Kyoto: Food and temples

This is our fourth day in Kyoto, and what we’ve done so far is eat and walk around. Not a bad existence at all. Being an avid eater in Kyoto reminds me of being the same in Paris: there is so much food everywhere, all of it delicious. On the short stretch of Kuramaguchi-dōri (the “busy” small street) by our house, there is: a good bakery, the 24-hour convenience store (which sells things like marinated pork belly, steamed buns, and a selection of rice vinegars), a compact supermarket with an excellent selection of pretty much everything, what appears to be a rice shop, and at least two little storefronts with refrigerated cases full of fresh fish and counters packed with tempura, mochigashi, and other specialties I can’t identify. Oh, and there’s a small restaurant where I just ate the best katsudon I’ve ever had. The batter had an amazing seasoning I’ve never tasted before, which I think was sanshō pepper.

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Katsu donburi lunch set

Items from the supermarket:

Spring-themed wafer cookies

Sweets filled with white bean paste

Ichigo daifuku

Daifuku with red bean paste and whole strawberry inside

Eggs

Tiny fish for sale

Everywhere we’ve gone, there have been drink vending machines. There’s literally one on almost every block, and often there will be two or three next to each other. I don’t even notice them anymore, unless I happen to be thirsty! Apparently Japanese etiquette is to drink on the spot, rather than drinking and walking, and so most of these machines have recycling bins alongside. The machines vend everything from yogurt drinks to coffees to — yes, beer.

Liquor vending machine

All the above photos were taken just within the half-kilometer from our house; further out there are more bakeries and restaurants and food stores! I’ve sampled from many of them… all in the name of investigative research, naturally. ;b

Pâtisserie window

Adorable round bun with seeds on top

Bun with tinted white bean filling (I think)

Cheese curry pan

This was ridiculously delicious.

Believe me, it’s a challenge getting anything done besides eating!

Fortunately, Kyoto is an agreeable place to walk as well. Within our neighborhood, the cozy small streets and tiny shopfronts give the district a friendly, intimate feel that puts us right at ease. And while not all the buildings are in the traditional style, many of them are, lending the area a charming character.

 

House close to ours

House on a small street by our house

Camellia

Spotted pink camellia

View from steps leading up to Kenkun (Takeisao) Shrine

I’ve heard that there are more than a thousand shrines and temples across Kyoto. Certainly we’ve run across a number of them just in our short time here, and we haven’t even gone looking for them. There’s Kenkun (Takeisao) Shrine on Funaoka-yama right behind our house, and if you go down the opposite side of Funaoka, it’s only a few blocks to the well-known Daitoku-ji. The even more famous Kinkaku-ji is only about 1.5 kilometers to the west of us, and the same distance to the southwest will take us to Kitano Tenman-gū Shrine.

On Sunday we went for a walk and ended up strolling through the grounds of Kinkaku-ji. Unfortunately there was not a great deal to see unless we paid admission, and there were so many tourists (most speaking Mandarin) that we decided to save that for another time. But there were some snack shops and vendors around, so we sampled sakura dango and wasabi peanuts (how to say that in Japanese? “wasabi pīnattsu”).

Main entrance gate at Kinkaku-ji

Tourists at Kinkaku-ji

Kinkaku-ji map

From there we made a big loop and found ourselves at one of the gates to Kitano Tenman-gū, so we decided to take a look there too. I’m so glad we did, because there was quite a festive atmosphere, with lots of snack and gift vendors calling out their wares. And we found out afterwards that the shrine is known for its early-blooming ume (Japanese plum, sometimes called Japanese apricot) trees. There was no charge to wander the lovely grounds, so we did so, admiring the blossoms along with all the other visitors. While we were there it started to snow and it felt like just the most magical place ever.

One entrance to Kitano Tenman-gū

Hot dog vendor

Building at Kitano Tenman-gū

Ox sculpture

Ume blossoms

Ume blossoms

Ume blossoms

Central building at Kitano Tenman-gū

Lisa at Kitano Tenman-gū

Ume blossoms

First Kyoto kitty sighting!

Building by an east gate of Kitano Tenman-gū

As we were leaving the complex, a trim older lady, wearing an elegant black kimono with a wide gold obi, preceded us through the gate. She crossed the street and continued down a smaller street, so we followed, and found ourselves in a really lovely little district full of shops and restaurants. Our area has an old-fashioned feel, but this place, even more so. As I found out after we got home, we were in Kamishichiken, the oldest and least famous of Kyoto’s five geiko (the local term for geisha) quarters. But we didn’t know that at the time. Actually, we left quickly, after a simple lunch at an udon restaurant, because Erik’s sore throat was beginning to make itself felt. But I’ll go back another time.

Like Kitano Tenman-gū, Daitoku-ji’s grounds are open for free, so we took a little detour there on Monday while shopping for groceries. I was amazed — it was like entering a forest, but with beautifully paved walkways.

One of the buildings at Daitoku-ji

One of the buildings at Daitoku-ji

Most adorable sight that day: ladies leading a little gaggle of children around the complex, all of them singing as they went.

Schoolchildren and their minders

Erik contemplating a signboard (it had English!)

Toward one of the buildings

Gateway to one of the buildings

Mossy area

Another kitty sighting!

That same afternoon, needing a break from sitting on the floor (yes, it’s come to that — getting up because sitting is too difficult), I decided to take a little walk up Funaoka-yama. I went around the actual shrine and just took the paths around the mountain instead. Even more so than at Daitoku-ji, I marveled at how quickly the forest atmosphere took over; within minutes it was easy to forget I was only a stone’s throw from home.

Main gate

Cobble-y trail More bibs on stones

Trail with mountain in distance

Closer view of the mountain

Tree with rock cairn (?) under it

Cute steps

On the other side of the mountain, I came to an intersection of the trails and found myself watching a scene being filmed. No, honestly: there was a crowd of busy people round a circle of reflectors, and in the center, an extremely shiny BMW parked in front of a police car. As I stood with the half-dozen other lookers-on, they began filming: a stocky middle-aged man in a suit stood in front of the BMW and a young man in a suit came toward him saying something. The older man responded and then began to run away. The young man ran after, still shouting at him, and they ran past the reflectors and then the scene was over. It had taken all of maybe three minutes. I thought, Five years in Hollywood and this is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a filming. Go figure!

I took a longer route home and stopped at another bakery. Funnily enough every bakery we’ve seen here has been French-inspired — I can’t remember the name of this one, but another one down the street is Boulangerie Petit France (should be Petite, but isn’t).

Custard bun and sakura-shaped pasty

I feel as if we’re getting a good bit of local flavor even if all we’ve done is eat and walk around the outsides of things. And to be honest, that’s our favorite thing to do, anyplace, anyway! Low-key, but the rewards are great. :)

13 responses to “Kyoto: Food and temples

  1. Love this food-and-temple tour! I think the first spring-blooming trees photo need to be a giant poster on my living room wall! It’s so beautiful.

  2. Beautiful — and I love how you are doing this, just walking about and finding your treasure as you go. In another couple of weeks the whole landscape will be alive with color, but the first blossoms are the loveliest against the winter background.

    • Thank you, Sherry! It’s true, the first blossoms are probably the most appreciated. :) Since the ones at this shrine were the first we saw, I didn’t really know how special they were, but the other day we went to the botanical garden and their whole ume grove was barely in flower.

  3. That is my favorite way to see a place, too! So glad you are enjoying good weather and finding so many treats (for the eye as well as the belly). I love seeing all the photos and reading about your impressions.

    • Thanks so much, Alejna! There’s a lot to share about Kyoto — I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface and yet we’ve been here about two weeks now (when did that happen?!).

  4. Thanks for the tour! Now I know why Studio Ghibli movies all have that look. :D (Imagine a Totoro-sized toothy grin)

    • Hee. :D We saw a collection of beautiful Totoro figurines at a department store the other day! Glad to know those movies are apparently just as popular here. :) (Well, probably more popular.)

      • The one time I was in Kyoto, on my way to one shrine (probably kiyomizudera), I stumbled on a store entirely of Studio Ghibli stuff. There was a large totoro standup in the front of it. Seen it?

        • Oh!! I think so!! It was the same day we went to Kiyomizu-dera, though it was closer to another temple… can’t remember the name now since we didn’t go in. Let’s see… where are my pics from that place?

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