Getting Kultured in Kyoto

They may be spelt using the same letters, but Tokyo and Kyoto are very different places. From the second we stepped out of the station, we noticed the change in pace. More space, less people. This was looking good.

After a long day of traveling, and having had our first chance to flash our flashy new JR Rail Passes and ride the Shinkansen, we arrived at the food capital of Japan, ready to get ‘kultured’ (trademarked by Dan). Ever the man with the plan, he had already researched what Kyoto was good for, and off we headed to find burnt miso ramen – a specialty in Kyoto. With a thick caramelized teriyaki taste, it was one of the best meals I’ve had this trip. And that’s saying something because I’ve had a few best meals. But just ask Romy, she thought it was so good she decided to pour it all down her front just to make sure she smelt like burnt miso ramen for the rest of the trip. #dedicated

We opted for an early night that night as our next day was going to be as full as our stomachs were as we stumbled home.

First up, we hit the subway and headed out to Aryashiyama to the Bamboo Forest. Hundreds of meters of thick bamboo groves towering over the path, it was the perfect place to take your photo, or someone else’s if you’re Brandon. I can’t blame tourists coming up to us and asking up to take their photo though. Out of the seven of us, five of us are walking around with enormous SLR cameras around our necks.

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 preset

After a singalong led by DJ Michelle to the likes of Chris Brown, Kendrick Lamar and some random Japanese boy band while walking the backstreets of Aryashiyama, we made our way out to the temple of the Golden Pavilion. When it comes to popular tourist destinations like this one, we’ve come to really start to appreciate our height difference. Apart from selfie-sticks, there isn’t much that interrupts our view of the landmarks. And I’ve never considered myself tall before.

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 preset

Chasing the sun, we headed off to the Fushimi Inari-taisha, one of my favourite shrines from the last trip. Considering my favourite colour is orange, it shouldn’t really be a surprise. The shrine is made up of long rows of orange torii, and running through it is something of a spectacle. Even better is watching the sun set over it. And playing with a little kitten we found running around.

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 preset

But with such a successful day, and with so much achieved, we couldn’t possibly let it end there. Sponsored by 7 Eleven, our night ended with Suntory Highballs, Smirnoff Ice, cup noodles, nuts recommended by a friendly stranger, and a nightclub called Butterfly.With odds lost, the boys faces were caked in makeup – a sight I can’t wait to forget. But the worst thing we lost that night was Ed (or more appropriately DEdward), who hit the road while the rest of us hit the dance floor, and ended up walking an hour and a half in the wrong direction. Good one, DEdward.

A late start for some, and an even later start for others, we woke the next morning and headed off to the Nishiki Markets. Anything and everything pickled and the smell of fresh fish would have been welcomed, had we not all be recovering from our previous night. A short stroll over to Gion, where Ed realised he had ended up the night before, we really found the kulture in Kyoto. Beautifully preserved, the streets got smaller, the gardens became more zen, the houses quaint and traditional. Geisha’s packed the streets and shrines hid in every corner. It was so much fun to just walk around, popping into little stores and just waiting to see what we’d run into.

We did have a mission though, well at least I did. I’d heard that you could do pottery classes in Gion, and was determined to find one. Thankfully the boys were very patient and persevered until we did. After a quick lesson, we considered ourselves masters and hit the clay. He made a beautiful plate, Ed a sake bottle, and I just let the clay do what it wanted. I ended up with a bowl/vase/cup thing that I really liked. The best part about it is that we all got to choose a colour which they will paint for us, fire, and then send home for us. I can’t wait for that little surprise to arrive in the mail when I’m back in the slug of reality.

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 preset

Even better though, we accomplished another mission when Ed darted into a little side store after spotting a beautiful damascus knife, similar to the one that he had bought. Actually, turns out it was exactly the one that he bought. Just #bffl things.

We saved the best ’til last for our final dinner in Kyoto – flaming ramen. More of a show than simply a meal, it was nothing short of a seamless operation. Clad in aprons and led through strict instructions like “don’t run away, your seats are soiled in oil”, we had our cameras collected and connected to a series of purposely positioned selfie-sticks behind the bar. Leaning back, our chef walked along the bar pouring flames into our ramen like some kind of fire chief. It was mad. And very delicious. Within half an hour we had been wowed and then chowed, and were back on the road again.

Controversial I know, but I think Kyoto has been my favourite so far. Osaka tomorrow.

E x

 

 

Jetting off to Japan (again)

With Sydney cracking 47 degrees and more heatwaves looming, I made the impulsive decision (albeit six months prior) to jet off to Japan, and with it the depths of winter. Although I’ve been to Japan before, and am going to many of the same places, I’m excited to use this trip as a way of making or breaking my theory that it’s the people you’re with that make the trip, not necessarily where it is in the world that you are. This time the team is almost ten people strong, and by the time I arrived I was already a week behind. And you know what they say about playing catch-ups…

It’s an odd feeling to feel familiar in an foreign environment, but that’s exactly how I felt when I stepped out of the Shibuya Train Station in Tokyo and back into his arms again. We’ve all seen pictures of the famous Scramble Crossing and the bright lights of Tokyo, but it was more than that – I remembered the smell of the 7-Eleven’s on every corner, the rush of people on the streets, the vending machine restaurants, the tiny square cars, the lack of bins anywhere, and how much I absolutely loved this city.

First day back and I felt like I was in Melbourne more than in Tokyo. Lucky enough to have our own personal barista on hand, we could be sure that the city had been scoured and all the best coffee spots noted. Starting the day at About Life Coffee Brewers is not a bad way. So, you’re welcome.

16731431_10155138252189497_623609011_o

Once the crew was assembled, and matching outfits were planned for the following day as is apparently the fashion in Tokyo, we headed off for our first and arguably most important adventure. Not only does it sound like a level in Candy Crush, but Sunshine City is also the home to the Pokémon Mega Center. Within twenty minutes Romy had spent most of her remaining budget on Pokémon merch, he had bought more cards than he could hold, and Ed, Dan, John and Brandon were battling on the Pokémon arcade machines outside – both against each other and with the machine, I think.

16735573_10155138252309497_1745022135_o16710521_10155138252224497_1439646291_o16710393_10155138252239497_134106822_o

A quick refuel at our first lucky-dip restaurant – lucky-dip in that the menu had absolutely no English, and neither did the staff. But nonetheless always a fun experience, and there was even enough room for all of us which is about as rare as John’s shining legendary Pokémon card.

An afternoon challenge against time-restraints and the Japanese rail system, we made it to Studio Ghibli, which was like being transported into another world. The building itself reminded me of Gaudí, and seeing the work that goes into making the films, plus Romy’s intense obsession made me eager for some Netflix ‘n’ Ghibli when I get home. And to top it all off, we went to the coolest sushi train in the world: sushi served by robots. Need I say more?

We woke up the next morning to Roman’s birthday, *insert something about Taylor Swift and being 22*, and headed off to Yoyogi Park where we found out that most of Japan was celebrating too (for Japanese Federation Day or Roman’s birthday, you pick). Escaping the crowds we ducked into the Meiji Shrine, where he tried his hand at picking up a new bird and the rest of us swapped catching Pokémon for catching coy in the massive pond that surrounded the gardens.

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 preset

Opting out of the Hedgehog cafe, him and I opted in for the Ramen House with the line out the door and down the street, and were not left disappointed. Feeling full enough that I’d never need to eat again, walking the length of Takeshita Street in Harajuku proved otherwise. Filled with shops of everything you never knew you needed (or wanted) and more, it wasn’t long before my tummy was groaning more than Ed does about me stealing his personal time with him, but boy oh boy did we have something incredible planned for dinner. To celebrate the man of the moment, we headed to Han no Daidokoro Dogenzaka, a Japanese-BBQ where we were served wagyu beef in every way possible and even got to cook it ourselves, not that it really needed cooking. My favourite was the wagyu beef sashimi sushi. Yeah, you heard me right. After that is was a Vape and some VB’s for the birthday boy; the recipe for the very best night.

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

And that was just two days. I have two more days to catch you up on but don’t have the time to write about them now. What did I tell you about playing catch-ups…it’s a dangerous game.

E x

P.s. All photos are taken by him because I’m too busy GoPro-ing