inexpensive Okonomiyaki. Its located just at the entrance of the arcade and saying it looks worn down would be a euphemism – and yet it survived all these years. So did the (hilarious expensive) crab shop. Other shops we used to frequent have closed down …






This one is new: Korokke Burger, with two potato croquettes filling in for the burger bun. I was very close to buy one, but then …




I discovered the old Taiyaki shop. A fish-shaped treat, made from waffle batter and filled with either sweetened adzuki beans or sweet potato. The “flavor of the months” was sweet potato with cream – how exotic. Needless to say, it was yummy …






In order to have some of my daily budget for dinner, I had to pass on several shopping opportunities, such as the famous banana lamp (damn), the really inexpensive shoshu glasses (as seemingly we have already too many) and the really useful “beer can to draft beer” converter …








My son wanted to have some Tabi shoes, but they didn't had his size :wacko:





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For our first dinner we decided to go to an Izakaya, located on Kawaramachi-dori. Honestly, we were not so sure anymore how it was called, but the approximate location and it being on the forth floor led us to a nice place, so we just pretented it's actually the one we went to before ...


The otoshi ("free" starter, that comes with the table charge) was raw slices of squid, pickled in konbu and yuzu peel. A good start ...




Edamame as per the little ones request ...




Hot soup (we were actually frozen solid before entering the place) ...




Whiskey highball for me ...




Raw horse temaki, topped with uni - this was excellent !




Winter mackerel, cured in salt and just torched before serving ...






Chicken karaage ...




Some mixed grilled skewers ... I liked the breast rolled up with shiso leaf the best.




Fried cheese mochi :biggrin:




Japanese grilled steak with potato salad - an Izakaya essential ...



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After all the food we managed to snatch a taxi back to the hotel ... You really have to admire the Japanese sense for taste,  in every detail.








And just because ... a late night snack - the 7-11 egg salad sandwich. A true classic !




Best to be enjoyed with a night cab :$



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How beautiful @Duvel.  Thank you so much for sharing!  I am old and while I was fortunate to travel in my youth, I am not sure how much more globe trotting I'll be doing.  My last international travel was 2005 on a business trip to Germany.  My last vacation was 1985 to Canada.


I am so happy for you that you can relive some of your graduate school memories.


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thank you for taking the time to share.


great food and great pics.


too bad about the shoe.

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This is great, I'm really enjoying this.  Wonderful photographs.  Thank you for taking the time to share your trip with us.

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Fun!  Shouldn't read this while starving.  


.....I'm off to ponder those shoes.......

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Despite the cold temperatures we decided to rent a bicycle for the day. One of the fondest memories of our time living in Kyoto was taking the bikes out on a Sunday and just discovering all the quiet streets in the city, where you could always find a hidden shrine or an traditional house that never made its way into the guide books.






Around Gion we stopped to rest a bit (did I share it was cold – at least for a Hong Kong resident ?) to watch the street life and people dressing up as Meikos. Despite the arranged motif I always enjoy seeing the girls in the bright kimonos, moving slowly down the street next to the canal.






We moved up to Heian Jingu, the former seat of the emperor ...






and cycled further to visit the main campus of Kyoto University.




As part of the “nostalgia” tour we decided to have lunch at the central cafeteria, under one of the engineering buildings. The cafeteria is not subsidized, so anyone can eat there. Priced remain moderate, and the food quality is acceptable.












We had ...




Tonjiro (and Miso soups as well)




Buta shogayaki (Pork with ginger)




Grilled mackerel




Kinpira gobo (burdock & carrot) with lotus root.




Nasu renkon (cold aubergine with radish and tsuyu)




Karaage - my favourite ...




It found the approval from the little one as well ...




And not pictured: cold spinach with onsen tamago, spring rolls ... all in all for 1200 yen (about 11 USD). Certainly student friendly :biggrin:





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After lunch we continued our cycling tour to the east of the city, eventually reaching the Philosopher's walk.




The alley up to the most northern temple, Ginkaku-ji (the Silver Temple), was lined with all kinds of popular snack stalls. I choose a skewer with grilled rice cakes - Dango - liberally brushed with a sweet & malty soy glace.










The temple itself was nice as well, with a Zen garden as well as the main building, mirroring the design of the more famous Golden Temple (Kinkaku-ji).










On the way back to the (paid) bicycle parking we indulged our sweet tooth with a choux pastry filled with vanilla custard ...






After some 15 minutes cycling south, we reached the famous Eikan-do Zenrin-ji, renowned for its beautifully painted sliding doors as well as collection of paintings spanning several centuries (no pictures allowed).








Life for the monks here is dangerous ...




I remembered this garden vividly from the autumn visits, coloring the entire temple grounds in red and yellow tones. Now, in winter, it looked more austere ...





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By now, the sun had almost set so we moved towards our hotel, stopping by only at Nanzen-ji to see the impressive Sanmon at dawn.






With the sun almost gone it got even colder. I don't even own a pair of gloves anymore, but I surely could have used one today. Passing through the streets of Gion back to the bike rental place ...




... we were - again - frozen solid. The unanimous vote for dinner was surely influenced by that - Ramen. More specifically, the Kyoto-based Ramen chain that still defines my taste: Tenkaippin!






Tenkaippin is famous for their "kotteri" Ramen, a heavy, gelatinous, chicken-based soup that really revives you after 8 hours cycling through Kyoto in the cold. Best to be enjoyed with a draft beer highball ...






The Gyoza and Karaage weren't bad, either ...




On the way back to the hotel we passed through Kyoto station, where the little one and my wife got a little treat from Mr. Donut, while I found a "beef sand", a item gaining popularity in the last years. Essentially a tonkatsu sandwich, made from beef steak rather than port and served with mustard on spongy toast bread. I enjoyed it at home with my night cab (Suntory on ice, to set the mood for tomorrow) ...





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 I can’t even begin to tell you how much I am enjoying this.   Thank you so very much for sharing.

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I am enjoying as well, the scenery is very appealing...I have visiting Japan on my wish list.

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7 hours ago, Duvel said:

Life for the monks here is dangerous ...








LOL A few years ago a deer got into the legislature buildings here and caused quite a stir. I can only imagine that monkeys would be a good deal more disruptive.

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I want SO badly to go back to Japan. Eating in the noodle shops and the food halls of the train stations is such a treat. The Ryuan-ji (sp?) temple in Kyoto was, I think, my favorite place on the trip, though we also went to the Emperor's Palace and Kinkaku-ji. 


There is a sweet that's a soft, doughy pastry filled with sweet bean paste -- I forget its name. I could eat my weight in it.


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31 minutes ago, kayb said:

I want SO badly to go back to Japan. Eating in the noodle shops and the food halls of the train stations is such a treat. The Ryuan-ji (sp?) temple in Kyoto was, I think, my favorite place on the trip, though we also went to the Emperor's Palace and Kinkaku-ji. 


There is a sweet that's a soft, doughy pastry filled with sweet bean paste -- I forget its name. I could eat my weight in it.



Coming up - both Ryoan-ji and at least what I think the sweet is you enjoyed ...

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Awesome stuff, @Duvel


Thank you for taking the time and effort to share with us all.



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I too am enjoying this virtual visit. The photos of the scenery, architecture, streets and food are all interesting and enticing. Thank you for sharing with us!

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I'll echo those thoughts - I appreciate the time spent in posting this!!!  Thank you!

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Thank you so much for sharing. We’re off to Japan for the first time in April. It shouldn’t be so cold as your trip, but will hopefully be as delicious.

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In the past years living in Hong Kong I have developed a serious affection for Japanese whiskies. When a good friend reminded me that Suntory’s Yamazaki distillery is located just between Kyoto and Osaka, I just had to go there to visit. Unfortunately, the guided tours were booked out three months in advance. Nevertheless, I kept checking everyday for cancellations and just on our day of arrival I got one single spot on the 10.30h tour on Saturday …


So while my wife and the little one went to the Arashiyama area, visiting bamboo groves and watching small wild monkeys, I headed south for Yamazaki. I don't really eat breakfast, so I bought some otsumami ("snacks for drinking alcohol"), specifically yaki-eihire, semidried & grilled skate wings.






The distillery is beautifully located on the slopes of a mountain, from where they get their water. Everything is super well kept and tidy (after all, its Japan).










Before the tour I took a look at the permanent exhibition and noticed a long line of people queuing in the museum. Turns out the gift shop opens at 10.00h sharp, and they always have stock of a limited edition of Yamazaki whiskey (strictly limited to one per person). Needless to say I queued up as well and by 10.05h was already loaded with things to bring home (including some beautiful whiskey glasses) …






The tour itself was very informative and the guide went out of her way to make sure I had a good time (as the only  foreigner). They had an app for the audio commentary in english, but I got some snippets from her explanations, which – in a typical Japanese fashion – were very lively and almost exaggerated (“… sooooo tasty…”, “-… isn’t that greeeeaaaaat….” – imagine you telling a story to a five year old). It was a really fun tour.












After the tour there was the (included) tasting session, were you could sample two compound whiskeys and then identify the different tastes in the final blended product. This was very interesting. With a final glass, they taught you how to make a proper highball, but being the rebel that I am I just had it on ice. My guide was slight nervous as she (still) assumed that I didn’t get her instructions right, but I assured her in Japanese (which was greatly aided by the first three whiskies) that I really prefer my whiskey just with some ice. She was relieved and instead just made sure that I stirred it correctly …








After the tour tasting we could visit the (paid) tasting room, located in the basement in the whiskey library, which contained a fraction of the available cask samples for the blenders to choose for creating the different expressions. I was very impressed by that, ordered by mash type, still type, year, cask type, finishing … so many dimensions.










As I probably would never own a bottle of the older expressions (and even if – wouldn’t dare to open it), I decided to splurge a bit in the tasting room …








Outside the tasting room was a huge terrace overlooking the distillery grounds. The sun was shining, I had fantastic whiskies to enjoy and bag of chewy, sweet-salty grilled skate wings. That was MY day !








On the way back I noticed that the Konbini at the train station was of the “Daily Yamazaki” brand, one of the five major chains in Japan. It might have been influenced by the whiskey, but I couldn’t stop laughing …




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Ah. I miss Yamazaki, as well. 


I'm loving this tour. Please do not skip over a single experience!


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I love your descriptions of the tour guide's presentations - and I'm glad you were able to buy some new glassware! :D 

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After the visit to Yamazaki I surely could have used a nap, but the rest of my family and me had already agreed to meet at Kyoto station to get a quick bite to eat. Needless to say that no breakfast and quite some libations required more than just that, and luckily the little one was equally hungry. He insisted on sushi and funny enough, the kaiten restaurant we remembered in the station was still there …


The food street at Kyoto station, Hachidori side ...




The traditional salt cone in front of eateries (to attract the horse of passers by to stop) ...






Otoro ...




Uni ...




Shirako ...




Ebi tempura ...




Kani miso (crab intestines)...




Some member of the mackerel family ... this was my favourite. A fatty winter fish, enjoyed ust with ginger ...




Hon-ebi ... very good !




Unagi ...




Fugu (not sampled ... I don't care for the bland taste)




Grilled corn ...




Negitoro ...




Advertisement for the next day:  Ehomaki, for the Setsubun festival ...




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