Wednesday, February 22, 2012

2012 New Year in Japan Part 1: Kyoto

I don't deny it: I love going to Japan.
Really, it's hard not to like the place. Great food, awesome service, beautiful scenery, reliable transport system. Ticks all my boxes as a perfect travel destination. Needless to say, spending a week in the Kansai region with onsen chucked in it was hard to resist. Even if it meant completely altering my original plans (solo, Osaka only) and not seeing my favourite Japanese boy band in live concert action.  Was it worth the sacrifice? Well...
But on with the trip.
Kyoto. Once the capital of Japan, home of the Gion geishas, loaded with temples. I won't go into the rich history and culture - plenty of experts out there on that. It's also one of the few places where I'm happy to do all the touristy things. Like going to Kinkakuji (aka The Golden Pavillion) as soon as we're off the train from Osaka.
Kinkakuji 金閤寺

We really couldn't have picked a worse (or better?) time to visit Kyoto. It was 3rd January, and Kinkakuji was packed compared with our last trip 3 years ago. Despite the crowds, it was still unbelievably orderly. Typical Japan.

Still managed some photos sans crowds.

By the time we got out of Kinkakuji it was just before lunch time, and the group was hungry. We walked into the first restaurant within sight, Itadaki, and thankfully they had room for all 7 of us. Unfortunately for the people who arrived right after us, they had to wait a good 20 minutes for a table.

Pork Ginger set, 1470 yen

Daily Special: Kobe beef steak donburi set, 1050 yen

House specialty hamburger with demiglace sauce set, 1260 yen
Previous trips were somewhat marred by the steep prices for, well, everything. 1000 yen for ramen had, in my mind, become the norm. So when I saw the prices for a teishoku set lunch at Itadaki, it came as a nice surprise. My pork ginger came as a juicy cutlet of pork pan-fried with onions and ginger sauce, almost gravy-like in consistency, balanced by mizuna on top. I'm told the beef steak donburi was just as good, and great value too. Unfortunately the hamburger turned out to be a slight disappointment, lacking sweetness and slightly overdone.

Second stop: Gion. We went intending to do a bit of geisha-spotting, but the place was packed with not the slightest trace of geishas or maiko in sight. Still, great spot for a bit of traditional architecture.

Last stop was Kiyomizutera, which turned out to be a mistake. The place was packed! We got in around 4pm, and couldn't get out until well past 5, despite taking the shortest route possible. Okay, we did make a detour and had a snack of yudofu (blanched tofu), udon and zenzai...

The yudofu (湯豆腐) was well worth it. Vegan, flavoured by konbu tsuyu, blanched in konbu dashi, it's vegan, without sacrificing taste. It lives up to all expectations of Kyoto tofu, renowned for its silky but firm texture and slight nutty flavour.

Next stop: Arima Onsen.


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