A Travellerspoint blog

Dreamy Kyoto

Kyoto is just as I dreamed it would be. Traditional. Simple. Magical.

We are staying at Gion Morisyo, a traditional ryokan in the heart of Gion.

The homes are two stories high with angled clay-shingled rooftops. 5A1CE84BFD5EA0F36907BC423D19F054.jpeg Each home's front entrance is a sliding wood panel with a peaceful bit of nature to greet you. One must leave their shoes at the entrance (so Matthew was rethinking his lace-up Converse) and exchange them for slippers to walk the halls. When you get to your room, you must take off your shoes to barefoot the tatami mats. And to go to the bathroom, put on the hallway slippers, only to leave them in the hallway for the bathroom slippers.

Our room is simple. Two futons laid out on tatami mats, a low, big red table where we take our tea with two seats that sit right on the floor, thankfully they have backs and a cushion. There is a cute hallway with two little chairs and a table looking out over the mountains. And, most importantly, we have air conditioning.
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Our hosts, wonderful. They sat us down for a Kyoto orientation, giving us maps and showing us how to get to all the places we wanted to see. And they are always ready to give phenomenal restaurant recommendations.

The heat is just too much. Matthew declared he is done wearing pants. Since no self-respecting Japanese man wears shorts, Matthew in shorts and with my frizz-factor-fro, we don't exactly blend. But we own it.

We omikased at Toto, where K, our host, recommended, and actually escorted us there, just around the corner from the ryokan. Again, speaking no Japanese, we simply left it to the Chef's discretion. And wow, are we glad we did. Six glorious courses. There is something to be said for the mystery of anticipation. We had no idea what was coming next; we simply believed it would be delicious. It was.
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We went out for a wander. We ended up at Kenninji Temple. It's the oldest of its kind in Kyoto. The buildings were zen, the gardens super green, except for the stone garden where we sat and contemplated life for a while. The Dry-Landscape gardens aren't green. Instead, they have carefully chosen stones arranged carefully among raked gravel.
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When a large ant was crawling in my direction, Matthew said, "It is a Zen temple, I think you're supposed to step on it." That's the spirit, Matthew.

In Kyoto, there is a picture-op everywhere I look. Really, my stopping every two feet is testing Matthew's patience. (He will appreciate the pics later, I am sure) but it is just so dang picturesque.

After taking a brief, necessary hiatus in our ryokan, we ventured out for dinner in our authentically-traditional- Japanese Gion neighborhood. Finding nothing open at 8:30 pm on a Sunday night, we knew we could count on Bistrot Atout. French, obviously; obviously, delicious. We had nice French white wine, baguette pieces with melted butter. I ate Ayu poeler, a Japanese River Fish, with eggplant and fresh tomato sauce (which meant no sauce really, but whole chunks of fresh tomatoes and other vegetables) and Matthew had rabbit with mustard sauce. As a digestif we walked in search of geisha, but they were no where to be found.

Posted by LaurendeMatt 05:45 Archived in Japan Tagged kyoto Comments (0)

Shit-ake mushrooms

Holy shit-ake mushrooms is it hot.
Now I see what the locals are doing - I am really tempted to buy a handkerchief or facecloth to wipe my brow and the back of my neck (and between my boobs). It seems everyone is hot, yet everyone is covered from head-to-toe in clothes, or else they are in the shade. Japanese women are lovin culottes and pleated chiffony-type skirts, heels- sometimes with baby-doll doily socks, or just sneakers, and fidoras, always a big-brimmed hat or carrying an umbrella-like parasol. Some even have arm socks to keep the sun off their pristinely-white skin. Curiously, men sport man-purses, or murses, as Matthew likes to call them.
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Murses do actually make sense, now that I think about it... Instead of men having a bulge in their back pocket, or have their women carry everything for them. I cart around everything: water, travel guide, maps, sunglasses, our passports... But it's a trade off: Matthew's job is to navigate.

Yes, we are cheating. We cannot help that our American stomachs just are not craving curry-soup-rice or eel upon waking, or (a bit oddly) hot dogs. We went back to the Grand Front Osaka for Crepes. It seems the Japanese have a fascination with all things French- just like Matthew and me. And we didn't feel bad about it, they were scrumptious.

We were relieved when we made it to the air conditioning of Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan. Osaka is a port city, and the aquarium was right on the water. Here's us getting slurped up by a killer plastic shark:
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The aquarium is laid-out like you are taking a Ring of Fire world tour of marine life. It is impressive, with an 800 meter walkway that winds past gigantic tanks. The crazy-big central tank housed these attention-whore-ing sting rays that made us laugh. Matthew's favorite tank had the Dolphins, that put on quite a show, and my favorites were the Penguins tank (the King Penguins stood around like royalty in tuxes with their beaks held high), the dinosaur-ish spider crabs
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(seriously, I gasped when I saw them - I had no idea they existed!)
and the jellyfish. 51C5898E0EAEEB9DD8DFF6BAEAE2F1BF.jpeg

We walked the famed Dotumburi street. It is known for its 3D creatures-signage
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and food. Lots of food.
First order of business: Octopus balls called Tako-yaki.
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They are balls made of batter with a piece of octopus plopped in the middle. We got six balls for eight hundred yen hot of the griddle and then they put all these unnecessary condiments on top, like streaks of mayo, dried fish flakes. I cleared those off the top before eating my balls. As usual, I wait for Matthew to do the honors first to make sure any bite is not awful. My poor Guinea pig almost blew his top as steam came out of his mouth, and seemingly out of his ears. He advised me to wait a minute. Those balls pack some serious fire that seems to fester in the balls. Upon seeing the rat boldly cross our path, we were ready to go.

Next food order: Udon noodles with fried tofu and sake for me, with beef and beer for Matthew. The owner and our server were absolutely adorable and friendly.

We worked off our food with an eight minute game of Pachinko. 1000 yen for 8 minutes of excitement playing a cross between pinball and slots.
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Although there is no playing at all. Matthew held a knob. That was it. Not sure what the Japanese obsession is for. Each game hall was filled to the max - and not just young people, but a mix of both young and old people. I got reprimanded for taking a picture. I was made to delete it; I am only allowed to take a photo of Matthew, no one else. It was smokey and loud. We couldn't leave fast enough.

We finally bought our sought-after souvenir! They were heavier that I thought, more expensive and oh, so fabulous!!

We had trouble finding our way out of the endless mall/food stalls/train station. The Japanese sure do love their shopping!

Posted by LaurendeMatt 03:19 Archived in Japan Tagged osaka Comments (0)

Heart-Osaka

Osaka has flair. It is full of character, with its people, architecture, and neighborhoods. Osakans seem more fun loving; we hear more laughter. Not sure if it was the Hilton hotel (which is really nice - don't get me wrong -and provided a nice transition from West to East, but big and formal), the Shinjuku area, (which has an all-biz part where the Hilton is, and it has the heavily commercial part - but then again, which part of Tokyo isn't commercial?) or what... But Tokyo felt too sterile, too rigid, with identical rule followers and all the neighborhoods seemed to be the same, or similar enough anyway, with the Times-Square-like intersections.

We reserved two seats on the Shinkansen, which took us from Tokyo Station to Shin-Osaka in three hours. Because of the muggy-haze, we were unable to glimpse Mount Fuji, which is very normal, but the scenery along the way was pleasant enough.

Despite going to wrong hotel location (note to self: the Hearton Hotel has more than one location in Osaka) it was worth it because we got to ride in cab - the driver wears white gloves and we remembered from Barbara NOT to touch the cab doors because they open and close 'on its own'.

One of the Essential Osakan Foods is kaiten-sushi, known to us as Conveyor- belt Sushi. It originated here in the 1950s. Although it had the rep for being cheap-ass sushi, it is now on the rise and considered simply fast and cheap. The place was super friendly and the staff bellows a cheerful welcoming and a goodbye. We tackled the regulars first (lean tuna, medium fatty tuna, two different salmon, squid - each with a dollop of wasabi underneath) then we had some fun and grabbed edamame, a salmon that just looked yummy- cooked on outside with sesame seeds, and some white fish.
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For the next while we sat outside and drank. Ahhhhhh... We didn't feel rushed at all. The newly developed square - Grand Front Osaka - is a whole development near - and at times - on top of the train station. It was a bustling scene with locals hanging, and we were right with them enjoying our wine. Well, to be fair, we didn't actually enjoy the actual wine, but... We did get Japanese beers after.

Not ready to go back to our 8x8 foot square room (not including the bathroom, thankfully) that barely held our semi-double bed and a shelf - but it did have a window and a speaker system that played some Japanese Barry-Manilow- so we rode several escalators to top of mall. The Gardens! And the rose bushes! Even in a gigantic mall complex, the Japanese take care to include quiet space in nature.

Posted by LaurendeMatt 02:01 Archived in Japan Tagged osaka Comments (0)

The Japanese don't do trash cans, and they don't do benches

The most notable thing about Tokyo is its cleanliness. Every little thing is spotless - There were Clean Service people rubbing down subway railings and mopping the tile-bottom of public fountains.

The great thing about this cleanliness is that one can eat off the subway tiles. But then again, who'd want to?

The challenging thing about it is, there is not a trash can to be found. We carried around for entirely too long an inedible string-cheese-like-substance (even Matthew couldn't stomach it) from the river cruise. We couldn't find a trash receptacle, not even in the subway stations.

This definitely discourages people from taking anything to-go. And no one does. No one drinks or eat on the move. They all sit and eat at the place they bought it.

But we haven't particularly sat and enjoyed our meals - and it isn't from unappetizing food. The food is delicious. Rather, we have felt rushed. Enjoyment to us is to sit and leisurely eat. It seems most places here want you in and out in 15 minutes, someone is waiting to take your space.

We were finally able to sit and take a more casual lunch at maisen. It was - where else? - on the top floor of a department store. We went to floor 6F for breaded pork. Matthew ordered the prime cut set (which means it included rice, pickled something, soup, and orange sherbert. I ordered the free-range pork cutlet single, which came with a mound of fluffy cabbage. It was so quiet in there that Matthew dared me to pull a When Harry Met Sally antic. There is not much public noise. Not a peep on subways - an announcement comes on asking for no talking on cell phones.

We were in the Shibuya neighborhood. We wanted to witness the Shibuya Scramble. Rumor has it it is the world's busiest intersection, pedestrians crossing from all directions at once.
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We avoided rush hour, when over a thousand scramble with each light cycle. After crossing ourselves, we bought an iced coffee and watched from the second floor of Starbucks. I thought the crossing would be bigger. Like much of Tokyo the intersection was lit with thousands of digital and neon signs and billboards.

Along with the teenaged girls, Matthew and I went to Purikura no Mecca. Purikura means 'print club', aka photo booths. These were no ordinary pics, but digitally enhanced (airbrushing and doe-eyes included) so we could see the anime-version of ourselves. It's open 24 hours, and there was no attendant to help us. It took two tries, and there was no back button on the touch-ups. It was timed, which may have been a good thing, otherwise we would have been styling and scrapbooking for hours.

Posted by LaurendeMatt 07:18 Archived in Japan Tagged tokyo Comments (0)

Does no one eat breakfast here?

Still feeling a bit jetlagged, we awoke early - earlier than anything else in Tokyo. Not much movement in the early hours of Shinjuku. We cafe-hopped so we could get ample breakfast. No matter where we go, I always appreciate an emphatic "hai". We know we are speaking the same language when we smile, perform charades and point and you get an enthusiastic smile and a "hai" in return. Also much appreciated, bowing. When there are no words (or I just don't know them) a bow goes a long way. It's unversal. I appreciate it.

Amidst the frenetic energy and sensory-overload of the streets, the gardens are a calm get-away. Gardens are not to be mistaken with parks. Parks are public and free, gardens are private, closed on Mondays, and an entrance fee is required for maintenance. The grounds are well-manicured and the trees were like none I've seen before. Some knobby and knarly, some fluffy and leafy.
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From the Hamarikyu Gardens we rode Tokyo Cruise's riverboat upriver to Asakusa. We continued to work on our noodle-slurping technique for lunch. Matthew slurped the ramen while I tried out the Tsukemen, chilled noodles in one bowl, the other for a hot broth dipping sauce. The chicken dumplings to start were the best ever, crispy on the outside, hot deliciousness on the inside.

Asakusa has the Buddhist temple Senso-ji, Tokyo's most visited temple.
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The air is thick with smoke, people fanning it and cupping it in their palms to rub it into their bodies. The smoke, billowing out of an incense caldron, is believed to grant good health. So I did my best to lather in it. The temple itself is painted a deep shade of red. At first I thought it a recording, but monks were chanting inside the temple - so cool - while religious-goers threw coins clanging into a grate. A bit ironic to support the chanting by making an ungodly racket. The five-story Pagoda is apparently picturesque. We wouldn't know though since this too is under construction.

Construction sites are overtaking Tokyo. They are already starting to prepare for Summer Olympics 2020.

We revisited an alley, tucked away under the traintracks in Shinjuku we previously stumbled upon. It was packed with little yakitori stalls.
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They specialize in skewers of grilled meat, seafood, vegetables. They barely fit 6 people, and if one person tucked away in the corner is ready to leave, we all have to get up. Matthew and I ordered chicken thigh, streaky pork, and sweet peppers.
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We were planning on partaking on a yakitori crawl, but they were just so delicious, we decided to stay and get another round. Entering a new yakitori can be daunting, and we were quite comfy and satisfied with the one we found.

Posted by LaurendeMatt 07:20 Archived in Japan Tagged tokyo Comments (0)

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