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.
DAY 2 (5/6): SFERA BUILDING (スフェラ・ビル), SHIRKAWA GION (祇園白川), KAMO RIVER (鴨川) & DOWNTOWN, Kyoto (京都), Japan, 2016.12.04
Weather forecast predicted a rainy afternoon. We planned to spend the rest of the day in Downtown Kyoto on the other side of Kamo River (鴨川). Before crossing the river, we went to check out Sfera Building, a three storey modern architecture housing design, craft, art, and cuisine all under one roof. Unlike the timber houses in much of Gion (祇園), Swedish architect Claesson Koivisto Rune used titanium panels with perforated leaf patterns as cladding for Sfera Building. These perforated panels echo the sunscreens in traditional Japanese houses made of wood, bamboo and rice paper. In Sfera, there were fine furniture and housewares on display, some were made by local craftsmen and artists. We explored all floors of the building, and exited through its back door on Yamato Oji Dori. Just a block south we came to the picturesque Shirakawa Minami Dori (白川南通) at Shirakawa Gion (祇園白川), where the clear Shirakawa Canal passed in front of a row of well-preserved machiya houses (町家). Many of these old houses were accessible via bridges. We entered Pass the Baton, a trendy lifestyle shop that transformed a 120 year timber machiya house into a hub for the young generation. A number of the locals were dressed in traditional kimonos, matching perfectly well with the historical ambience of the machiya houses.
We crossed the Kamo River (鴨川) via Shijo Bridge, which continued as Shijo Dori into the heart of Downtown Kyoto. In summer, the banks of Kamo River is packed with dining patios and music performers. It was too cold in early December for these outdoor activities to take place. Nevertheless, the pleasant riverbanks were occupied with all kinds of people. A few waterbirds were walking in shallow water hunting for fish. On the bank, a group of teenage girls in colourful kimonos were taking selfies. An angler walked to the middle of the river and released his hook with his rod. We watched him for a few minutes, and suddenly he pulled his rod and acted like caught something on his hook. All eyes along the banks, including ours from the bridge, were on the angler. He didn’t disappoint us and managed to catch a fish that was at least two feet long.
As we walked west along the busy Shijo Dori (四条通) into the city, it soon began to rain. We went into Fujii Daimaru (藤井大丸), one of the many department stores on Shijo Dori. Despite smallest in size, with its latest fashion selections, Fujii Daimaru is popular with young shoppers. We walked along Shijo Dori as far as the intersection of Karasuma Dori (烏丸通), reaching a shopping centre called Cocon Karasuma (古今烏丸), which was a renovation work designed by architect Kengo Kuma (隈研吾) back in 2004. Kengo Kuma superimposes a 21st century glass facade laminated with a film of woodcut block patterns of clouds common in the Edo Period onto the original building elevation dated back to 1938. The sky was getting dark and we decided to grab a quick bite. Just before all vendor shutters were down, we entered Nishiki Market (錦市場), a famous covered market street selling all kinds of snacks from sushi to Japanese pickles. We picked up some tofu doughnuts at Konnamonja, and some local jumbo chestnuts before heading back to our hotel for a brief break prior to our dinner reservation at Yakitori Hitomi (焼創彩鳥家人見).
The titanium screen with leaf patterns of Sfera Building by Swedish architectural practice Claesson Koivisto Rune.
The design display on the top floor of Sfera Building.
The sleek bench at the back entrance at Sfera.
Back facade of Sfera Building at Yamato Oji Don.
The tranquil Shirakawa Canal at Gion (祇園白川)
Young women in traditional kimonos at Shirakawa Gion (祇園白川)
Couple in traditional clothings taking photos Shirakawa Gion (祇園白川)
A touch of heritage in the interior design at Pass the Baton, Shirakawa Gion (祇園白川)
Kamo River (鴨川) is a popular public space in Kyoto.
Women in kimonos taking pictures of themselves at Kamo River (鴨川).
The iconic Tohka-Saikan (東華菜館) Chinese restaurant building by the bank of Kamo River (鴨川).
An angler struggling with his catch at Kamo River (鴨川).
Our first encounter with Kamo River (鴨川) was simple and pleasant.
A man playing a three-string Shamisen (三味線) with his bachi, a Japanese plectrum.
Erizen Honten (ゑり善本店), a traditional clothing shop with a contemporary facade on Shijo.
Cocon Karasuma, an urban shopping centre designed by architect Kengo Kuma.
An atrium of Cocon Karasuma with a special pop up store of sake from Fushimi.
Covered retail street in Downtown Kyoto.
Soy vendor Konnamonja with their famous tofu doughnuts at Nishiki.
Tofu doughnuts from Konnamonja at Nishiki Market.
Local chestnut from Nishiki Market.
Our posts on 2016 Kyoto and Nara:
OUR FIRST KYOTO STORY, Japan
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: MORNING STROLL IN SOUTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (東山), 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: MORNING IN NORTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (北東山), 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
DAY 5: FAREWELL KYOTO, Kyoto, Japan