Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Kiyomizu-dera Temple in Kyoto

Our apartment in Kyoto is around the Kiyomizu area and the day we arrived, it was already in the afternoon. Our hosts were nice enough to direct us to the Kiyomizu-dera Temple. But only for a one week period, the temple was opened at night.

Most of the temples we visited are located high up in the hills overlooking the city of Kyoto and Kiyomizu-dera is no different. But we have arrived at night, rather later after dinner. So we did not make the whole round of the temple but just walking around the main entrance. But the architecture is beautiful. We managed to capture some nice shots of the buildings.

This is the main gate of the temple.

The reverse shot of the gate.

The wooden architecture is well restored and maintained.

Nice night shots - normally the temple closes by 5pm but this week while we were there is a special week where they open at night and with special lighting too.

Another reason why we did not make the whole round was the weather - night time temperature this time of the year tend to be around zero degrees Celsius and many of us are not prepared for these kinds of weather. So these are some of the shots we made of the Kiyomizu-dera temple area.

A magical evening at the temple indeed. A special sight only to the few who were lucky enough to be there to enjoy the view.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

River Ride in Arashiyama

So we were to take the Sagano Scenic Train in Arashimaya to enjoy the view and then take ferry back to the start point which is at the Saga-Arashiyama Train Station. So that was the plan…

As with many plans, things don’t always turn out the way we thought it would. The train ride was a pleasant one - nice scenery on the Sagano Scenic Train heading from the Saga-Arashiyama train station to Kameoka terminal station after which we had walk for about 8 minutes to the Umahori JR Station to take the train to the Kameoka JR Station. And walked we did… fast just so we could make the 1pm “ferry” ride.

So when we arrived at the Kameoka JR Station, it was already around 1245pm which meant we only have less than 10 minutes to get to the ferry station. But a ferry it was not - some things get lost in translation from Japanese to English. It is actually a river rafting ride - not a slow ferry ride down the river. We were given numbers and we were told to wait till our group number was called. Number 38 was our group number. As with all things Japanese, they boarded us at 1pm.

Each river boat is manned by 4 oarsman and seats about 18 pax comfortably. And soon we were on our way - but not before they did some weight and balance to keep the boat on even keel. A slow start down the Hozu-gawa river.

The front of the boat is manned by three and the back, the navigator. It started out with the two younger oarsman as the navigators and the two elderly gentlemen the rowing party. I was somewhat surprised that the elder folks are the ones rowing and not the young men. But as soon as they started, you can understand why - they are still very fit.

The start was slow especially when we were in clam waters. But that is expected and we were treated to some nice forestry along the banks with some unusual rock formations too. I can imagine it would be a lot prettier during autumn with the different colour leaves. What would probably be more amazing would be when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom! But unfortunately for us, we are probably 10 days too early.

The boat is surprisingly stable even when we hit the rapids. A combination of good construction of the boat and the skills necessary to keep us dry and away from harm.

Half an hour into the one and a half hour ride, the oarsman switched roles - now it was the young men rowing and the elderly guys taking a break as the navigators.

The ride was enjoyable, soaking in the scenery along the river.

The train tracks for the scenic train ride.

I was amazed by how skilful these gentlemen are. I was seated on the right side of the boat and I could see that they never once struck a rock - not the boat and not the oars too! Amazing!

A lone boat taking a break along the river…

Towards the end of the ride came another surprise - a river boat 7-11! The boat moored beside us and allowed the oarsman some break while the mobile supermarket sold their goods - drinks, snacks and even grilled food.

By the way, the ride is not cheap. It costs JPY4,100 per person for the one and a half hour ride. At the end of the ride, the boat men made their way further down the river where a crane was standing by to bring the boat back upstream. The boatmen will make their own way back to the start point by train.

And right there at the landing was the first signs of spring… Sakura starting to bloom!

A very enjoyable ride but expensive to say the least.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Tokyo Tower At Night

We were walking to Nodaiwa Unagi restaurant for dinner when we caught the Tokyo Tower brightly lit up at night. My good friend Peter Chong recommended Nodaiwa - he swears by their unagi.

But little did we realise that Nodaiwa is closed on Sunday - anyway, we managed to make our way back to Nodaiwa the next week, thanks to my colleague who help make the reservations. I shall blog about our meal at Nodaiwa in another post. Suffice to say the meal was really good.

It was a beautiful crisp cold night out but the view of the Tokyo Tower was well worth it.

I understand that they change the lighting to suit the season and this towards the end of winter is orange.

Fancy Ordering a Meal from a Ticketing Machine?

Nearby to where the apartment we stayed in, we found a gem of a soba shop. It is one of those ticketing machine type outlet. They are called "One Coin" outlets as one can get a decent meal for 500 Yen which is one coin.

We had seen some of these ticketing machine restaurants where one orders their meal from a ticketing machine and hands over the tickets to the kitchen - saves on manpower I guess. But all the ticketing machines are in Japanese so for the first few days, we did not dare of venture in - just watching from the outside. But one day, we were walking out for breakfast when we chanced upon Komoro Soba, just minutes walk from our apartment.

We walked in to a rather empty restaurant and the timing was good…

The ticketing machine is right by the entrance but alas, it was all in Japanese. But the owner/chef was nice enough to come from behind the counter to help us order.

He gave us some English menu and helped us pick from the machine.

Not only soba but also some rice bowls.

The kitchen is at the back and visible from the entrance. The restaurant is made up of standing room as well as sit down tables.

Slaving behind the kitchen is the owner and another chef.

While the owner chef prepares the soba where the boiling pots are…

The other younger chef fries the tempura.

Every table has a set of condiments…

The left one with sliced leeks.

And the right container with some pickled onion - I understand it to be onions pickled in vinegar. Not something I would like to try though.

Then the food came! The kitsune soba - fried bean curd. Comes with a quails egg on the side and crispy tempura too. The bean curd was fried to perfection, soft to the bite and slightly sweet.

Timothy orders the karaage soba - deep fried chicken. Good chef fry the chicken just nice - moist on the inside and crispy on the outside. This was good! The soba is firm to the bite and we all had to do it the Japanese way... slurping of course!

I had the sliced pork soba. We call it sam cham bak - three layer pork. The broth was rich and the addition of the leek made it even more fragrant.

Justin ordered two bowls - the tempura soba...

And the tonkatsu-don - deep fried pork cutlet with rice. The tonkatsu is as authentic as it gets - juicy pieces of pork cutlets expertly fried.

I had mine with extra leeks - I love the leeks and the soba soup base with plenty of child flakes. As we were eating, more diners came in and had to content to standing room. But we were lucky to be seated for our meal.

The family here waiting for their food...

We made it back there again - I really like the soba.

Despite the grim look on his face, we thoroughly enjoyed our meal at Komoro Soba. When we told the owner we wanted 5 orders, he was rather surprised. 4 persons ordering 5 orders - this was the case in several restaurants with Justin eating double the portions.

P.S. - Thanks to my friend Lionel who pointed out that these ticketing machines serve another purpose on top of improving productivity and mitigating manpower shortages, they are also used to account for sales and to tally daily sales.