Thursday, 9 May 2013

Japan 2012 - Part 3 (Kyoto)

After a much needed ten hour sleep , I snacked on some banana and the delicious fresh yuba before we headed out for our first day trip - going to Nara to explore. After buying our tickets, we had an hour before the train left so we spent some time exploring Kyoto Station.

Kyoto Station Kyoto Station

The station building itself is amazing, and giant! It has interesting architecture, art works, lookouts over Kyoto, a ten-floor department store and a rooftop garden. It is well worth a wander around.

Train to Nara

We caught the Limited Express to Nara, where my travel cat Francesca enjoyed the view and I had a nut snack bar. Arriving in Nara, we picked up a map, which was kind of confusing because it had no street names!

Deer at Nara near station

Nara is famous for the deer than roam many areas of the town. Walking out of the station, we were immediately greeted with several of the beauties.

Kofukuji Kofokuji Octagonal Hall

Our first stop was Kōfuku-ji. While part of the temple was under reconstruction, there were still many beautiful buildings to see. We also went through a treasure hall, which was like a mini-museum. In the hall is an amazing statue of a Buddha that has been in the same place since the ninth century.

Sarasawa-ike pond Sarasawa-ike pond Sarasawa-ike pond

Wandering away from the temple, we found ourselves at Sarasawa-ike, a lovely pond that was teeming with turtles and a friendly pigeon.

Gango-Ji Gango-Ji Gango-Ji - Original tiles

While it wasn't a planned stop, we happen to pass by Gangō-ji. I am so glad we did. This lovely place in the oldest Buddhist temple in Japan (though the temple was originally built in another city), and some of the sections the roof tiles are from the original structure. It's worth a small detour from some of the major Nara sites to visit here.

Ashura - Tofu Croquettes and Salad Ashura - Curry with gluten and rice

We came across the temple while we were walking to Ashura for lunch. Ashura is a small vegetarian restaurant where you sit on the floor at low tables. They have an English menu, with one side listing vegan dishes and the other dishes with dairy and eggs, so ordering for a vegan is very easy. We started with some tofu croquettes, which were lovely and came with some fresh salads. For the main, I had the 'curry with gluten and rice', which was simple but tasty.

Afterwards we wanted to head out to Nara Park. Turns out taxis in Nara are very hard to find, but thankfully the owner at Ashura had given my mother instructions in Japanese to find the bus, and I used my apparently amazing public transport abilities to get us to the right bus and the right stop.

Deer Park Beware deer!

Our destination was Todai-Ji, right in the middle of Nara Park. Nara Park is filled with deer, there were hundreds of them roaming around. You can buy deer crackers to feed them (I didn't). There were also several signs about the danger or deer, which was kind of amusing. Apparently every year they have sort of a deer rodeo where they catch deer to cut off their antlers, which sounds not so fun to the deer to me.

Todai-Ji Main Gate Todai-Ji

Probably the main reason most people go to Nara is to go to Tōdai-ji, home to the world's largest bronze statue of Buddha (Daibutsu).

Todai-Ji Main Hall Daibutsuden at Todai-Ji

Yeah... Giant Buddha is GIANT! None of my photos really captured the scale of it, but it is huge.

After visiting the Daibutsu, we wandered through the park (and the deer) up towards the Kasuga Taisha Shrine. This was an 800m walk, which seemed to take longer than expected, and much of it uphill.

Kasuga Taisha Shrine Kasuga Taisha Shrine Kasuga Taisha Shrine Kasuga Taisha Shrine

It is a lovely shrine, with many beautiful bronze and stone lanterns. Many of the bronze lanterns had deer on them, the deer certainly echo through the whole place.

A bus stop was not far away, and after a tense moment thinking we'd missed the bus and would be waiting for an hour, thankfully a bus arrived to take us back to Nara. This time we caught the regular express back to Kyoto (more stops). I snacked on some broccoli chips and my tea and raisin cookie from Kairas.

Back in Kyoto we headed out for dinner. Mum was craving some okinomiyaki, so we went back to Teramachi (a long covered shopping street near Nishiki) to check out Mr Young Men. I had read on a blog that the could do vegan okinomiyaki, but when my mum spoke to them they said they had never been able to do that and certainly couldn't do it now. Another lesson to be wary of blogs! We tried Hale again, but it was closed... again! So, after consulting my Google Maps and walking comically around in circles for a bit, we found Cafe Matsuontoko.

Matsuontoko Matsuontoko

Matsuontoko is a complete vegan cafe, that has quite a pretty tasty menu at that. We were pretty hungry after our Nara adventures, and keen to try several things.

Matsuontoko - Smoked tofu and olives Matsuontoko - Onions Ring

We started with some Smoked Tofu and Olives, which was a pretty small appetizer that came with some crackers. Thankfully, the onion rings were plentiful, but could have done with a bit less batter and a bit more salt.

Matsuontoko - Grapefruit juice Matsuontoko - Vegan Hamburg Set Matsuontoko - Vegan Hamburg

For the main we both had the Vegan Hamburg Set, which also came with a choice of drink. I had a grapefruit juice (I love a good grapefruit juice). The set also came with some delicious onion soup and a salad with a great dressing. The hamburg itself was a chewy patty with a sweet sauce. I was hoping it would be the same as the Mumokuteki hamburg, minus the possibly fished sauce, but it didn't quite live up to my hopes.

Matsuontoko - Wafu Parfait Matsuontoko - Rum and Raisin Ice Cream

For dessert, mum had a Wafu Parfait, which came with green tea ice cream, green tea jelly, rice balls, cake and cream. I had a rum and raisin ice cream. The ice cream was nice, but not quite the creamy sort of texture I have gotten used to with So Delicious and similar brands being available at home.


  1. Great photo's and blog. I'm in Kyoto, Japan at the moment and stumbled across your blog whilst googling something. You've definitely given me ideas of things to do! Leila x

  2. The deer are so beautiful! And that last meal looks so amazing

  3. What an interesting blog, introduced by a thought-provoking photo. The unusual wall painting of the dwellings is also a strangely modern interpretation. Something like this hieroglyphic view of a park by Swiss painter Paul Klee,
    The image can be seen at who can supply you with a canvas print of it.

  4. Deer!! They're so cute. The Wafu parfait at matsuontoko looks amazing, I hope we get to eat there on our trip.