Kishigawa Railway Line Tourism: Saved by the Cat!

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Now you can download this article through the following link: https://www.gpsmycity.com/gps-tour-guides/wakayama-6480.html

Kishigawa Line is a railway line under Wakayama Electric Railway in Wakayama, Japan. Departing from platform 9 in Wakayama Station, the train serves trips to 14 stations, that ends up in Kishi Station, Kinokawa, in 30 minutes.

By the way, what does a cat have to do with a railway line?

ALMOST BANKRUPT

strawberry themed train

The lack of passengers and financial problems in mid 2000 threatened Kishigawa Line to its permanent closure due to bankcruptcy. The locals urged Mitsunobu Kojima, the president of Wakayama Electric Railway at that time, to revive the railway line.

One day, a grocery store owner near Kishi Station begged the railway company to take care of a cat called Tama. Okay, that may sounded odd, but Tama wasn’t just any other cat.

He’s a calico cat that the store owner took care of. Tama often waited in the neighbourhood of Kishi Station and had paid attention many train passengers and inhabitants in town since the end of 90’s because of its tameness and cute-looking for pictures. He was later nicknamed “Kishi station master”.

After meeting Tama in his own eyes, Kojima was touched and finally agreed to adopt him.

TAMA, KISHIGAWA LINE ICON

To boost an image, Kojima created a branding for Kishigawa Line by making Tama as an icon. Accessorized with a conductor’s hat, he officially turned his beloved cat into “Kishi Station Master” in 2007. It was the first time in Japanese history to have a cat as a station master.

Tama illustrated

Apart from that, Tama appeared in multiple publications, social media, greeted passengers and became a model. Tama even had his own office in the form of a modified ticket counter.

Kojima’s efforts finally paid off. The amount of passengers increased about 55,000 people, who were mostly very enthusiastic to meet the cute and cuddly Tama. The ticket sales was not only enough to finance Tama’s food all year long, but also to boost the economic growth in Wakayama.

After Tama’s passing in 2015 in the age of 16, his position is replaced by another calico cat named Nitama or Tama 2, who is in charge in Kishi Station. There’s also Yontama or Tama 4 in Idakiso Station.

THE FOUR-THEMED TRAIN

inside strawberry themed train (ichigo densa)

The trains operating in Kishigawa Line are very easy to recognize because of their attractive design created by Eiji Mitooka. Basically, they have 4 different themes, such as strawberry (Ichigo Densa), toys (Omoden), plum pickles (Umeboshi Densha) and last but not least, Tama Den, which is no other than Tama cat theme. This train even has “ears” too in its front look.

You’ll never know what day and time the particular theme will appear right before your eyes. You may get Tama theme if you are lucky.

tama den, or cat themed train

IDAKISO STATION: YONTAMA’S OFFICE AND TEMPLE

super station master room or Yontama’s office

Idakiso station is one of the busiest station because it’s where super station master room aka Yontama’s “office” is located. Yontama’s room is a modified ticket counter, completed with a bed, litter tray and cat ladder.

Yontama is in service from 10 am to 4 pm, except Monday and Friday. Suppose you don’t see Yontama, perhaps he’s in deep sleep. I found him under the ladder, curling his body while sleeping. He didn’t notice me watching him.

Visitors are not allowed to knock the glass and take pictures without permission or carelessly while the cat is resting to avoid disturbance and stress.

Itakiso Temple
Itakiso Temple

Don’t come the station just to see the feline stationmaster. Leave the station and visit beautiful Shinto temples, such as Itakiso, Ashigami and Kimiidera, which are reachable on foot. Nonetheless, suppose you don’t want to walk too far, the closest temple is Itakiso Temple that takes 7 minutes walking distance.

empty street along the way

Trust me, walking to Itakiso temple is a fun and relaxing activity since trees, gardens, classic Japanese houses will greet you along the way. Moreover, the street is wide with less cars passing by and its surroundings is very quiet.

KISHI STATION: TAMA MUSEUM AND CAFE

Tama Museum and Cafe

The final stop of Kishigawa Line is Kishi Station. The station houses Tama Museum and Tama Cafe. Also designed by Eiji Mitooka, pay attention to some unique details of the building, from a cat head-shaped roof with ears in both edges to 2 oval-shaped windows resembling cat’s eyes.

And that’s not all, folks. You will also find cat-themed chairs inside the cafe, accentuated with the silhouette of a cat’s head, ears, cat whiskers illustration and a bell, associated with a pet’s (cat) accessories. Tama Cafe offers light bites, such as cakes, crepes, ice cream, french fries and drinks, from coffee, matcha latte to hot chocolate.

Tama Museum is where you can see memorabilia of Tama and get some lovely Tama merchandise in the souvenir shop. Mugs, t-shirts, notebooks, towels, key chains, posters and fridge magnets are among others.

Tama souvenir shop

One thing for sure. You are able to meet the station master Yontama every day, except on his day offs on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

TICKET INFORMATION

Kishigawa Line ticket is available in Wakayama Station. I recommended you to take a day ticket as a tourist since it’s valid for unlimited return trips and you can stop in any station you like within 24 hours. It costs 800 Yen ($ 7.50) for adults, 400 yen ($ 3.80) for kids.

Wakayama Station

Please note that Kishigawa Line is not part of JR Pass you’ve already bought in your country of origin. So, you have to get it separately. Just to be clear, all JR passes are only sold overseas, destined for foreign tourists to explore Japan in more affordable rate. However, Kishigawa Railway Line tickets are only obtainable in Wakayama, Japan.

I have to admit that Japanese people are great at developing a tourist destination in inspiring and unthinkable way. The story behind Kishigawa Line proves that a cat doesn’t only have 9 lives, but also able to save people from bankruptcy and revive tourism in unconventional way.

Now you can download this article through the following link: https://www.gpsmycity.com/gps-tour-guides/wakayama-6480.html

7 Mouthwatering Food You Need to Try in Kuroshio Ichiba Market

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Wakayama Prefecture, whose capital city is Wakayama City, is situated in the southern part of Osaka. One of the most popular destinations is Kuroshio Ichiba Market in Wakayama City Marina, a 49-acre man-made island that you can reach within 30 minutes from Wakayama City center by bus. It’s a heaven on earth for foodies, where they are able to eat till they drop, especially the best selling seafood delicacies.

Somehow, Kuroshio Ichiba Market reminds you of Tsukiji Market in Tokyo, yet Kuroshio is an indoor market.

Without further much ado, here are 7 kinds of food you should not miss in Kuroshio Ichiba Market.

  1. TUNA FISH AND CUTTING SHOW
tuna cutting show

Kuroshio Ichiba Market earns its nickname Tuna Land for one particular reason: it’s the center of tuna trading center. Moreover, Wakayama is famous for being the source of the best quality tuna fish in entire Japan, especially pacific bluefin tuna.

Apart from getting Japan’s best tuna fish, don’t forget to watch Tuna Cutting Show that runs 3 times a day for 15 minutes. The show times are 11 am, 12.30 am and 3 pm.

An experienced fisherman shows his skill in slashing a nearly 100 kg giant fish in such an agility, that only can be achieved after tons of practicing, while explaining about the cutting process and tuna grading. Unfortunately, the interesting basic knowledge is only presented in Japanese without any translation. But still, it doesn’t diminish the excitement of the show.

After the show, the fisherman instantly have the fresh cut meat offered to future customers in the form of sushi and sashimi, starting from 500 Yen ($ 4.70) for about 8 to 10 slices per pack. To be honest, it’s my first time ever to be addicted to tuna sashimi. The meat was so fresh and juicy that I couldn’t stop eating it!

2. FRESH SEAFOOD

seafood in package

Apart form tuna, you can also get scallop, eel, crab, squid, octopus, sea urchin, prawn, fish egg (tobiko), clams, salmon and many more at Kuroshio Ichiba Market. The lowest price is about 500 Yen ($ 4.70) per pack, depending the type and weight of the seafood.

When the rest of the seafood is allowed to dine in and to go, octopus has its exception. You only can get it for dining in and it’s not advisable to keep it overnight to maintain its freshness. So, no “to go” for octopus, okay? All sellers at the market will remind it to all consumers every time they are about to buy octopus-based products to avoid misunderstanding.

3. DRIED SEAFOOD

yep. the more you buy, the cheaper the price

Suppose you’re not really into raw food, fear not. The market also offers smoked, marinated and fried seafood products. Wakayama orange-flavoured fried fish is probably something unique to try, among others, for adventurous foodies. I was expecting either savoury or salty taste for this one, yet surprisingly it tends to be sweet. Having tried the tester (thank God there’s one!), I would describe it as sweet and fishy crunchy orange and I’m not into it. But again, that’s my verdict. I don’t know about you. The minimum price is 550 Yen ($4.70) per pack.

4. BARBECUE

seafood bbq
meat and sausage bbq

Still inside the market, there are several restaurants serving seafood and meat, from chicken, beef to pork, served in skewers. Bear in mind that they’re not meant to be eaten raw, as you can grill it yourself in outdoor seating areas. Starting from 150 Yen ($ 1.50), all restaurants are equipped with barbecue grill dining table, tongs, bottled barbecue and soy sauce. Yes, it’s indeed a self-service type of restaurant.

5. FRESH AND PROCESSED FRUITS

Wakayama orange

The most well-known fruit product in Wakayama is Wakayama orange with its refreshingly sweet taste for direct consumption, juice, ice cream flavour and even for fried fish flavouring (check my no. 3 explanation above). In Kuroshio Ichiba Market, you also have the opportunity to try the signature orange in the region, as well as grape and persimmon, that cost you from 400 Yen ($ 3.80) to 600 Yen ($ 5.70) per pack. Fresh juices, dried and processed fruits, including jam, are also available.

6. REFRESHING PICKLES

plum pickles in jars

Japanese people are pickle lovers. You can find several kinds of veggie, from bamboo shoots, cucumber to radish processed into pickles. Some of them are even mixed with clams as part of flavoring varieties.

If you like to get something particular from Wakayama, try plum pickles. Unlike other pickles that usually have sour taste, plum pickles is salty. You can choose the saltiness percentage from 4, 9 to 13 percent. Packed in a big jar, the pickles cost you 1490 Yen ($ 14) for 400 grams. Of course, smaller packages are available as well.

7. DESSERTS AND SWEETS

sweets, sweets, sweets!

I believe that you can’t leave Japan, especially sweet tooth people, without having mochi.

Kuroshio Ichiba Market offers this popular Japanese chewy rice cake in varieties of filling, such as pear, black sesame, chocolate, sakura (cherry blossom), matcha (green tea) and last but not least, Wakayama orange. Besides mochi, you can also get the famous Wakayama orange filling in sponge cakes and pies. They all cost starting from 390 Yen ($ 3.70) in a small package.

TESTER: AVOIDING WRONG BUYING DECISION!

Operating from 10 am to 5 pm, Kuroshio Ichiba Market provides a comfortable place to shop with great hospitality. The best part is that almost every counter offers product tester. As you know, nearly all Japanese products, including food, have such a fantastic packaging design that sometimes we instantly forget that what’s inside may not suit our taste buds.

Testers definitely helped me to omit wrong purchasing decisions. It turns out that Wakayama orange flavoured fried fish and salty plum pickles are not my things at all.

There’s no doubt that Kuroshio Ichiba Market is the right place to get varieties of souvenirs not only seafood) for friends, family and yourself under one roof.

Make sure you bring enough money when you travel to this market. From seafood, fruits to sweets, they all look so tantalizing that you may end up with buying things you don’t need. Forget shopping list (it wont work!) as tester is the only way to control overspending. You won’t buy food you hate the taste regardless of how cute they look, do you?

What You Need to Know before Staying at a UNESCO Heritage House in Shirakawa-go

Listed on UNESCO Heritage Site since 1995, the popularity of Shirakawa-go has been increasing ever since. The special characteristics of the heritage village in Gifu Prefecture is the thatched-roof farmhouse, gassho-zukuri. Its unique shape that looks like hands in prayer position whose length almost touches the ground has caught attention visitors worldwide.

Your visit to Shirakawa-go could be much more memorable if you have a chance to go local by staying in one of these houses. Indeed, some of them are not only transformed into restaurants, souvenir shops or museums, but also guest houses where you can stay overnight.

Interested? To make your holiday plan runs smoothly, here’s what you need to know before staying in a gassho-style guesthouse.

gassho-zukuri farmhouse

ONLY AVAILABLE ON CERTAIN SITES

I recommend you to order any gassho-style guest house on specialized websites focusing on traditional Japanese accommodations, such as https://www.japaneseguesthouses.com/ryokan-search-results/Shirakawa-go/ and https://shirakawa-go.gr.jp/en/stay/?index.

In fact, larger-scale accommodation sites you’re familiar with, booking.com and agoda.com for instance, hardly have gassho-zukuri guest houses on their list.

ROOM RATES: NOT A SHOESTRING, YET RELATIVELY AFFORDABLE

futon bed

The average rate per night for staying at gassho-style guesthouses is between 9000 Yen and 13,000 Yen ($84 to $122), including breakfast and dinner. There’s an option for dinner or breakfast only as well, or none.

Historical houses requires old-fashioned maintenance, that usually takes a lot of money and time. Therefore, the rate won’t beat budget hotels in a million years. Bear in mind that some guest houses only receive cash payment, so please double check this to the agent.

Like all traditional Japanese inns, or ryokan, all gassho-zukuri rooms have neither private toilet nor private bathrooms. So yeah, you have to share those facilities with others. You will sleep on futon bed on tatami floor, Japanese carpet made of straw or styrofoam.

OLD-FASHIONED DINING EXPERIENCE

shirakawago
irori

Since all restaurants in Shirakawa-go don’t open until late at night, it is recommended to take the dinner package at the guest house. The streets are dark after 7 pm and night life equals to staying at home.

At the same time, it’a a great opportunity to reach the experience of going local to the fullest by enjoying home cooking. You will seat on the floor, with a pillow that takes place of a chair, with a table surrounding irori, an ancient Japanese sunken hearth to heat to heat the room and cooking.

Suppose you have certain allergies, vegetarian or pescatarian, you should inform the owner or the agent prior to your arrival, so they can adjust your preference.

UNUSUAL Check-in AND Check-out TIME

Only starting from 3 pm can you actually check in at the guesthouse and surprisingly, the check out time is considered very early, at 9 am.

What you can do to maximize your stay at the guest house is that you come earlier to keep your luggage, then continue exploring Shirakawa-go as relax as you can. Between 5 pm to 6 pm when places of interests gradually close down, you return to the guest house to spend the rest of the evening and take a rest, as you need to leave early.

If you take the complete dining package, make sure you don’t check in too late, otherwise the host will wait for too long and finally won’t be able to cook your dinner.

FAMILY-OWNED

Generally speaking, gassho-zukuri guesthouses are family business and and inherited from their predecessors, as many of the houses are older than 200 years old. The host who serve you during your stay is the owner, not employees, from cleaning, mending the room until preparing your breakfast and dinner. They even stay under one roof with you.

Therefore, it would be better to show some gratitude for their services and manage your manner. For example, keep the silence during night time when they and other guests are sleeping.

NO BIG SUITCASES

Although it’s still possible to accommodate a large suitcase in the guest house, it could be exhausting to drag it on streets for a long time. Moreover, Japanese buses have narrow corridors that only fit up to medium-sized suitcases and no extra space for large ones. Thus, learn to travel light will be very handy for you.

NOT FOR LARGE GROUPS

crowds

Usually, a gassho farmhouse has 4 to 5 rooms, with maximum capacity of 12 people. If you travel with a group of friends or family, make sure that the rooms at the guest house where you’re staying are still vacant to keep everyone together under one roof. Moreover, you’re allowed to stay there just for one day, not more.

Due to limited room capacity, staying overnight at gassho-zukuri guest houses will never be the part of tour operators’ itinerary for Japan tour packages. In other words, you need to plan and book your own trip if you really want to experience a unique stay at the heritage farmhouse.

So, are you physically and mentally ready to adapt with the local culture?

gokayama

Gokayama and Two UNESCO Heritage Villages

LESS POPULAR THAN SHIRAKAWA-GO

Bombarded by tons of marketing from many tour operators worldwide, Shirakawa-go has been one of the most visited villages in Japan. Yet Gokayama, the village next door, doesn’t really have that kind of exposure.

gokayama
Suganuma Village in pouring rain

Moreover, the assumption that Gokayama is part of Shirakawa-go since both have a traditional house called gassho-zukuri and Shirakawa-go is easier to reach than Gokayama makes Gokayama is even less-known. Let me tell you what, they are just terribly wrong!

HOW TO GET TO GOKAYAMA

Gokayama, literally meaning 5 mountains, is situated in the southwest of Toyama Prefecture in Nanto city. The use of the name Gokayama has begun since 1513 to generalize a group of villages spreading in 5 different areas.

From 5 mountains that consist of 40 villages, Ainokura and Suganuma village are the most beautiful ones, that have been listed on UNESCO Heritage Site since 1995 together with Ogimachi village in Shirakawa-go.

To Gokayama, you can either start your journey from Takayama City, Toyama City or Kanazawa. In my experience, the closest way to get there is to take a bus from Takayama Station in Takayama City. Please note that the only public transportation to Gokayama is a bus. No bullet trains, no trams. You can rent a car, too, if you like.

shirakawago
Ogimachi Station

At first, all buses will stop in Ogimachi Station, where Shirakawa-go is located, that takes an hour from Takayama Station. Then, you need to transfer to another bus going to both pretty villages in Gokayama. It takes 30 minutes to Suganuma and Ainokura for another 15 minutes.

The best way to explore Gokayama is to get a 3-day-pass for Shirakawa-go and Gokayama World Heritage Bus at Takayama Nohi Bus Terminal (next to JR Takayama Station). It will stop in all heritage sites, from Shirakawa-go (Ogimachi village) to all villages in Gokayama, including Suganuma and Ainokura village. The ticket price is about ¥3700 per person (please check the updates at the station or check the following sites: https://www.nouhibus.co.jp/english/ , http://www.kaetsunou.co.jp/ (Japanese only))

So, going to Gokayama is not as hard as you think.

Nonetheless, I came to Gokayama twice. First in spring 2016 to visit Suganuma Village, which was accidental (check further in my previous post to know why) and second in autumn 2017 to visit Ainokura Village. Bad planning was the key problem here, that should not happen to you as both villages in Gokayama is more than easy to visit all at once, as I explained before.

Another misconception I heard is that Gokayama is situated in the same area as Shirakawa-go. All right, let me get this straight. Gokayama is in Toyama Prefecture, whereas Shirakawa-go is in Gifu Prefecture.

GASSHO ZUKURI

One of the most distinctive characteristics of Suganuma and Ainokura Village lies on the farm houses with thatched-roof almost touching the ground called gassho-zukuri. Gassho means to join one hand’s in prayer, referring to the construction shape of the roof. These unique farmhouses have been existing since Edo Period (1603-1867) when Lord Maeda was in reign.

shirakawago
gassho-zukuri house in Shirakawa-go, not as steep as that in Gokayama

The gassho-zukuri’s steep roof having 60 degrees angle, steeper than that in Shirakawa-go, is created that way to accelerate the snow to fall down from the roof quickly. Excessive snow creates burden and potentially collapse the roof. Apart from that, the roof is made of straw to maintain the warmth inside the house in winter time.

Surprisingly, they don’t use nails and metals to assemble all materials, that are only straw and wood from forests around the village, to build the farm house. The straw is replaced every 15 to 20 years manually by Gokayama Forest Owner’s Cooperative Association. This is indeed a time consuming kind of work. Yet, if it involves over 100 people, the process would take just a day.

SUGANUMA VILLAGE

The total amount of gassho-zukuri houses in Suganuma is not as many as that in Ainokura, which is only 9 left and nearly all are uninhabited.

gokayama
Gokayama Folklore Museum

One of the oldest farmhouses in Suganuma is already transformed into Gokayama Folklore Museum, where you can see the exhibits of indigenous people’s way of life in the past and how they produced potassium nitrate or ensho as the main ingredient of gunpowder, silk and handmade paper called washi.

gokayama

Suppose you spot the one and only gassho-zukuri having a pond surrounded by fences, it’s a sign that you have arrived safely in Suganuma.

gokayama
non gassho style cafe

Besides, there are 3 non gassho-zukuri houses and some earthen wall and wooden wall storehouses protected by the government. The cafe I visited to shelter myself from pouring rain is one of the examples of a non gassho style house.

japan
konbu tea

Traditional warm drink you should try is konbu tea, whose main ingredient is seaweed, served with rice crackers. The umami or savoury taste will somehow remind you of refreshing chicken soup, though not per se.

souvenir shop
souvenir shop

AINOKURA VILLAGE

Ms. Shimizu, a guest house owner in Shirakawa-go, where I stayed back in 2016, admitted that Ainokura is her favourite village because of its breathtaking scenery and serenity. Having seen in my own naked eyes, it awakened my sense of sight and simultaneously I felt peace in my heart.

gokayama

Ainokura is the largest village in Gokayama, yet not as busy as Suganuma. From 23 gassho zukuri farmhouses aged 100, 200 and the oldest 400 years, many of them are still in use.

As a visitor, you should respect the local’s privacy privacy by not trespassing their farm or backyard, picking plants or flowers and maintaining the silence. No worries, though. The good news is that you still can satisfy your curiosity about what’s inside by visiting some of the transformed heritage houses into cafes, restaurants and minshuku (family-owned traditional Japanese guest house)

gokayama

Please beware that smoking is prohibited in the neighbourhood, as well as in Suganuma (and Shirakawa-go), and a very dangerous thing to do as the farmhouse straw roof is combustible!

Just like in Suganuma, inhabitants in Ainokura produced ensho, washi and silk for a living, where you can learn more in Ainokura Folk Village. Learning to craft washi, traditional Japanese handmade, could be a fun activity to do in Washi Workshop. To participate in the workshop, you need to register first and make sure to attend before 3.30 pm as it is the last admission.

gokayama
souvenir shop at the entrance

SERENITY AND ORIGINALITY AT ITS BEST

Everything you see in Gokayama, from gassho style houses to surrounding crops, rice fields and shrine groves are still very-well preserved as it is until today because they are unaffected by World War II. Moreover, Gokayama is a perfect destination for those who embrace silence and dislike hustling and bustling crowds like Shirakawa-go.

THE PRICE FAVOURITE’S DESTINATION

In a nutshell, it deserves to be part of your itinerary to Japan once in a life time. To be honest, I didn’t regret to return to Gokayama after the screwed up plan I had made the year before.

Prince Akishino, who stayed in Ainokura twice in 1983 and 1992, once said that he has 3 favourite destinations in the world, and Gokayama is one of it.

If a Japanese prince left his heart in Gokayama, why shouldn’t you?

 

porto europa

Porto Europa: In Renovation, Not Lockdown

The covid-19 outbreak, although won’t last forever, change the way we live. Travel bloggers and avid travellers are no exception. They, like everyone else, are not allowed to leave their hometown and globe-trotting as they should be, not even their own house except going to pharmacy and supermarket.

So what I can do, as a travel blogger, is to improve my discipline in writing more articles regularly on my travel journeys. During the process, I found something interesting on my Japan trip file. It’s about Porto Europa I visited back in 2017.

Just to be sure, this is not about Porto in Portugal and not Europa in Europe.

Porto Europa is a theme park inspired by streets and houses in Italy, Spain and France located in Wakayama City Marina, Japan. Wakayama City Marina itself is a man-made island of 49 hectares that takes about 30 minutes by bus from the city center, Wakayama City.

I was hoping to ride the merry go round and roller coaster after visiting Kuroshio Ichiba Market, a seafood market next door. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen because the park was under renovation. But it didn’t close either. Instead, everyone could go in and wander for free, nothing else. Usually, the admission fee is 3800 Yen (#35) per person.

Oh well, why not? And I didn’t regret it at all. Honestly, it was a wonderful place to be, as the European “feel” was pretty intense, in one condition: when it locks down.

I took pictures as many as I could without disturbance from the crowds and so happy that I did it!

porto europa
entrance gate

porto europa

porto europa

porto europa

porto europa

porto europa

porto europa

porto europa

porto europa
does it look like Venice to you?

porto europa

porto europa

porto europa

porto europa

porto europa

So, does it feel like Europe? Or a lockdown?

sushi

5 Hida Beef Dishes You Should Try in Takayama Old Town

Now you can download this article through the following link: https://www.gpsmycity.com/gps-tour-guides/takayama-6286.html

Situated in mountainous Hida region in Gifu Prefecture, Takayama is best known for the main access and the closest city to Shirakawago and Gokayama, UNESCO Heritage Site listed villages known for their gassho-zukuri houses. Don’t make Takayama just a transit city, however. Spend a day or two instead, strolling around the morning markets and  Sanmachi Suji, a quaint old town with beautifully preserved shop and private houses over 300 years old, made of high quality cypress and cedar wood. Everything you’re looking for is literally there along the way, from souvenirs, traditional handicrafts, jewelry stores, snack shops until a must to try signature food which is “inevitable” anywhere in Takayama: Hida beef.

What’s so particular about it?

Hida Beef comes from a black-haired cow breed grown in Gifu Prefecture for at least 14 months. It’s one of the highest quality meat, specifically the marbling. Marbling fat texture is responsible for great taste, as it protects the aroma, tenderness and juiciness of the meat from escaping.

You actually can get Hida beef anywhere in Takayama, not just the old town, but it’s an ideal way for those who don’t have much time to travel too far from the main attractions to chase the beef.

Nonetheless, if you only relate Hida beef to beef steak, you got it all wrong. Since I didn’t specialize my visit on trying all types of Hida beef dishes, I was happy enough that I managed to try 1 beef steak and 4 non-steak menus. Mostly, I had them to go to save time and money, therefore I didn’t have to sit down and get tempted with all the additional menus like sweets, shakes and fries.

a. Hida Beef Bun

At a glance, it looks like a Chinese bun or ba pao, which is true. The differences lie on the Japanese inscription on the surface of the bun and the Hida minced beef inside, not just any kind of meat. The meat sauce is probably shoyu-based, which is very common in Japan. But the juiciness of the meat is top notch, while the role of the savoury sauce is neither dominate nor conceal its real taste, except to enhance the already good quality meat.

At Kihachiro Beef Bun, you can get Kihachiro’s Beef Bun, using no other than Hida beef labelled as “premium” for ¥ 500 ($ 4.50) and it’s totally worth it. Other options are matcha and red bean bun, black sesame and red bean bun and sweet pudding.

takayama

Beef Bun and Cafe Kihachiro. 29 Kamisannomachi, Takayama, Gifu Prefecture 506-0846. +81 577-62-8811

b. Hida Beef Burger 

It’s indeed an American style burger with beef patty made of Hida beef. So what’s so special about it, as you may ask, and I don’t blame you for that. But still, I recommend you to give some spare capacity of your tummy for this one. The size of the burger is rather smaller than usual, yet the taste of the patty is fresher and more juicy than those of McDonald’s, plus additional caramelized flavor because of the home made barbecue sauce coating its surface. Apparently, Hida beef makes ordinary food extraordinary. For ¥ 800 ($ 7.20), it’s a bit pricey because of the size, but it’s worth it.

hida beef
takayama

Hanamizuki Cafe & Restaurant. 2-48 HommachiTakayama 506-0011, Gifu Prefecture. +81 0577 33 0123

c. Hida Beef Nigiri

My curiosity arose when I saw someone bringing sushi on a cracker plate. When I realized that it’s Hida beef sushi, I sacrificed my impatience by being in (long) line with the crowds. I ordered the basic menu, Hida Beef Nigiri ¥ 500 ($ 4.50) , as seen on the picture on hanging board.

I got 2 pieces of the Hida beef nigiri sushi placed on the rice cracker or senbei, whose sushi rice is nearly invisible (except from the sides) since each of them is covered with Hida beef slices brushed with sweet sauce on top. It’s moist, juicy with hints of blood taste since I have it medium. I love the taste although it’s a bit chewy for me. In my opinion, it’s medium rare. May be when it’s medium, it could be less chewy but still juicy. Nothing really particular about the taste of the crackers other than light savored, as it’s not expected to overpower the sushi taste. Nonetheless, it’s a unique experience to have crunchiness collides with firm and sticky sushi, which is probably not obtainable anywhere else.

You can have it with additional Hida beef maki or sushi roll besides the nigiri ones on the cracker place since its maximum capacity is 3 pieces of sushi, but of course it costs more than ¥ 500 ($ 4.50). More premium grade options could be around ¥ 700 ($ 6.30) to over ¥ 1000 ($ 9).

sushi

Sakaguchiya. 90, Kami-3-nomachi, Takayama-shi, Gifu, 506-0846. 

d. Hoba Miso Beef Steak

When I was staring at clippings attached on an announcement board at Guest House Ouka, one of the guest house employees greeted me, asking me if he could help me with anything. Indeed, I was looking for a recommended Hida beef restaurant and everything written on those clippings sounded tempting. Finally, he advised me to visit Suzuya Restaurant. A lot of tourists visit it and they love it. Additionally, one of his friends work there. Okay, this could be a subjective opinion, but there was no harm to try.

I ordered its best selling menu, Hoba Miso Beef Steak Rice set. It’s the 65 gram sliced Hida beef steak grilled on hoba leaf with miso paste, mixed vegetables (shimeji, shiitake mushroom and spring onion) that comes with rice and tea for ¥ 1944 ($ 17.50). I admit, it’s an affordable rice set with quality taste. It takes 6 to 10 minutes until the meat reaches the medium level of rareness. When the tender and juicy meat blends with the lightly fermented and savory taste of miso paste, it’s fantastic!

In fact, Suzuya was the only restaurant where I dined in a complete relaxation and cozy atmosphere, without eating while walking and snapping pictures here and there. I mean, who could enjoy eat hot and sizzling grilled meat on the move? The service was excellent as the waiter, the guest house employee’s friend, was super friendly. Surprisingly, he understands a few words of Indonesian language!

takayama
takayama
hida beef

Suzuya Restaurant. 24 Hanakawamachi, Takayama, Gifu Prefecture 506-0015. +81 577-32-2484

e. Stewed Hida Beef

Only the A5 grade, the highest grade of Hida beef, does Rokujuban use in all the menus, from skewers to stewed beef. I took the Standard Hida Beef Stew for ¥ 800 ($ 7.20). It turns out that the soup reminds me of Hungarian goulash soup that I love so much. The only thing that disappoints me is that about 50% of its content is the fat that I dislike the texture, although it is undoubtedly contributes a lot to its rich taste. Other than that, it’s a great choice. Suppose you like poached egg in your stewed beef, just add another ¥ 100 ($ 0.90). Or, if budget is not the issue, you can try the most expensive menu, Hida Beef Stew in a sealed pouch for ¥ 1300 ($ 11.70).

If I knew that there would be a lot of fat in the stewed beef, I would rather get the skewers instead, such as Hida Beef Meatball Salt for ¥ 500 ($ 4.50), Standard A5 Loin for ¥ 600 ($ 5.40) and Special A5 Loin for ¥ 1000 ($ 9).

Perhaps, you’d like to conclude your dining experience with local sake, why not? Rokujuban offers it for ¥ 500 ($ 4.50).

takayama
takayama
hida beef
Rokujuban. 60 KamisannomachiTakayama 506-0846, Gifu Prefecture.
+81 577-33-2683

In addition to those I mentioned above, other Hida beef dishes that deserve to be on your bucket list are the deep fried versions, such as Hida beef croquette and Hida beef katsu. However, I didn’t try those because I’m allergic to any kind of fried food.

Make sure you don’t leave Takayama without trying Hida beef unless you’re a vegetarian, a vegan, a pesceterian or simply not a meat lover.

Now you can download this article through the following link: https://www.gpsmycity.com/gps-tour-guides/takayama-6286.html

shibuya

How to Spend an Evening in Shibuya beyond Shopping

Now you can download this article through the following link: https://www.gpsmycity.com/gps-tour-guides/tokyo-405.html

The early settlement in Shibuya began when Shibuya family built a castle in the area during the Edo Period in the 11th century. Its transformation from a wealthy family residential site to the busiest railway station was marked by the establishment of JR (Japan Railway) Yamanote Line, previously known as Shinagawa Line, in 1885. Nowadays, Shibuya Station consists of over 8 lines and to be honest, it is more than easy to get lost in between.

Fear not, though. What you need to remember when you get off in Shibuya Station is to find the most notable exit of the station, which is exit no. 8 called Hachiko Exit, to reach the city center. My friend and I did that the whole time and it worked.

shibuya
Shibuya in spring

Known as one of the most hectic districts in Tokyo with skyscrapers and their flashing advertisement and video screens, Shibuya is a melting pot of shops, cafes, restaurants, bars and nightclubs. And don’t forget about the crowds too, it’s incredibly insane!

Nonetheless, if you’re not so much into shopping, taking some booze and clubbing (I purposely exclude the “dining” thing because you may need some fuel to explore the city although you’re not a foodie), what other things you can do in Shibuya?

TAKE A PICTURE WITH HACHIKO STATUE

Suppose you have watched Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, played by Richard Gere, you should know what’s the story is all about.

hachiko
Hachiko statue

Indeed, the movie is inspired by an Akita dog named Hachiko, owned by Professor Ueno in 1920s. The dog always followed him every time he came to Shibuya Station to commute to his workplace, as well as waited for him there until he returned before heading home. One day, the professor passed away because he suffered from brain hemorrhage and did not return. But, Hachiko’s loyalty to his master didn’t stop there. Instead, he kept waiting for him at the same spot, same time every day for the next 9 years. The story became viral after a professor’s former student told about it to the public, then Hachiko statue was erected in 1934 exactly on the spot where he always waited for the professor. One year after later, Hachiko died from cancer at the age of 11.

Once you leave the station through Hachiko Exit, you’ll find a bunch of crowds on your left side waiting for their turn to pose with the bronze dog statue of Hachiko. The line is always long, especially in high season, yet fortunately the queue usually runs smoothly as they don’t cut each other’s line.

We both are dog lovers, so taking a picture with the legendary dog is a must despite the long queue.

CROSS THE STREET THROUGH SHIBUYA CROSSING

I love the vibrant atmosphere in Shibuya, especially in the evening when all interchanging advertisement images and videos decorating the skyscrapers brightening the entire district, as if they wanted to replace the role of sunlight after it goes down. Both local and international brands are competing each other to get the most attention from the crowds below them.

shibuya
evening in Shibuya

Guess what, the ones that got mine are those with anime characters regardless what the inscriptions say. It’s all written in Japanese and I understand none of it.

shibuya

When the traffic lights from all directions turn red, that’s when a magical moment actually happens. In locals’ and expatriates’ perspective, crossing the street in Shibuya Crossing is just a small part of a daily routine. But for us, being around those pedestrians from various nationalities and races, apart from Japanese, feels like getting lost in translation. We could be either part of the famous movie scene or nothing more than just isolated strangers.

shibuya
men’s turn

shibuya
car’s turn

Anyways, we really enjoyed mingling with other strangers crossing the busiest pedestrian lanes in the world. Blushing one’s shoulder is inevitable, but cases of pickpocket hardly happen despite the packed situation on street. And hell yes, Japanese people are used to walking straight, fast and being alone among the crowds.

WATCH PEOPLE CROSSING SHIBUYA CROSSING FROM STARBUCKS COFFEE

One of the best places to get bird’s eye view of the crowds in Shibuya Crossing is Starbucks Coffee Shibuya Tsutaya, which is probably the highest traffic Starbucks branch I’ve ever seen in my life. I only can imagine how much they earn per day only from selling coffee. There are other options, too, where L’Occitane Cafe across the street could be your choice, yet Starbucks was the first thing to cross our minds.

shibuya
Starbucks Coffee Shibuya

If you only want to get some coffee to go, you can get it from the counter situated outside the outlet. But, if viewing Shibuya and its surroundings from the upper floor is your number one priority, you should be willing to be in line with the rest inside the outlet on ground floor, so-called first floor in Japan.

shibuya
shiny happy people

Coffee, tea and snacks are treated as entrance tickets to the upper floor to get great spots for photos and video recording. We found our favourite dish, which is not available in our hometown Jakarta: spring vegetables with sour cream sauce. The best thing about it that it’s healthy and suitable for vegetarians.

Once we reached the second floor, all the seats facing the window were full for the reason everybody knows. In fact, about 50 percent of visitors were actually standing, just like us, behind those “lucky” people sitting by the window, pointing their smartphones and cameras attentively to the busiest pedestrian lanes in the world right before their eyes. It doesn’t mean that other seats not facing the window were less preferred, though, as they were completely full as well.

starbucks
Vegetarian wrap

The question when you’ll have your turn truly depends on how much time and patience you have. There are many places of interest in Tokyo and a lot of things you can do in Shibuya, so there’s no way that tourists only spend their time during the stay just to stare pedestrians from above. In other words, they will leave their strategic spot, eventually.

About 20 minutes later, the couple in front of us left. We hurriedly occupied the empty seats and became the “lucky” ones. I was so glad that I could make a video recording of those crowds below me. It surprises me somehow when I watched it back home, I just realized that the Japanese walked so fast, even faster than I felt when I crossed the street together with them, that I thought I edited this video. But I didn’t.

 

WATCH STREET PERFORMANCES

Performances are held best in places where crowds becoming potential spectators are around, and Shibuya totally fulfills the requirement. Street artists makes Shibuya a stepping stone to fame, hoping that one day they will be on air on famous TV stations. Somehow it’s entertaining to watch them after reaching the other end of the street.

shibuya
let me entertain you

Shibuya is also a popular place for TV show or movie shooting location, like the goat man for example. I’m not sure what the show is all about, apart from the man behind the goat mask showed off his muscular body while walking on the street and later on did some silly dancing moves. All the pedestrians around him smiled and cheered him up, anyways. If attention is the main goal of the show, he got it already.

shibuya
goat man on the street

If crowds and flashy ads on skyscrapers are not your thing but you don’t wanna go too far, probably isolating yourself to Meiji Shrine could be a great choice. Other than that, try to go outside those gigantic department stores and mingle with people from all over the world. It truly feels like being in a big party without the need to have an invitation and to pay some amount of money for cover charge! The only building you should get in is the one with a strategic location for a fantastic bird’s eye view of the legendary Shibuya Crossing.

So, how about you? Do you have some other great advise about what to do in Shibuya besides shopping? Let me know, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Now you can download this article through the following link: https://www.gpsmycity.com/gps-tour-guides/tokyo-405.html

 

shirakawago

Ochudo Restaurant: Tasting Home Cooking in Shirakawa-go Heritage House

A GLIMPSE OF SHIRAKAWA-GO

Shirakawa-go lies in the mountains of the north western part of Gifu Prefecture, central Japan, that takes one hour from Takayama city. Ogimachi Village, the largest village in Shirakawa-go, is known for the thatched roof farmhouses resembling a Buddhist monk hand in prayer called gassho-zukuri. Since 1995, Shirakawa-go has been listed in UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Once secluded and unknown among foreigners, Shirakawa-go has become one of the most popular attractions in Japan. The gassho-zukuri farmhouses, mostly built in 1800, are not only nice to see from the outside, but also function as souvenir shops, cafes, restaurants, museums, and even guesthouses. However, Shirakawa-go is still a residential area, since other farmhouses remain a place to stay for local people. Therefore, it is very necessary for visitors to respect the tranquility of the area and no trespassing in private houses.

WHAT’S IN A LOVELY FARMHOUSE WITH CUCUMBER VINES

shirakawago

There are over 25 restaurants and cafes listed on the map of Shirakawa-go if you have enough patience to find which one suits your taste. How I chose Ochudo Cafe Restaurant, that I only found out its name in the end of my visit, as a place to eat was truly by coincidence.

I spotted another gassho style farmhouse that got my attention because of the lovely terrace and hanging cucumber vines on the thatched roof like a necklace on someone’s neck. I really thought that it’s a private resident until I saw a tourist sitting on the long chair in front of the house.

shirakawago

shirakawago

Moreover, there were frames placed under the roof mentioning “Coffee”, “Tea”, the menu written in both Japanese and English, an “Open” wall hanging wooden sign and some Japanese inscriptions I couldn’t read.

shirakawago

To be honest, it didn’t offer many choices of meal I expected, most probably because the main concept is a cafe rather than a restaurant. It offers coffee, tea, cafe latte, citron juice, orange juice, toast bread, curry rice and sweet red bean soup or zenzai. Wait! Curry rice sounded like a great choice. I’ve tried Japanese curry before, yet I hadn’t tasted it in Japan during my visit, so why not?

shirakawago

Entering the farmhouse, I noticed that it has experienced some modifications. The shoe rack spot is replaced by stairs to go down to the main dining room, so there’s no need to take off your shoes to enter the restaurant. I was happy that I didn’t have to untie my shoes to get in.

shirakawago

The traditional sunken hearth kitchen or an open fireplace called irori is transformed into a table, surrounded by benches instead of sitting on the flat pillows on the floor, where customers still can witness the traditional way of boiling water and cooking food in more comfortable way.

shirakawago

I looked up to the ceiling and it’s surprisingly see-through, inner side of the construction was visible, including that of the thatched roof.

shirakawago

The pantry is dominated by collections of (English style) tea cups and their matching saucers kept neatly arranged in the shelves, where the rest of the cups were hung on the wooden lease of the pantry together with the lanterns. What’s so cool about the hanging cups is that customers who order tea and coffee can choose one of them for their drinks. Creating a memorable customer experience doesn’t have to be complicated.

shirakawago

shirakawago

Another thing I like about the interior is how they use leftover spaces and personal belongings to deliver homey atmosphere inside a commercial place by displaying children’s drawings, family pictures, a table lamp, toys and again, tea cups. Functioning unused chairs into tables by placing tablecloths on the seats is also a great idea.

Was I entering my relative’s home or a restaurant? Good question.

SERVICE EXCELLENCE: WHEN SPEED, QUALITY AND HOSPITALITY MERGE HARMONIOUSLY

Accommodating about 20 to 30 people maximum, the dining area is not that big. No wonder why it quickly became full, especially at lunch time. Only 20 minutes later did I get my seat after two Caucasian ladies left their spot. But it doesn’t mean that it was not busy any longer.

A couple in their 50’s ran all the operational activities, that I assume the owners (let’s call them uncle and auntie), who kept going back and forth serving customers, from taking orders until bringing food and drinks to them. I was curious whether there was any chef helping them in the kitchen, but I didn’t see anyone appearing from there. Honestly, I admit that the uncle and auntie had a quick response, amazing speed and agility for their age.

shirakawago
dining room

The uncle greeted me, passing me the artsy handmade menu on the table. Having a shape like a palette paint made of thick cardboard, it was covered with pumpkin orange colour recycled paper and the menu list was written by hand on both sides. Lovely!

I instantly ordered curry with rice (¥ 900 or about $ 8), but not the set menu that comes with sweet red bean soup (¥ 1300 or about $ 12) because red bean is not really my favorite, although it’s one of the best sellers in Ochudo.

menu
the menu

shirakawago
I spotted another hanging tea cup spot close to my seat

My curry rice came with a sliced pumpkin and some beans, red ginger as a side dish and a glass of water, that usually served for free in any restaurants in Japan. I previously thought that I would get a chicken curry rice, therefore I didn’t expect that it would be a vegetarian dish, but that’s okay.

Even though I’m more a fan of Indian and Thai curry, I also like a Japanese version of curry with a tendency of sweet taste rather than emphasizing strong spices. Compared to the one I once had in a big restaurant chain, my sense of taste could tell that the curry sauce at Ochudo was purely home cooking with fresher ingredients, so it was just tasted better and nothing fabricated. Or perhaps I was just I carried away with the homey surroundings inside the heritage house.

japanese curry

What makes it more special was the rice, gosh I loved it lots! Instead of using regular steamed rice, the curry was served with zakkokumai, rice with mixed seeds and grains, giving purplish colour on the rice. It had al dente texture, subtle sweetness with earthy taste, that completely blended well with the curry. The only thing I didn’t touch was the red ginger, simply because I don’t like ginger at all.

The uncle started a small talk with me when he cleared up my table, asking how the food was. I frankly said it was great and really liked the rice. I wanted to know what he put in the rice besides azuki or red bean, but he only said, “It’s made with many beans.” Most probably because either he didn’t have much time to explain or his English was too limited to elaborate the answer.

I said to myself that it could have been better if there was more content in the curry sauce itself. But it wasn’t a big deal at all.

shirakawago

“Where do you come from?”  He asked me again.

I replied, “Indonesia.”

“Oww… Indonesia. They also come from Indonesia.” He pointed a group of six sitting across my table, who originally came from Surabaya, East Java.

Knowing that I was travelling alone, he passed me a book to read about Shirakawa-go to accompany me. On top right of the book, I saw hand-written Japanese characters with Latin letters right below it mentioning, “Ochudo.” It was the moment I realized that the cafe restaurant name was Ochudo since I didn’t look at the map at all.

I was touched by the uncle’s hospitality and sensitivity despite language barrier and  limited time in peak hours. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to communicate with the auntie since she was at the pantry all the time, but I believe she was a nice woman, too.

Overall, I had a great time and great meal, giving me more energy to continue strolling around the village. Anytime you visit Shirakawa-go, make sure you take your time dining at Ochudo Cafe Restaurant when hunger strike.

Ochudo Cafe Restaurant

792 Ogimachi, Shirakawa, Ono District, Gifu Prefecture, Japan

Phone: +81 90-5458-0418

Opening hours: 10 am to 5 pm

 

kiyomizudera temple

How to Explore Kiyomizu-dera Temple and Its Surroundings

Now you can download this article through the following link: https://www.gpsmycity.com/gps-tour-guides/kyoto-1958.html

THE HISTORY OF KIYOMIZU-DERA TEMPLE

Kiyomizu-dera Temple is a Buddhist temple dedicated to Kannon, the  Buddhist God of Mercy, situated in the mid-slope of Mt. Otawa in east Kyoto, on the site where Otawa Waterfall produces pure and clean water ceaselessly everyday. It has been listed on UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1994.

The foundation of Kiyomizu-dera Temple began in 778 when monk Enchin discovered Otowa Waterfall after he had a vision of meeting an old man in white who asked him to find pure water. Near the waterfall, he met Gyoei-koji, the priest who was the incarnation of Kannon. He gave monk Enchin the sacred tree and asked him to carve the thousand-armed Kannon to guard Kannon’s sacred place.

In 780, a warrior named Sakanoue-no-Tamuramaro came to Mt. Otowa to hunt deer. Nonetheless, monk Enchin forbid him to take lives in a sacred land of Kannon and taught about Kannon’s virtuous deeds instead. Deeply moved by his teachings, Sakanoue-no-Tamuramaro built a temple called Kiyomizu, literally means pure water, to worship Kannon.

In the beginning, the temple adopted Hosso sect doctrine until 1965 when it formed its own Kita Hosso sect, a reformed Buddhism with more contribution to the society,  founded by Onishi Ryokei Wajo.

Repeatedly burned over the centuries, the buildings you see today at the temple complex were mostly built in 1633.

WHAT TO EXPECT AT THE MAIN TEMPLE

kiyomizudera temple
the starting point of Kiyomizu-dera Temple complex

The day after my dining experience in Gion, I continued exploring Kyoto by visiting one of the most-visited temples Kyoto, Kiyomizu-dera Temple. From Kyoto Station, I took bus no. 110 (other options are no. 86, 100, 106, 206, depending on which one comes first) going directly to the temple.

Getting off the bus, it was not directly visible right before my eyes. But I believe I was on the right track after seeing bunch of other visitors going to the same direction, Chawan Zaka or Teapot Lane as part of Higashiyama District, the slope surrounded by souvenir, pottery shops, and kimono rental center. I tried not to get easily distracted by those charming shops since it would take approximately 45 minutes to reach the main temple. Not to mention that I had other destinations to catch in the city apart from Kiyomizu-dera.

The red gate or pagoda, was the first sign that you are already at the temple complex. It was also the starting point where the crowds from various nationalities started to gather for selfie, wefie, or just to save some energy before climbing up more stairs to the famous wooden stage at the main temple.

kiyomizudera temple

kiyomizudera temple
the entrance gate

Probably, the only “weakness” (if you wanna call it that way) of a popular destination is the inevitable crowds everywhere you go, no matter whether it’s high or low season. I came in low season and the crowds were still like crazy.

kiyomisudera temple

Moreover, it was on the same day as a study tour from some local schools. Despite the crowds, I got neither emotional nor impatient while queuing up. Especially, Japanese people are usually very discipline and cutting each other’s line didn’t happen at all.

kiyomizudera temple
school kids queuing up to the temple

kiyomizudera temple
tourists wearing rented kimono

Although Kiyomizu-dera is a Buddhist temple, the influence of Shinto remains, distinguishing Buddhism in Japan from that in other countries. For instance, the attributes of Omairi (the ritual of entering Shinto shrine) are available outside the main temple, such as communal basin for temizu (self-cleansing ritual by washing mouth and hands with a wooden scoop) and the prayer to kami (gods) by dropping a coin as an offering, pulling the rope to ring a bell and clapping hands twice.

kiyomizudera temple
communal basin for temizu 

kiyomizudera temple
doing a prayer to kami

The ultimate destination of visiting Kiyomizu-dera Temple is the most photographed object of the temple, the wooden stage of the main temple that was built without nails. The thousand armed Kannon statue, the main object of worship carved by the monk Enchin, is kept there. Again, be prepared for the crowds!

kiyomizudera temple
visitors inside the main stage

I was a bit disappointed when I saw the roof of the main stage covered in black cloth for renovation. The bad news is that it stays that way from February 2017 until March 2020. The good news is that thanks to the renovation, the next generation will be able to witness the well-maintained invaluable cultural property in the long run.

kiyomizudera temple
the main stage in ongoing renovation

kiyomizudera temple

Fortunately, the roof renovation didn’t disturb its function as an observation deck, where I could see Otowa Waterfall and its surroundings from above.

kiyomizudera temple

Stretching over 130,000 square meter, Kiyomizu-dera Temple complex also houses Buddhist buildings and other important cultural properties. Among others Okunoin Hall and halls dedicated to Shaka Buddha and Amida Buddha.

kiyomizudera temple
Okunoin Hall

kiyomizudera temple

OTHER ATTRACTIONS AT THE TEMPLE COMPLEX

  • OTOWA WATERFALL

kiyomizudera temple

Since Otowa Waterfall’s discovery by Monk Enchin in 778 and how it became an inspiration of the temple name “Kiyomizu-dera”, meaning pure water, the fame of the waterfall continues until these days. The waterfall consists of 3 separate streams, where each of them is believed to bring success, longevity and love. The sacred water is drinkable, but you only can pick 1 stream, since drinking from all of them defines greed. I didn’t have much patience to line up, though, but I believe it should be fun to “catch” the water using the glass attached with a long pole.

  • JISHU SHRINE

The main temple itself is already a magnificent place to visit. Nonetheless, of all the attractions at Kiyomozi-dera Temple complex, Jishu Shrine is definitely my favourite. Rebuilt in 1633 by Iemitsu Tokugawa, Jishu Shrine is a shrine dedicated to the deity of love and matchmaking situated behind the main temple.

kiyomizudera temple
entering Jishu Shrine

The main God is Okuninushi no-Mikoto, assisted by his messenger, the rabbit whom he once helped when his skin was being peeled off. The three generations of Okuninushi no-Mikoto family are enshrined here, that includes his parents and grandparents.

jishu shrine
Okuninushi no Mikoto and his messenger

The main hall of the shrine is one of the prettiest I’ve ever seen because of the multiple colourful small shrines inside the complex. People come to the shrine to pray for finding a true love, long-lasting marriage, getting pregnant easily and save delivery. No wonder why most visitors I saw were young females, some young couples and a very few elderly people.

kimono

Love stones or Koiuranai no Ishi become the object that draws attention when you enter the shrine because it is believed that if you can walk from one stone to the other one with eyes closed without bumping into someone else means you’ll find a true love. If you need assistance along the way, it means that you need somebody else’s help to find the love of your life.

I spotted a local schoolgirl walking blindfolded with both hands raising to the front, starting from one love stone to the other one about 10 meters ahead. Her schoolmates cheered her while giving some directions to guide her to the right track. I don’t know how long she could reach the other side, but overall it was fun to see people having fun, or truly believe, with the philosophy behind the challenge.

jishu shrine

At Jishu Shrine, there are several ways to say your prayer and wishes. Trust me, doing some of them (if not all) could be a lot of fun whether you’re a believer or not.

You can write your prayer, wishes and gratitude on an ema votive tablet, obtainable at the souvenir shop, and hang it on the designated “tree”. The price starts from ¥300 to ¥800 depending on the design. For those who have a talent in drawing and calligraphy, it’s time to shine. You can express your creativity whatever you like on the table. Isn’t it cool?

jishu shrine
ema

Another way to make a wish is to play Omikuji, a fortune telling game. Shake the provided box while making a wish until the stick comes out, defining a drawer number you need to open. Inside the drawer, there’s a piece of paper telling about your future. If says good things, keep the paper. Otherwise, you can fold and hang it on the “hanger” close to the drawer.

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communal bath for temizu

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souvenir shop

Also, there’s a spot where you can write all the troubles and problems in your life on a piece of paper available inside the box. After that, put it in the wooden bucket filled with water to wash away all your troubles. I wish life could be that simple and easy!

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the place to write all the troubles

bucket
the bucket filled with troubles

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Nade-Daikoku-San on the right

It is believed that patting Nade-Daikoku-San (Daikoku to be patted), a bronze statue of a man carrying a Santa Claus lookalike sack, can make any kind of wishes and prayers come true.

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  • HIGASHIYAMA DISTRICT

After leaving Kiyomizu-dera complex, make sure you spend more time in Higashiyama District, a long street sloping down to the main street where public buses stop, as there are many tempting stores selling souvenirs, artisan jewelry designs, pottery, sweets (from ice cream to mochi), pickles and restaurants.

kiyomizudera temple
crowds seen from top of the entrance gate

kyoto

If you don’t like crowds that much, sorry to say that it’s always very very crowded, even in low season. But still, I suggest you to explore this area slowly.

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busy street

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inside souvenir shop

kyoto

I was so happy that I finally found my favourite snack at Yatsu Hashi Chou. The choux tasted like nowhere else in the world, with lightly-tasted cinnamon bun with green tea filling. Suppose you wonder how green tea and cinnamon can match perfectly, don’t think too much. For the price of ¥400, it was worth it.

And don’t forget to try the bottled green tea as well. It is a bit expensive though, ¥400 for 250 ml, compared to those from the vending machine, but the quality of the tea is so much better. There are 2 options, sweetened and unsweetened. I tried the sweetened one, and all I can say is that I’d rather have the unsweetened one, although the sweetened one tasted just fine.

 

The mural of a beautiful woman in flowers was the farewell sign of my visit to Kiyomizu-dera Temple. There’s nothing more I can say that it’s one of the best attractions I visited in Kyoto, thanks to its variety of interests combining fun and holiness simultaneously.

I was happy that I decided to revisit Kyoto the year after and finally could make it to Kiyomizu-dera Temple!

kyoto
mural

Now you can download this article through the following link: https://www.gpsmycity.com/gps-tour-guides/kyoto-1958.html

 

sushi

Lite Bites at Nikuya Ginjiro Steak & Wine

Returning to Gion brought me back to a wonderful memory I spent last spring 2016 with blossoming sakura. Last October, I strolled around the same streets and alleys just to see some colour changes of the autumn leaves in the neighborhood, that I finally failed to find. Nonetheless, Gion remains impressive with rows of preserved machiya houses as if I was in a Japanese movie scene, despite the absence of autumn leaves and sakura.

gion kyoto

I wanted to return to the hotel when it started to rain, until I spotted a bunch of tourists and locals entering one of the alleys situated right behind Kamo river, that I hadn’t noticed its appearance in my previous visit.

Don’t get fooled by the tranquility of the street. I peeped some restaurants and bars from their window, glass door, sometimes from an accidentally opened door by visitors leaving the place, and there was where most of the crowds gathered. Seconds later, something popped up my mind. I’d like to I join the crowds for one reason: to have a dining experience in Gion, one of the most expensive areas in Kyoto, despite it could break my bank account.

It felt like leaving a comfort zone as a budget traveler. And for sure, it was something I had not done in my first visit to Gion. But simultaneously, it was challenging.

gion kyoto
Nikuya Ginjiro facade

I passed by the most “transparent” restaurant along the alley, Nikuya Ginjiro Steak & Wine, where I could see the whole interior and its crowds only by looking from the see-through sliding door. I had a good impression at first sight because it seems like a hip and cool place for hanging out, so my choice finally went to Nikuya Ginjiro.

Emphasizing Kobe Beef as their best-selling menus, that costs around ¥ 15,000 to ¥ 18,000 per portion, it is quite a pricey place to eat for budget travellers. For sure, there are other non-Kobe beef menu with price range around ¥ 1500, ¥ 3000, ¥ 8000, depending on parts of the beef they offer. Fortunately, hunger didn’t strike me at all, since I was still in a full stomach from the spaghetti I ate earlier at Kyoto Station.

So, I paid more attention to some appetizer and light snacks, whose lowest price is about ¥ 580 ($ 5.30) excluding tax (about ¥ 620, or $ 5.66, after tax). As a comparison, you can get 1 portion of a small beef bowl for the same price in budget restaurants. By adding another ¥ 200 (from ¥ 580), you can get a regular portion of ramen and another ¥ 500 to ¥ 700 for a large one at common ramen shops.

There’s only a little, or no hope, to dine on the cheap in Gion. Apart from that, steak menus are usually not offered on a shoestring rate.

gion kyoto
the bar

Nikuya Ginjiro’s contemporary look is more like a bar rather than a steak house. All seats use bar chairs and tall tables, that makes it unsuitable for family with small kids. It’s not a spacious place, yet it is efficiently designed to accommodate more guests.

As soon as I got a seat, a Caucasian blonde woman in pony-tailed hair passed me the A3 size of laminated menu and greeted me in native level of English, “Good evening, Ma’am. What do you want to have for tonight?”.

The woman who served me is an American nationality who has been living in Japan for the last 3 years. Besides, she also speaks fluent Japanese, which is a compulsory requirement to work anywhere in Japan.

There’s no doubt that having a native English speaker staff is one of the company’s assets to compete in a touristic area, which is one of the reasons why nearly all visitors at the steak house were foreigners.

carpaccio
wagyu beef carpaccio

Of all the ¥ 580 lite bites listed on the menu, Wagyu Sushi sounded interesting and  unconventional in my perspective. Apparently, wagyu beef is not always related to steak. Moreover, she mentioned that there would be a nice burning show to watch when it comes to the table.

So yeah, why not?

I finally chose wagyu sushi. My dining experience started with a complimentary dish, the 3 slices of wagyu carpaccio served on a rectangle-shaped plate, sprinkled with parmesan cheese and black pepper. The thin-sliced meat was very juicy, especially it was cooked with butter, giving additional creamy and savoury taste of the meat.

wagyu beef
burn the sushi!

Later on, the wagyu sushi arrived, whose appearance wasn’t like what I expected. It was a large and thin slice of beef with sushi rice underneath, served with chopped garlic in a separate single dish. The plate (probably) made of cast iron was almost as big as the dining table and as flat as a cardboard.

Knowing that lately a lot of people love capturing their food and post it on social media, she gave me some time to prepare my camera before the burning show began. When I was ready, the torch burner in her hand started firing the surface of the beef  in certain distance, slowly moving back and forth to ensure it was evenly burned, that lasted for about 15 seconds. I found it a creative idea to demonstrate the torch burning process in front of the guests, that usually done only in the kitchen.

 

Assuming that there would be 2 pieces of sushi in one portion of Wagyu Sushi, I was surprised with a tendency of disappointment, after realizing that I only got one instead. I should have asked beforehand how many pieces of sushi they served on the menu. Moreover, it wasn’t meant for heavy dishes anyways and I shouldn’t blame them for that.

However, putting aside the misconception, I truly enjoyed the juiciness of the medium-cooked sliced meat, just like what I’ve always had in my steak. Adding the chopped garlic served with poured shoyu, or soy sauce, it spiced up the taste of the sushi itself.

wagyu sushi
et voila! yummy….

Overall, I had a fantastic dining experience in Gion. Nikuya Ginjiro Steak & Wine is a  tourist-friendly restaurant with English speaking staff and English-translated menu, without being a tourist trap and leaving their Japanese customers behind. They served great quality of food and service with impressive presentation, although I only took the lowest rate on the menu. But I believe even the simplest dish could be a representative of other menus offered.

Furthermore, they know how to cater what the guests would like to do with their food, like taking pictures, shoot and post it on Facebook and Instagram for instance, by reminding and giving guests a chance to prepare their mobile phone or camera before the “show” starts. There’s no doubt that (high quality) posts from the guests on social media is a great opportunity for their advertising without spending a dime and boost their sales in the future.

Next time you visit Gion, make sure you spare some time to spend the evening at Nikuya Ginjiro Steak & Wine!

 

Nikuya Ginjiro Steak & Wine

Address: Japan, 〒604-0042 Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto, Nakagyo Ward, Oshinishinotoincho, 押西洞院590−5 下ル, 西洞院通 押小路通

Phone: +81 50-5590-3440

Opening Hours: 11.30 am – 14.30 pm (lunch), 5 pm – 12 am (dinner)

kanazawa

Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge: Ascend

Here’s my entry for this week’s challengeAscend

The most beautiful stairs I’ve ever seen is in Kenrokuen Garden, Kanazawa, Japan, last spring 2016, when most steps were covered with fallen sakura or cherry blossom petals. It was just like bed of roses cherry blossoms! I’ll never forget the moment I stepped on the stairs and feel like a queen!

kanazawa
bed of sakura

 

ramen

Best Ramen Shop Near Kyoto Station II: Shinpuku Saikan

Now you can download this article through the following link: https://www.gpsmycity.com/gps-tour-guides/kyoto-1958.html

ACCIDENTAL DISCOVERY

Suppose you read the first part of this post, you will find out that we came to this ramen shop by mistake. In brief, we were initially advised to go to Honke Daiichiasahi. Nonetheless, since none of us could read Japanese, we didn’t realize that the store where we queued up, the one with a red canopy, was Shinpuku Saikan. On the other hand, Honke Daiichiasahi had a yellow canopy, according to the image shown on Google Map.

Despite the wrong line, we decided to stick to it because the queue at Honke Daiichiasahi was unbearable to wait with an empty stomach.

On that day, the last order was at 10.30 pm. So at 10.15 pm, we were the last guests to be in line. The waiter passed their menu to us and everyone else queuing up outside the outlet. About 20 minutes later, we officially entered the eatery. Even so, our patience was once again put to the test when we still had to stand until the existing guests left their seats.

ramen shop
Shinpuku Saikan (right) and Honke Daiichiasahi (left). Picture credit: http://www.ramenadventures.com

DAY 1: THE ORIGINAL KYOTO STYLE RAMEN

Established in 1938, it is claimed to be the original style of Kyoto ramen. Its neighbour and rival, Honke Daiichiasahi, on the other hand, was opened about 15 years later. The dining room had a minimalist and clean-cut style, dominated with white-tiled wall surrounding that gave an impression of nothing flashy and pretentious about this eatery. The white atmosphere was also reflected at the bar section, including the menu list on top of it printed on white background. There was no particular decoration to beautify the interior except “basic necessities”, such as calendar and clock.

When we finally managed to get our turn, the waiter passed us the menu once more. My choice mostly goes to the original menu every time I come to a new restaurant and I would not change my mind ever since we took the queue outside. So I made up my mind, I would have the tonkotsu ramen. Large portion. I wasn’t hungry. I was starving!

ramen shop

The intense black colour soup somehow still shocked me, although I had previously seen the picture on the menu. I had never seen such a dark sauce from a Japanese noodle dish. The abundant sliced pork, scallion and the poached egg looked very tantalizing, that’s for sure, apart from the very generous portion of the noodle. Remember, I ordered the large one. So it just had to be that way! Since Japanese people seem to love shoyu (soy sauce) so much, I really hoped that the salty taste of the soy sauce would not stand alone.

ramen

Once I sipped the soup, I realized my first impression of the black ramen was not exactly right. The soup was actually somewhere between savoury and salty because the pork broth taste was able to balance the strong taste of the shoyu itself, even though I still hope that the broth taste could have come out a bit more. But, it’s just my opinion and should not be taken seriously. The noodle was satisfying in terms of its al dente texture and I was happy about it.

DAY TWO: THE YAKIMESHI

Since we saw a lot of people ordered the fried rice, or yakimeshi, the night before, we returned to Shinpuku Saikan to fulfill our curiosity. It was around 3 pm and nobody was in line. We got our seats in seconds. Yeaaay!!

Unfortunately, I was allergic to any (deep) fried food. Therefore, my friend was the one who ordered the yakimeshi and I only allowed myself to have 2 to 3 spoonful of the rice maximum to avoid itchy throat and agonizing cough that may last the whole day.

The appearance of the yakimeshi was slightly darker than Indonesian fried rice, which was not really common for a Japanese style fried rice in my point of view. Unlike the ramen, there was only one type of yakimeshi offeredwhich was with scrambled egg and diced chicken. Despite its basic ingredients, it was actually fantastic. Another particular thing about the fried rice was that it was served with a small bowl of black soup; the same soup as that of the ramen. To be honest, I found it a bit funny to eat fried rice and sipping the soup simultaneously and I would rather enjoy the yakimeshi alone without the soup.

For us, Shinpuku Saikan delivered a new perspective and experience of eating ramen, as we just knew that it doesn’t always come with clear or thick white soup. Apart from that, it came to our surprise as well that the soup could take part as a condiment for fried rice. Although I was not very accustomed with the soup taste at first, I think it was pretty delicious in its own way.

We considered ourselves lucky to be at the wrong place as it unexpectedly spiced up our culinary adventure.

Now you can download this article through the following link: https://www.gpsmycity.com/gps-tour-guides/kyoto-1958.html

Shinpuku Saikan

Address: 569 Higashi Shiokoji Mukaihata-cho, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto

Opening hours: 7:30-22:00