Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Japan 2012 - Part 2 (Kyoto)

I started my day with a banana (bananas in Japan are not as yummy as bananas from Australia) after a mere four hours sleep. I was heading out on my own this morning, and decided to head over to Tō-ji for my first temple experience. It was only a short walk from our hotel, but I still managed to get lost twice. The second time a lovely Japanese lady helped me with directions, even though we didn't speak the same language. It was quite lovely walking along, we were each talking in our languages, and somehow managed to have some sort of a conversation!

Toji Temple Toji Temple Toji Temple Toji Temple - 5 Storey Pagoda (Gojino To)

Tō-ji delighted me with a large number of resident turtles and ducks. I have a lot of photos of turtles and ducks. Going in to the temple itself (after whipping out my handy sockets from my bag - no more barefoot bogan for me!) was a very peaceful experience. It had a lovely garden, as well as a five-story pagoda, the tallest wooden tower in Japan (you could actually see it from our hotel). You will notice that there was a lot of gravel, and not always a lot of shade. It became very hot very quickly, even with my trusty UV umbrella.

Toji Temple

I met a pigeon. I'm a little in love with these birds. I just think it is amazing that no matter where you go, you'll meet a pigeon. I walked back to the hotel (so hot!) and stopped by 7-11 for some more delicious yaki (grilled) o-nigiri and some fresh melon (which was pretty cheap). For those going to Japan, 7-11 is also the home of the ATMs where you can use your foreign ATM cards or your Mastercard cash passports (I had a MC multi-currency cash passport for this trip) to get out cash.

Kyoto is the home of so many temples and shrines, and I had mapped out quite an extensive itinerary to squeeze in as many as possible. I met up with my mother again, and we headed out to the subway to go to our next destination.

Heian Jingu Heian Jingu Heian Jingu

Heian Jingu (Shrine) made a pretty spectacular first impression, with the giant Torii gate rising high above. The bright colours of the shrine were a sharp contrast to the neutrals of the temples. While we were here, we had the chance to see part of a Shinto service. As you can see, there was a huge expanse of white gravel here, and the sun was beating down making it so super hot. Even with my fifteen layers of sunscreen, hat and UV umbrella, I was struggling, so we did make it a fairly short visit.


We caught a taxi to our next destination, the lovely Nanzen-ji. Taxis in Kyoto were actually pretty reasonably priced for the convenience, as long as you planned your trips logically.

Nanzen-ji Nanzen-ji Nanzen-ji Aquaduct, Nanzen-ji Garden at Nanzen-ji Stone Garden at Nanzen-ji

The peaceful, shaded gardens of Nanzen-ji were the perfect antidote to the scorching square of Heinan. Nanzen-ji has a beautiful sanmon (main gait) that takes you into a world of beautiful, shaded mossy grounds, lovely temple buildings, gardens and an aquaduct. I went for a walk around a small garden (Y300 to enter) which had beautiful waterfalls and a pond. But by far the loveliest part was the stone garden, where Mum and I sat on platforms from the 'old building' in the cool and pondered life, the universe and everything. So peaceful.

This was not our last stop! We decided to walk down the Path of Philosophy, which seemed to lead from Nanzen-ji to another temple. According to Lonely Planet, this is one of the most beautiful walks. It was OK, if was nice enough. Maybe we were there in the wrong season, but it was sort of like walking next to a river behind some shops and houses.

Philosophy Path

Not too far into the walk, we came across a colony of cats. There were a lot of them, these are just a few kittens. Thankfully there was someone there who was feeding them. Lots of people were stopping to admire the kitties. However I saw sadness, I saw skinny little kitties with open wounds and obvious cat flu. Seeing these little kittens made me feel sad for their future.

We ended up walking about half the path before we decided that it was getting late and we were tired, so we walked away from the path back towards civilisation and hailed a cab. There are taxis pretty much everywhere in Kyoto, it's great! We caught the cab to our final destination.

Ginkakuji Ginkakuji Lookout at Ginkakuji

Ginkaku-ji is also known as the Silver Pavillion. It has a really interesting sand garden, with a cone that is meant to represent Mount Fuji. Apparently if you view this garden during the full moon it is quite stunning. It also has a beautiful gardens, which hike up to a lookout over Kyoto.


Finishing up at our last temple of the day, we walked down back to the main street, passing a lot of cute little shops. We passed a mochi shop, and my mum confirmed which flavours were vegan for me. Then we caught a taxi to a restaurant called Kairas, where we had hoped to have dinner. Unfortunately they were closing early for the day, but they did have a nicely stocked counter of vegan baked goodies that I stocked up on. According to Happy Cow, Kairas is now completely closed as of October, so it must have shut down shortly after we were there.

After consulting my Google Map, we caught another taxi (I know, we were mad with taxi joy at this point) back into the Kawaramchi area for dinner. We ended up popping into Fuji Daimaru, a giant department store, first. Japanaese department stores are insane, and the best part is the lower floors, which are food halls. Of course, very little of it is vegan, but it is quite fascinating. Fuji Daimaru (not to be confused with Daimaru, which is actually just down the road) had a Natural House in the basement. Natural House is a chain of 'health food' stores around Japan. They actually had quite a few vegan things, including some vegan friendly bread. Most bread in Japan is not vegan. I stocked up on a few things, then we headed out to dinner.

Dinner was at Mikoan, a tiny little restaurant that is hidden away. You have to walk down a street then up a long, narrow passage to get there. The directions on Happy Cow are actually excellent!


When you get there, it really is a teeny place with a low ceiling, covered in posters and newspaper. It's got to be a fire hazard, and I'm pretty sure that my mother thought I had brought us to our doom. On closer inspection, you discover that all the posters and newspaper clippings are covered in cats! There are cat statues everywhere as well. Apparently there sometimes are cats there that just meander around the bar, but sadly I didn't run into any of these.

Mikoyan Mikoyan Mikoyan

Dinner was a set meal. They had a range of different things, and they just gave us two platters each with different items on it, so we could share. It was delicious. This place is actually completely vegan, so drink up that soup with confidence. Also, make sure you eat all your rice, and you can find a cute kitty face at the bottom of your bowl. The food was really nice, you can see there was a range of different things - deep fried, pickled, stewed, lots of flavours and textures. All cooked behind the tiny bar. Definitely go here if you get a chance! They also have vegan cake sometimes, but unfortunately not while we were there.

Then it was a subway ride back to the hotel, where I laid out my goodies from the day!

Mochi and Kairas goodies

From Kairas I had bought a tea and raisin cookie, a coconut and cocoa cookie (look closely, it is a SQUIRREL shaped cookie), a red bean mochi and a pumpkin and red bean pie. Also pictured is the chestnut mochi that I got from the mochi shop outside Gingaku-ji.

Natural House goodies

And from Natural House - some flavoured soy milk (soy milk was surprising hard to find sometimes, there are a trillion different types of flavoured dairy milk, but only a few soys), Skout bars (really yummy, I'd never seen these before) and some delicious, amazing bread. Oh vegan bread!

After a long day, we nibbled on some mochi (including a salted one that my mum had bought - very odd), and the collapsed into sleep.

Another long post, and only on the second day of a two week trip! Eeep.


  1. Oh, we had a lovely meal at Mikoan when we visited Japan 3 years ago! Going to tiny veg*n restaurants and getting a set meal was one of my favourite experiences in that holiday.

  2. Japan is where I first fell in love with chestnut desserts and red bean desserts. Loving reading your posts, because they bring back so many joyful memories for me! Daimuru was heaven...

  3. Mikoan! I'm so excited about getting to eat there, I feel like I've been reading about it on vegan blogs for so long.