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

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

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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.

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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!

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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

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

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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.

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Okunoin Hall

kiyomizudera temple

OTHER ATTRACTIONS AT THE TEMPLE COMPLEX

  • OTOWA WATERFALL

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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.

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crowds seen from top of the entrance gate

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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

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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

kyoto ramen

Best Ramen Shop Near Kyoto Station I: Honke Daiichiasahi

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

RAMEN IS WHAT WE MISSED!

It had been 9 days since we arrived in Japan, visiting great places and tasting a lot of fantastic food, from onigiri, okonomiyaki, takoyaki, mochi, Hida beef to sushi. But there was something missing. How come we couldn’t find any ramen (Chinese-style wheat noodle) during the journey?

As soon as we checked in at Lower East Nine Hostel in Kyoto in the evening, we asked the receptionist’s recommendation of great ramen worth to try and how to find it. In response to our question, he quickly said, “Honke Daiichiasahi. About 5 minutes walking distance from Kyoto Station.”

Wow! How convenient was it! Our hostel was situated just 1 stop from Kyoto Station by subway. The hunger struck us and without further much ado, we immediately went to the recommended ramen shop.

THE DAY BEFORE IN THE EVENING

With a help from Google Map, we finally arrived at a modest shop house complex. There were actually 2 shop houses selling ramen and at almost 10 pm, the queues of both places were unbelievable. Everyone was standing outside the entrance door and patience seemed the only way to succeed getting some seats. Nonetheless, hunger made it difficult. We automatically queued at the one with less people in line.

Still opening Google Map on my phone, I suddenly noticed something was not right. Honke Daiichiasahi façade was pictured as the shop house having a yellow canopy and a giant yellow menu attached on the window. On the other hand, we lined up at the one having a red canopy and 2 vending machines outside the outlet. The characters written on the red canopy didn’t match the one on Google Map either.

So, once more, I asked a local guy passing by which one Honke Daiichiasahi was. He pointed the shop house behind us, with the yellow canopy whose line was much more crazy than where were at. I told my friend about it. Our conclusion was to have a dinner at the “wrong” ramen shop (which was also great, stay tuned for the next post!) that night and returned to Honke Daiichiasahi the day after.

THE DAY AFTER IN THE AFTERNOON

After visiting Fushimi Inari Shrine the next day, we revisited Honke Daiichiasahi for lunch. Surprisingly, there was no one lined up outside the store like yesterday, although we still needed to wait inside for an empty seat that took less than 10 minutes.

kyoto ramen

The dining area was modest and not too spacious, where the distance between chairs and tables looked a bit too cramped, but it’s just how it is and nothing to complain about. The bar section, a long table attached on the wall near the food out window, maximized way to accommodate more customers. I admit the cleanliness was pretty good despite the crowds and heavy (customer) traffic. I spotted some parts of the wall need to be repainted near the air conditioner, though, but I think people just didn’t sweat about it.

kyoto ramen

Needless to say that the key success of the eatery that has been operating since 1947 lies on the excellent quality of the ramen itself, which is originally a Chinese style soba known as “Takabashi Ramen” or just “Takabashi”.

I only can understand why raving fans are willing to stand for hours just for a bowl of noodle after trying their signature “Special Ramen”, the tonkotsu ramen with shouyu (soy sauce) and abundant thin-sliced pork. Although the soup had light texture, it was actually savoury because of the high intensity of broth taste. The well-selected domestic pork meat called chutaikan enriched the soup taste in the right proportion and the generous amount of scallions added up some freshness to the entire dish.

To be honest, it’s the best ramen I’ve ever tasted in my life.

Starting from approximately ¥700, you can get a bowl of delicious ramen. The price of Special Ramen is slightly higher, ¥850 per portion and ¥550 for a smaller portion, but still affordable. The only regret I had was that I ordered the small portion (I mean, look at the price compared to the normal one!) because I ate too much street food around the neighbourhood of Fushimi Inari Shrine prior to the visit.

Practically, you can visit Honke Daiichiasahi almost anytime you want (except Thursdays), because of the long operational hours, from 5 am until 2 am. Moreover, the location is very strategic and easy to find, just 5 minutes on foot from Kyoto Station. If you are a noodle lover, it’s a must to try.

I hope that I’ll have time to visit this ramen shop once again when I return to Kyoto and perhaps, I can try the gyoza (dumpling), too.

TIPS BEFORE YOU GO

  1. If you ask for the name of a place you’re not familiar with and you neither speak nor read Japanese, ask for the written form of that name in Japanese characters. Since not all Japanese people understand Latin letters, the Japanese characters helps a lot when you get lost and need ask someone for a road direction to a certain place you can’t pronounce well.
  2. To avoid long queue, come at the non-peak hours. In my experience, in the afternoon, especially after lunch time, the traffic is slower and you can get a seat more easily.

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Honke Daiichiasahi (本家 第一旭 たかばし本店)

Address: 845 Higashi ShioKoji Mukaihara-cho, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto

 

meiji jingu shrine

Meiji Shrine: Serene Spot in Shibuya

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TRANQUILITY IN DOWNTOWN TOKYO

Being one of the most crowded areas in Tokyo, Shibuya is mostly known for its legendary Shibuya Crossing (that reminds me of Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift), Hachiko statue outside Hachiko exit of Shibuya Station and tall buildings with flashy LED lighting.

Nonetheless, despite the crowds, finding tranquility and peace of mind in Shibuya area is much easier than you thought. Meiji Shrine is the closest getaway to stay away from crowds a little while. From Shibuya Station, take a JR Yamanote Line to Harajuku Station, which is only 1 stop, and walk a few minutes from Harajuku Station.

Meiji Shrine is a Shinto shrine built in 1920 as a dedication to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, located in the inner side of Yoyogi Park near the iris garden that the they loved to visit during their lives.

The shrine was destroyed in 1945 during the World War II and rebuilt with donations from various sources all over the country in 1958.

meiji jingu shrine

Once we found the Torii gates made of 1500-year-old cypress wood among the greens, I knew I was in the right place. Hustling and bustling in the city seemed to be a distant memory, replaced by the 247-acre garden offering tranquility and some fresh air.

Bear in mind that tranquility doesn’t make Meiji Shrine off-the-beaten path place at all, since it holds many religious ceremonies and festivals. Also, there are many traditional Shinto wedding ceremonies taking place at the memorial hall.

Unless you come in the morning, it will be hard to take pictures without crowds passing by, although it’s not as packed as Sensoji Temple in Asakusa and Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto.

EMPEROR MEIJI AND EMPRESS SHOKEN: HIGHLY RESPECTED ROYAL COUPLES

Emperor Meiji was known for Meiji Restoration (1867 – 1912), when Japan transformed into a modern country, opening itself to the outside world, catching up with the western knowledge and technology, and industrial period started to rise. It also marked the end of feudalism by Tokugawa Shogunate after 250 years of ruling.

On the other hand, Empress Shoken involved in numerous royal visits, meetings and was active in charity funds, including the Japanese Red Cross society. She donated ¥100,000 (now worth ¥3.5 billion) to International Red Cross in Geneva in 1912, inspiring the establishment of Empress Shoken Fund in the same year. The fund supports disaster preparedness, healthcare, sanitation, and social welfare activities in developing countries.

meiji shrine

More than 100 years after the royal couple’s passing, they are still highly respected nationwide. Every year, the ceremony of Emperor Meiji’s birthday is held on November 3. The commemoration of Empress Shoken is on April 11, which is the anniversary of her death, to remember her virtues.

sake
sake barrels wrapped in straw

Before passing the 12-meter Otorii or Grand Shrine Gate, the largest gate at Meiji Shrine, there’s a giant rack stacked with sake barrels that are probably the only colourful property on site.

Meiji Jingu Nationwide Sake Brewers Association and other sake brewers from different parts of Japan make sake offerings to honor the soul of the royal couple, as well as a gratitude to Emperor Meiji who encouraged the growth of industrialization during Meiji Period.

french wine
French wine barrel

Another dedication to Emperor Meiji is French wine barrels situated across the sake barrels, donated by notable wineries of Bourgogne in France initiated by Yasuhiko Sata, the House of Burgundy Representative in Tokyo. Drinking wine was part of the Emperor’s ways to embrace and promote western culture, although he didn’t leave traditional values and spirit behind.

WHAT TO SEE AND DO AT THE MAIN SHRINE

Forget about red, gold and other vibrant colours like any other temples once you arrived at the main shrine. In fact, it tends to have a “low profile” look with earth colour domination, mostly dark chestnut brown. Having passed all the gates, we dragged ourselves to the most sacred place in Shibuya area.

meiji shrine
the main shrine entrance gate

meiji shrine

Since we only targeted our visit on the main shrine to save our time (and free of charge), let me share what you mainly can do at the main shrine area besides walking along the large square.

1. DOING SHINTO RITUALS

For those who are non-Shinto believers, doing omairi, the basic rituals for entering the shrine, is a stepping stone to feel more “local”. Simultaneously, it’s a sign of respect to a religion you’re probably not familiar with.

Omairi basically includes bowing slightly before passing all the gates, temizu or self-cleansing ritual at the communal basin 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.

DSCF6446 copy
communal basin for temizu

I noticed that some visitors are interested in doing temizu, especially the step by step guide is stated very clearly on the board right before the basin itself. Apart from that, they do the prayer part by dropping coins and clapping hands twice mainly for gaining more experience and fun.

2. HUNTING AMULETS AND CHARMS AT THE SOUVENIR SHOP

Suppose souvenir hunting is one of the main goals of your visit, no worries. There are lovely and cute design charms, amulets, key chains at the souvenir shop. The price range starts from ¥ 300 ($ 3) to over ¥ 1000 ($ 9), depending on material, size and design. There are some modest amulets that cost ¥ 100 (S 1), too, but I think I found it not that attractive.

It is tempting to have some of them, but I try not to spend too much on them since we would visit more temples in our next journey and they usually sell similar stuffs.

meiji jingu shrine

3. MAKE A WISH AND A DONATION

There are several ways to make a wish and donation at the temple. One of them is to donate for a roof reparation. Write your name and wishes on a sheet of copper and pay ¥ 3000 ($ 27).

meiji shrine

If ¥ 3000 seems too much, get an ema votive tablet for ¥ 500 and write your prayer, wishes and gratitude on it. After that, hang it on the “tree” that looks more like a hanging rack rather than an actual tree. The priests will present your wishes to the gods in the morning ceremony the day after.

meiji jingu shrine
Ema
meiji jingu shrine
a closer look of Ema

meiji shrine

 

meiji jingu shrine

Alternatively, you can write your prayer and wishes in a piece of paper and put it in the envelope provided inside the organizer on the table. Then, you can drop it inside wooden container on the left side behind the table. FYI, the paper and the envelope are free of charge.

meiji jingu shrine
a Daruma doll among protections and amulets

4. ATTENDING A SHINTO WEDDING PROCESSION

Meiji Shrine is a popular place for a Shinto traditional wedding ceremony that usually takes place at Meiji Memorial Hall, followed by blessings outside the hall when family members march behind the couple and the priests. It doesn’t happen everyday, though, but if you’re lucky enough, you will find it.

To be honest, it’s the best activity of all because there’s no way that I will have that chance to see that in my hometown. It doesn’t take a genius to love watching happy couple with beautiful traditional costume and head piece (for the bride).

We hunted the couple and their troops with our camera until they returned to their car in the other end of the shrine.

meiji jingu shrine
the bride and her parents

meiji jingu shrine

meiji jingu shrine

meiji jingu shrine

meiji jingu shrine

meiji jingu shrine

meiji jingu shrine

meiji jingu shrine

meiji jingu shrine

OTHER PLACES OF INTEREST OTHER THAN THE SHRINE

If you have all the time in the world, the inner garden of Yoyogi Park has something else to offer apart from the main shrine. Jingū Naien or the iris garden, Treasure House and Treasure Museum Annex entrance fee is ¥ 500 ($ 5) each. When that’s not enough, you may want to visit the outer garden, where Meiji Memorial Art Gallery and Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium are located.

In our case, we skipped those places and headed to Asakusa for our next destination.

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