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A Postcard from Kyoto, Japan

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The Yasaka Shrine, overlooking Kyoto at sunset

Greetings from Kyoto! This is my second trip to Japan, but it is my first time outside of Tokyo and I am excited.

Kyoto, like Tokyo, is charming as you would expect, and a lot more intimate, with many more older buildings and a lot less buzz, but in a lovely way. The streets are gentle and calm and filled with the smells of great food.

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Gion, Kyoto, which you might recognise from Memoirs of a Geisha

I have been here for just 24 hours, and have already fallen head over heels for yatsuhashi, a floppy little triangular sweet that is a folded blanket of glutinous rice flour dumpling, filled with the likes of cinnamon or black sesame. I bought some to bring home, however, I doubt they will make it out of Kyoto. I tried it at Nishio, who have been making them for 324 years, so should know what they are doing.

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A wedding photograph I happened upon in Gion

Then the noodles. Lunch had to be noodle based and I opted for some terrific soba at Misoka-an Kawamichi-ya. I had cold soba with tempura. Simple but it hit every spot available. Perfect noodles, rich dipping sauce and light tempura with wasabi and fried shredded leek. My guide had a really intriguing dish that I must try: cold soba with grated raw yam, a raw quails egg and a very tiny bit of seaweed that seemed to be in oil.

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Shoes off for soba

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Soba with yam and raw quails egg

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All mixed up

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Tempura soba

No trip of mine would be complete without a thorough explore of the local food market and food shops so I made sure that I hit the Nishiki Market, a long sprawling market full of wonderful barrels of sharp pickles, all sorts of fish – dried, fresh, sashimi and pickled, a dreamy knife shop. There was also Daimaru department store food court which was terrific. A highlight was the obligation chocolates which I will tell you all about tomorrow.

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Nishiki Market

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Chopstick shop at Nishiki Market

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Amazing knife shop in Nishiki Market – Artisugu, who started making knives in 1560

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Candied sweet potatoes at Daimaru department store food court

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Tofu doughnuts at Nishiki Market

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Pickling fish at Nishiki Market

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Dried persimmons at Nishiki Market

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Octopus with quails eggs in the head at Nishiki Market

Kyoto has five geisha (or geiko as they are referred to locally) districts. The largest, Gion Kobu has 90 geiko, 30 maikos (trainee geiko) and 64 tea houses. A 90 year old geiko is rumoured to still be working there. It is impossible to access a tea house without a recommendation or invitation, but it is lovely to wander the old streets there with its plentiful restaurants and beautiful old buildings. A keen eye will spot a geiko boarding house and tea house, and luckily I was with one. I even spotted a maiko. Although, I was so engrossed with a green tea sweet shop at the time, I only managed to get a photo of her as she walked away.

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Maiko, just outside Gion, on a day off

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Two girls chatting outside a sweet shop in Gion. The board above their heads lists all activities for geiko and maiko training that week by individual.

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Curious cats

There are 1600 buddhist temples & 400 shinto shrines in Kyoto, not including the tiny ones on the streets. I visited a few. Some gorgeous, proud and bright, others more subtle and tucked among shops. The Yasaka shrine is bright and vast and very beautiful. With one of its pagodas dedicated to easy childbirth and a shrine dedicated to finding a great love match, it is a quirky place. It also seems appropriate given that tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. When I got to the love match bit, it was closed, which tells you all you need to know about my love life!

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Forget your troubles – bad fortunes tied and abandoned for the deities to deal with at Yasaka Shrine

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Part of Yasaka Shrine

I had a wonderful guide, Meg, who brought me around today. She is freelance and can tailor a trip to your most random of requirements as she did mine. I found her through the Japan National Tourism Organization (who are so very helpful – be sure to contact them if you do visit), you can also email Meg to arrange.

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Angry cats – I want one for my doorway to scare away junk mailers

 

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I like food. I like to make food. Eat food. Photograph food. Write about food. Mainly in London but when I am lucky or organised further afield.

27 Comments

  1. After reading this, I have decided I want to BE you! I have a lovely and interesting job which I really enjoy but this….!

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  2. Enjoyed reading about Kyoto. I spent a year in Japan (teaching English) post-university and had an amazing year. Visited Kyoto (and also Nara) – both unforgettable places. I remember the food! So many different things – many of which I had no clue what they were (and half the time my Japanese friends weren’t sure of the translation!). It was a case of ‘try it find out!’. Fond memories.

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  3. obviously the egg shots are for my personal pleasure – please learn how to make that… but its the drwares of chopsticks that are hitting the mark… bring lots home, inc the angry cat xx

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    • But, of course! What fun we would have recreating. Delicious too. There is already so much that I want to bring back :-) x

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  4. These are all such lovely pictures ^^ I don’t know about that girl in kimono being a Maiko though. Her hair isn’t up in the traditional way, as it would always be, being a Maiko. She may just be a woman walking about in a Kimono. ^^ Still a very lovely shot though~

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    • Hi Moushifj, I wouldn’t be so presumptious as to declare it, but my local guide pointed her out to me, and in fact her hair was very impressive and in the traditional style from the front, you just don’t see it from the back. Added to that, I had another local guide today who had seen the photo, and said I was so lucky to see a maiko out and about and in her casual kimono, that even locals would be very lucky to see that. So, I think with two local confirmations, it must be right.

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  5. Oh! That Octopus looks LUSCIOUS! I went to Tokyo back in Sept, wish we’d had longer to do other parts of Japan too, but I enjoyed it, and the FOOD SO MUCH!!!

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  6. wonderful pictures, Kyoto is so gorgeous. A great place to wander and come across treasures. I loved the photo of the two girls in front of the sweet shop, lovely moment caught. xxx

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  7. Kyoto has amazing food. Did you try the persimmons? Those are my favorite winter treat.

    By the way, Yatsuhashi has a dried version that’s like cinnamon biscuits. Might be good for omiyage in the UK!

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  8. Pingback: Kyoto Tourist Attractions / Travel Guide / Tips / Blog

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