Friday, June 15, 2012

Experience Kyoto (京都)

Kyoto experience:
Kyoto is one of my favorite cities in the entire world. As I've stated previously, if you are going to head to Japan, and feel that you would be most comfortable in one of the major cities, I implore you to choose Kyoto as your home base. While still being a major city center, it's also a wonderful way to experience Japanese culture, and the people are very friendly.
Mari and Yohei - She's so pretty!
Back in the winter, one of my favorite people in the world, my college roommate, who I miss dearly, sent me an email and delivered the delightful news that she was engaged and would be getting married in June. Mari-san had traveled very far years ago to Salem when I delivered a similar message to her, and there wasn't a chance on this earth that I would be absent on her special day. So we booked our tickets, made arrangements for accommodations and counted down the days. As you can see, she looked unbelievably happy, and gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. I wish her only the greatest of happiness, as she's the kindest person I've ever known.
In front of Kyoto Nene House
The living room
While also looking forward to her nuptials, we had ample time to truly enjoy Kyoto. If you are planning a trip of your own, I highly recommend renting a house as opposed to staying in a hotel. Hotels can get pricey, and renting a place with a little kitchen does two things: a) you'll save a bit of cash and b) you can look forward to drifting through local markets and cooking what you find. We chose a place called the Kyoto Nene House. It was easy enough to find, located in a gorgeous neighborhood by Kiyomizudera called Ninenzaka (one of the most beautiful streets in Kyoto), and the quiet streets neighboring a major temple were relaxing to stroll through each morning. Not to mention, the house was beautiful, an old machiya style home, with maikos sauntering past the street and a practice dance hall located on the corner. We woke each morning to the sound of wood blocks and ceremonial gongs being rung at the temple close by. Idyllic? You bet.
So as you walk through these little winding streets up to one of the greatest temples in Japan, what should you keep an eye out for to eat? Well, I'll tell you.
Kakigori, enjoyed by the
bigger half
Kakigori (かき氷): Kakigori is Japanese shaved ice, topped with a sweet, sticky syrup. It's refreshing and delicious on these often muggy days, guaranteed to quench your thirst, and slow you down as you venture along with the other tourists to these beautiful spots. We sat down at a little shop near the ticket gate for Kiyomizudera, and enjoyed the ichigo, or strawberry flavor. The bigger half really enjoyed it, as you can surmise from the photo. 
Your author, in front of
the machine that makes my
favorite cakes EVER
Red bean cake: I apologize for not having the proper name of this fantastic treat. It's my favorite little cake in the whole world. The enjoyment is only enhanced by the fact that these are really only truly enjoyed while still hot off the presses, as it were. I only have one about every six years, and it's the first thing I try to find when going to the temple, located at the top of one of the winding streets leading to the ticket gate. The machine that produces the cakes are fun to watch, and the presses change seasonally. 
Cake with sweet red bean filling
I've been there during colder months where the red bean is replaced with white chestnut filling, but my favorite is always the sweet anko (餡子) or sweet red bean, which my mother introduced to me years and years ago. When you make your purchase in the little shop, you can point to the machine. A friendly, smiley man will hand you a warm, plastic wrapped little cake. In this case, there was a beautiful dragon shape on one side, and then an impression of the temple on the other. It's sweet, cakey, and the filling smooth and only just sweet enough. If you come to Kyoto, do not leave without trying one of these.
A stand selling those awesome
Pickles on a stick: As you walk down these streets, you'll see a few stands with something curious. Japanese kids like their vegetables, and are happy to snack on a cucumber, lightly pickled and flavored with lemon as they look forward to paying respects at a temple in the hills of Kyoto. We saw many people enjoying these cucumbers as we walked around. 
So those are my recommendations for the area around Kiyomizudera, which is really not to be missed. I hope you have an opportunity to come here, and I pray that I'll have another visit in my lifetime. 
Next... we'll visit Nishiki Market... a mecca of delicious food. 

Kyoto Nene House

350-2, Masuyachou, Simokawara-higasiiru , Koudaiji-minamimon-dori,
Higashiyamaku, Kyoto city , Japan, 605-8026

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