Sunday, April 28, 2013

Japan 2012 - Dinner at Irifune Japanese Restaurant

My last night in Kyoto, I was looking for a nice Japanese restaurant for dinner. Since I had been walking around the whole day my feet were really aching, so I ended up in Irifune which is just around the corner from where I stayed. Irifune is in the basement floor of Karasuma Kyoto Hotel.

The restaurant was empty when I went in. Perhaps it was still early, as guests started to stream in during the course of the dinner. 

It looked like a typical Japanese establishment, one that would not look out of place in KL. At the entrance is a long counter with a sushi chef behind it. There are some private cubicles to one side, and an open dining area beside the counter. 

They had a set dinner which looked quite interesting. It came with several appetizers, sushi and grilled beef. The appetizers were nicely presented in a special tray.  The stand out dish was the veggie salad - the sauce was sensational and very refreshing.

The sushi course - 3 pieces of prime sushi. I can only recognize the tuna in the middle, but they were all very nice.

The grilled beef came in its own cute little ceramic grill. It was tender and flavourful.

The meal was finished off with vanilla ice cream drizzled with macha powder. Nice.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Japan 2012 - Mos Burger

Mos Burger is Japan's 2nd largest fast food chain after McDonald's. They have spread their wings to many parts of Asia, but unfortunately not Malaysia yet. I first had a taste of Mos Burger in Hong Kong. I found their burgers to be much better and healthier tasting then their McDonald's cousins. When I saw this shop along Shijo-dori I had to give it a try. 

Since it was the beginning of Summer, they had a special summer burger topped with ratatouille. It looked delicious, and that was what I ordered.

It was a small and simple burger - just a beef patty topped with the ratatouille and sandwiched between a soft bun, but it tasted really good. The ratatouille managed to elevate it into gourmet territory. I really wish they would open one shop in Malaysia soon.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Japan 2012 - Time's I & II in Kyoto

One of the sights that was on the top of my must see list in Kyoto was 2 architectural projects by Japanese Master Architect Tadao Ando. The 2 projects are next to each other and are simply called Time's I and Time's II. Located along Takase River in the Pontocho District of Kyoto, these 2 buildings are among Ando's earliest works, and they remain 2 of the most popular buildings he has designed.

Ando is revered for his minimalist architecture which uses nothing more then concrete, space and light to shape his buildings. Time's I & II are no exception. The walls are mostly made of concrete blocks, left unfinished. The form is strictly rectilinear, with the curved roof as the only departure from straight lines. From a small and tight site, the architect has masterfully carved out interesting public spaces which weave in and out of the buildings. And the clever use of light and texture is a masterclass in minimalist design.

The Takase River where the buildings are situated has an interesting history. It is very shallow, and yet was used to transport goods through the city using flat-bedded boats called Takasebune. Ando wanted his buildings to look like boats, so he brought the lowest level of the building right down to the water level. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

Japan 2012 - Kyoto Ramen Street

Probably the most interesting feature in the Kyoto Central Station is the Kyoto Ramen Street. Located on the 10th Floor of the station building, the Ramen Street brings together 7 ramen shops from representative regions of Japan under one roof. This is a great place if you are a ramen lover, unfortunately my tummy only have room for one serving, and it took me quite a while to decide on which shop to go into.

My final choice was Ramen Todai - based on the really appetizing photo outside this shop. It is from the Tokushima region - which is on the Northern part of Shikoku Island. Their style of ramen is based on the Tonkotsu broth (pork bone broth) and dark Shoyu (dark soy sauce), hence the broth looks much darker then most other styles of ramen. 

Those who like their ramen broth a bit lighter in  taste may not like this style. This one is all about packing that strong punch to your taste buds. The broth is rich and srtong, full of umami flavour - a very satisfying bowl indeed. Instead of the usual Chasu - you get thin slices of pork belly which has been stewed in soy sauce and just melt in your mouth. I saw a lot of patrons crack a raw egg into the broth before tucking in. I didn't do the same, but I can guess that the raw egg would probably make the soup more silky in texture. This was one of the best ramens I had in Japan.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Japan 2012 - Kyoto Central Station

Kyoto Central Station is located in the Sourthern part of Kyoto City. If you travel to Kyoto by train, chances are you will end up here. It is a huge complex made up of many levels, and when I first arrived I was a bit disoriented as there are so many exits it gets really confusing. What's worse is there is no convenient connection to the subway system, and you need to get out of the Main Station Building to get into the subway. With luggage in tow it can be a real nightmare. 

The station building is an impressive feat of futuristic architecture. Many of the central train stations in Japan are designed not just as transport hubs, but are really cultural and communal hubs. The Kyoto Station is no exception, and the main hall is a multi-storey atrium space filled with stepped terraces that goes up to sky gardens and plazas at both ends of the building. The architect is Hiroshi Hara who also designed the Umeda Sky Building in Osaka.

The huge complex also houses 3 shopping malls, a hotel, food halls, theatres and event venues. It is really a city within a city and if you don't feel like wondering outside you could literally live in the building.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Japan 2012 - Kyoto Imperial Palace

One of the sights I was looking forward to visit was the Kyoto Imperial Palace. It is very near Nijo Castle, so quite convenient if you group the 2 visits together. Admission to the Imperial Palace is free, but you need to make an appointment at the Imperial Household Agency. Application can be made online.

You can only visit the Palace on guided tours conducted by the Imperial Household. Before the tour, a short briefing by video is given in in the visitor's centre. The video provides a good historical background on what you are about to see. Like many Asian imperial palaces, the complex of buildings is designed to be used according to the seasons. Gardens are arranged to showcase their best views from the buildings during different seasons.

Renown as one of the most beautiful palace complex in Japan, the architecture of the Kyoto Imperial Palace is very elegant and visually stunning. There is also a lot to learn about Japanese architecture and garden design, so it is a must visit for design lovers.

 The gardens are some of the most impressive I have seen during the trip.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Japan 2012 - Nijo Castle Kyoto

The great thing about Kyoto is that most of the interesting sights are within the city vicinity - like Nijo Castle which is right in the city centre. Nijo Castle was built by Tokugawa Ieyasu - the first Shogun of the Edo Period. Like Osaka Castle, Nijo Castle has long been associate with Shogun and Ninja intrigues and has been featured in countless movies and TV shows.

Getting to the castle was quite easy. It was a 20 m walk from my hotel. Once you arrive you are faced with the impressive castle gate. The castle is surrounded by a beautiful moat.

Most of the buildings within the Nijo Castle complex are low rise and residential in nature.  5-storey castle keep was burnt down in the 18th Century and never rebuilt.

The buildings boast many interesting design features meant to protect the Shogun from harm - for example the corridors feature nightingale floors which squeak when you walk on them as a warning against intruders, and the Shogun's main audience room is located in the most secured area of the complex, with hidden closets where bodyguards hide to slay any visitors with ill intentions.

Nijo Castle is very interesting as it offers a glimpse into the life of the Shoguns and how they managed to keep themselves alive amidst all the countless invasions and assassination attempts. Definitely a must see in Kyoto.