Friday, March 29, 2013

Japan 2012 - Kinkaku-ji Temple Kyoto

Kinkaku-ji Temple is at the North-Western part of Kyoto City. The easiest way to get there is by bus, which will drop you off right at the entrance to the complex.

Kinkaku-ji Temple (Temple of the Golden Pavilion) is one of the most beautiful sights in Kyoto - with one caveat ! You have to go at the right time, when the weather is perfect and the air is perfectly still - and the lake that surrounds the Golden Pavilion becomes the perfect mirror that reflects the beautiful structure - presenting you with the perfect vision of the pavilion. Unfortunately when I went there I was caught in a drizzle. The sky was grey, and the surface of the lake was broken by the rain drops. But still the Pavilion look resplendent, as if to defy the elements. It is truly an unforgettable sight.

Kikaku-ji is not just about the Pavilion. The surrounding garden plays an integral part in creating the overall aesthetic appeal of the complex. This was built during the golden age of Japanese culture - the Muromachi period. Inside the garden are mini shrines where visitors thrown coins as offerings - hoping to make their wishes come true. I threw some coins to make sure I would return to Kyoto soon.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Japan 2012 - Nishiki Market Kyoto

Running parallel to the Shijo-Dori towards the Eastern side of Kyoto City is the famous Nishiki Market. The locals call it "Kyoto-no-Daidokoro" - Kyoto's Kitchen, because here you can find most of what you need to prepare a sumptuous Japanese meal. 

The market has been around for hundreds of years. To a person who love's food it is fascinating and a great living lesson on Japanese ingredients. Not only will you see the usual stuff, but there are lots of shops selling things I've never seen before - for example smoked fish guts, sections of smoked Japanese carp filled with roe in the belly, all kinds of pickled vegetables, and chicken so good you are supposed to eat them raw like Shashimi !

Many of the shops here specialize only in one thing - like this tamago shop where everyone was making tamago.

To me Nishiki Market is a must visit in Kyoto. You will come away enchanted and definitely not hungry. The first time I went there I made the mistake of going too early - thinking I was going to catch the early morning crowd, but many of the shops were not yet open. Go after 10.00 a.m. when the place gets into full swing.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Japan 2012 - Shijo-Dori in Kyoto

Shijo-Dori is the main street in Kyoto which runs roughly through the centre of the city. It extends from the Gion District in the East to the Matsuo Taisha Shrine in the West. It houses Kyoto's largest business district, and is also the main shopping street with most of the departmental stores such as Daimaru and Takashimaya represented here, as well as branded outlets such as Armani and Louis Vuitton. 

Most of the sidewalks in Kyoto are not shaded except in Shijo-Dori, where wide awnings provide shelter from the sun and rain on both sides of the street. You will be thankful for it when caught in the frequent showers in Kyoto.

While the main street itself is quite impressive for its number of upscale shops, it was the backstreets which I find most interesting. Here you will find many unusual fashion boutiques, cafes, restaurants and pubs vying for your attention. Unfortunately there is no way a visitor can explore them all.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Japan 2012 - First Lunch in Kyoto

After walking around the Gion District for a while I was getting really hungry. This restaurant happened to be where I stopped for a break, and I decided to check it out. The name of the restaurant  - Kaniya, roughly translates to "Crab House". It sounds terrible in English, but I was assured that it sounds great in Japanese. I found out later that it is part of the Sapporo Kaniya Restaurant chain - specializing in crabs.

Inside the restaurant looks quite generic. Most mid to upscale restaurants in Japan looks about the same - its almost like they employ the same interior designer.

As I was quite hungry, I decided to go straight for the set lunch. I ordered the Shashimi set lunch which cost around 3000 yen - roughly  RM 100. Not cheap - but not too expensive either even compared to Japanese restaurants in Malaysia. When the lunch set arrived, I was impressed ! It was a beautiful presentation, with each Shashimi item served in its own vessel. Besides the 5 types of Shashimi, there was also sushi, tempura, miso soup and a chawan mushi.

Everything was extremely fresh and exquisitely prepared. The chawan mushi was so delicious, I wished I could ask for seconds. It was a pretty satisfying lunch. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Japan 2012 - Kiyomizu-dera Temple

Another famous Kyoto temple at the foothill of Higashiyama  is Kiyomizu-dera. This temple is probably the most popular in Kyoto, and its main hall is listed under UNESCO World Heritage. The temple takes its name from the waterfall within the complex - kiyo mizu means "clear water".

This temple also has a large garden compound. Views of the nearby hills are truly magnificent, and you can also get great views of Kyoto City from here. This is one of the must visit sights in Kyoto.

One of the temple's big attractions is the clear water fountain. Many believe that drinking the water can grant you good heath, fortune and even make your wishes come true.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Japan 2012 - Kodai-ji Temple

Kodai-ji is a Zen Buddhist temple at the foothill of Higashiyama. To get there you walk through the Higashiyama old streets and look for the signs. After going through a few narrow alleys lined with charming traditional houses, you will arrive at the gate of the temple. The steps leading up to the temple is impressive. 

The temple buildings have been fully restored and look pristine. The temple has a beautiful garden compound worth the visit on its own. 

The stone garden in front of the main hall was undergoing some rebuilding works. I was curious to see some foreign Caucasians working on the garden. They were either experts or apprentices learning the ancient Japanese craft. It was also an eye-opening experience to see the sub-structure of the gardens being laid. Bags filled with stone chippingss were placed to form the desired shapes, and tree barks covered over the bags to provide the grip, before the final layer of stones to complete the work.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Japan 2012 - First Cabin Hotel Karasuma Kyoto

For my 2 night stay in Kyoto I checked into First Cabin Hotel Karasuma Kyoto - a new concept in hotel accommodation. Japan is famous for its capsule hotels, but this is more like a cross between a normal hotel and a capsule hotel. Instead of a room you get a cabin. The size of the cabin is around 2m by 2m. There is enough room for a single bed and space at the side for access. I like the fact that you can keep the luggage in the cabin, and they have even thoughtfully provided lockable drawers under the bed for your valuables.

There is no door - just a curtain that you can draw for privacy. A bedside console provide controls for the lighting and air-conditioning, as well as some music channels. There is even a flat screen TV, though most of the programming is in Japanese.

Bathroom facilities are shared - and there are a generous number of showers and toilets for the guests. There is even a self-service laundry, and a small pantry area where you can buy food and drinks from vending machines. They have thought of everything !

I like the cabin hotel concept. It is great for solo travelers, or businessmen who have missed the last train home and don't want to sleep in a coffin. There are male and female cabins on separate floors, with dedicated lifts for total privacy.

The rate is around USD50 per night. Not cheap by Malaysian standards, but a bargain in Japan. They even through in a simple breakfast for the price. I highly recommend this hotel if you are traveling alone.