Again we started Day Three in Kyoto early, heading in entirely the opposite direction as yesterday to go to Arashiyama to explore the bamboo groves there. But first, breakfast!
We found this coffee shop, directly opposite our hotel, on our first day and returned each day since. Remember I told you that in Kyoto they really know how to make things light and fluffy? Well, at Takagi Coffee they apply that to toast and it’s amazing!
I ordered a coffee with cinnamon toast, and Gail ordered some French toast, and when they arrived we both panicked slightly. I mean, mine was a slab, but Gail’s was literally a breezeblock of toast – it was what looked to be an entire load of bread! But as soon as we started to eat, we realised that actually it was the lightest bread in existence – perfectly toasted and an amazing experience to eat!
I have no idea how they make it so fluffy and huge, and then toast it without burning it, but each morning after the first we ordered it in some form or other and marvelled at how something we thought we were so familiar with – toasted bread – could be done so differently on the other side of the world, and why no-one in the West made toast like this yet!
So, bolstered with Takagi’s toast, we walked to Shijo-Omiya Station and caught the light rail out to Arashiyama. I guess it goes without saying that “explore the bamboo groves” is slightly overstating what is on offer there – from the train onwards, the whole experience is very much on rails, and (as is, I think, the theme of tourism in Kyoto) massively over-subscribed. If you had any illusion of a romantic walk through the groves, pretending you were in “The House Of Flying Daggers”, you’ll be disappointed and frustrated by the thousands upon thousands of tourists, DSLRs clicking away as they each try to snap the same pictures. (And it was a totally wind-free day when we were there too, so there was none of the atmospheric clacking of the massive bamboo plants as their tops were blown against each other to counter that!)
But much like at Fushimi-Inari, there are ways of shedding people. In the case of the mountain, it was by asking them to walk further and steeper than they were prepared, and in Arashiyama it’s by making them pay a tenner to walk around a garden. Most people seem to pass straight by the entrance to Ōkōchi Sansō, right after the main bamboo groves, and others balk at the cost, but not going in is a mistake, particularly if you’ve come to this part of the world in the autumn, as we had, to see the kōyō, the changing colour of the leaves, and particularly of the Japanese maple trees.
The gardens and house were developed by Denjirō Ōkōchi, a Japanese film actor, in the 1930s and they are spectacular, covering some 20,000 square meters of hillside overlooking the Hozu River gorge. We saw some of the best kōyō of the whole trip there, and while the “Free Tea” was a bit meagre at the end, the quietness and beauty was worth the entrance fee, for sure!
Back in town, we headed straight for Kinkaku-Ji – the Golden Temple. This is the most photographed temple in Japan, and it’s easy to see why. The stewards do a great job shepherding the thousands upon thousands of people around and making sure that every single one gets an opportunity to take that shot before walking the designated path around the temple and, boom, you’re done!
It really is an impressive building, and we were lucky enough to catch it with good light. It really is a must-see, but beware the crowds – managed though they are, but claustrophobes beware – it’s like rush-hour on the tube!
On our way back to the hotel we wended our way through the backstreets and suddenly our noses were assailed by the most amazing smell of barbecued chicked! We had found our dinner venue for the night!
A completely fortuitous find (and, as Gail pointed out, completing our trifecta of “not going where we had planned to in Kyoto”, Kurama made for a fantastic final night meal in Kyoto. We sat at the bar in what my Spanish friends might describe as a “slightly pijo” restaurant and got progressively more and more drunk on the house sake while ordering amazing chicken dishes, one after the other.
We started with the house speciality – dark thigh meat, flame grilled with peppers, and moved on to avocado and blanched chicken bites – the only thing on the whole trip that Gail wouldn’t eat, as a fear of raw chicken has been instilled in her since birth, apparently – I ate it and I’m still fine, loser! We also had some great tempura chicken gujons, and some more sake. And probably some more sake, though by this point it was pretty immaterial!
The staff at Kurama were wonderful, despite not speaking any English (though there was an English menu, so we kind of knew what we were getting!) and made our whole evening fantastic! What Maisen is to pork, Kurama is to chicken – completely recommended!