After leaving our luggage at the hotel, we took the Ginza Line Metro to Asakusa (浅草) to purchase the limited express train tickets for our upcoming Nikko day trip in two days’ time. Then we decided to begin the day with some leisure time at Ueno Park and its museums after our red-eye flight. With lush greenery, old trees, historical shrines and several museums, Ueno Park is a good place for a pleasant stroll. From online research, we came across a beautiful restaurant called Innsyoutei (韻松亭). Housed in a century-old timber building in the heart of Ueno Park, Innsyoutei serves a causal version of Kyoto kaiseki cuisine made with seasonal ingredients. We decided to check it out before our museum hopping.
The original timber house of Innsyoutei was built in 1875. A little over a decade ago, the building underwent a major renovation. This rustic tea house has long been a landmark in Ueno Park, where visitors would stop for light refreshments. The renovation maintained the original building layout, but replaced much of the timber structure with materials savaged from other old buildings in Kyoto and Shiga Prefecture.
The traditional restaurant complex is full of the beauty of Zen.
Innosyoutei (韻松亭) literally means “rhythm of the pine pavilion”. This poetic restaurant remains popular with park visitors, especially during hanami (花見) season when the timber house is surrounded by clusters of cherry blossoms.
Once entered the vestibule, we were immediately greeted by the fragrance of the incense.
We took off our shoes at the vestibule, and were led to the dining hall on the upper level.
The wooden stair is accompanied by a beautiful railing made of bamboo.
Covered with tatami floor mat, the dining hall was well lit with natural light coming from the large windows at both ends of the room. Sitting on zabuton (floor cushions), guests gathered at low tables on the tatami to enjoy their Hana-kago-zen (flower basket meal).
Outside the large window, we could see lush green everywhere.
It was not hard to imagine the beauty of the space during cherry blossoms when the lush green would be replaced with clusters of pink flowers.
We sat down at a low table and ordered our lunch sets with much anticipation.
The appetizers soon arrived. We were immediately impressed by the presentation and the taste of food.
We ordered two different set meals of seasonal fish and vegetables. The food was beautifully arranged and presented like two flower baskets with eye-catching colours. The dishes were made of various vegetables skillfully prepared to bring out the distinct flavors and textures of the ingredients.
Tofu, eggplant, beans, and mushroom might sound simple. Yet when they were individually prepared with different flavours of sweetness, sourness and saltiness, and were tasted in a certain order of sequence, the experience would become much more complex and sophisticated. Sometimes, we might not be able to tell what the actual ingredient was just by the look, and would get a pleasant surprise after the first bite. Every of our bite became an opportunity for a pleasant surprise, and was full of anticipation.
A cup of creamy yogurt-like custard beautifully served.
The meal finished with the traditional delight, a mochi (rice cake) kind of dessert wrapped in a leaf.
We unwrapped the leaf with high anticipation and were rewarded with a perfect gift to end the wonderful meal.
Visiting Nara and Kyoto in Japan, where historical temples and old timber houses mushroomed across the landscape and lined along the alleyways of the ancient capitals, is a close encounter with what we consider as the heritage of Japan. A brief visit to Kofukuji on our way out of Nara Park provided a proper closure to a fruitful day of cultural heritage when we had already seen Horyuji, Todaiji and Kasuga Taisha. A prominent representation of the Nara Period (AD 710-794), the Buddhist temple had seen better days in history, primarily during Nara Period and Heian Period (AD 794 – 1185), when Kofukuji and Kasuga Taisha controlled much of the politics and religion of the kingdom. Since, Kofukuji had gone through a gradual decline. The anti-Buddhist policies of the Meiji Era (1868-1912) gave the temple its final blow, when Kofukuji was forced to be separated from Kasuga Taisha, such that Shintoism could be separated from Buddhism.
Kofukuji is the headquarters of the Hosso sect of Buddhism in Japan. Hosso, known as Yogachara in Indian Buddhism, is the school of Buddhism focused on meditative and yogic practice and believed that human experience is primarily constructed by the power of the mind. This school of philosophy was founded by the famous Chinese monk and traveler Xuanzang (玄奘), who visited India in the 7th century for Buddhist teachings and scriptures. Some of Xuanzang’s pupils were later responsible to bring the teachings of Buddhism to Korea and Japan. As the headquarters of Hosso, Kofukuji was once a large temple complex comprised of 175 buildings. Today, only a few of the original architecture remained. While we were there, the Central Golden Hall was under renovation and covered with scaffolding. We could still, however, admired the ancient architecture of Kofukuji Temple, including the Octagonal Halls, Eastern Golden Hall and the iconic Five-storey Pagoda.
We passed by the iconic Five-storey Pagoda (五重塔) on our way out of the Nara Park.
At 50m, Kofukuji’s Five-storey Pagoda (五重塔) is Japan’s second tallest, and an iconic symbol of the city of Nara.
The beautiful Eastern Golden Hall (東金堂) houses a large wooden statue of Yakushi Buddha.
Overview of the Eastern Golden Hall and Five-storey Pagoda.
Founded in AD 813 and reconstructed in 1789, the Nanendo (南円堂, Southern Octagonal Hall) is another beautiful piece of architecture.
List of donor’s names near the Nanendo (South Octagonal Hall)
The stair down to Sanjo Dori Street was lined with donor’s flags.
A path off the stair led us to a platform where a cluster of small Buddhist shrines stood under a few maple trees.
A beautiful statue stood out from the cluster of shrines.
Reconstructed in AD 1181, the Three-storey Pagoda (三重の塔) is one of the two oldest surviving buildings at the temple complex.
The Nanendo viewed from the Three-storey Pagoda.
Nakatanidou (中谷堂) at Sanjo Dori near Kofukuji is famous for its traditional fast mochi (Japanese rice cakes) pounding known as mochitsuki.
Yomogi mochi at Nakatanidou (中谷堂) are made with a wild Japanese plant called mugwort. These rice cakes were really tasty.
After a long day of temple hoping, we stopped by the relaxing Mellow Cafe for a quick bite. The cafe is famous for its stone pizza oven. We ordered a pizza with top with cheese and Japanese pickles.
And washed the pizza down with a glass of local beer…
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