Kyoto Day 2-4 (Japan 2017)

Kyoto Day 2-4 (Japan 2017)

We awoke on our first full day in Kyoto with some big plans.  There were quite a few locations we wanted to tick off our boxes in Kyoto and we only had so many days to see them.  We decided to head over to the Imperial Palace as it was supposed to be prime sakura (cherry blossom) viewing.  There is a web site that lists the various locales within Kyoto and the status of the cherry blossoms in that location – ranging from peak viewing to not blossomed.  The Imperial Palace was a short subway ride and walk from our AirBnB.

The Imperial Palace actually sits in the middle of a very large park.  Upon first entering the park, you could see that others had the same idea of checking out the cherry blossoms.  With it still being mid-morning, the lighting was actually quite good for picture-taking and so we did like the other tourists and posted in and around the trees.  We didn’t actually go to the front of the Palace and elected to check out the Shirakumo Shrine, which is located towards the south-eastern portion of the park.

After the Imperial Palace, we took the subway and went to Nijo Castle, since it was relatively nearby.  This castle was built in 1603 and is a current UNESCO world heritage site.  There were quite a few large tour buses parked out front and so I figured it’d be crowded.  This time we actually did pay the entry fee and walked through the castle grounds.  They had a few buildings you could walk through and also some well cultivated gardens.  What I noticed about the tourists is that a lot of them were from mainland China (they have a certain twang to their speech) as well as Japanese people who apparently were touring their own country.

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Since it was getting to be lunch time (actually a little past), we hit up Nishiki Market.  This is a labyrinth of small alleyways, some of which are lined with many different shops and food places.  You could pick up some street food (think octopus legs on a stick, sake sampling, etc).

Since I’m a big fan of cooking, I had thought about getting a Japanese knife, since they are some of the most coveted.  There was a shop that the wife had looked up where they will engrave the knife for you after you purchase. IMG_20170405_120626IMG_20170405_120556

I picked out a multi-purpose knife and had them engrave my last name in Chinese character.

I had done quite a bit of research on various eateries throughout Kyoto.  There were a few that were located in the Nishiki Market area though we ended up not going to them.  We found this Udon noodle joint that looked like maybe it was a chain.

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Nevertheless, there was a line almost out the door and it appeared to be all Japanese people so I saw that as a good sign (like in the U.S. when you go to a Chinese restaurant and most of the patrons are Chinese or same with Mexican food, etc).  I wasn’t sure how it was going to go ordering because you had to order a specific type of bowl and then noodle/soup.  Luckily it worked out and we got some delicious, quick, and relatively cheap food.

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Our afternoon was then filled with more travel (subway, foot, subway).  The first stop was Fushimi Inari-taisha.  This is the main shrine of Inari.  The main thing about this place that stands out is that it is on a mountain and they have this walkway that is filled with hundreds (if not thousands) of Torii gates.  The Torii gates are the bright orange structures that most people have probably seen if they’ve looked at pictures of Japan.  This area also was packed with tourists and it felt like we were sardines at one point within the hillside of Torii gates.

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I thought we could make it to the next area by walking so convinced my wife we should hoof it over.  We made our way on foot over to Rengeoin Sanjusanjendo in eastern Kyoto.  This temple is famous for its statues of Kannon, the goddess of mercy.  In the center is an 11 foot tall seated Senju Kannon.  Surrounding this statue are 1000 standing statues of the Senju Kannon.  There are numerous other deities housed in the same building.  Unfortunately picture-taking is not allowed in the main building.

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It was getting to be closer to sundown but we hopped on a bus to get to one more temple, Kiyomizu-dera.  This was up on a bit of a hill.  Because of cherry blossom season, they were gearing up to do some sort of night event that you had to purchase tickets for.  This temple was also undergoing construction.

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We didn’t stay for whatever “special event” was going on that evening but headed back to our Air BnB and then found some dinner.  I tried the Kyoto style sushi, which is different than traditional.  They use more preserved fish since they’re not a coastal city.  I wasn’t too impressed with the small joint we went to but I’m sure it can be much better.

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I was still hungry after dinner so picked up some snacks for before bedtime.

Sometime in the middle of the night I woke up feeling hot and also with some tummy issues.  I then proceeded to be up every hour or so to use the bathroom.  My entire body was also very hot and I suspect I was having fevers.  So the next day (Day 3 in Kyoto) I stayed in the AirBnB while my wife went out and explored on her own.  She did bring me this fairly tasty box from the local convenient store.

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Even though I was still hitting the bathroom every 20 minutes or less, I decided to try to venture out a little bit in the late afternoon with the wife.  We elected to try taking a bus over to the Philosopher’s Path and also Higashiyama Tisho-ji.  The weather was a bit overcast and it had been raining throughout the day.  I am glad that I went to Higashiyama Tisho-ji because the views of the gardens were something else.  It looks like a postcard.  I had to find the bathroom a few times there so we didn’t stay too long and then it was back to the AirBnB for me.

The next day (Day 4 in Kyoto) was a complete wash for me as I was down and out.  I have nothing to report from that day since I didn’t leave the AirBnB.  I continued to have GI issues though the fever had abated finally.  I don’t know what it was that I contracted.  I thought at first it may just be a food poisoning type situation but the fact that this disease persisted for the remainder of the trip and even back in the States means I suspect it was something more infectious.

Up next, Miyagima Island and Hiroshima and the final day in Tokyo.

-StewsCat

Happy Global Running Day!

I remember when they called it National Running day.  While it was a work day, and a long one at that, I still wanted to get in at least a few miles.  Getting some In N Out for dinner helped spur me to get off my butt and run.  I wound up getting 3 miles on the treadmill.  It was also a good night since the Warriors beat the Cavs in Game 3 of the Finals.

I’ve not been doing a ton of running since the Big Sur Marathon.  I’ve still had weird foot pain/soreness after I run.  Sometimes it is sore even after just a long day on my feet.  I’m just too stubborn to call a doc and schedule to be seen.  Ah well, we’ll see how it goes.

Here’s a pic of me from the Austin Half Marathon many moons ago.

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-StewsCat

Tokyo last day and Day 1 Kyoto (Japan 2017

Tokyo last day and Day 1 Kyoto (Japan 2017

I lost my original post for these days.  Oh well, I’ll just re-start it and not try to re-create the old one that I had made.

So it was our last day in Tokyo and at the awesome Park Hyatt.  Before leaving Tokyo I wanted to try to get at least one run in while in Japan.  I decided to head up to the fitness center in the Park Hyatt.  This is located up on the 47th floor.  If you’ve seen the movie Lost in Translation, there is a scene where the main characters are swimming in this pool.  I didn’t get any pictures because you’re not supposed to take pictures in the gym area.  To actually get up to the fitness center you have to go through their spa (and actually tell them you’re a guest to get up there).  They have a row of treadmills that face outward towards their floor-to-ceiling windows.  You have this great overlook of the city and being so high up you get a bird’s eye view.  It was a nice way to wake up for the day.

After sadly leaving the wonderful confines of the Park Hyatt, we made our way back to Tokyo Station by way of Shinjuku station for the ride over to Kyoto.  Prior to taking the bullet train (Shinkansen), we needed some lunch.  Within the underground mall area of Tokyo Station is Ramen Street.  This was our first experience with ordering from a vending machine.  So you walk up to a vending machine and can choose the type of Ramen you want (as well as any extras such as extra noodle, meat, other things), put money in the machine and then it spits out a ticket.  You give the ticket to the attendant and wait in the line outside the restaurant.  Once there is an open seat, they take you to it and then your food shows up.  This place also had a paper bib for you to wear in case of splatter from the ramen.  It was very tasty.

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We had reserved some seats on the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto.  We had obtained the JR pass when we first arrived in country.  This 7-day pass allowed us to ride on the bullet train and other JR trains without paying during that time period.  We did not get the fancy JR pass that allows you to take the fastest bullet trains (they’re not faster, they just have less stops so your trips are shorter).  The distance between Tokyo and Kyoto is 514 km (or 319 miles).  If you took a regular train or a bus, it would take a LONG time.  The Shinkansen gets you there in about 2.5 hours or so.  I definitely recommend that as a way to get around Japan.  They have restrooms and on some trains also have a person with a cart of food/drink (including beer) that walks by every so often.  Most people bring their own food onto the train to eat.

We arrived in Kyoto and after a transfer ended up at the train stop nearest our Air BnB.  We had never stayed at an Air BnB before so didn’t exactly know what to expect.  Our hosts were great in communications before our arrival.  The place we were staying is closest to the Higashiyama train stop.  I believe our hosts actually had multiple small units in one building.  We quickly obtained our keys and found our way into the small studio.  While it was quite cozy, it had everything you needed in a place when on vacation.  The Japanese are great about fitting everything into a small functional space.

Our AirBnB was located near the Heian Shrine.  In fact, you could see the large Torii Gate of this shrine from the balcony of our AirBnB.

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Torii Gate from our balcony

By the time we had settled into our place it was dinner time.  Our hosts were kind enough to leave us a list of local eateries along with what they had there.  Since we weren’t going to the surrounding areas of Kyoto known for their Okonomiyaki, we went to a local place that had it.  They had a set 2 person course menu where you split a Okonomiyaki, sauteed noodles with vegetables and meat, cooked radish, and a pork egg omelette.  I also had a highball (mix of Suntory whiskey and club soda).

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Pork Omelette
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Yam…I think
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Stir fry

The Okonomiyaki is a Japanese savoury pancake dish that can have a variety of ingredients.

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Overall I thought it was good and very filling.  After dinner, while the sun had already set, there was a local temple that you could walk through.  They had lights set up so that you had a different perspective of how temples/shrines look like in the dark.  The Shoren-in Monzeki Temple was just a short 5 minute walk from our place.  By far this one of our favorite temples to visit.  Maybe it had to do with the lighting in the dark but also because you really walked through the grounds and absorbed the feeling.

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Also behind the temple were some of the giant bamboos.  These are truly stunning – I’m glad that I was able to see it because I wasn’t able to make it to the bamboo forest in the later part of the trip due to my sickness.

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We stopped at Lawson’s, one of the largest convenience store chains in Japan, on our way back to the AirBnb to pick up some water as well as some snacks and beer.  They have an ice bar that is “soda” flavored, which they also have in Taiwan and I got one just for kicks.

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The long day of travel was finally over and we hit the sack.

-StewsCat

Roasted Chicken

I want to make sure I have this recipe saved somewhere for future use.

After getting a Costco rotisserie chickens for awhile  (I read somewhere that the Costco bird is actually the only one that is most cost effective in terms of purchasing a cooked bird vs roasting your own), I decided to attempt my own roasted chicken.  I had come across a simple roasted chicken in a cast iron pan.  I like the versatility of roasted chicken because they can be used for various applications and in multiple recipes and last for more than one meal.

  • ~5 lb chicken from TJ’s
  • Olive Oil
  • Butter
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Garlic
  • Seasoning (thyme, rosemary)

I basically rubbed the chicken with the seasonings (salt, butter, thyme, etc).  The center of the bird was stuffed with some garlic cloves and whole sticks of rosemary.  I rubbed the outside of the bird with olive oil (another time I used butter).  I also did one where I would separate the skin from the meat and put seasoned butter in there.

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Initially the oven at 450 F and dropped to 400 F when the chicken was placed in the oven.

Cooked for 90 minutes at 400 F.

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And done.  Surprisingly you don’t have to cover it at all or turn it or anything.  The meat also comes out very juicy.

Very simple and easy recipe and you control what is in the bird.  I had read that one reason the Costco rotisserie chickens are so tasty is because the seasoning that goes into the skin contains MSG.  While I know MSG inherently isn’t necessarily super bad for you, the fewer ingredients in a dish I think is probably overall better for you.  I’m glad that I have this recipe in my arsenal now.

-StewsCat

Tokyo Day 5 (Japan 2017)

Tokyo Day 5 (Japan 2017)

I woke up on Day 5 and was a bit sick (related to the previous night’s visit to the New York Bar).  The sad part is that we had ordered the Girandole Japanese breakfast.  Girandole is one of the restaurants in the building and the Japanese breakfast is supposed to be one of those “must haves” while in Tokyo.  Unfortunately due to how I was feeling, I only had a small portion of it but it looked amazing.

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It was our last full day in Tokyo so I tried to get my sh*t together and we headed out before noon.  I wanted to see Tsukiji Fish Market and possibly get some fresh fish while there.  Since we were arriving so late, I knew we probably wouldn’t see as much as if we went super early like most people.  I learned that if you want to see the actual tuna auctions, you have to sign up because it was becoming too popular, that start super early like 4 am.  Next to the marker were some tourist-filled small alleyways that were lined with restaurants and other shops.  We ducked into a small sushi joint to get some lunch.  I will say that the fish was definitely fresh and overall good.  And for dessert, my wife had some taro ice cream.  yum!

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Taro ice cream

From Tsukiji Market, we walked over to Hamarikyu Gardens, which sits near the water.

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This is a good viewing area for cherry blossoms.  Like I had mentioned previously these first few days in Tokyo were not great for cherry blossom viewing because the weather had been cold and rainy, which is not conducive to blossoming.  There were still some trees that were blooming and people were definitely taking pictures.

To mix it up, the plan after the gardens was to check out the main Asics store in Tokyo because we were still on a shoe hunt.  Surprisingly the shoe store itself (supposedly the “main” store) was actually quite small.  There were some Europeans in the store trying on shoes.  Maybe it is cheaper in Japan than in the US.  I will say the shoes would be slightly cheaper to buy in the US so I didn’t seriously consider getting a pair (though I do like Asics as part of my running corral of shoes).

For dinner I wanted to try a Yakitori place.  We hopped on the subway and went to Ebisu.  It was a little early for dinner so we walked over to Yebisu Garden Place Tower.  Acclaimed chef Joel Robuchon actually built a Chateau in this shopping mall to house his Michelin-starred restaurant.  It was a bit out of place in the midst of Japan but was kinda funny to see as a juxtaposition.  The Japanese also have a bit of an obsession with the French as well, which is actually a good pairing because they both have great food and fashion.  We were going to try visiting the Yebisu beer museum but it wasn’t open.  Sad.  We did walk through some higher end store.

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It was a bit difficult locating a yakitori place because some restaurants are downstairs in a basement and some upstairs.  We eventually settled on going down some steps into a non-descript dark staircase ending at a door.  Luckily once we opened the door, there was a yakitori restaurant with a long bar (by long it was actually small and sat maybe 12 people).  Luckily one of the employees actually spoke some English (and his other chef/coworkers allowed him to do pretty much all the interaction with us).  I ordered a bunch of weird things (chicken heart, liver).  They served the chicken medium-rare, which is something you’d never see in the US but it actually was very tender and tasty.  Overall I enjoyed it, though it wasn’t a ton of food.

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Right next to the subway stop that we walked out of was a Shake Shack.  We never made it to Shake Shack when we were in NYC and since we still were a little hungry, I suggested we stop in and have a burger so my wife could experience it.  It was a little funny that we were halfway around the world to try a US based burger chain.  The wife said that it was a good burger.

On our way back to the hotel before turning in for the night we checked out one more sports store near our hotel looking for shoes.  I found it fascinating to walk through a sports store in Japan.  I took a picture of some socks because I thought it was funny.

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Sacramento is the Farm-to-Fork capital and the socks have a funny name.

And that was the end of Day 5.

-StewsCat