Kansai Adventure Part I: Kyoto
I’m back, and I have no excuse for why it’s taken this long to post. Anyway, the restaurant/dining reviews from that March trip to Japan have finally been completed, so now it’s time to offer a brief round-up of the rest of the stuff we saw and did.
We were only in Japan for effectively three days and three nights (and that includes piecing together two half days). One of those days was spent on a day trip to Kobe and Osaka, with the other day and two half days in Kyoto, where we stayed (at the awesome Hotel Granvia, which is right on top of the Kyoto Station).
This post features some highlights from our trip for those who might be interested in taking a similar short trip to Kyoto. That said, since we had been to all the tourist attractions in the city, all we did this time was shop and eat. So if you want to know which are the must-visit places, these are my personal recommendations:
1. Kyomizu-dera (清水寺) — in my personal opinion the prettiest of all the temples in Kyoto.
2. Kinkaku-ji (金閣寺) — if you’ve only got time for a couple of temples, then this is the second one I would recommend over Ginkaku-ji (銀閣寺). The former is the Golden Pavilion and the second is the Silver Pavilion, and gold is better than silver, right?
3. Nijo castle (二条城) — a massive castle built in the early 1600s, complete with a moat and all.
4. Arashiyama (嵐山) — the place to go for mountain views, especially if you’re there in time to catch the autumn leaves.
5. Gion (祇園) — the geisha district; ’nuff said. If you’re there, check out this awesome Japanese ice cream place.
PS: If you are into manga, then check out the Kyoto International Manga Museum.
Chances are you will arrive in Kyoto through Kyoto Station. This time we stayed at the magnificent Hotel Granvia, which I highly recommend for its quality and convenience (it is literally right above the station).
There’s lots to do near the station itself. On the first night we were there, for example, we had dinner at Katsu Kura (reviewed here), located on Level 11 of The Cube (a shopping mall connected to the station along with Isetan), which I believe is the best Japanese pork cutlet place I’ve ever tried.
The shopping at The Cube and Isetan are both excellent, especially if you are looking for Japanese sweets, desserts or souvenirs to take back with you. Food-wise, there is the famous Ramen Street on level 10 of Isetan. It’s not the best ramen you can have in Kyoto, but with seven (by my count) options to choose from, you can always find something to your liking. Even if don’t eat there it’s not a bad idea to walk through it and check them out.
For lunch on our last day in Kyoto we went to Salavtore Cuomo’s The Kitchen on level 10 of Isetan. It’s an Italian place where you can order main courses to go with a delicious all-you-can-eat buffet (review here). There are also lots of great (but expensive) restaurants inside Hotel Granvia; for cheaper delights, visit the underground food haven which can be accessed from directly outside the front of the station.
For dessert or afternoon tea, you can’t go wrong with the green tea delights of Tsujiri, of which there is a branch in Isetan. The main store is near Gion, but that one is nearly always has a ridiculous queue, so you might be better off trying your luck at Isetan, especially just after the department store opens or just before it closes.
Another famous green tea dessert place is Nakamura Tokichi (English website), located on level 3 at the Suvaco section of Isetan. There’s nearly always a lengthy wait there as well, but if you don’t mind getting some takeaway you can go to the food court on the ground floor — there is a small window store there where you can sample some of their delicious roasted matcha ice cream.
Outside the front of the station, to the right, is a newish building with Japanese Karaoke, which we went to on our last night (and had a blast). On the left hand side is a a branch of the electronics giant Bic Camera — which has just about every electronic item you can think of. Well, unless you go to the massive Yodobashi Camera across the road, which has everything you can think of and much much more. If you only have time for one, go to Yodobashi — I used to travel all the way to Osaka for this place, one of the best shopping experiences you can ever have as a tourist. If you’re tired, just stretch your legs out on one of the unbelievable massage chairs. And then try another one. And another. No one will care. I am certain I can spend a whole day in that place.
My favourite hangout in Kyoto when I was a student was Kawaramachi, a street, but also used to describe the most happening place in the city. Department stores, shops selling everything from souvenirs to hats to comic books and retro CDs, restaurants, cafes, book stores, cinemas, pachinko parlous, bowling alleys, karaoke bars, insanely awesome drug stores, and more — just go and enjoy.
This time, all we had time for was to visit the famous Musashi Sushi for the first time (review here) and then venture deeper into the district for some crepes at one of my favourite joints. But trust me, you can spend a full day at Kawaramachi. Easily.
This 400-year-old market is worth a visit even if you are not all that interested in the food they have to sell. It’s located a road one block north and parallel to Shijō Street and west of Teramachi Street (thanks, Wikipedia), but all I know is that it’s pretty easy to access from Kawaramachi.
The thing I would recommend at Nishiki markets are definitely the fresh strawberries (they look so red and perfect that I initially thought they were fake), though the other fruits looked pretty scrumptious too. There are plenty of local delicacies you can try, and the more popular ones include the egg rolls (literally a roll of egg) and the store that sells soy soft serve ice cream and soy donuts. It’s also a great place to get some sweets and snacks to take home.
I’m not usually a candy fan, but I have a fetish for grape candy (which is a popular flavour in Japan), and the best I’ve ever had might be this sour grape fettuccine pictured below. I believe I bought around 10 packets and devoured them all in the ensuing days. And that’s all I have to say about that.