ultramarinus – beyond the sea


A THOUSAND-YEAR-OLD RESORT, Kinosaki Onsen (城崎温泉), Hyōgo (兵庫), Japan

Not many resort towns in Japan have a recorded founding date, but it is well documented that Kinosaki Onsen was found in 720 AD by a traveling monk who discovered a hot spring with healing power. 1300 years later, Kinosaki Onsen is still going strong with seven unique bathhouses, attracting visitors from far and wide. Mainly open-air hot springs in traditional setting, the bathhouses in Kinosaki offer visitors a natural and nostalgic ambience, and a moment of sublime relaxation that makes one to forget about the outside world. 74 ryokan (family run traditional inns) of different sizes and prices welcome visitors in all seasons. But it is between November and March, that Kinosaki Onsen truly enters its peak season. It is the only time when Matsuba-gani (松葉蟹), or snow crab from the Sea of Japan is available as a local delicacy. In fact, sitting at less than 5km from where Maruyama River enters the Sea of Japan, Kinosaki is blessed with an abundant catches of the day. Washing down Matsuba-gani (松葉蟹) and Tajima wagyu (但馬牛) with a bottle of cold local sake is as good as it gets for a fancy meal in this part of Japan. Outside the ryokans and bathhouses, it is the lovely aesthetics of traditional houses, peaceful river setting and over a thousand years of history that separate Kinosaki Onsen from other resort towns,. Our Kinosaki experience can be defined by four fundamental aspects of the town: onsen (温泉), ryokan (旅館), crab (カニ) and beauty (美しさ).

ONSEN (温泉)

A humble hot spring drinking fountain welcomes every visitor outside Kinosaki Onsen train station. [2022.12.28]
Other than bathing, hot spring water is often used for boiling eggs in Japan. [2022.12.28]
The constant hot steam and bubbling noise drew us to Kinosaki Onsen Motoyu (城崎温泉元湯) just off . Literally means “the source of Kinosaki hot spring”, the famous water emerges from a rock that pops out from the ground. [2022.12.29]
Adjacent to Kinosaki Onsen Motoyu, Chaya cafe offers onsen eggs, gelato, and local dessert snacks. [2022.12.28]

KANI (カニ)

Perched on top of Mt. Daishi (大師山) above Kinosaki Onsen, a small shrine Kanizuka (かに塚) dedicates to the local delicacy – Matsuba-gani snow crab (松葉蟹) stands alongside with a Bodhisattva statue and a Buddhist temple. [2022.12.29]
Walking down the main street of Kinosaki Onsen, there should be no question on what is the celebrity of the winter season: Matsuba-gani (松葉蟹). [2022.12.28]
The crab season of 2022 began on the 6th of November. [2022.12.28]
At our ryokan, we had a chance to have the seasonal snow crab for dinner. [2022.12.28]


Outside the train station, a large rack displays rows of geta (下駄) or wooden sandals from the different ryokans in Kinosaki Onsen. As a popular onsen resort, the ryokan (traditional Japanese inns) in Kinosaki Onsen form an integral part of the local community for centuries. [2022.12.29]
Upscale Mikiya Ryokan (三木屋) was the favorite place to stay for famous writer Naoya Shiga (志賀直哉), who penned his well known work At Cape Kinosaki at the ryokan. [2022.12.28]
Ten days before our departure, we booked the last ryokan room available for our intended date on a booking website. Not sure if it was a cancelled room from another traveler, but we were delighted to stay at Tsukimotoya Ryokan for the night and two meals. [2022.12.28]
After check in at the ryokan, a staff brought us our yukata, towels and socks for going out to the seven bathhouses. We were surprised to find out that the yukata did keep us warm while walking in the resort town at just a few degrees above freezing. [2022.12.28]

BEAUTY (美しさ)

Kinosaki Onsen has been a famous spa resort for over a millennia. [2022.12.29]
While the evening belongs to bathhouse hoping, the morning is the best time to take in the tranquil beauty of Kinosaki Onsen. [2022.12.29]
Between bathing and dining, checking out the small shops on the main streets was also a highlight of a Kinosaki visit. [2022.12.28]
Having a cup of coffee at a local cafe while watching people in traditional yukata walk by was a great way to chill out in Kinosaki Onsen. [2022.12.29]

SOBA & THEATRE, Izushi (出石), Hyogo (兵庫), Japan

After visiting the castle ruins, we returned to the old town of Izushi (出石城下町) and wandered around the Shinkoro Clock Tower (辰鼓楼). Built in 1871, Shinkoro Clock Tower is considered to be the oldest Japanese style clock tower. Next to the clock tower, we picked Kogetsudo Uchibori Store (湖月堂 内堀店) for a meal of the famous Izushi sara soba (buckwheat noodles in small plates). Washing down the soba with the delicious dashi sauce and local sake turned out to be one of the highlight dining experiences of our trip. Unlike the soba in the rest of Japan, Izushi soba is served in five sara (small plates) and a dashi dipping sauce (soup made from fish and kelp), mixed with raw egg and spices. It is said that Izushi sara soba was originated in the 18th century by fusing soba making techniques of two different clans. The unique Izushi soba soon became popular in the region. To enhance the unique dining experience, the community started producing Izushi yaki, a white and blue porcelain set specifically for their soba. Each of the 40+ soba restaurants in Izushi has its own unique Izushi yaki and sara soba. Too bad we didn’t have time to try them all out.

After the amazing soba, we lingered in the town centre and slowly found our way towards Eirakukan Kabuki Theatre (出石永楽館). Built in 1901, Eirakukan Kabuki Theatre is probably the oldest surviving theatre in Northern Kansai specialized in Kabuki. Listed as an UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage, Kabuki (歌舞伎) is a unique performing art form originated in Kyoto during the early Edo period (1603 – 1867). We never got a chance to watch a Kabuki performance or visit a Kabuki theatre, despite passing by Kengo Kuma’s Kabuki-za (歌舞伎座) in Ginza a few times during our Tokyo visits. This time in Izushi, we were pleased to have the opportunity to visit Eirakukan Kabuki Theatre, especially knowing that the theatre was restored and reopened to the public in 2008 after a 44-year closure. After taking off our shoes at the entry, we were free to roam around the seating decks, wooden stage and backstage area. Walking on the age-old wooden floor in just our socks felt homey and pleasant. Kabuki performances are well known for having actors appearing on stage in surprises. Standing at the audience deck, we could imagine actors suddenly come close to the audience via the raised walkway hanamichi (花道), or doing theatrical tricks with the mawari-butai (revolving stage). After visiting the theatre, it was time for us to return to Toyooka and continued our journey to Kinosaki Onsen.

At the heart of old Izushi, Shinkoro Clock Tower is considered to be the oldest Japanese style clock tower. [2022.12.28]
At the base of the clock tower, Toujou Restaurant (出石手打皿そば登城) offers a amazing setting for a decent soba dining experience. [2022.12.28]
Sharing the same view of the clock tower and fish pond, Soba Honjin Tsuruya (そば処 本陣鸛屋) is another soba restaurant at the heart of Izushi. [2022.12.28]
At last, we picked Kogetsudo Uchibori (湖月堂 内堀店) for sara soba. [2022.12.28]
The sara soba was one of the most fantastic meals of our trip. [2022.12.28]
The old town of Izushi is filled with old timber houses. [2022.12.28]
We walked slowly to Eirakukan Kabuki Theatre (出石永楽館), the attraction that we were particularly interested in. [2022.12.28]
We were greeted by artworks and gifts from fans as we entered Eirakukan Kabuki Theatre. [2022.12.28]
We were free to walk around the upper audience decks, the raised hanamichi (花道, “flower path”) left of the lower audience seats, the stage and upper backstage area. [2022.12.28]
We were captivated by the traditional ambience of the theatre. [2022.12.28]
The raised hanamichi (花道, “flower path”) led us up to the main stage. [2022.12.28]
We could get a sense on how actors would have felt from the stage. [2022.12.28]
Sometimes, the theatre is used for Rakugo performances (落語, storyteller performances). [2022.12.28]
Below the stage, we had a brief glimpse of the mechanism behind the Mawari-butai (revolving stage), which first emerged in the early 18th century. [2022.12.28]
Old posters at a hallway revealed how the traditional theatre art evolved in the modern times. [2022.12.28]
Eirakukan Kabuki Theatre maintains a low profile appearance from the exterior. [2022.12.28]
Just a stone throw from Eirakukan Kabuki Theatre, the wooden Oryu Lantern right by Taniyama River was a prominent beacon for boats during the Edo period. [2022.12.28]
The former docking area of Taniyama River now becomes a pleasant riverside park. [2022.12.28]
After a whirlwind visit to Izushi, we hopped on a local train from Toyooka for the last leg of our journey to Kinosaki Onsen. [2022.12.28]

WHITE CASTLE AND RED TORII, Izushi (出石), Hyōgo (兵庫), Japan

For each of our trip to Japan, we often included at least one onsen visit. There were plenty of hot spring options in and around Kyoto, but we opted for one a little further west in Hyōgo Prefecture (兵庫県). While Hyōgo is famous for its night view in Kobe, medieval castle in Himeji and hilltop ruins in Takeda, hot springs at Arima Onsen and Kinosaki Onsen are equally popular for tourists. This time, we picked Kinosaki Onsen (城崎温泉) for its traditional hot spring facilities, picturesque village setting, and proximity to Japan Sea, where the seasonal snow crab harvest (winter only) came as a bonus. Before sunrise, we left our hotel for Kyoto Station. After a quick breakfast at the station, we hopped on the 7:32am Kinosaki Onsen bound limited express train. The ride would take about 2.5 hours, passing through the rural and lush green interiors of Hyogo. On the train, we discussed about how to spend the day before our ryokan check-in time in the afternoon. We thought of getting off a few stops earlier to visit the Museum for Wood Culture (木の殿堂) in the forest of Mikata-gun. But we gave up the idea due to the lack of public transportation options that area. We ended up getting off at Toyooka (豊岡市), one stop before Kinosaki Onsen. At the first glance, the capital of the former Tajima Province (但馬国) didn’t seem to have much to offer except bags. Known as the “City of Bags”, it was said that about 70% of bags produced in Japan came from Toyooka. But we didn’t come for bags. We came to make a brief visit of Izushi (出石), a castle town outside the city that features frequently in tourist brochures.

We stored our backpacks in lockers at the upper level of Toyooka Station, and hopped on a local bus. The bus quickly left the city and sped along Izushi River towards Izushi. We got off at the bus terminus beneath Mount Ariko (有子山), a lush green hill where the castle ruins still stand. After passing by several soba noodle shops, we arrived at the visitor parking lot and a wooden bridge over Taniyama River that seemed to be the entrance of Izushi Castle Ruins (出石城跡). Built in 1604 at the foot of Mount Ariko, the castle was actually the second castle of Izushi. It was indeed a replacement to an earlier complex at the hilltop. We didn’t have time to hike all the way up to check out the ruined foundations of the first castle, but spent time wandering around the grounds of the second castle, where two restored guardhouses offered us a glimpse of its former glory. Standing out vividly against the white castle structures, a series of red torii gates revealed that an Inari Shrine must be nearby. We followed the torii gates uphill until reaching a tree-shaded terrace where stone foxes and lanterns flanked both sides of a short procession route. At the end, a Shinto shrine dedicated to Inari Ōkami (稲荷大神) stood silently under several old pine trees. We carefully walked over the muddy ground covered with fallen leaves to the cliff edge overlooking the town. After spending some time in the shadows of torii gates and old pine trees, it was fascinating to see the open vista of the old town, Izushi River Valley and distant hills further beyond. After the visit of the ruined castle and Shinto shrine, we couldn’t wait to head back down for the most famous product of Izushi – soba noodles.

There are three limited express train daily from Kyoto to Kinosaki Onsen. [2022.12.28]
Our train sped through the suburb of Kyoto and entered a misty and frosty country. [2022.12.28]
The turquoise stream briefly reminded us the scenery of the Japanese Alps in Kamikochi. [2022.12.28]
Built in 1576, Fukuchiyama Castle was dismantled in 1872 and reconstructed in 1986. Today, Fukuchiyama Castle Park (福知山城公園) is the main attraction for the sleepy town. [2022.12.28]
Like many nations, there was a trend in Japan during the pandemic that city dwellers were moving into the countryside for bigger houses and cleaner air. [2022.12.28]
Modern Toyooka, capital of the former Tajima Province (但馬国), doesn’t host a lot of attractions in the city, but may serve as a good base to visit the nearby sites, including Izushi castle town. [2022.12.28]
We got off at the small bus terminus of Izushi and walked over to Izushi Castle Ruins (出石城跡) below Mount Ariko (有子山). [2022.12.28]
A lovely wooden bridge welcomed us at the entrance of the Izushi Castle Ruins (出石城跡). [2022.12.28]
In 1979, the Tojo gate and guard tower of the second castle of Izushi were rebuilt. [2022.12.28]
The rebuilt structures offered us a glimpse of the castle’s former glory. [2022.12.28]
Built in 1604, Izushi Castle stood as an icon of the Tajima region until the Meiji Period. [2022.12.28]
37 red torii gates stood adjacent to the castle site, leading us up to the Inari Shrine. [2022.12.28]
Just 157 steps would bring us to the shrine. [2022.12.28]
The torii gates reminded us of our visit of Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto, the head shrine of all Inari shrines. [2022.12.28]
After a short climb we arrived at Arikoyama Inari Shrine (有子山稲荷神社). [2022.12.28]
Some say there are about 32,000 Inari shrines throughout Japan. [2022.12.28]
Regarded as the messengers of the deity, fox is always featured at an Inari shrine. [2022.12.28]
Some visitors wrote their wishes on ema (絵馬) wooden plaques and hang them at the side wall of the shrine. [2022.12.28]
The shrine stood in the shade of several old pine trees. [2022.12.28]
We enjoyed the open scenery of the old town below the shrine. [2022.12.28]
We descended down the torii gates towards the old town of Izushi. [2022.12.28]


In a 2008 Guardian article, Sean Dodson chooses his ten favorite independent bookshops around the world. Among his choices, only one is in Asia and it is Keibunsha (恵文社) in Ichijoji, Kyoto. Ichijo-ji (一乗寺), a lovely neighborhood in northern Kyoto, may not be a fixture on every tourist’s list. Most foreigners come for the decent variety of ramen shops. We went because of Keibunsha, but Ichijo-ji turned out to be much more than just ramen diners and a cozy bookshop. With its wooden houses and hilly backdrop, a good wealth of old shops and restaurants, and a handful of temples and shrines, Ichijo-ji exemplifies what most people love about Kyoto, but without the tourist crowds of Higashiyama or Arashiyama. We spent a good few hours in Ichijo-ji, did a short walk near the small temple Shisendō (詩仙堂丈山寺), tasted some delicious dessert at Nakatani wagashi (中谷和菓子), shopped for traditional pickles (おゝみや児島詩仙堂店), lingered in Keibunsha Bookstore, and finished the day with a satisfying bowl of ramen at Takayasu (高安).

From Wife&Husband, we took a bus to Ichijo-ji. After getting off, we walked uphill through the tranquil residential neighborhood of Ichijoji Monguchicho (一乗寺門口町) towards Shisendō Temple (詩仙堂丈山寺). [2022.12.27]
The shrine of the community guardians (地蔵尊) caught our attention as we entered the neighborhood. [2022.12.27]
On our way uphill, we passed by the Torii gate of Hachidai-jinja Shrine (八大神社), a Shinto shrine located next to our destination Shisendō. [2022.12.27]
With a stone and a pine tree, the fourth generation Ichijo-ji Sagari-Matsu Pine (一乗寺下り松) marks the place where a duel took place between Musashi Miyamoto (1584-1645), Japan’s most famous swordsman in history, and the Yoshioka family, one of the most prestigious fencing schools in the country at that time. [2022.12.27]
Famous for its tranquil gardens, Shisendō (詩仙堂丈山寺) has been a retreat since it was built by poet Ishikawa Jozan in 1641. Today, the hillside complex remains a best kept secret in Kyoto. [2022.12.27]
Flanked by tall bamboos, a short path brought us from the hillside street to Shisendō (詩仙堂丈山寺). [2022.12.27]
Unfortunately, due to Covid 19, Shisendō (詩仙堂丈山寺) was closed on the day we visited. [2022.12.27]
Perched on the hillside of Ichijoji Hayama (一乗寺葉山), the neighborhood around Shisendō is full of old timber houses and narrow alleys. [2022.12.27]
On our way back down to Ichijo-ji town centre, we checked out a local shop selling traditional Kyoto pickles (おゝみや児島詩仙堂店). [2022.12.27]
From Ichijo-ji , we picked up two pickles with Japanese pepper (さんしょう) back to Hong Kong. [2022.12.27]
There are many places in Kyoto to try out wagashi (和菓子), the traditional Japanese confections that often go with green tea. In Ichijo-ji, Nakatani wagashi (一乗寺中谷) seems to be the place to go. [2022.12.27]
At Ichijoji Nakatani, we ordered a special set, which included zoni soup (local white miso soup with taro, carrot, radish, and mochi), red streamed rice, sesame tofu, boiled seaweed, before we jumped into dessert. [2022.12.27]
Our beautiful dessert: green tea tiramisu and matcha. [2022.12.27]
Back into Ichijo-ji town centre, we wandered around to check out different shops. We crossed the tracks of Eizan Electric Railway at Ichijo-ji Station several times. [2022.12.27]
Finally we arrived at Keibunsha Ichijoji Store (恵文社), probably the most famous “attraction” in Ichijo-ji. [2022.12.27]
Other than books selected by staff, Keibunsha Ichijoji Store (恵文社) also offers a wide range of lifestyle products and design merchandises. We ended up getting the architectural monograph box set of three volumes on Kazuyo Sejima/ Ryue Nishizawa SANAA published by TOTO. [2022.12.27]
A simple decorative lights adjacent to Keibunsha Ichijoji Store (恵文社) further enhanced the ambience of the shopfront at the magic hour of the day. [2022.12.27]
Before dinner, we stopped by the paper shop Ritendo. We were attracted by the vintage letterpress printing machines in the shop. [2022.12.27]
Some say Ichijo-ji is the ramen capital in Kyoto. Among the dozens of ramen shops in the neighborhood, we picked a humble ramen shop called Takayasu (高安). [2022.12.27]
It was a wonderful way to end our day with a hearty ramen dinner. [2022.12.27]

WIFE&HUSBAND @ KAMO RIVER (鴨川), Kyoto, Japan

After a vibrant evening of nightlife, most of Pontocho (先斗町) were still in bed by the time we reached the riverside alley during our morning walk. Behind Pontocho, Kamo River (鴨川) glittered under the morning sun. It was probably too cold and too early as not too many people were around at Kamogawa Park (鴨川公園), the park running along both sides of the riverbank. It wasn’t as crowded as we expected, with only occasional joggers and dogwalkers passed by our side. Not a single young couple sitting along the riverbank, nor any fishing enthusiasts trying their luck from the bridges. The summer Nouryou-Yuka dining terraces (納涼床) seemed like distant memories. Cherry trees remained bare, awaiting their moment of spectacle in three months’ time. Yet, pristine water continued to filter through nearby forests and cascade down the shallow river channel, reaching vegetable fields and temizuya pavilions of Shinto shrines near the river. Ducks gathered in groups behind river reeds, while lonely herons stood on river rocks in search of easy preys. Being the most popular hangout area in Kyoto, we always enjoyed visiting Kamo-gawa. Even walking just a stretch of it was for us the most relaxing thing to do in the city. In 2016, we often found ourselves returning to Kamo River every so often. Same thing happened for us in 2022.

Before reaching Downtown Kyoto, Kamo River converges with Takano River at a fork south of Shimogamo Jinja (下鴨神社). Beyond the fork, Kamogawa Park extends further northwest along upstream Kamo River. We came to this part of Kamo River near the Botanical Gardens all because of Wife&Husband, a highly popular coffee shop hidden in an old timber house. Through good coffee, charming antiques, and picnic supplies, the couple Ikumi and Kyoichi Yoshida established a lovely venue that embodies the natural, rejuvenating and timeless spirit of Kyoto. The day was too cold for having picnic at the Kamo, but we still enjoyed our coffee and cake inside the cozy Wife&Husband.

With the main door at Pontocho (先斗町) and its back facing Kamo River, Pontocho Kaburenjo Theatre is the primary performing venue in Kyoto, especially for the traditional Kabuki (歌舞伎). [2022.12.27]
Below Sanjo Bridge (三条大橋), Kamogawa Park extends further north towards Kamogawa Delta. [2022.12.27]
Kamogawa Park is probably the most popular hangout area in Kyoto all year round. [2022.12.27]
Outside Wife&Husband, picnic chairs, stools, baskets and mats were available for rent. [2022.12.27]
Filled with the aroma of coffee, the interior of Wife&Husband is cozy and nostalgic. [2022.12.27]
Inside the cafe, timber finishes are everywhere from wall panels, counter edge to door frames. [2022.12.27]
We ended up sitting down at a small table surrounded with antique objects. [2022.12.27]
A tungsten bulb and a small bunch of dried senryo berries were hung above our table. [2022.12.27]
We had some good coffee and delicious cake before leaving Wife&Husband. [2022.12.27]
The entrance to Kamogawa Park was right around the corner from Wife&Husband. [2022.12.27]
A metal plaque shows the extent of Kamogawa Park and the bridges that pass over the riverbank. [2022.12.27]
For most parts, Kamo River has a water depth less than a metre. [2022.12.27]
In early morning, yellow sunlight shines on the buildings along the western riverbank. [2022.12.30]
On a clear day, distant mountains provide the perfect backdrop for Kamo River. [2022.12.30]
There is so much to take in from a morning walk at Kamo River: fresh air, gentle breeze, sound of flowing water, warm sunlight, perfect water reflections, singing birds, etc. [2022.12.30]
As a symbol of strength, koinobori (carp kites) are often flown over a river during Children’s Day holiday. [2023.01.01]
Kamogawa Park is popular among local children. [2023.01.01]
Running is gaining popularity throughout the world. Kyoto residents are fortunate enough to have Kamogawa Park to practice their runs. [2023.01.01]
Kamo River is the perfect spot for herons to rest and feed. [2023.01.01]
Literally means “Duck River”, sighting of ducks at Kamo River was almost a guarantee. [2023.01.01]
Kamogawa Park is one of the most essential parks in Kyoto. [2023.01.01]


Just like many, the itinerary of our first Kyoto visit was packed with Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. This time around, we opted to explore Kyoto’s cultural heritage by spending more time to wander in the downtown area and check out the its charming old shops. Specialized in traditional products like tea and incense, many shops in Kyoto have been selling the same merchandises for many generations. Stopping by these shops during our morning walks was a great way to appreciate the age-old Japanese living traditions.


Less than a block west of Kamo River and the famous Sanjo Bridge (三条大橋), Naito Shoten has been around selling handmade housekeeping products like shuro brooms (brooms with natural grass bristles and bamboo handles) and tawashi scrubber (scouring brushes made with hump palm fibre) since 1818. Thanks to guidebooks, blogs, travel shows, magazines, and newspaper (including a New York Times article dated back to 1987), Naito Shoten has become a well known establishment. We have been fascinated by Japanese handmade brooms since we first bought one from an artisan fair in Matsumoto. Handmade grass bristles work best for cleaning the timber walls, tatami floors, paper screens, and wooden furniture in a machiya (町家) home. In Kyoto, there is still decent demand for these natural housekeeping products. But as skilled artisan ages and retires one by one, some say there are only two to three shops like Naito Shoten left in Kyoto. We hope that the cultural heritage and handicraft skills behind Naito Shoten would continue further down the generations.

Filled with merchandises made with timber, paper, palm fiber and bamboo, walking into Naito Shoten felt like entering a pre-industrized world. [2022.12.27]
Despite its fame, the shop wasn’t busy during our visit, and there was a certain kind of relaxed atmosphere throughout. [2022.12.27]
Tawashi scrubbers and artist brushes are quite popular at Naito Shoten. [2022.12.27]
Our eyes were fixed on the traditional shuro brooms even before we stepped into the shop. [2022.12.27]


Every time we go to Japan we would shop for ryokucha (緑茶) or Japanese green tea. Kyoto is ideal for green tea shopping due to its proximity to Uji (宇治), one of the oldest and probably the finest tea cultivation area in Japan. From the tea seeds of Zen Buddhist master Eisai (栄西禅師), tea cultivation in Uji began in late 12th century. From the 15th century and on, Uji tea has been widely considered as the finest green tea in the country. While we may not have time to practice chadō (茶道), the ceremony and meditation of preparing matcha (抹茶), at home, drinking fresh green tea in a peaceful Sunday afternoon still represents a moment of bliss. This time, we bought home a variety of gyokuro (玉露) and sencha (煎茶) from two well known tea shops: Ippodo (一保堂茶舗) and Marukyu Koyamaen (丸久小山園). On a street lined with antique shops and bright yellow ginkgo trees, we found ourselves arriving at Ippodo Tea Kyoto Main Store (一保堂茶舗 京都本店). The 300+ year tea shop appears like a pedestrian magnet, constantly drawing people into their shop. Among all the tea leaf options, it took us quite some time to decide on which ones to purchase. Housed in a beautiful machiya house, Marukyu Koyamaen was the second tea shop we visited. The friendly staff offered us an chance to sample their tea, from gyokuro to the New Year’s blend.

Where Ippodo Tea Main Store is located, the neighborhood south of Kyoto Gyoen National Garden is full of small shops and traditional timber houses. [2022.12.27]
Unlike the covered arcade further south, this stretch of Teramachi-dori (寺町通) where Ippodo locates is full of old bookstores and antique shops. [2022.12.27]
Picking out goodies from the antique shops would have to be left for another time. [2022.12.27]
Cool handicrafts, housewares and antiques along Teramachi-dori greeted us while we headed to Ippodo. [2022.12.27]
It was the moment of the year when the ginkgo trees turned bright yellow. [2022.12.27]
The neon sign of Ippodo creates a certain nostalgic ambience for the shopfront. [2022.12.27]
The main store of Ippodo Tea (一保堂茶舗) has become a tourist attraction in recent years. [2022.12.27]
Inside the main shop, price list on display from right to left: matcha (抹茶), gyokuro (玉露) and sencha (煎茶). [2022.12.27]
After visiting Ippodo, we managed to visit another famous tea shop in Kyoto, Marukyu Koyamaen (丸久小山園). Dated back to 1704, matcha powder of Marukyu Koyamaen is quite popular both in Japan and overseas. [2022.12.30]


It’s a local custom in Japan to enjoy a meal of soba (蕎麥) or buckwheat noodles in the New Year’s Eve. To avoid the long queue of New Year’s rush, we deliberately visited Honke Owariya (尾張屋) four days before New Year’s Eve. Unfortunately, it turned out to be one of its irregular days of closure in December. Founded in 1465, Honke Owariya is considered to be the oldest restaurant in Kyoto, and has been attracting long queues of local visitors and foreign tourists all year round. Despite dining service was unavailable, we managed to go inside and bought a few packs of dried soba. A few days later, in a department store foodhall packed with crowds rushing for last minute grocery shopping for New Year’s Eve, we bumped into a vendor selling fresh soba by Honke Owariya. We couldn’t resist and bought two packs back to Hong Kong.

Honke Owariya has been around for 550 years. It’s now managed by its 16th generation owner. [2022.12.27]
Despite dining service was unavailable, we managed to pick up some dried soba noodles. [2022.12.27]


Often considered as one of the three traditional Japanese arts including chadō (茶道) “The Way of Tea”and Ikebana/ kadō (華道) “The Way of Flowers”, kōdō (香道) “The Way of Incense” has become popular in Japan during the 16th century. Apart from religious ceremonies and insect repellent, incenses in Japan is often associated with meditation. Among the old incense shops in Kyoto, we picked Shoyeido (松栄堂) to visit. Founded in 1705, Shoyeido has been making high quality incenses in Kyoto for 300 years. We first learnt about Shoyeido from a limited edition vinyl box set by renowned music composer Ryuichi Sakamoto (坂本龍一). Apart from vinyl records, karakami paper artwork, and a portrait photo of the musician, eaglewood and agarwood incenses from Shoyeido were also included in the box. Ryuichi Sakamoto’s box set was long sold out, but we managed to purchase some Shoyeido incenses online during the pandemic. In Kyoto, we chose to visit their main store near the Imperial Palace. We were surprised to see a multi-storey modern building serving as the main shop of Shoyeido. Named “Kunjyukan”, the facility offers exhibitions and workshop spaces for visitors who would like to experience the fragrant of Japanese incenses.

We were surprised to see such a large building complex when we arrived at Shoyeido. [2022.12.30]
After wandering in the main store, we picked some to bring home. [2022.12.30]
We hoped the natural incenses can remind us the fragrance of Kyoto. [2022.12.30]

ARCADES & TEMPLES, Nishiki Market (錦市場) & Teramachi Shopping Street (寺町通商店街), Kyoto, Japan

No matter in Rome, Buenos Aires or Hong Kong, taking morning walks is always one of our most enjoyable ways to appreciate a city. With an ever-present tranquility, elegance and otherworldliness, Kyoto is perfect for a morning stroll, especially to appreciate the beautiful tones of aged timber, indigo shingles and seasonal vegetation all under the crisp air of surrounding mountains. And what’s best to start a morning walk? For us, it’s a cup of good coffee. Tucked in a corner of an almost unnoticeable parking lot a block away from Nishiki Market (錦市場), a tiny coffee shop successfully captured our attention with its rich aroma and lovely ambience. Housed in an old machiya house, Weekenders Coffee provokes memories of a traditional kissaten (喫茶店) where writers and intellectuals in the old days gathered for a cup of tea or coffee. Opened since 2005, Weekenders was one of the first espresso shops in Kyoto. At Weekenders, a few customers may gather at the forecourt sipping coffee while resting the eyes upon a tiny Japanese garden. This was exactly what we did: sitting in front of the coffee shop at 7:30 in the morning, sniffing in fresh morning air and coffee aroma, and being enchanted with the pleasure of life.

At Nishiki Market, pickle vendors and fishmongers were busy setting up their stores. Laughter and giggles could be heard behind the counter of a tamagoyaki (Japanese rolled omelette) shop, where a team of staff were busy making omelettes for the day. It was still way too early to taste the food and shop for grocery at the iconic 400-year-old market. Unlike the crowded scenes during our 2016 visit, this time we almost had Nishiki all by ourselves. At the eastern end of where the market met Teramachi Shopping Street, we were once again attracted by the lanterns of Nishiki-Tenmangu Shrine (錦天満宮) just like in 2016. Headed north from the shrine, we entered the arcade of Teramachi Shopping Street (寺町通商店街), a famous destination for both locals and tourists.

Literally means “Temple Town Street”, Teramachi (寺町通) has much more to offer than a covered arcade both sides flanked by shops. In 1590, 80 or so Buddhist temples from the area were relocated to Teramachi. It was Toyotomi Hideyoshi (豊臣秀吉), the powerful daimyo (feudal lord) or de facto ruler of Japan, who ordered the move during Sengoku period (戦国時代) in the late 16th century. In the subsequent centuries, stores selling books, Buddhist rosaries, medicine, stationery, handicrafts and clothing flourished and gradually developed into the present arcades. Today, in the midst of shops, restaurants, and entertainment facilities, places of worship and even small graveyards maintain a strong presence at Teramachi, with temple entrances open right next to boutiques and stores. While most shops on Teramachi and the adjacent Shinkyogoku Shopping Street (新京極商店街) had yet opened for business, we took the opportunity to do some temple hopping while window shopping at the same time.

Hidden in a corner of a neighborhood parking lot, Weekenders Coffee offers great coffee in a traditional setting. [2022.12.27]
The coffee aroma goes well with the traditional machiya setting. [2022.12.27]
Weekenders Coffee is the perfect place to start the day. [2022.12.27]
The tiny forecourt has a certain zen quality that calms every customer. [2022.12.27]
A marvelous cup of latte to start our first full day in Kyoto. [2022.12.27]
After Weekenders, we walked over to Nishiki, the 400 year old market at the heart of Kyoto. [2022.12.27]
We came too early. Most shops at Nishiki Market had yet opened for business. [2022.12.27]
Staff at Miki Keiran (三木鶏卵) tamagoyaki (Japanese rolled omelette) shop were busy preparing omelettes for the day. [2022.12.27]
Unlike 2016’s visit, we didn’t eat or buy anything at Nishiki Market. [2022.12.27]
Nishiki-Tenmangu Shrine (錦天満宮) marks the eastern end of Nishiki Market. [2022.12.27]
The lanterns of Nishiki-Tenmangu Shrine forms a lovely gateway to the shrine compound. [2022.12.27]
Nade-ushi, the cow messenger associated with the deity of Tenjin, the god of scholarship, is proudly on display at Nishiki-Tenmangu Shrine. [2022.12.27]
Nishiki-Tenmangu Shrine is full of fine details and elegant offerings. [2022.12.27]
It was surprising to see red maple leaves were still around at the end of December. [2022.12.27]
From Nishiki-Tenmangu Shrine, we turned north onto Teramachi Shopping Street. [2022.12.27]
Perhaps it was the cold weather, we were quite hungry as we walked. We stopped briefly at a local bakery chain store Pan-no-Tajima (パンの田島) for a quick breakfast before continuing our walk. [2022.12.27]
Along with the adjacent Shinkyogoku Shopping Street (新京極商店街), the covered arcade of Teramachi (寺町通) offers a wide range of merchandises, from clothing, books, souvenirs to religious goods. [2022.12.27]
The covered arcades also serve as a primary entertainment district for the younger generation. [2022.12.27]
Selfie backdrops for New Year celebration could be found at a number of spots in the shopping arcades. [2022.12.27]
Wandering at the shopping arcade in early morning when most shops were still shuttered offer us a quiet moment to admire the visual complexity of the retail district. [2022.12.27]
Literally means “Temple Town Street”, Teramachi (寺町通) is home to many temples and shrines since Toyotomi Hideyoshi relocated a large group of religious institutions into Downtown Kyoto four hundred years ago. [2022.12.27]
Thanks to the red banners, Eifuku-ji Temple (永福寺) and Takoyakushi-dō (蛸薬師堂) is one of many temples relocated to Teramachi Shopping Street 400 years ago. [2022.12.27]
Behind a few clothing stores we found the entrance of Seishin-in Temple (誠心院), and a cheerful selfie backdrop to welcome New Year visitors. [2022.12.27]
In such close proximity to the busy shopping arcades, it was a surprise to find a cemetery behind Seishin-in. [2022.12.27]
The cemetery at Seishin-in appeared like a tranquil backyard for the temple. [2022.12.27]
The triangular Rokkun Plaza (ろっくんプラザ) is a well known meeting point at the heart of the shopping arcades. [2022.12.27]