Kyoto

Day 11 – North Hirashiyama

Wake up early as we’d ordered the ryokan breakfast which is only served until 9.30 – we’re used to getting up about 10.30ish as Tokyo doesn’t really wake up until mid-morning. Eat toast and coffee with the other guests then go back to the room to plan a temple-walking route for today. It’s a bright and sunny morning but rain is scheduled to hit mid-afternoon.

We walk along the busy main street to the Higashiyama district and follow signs steeply uphill, past more grave stones than I’ve ever seen in one place, to the Kiyomizudera temple. It’s packed full of people but still undeniably beautiful, perched up in the hilly forest which is just turning from green to orange and red.

From there we walk down the stone-paved steps (Sannenzaka and Ninenzaka) which are lined with souvenir and gift shops – some are tacky but most are selling quite nice pottery, sweets and art. We stop for lunch at a place called Cafe Rocka which is all vegetarian – tasty teriyaki tofu wrap and veg curry. Unfortunately as we poke around the shops (including another Ghibli merch shop and a strange shop where everything was the random price of 1,050 yen) the rain really starts to come down. We persevere to another temple, Chion-in, which was very pretty and again set in stunning autumn forest. By mid-afternoon though, the rain is practically torrential and my feet are killing me from all the steep walking.

We walk back down into town and spotted a perfect little cafe on a corner which serves up a giant plate of hot apple and cinnamon waffles with ice cream, and a big mug of hot chocolate – exactly what was needed to save the afternoon from being a total washout. We then get on a very packed bus back to the ryokan and hang out there for the rest of the afternoon, drying off and doing some more research. Sad to realise we only have 4 full days here as we have to leave first thing Friday for our flight. About 7ish the rain has died down a bit so we walk down to the station for dinner. There’s an Isetan mall attached to the station with two floors of restaurants – it doesn’t get much more Japanese than a restaurant within a mall within a station. There’s a gigantic kitschy lit-up Christmas tree in the centre of the mall which seems a bit weird for a Buddhist country!

We find Kyodofu Fujino, recommended in the guidebook, on the 11th floor. Everything on the menu is made from tofu or yuda (tofu skins), even the dessert, served with black sugar syrup. It’s quite a novelty for me being able to eat everything on the table without worrying if it’s veggie or not! Everything is unusual – especially an oddly rainbow coloured vegetable in with the pickles – but very tasty, with lots of textures and flavours. Also try whisked matcha tea for the first time; it’s grassy and quite intense in flavour.

Isetan has a lot of English- and veggie-friendly restaurants so we’ll probably be going back there again. The place is pretty dead by the time we are done at about 9.30; Kyoto seems to turn in for the night a lot earlier than Tokyo. The streets are also so much quieter to an almost eerie degree; it definitely has a different feeling to Tokyo in general – a bit more rough and ready, not as immediately attractive.