Thursday, 26 April 2012

Japan - Kyoto, Nagoya and country

As much as I loved Tokyo, I was excited to get onto the bullet train and see some more of Japan and of course, some regional dishes.

This shrine in Kyoto was fantastic. It’s dedicated to the old God of rice, Inari (also the train station) and even today businessmen donate to pray for success, rice being symbolic with affluence and plenty. We visited in the pouring rain and it was deserted, and rather spooky - all the ishidoro stone lanterns reminded me of the Zelda graveyards!

Kyoto station is a beast of a complex, as most big Japanese stations are, filled with department stores, malls and more people than you’ve ever seen. Upstairs we were spoilt for choice with ramen places:

We had a shabu shabu session at a traditional place in Gion, the old town of Kyoto where you’re most likely to spot geisha. We did indeed see a few, which was amazing. Other people were shamelessly papping them, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to.

The shabu shabu was good, but I prefer the hot plate sukiyaki to the blanched (read: boiled) meat. And it may be unpopular to say, but I found tatami mat dining literally a pain in the backside, not comfortable at all!

green tea (what else!) mousse for dessert

After a morning’s temple bashing, we stumbled across a brilliant little place for lunch. Cosy, authentic and with no staff under 60, we had some perfect chicken udon and chicken egg rice. In some ways, this was one of my favourite meals; cheap, quick and simple. I don’t think it had a western name, it was down a side street just past the Nazenji temple, towards the City.

One night we were being indecisive, walking around the back streets around Shijo and Teramachi streets (bear with Kyoto’s centre, it appears terrible but has some gems) – and stumbled across a tapas place. Hankering for some Western veg (and cheese, if I’m honest!) we gave it a whirl.

It was actually quite good – authentic in appearance and a very friendly owner who makes regular trips to Spain for cookery classes, supply, restaurant know-how and so on. It was on Sanjo-dori near the Post Office, can’t find it online - definitely worth a trip if you fancy a break:

On the same street was Café Independants – quite a funky basement bar with great pints and a record shop too. This picture makes it look quite tragic, bit about 10 minutes later it was rammed. Smoky though:

Bamboo Café near the (incredible) Ryuji Temple was another simple udon stop off:

Onto Nagoya, Japan’s third biggest hitter. This is a rich town, being home to Japan’s car industry, and the proliferation of Louis Vuitton, Dior etc and Fauchon, Fortnum & Mason and Dean & Deluca cafés right outside the massice station supported this.

I was on a quest to have red miso katsu, a local delicacy. We tracked it down in Yabaton, in La Chic, a great mall in Sakae. One thing I like about Japan, and Asia in general is the lack of shame or stigma attached to eating in shopping malls and food courts. Maybe because they're half decent.

It was delicious – not massively healthy but very satisfying. Nagoya’s tikka masala if you will. We had ‘half and half’, with that tangy ‘Worcester sauce’ you find in Japan with non-curry katsu generally:

We went to a cool bar called Waltz in the Sakae area too.

Even in Japan there is plenty of junk. Here, the beef curry pastry had more in common with Greggs than anything else, but fine for the train and you can justify eating rubbish if it’s local:

We stayed at a great ryokan in Hakone. Own hot spring bath, kaiseki meal, futons – it was a great experience. Bring some entertainment though, if you can’t get to sleep at about 9pm when it all winds down.

The food was a great thing to have done. The courses were numerous – cold fish and veg starters, some fried and grilled fish dishes, a little bit of pork and lots of stuff which I had no idea about. Not all of was nice, but that was part of the fun:

A note on Hakone itself and the pirate ship/cable car circuit. If it’s cloudy and Fuji-san is hiding, don’t bother. It’s quite dull frankly. Go for a walk or hit the onsen.


  1. Lovely post, one day I will get there, I missed Japan so much and really want to go back for visit again... and eat Japanese food :) Oishiiii!