We arrive in Kyoto after a couple of hours on the Shinkansen. We rest for a beat in Hotel Resol, then make our way through Nishiki Market, a seemingly endless tangle of specialty food shops and stalls selling everything from colorful fans and beautifully patterned textiles to Japanese comics and jewelry. We eventually sit down in a restaurant called Nishiki Warai, which specializes in okonomiyaki, a cabbage pancake stuffed with delicious toppings. I opt for shrimp, scallions, octopus, and scallops, extra sauce on top.
A large (and delicious) seafood pancake, cooked up right in the middle of our table.
Dinner is followed by drinks at Bar K-ya and Rocking Chair Club, two cocktail bars with lots of dark wood and cozy spaces perfect for sipping on drinks and talking into the late hours of the night.
The former is restored from an old tea house, with a lush courtyard running through the middle. At the latter, we sway back and forth in rocking chairs as we indulge in our whiskey cocktails
The next morning, Coulton and I grab early morning cold brews at Weekenders coffee shop, which we eventually find tucked away in the back of a parking lot near our hotel. Cicadas chirp at deafening volume as we walk over.
We reunite with Luke and Hayley at Hotel Resol before we all climb on a bus and head westward to Arashiyama, where we will explore the Okochi Sanso gardens and the bamboo forest before sitting down for lunch at one of my favorite restaurants of the trip, the Shoraian.
Views from Okochi Sanso
We sit down for some complementary matcha tea and a small chewy rice cake sweet after taking in the views in the garden. Then, we head to lunch.
Navigating our way through the bamboo forest and to the Shoraian proves tricky - the signage is only in Japanese and there are many forks in the small footpaths we take to get there.
Luckily, we find our way, in time for our reservation.
Yudofu - blocks of tofu dancing in a boiling pot of water, spooned over a rich dashi broth and topped with ground spices
Sweet shrimp and eggplant with micro tomatoes, sitting on top of agar jelly, served up on a lotus leaf bigger than my face
Our room in the Shoraian overlooks the Oi river. Through the openings in the tree branches, the stunning turquoise water trickles by, along with the occasional boat. We finish our meal and head back to Nishiki for some souvenir shopping.
At dusk, we meander through the narrow alleys of the Gion neighborhood. Smells of smoke from crowded izakayas waft around us as we poke around from shop to shop.
We decide to end our night with a movie - Weathering With You. To kill time before our movie, we have some fun in the arcade next door.
We have some fun in a photo booth named Pink Pink Monster
Although three of the four of us fell asleep for some (or most, in my case) of the movie, we did enjoy some yummy peppery popcorn and hot dogs for dinner!
The last morning all four of us are together before Luke and Hayley return home, we visit one of the most extraordinary sites in Japan: Nijo-jo Castle. Although we couldn’t take photos of the beautiful murals inside, we could take photos of the breathtaking gate out front.
The castle, originally constructed in 1623, has withstood earthquakes and the bombing of the Second World War, and served as the seat of power for the first shogun of the Edo period. The squeaky wooden floors sound like nightingale birdsong. The warm summer light, filtered through paper walls, softly illuminates the intricately painted internal murals, stunning in both their stark composition and the depth of their significance - layers of power and influence underly the position of each painted tree, each tiger, each peony.
After parting ways with Luke and Hayley, Coulton and I stroll past the Kamogawa river to Chion-In. Its 17th century gate is the largest in Japan, leading to a Buddhist temple.
We do a bit more strolling around Gion before settling down for dinner at a kawayuka above the Kamogawa - amazing grilled foods and some sake enjoyed on a platform standing on stilts above the river.
We end the night with interesting and unusual gin cocktails in a bar called Nokishita711. The menu is printed on pages excerpted from White, a book by Kenya Hara, a Japanese designer who Coulton admires.
Our last night in Kyoto, we get plenty of sleep so that we can wake up early and visit the Fushimi Inari Taisha, a Shintō shrine near our train station. We walk back to our hotel hand in hand, lights twinkling off the rivers and streams that line our walking paths.
The vermillion torii gates are symbolic of transitioning from the mundane to the sacred. The hundreds that enclose the pathway leading to the shrine are each donated by a different family - their names are inscribed on the gates in kanji.
We depart Kyoto and arduously make our way to the Setouchi Islands. A train to Kyoto station, a Shinkansen to Okayama, two local trains to Uno port, a ferry to Naoshima, and another to Teshima. A few minutes walking under the heat of the summer sun along paved roads and dirt paths, and we arrive at the beginning of our next adventure in Japan - the Setouchi Triennial Art Festival