Saturday, March 18, 2017

Kyoto

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We stayed in Kyoto for three days in a small AirBnB apartment just around the corner from the Higashiyama station of the Tozai subway line, which was really convenient for getting to some of the further flung sights we wanted to visit.  For our first outing, we headed out on foot though, walking east to one end of the Philosopher's Walk.

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We'd traveled far enough south that we were now past the prime bloom for cherry trees, but there were still many left, and it was very pretty  A week before, the walk had been covered in blooms, and from talking to a shopkeeper along the path, it was also packed with people admiring the trees.

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The path follows a small canal on the east side of Kyoto, and is about 1.25 miles (2km) long.  Somewhere in the middle, we started seeing people coming towards us with ice cream cones, and before long, we found the source.  Lana got a macha vanilla swirl, and I got sakura blossom.  Both were excellent, and hit the spot on the sunny, warm afternoon,

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Although the path itself is fairly short, we made a loop, walking back through Kyoto University to our apartment, which was about 5 miles total.  It was a great introduction to Kyoto, and a good way to spend our first afternoon there, after sitting on the train for most of the morning.

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The next morning, we headed toward Nishiki market, but David got sucked into a fabric store on the way (Namura Tailor).  It was a little daunting at first, but the staff were extremely helpful.  Unlike an American fabric store, this one had samples of each fabric pinned along the walls; when you found one you liked, you'd catch someone's attention, and they would rummage through the dense stack of bolts near the floor, and take the fabric over to your own stack at a cutting table.  This store had a minimum of 30cm (12 inches), and would cut in 10cm (4 inch) increments above that.  Like fabric stores everywhere, they were definite enablers.  David was nearly done at the cutting table when Lana mentioned that she'd found another fabric, and the woman at the table quickly said "I hold for you" and motioned for me to go, by all means, go pick out some more fabric. If you're wondering why David is interested in fabrics, it's because he's taken to making his own bow ties, for the days when work requires him to wear a tie.


We finally escaped the fabric store about a half an hour later, and wandered further on until we found an entrance to the Nishiki Market street.

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We walked the length of Nishiki market and back.  Mostly food, and almost all of that in ready-to-eat forms.  About halfway along, we stopped at a small restaurant named Luminous Nishiki for lunch.  We had an assortment of fish and meat tempura and yaki-imo: roasted sweet potato. This is the same sweet potato that we'd smelled roasting near the entrance to all the grocery stores we'd visited. It's called satsuma imo, and is starchier than the varieties common in the US. It remains very firm and dry when roasted, rather than being moist and mushy. These were served with a honey butter and salt, and were fabulous. We inhaled them, and ordered another round of them and skewers. It remains one of our favorite meals, in part because it was one of the first truly delicious meals Lana had enjoyed since arriving in Japan.

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After lunch we wandered around the market a bit more and then headed back to our apartment to drop off our purchases and figure out our next move.

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In the late afternoon, we took a tram out to the Arashiyama bamboo grove.  We were in the last car, which the conductor would later switch to for the reverse trip, so we had a neat view of the tram controls.  While the tram was slower than the subway, it was neat to see some sections of Western Kyoto from the windows.  We arrived in the bamboo grove as the sun was setting; the light was beautiful.

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There was a gentle path leading upwards through the grove.  Some portions were much darker, depending on the density of the bamboo, and whether the sun was hitting the canopy of slanting in under it.

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At the top of the grove, the path terminated at a T on what looked like a service road, and no directional signage.  Most of the walkers were turning around and heading back along the same path. We consulted our offline map app, and plotted a route further uphill, through the Arashiyama park to the south, which we had largely to ourselves.

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Our path took us to a pretty overlook of the Katsura river, and then down alongside it.  Lana found one of the most civilized park restrooms she's ever been in there, in large part due to the heated toilet seat. It was the first time a warm toilet seat was most welcome in the cooler mountain air. There was plentiful soap and hot water, and both western and squat style toilets to choose from. 

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We finished our loop of the park and headed back toward the tram through the small village that surrounded the train station. In addition to many tourists we saw Japanese families boating and picnicking along the river.

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That night, we had one of the best dinners we had in Japan--which is a high bar--at Kyoto Ramen Kojii, a collection of eight different ramen restaurants on the 10th floor of Kyoto Station. David had read a glowing report of it in a somewhat obscure guide that had given us some other good info.  We wandered the top floor of the station, looking at the options; each has very distinct, regional preparation of ramen.  We chose the pork bone and soy sauce based Kitakata region's ramen from Bannai Shokudo.  All of the ramen restaurants there (and many we saw elsewhere) used a ticket kiosk for ordering.  We picked out our meals, and fed in cash, and the machine spit out a small ticket for each item we ordered.  Then we waited in line for some seats to open up.  Just before they did, a staff member collected our tickets, and took them to the kitchen.  We sat at a bar top, and almost immediately, our meals came out.

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We went pork heavy: char siu pork ramen, pork gyoza, and fried rice topped with pork.  Insanely good; complex flavors, tender pork, lovely noodles.  We tried to pick up eating tips from our neighbors.  We were sitting next to a pair of business men who got large bowls, not the mediums we picked.  They got theirs just after we got ours, and they tucked in immediately, finishing well before we did.  Lots of slurping.  We never figured out how they didn't burn their mouths--the broth was incredibly hot when it came out.

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The stairs at Kyoto station display a light show at night. Because it was April it was filled with cherry blossoms cascading down them. It was beautiful, and we sat and watched it with lots of other people, enjoying the evening.

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The next day was our last day in Kyoto, but we had some time before we had to leave for the train station so we spent it wandering around the various temples near our apartment, all of which were quiet in the early morning, and beautiful.

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At one temple a gentlemen stopped us to tell us there would be a drum show that night at that temple, which was very kind. Unfortunately for us, we were headed on to Hiroshima so we wouldn't be able to make it.

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We never got our fill of Kyoto, and would like to spend a few more days there the next time we go to Japan. It's a gorgeous city, not to be missed on any itinerary.