Sunday, August 30, 2009

Arashiyama and the Golden Pavilion

Yesterday was my last full day in Kyoto. I had a lot to see and do, as I had yet to explore the west side of town. I went to Nishiki-dori, the equivalent of a farmer's market except without the produce. Fresh barbequed eel, blocks of dried Bonito (for making Dashi), every type of pickle imaginable, fish, yakitori, rice crackers, seaweeds, cookware etc are for sale. Not quite as rustic as the tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, but quite picturesque (as you will see). I had to prevent myself from buying up all kinds of stuff, as I had a full day planned without a stop off at the hotel to drop stuff. Hence, some items will have to remain in photos!

I then made my way on the not so easy train system here to Arashiyama. Those are the hills opposite to Higashiyama in Kyoto. Kyoto is flat plain surrounded by hills/mountains to the north, east and west. Apparently Higashiyama means "eastern mountain" so you would think that Arashi would mean western (yama means mountain), but it doesn't...

Arashiyama was one of the more picturesque places I've been to inJjapan thus far! I can't believe i waited until the last day to go there (had no idea what i was missing). Beautiful temples and gardens and bamboo forests. They even have a place you can see the monkeys in the hills. It is the japan of woodblock prints. A wide river cuts through with a bamboo forest and other trees lining the banks. It was quite beautiful. On my way toward the temples , this group of sightseers were passing me, and from the crowd a woman came running over to me. "Hi," she said, "Do you remember me?" She was quite animated and excited to see me. Despite being Japanese her english was perfect. She was familiar but I had to search my memory bank (it had been a long 2 weeks, lots of people and sights crammed in). OHHHH, she was my translator for the first japanese cooking class I took in Tokyo! Tomoko-san, of course I remembered her. How odd and coincidental to see her all the way in the hills of Kyoto! Again, what a small "world"!

I digress...After finding and making my way through the bamboo forest, i ended up in a neighborhood that was quite exclusive and private looking. If I ever found myself relocating to Kyoto, I think Arashiyama would suit me just fine. (even the train station was the cutest thing you've ever seen). I wandered around, bought a couple of things (!?) and it was now 2:00 pm, I needed to eat. I meandered down the main street (pretty touristy) and saw this cool looking restaurant, very modern, done in cast cement or stone. It was pretty unusual to see this, as most buildings in Japan are made of wood. It was a small Unagi restaurant. As I waited for a spot at the shared tables, I perused the English menu, which consisted mostly of different sized Unagi-dons. When I finally sat down I struck up a conversation with some of the other people at the table. Little did I know (and lucky that I was) this restaurant turned out to be one of the most exclusive Unagi restaurants in all of Kyoto. (I have been so lucky with my food choices) The Unagi we get in the states is from Taiwan (did you know that?). The better restaurants here use their local Unagi. The price tag is high for Japanese Unagi. My little Unagi donburi was about U.S. $17. (and that was for the small size). But, its not everyday I am eating local Unagi!

Full, fatter and happy, I found the bus stop and made my way up to Kinkokuji Temple, where the famed "gold shrine" is. Wowee, what a beautiful setting as you will see from the photos (you would never know there were hundreds of tourists behind me taking the same photo...) It really is decorated in gold leaf!

Then i walked, yes walked, almost all the way back to my hotel (took about 3 hours). I was bushed!!!!!! However, had to eat (again), so i went out to an Italian place where i watched a pizzaiolo make a very authentic tasting margherita pizza. It looked just like a wood burning oven (same shape and door mechanism etc) and he used it as one, rotating the pizza, picking it up to crisp the crust on top. However, the oven was gas powered, with the jets shooting up in the rear.

I have to sign off and get ready to check out. On my way out of Kyoto, I am taking a last minute Chicken Teriyaki course here from a housewife through the Women's Association of Kyoto. The lady in the office is a wacko, but I am hoping the grandma chef is good!

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