Monday 17th November – Wednesday 19th November
On Monday morning we checked out of our hotel in Auckland and took the bus to the airport. After two flights and a stopover of a few hours in Singapore airport, we finally arrived in Kansai airport, Japan, early on Tuesday morning.
The train journey from Kansai airport to Kyoto took 1 1/4 hours, dropping us in Kyoto station. The station is huge, and incorporates a department store and two floors of restaurants.
We took the opportunity to get our first taste of food in Japan by visiting one of the restaurants. Tonkatsu Wako (on the 11th floor in the station!) specialises in tonkatsu, a breaded port cutlet that is deep fried and served with shredded cabbage, pickles, miso soup and green tea. The waitress very kindly tried to explain which of the range of sauces on the table went with which component of the meal, but we still seemed to be causing some amusement to the older men on the neighbouring table as we tried to work it all out!
Shijo Dori Street
After checking into our hotel, we went to explore the main shopping area. Shijo Dori Street has a very wide range of shops, from designer brands to tourist shops and department stores.
Our guidebook recommended a look in the department stores, particularly the basement food emporiums, which sell everything from fresh fruit and vegetables to sweets and takeaway food. We also took a look at the department selling kimonos, which are incredibly beautiful (and extremely expensive). It’s apparently quite complicated to get dressed in a kimono (usually needing specialist assistance!) and when you see them displayed in the shop you can see just how much material goes into making them.
After a dinner of soba noodles in a broth, plus tempura vegetables (vegetables deep fried in a light batter), we put on the TV in our room to find…baseball! Some of the biggest baseball players from the USA are currently here, touring around the country and playing a number of games against some of the best Japanese players. Baseball is absolutely huge in Japan (some Japanese players also play in the USA’s major league). The crowd sound great – more like a football crowd at home, with lots of organised songs and chants. I’d love to tell you the final score, but I’m afraid the jet lag got the better of us before we made it to the end!
Kyoto Imperial Park
On Wednesday we got up, grabbed some breakfast in a nearby cafe and decided to take the subway to visit Kyoto Imperial Park. The first challenge was buying our tickets….
The Imperial Park is the home of the Kyoto Imperial Palace; Kyoto was formerly the imperial capital of Japan for more than 1,000 years, from 794 to 1869. The Palace itself is unfortunately quite hidden behind high walls and can only be visited by guided tour, but the star of the show in the autumn is the park. We didn’t know this when we planned our trip, but it turns out that Japanese people flock to Kyoto in the spring for the cherry blossoms, and in November for the beautiful autumnal colours. This inspired us both to get a bit arty with our photography!
We then walked back to the central shopping area, and to Nishiki Market – a long, covered market. It specialises mainly in food – locals call it Kyoto no daidokoro (Kyoto’s kitchen) – though there are also other types of shops there. For example, one shop specialises in knives and you can watch them sharpen the knife once you’ve chosen it. You can also see them hand-engraving people’s names into them – quite a skill.
We finished the day with dinner at Musashi Sushi, a restaurant that had been recommended by my colleague Jenny. The sushi is crammed onto a belt and is both cheap and very tasty!
Food of the day
Spotted in Nishiki Market – octopus, on a stick, with a quail’s egg in its head. We didn’t try it, but we liked their encouraging sign!