Friday, November 9, 2012

Japan Trip Day 4 - Kyoto

Waaah, midterms and projects are closing in! I'm sorry I haven't been updating as frequently as before...

Day 4 in Japan consisted of a lot of running around Kyoto. Kyoto is known for having many historical sites, such as the Shogun castle and one of the old imperial palaces. In terms of food, this was another one of those days where we hit up whatever we found. And luckily for us, we found an okonomiyaki joint!

Our first stop was the Kinkaku-ji, or the Temple of the Golden Pavillion. This popular tourist spot is essentially a Zen Buddhist temple. The building is apparently completely plated in real gold. The surrounding gardens are also quite beautiful and peaceful (aside from the tourists, who can be quite boisterous). Unfortunately, we were not allowed inside the actual temple.

Entrance to Nijo Castle
Nijo Castle, though not a castle in the traditional Western sense (though it does have a moat), is a sprawling palace built by Tokugawa Iesu, the first leader and founder of the Tokugawa shogunate era. A shogun is basically the highest commanding officer in the military of the Edo era.

Nijo Castle
Again, the palace consists of some extensive gardens and a main building where the shogun lived. Again, we weren't allowed to take pictures of the insides of the palace. The inside of the palace is very simple, with lots of tatami floors and watercolour paintings on the walls. You can rent an audio guide when you enter the castle, if you're interested in the history and architecture of the building.

Japan's Communist party?
I found this pretty funny. It's basically an office - or perhaps the headquarters? - of the Japanese Communist Party. I can't imagine them being very popular there, though.

We stopped for lunch at a small restaurant, which seemed to be one of those fast-food chain restaurants. It had those ticket machines near the entrance, which had no pictures on them whatsoever. So we had match the symbols on the machine to the symbols on the menu poster with the pictures on them. Thankfully, we got all our orders right!

My dad ordered the tofu combo, which consisted of breaded shrimp, pickles and a platter of what seems like Chinese Mapo tofu. While not as spicy as the traditional mapo tofu, the Japanese tofu is much more tender than the Chinese tofu, and the sauce was sweet and slightly spicy. Overall, it was pretty good.

My friend ordered the tonkatsu, which she seems to love. Crispy and crunchy on the outside, lean and chewy on the inside. When has tonkatsu ever been bad?

I ordered a katsudon, which consisted of a bed of rice, tonkatsu and steamed egg. It was tasty, but a bit too sweet and heavy for me.

Kyoto Imperial Palace
To visit the Kyoto Imperial Palace, you must make a reservation with the office prior to entering. They have a tour schedule that you have to follow, but luckily, they do offer English tours. Like most other temples and palaces, the Imperial Palace has breathtaking gardens, but the buildings themselves are quite simple. Here's an interesting fact: the Kyoto Imperial Palace's design is inspired by the architecture of China's Forbidden Palace, but because the Japanese wanted something to stand apart from the Chinese design, they decided to paint their castle bright orange.

We also walked around the 'geisha district' of Kyoto, or 'Gion'. There were quite a few restaurants that had geisha shows, but they were all pretty pricey. Prices ranged anywhere from $50 CAD to over $100 CAD for a combination meal and a geisha show, and some places require reservations. However, even if you don't go for a geisha show/dinner, it's still nice to walk around the district, with its stone streets and traditional architecture.

There are also a lot of souvenir shops in the area, so if you want to do any shopping, this is a great place to do it!

For dinner, we ended up in an okonomiyaki joint. Lucky for us, the menu had some english translations on it, so we could understand what we ordered. We ordered one house special okonomiyaki, which contained the typical ingredients (egg, sliced cabbage, octopus, and seafood) and what I think was a negiyaki, which was less doughy and more eggy than the regular okonomiyaki. The negiyaki contained various ingredients, such as beef, octopus, pork and various others.

We also ordered various side dishes, such as grilled scallops and tofu.

The waiter was very nice, taking the time to explain to us how to prepare and eat our okonomiyaki. He spoke minimal English, but we were able to understand him without any problem. I'm not sure if it was because we were tourists or if it was the store policy, but the waiter and the restaurant owner helped cook our okonomiyaki for us, and the waiter showed us how to season them with spicy sauce, bonito and scallions.

Taste-wise, these okonomiyaki were much, much tastier than the ones I've tried in Montreal. The ones in Montreal usually come out ready-cooked, and don't contain as many ingredients as the ones here. As a result, they taste much more doughy and were mushy in texture, whereas these were bursting with flavours and much more chewy. I would definitely recommend checking out an okonomiyaki place if you're in Japan, if not for the food, then for the experience!

And that was pretty much it for day 4. Day 5, we're off to Arima to experience the famous Japanese onsen (hotsprings), and then we head to Kobe to try the mythical Kobe beef...


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