In November 2019, I took my parents to Japan for their first time – and my seventh – over two weeks. This series is to be read as a diary, and serves as a place to showcase the pictures taken and preserve the memories made.
If you’re reading this during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, it must be surreal to be on a travel post. I get you. But perhaps there is no better time than now – especially as we have more of it – to have a good think about all the places to see, things to do and food to eat when this all blows over. After all, one of the best bits about travel is the planning and anticipation of it. We could all use a bit of an escape from this unreality.
Date of trip: 14/Nov/2019 – 28/Nov/2019
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All experiences – food, accommodation and activities in this post were independently paid for.
We more than made up for Day 5’s sluggish pace on Day 6, kicking off at just past the crack of dawn with the most classic of classics: Kiyomizu-dera. This UNESCO World Heritage sites is a poster child of Kyoto’s cultural heritage, though it looked a little different on our visit.
Oops. Oh well, it is a 1300-year-old Buddhist temple after all, one built without a single nail at that, so some TLC every now and then is necessary. The momiji thankfully more than made up for it. Pro-tip: as Kyoto’s landmarks are effectively overrun with tourists (and hey, don’t just blame the Chinese group tours – I know what you’re thinking – everyone adds to the milieu, yours truly included), you’re going to have to sacrifice that sleep-in if you want to be able to see pavement beneath your feet.
Breakfast was at Kishin Kitchen, a restaurant that takes the first meal of the day incredibly seriously. How serious? Well, you can’t walk in for one – entry is by reservation only, and sittings are strictly staggered in order to serve everyone at the same time.
As for the food, let me introduce you to ichiju sansai (一汁三菜), which is a very traditional breakfast format consisting of one soup and three 3 dishes, underpinned by rice. You’ve likely eaten breakfasts in this format without realising it; Kishin Kitchen puts it front and center. A taste of Kyoto, as it were.
Because ‘Japanese portions’, Kishin Kitchen wasn’t particularly filling. It was thus an easy decision following it up with traditional Japanese sweets (wagashi – 和菓子) at Zen Cafe, the eat-in spinoff of Kagizen Yoshifusa, a wagashi store that’s a Kyoto institution with a history dating back to the Edo period.
Wagashi comes in quite a few forms, but almost is always invariably expensive for what you get, and as such is not particularly easy to appreciate. However, like any confectioner will tell you, the pinnacle of technique is for the customer not to notice it. Being able to savour wagashi slowly in a modern cafe setting resembling an art museum is pretty sweet. Another quintessential Kyoto experience, albeit only strictly necessary for the sweet tooths.
Lunch was basic-but-delicious soba at a hole-in-the-second-floor-wall IzakayaSakaean (さかえ庵), which reinforced again that soba is at its best in its zarusoba form (cold, with a tsuyu dipping sauce).
Dinner was at one Michelin-starred yakitori-ya called Kazu (‘one’). As is quite often the case (though by no means always) with starred restaurants in Japan, some excellent dishes are otherwise outweighed by a slick veneer that plasters over mediocrity. With a perchance for serving chronically tepid and relatively flavourless arrangements of chicken, Kazu was one of those mediocre restaurants.