How to Explore Kiyomizu-dera Temple and Its Surroundings

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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

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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.

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
DSCF5968 copy
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

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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!

kyoto
mural

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

 

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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)

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.

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

Honke Daiichiasahi (本家 第一旭 たかばし本店)

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

 

lower east nine hostel kyoto

The Lower East Nine Hostel: High-Rated Hostel that Doesn’t Meet My Expectations

HIGH-RANKED HOSTEL IN AFFORDABLE RATE

Knowing that capsule hotels in Kyoto are more expensive than those in Tokyo, I decided to stay in The Lower East Nine Hostel. If I could save about $50 for 2 nights compared to capsule hotels (in Kyoto), why not?

I tried my best to control our budget on where to save and splurge. I’d rather splurge (affordably) for a mountain view hotel like Mizuno Hotel in Mt. Fuji for the next trip.

Moreover, The Lower East Nine Hostel was (and still is) rated 9.3 out of 10. It was said on Booking.com that it’s in a good location close to the station, best price in Kyoto, clean and tidy, staffs are friendly and speak good English. Hell yes, the latter is rather hard to find!

For a $65 room per night, those reviews sounded perfect. Minor complaints, such as small beds, crowded, noisy and small lockers were something I didn’t sweat that much. It’s a backpacker’s type of accommodation, not a 4 or 5 star hotel, so what do you expect? I assume that I would get about the same experience as staying in a capsule hotel.

The female dorm was fully booked, unfortunately. The only choice left was a mixed dorm with 8 bunk beds, which was a bit out of my comfort zone, but I think it should be okay. I mean, there wouldn’t be a gang rape or something, right?

THE COOLEST LOBBY EVER!

Situated a stone’s throw away from Kujo Station, one stop from Kyoto Station, the 2-storey building hostel façade looked impressively clean and modern with its pure white wall and large windows. Unless there’s a “hostel” word, it would be like a hip cafe bar.

lower east nine hostel kyoto

The lobby was actually a cafe and bar that belongs to the hostel. The idea of combining a reception, a bar and a cashier was brilliant, as it saves a lot space and employees. You won’t think it’s a lobby unless someone tells you so.

lower east nine hostel kyoto

lower east nine kyoto

The modern and minimalist interior somehow reminds me of a show unit in IKEA stores and I loved it! It was a cozy place to chill out, accompanied with soothing lounge music and modern jazz instrumental played all day long.

I noticed there were quite a lot of customers, who were not hostel guests, came only for a cup of coffee and free Wi-Fi.

lower east nine kyoto

In fact, only customers are allowed to seat at the lounge. Hostel guests bringing their own food, aka who don’t purchase anything, are “shifted” to the dining room and kitchen upstairs.

Initially wanted to have a hot chocolate, I finally ordered matcha latte (powdered green tea latte), as suggested by the barista, just to experience the lounge in my last day of stay.

Forget about the idea of overpriced, crappy and touristy taste of hotel food and drinks for a while. The rates at The Lower East Nine Cafe & Bar were relatively reasonable. My matcha latte cost me ¥350 ($3). The green tea taste was pretty strong, toned down with fresh milk and a little bit of sugar to elevate the bittersweet flavour of the concoction. It was the kind of bittersweet that I loved so much.

SPACIOUS KITCHEN AND DINING ROOM

Having collected our access card and sandals, we were amazed by the spacious kitchen and dining room on the first floor with complete facilities, from kitchen utensils, microwave, toaster, fridge, water boiler, cutlery until dinnerware. There were lot of seats available, including coffee table with huge sofas. My favourite spot was the one by window, facing the outside world.

No question about the cleanliness of all the facilities and the Wi-Fi connection. They were perfect!

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lower east nine kyoto

lower east nine kyoto

ROOM FACILITIES: A ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENTS

We were glad that the rooms, toilets and bathrooms were as clean as the rest of the facilities. And washing machines were available, too.

Nonetheless, we started to feel why we missed our capsule hotel in Tokyo so much (I’ll discuss about this in the future post) after staying for 2 nights. Here’s why:

  • NO LUGGAGE STORAGE IN ROOMS

It’s a contradiction that there was no luggage storage on the first floor, where all the rooms were located. The luggage storage at the lobby downstairs is the only official place to put it.

It’s still possible to put your luggage inside the room; either under the bed, on the corner of the room, or lean it on the wall. Unless there’s a space left, you can put it in the alley as well. Therefore, I never advice anyone to bring a large suitcase if you stay in this hostel.

I was so lucky that I only had a backpack during my stay.

Remember, the hostel had no elevator as it was only a two-storey-building.

  • LOCKERS TOO SMALL

The lockers outside the room were too small, as their maximum capacity was only for handbags and 2 pairs of shoes. There was one larger locker next to the small ones, but it was occupied. Even so, the large locker didn’t fit for bigger suitcases.

Actually, the solution for this issue is just around the corner. Converting about one-fourth of the dining room into a luggage storage totally ends the misery. I think the room is way too big just for a dining room that some of its space can be altered for other purposes.

lower east nine kyoto
The room. Picture credit: http://www.hostelworld.com
  • NO SHOE LOCKERS

Shoes were allowed to be kept inside the room. There was no designated area to keep them apart to maintain the floor cleanliness. Some guests put them under the bed, along with suitcases.

Indeed, there were lockers outside, but there was no house rules defining what they stand for. So, everybody can have their own way of using them. We used lockers to put our shoes.

At a glance, it seems like a piece of cake. Nevertheless, it may create discomfort for certain people. For instance, my friend, who occupied the lower deck, couldn’t sleep well because of someone’s shoe odour.

Again, I was lucky because I slept on the upper deck and a bag of muffin was next to me. I smelled the yummy strawberry muffin during the night instead of shoe odour!

  • DOOR SLAMS EASILY AND LOUD

The sound of closing door was pretty loud, unless somebody holds it with his or her body before it finally slams. Noises outside the room could also be heard easily. Footsteps, chattering crowds, pouring water, you name it.

Lucky me. I’m not very sensitive to noise and I brought spare earplugs, too.

  • LIMITED AMOUNT OF BATHROOMS

They should provide more bathrooms, so there’s no need to be in line for long just to cleanse yourself. In my experience, they were busy at midnight and empty after 9 am (because either a lot of guests already checked out or began to explore the city).

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firemen across the hostel. a house on fire, but not a big one though

A GREAT HOSTEL FOR WHOM?

Although I can adapt easily with new places, I don’t sweat small stuffs that don’t affect me much (I mean, look at the price!), The Lower East Nine Hostel is not my ideal place to stay.

I’m not saying that it’s a bad hostel, as it is clean, has well-provided basic amenities, great location and all staffs are helpful and speak English well.

However, I personally would probably come back just for lounging, not for an overnight stay. Apparently, high rating and positive testimonials don’t always fit all. As they don’t fit me this time.

If you have a real backpacker’s soul, a strictly budget-oriented traveller who completely ready to face all the consequences, have been staying in much worse places before, not sensitive to noise, smell and cramped spaces, and travel light, this hostel is the right place for you.

And what you can do after reading my review, aka complaints, is just ignore them and have a pleasant stay.