Archive for May, 2013

Japanese Food Porn

One of our primary activities in Kyoto has been eating.  Fortunately for our waistlines, Jonathan regularly makes us walk miles across town with the promise of a restaurant “just a little ahead”.  Essentially, we eat and walk and walk and eat.  Rinse and repeat.  Not a bad lifestyle.

Before we arrived, I had visions of daily sushi meals.  Perhaps the strongest testament to the variety of delectable food in Kyoto is that it took me over two weeks to have my first sushi meal!  (On the other hand, we did manage to squeeze in two Indian dinners–I take that as a testament to Jonathan’s determination.)  Below is a gallery of some of our meals, kicked off by a few offerings from a cool Whisky bar we found (on a long walk, of course)…

Kask Whisky Bar

Yudofu at Ryoan-ji

More Yudofu

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Kyoto-style at local bar


Menu at local bar – glad we had Jonathan with us!

DinneratKatsukura (tonkatsu)

Tonkatsu at Katsukura where we got to grind our sesame seeds

Chimiji (Koreanpancake)


Curry rice lunch


Dinner at Kyoshi – Isakaya style


Izakaya sushi – first night in Gion


Ice cream sundae!


Izakaya-style at Sugamachi


Lotus root


Lunch in Ohara, including raw egg over grated yam




Dish #2 from the left remains unidentified


Noveau curry rice at Cafe du Mon


Ninjinshirushi (from Okinawa)


Pickled octopus with crunchy noodles


Pork with burdock


Sea Bream head at Izakaya restaurant


Shabu shabu


Shabu shabu at Mishimi-tei




First sushi dinner

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Tempura and soba

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Bambi Town (aka Nara)

Zara rarely meets an animal or insect she doesn’t love, from rolly-pollys to pigeons to the more pet-friendly varieties.  (She does draw the line at road-kill, however, as I learned the other day after pointing out a squashed frog to her. “Mommy–I only like live frogs!”).  So when I heard about Nara and its famous deer, I knew it was a day-trip we had to take.

We took the train from Kyoto Station to Nara, about a 35 minute ride IF you avoid the local train (which we learned the hard way on the return journey).  Nara became Japan’s first permanent capital in 710 and the deer are Nara’s royalty.  The legend goes that a mythological god, Takemikazuchi, arrived in Nara on a white deer to guard the new capital.  Thus, the deer were regarded as heavenly animals, protecting the city and the country, although post-WW II, their divine status was downgraded to “protected national treasure”.

As we walked the mile or so from the station towards Nara Deer Park, Zara was single-minded in her focus.  “When are we going to see the deer?  How much further until the deer?”  Jonathan kept reassuring her that she’d see plenty of deer, but she was still displeased by our first detour to see the  five story pagoda of Kofuku-ji.

We’re accustomed to seeing the occasional deer on a hike, the skittish type that take flight through the forest before you can get within 30 feet, so we were all taken aback by our first deer sighting in front of the pagoda.  “They’re not real,” Zara insisted, and even I had to do a triple-take at the two regal deer sitting calmly for photos with tourists until I saw an ear twitch.

First deer sighting in front of the five story pagoda.

First deer sighting in front of the five story pagoda.

We didn’t linger long at the first temple, as we thought that the best strategy was to head directly to the Deer Park now that Zara’s appetite had been whetted.  As we entered the large park, we immediately started seeing small groupings of deer crowding around tourists.  Vendors scattered throughout the park sell special deer crackers and so we bought our first pack and quickly learned that the deer were anything but shy, and signs scattered throughout the park warned especially of the danger of an overly agressive deer “butt” to the elderly and small children (although they targeted me first).  After an hour or so spent feeding the deer, we wended our way through the park onto the lower slopes of Mt. Mount Wakakusayama for some non-deer sightseeing.

Fortunately, Nara had a lot more to offer than just deer, as there are seven main temple complexes.  We stopped first at Katsuga Shrine and Nigatsu-dō and then headed to the famous Todai-ji, whose great Buddha Hall was initially constructed in 752 but has been rebuilt twice due to fire (a common hazard with Japan’s wooden structures).  The hall was the largest wooden structure in the world until 1998 and houses a massive statue of the “Cosmic Buddha”.  It also has a wooden beam with a hole in it that is purportedly the same size as one of the Buddhas nostrils. There was a long line to crawl through the hole, as legend has it that those who pass through it will be blessed with enlightenment in their next life.  Zara made it through but Jonathan wisely declined after seeing a Japanese pre-pubescent teen almost get stuck.  (Jonathan reports having done it 20 years earlier so he’s already set for his next life.)



As we exited the last temple complex into a crowd of school-kids and tour groups, Zara begged for another deer cracker package.  By this time, most deer were recoiling at the sight of the deer crackers.  She had difficulty finding any willing takers, and most deer just lounged lazily or did their business on the busy path, their droppings immediately swept up by energetic elderly men.  I’d reached the point of major deer fatigue, where the sight and smell of them was just getting to be too much and was relieved when Zara got rid of her last cracker.  I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but even Bambi can lose his charm.

Touring Nara

Touring Nara

Washing hands at Nara

Washing hands at Nara

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Jonathan's mum getting up close and personal with the deer at Nara

Jonathan’s mum getting up close and personal with the deer at Nara

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View above Nara

View above Nara



Kyoto – First Impressions

After just one week, Japan currently vies for top spot with New Zealand in Zara’s ranking of favorite countries, knocking Thailand down to #3.  It’s been easy to fall in love with Kyoto.  We’re staying in an old tea ceremony house of the traditional Kyo machiya style, where we sleep on futons placed on tatami mats and as we are based in Kyoto for four weeks, we have the luxury of slow exploration, rather than a mad rush to the top tourist destinations.

The house is located at the bottom of Funaoka-yama (Funaoka mountain) in the Northwest corner of Kyoto and steps away from a Buddhist temple (Daitoku-ji), yet away from the hustle and bustle of the more central tourist districts.  We can go days without seeing another Westerner in this part of the city, yet Jonathan’s Japanese skills allow us to navigate the traditional restaurants and cafes with ease.

We’ve been busy visiting shrines and temples galore, more on those later…but what has really captivated us aren’t the tourist sites, but in the quiet beauty found everywhere — the ready smiles and cheerful Japanese of the people, the attention to detail in everything, the narrow alleyways that wind through the neighborhoods, the personal shrines and the hidden gardens.  And I can’t help but be envious of an environment where it is normal for 5-year olds to walk or bike home from school alone.  And of a city that rivals Amsterdam in its cycling population, where moms bike with babies in slings and octogenerians cycle to the grocery store.  The one downside to this is that their practice of biking on sidewalks requires pedestrians to be on constant alert, however, so Zara is our unofficial bike alert monitor.

And I most not forget the FOOD, which is a highlight of each day and will deservedly have its own post.

What has been a completely unexpected (but happy) surprise is the cost.   Prices are significantly cheaper than the US, NZ or the UK, especially once outside the main tourist centers.  With the dollar at a 5-year high against the Yen, that is one factor, but Jonathan’s impression is that Japanese prices just haven’t risen in the 20 years since he lived here. The one exception is lodging, but consumer goods and food are seem significantly cheaper than what we’re used to at home.

So much more to write about so stay tuned!



On grounds of Kinka-kuji


In front of Kokinen, our rental home.







Downstairs of Kokinen


“If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine; it is lethal.” ― Paulo Coelho

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