Saturday, July 15, 2017

Kyoto Day 2- Part 5 - Kaiseki dinner

While ambling around the many winding alleyways that connect the streets of Kyoto, I was finding myself at a loss as to where to eat. I had read about several restaurants online but my attempts to actually locate them in reality were proving fruitless. Perhaps sensing my growing hunger and rising frustration, a smiling chef approached me with a menu in hand. Though they had not officially opened for the evening just yet, the chef was kind enough to lead me to his restaurant anyway and proceeded to cook a multi-course kaiseki meal for me with his kind wife who helped him. It was an incredible experience, one I'll always be immensely grateful and thankful for. The food may look simple but that's a large part of it's allure! Without overly complicated combinations of ingredients, the attention to detail and freshness shines with the unfettered presentation. It was an exceptional meal and as I was the only diner at this early time of night it felt more personal and intimate. When I went to leave, both of them wished me safe travels and bid me well, but the wife walked me to the door and asked to take a photo together. 

Maybe not my best angle ever, but it was more about capturing the moment than trying to model. I hope they are both well and I will always be grateful that they were kind enough to start dinner prep early to feed a hungry wanderer. 

Friday, October 21, 2016

Kyoto Day 2- Part 4 Downtown Kyoto

One of the most intriguing and appealing aspects of Kyoto, for me, was the juxtaposition of traditional Japanese culture and aesthetics with the ever spreading influence of modernity and technology. They're exquisitely proud of their culture and heritage, maintaining a delicate balance between modern convenience and gadgets with their long-standing traditions and attitudes. This results in a feeling of going back in time, despite the omnipresence of cellphones and convenience stores. It feels as though life moves at a slower, more considered pace than in the bustling megatropolis of Tokyo. There's a dignity, a quiet grace to Kyoto that's difficult to encapsulate in clumsy foreign words. It truly is a whole different world, one that is not newer, but older. All the modern amenities are there, no doubt, but there's a completely different vibe to the city. People walk more slowly, the streets were less crowded. Kyoto-ites are very proud of their home and I can understand why.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Kyoto Day 2- Part 3- Heian Jingu

After my adventure to Kiyomizu-dera and zipping back down the steep mountain at dangerous speed on my rental bike from the 9Hours capsule hotel, it was time to appraise my options for the next portion of the day. I stopped at a small kissaten for a cup of coffee and to sit on my phone and research where to go next. It was a lovely break and the small coffee shop was next to a river, providing a serene view by which to sip my caffeine. Once I ventured back out onto the road, I started towards another temple- but grew lost. I asked a jindikushaw (rikshaw) driver if I was heading the right way and he informed me my destination had closed for the day, but suggested my next stop; Heian Jingu!

Back onto my rental bike I hopped, pedaling away happily. Heian Jingu is easy enough to find- you'll know you're close when you see the giant red torii gate looming over the street, making the cars look like wee little toys. After the crowds at Kiyomizu-dera, Heian Jingu was a bit of a respite with a relatively small populace of visitors. This is not to diminish the beauty of the location- it's absolutely beautiful, having been a palace at one point in it's long life. Brilliant red paint gilds it's frame, decorated with ornate gold and green designs. There's a large expanse of open space leading up to the temple itself, providing a sense of isolation and sanctuary despite being deep within the city.

It was well worth visiting, and I was pleasantly surprised to have found it in such an unexpected manner. After exploring the grounds, I wrapped it up and headed back onto the road. I only had so long with the bike and wanted to take in as much as I could before my sojourn was cut short..

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Kyoto Day 2- Part 2 - Kiyomizu-dera 2013-01-26

After waking up a bit and getting some caffeine and food from the cute little onigiri stand by my hotel into my gullet to power me through the unavoidable hang over from my long night drinking and socializing with the crew at Pan and Circus guesthouse, I ventured forward on my rented bicycle from 9Hours capsule hotel and pedaled out into the city. Make no mistake, Kyoto is an absolutely beautiful city! Even on a cold, dreary winter morning the architecture and cityscape were lovely to take in. The sky was bright and weather crisp, making it an especially good day for a bike ride. I completely adored exploring it by bicycle, even when my dumbass decided to visit Kiyomizu-dera first thing in the day. The large, beautiful temple just so happens to be situated high atop a rather steep hill. Getting there was quite the journey and my glutes were on FIRE, but the trek heading back down the mountain was a blast! 

Despite it being a cold wintery morning, visitors were flocking to the famous temple en mass and it was surprisingly crowded. From school children to girls in stunning traditional Japanese robes (which can be rented for the day from many small shops), foreign tourists and curious locals. Even with the horde of visitors, I managed to find a safe location off the heavily traveled path to park my bike and ventured into the melee for my own glimpse of the famous locale. Small shops were abundant, selling various omiyage (locally sourced souvenirs) or snacks. Omiyage culture in Japan (and in Korea) is something else- it's an unwritten cultural mandate that for any vacation you're lucky enough to go on, you must bring back some kind of rarified local specialty as a treat for all those left behind, from coworkers to friends. Because this is such a widespread obligation, many, many shops and train stations (for those last minute shoppers) carry large packages of prepackaged locally created specialty goodies for easy dispersal among all your cohorts back home. All the food on sale looked so amazing, from fish on sticks grilled over charcoal until their skins grow crisp and the smoke-infused meat drips juice with each crackling bite to large steamed dumplings stuffed with a medley of delicious fillings bursting from their centers.

Between the majestic mountain views and ancient, ornate temple buildings it was an extraordinary place to visit. Well worth the sore legs!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Kyoto Day 2 - Part 1- Starting the day at 9Hours

For the duration of my stay in Kyoto, I stayed at 9Hours capsule hotel

Most of the capsule hotels in Tokyo are tailored towards businessmen who's long hours of work and the obligatory post-work drinking with colleagues and clients may lend them towards missing the last train home. Many even go so far as to prohibit women outright, which may be intended to differentiate the capsule hotels from love hotels, though I don't really see how a couple could do too much in a capsule- it wouldn't be impossible to get down and dirty in a capsule, but it wouldn't be ideal- and in a class conscious society like Japan I don't feel many women would be particularly enthused by the prospect, but I digress. Capsule hotels are often a budget friendly option for people who need a place to sleep, but due to the prohibition of women in many it makes it difficult for a lass like myself to get the full experience. 

Luckily, 9Hours is a different animal entirely, a capsule hotel that bills itself as a luxury capsule hotel and offers boarding for both sexes. The floors are segregated by gender, so ladies needn't worry about some creep keeping you up with his furious fapping (or snoring) late into the night in the capsule next to your's or peeping in on you while you rest. To be fair, having never stayed in a non-luxurious capsule hotel, it's hard for me to say if this hotel is truly opulent, but it was nice? Sorry, I just find the term luxurious applied to a capsule hotel a bit silly. In essence you're paying for a sleeping pod, which is a bit sci-fi and fun, but you're also opting out of having a private hotel room to yourself. No matter how swanky the pod, you're still 3 feet away from your neighbor in any direction, so you can only hope they aren't the type who saws logs all night long. The bathrooms/showers are shared, and while irrefutably many steps above the hostels I've stayed in, they aren't exactly overwhelming in their extravagance. They do offer a large, deep bathtub, as well as hair dryers and other amenities, which is lovely if you choose to make use of them. I didn't, but that's just me. Other women were happily blow-drying their hair or taking long baths. For me, this was primarily a place to rest my head and store my belongings (they have space to store your things in the lobby area). For my purposes, this was a great find and affordably priced with sufficient amenities and a few perks that were of great use. 

They even provide pajamas!

One of these perks was their bike rental, easily available at the front desk. I rented a bike for the day and in a few short minutes was mobile! I highly recommend this route for exploring Kyoto, as you get a completely different view of the city than you would from the bus, taxi, or train.