Monday, 6 May 2013

Japan Trip 2012 - Part 1 (Kyoto)

In October last year I went to Japan. I had wanted to go for a long time on a mother-daughter trip! My mother is a Japanese language professor and fluent in the language, making her an ideal travel companion. Japan as a vegan takes some careful planning, but is very doable. I did get caught out once (noooo!), but other than that it was fine. I packed a huge stash of vegan snack foods in my luggage in case of emergencies during the trip. So here are my Japan adventures for your enjoyment! This will take place over many posts, because I took many photos.

We flew out from the Gold Coast with Jetstar (eeep), flying Star Class. JetStar do not provide vegan meals, even in StarClass, so I brought my own food. It was a day time flight, so I had packed a sandwich, some trail mix, a banana and some instant tomato soup for my journey. We touched down in Osaka, and then caught a bus to our hotel in Kyoto. This took a while, and we passed by a gazillion casinos. We were staying at the Hotel Granvia, which is at Kyoto Station. After checking in, quite late, we were peckish so wandered around the station. We found a 7-11, and my mother helpfully read lots of ingredients and found me vegan things! Yay!

First night dinner - onigiri, edamame, banana - from 7-11 at Kyoto Station

I snacked on some o-nigiri and some edamame before bed. I had the other o-nigiri and the banana for breakfast. The best one was the grilled o-nigiri, the salted o-nigiri was a bit odd. 7-11 stores are everywhere in Japan.

Our first full day in Kyoto, and we decided to hop on the subway (very close to our hotel) and head off to Nijō-jō (Castle)

Nijo Castle signNijo-Jo

The castle is very beautiful, and has extensive grounds. Shortly after we arrived, we were approached by a group of Japanese university students offering tours of the castle to improve their English. We accepted, and had a lovely tour. Inside the castle, the soft trills of the nightingale floor boards are lovely. No one could sneak through these passages! Also I learnt my first important lesson, even if you are wearing shoes with no socks, pack a pair of little sockettes to put on when you are walking inside so you don't look like a barefoot bogan!


One of the draws of Japan is, of course, the beautiful gardens! And the castle has beautiful gardens. I actually took a squillion photos of the castle and the gardens, but I am trying to keep it down to just a few for the blog. Because there will be a lot of photos anyway. ;)

After this, we walked for a little bit to get to our lunch destination. Google Maps is amazing at tracking your journey to help you with directions for the most part. Before we left for Japan, we ordered a wi-fi device to use over there. It was delivered to our hotel before we even arrived. It has a flat daily rate and you can use your phone/tablet/laptop to connect to the wifi network for as much as you need. I rented ours through Rentafone Japan, and it was absolutely amazing and worth it!

Chai at Obansai Lunch at ObansaiBuffet at Obansai

We had lunch at Obanzai, a buffet-style restaurant. It is not 100% vegan, but they were good at pointing out the vegan dishes. Then my mum confirmed in Japanese. There was a lot of yummy things to choose from! My favourites were some deliciously addictive potato puffs, an amazing sesame dressing and some gorgeous fresh silken tofu. I also tried a chai, because I love chai, but it didn't live up to my Green Edge standards.

Giant Miffy

After lunch we walked back to the subway. We passed some blow up Miffy dolls in a window. Because in Japan, Kawaii is everywhere!!

Nishiki Markets

We caught the subway back to Shinjo and found our way to the famous Nishiki Market.

Nishiki Markets - Picked vegetable shop Nishiki Markets - Rice shop Nishiki Markets - Yuba shop Nishiki Markets - Yuba shop Nishiki Markets - Mushroom shop Nishiki Markets - Miso shop Nishiki Markets - Tofu stall Nishiki Tenmangu Shrine

Pickled vegetables, rice, miso, tofu, mushrooms, seaweed and vegetable chips are just a few of the things you can find here. And, my favourite, the beautiful fresh yuba shop! There are also a lot of fish shops though, so you do need to be prepared for the sight and smell of these. You also need to be extremely vigilant as to what is vegan. I found some simmered vegetables that looked nice, but my mum checked and they were simmered in fish stock. Fish products lurk everywhere in Japan. At the end of the markets, there is also a lovely shrine, with lots of lanterns. Very pretty at night.

Nishiki Markets - Kitty shop Nishiki Markets - Ceramics stall

There are also other shops in the market. I was delighted to find a shop absolutely full of kitty items! So much kitty cuteness. Japan seems to have an interesting relationship with cats. There is so much kitty kawaii and kitty statues/crockery/etc. I bought a really cute bag.

After the markets, we went into the Daimaru store and sat down for a while in one of the cafes there. I had a grapefruit juice to refresh myself. We had been going to go to a restaurant called Hale for dinner, but they were closed. My mum had a sore foot, so decided to head back to the hotel, and I stayed on. I wandered around the Nishiki markets a little more. I found a Tofu Doughnut shop, and was Googling to see if it was vegan (it wasn't), and found a few blogs mentioning a vegan restaurant nearby, so I decided to go there for dinner. I had made a Google Map of all the Happy Cow restaurants before I left, but couldn't find this restaurant on there. The restaurant was called Mumokuteki.

Mumokuteki - Vegan parfait

One of the things mentioned on the blogs was the vegan parfait. Behold! Those white blobs are not lychees, but are like little dumpling things. I also ordered a hamburg main dish. Hamburg is magical and wonderful kind of tofu hamburger but not a hamburger.

Now, all this time I thought I was eating at a vegan restaurant. But later that night I found out from Happy Cow that it is in fact almost vegan except for the times they use fish in some sauces. I am pretty sure I got fished with my main. :/ Happy cow said that items were marked vegan on the menu, but they weren't and there was little English spoken by the wait staff. I had, of course, forgotten to bring my 'I'm a vegan' flashcards with me! So, basically be suspicious of someone just telling you something is vegan without first confirming. Wow, what a downer for the end of my first day in Japan! I barely slept that night, and had dreams about little silver fish with accusing eyes. Sorry fishies. :(

Pontotyo Street - Geisha

On the way back to the hotel, I wandered up to Ponto-chō, a really charming little street packed full of restaurants and interesting people. I saw a geisha! Or at least one in training. I felt a little shy to be running up and taking photos of her, but I did snap this one from behind.

Nishiki Market haul

To end on a not-so sad note, here is a picture of some of the goodies I got from the markets. Bananas (quite affordable), a little packet of red bean mochi, some veggie chips (broccoli and pumpkin) and some pineapple chips, plus a roll of amazingly gorgeous soft fresh yuba!The yuba was amazing, I just ate it straight from the packet. Wow!

This brings me to the end of my first day in Japan! This is going to be a long series of blog posts. Next up, more Kyoto and I begin my voyage of temples.


  1. I had to go and goodle Yuba! Now I know what it is it sounds great. what an amazing trip - looking forward tothe furhter installments!

  2. yay!! I can't wait to read more about your adventures! I would love to go to Kyoto, but the language barrier is definitely a deterrent. How awesome to have your snazzy bilingual mom with you. How did you stop yourself from buying all the adorable kitty bowls and gifties??

  3. I'm so excited to read all of your Japan posts. Nick and I are in the early stages of planning a trip there next year!

    I LOVE yuba and I can't wait to try it fresh. Your pictures of the food you picked up from the 7-11 are super helpful because neither of us can speak or read Japanese! We'll have to load pictures onto our phones or something! And the tip about the wi-fi device is awesome, we'll definitely be doing that.

    I totally get the feeling you had after possibly accidentally eating something fishy. I felt so grossed out recently when I bit into the vegan dumplings I ordered and discovered pork. Gross. Accidents happen though and all you can do is learn from them and move on.

  4. Jojo - I can email you some things. I actually took close up photos of a couple of labels so I could recognise the characters. Also have some phrases and a handy little flash card my mum made up for me to show at restaurants, I'll send you some things to print out. :)

    Amey - Having a Japanese speaking mother was definitely a plus! Though I spent a fair bit of time going around on my own, with almost no Japanese. It's certainly worth the trip!!

    T&S -> Yuba is amazing! But normally I get it dried and have to soak it. Once I found it 'fresh', but I'm sure you can imagine it doesn't compare.

  5. I just traveled to Japan on month-long study abroad trip, so I love reading about other's experiences travelling there! It's so cool that you got to walk around a lot on your on; our group stayed together most of the time on charter bus rentals, but we still had an amazing time. Looking forward to reading more about your trip!

  6. Japan has never been on the top of my travel list (I'm a baby when it somes to the language barrior) but you have me really wanting to go! Pretty sweet having your mom with you :) I'bve never tried yuba! I actually have some dried stuff in my pantry but fresh sounds so much better.

  7. Your mother spoke Japanese?! That's awesome! Looks like you had a great time in Japan!

  8. Susan that would be so awesome of you! We're going at the very beginning of April and I'm getting more & more excited!

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