Iconic Fushimi Inari-Taisha

We had visited this most famous of Kyoto sites when last here, but it was so very hot and so very humid it was unimaginable going very far up into the shrine.  This time we were determined to make it to the summit, and we did it!

It was amusing that the city bus emptied out at the Inari stop, all but 4 of us Japanese tourists, and not a one of us knew which way to go to the shrine as the bus stop is on a busy street, rather nondescript.  One Japanese woman had her iPad out, map active, and she became our defacto leader as we all walked the 2 short blocks to where the line of stalls and stores leads to the main entrance.

There are gazillions of pictures of this amazing place…but that didn’t stop us from taking a few of our own.  We were there early about 9:30 or so, and already there were lots of uniformed school kids and others entering the shrine.  In the first few segments of the path the crowds were thick and, being mostly adolescents, annoying as they sauntered, took pictures, and poked and teased each other (Field Trip!) and we had to squeeze past clump after clump so we could go at our own brisk pace.  At each main junction, where a map showed you where to go (it is quite a confusing warren of paths so signage is necessary) and snacks and prayer tokens in various forms were sold, the crowd thinned a bit more, and within half an hour or so it was pretty clear though never lonely.  It was fun to hear Americans every now and then turn a corner and OOOH at the views of the city and the winding paths of gates up and up.

We were relieved and thrilled to get to the top, where there is a maze of shrines seemingly on top of each other, every one with the statues of the two foxes, a few demons, one or two dragons, but fox statues everywhere and of various ages and condition, some quite worn down, others sharp and a few with painted eyes.

At the top was the ubiquitous vending machine, where I had the Pocari Sweat.  It was cold, slightly sweet, and refreshing and felt like it didn’t even pass my stomach but went directly into my blood stream, I was so sweaty!

Down we came, wet and hungry.  I wanted to head to a ramen place that was in the Lonely Planet book, Karako, and though on the other side of town we hopped the train and were there in 20 minutes. After a walk of maybe 6 long blocks (hot!), and thank goodness for google maps when they work (quite unreliable in that sense) we came upon this tiny place with 11 counter seats and a few men silently eating ramen and karage (fried chicken).  Inside as soon as we sat at the counter the owner/cook welcomed us, pointed to the three dishes on the counter and said “Help yourself” while we looked at the menu.  We both ordered the recommended kotteri, with meltingly good meat and noodles in a slightly thick broth, and helped ourselves to the refreshing slaw, bright green cucumber pickles, and a kind of chicken and carrot stew (these are the side dishes set out on the counter).  It was delicious and fun!

After some temples, sub temples, mini-shrines in the hills along the east side of the city (with blessedly cool breezes), we hopped the train to return to our apartment for a rest and showers.

I had wanted to go to an isakaya while here, and the web suggested a place just a few blocks from our hotel–this location was fortunate because after all the sake we drank a longer journey home would have been tough.  This place would be impossible to find, being down a sort of alley/hallway, unmarked during the day (though a sign was lit when we staggered out), and we crept along wondering if we were in the right place.  The hall ended at a sliding door which we tentatively opened and there it was, a homey, funky, bar where we were greeted with smiles.  The older woman, probably the owner, spoke a little English and when we said we wanted sake she immediately came with two enormous bottles for us to taste.  We quickly selected the one we wanted and settled in for a few hours of drinking and bar food–though nothing like the US, as the menu was about 8 laminated pages of fried, lightly fried, salads, grilled, and a variety of sashimi.  We had fried chicken, potato croquettes, a sort of soup of fried smelt and fried eggplant in a savory broth, grilled peppers…in addition to the fried squid which appears as “appetizer” as soon as you start drinking.  We sat next to a fellow from Scotland, shared travel experiences, and drank a lot more sake (at least I did).  It was delightful.

Today we go downtown to Nishiki market and to search out, I hope, more ramen!

Kyoto, Just as Wonderful As Last Time!

We are so fortunate to have visited Kyoto a few years ago with our cousins, who know it well and with Harumi’s native Japanese navigation was a snap.  We just did whatever Harumi told us to do and didn’t have to think much about which bus, which train, which sight or store to enjoy.

This time we are on our own–so different and so much fun in a different way.  We flew into Kansei airport in Osaka, about an hour and fifteen minutes by express train to Kyoto station and by far the best option because it is direct (no changing trains) and quite comfortable.  First thing I noticed was the hyper-organization of the country contrasted with Korea.  Two uniformed men are on the train platform to make sure everyone is in the correct line–and they mean the exact correct line, with your suitcase “here!” and stand “here!” which was comforting.  No way to make a mistake!  But don’t stray out of the line–you will be quickly herded back into the queue.  In no time, it seemed, we were at the station and had to find the hotel.  It is just a block or so away but it was dark, we had a bunch of stuff with us, and we were a little daunted but there it was, and in the mailbox an envelope poked out that said David M Roth and inside was the key card and simple instructions (the office was closed) and all was well.  I will write about the hotel/apartment in another post but suffice to say it works beautifully, location is ideal, price is right, and like our airbnb in Seoul we have a bit of a kitchen and a washing machine!  Bed is luxurious.  Great place.

This post will cover just a few exceptional experiences of our first few days–Mt. Kurama, Fushimi-Inari shrine, and associated meals.

Best Day Trip Ever–Mt. Kurama

You hop on one of the subway lines and take it (north) to the end; go upstairs and get on the electric trolley/train (the line starts at that station) and off you go into the suburbs of Kyoto.  Very lovely, quiet, scenic, and within 15 minutes you are surrounded by trees brushing up against the windows on both sides and into the mountains.  You get off at the last stop and are in a tiny village–you and the other 8 or so passengers who are clearly there daytripping, walk up the hill and in a minute you are climbing into a temple, large for the scale of the town, and in front of you are steps and paths winding into the forest.

It was magical how quickly we were out of the city and into an entirely new place.  We had little idea how long, how high, how far we would be going.  We picked up a map that showed stairs and paths and switchbacks up up up and off we went.  It was about 9 in the morning or so, and while still hot and humid less so due to the forest and many streams winding down.  Though we were sticky and warm it was just cool enough we figured we’d make it.

The route is not only lovely as mountain forest, but every 10 minutes or so you come across another temple.  Some tiny, a few pretty big (big for the setting but not by Kyoto city standards).  We were not totally alone on the trail–this is a popular day trip–and 90% of the people we saw were Japanese.  It is not an easy climb in places–the stone steps as you get higher are obviously old and the dirt between them worn away–and in other places it’s similar to hiking in a northern California forest with slightly different trees.  After maybe two hours we reached the summit, hurrah, and started down on the other side where it was quite a bit steeper and more unrelenting a climb.

We were glad we started in Kurama and ended in Kibune.

Kibune was described in the guidebook as almost impossibly quaint and yup, that is correct.  A rushing river (though small) winds down through the town, so the background sound is lovely, and the town itself is just a string of inns and a few restaurants along the single road.

We were so hungry and thirsty so eating there was mandatory, and we decided we’d earned a fancy lunch so ate at Hirobun, an old style tatami-lined dining room with windows along the river.  They have 3 different fixed price meals (roughly $27 each)–I had the tofu meal and David the tempura, and we ate our fill and more.  This is a very welcoming place and the food was exceptional (including a whole fish each “cooked for 3 days, very tender” and they were–you eat the entire body, head and all and yum).  We staggered out and walked down the road looking for the train station when we  came upon a bus stop.  A small bus was just pulling in so we hurried onboard and were whisked down to the train in 3 minutes and we came back to Kyoto.  Peak experience, no question.

That night we decided it was time for yet another sushi orgy.  We had gone to Musashi, a conveyer belt sushi place in Kyoto Station, the night we arrived, and now two nights later we went again.  Suffice to say we ate more than enough, and with two beers the bill was a little under $44.


Above, our plates as we reluctantly wound down the meal.