ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Kyoto and Nara

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]

AN AFTERNOON IN ICHIJO-JI (一乗寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan

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 (京都), 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]

BROOM, TEA, SOBA & INCENSE, Kyoto (京都), Japan

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 (京都), 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]

FIRST GETAWAY SINCE THE PANDEMIC, Kyoto (京都) and Kinosaki Onsen (城崎温泉), Japan. 2022.12.26 – 2023.01.01

After returning from Sri Lanka in December 2019, we never thought it would be another three years before we could travel again. Haven’t traveled for such a long time, it almost felt a little surreal when we went online to purchase the plane tickets. In fact, our trip was a rather ad-hoc decision made less than ten days before departure. To resume traveling after Covid, Japan was an intuitive choice for us, where cities are clean, people friendly, and the food fantastic. A revisit to Kyoto was always in our mind since our last visit in 2016. Kyoto is such an amazing city where we can wander around aimlessly from dawn till dusk, just to take in the rich history, seasonal colours, and serene ambience. Apart from Kyoto, we picked Kinosaki Onsen, a hot spring town 2.5 hours train ride away, as a side trip. After booking one of the last Kinosaki ryokan rooms available online, buying a new suitcase (we threw out the old one during the pandemic), and uploading our vaccination papers to the Japanese authorities, we could finally think about what to do in Kyoto. The planning turned out not as easy as we thought, since many attractions, museums, shops and restaurants would be closed around the New Year. On the other hand, staying in Kyoto for the New Year to witness their traditional celebrations could be a unique and remarkable experience.

After hosting our best friend for dinner at our apartment on Christmas Day, we left for the airport before dawn on Boxing Day. Hong Kong International Airport was full of outbound travelers like us, who were desperate to fly out the city as soon as the Covid restrictions were relaxed. We were overwhelmed by joy and excitement as soon as we boarded the plane. Didn’t recall we have ever got so excited just to look out the window and watch the plane lifting off. After three hours of flying, our plane made a turn over the mouth of Yoshino River (吉野川) and Tokushima (徳島), and gradually descended over the waters of Wakayama Bay (和歌山湾) and Osaka Bay (大阪湾) towards Kansai Airport. Several minutes later, our plane gently touched down onto the tarmac runway, signifying our return to Japan after 3.5 years. Despite the additional Covid related procedures, our arrival at Kansai Airport was rather smooth and hassle free. After picking up the JR rail passes and topping up our old ICOCA cards, we hopped on the Haruka Express train bounded for Kyoto Station (京都駅).

Evening had already fallen upon by the time we arrived in Kyoto. Under the glazed canopy, the splendid station atrium was teeming with rush hour travelers. We found our way to Shijo Karasuma (四条烏丸), checked in at our hotel, and immediately headed out to look for a restaurant (as we had skipped lunch on the plane). In Downtown Kyoto, we were spoiled with dining options. Before eating, we stopped by a small shop selling traditional Kyoto pickles or Tsukemono (漬物), a regional household delicacy dated back to the pre refrigeration years. All kinds of local vegetables pickled in salt, soya sauce, vinegar, or miso, and packed in lovely wrapping. It was impossible to resist and we ended up getting some to bring home. For dinner, we picked a cozy izakaya with a decent menu of deep fried Kyoto snacks. Fried shrimps and beef skewers topped with sea urchin, all washed down with sips of local sake. What a perfect treat to make us forget about the pandemic misery and officially kick start our short Kyoto vacation.

We arrived at Hong Kong International Airport after sunrise. [2022.12.26]
It was exciting to resume traveling after three years of pandemic. [2022.12.26]
Our plane made a turn over Yoshino River and Tokushima before descending to Osaka Bay and Kansai International Airport. [2022.12.26]
The JR office at Kansai Airport is often the first site where foreign travelers would visit. [2022.12.26]
By the time we hopped on a Kyoto bounded Haruka Express train, the sun was already setting. [2022.12.26]
Kyoto Station was teemed with pedestrians when we arrived in the evening. [2022.12.26]
Outside the station, the 131m-Kyoto Tower stood proudly as the tallest structure in the city. [2022.12.26]
The inner streets of Shijo Karasuma were full of lovely machiya (町家), traditional wooden houses with ground floor shops and upper residences. [2022.12.26]
Housed in machiya, small shops or restaurants in Downtown Kyoto were cozy and warm. [2022.12.26]
Before dinner, we stopped by Eirakuya (永楽屋室町店) to shop for traditional Kyoto pickles or Tsukemono (漬物) and Japanese confections. (2022.12.26)
We ended up picking an izakaya serving deep fried snacks for dinner. [2022.12.26]
The deep fried snacks went perfectly well with sake and beer. [2022.12.26]
Our hotel blended in well with the surrounding machiya houses. [2022.12.26]
A lush green courtyard sat silently as the centerpiece of our hotel lobby. [2022.12.26]
During breakfast time, our hotel restaurant was quite popular among local Japanese. [2022.12.27]
Just a stone throw away from our hotel, Karasuma Dori (烏丸通り) is the main north south thoroughfare in Kyoto. [2022.12.27]
A morning stroll around the neighbourhood of Shijo Karasuma brought us face to face with many machiya houses. [2022.12.27]
Since Kyoto was spared from bombing during WWII, many machiya houses survive till the present day. [2022.12.27]
Other than traditional houses, minimalist modern buildings dotted around Shijo Karasuma as well. [2022.12.27]
Interesting buildings include this office block near our hotel. [2022.12.27]
But what caught our eyes in most cases were always the timber machiya houses of Kyoto. [2022.12.27]

DAY 5 (3/3): FAREWELL KYOTO, Kyoto, Japan, 2016.12.07

After we came back from Fushimi Inari Taisha, we thought it would be a good idea to find a place for lunch in Downtown Kyoto.  There was still a few hours before our 18:30 flight.

06We opted for a revisit of Nishiki Market (錦市場), the five block long market street known as “Kyoto’s Kitchen”.

04For the past few days we didn’t really have a decent meal of sashimi.  We ended up sitting down at a sashimi restaurant Nishiki Daimaru Yoshi (錦大丸).  The restaurant was hidden behind its fishmonger shop.

01At this popular restaurant, we were the first customers sitting down at the long counter in front of the food preparation area.

02There was only set lunch available.  We wouldn’t mind as long as the sashimi was fresh.  The set included sashimi, tempura and grilled fish.

03The washroom at the restaurant was small but full of character.

07After lunch, we went outside of the Nishiki Market and arrived at the back side of Daimaru Department Store.  There was a small vendor selling farmer’s produce.  We couldn’t resist but bought a few items to bring back to Hong Kong.

05Then we headed back into Nishiki Market for another stroll.

08We passed by a vendor selling all kinds of traditional sweets and snacks.  We picked up some regional roasted peanuts.

09There were quite a few shops selling Tsukemono (漬物, Japanese pickled snacks).  Many items were seasonal.

10Then we passed by the chestnut shop where we bought some delicious local chestnuts before.

11At the end of Nishiki Market, we arrived at the entrance of Nishiki Tenmangu Shrine, a Shinto shrine conveniently located at the heart of the downtown.

12Another shop worth noting in the area was Tamaru Inbo (田丸印房), a Hanko shop, a store selling traditional stamps and seals made of wooden or stone blocks.  With over a century of professional reputation, Tamaru Inbo was a great place to check out Japanese hanko.

13From Shijo Dori, we walked east to the Kamo River (鴨川).   We decided to walk south along the river for a final stroll along the peaceful river.

14The weather was perfect for a relaxing stroll.

15Like us, many preferred to take the route along the river instead of the city streets.

16We passed by many restaurants facing the river.  Hopefully next time we would be able to enjoy a meal at one of the many waterfront dining patios during the summer months.

17We left the riverbank when we reached Gojo Dori Street.  We decided to get a good cup of coffee before leaving for the airport.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe landed on a cafe called Efish just south of Gojo Dori, at Kiya-machi Dori, a small neighborhood street sandwiched between the Kamo River and Takase River (高瀬川).  Unlike several blocks up north where Kiya-machi Dori represented the vibrant restaurant and nightlife scene of the city, here the narrow street became a laid-back neighborhood alley.

19Efish is great for its relaxing atmosphere by the river.  Other than refreshing food and drinks, Efish also showcased cool design housewares inside the cafe.

20On our way from Efish to Kyoto Station, we walked past Umeyu Rakuen (サウナの梅湯), a retro 80-year old bathhouse.  In 2015, 25 year-old Yusuke Minato, a long-time devotee to traditional bathhouses, took over the declining bathhouse and transformed it into a hip venue to promote traditional bathing, as well as occasional gigs and flea market.  We didn’t have time for a soak and would have to save it till next time.

21After another few minutes of walk we could see Kyoto Tower from a distance.  A big crow on the treetop over our head was making loud noises, as if yelling out our parting wishes with the ancient capital.

22Minutes later we reached the futuristic Kyoto Station once again.  We took the escalators down to the basement to pick up our backpacks at the lockers and hop on a Haruka Express for the Kansai Airport.  As the train leaving the station, we were already planning for a return trip sometime in the near future.  Kyoto was and always will be the perfect venue for us to dwell in the power of heritage, nature, and spirituality whenever we were overwhelmed by the dull and routine work lives.

This concludes the record of our 5-day Kyoto trip in December 2016.


Our posts on 2016 Kyoto and Nara:
DAY 1: ARRIVAL AT HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: RYOANJI TEMPLE (龍安寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NINNAJI TEMPLE (仁和寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KINKAKUJI TEMPLE (金閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KITANO TENMANGU SHRINE (北野天満宮), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NIGHT AT KIYOMIZU-DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA to KENNINJI, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: ○△□ and Chouontei Garden and Ceiling of Twin Dragons, KENNINJI TEMPLE (建仁寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: SFERA BUILDING (スフェラ・ビル), SHIRKAWA GION (祇園白川), KAMO RIVER (鴨川) & DOWNTOWN, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: YAKITORI HITOMI (炭焼創彩鳥家 人見), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: NANZENJI (南禅寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: PHILOSOPHER’S PATH (哲学の道), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: HONENIN (法然院), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: GINKAKUJI (銀閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: CRAB AND SAKE, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 4: HORYUJI (法隆寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: TODAIJI TEMPLE (東大寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KASUGA TAISHA (春日大社), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KOFUKUJI (興福寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: NAKAGAWA MASASHICHI SHOTEN (中川政七商店 遊中川), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: RAMEN & CHRISTMAS LIGHTS, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 1, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 2, Kyoto, Japan