Day 8: May 22, 2016
Our route to Kyoto took us on a Japanese high speed train, called a Shinkansen. This sucker could move! Not only was it super fast, but it was also smooth, comfortable, and very clean!
Once in Kyoto, we found our Airbnb where we’d be staying in the downtown area, right next to Nishiki Market, an open air market (though it does have a colorful glass roof), spanning 4 or 5 city blocks. Vendors sell and sample everything from fish and groceries to Japanese pottery to cheap souvenirs to prepared foods to beer! Michael boldly chose to snack on a mini octopus served on a stick. He bit into his head only to discover it had been stuffed with a quail egg! Gross, man. I keep up usually but this challenge had me running for the ice cream.
1) Mochi – lightly sweet, stretchy, soft texture that they fill with different ingredients. It’s made of a rice by-product and they can shape it and dye it to look like anything.
2) Green tea / Macha flavored everything. From ice cream to Mochi to coffee beverages to kit kat bars (seriously.) everything has a green tea flavored variety.
3) red bean paste. It’s sweet and mushy and looks like red bean paste, and dammit they put it into everything from Mochi to drinks to baked goods. It’s actually pretty good, but after 3 days of Red bean paste overload I could happily go the rest of my life without it.
4) Ice cream. I respect the hell out of these people’s commitment to ice cream consumption. Particularly topped with Mochi or red bean paste, or flavored with green tea, Kyoto-ans will eat ice cream at any time of the day or night. And there is nothing in the world wrong with that.
5) coffee! this might not seem surprising, but to us it was! We saw way more coffee places in 3 blocks of Kyoto than in Tokyo, Kamikochi, and Takayama combined! And not just Starbucks – I’m talking hipster brewed, $5+ beverages with latte art and all.
Downtown Kyoto is a shopping and eating Mecca so we sought our dinner out in Ponto Cho – a wonderfully narrow restaurant and bar lined walking street, peppered with beautiful red paper lanterns and the occasional geisha hurrying to and fro. We saw many Japanese in traditional Kimonos as well!
It was time for conveyor belt sushi. We sat down at a bar with a legitimate conveyor belt running through it, carrying past us plates of various sushi, sashimi, and nagiri delights! You could simply grab a plate from the belt and eat it – but beware of unpopular dishes because lord knows how long it’s been circulating! Or you could order directly from an iPad menu. The tab is counted by combining your iPad orders with the costs of the dirty plates in front of you – the price of each is designated by the color of the plate! How in god’s name did the Japanese come up with conveyor belt food before America?
After a drink at a very cool standing whiskey bar, where a tiny old man named Toishi served up some of Japan’s finest, we headed to a fanciful bar called L’Escamoteur where a Frenchman in a top hat whipped up delicious traditional cocktails with a modern edge. The decor was amazing – a mix of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, mad scientists, steam punk circus… Michael and I sat on wooden swings that hung from the ceilings and thought Kyoto was pretty cool.
I think that Kyoto is most lovely at night. The river, as well as tiny canals run through it, and small side streets are lit up with a mix of paper lanterns and neon signs. It’s reminiscent of Paris and Amsterdam, but distinctly Eastern, ancient and modern.