Tea, Sweets and Weary Feet in Kyoto

The Japanese love France, or at least love the idea of France. I’ve heard that many suffer near fatal culture shock when the actually visit dirty, smelly Paris (must be eau de metro or piss in other words), but there are shops and patisseries scattered around Kyoto and elsewhere in Japan with French names and descriptive text. How accurate the French is, I don’t know, but I can’t say I blame them.

In one French named bakery we ate a nice breakfast of scrambled eggs and thick toast, along with a side of salad. Salad seems to be a breakfast dish here. Doesn’t matter, it usually tastes so good anyway, especially their potato salad.

The big Japanese department stores are like David Jones in Australia, only less affordable. Full of premium brands. We were looking around the children’s section of Daimaru and it would be difficult to justify purchases made there, despite all the lovely goods.

Another shopping area, the covered Nishiki market, provided us with some tea and tempted us with many other Japanese foods. There are some fascinating shops and eateries in the lane ways off the main street.

Then we took a long walk eastwards along Shijo-dori until we crossed the river, passed into the Gion district and ended up at the orange Yasaka shrine. The rest of the day was mainly spent wandering through old streets and temples.

I was eager to revisit some of the lovely old shopping streets from an earlier trip, but with some variations. I didn’t get lost, but rather decided to wander without knowing exactly where we were. We ended up following recommended walking routes anyway.

Walking back a little we passed along Hanami-koji, an old house/shop area filled with restaurants. The old wooden Kyoto houses tend to front right up to the street, sometimes with rounded bamboo edging to keep people and pets from urinating right on the house, or so I have read. Sometimes there will be potted flowers lining the front, in some other, highly attractive cases, a small  stone and plant-lined pond into which water flows through a bamboo pipe is built into the ground along the front.

In other houses there is a small garden inside the front entrance, in a meeting area for guests and visitors. These tiny gardens are simple and attractive, especially with skillful use of stones, water and moss in addition to the plants themselves.

I think we saw a maiko, or apprentice geisha, walking the streets of the Hanami-koji, because there was a horde of Japanese photographers chasing her.

After going through another shrine we walked a while along Higashi Shioji-dori, a main road, past the fire brigade and hospital. Another little bakery provided us with sustenance.

After changing Alex’s nappy outside of yet another shrine we walked up the increasingly steep Chawan-zaka or Teapot Lane, where pottery and other crafts were for sale. Some of the use of paper and fabric is gorgeous, especially the wall hangings.

Chawan-zaka runs up the side of an increasingly steep hill. At the top of the lane is Kiyomizu-dera, a large Buddhist complex with red pagoda and mammoth wooden main temple with a big wooden frame beneath supporting it on the side of the hill. The compound was filled with young yellow capped school children on an excursion. Around it were bright green maple trees filtering the light travelling below.

I had wanted to visit this temple but was not actively trying to reach it when we arrived at the foot of its steep stairs. Exiting it I did find what we were looking for, the shopping streets of Sannen and Ninen-zaka, traditional shophouses selling crafts, ryokans and restaurants. Much may be touristy, but it is a pretty area.

When Alex falls asleep in the backpack it becomes very painful to carry. We found a cafe selling traditional Japanese sweets and tea to rest in. B had a sweet red bean dessert with rice balls while ate mitarishi dango (rice balls coated in a sweet soy sauce) and another dango while sipping on bitter green matcha tea. If only it was taken in a real teahouse on a tatami floor!

At the end of the streets was Maruyama gardens. Turning left from there returned us to the Yasaka Shrine and Shijo-dori. Dusk was falling and it was time to eat. We ended up at Hanami-koji again. Most of the restaurants are expensive, selling whole kaiseki courses traditional Kyoto fare.

We found a restaurant in a side street with individual dish services and an English menu. The simmered pork and one-pot eel dishes were amazingly good. All of this was taken upstairs while seated on a tatami floor. I love this way of dining rather than seated high on a table. The food was surprisingly filling.

There are so many shrines, temples and shops to see in Kyoto, but the joy is often found the journey.

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