A Two Day Teaser from Kyoto

Kyoto Streets 8 - Sannen-zaka

The streets of Kyoto

When planning the final leg of my Round-the-World trip, I’ve had enough experience to know to account for some extra jet-lag recovery time before making any actual plans — and with this particular trip requiring me to re-set my body’s clock forward 13 hours (a significant adjustment), I knew that I’d likely need at least a few days before I’d feel anything close to normal again.  So with that in mind, my first target destination in Japan — that of the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Trial in the Wakayama Prefecture — would have to wait a few extra days as I chose to acclimate myself in the atmospheric city of Kyoto. What I didn’t account for in my planning, however, was the fact that I haven’t been traveling for the last few months, and subsequently, haven’t been able to satisfy my wanderlust and quell my itchy feet for quite some time.  So as one would expect when dropping an explorer such as myself square in the middle of one of the coolest cities in the world, my “resting” time was quite minimal, and instead, I spent every waking minute wandering around the city, trying new foods, and re-indoctrinating myself back to life on the road.  I guess that whole “catch up on sleep” thing can wait until I’m back home for good — ha ha.

I should mention that I did already spend upwards of 10 days or so in Kyoto last summer — which you can read about here — meaning this time around, I skipped the temples, shrines, and gardens to simply enjoy the feel of Japan’s old capital (as well as the food, obviously).  So consider this to only be a “half-post,” simply meant to tease you a bit before I set off on the heart of this voyage later today.  Here are a few quick images from my brief layover:

A morning hike through the Fushimi Inari shrine to the Southeast of the city

A morning hike through the Fushimi Inari shrine to the Southeast of the city

It's easy to snag great photos like this, where there isn't a soul to be seen anywhere: just show up before dawn and you'll have the sights all to yourself!

It’s easy to snag great photos like this, where there isn’t a soul to be seen anywhere: just show up before dawn and you’ll have the sights all to yourself!

The morning mist just beginning to melt away as the sun rises through the trees

The morning mist just beginning to melt away as the sun rises through the trees

If you've ever visited Kyoto before, you'll have realized how crowded and chaotic the heart of the city can be -- meaning you'll understand how eerie just how eerie it is to see one of the city's major streets as deserted as this

If you’ve ever visited Kyoto before, you’ll have realized how crowded and chaotic the heart of the city can be — meaning you’ll understand just how eerie it is to see one of the city’s major streets this deserted

The gorgeous facades in the Gion District (one of the city's major Geisha and Entertaining areas)

The gorgeous facades in the Gion District (one of the city’s major Geisha and Entertaining areas)

The tranquil atmosphere of the Arashiyama neighborhood on the Western outskirt of town

The tranquil atmosphere of the Arashiyama neighborhood on the Western outskirt of town

The famed Togetsukyo Bridge

The famed Togetsukyo Bridge

A quite stroll through the Bamboo Grove in Arashiyama

A quite stroll through the Bamboo Grove in Arashiyama

Since it's been a few months, I felt it was time to selflessly plaster up another self-portrait (and check out that short hair, too!)

Since it’s been a few months, I felt it was time to selflessly plaster up another self-portrait (and check out the short hair, too!)

Arashiyama Area 8 - Bamboo Grove

Waiting patiently for the train to arrive

Waiting patiently for the train to arrive

The evening light fading on the Kamogawa River

The evening light fading over the Kamogawa River

If you want to have a fun night out on the town, simply find a group of drunk salarymen and follow them -- this instance took me through the Ponto-cho neighborhood, which is packed with tiny bars and restaurants tucked into tiny alleyways

If you want to have a fun night out on the town but don’t know where to go, simply find a group of drunk salarymen and follow them — this instance took me through the Ponto-cho neighborhood, which is packed with bars and restaurants tucked into tiny alleyways

Even though I did manage to move around town quite a bit, the majority of my two days in Kyoto was spent bouncing around from restaurant to restaurant, indulging in my affinity for Japanese cuisine.  To do it justice, I had to first swing through the Nishiki Market to check out the ingredients in their raw form before finally diving in and eating everything that was laid down in front of me:

The main drag of the Nishiki Food Market

The main drag of the Nishiki Food Market

Pickled Vegetables of all sorts

Pickled Vegetables of all sorts

Miso-marinated ingredients, too

Miso-marinated ingredients, too

Samples laid out for passers-by to taste

Samples laid out to entice passers-by

I found a great ramen shop with an interesting twist -- they are scorch the soy sauce base of their ramen broth, as seen here

I found a great ramen shop with an interesting twist — they actually scorch the soy sauce base (tare) of their ramen broth before serving, as exhibited here by the large flame the chef is attempting to control

The result is an eerily dark and smokey flavor to the broth that I've never experience anywhere else

The result is an unusually dark broth and extra-smoky flavor that I’ve never experience anywhere else

Being that Kyoto has an abundance of temples and shrines, it isn't surprising to learn that there are also many restaurants specializing in the vegetarian-only cuisine of the Shinto priests and Buddhist monks.  As such, here is my first introduction to the tofu-and-veggie-heavy fare

Being that Kyoto has an abundance of temples and shrines, it isn’t surprising to learn that there are also many restaurants specializing in the vegetarian-only cuisine of the Shinto priests and Buddhist monks. As such, here is my first introduction to the tofu-and-veggie-heavy fare

Enjoying a nice bowl of Matcha tea with a great view

Enjoying a nice bowl of Matcha tea with a great view

Ahhhh yesssss...Unagi (Eel).  Even though the prices of eel are at an all-time high, I still had to indulge at least once

Ahhhh yesssss…Unagi (Eel). Even though the prices of eel are at an all-time high, I still had to indulge at least once, as this is still one of my favorite foods on the planet

Given the heat and humidity of Kyoto in the middle of summer, ice cream vendors have set up shop all over town and seem to be making a killing (seen here is the a green tea flavored cone)

Given the heat and humidity of Kyoto in the middle of summer, ice cream vendors have set up shop all over town and seem to be making a killing (seen here is a green tea flavored cone)

At this point in my travels, it isn’t often that I run across an entirely new culinary experience, however, I did accidentally stumble upon one while here in Kyoto that I certainly won’t forget for some time.  (NOTE — if you are an animal lover, THIS would be the point at which you should stop reading).  After wandering into a recommended sushi bar near my hostel, I sat down, perused the menu (displayed with pictures on an iPad, no less), and was drawn to the “Fresh” Horse Mackerel Sushi.  I know that when it comes to sushi, “fresh” can take on a number of meanings.  There certainly are some varieties of fish that you want to serve as soon as possible; but at the same time, there are also varieties that need to be aged for several hours or even several days before they achieve their ideal texture, as well as some that need to be either frozen or marinated in vinegar before they are fit to be served (don’t ask why unless you really want to know).  In this instance, however, the chef chose to use quotation marks to denote special emphasis on the word “fresh,” which piqued my curiosity and meant that I had to investigate (by ordering it, that is).

As soon as I placed my order, I watched from my vantage point at the counter as the sushi chef immediately sprung into action.  She grabbed a small net, turned to an aquarium just behind her, fished out one of the horse mackerel still happily swimming around (and oblivious to its fate), plopped it down on the cutting board, and proceeded to slice away the fillets of meat on each side.  These were promptly formed into six pieces of nigiri sushi (atop a small finger of rice), and then served on a small plate alongside the still-very alive carcass that continued to flop around and gasp for air while I ate of its flesh, which was attached to its body only a few moments earlier.  Mystery solved: the “Fresh” notation on the menu actually meant “still alive.”  Even I will admit this was a bit brutal, but again, it was a new experience for me, and one that I’m glad I was able to try at least once.

Although the majority of the carnage is artfully concealed by a few garnishes, the head, spine, and tail of the fish to the top-left is still very much alive

Although the majority of the carnage is artfully concealed by a few garnishes, the head, spine, and tail of the fish to the top-left is still very much alive and moving around

To show an added level of respect for the fish, once you've finished the sushi, the chef whisks away the remaining carcass, fries it up in a wok, and reserves it back to you, meant to be enjoyed like a crispy, salty cracker.  So even though its final moments weren't the most enjoyable, at least nothing went to waste.

To show an added level of respect for the fish, once you’ve finished the sushi, the chef whisks away the remaining carcass, fries it up in a wok, and re-serves it back to you — which is then meant to be enjoyed like a crispy, salty cracker. So even though its final moments weren’t the most enjoyable, at least nothing went to waste.

Besides the fresh horse mackerel, I also opted for a trio of tuna: regular, semi-fatty, and extra fatty

Besides the fresh horse mackerel, I also opted for a trio of tuna: extra fatty (o-toro), semi-fatty (chu-toro), and regular (maguro)

And unsurprisingly, I also choose the Uni, as well.  I honestly don't think I'm capable of walking into a sushi restaurant without ordering Uni

And unsurprisingly, I also choose the Uni, as well.  Honestly, I don’t think I’m capable of walking into a sushi restaurant without ordering Uni.  It’s just something that is not within my powers.

As mentioned before, this whole post is just a teaser for the actual heart of my trip that is yet to come.  I depart later today for the Wakayama Prefecture, where I’ll hoist up my pack and trod through the forest for upwards of 8+ hours a day, enjoying the beautiful mountain vistas, cedar forests, and meandering streams before soaking the evenings away in any (and possibly all) of the many mountain hot springs that characterize the area.  I’m guessing that finding an internet connection may be spotty, but regardless, I’ll have a post up for you within the next week.  Until then, Kampai from Kyoto!

A photo of my with my pack, just shortly before leaving for the airport for my final voyage

A photo of me with my pack, just shortly before leaving for the airport for my final voyage (yep, you get two photos of yours truly in this post — lucky you!)

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About andrewamiet

I'm a 29 (now 31) year-old former desk jockey who is now making my way around the world, experiencing all of the sights, sounds, tastes, people, and culture that the world has to offer.

19 Responses to “A Two Day Teaser from Kyoto”

  1. Great description of the horse mackerel experience! Not sure if I’d be brave enough 🙂

    • If I had known what I was getting into with the Horse Mackerel, I may have reconsidered (although honestly, I probably would have done it anyway 😉 It was something I would have at least thought about a little longer, though!

  2. Hi Andrew, Very cool! However, the fresh horse mackerel is something I would skip. Lloyd and I enjoyed your post! Happy trails! Diane T.

  3. Oh My! Great pictures right off the bat and again, Oh My! On your menu choices! Safe travels on your wilderness trek.

  4. Good to see you back on the road, Andrew! I’m loving the food shots as always – so like you to try the “fresh” horse mackerel sushi! I did wonder about the heat and humidity of the Japanese summer. Bama and I have hatched a plan to visit Kyoto, Osaka and Nara this Christmas and fingers crossed there’ll be snow dusting the temples. Will keep an eye out for that ramen stall when we get to Nishiki Market, it looks and sounds delicious! Best of luck and take care on the pilgrimage trail in Wakayama. 🙂

    • Having visited Kyoto twice now in my travels (incidentally, both during the dead of summer), I have to say that I think you and Bama have the right idea about visiting when the weather isn’t quite so unbearable. And, like you say, a bit of snow on the temples only works to add to the atmosphere of the city.

      And in case you’re curious, the Ramen shop was called Gogyo, and was located just off the Nishiki Market on a small side street (although I unfortunately don’t remember the name). Their two main entrees are “Burnt Shoyu Ramen” and “Burnt Miso Ramen,” both of which act as unique counterpoints to the normal, everyday ramen you see all over.

      • Hi Andrew. Hope you’re doing well. Just a quick update, James and I recently went to Japan for a week and we both loved every single moment there — it was his fifth time to the country and my first. We did go to Nishiki Market and tried some very delicious snacks — tako tamago was one of my favorites. But we didn’t try that ramen you recommended because we decided to have lunch at another place as it was our last day in Kyoto. Oh well, maybe next time.

        • Thanks for the update, and I’m glad you and James enjoyed Japan! Now that I’m back in a “normal” life for the time being, I happy to still be able to experience the joys of traveling vicariously through you. Safe travels!

  5. I lived in Japan as an Air Force brat in the late fifties, and I am envious of your up-coming trek. The bamboo forests were one of my favorite places to play. More photos of bamboo!

    • We definitely think alike in this regard, as the bamboo forests represent almost a spiritual retreat for me. I’m not sure where I got that from, as it wasn’t until I was an adult before setting foot in an actual bamboo grove, but despite that fact, I still hold these places dear. I can’t wait to hike through some more (and I’ll be sure to post plenty of pictures, too!)

  6. Perhaps my only thought about your “retirement” from world travel is that you are going to miss the variety of food and flavors you came to know.

    • You nailed what it is that I already know I’m going to miss the most when I’m not traveling. Although I won’t be able to make my way through exotic markets, eat my way through the variety of street vendors, and check out every mom-and-pop shop I can find, this will act as a good motivator for me to continue to hone my cooking skills by attempting to re-create the amazing dishes I’ve had on the road. Although I know I won’t be able to match the originals, I think it will certainly be fun trying!

  7. Andrew!!! Thanks for the advanced reminders why I’ve chosen to visit Kyoto come September….can’t wait! See you real soon ya!!! 🙂

  8. And just wondering why

    Sent from my iPad

  9. Places without people and food without people to eat it. Strange place. Where are the portraits

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