My last Kyoto post left off at the Seiryoji Temple, in Arashiyama. From there we boarded a bus, still hungry from our failed attempt to find our desired restaurant, and my clever friend navigated us across town to the Philosopher’s Walk. With her navigation, the bus system was very easy and an all day pass equated to about $5.
Our stop for the Philosopher’s Walk dropped us near a Ramen restaurant which proved to be a most fortunate accident. Where ramen in the States typically means a plastic wrap bundled of dried noodles and an MSG-laden spice packet, it is amazing in its home of Japan.
We entered the empty restaurant, long past lunchtime, and were treated to the most delicious ramen. Where ramen refers to the type of noodles, my focus was on the incredible broth, the noodles being an afterthought. My friend thought it a bone broth and if I were a proper foodie, I would explain all of the nuances of the flavors but I have no clue. I just know it was one of the best soups I’ve ever had and the three slices of pork were my most favorite.
The chef was the only one in the restaurant besides us and we tried to communicate how wonderful we thought his food was. He smiled and nodded but didn’t seem to speak much English. If you are ever in Kyoto, definitely stop here: Raumen Tetsujin (he’s on Twitter too)!
We left the restaurant to head up to the Philosopher’s Walk, a beautiful shaded path that runs between some of the temples. My friend explained that the name is from a Philosopher (and Professor) who would make the walk daily for a meditation. We were joined by other travelers but it was not very crowded.
My attention was divided between the nature and the quirky shops that ran parallel to it. I paid particular attention to a calligraphy shop and the woodcarver’s shop. The woodcarver had images of Buddhas, human figures in prayer, and children carved in play.
When I travel, I like to pick up a little piece of art from the city so the small carving about 2 inches tall, was perfect. I couldn’t pass it up. The shop attendant said that his father was the carver and I saw a framed article that named the artist as Seiichi Omachi. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to ask the type of wood for since being home, James smelled it [but of course] and pointed out how fragrant it is, another happy find!
Our walk ended at the Ginkaku-ji Temple, also called the Silver Pavilion, a temple that unlike the Gold Pavilion, has no silver but does have a beautiful sand garden. One area was dominated by a large, perfectly formed mound with the top loped off, a sign naming it “Kōgetsudai”. The internet explains it is to represent Mt Fuji.
The gardens here were lush, green, and perfectly manicured. A path led visitors through them and where there wasn’t that thin strip of concrete or rocks, the grounds were covered in moss. Here I was delighted to see the attendant sweeping the moss of debris. The gardens were very pristine.
The path lead us up an incline so that a view of the city lay before us and there was a curious sign alerting us to a tree on another small hill. It stated it was “one of the descendants of the tree which was exposed to radiation when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima”. That, however was the extent of the information. As with most things in Japan, I was always curious for more information.
I found an article that explained that these saplings have been planted both as a message of hope for Fukushima to recover and also as a call to abolish nuclear weapons.
We continued through more green and I spied an intriguing other path that was barred from visitors. Here I took note of the barbed wire that enclosed that path and my brain daydreamed about what kind of mythical creatures they were attempting to keep in or out. The other visitors discussion about the website “Yelp”, in English, brought me back to the mundane though and soon we were moving away from the temple and passing booths with various knickknacks.
The air was still cool and wonderful but my entire time in Japan felt like a stamina test based on the sleep deprivation we began with (just a few hours on the plane). So we took a break in a beautiful tea room, that didn’t primarily serve tea.
Instead we were introduced to Amazake. Where I’d never heard of it, the helpful menu explained that it was “malted rice, said to be good for intestinal health and helps you recover from tiredness”. Perfect! I had mine with chocolate and what appeared to be tapioca balls, served warm and very tasty.
We sat on mats on the floor enjoying our unique beverages. My friend’s selection appeared more a soup with a very sticky rice at the bottom. The rice had an elastic consistency which she pulled from the bottom in long tendrils. (Seeing it made me even happier of my chocolate choice.) When not distracted by her odd soup-drink, I gazed at the stunning garden in the back of the shop. Being in Japan, tea was also served so we left properly hydrated.
It was about 5pm and shops seemed to be winding down so we hopped on the bus again, me following my friend blindly. We got off in the Higashiyama area and so began our wander. I was not sure if she had a destination in mind or what the plan was but the gorgeous streets of Kyoto kept me from worrying over this.
The wander took us ever higher until we ended at the Kiyomizu-dera Temple, or Pure Water Temple. Another temple on my “if time” list, it has a main hall that is built into a cliff and offers a very impressive view from 42 feet in the air. The veranda is supported by rows and rows of pillars and has an interesting history. It was believed if you jumped from the top and survived your wish would be granted. Wikipedia listed an 85% success rate but this has since been prohibited.
Sadly, we didn’t get to see a lot of the temple as we arrived about 30 minutes before close. I did have time to form a regret though. There was a huge ‘singing bowl’ inside the main hall and while the sign seemed to invite the user to try it, the sign was completely in Japanese and I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. A single other woman was in the hall with me and I nodded suggestively at the bowl “try it” but she didn’t and moved away from the weird foreigner. So a definite missed opportunity but I also didn’t want to commit some cultural faux pax that would bring dishonor upon my family or entire country. 😀
So without committing any known dishonors, we headed to the exit which took us on a long path away from the main hall, on stilts, and though thousands of more trees. This temple seemed enormous. I wish we’d had more time to explore it.
We left at dusk though and after our full day, instead of the Michelin-rated restaurant we’d sought, we ended up with Japanese bar food. Which I’d rate higher than American bar food and slightly more healthy. We ordered various tapas like baked eggplant, edamame, a sashimi salad (not a favorite), fried lotus root and a taro dish. My highlight was the sake though.
Locally brewed it was served in a small glass placed in a wooded box. The sake was poured into the small glass until it overflowed into the box to the rim. Japan is definitely all about presentation and this was a delight to me. My friend also introduced me to shōchū, a liquor made from sweet potatoes. How brilliant!
These two were effective enough that later when I got fixated on the idea of ice cream, the red beans that appeared in my cone were actually enjoyed instead of being shunned. [But sadly not effective enough to lead me on a sock purchasing spree. Sorry friends who have since requested the flip-flop socks!]
Kyoto definitely provided a wonderful day.