30 April 2008

Kansai Day 6, 19 Dec 07 - Kyoto

 Today we were set to explore Kiyomizu-dera 清水寺, one of the most well-known landmark of Kyoto which received World Cultural Heritage Listing by UNESCO in December 1994.
Our traditional Jap breakfast set was served in the room. Certainly a big and nutritious breakfast to start the day.Since our ryokan was located quite near the Kamo River, we decided to take a walk along the river bank. According to travel guides, during summer, restaurants located next to the Kamo River would set the dining tables along the river bank for diners to chill out and enjoy some breeze.
We were on the Shijio bridge and took this photo with our shadows :p Kabuki Theatre - seemed to be quite popular as a lot of people were crowding the entrance.
We passed through the Yasaka Shrine on our way to Kiyomizu-dera. Heard that there are a thousand-plus temples and shrines in Kyoto.
To get to the temple, we made our way up the hilly stone-paved Ninnen-zaka and Sannen-zaka. Both sides of the road were dotted with Omiyage (souvenir) shops and eateries, we were soon distracted by all the snacks and souvenirs :p Decided to stop by this dessert shop. Hubby had this jelly/konnyaku dessert whereas I had rice dumpling red bean soup. Yummy!
Before long, hubby spotted an ice-cream store and stopped to buy a cone, couldn't remember the flavour, think it was sesame. The cookie was baked Yatsuhashi 八ツ橋 made from rice flour, sugar and cinnamon. Yatsuhashi (both baked and raw) is a meibutsu 名物 (famous regional products) of Kyoto.
Butai (dancing stage) of Kiyomizu-dera. The stage is held up by wooden scaffolds that extends the stage 10 meters over a 12 meter cliff. This platform is one of the most photographed sites in Kyoto and immensely popular with Japanese and tourists.
View of the main hall from below.
Even though it was winter, we were lucky to catch some autumn foilage.
After visiting Kiyomizu-dera, we were famished and stopped by an eatery for lunch. Hubby had Udon and I had soba. Once again tasted good!
Decided to make our way to Ginkaku-ji 銀閣寺, the "Temple of the Silver Pavilion". Took the Kyoto City Bus which linked the 5 major sightseening areas of Arashiyama, Kinkakuji, Ginkakuji, Okazaki and Higashiyama.
The above photo was the last photo I took before my battery went dead -_- Had forgotten to charge the battery the night before. Too bad I couldn't capture the beauty of the famous Kannon Hall, also known as Ginkaku, the Silver Pavilion. Anyway, was captivated by the display outside this shop. Somehow we didn't go into the shop.
After visiting Ginkaku-ji, we went back to our ryokan for a rest as it was late afternoon and we wouldn't have time to visit another temple (most temples close quite early).
We hit the streets again and chanced upon this restaurant that specialised in tonkatsu. Turned out Katsukura is a famous katsu specialty restaurant in Kyoto with several branches. I had a soy milk cream croquette & fillet set 生湯葉コロッケとヒレかつ膳 and hubby a sirlion fillet set ロースかつ膳. Tonkatsu is not new to us but I was blown away by the soy milk cream croquette. Not sure what the filling was - tasted creamy (tofu and soy perhaps) with bits of vegetable. It was really really yummy! It must be a Kyoto specialty since I don't see it elsewhere. Once again, a good dinner!

Ending off with photos of the ticket design of Ginkaku-ji and Kiyomizu-dera. Even the tickets were so special.

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29 April 2008

Kansai Day 5, 18 Dec 07 - Kyoto

After a good night's rest in the cosy futon, we were up and ready for breakfast. Breakfast was buffet style (the Japs call it viking style) in the dining hall. Mixture of western and japanese cuisine.

Nice scenery and view from the balcony of our room.
We decided to go for an onsen soak again. Visited Ichinoyu the previous day so today must try out Ninnoyu and Sannoyu. Sannoyu is located at a separate building on the 9th floor. Onsens are usually quiet after breakfast. Seems that Japanese don't soak in hot spring after breakfast/before checking out? It's always crowded before dinner.
Sannoyu has 2 outdoor onsens - 1 jacuzzi onsen and 1 kinsen.
It was a bliss to soak in the hot spring while enjoying the winter breeze, listening to birds chirping and admiring the scenery.
Sannoyu indoor hot spring.

Ninoyu was switched over for female and I popped in for a quick soak at the indoor and outdoor hot springs.
Of the 3 public baths, my favourite was Sannoyu.
Thereafter, it was time to bid farewell to Arima Onsen and onward to Kyoto. We hitched a ride on the hotel shuttle to Arima Onsen Station. Took the antique-looking train from Arima Onsen station to Shin-Kobe station.
We had a few options of getting to Kyoto, by normal or express trains or Shinkansen! Since we never rode the Skinkansen before, decided to try for our journey from Kobe to Kyoto. Frankly, nothing really that spectacular. About 35 minutes later, we arrived at Kyoto station.
It was too early to check into our ryokan, so we walked around the Kyoto station. This view was from the top of Kyoto station. Couldn't imagine an 'ancient' prefecture has such modern structure. From the gallery, we could see some parts of Kyoto downtown, mostly traditional buildings, a contrast to the modernized station.

It was time to check in and we took the subway to the Sanjo station where our ryokan, Kamogawa-kan is located.
Our Jap style room was small but adequate for both of us. I like the old-school telephone, we used to have such phones during our childhood days. Price plan chosen was breakfast only since I reckoned there would be lots of good food around. There is onsen at the ground floor, just an ordinary bath area with hot spring soak.

After settling down, we ventured out to the streets and walked around Sanjo, Shijio and Kawaramachi area.

We chose to eat sushi for dinner. Kappa Sushi is a popular conveyor belt sushi chain in Kyoto, all plates at 105 yen. The interesting part - if items we wanted were not on the conveyor belt, we could place order through a touch-screen monitor and the dishes arrived in a 'shinkansen-alike' train. So cute!

Had our fill, strolled a bit, window-shopped, people-watched and headed back to the ryokan.

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Kansai Day 4, 17 Dec 07 - Arima Onsen, Hyogo

After the previous night's of queuing for Luminarie, it was timely to go for a good soothing soak at one of Japan's oldest and most popular hot spring areas - Arima onsen. I totally love soaking in onsens during winter!

Checked out of the b kobe and headed towards Sannomiya Motomachi area in search of lunch. Couldn't resist popping into Patisserie Tooth Tooth to pick up some financiers (I like financiers!). Noticed the chalkboard signage outside the Patisserie? I love such handwritten boards; some day when I open my own cafe cum zakka shop, I must also have my own handwritten signage and menu boards :D Wanted to eat at the cafe, but hubby wasn't interested.
For lunch, we had Mcdonalds. Mcdonalds of all choices? Well, we try fast foods in different countries as they usually introduce some local flavours. I had McPork - nothing to rave about, just a pork patty sandwiched between the bun and some greens. Hubby opted for the sinful Mega Tomato that came with 3 beef patties, tomato, bacon, cheese and bits of greens. Yes, he was hungry.
There was still time before our bus (Shinki or Hankyu bus from Sannomiya Station) to Arima Onsen, so we made our way to Kobe Chinatown (Nankin-machi) area to take a look. There were long queues for pork buns and steamed dim sums. Personally I'm not used to Chinese food in Japan. But chinese food seems to be quite popular there.
Took the bus from Kobe to Arima Onsen at the stipulated timing. We were rather amused as 99% of the passengers were Japanese Ojii-san and Obaa-san. One uncle chatted with us as he was curious. He told us that Arima Onsen has become rather commercialised and touristy.
Upon arrival, we searched for our ryokan - Hyoe Koyokaku, a large hot spring hotel. Not difficult to find since Arima town is quite small and dotted with 20 odd ryokans. After checking in, we were ushered to our room on the 14th level and were totally floored by the size of the room as well as the view. The room can easily accommodate 6 to 8 people. This must be the biggest and best room we stayed in Japan so far - in terms of price, view and space. It was so nice of the staff to offer us such a nice room (considering the price plan we opted was of the lower category).

After some tea and snacks, we decided to explore the streets of Arima Onsen first. Here we saw locals soaking in the foot bath available free. Arima Onsen is actually famous for two kinds of springs - "Kinsen" 金泉 where the water is coloured yellow-brown from its iron and salt (smells like rusty water) and "Ginsen" 銀泉 which contain radium and carnonate and the water is colourless.

One of Arima's traditional folkcraft and souvenir is the Arima Writing Brush 人形筆. When you lift the writing brush, a doll’s head pops up. Bright coloured threads were wrapped around the exterior of the holder to make beautiful patterns.
We met this friendly granny who told us that she is the original maker of Arima Writing Brush and the one and only in Japan still making it by hand. And she is already 85 years old!
As the sky turned dark, we headed back to the ryokan and decided it was time to go for a hot dip! There were 3 public baths in Hyoe; we decided to visit Ichinoyu and Ninoyu first. In the evening, Ichinoyu was opened for female and Ninoyu for men; both would switch over in the morning. There were some ladies in the onsen so I didn't take any photos.

Time for dinner! Our price plan was the Sumibiyakikaiseki (set of charcoal grilled dishes) served in a private dining room in one of the dining halls.

Our menu. Look at how elaborate the courses were. Well, will let the photos do the talking here.

All the dishes were so fresh and delicious and we couldn't stop eating though we were rather full. By the end of the dinner course, we were totally stuffed! Onaka ga ippai! おなかがいっぱい!
When we got back to our room, the futon bedding were already laid for us. We love to snug in the warmth of the futon during winter! Fell asleep in no time...

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