The Most Colorful Temple in Kyoto: Yasaka Koshindo

Before heading to Nanoboro Festa, a famous underground music festival during my trip to Kyoto, I decided to rent a yukata (casual summer kimono) and do some sightseeing in the Gion district.  Historically, this area was one of the most famous for its tea houses and traditional sweets, upscale lodging for visitors, and the extremely aesthetic Yasaka Temple that attracts a lot of people with its brilliant colors.

Yasaka Temple is dedicated to the three wise monkeys and a guardian warrior known as Shomen Kongo.  The colorful cloth balls that are attached to it are called “kukurizaru” which are talismans that provide good luck by taking away greed and impure desires.  Like ema and other talismans in Japan, you are able to purchase one at the gate if you would like to make a wish or prayer, but there is no fee to enter the area where the temple is.

Back in the day, many geiko (who are similar to geisha, but are known more as “woman of art”) resided in this area.  Nowadays there are many bars and restaurants as well as hotels for travelers, but much of Gion’s history has been preserved and it is a very relaxing are to visit.  You can see beautiful parks, temples, a river, and bamboo growing around Gion Station, so it is definitely worth checking out.

For those who are interested in renting a kimono, I rented one for 4000 yen from Kyoto Kashin in Gion.  This is actually a very good price because it includes hairstyling, accessories, and shoes as well.  At first I was a bit nervous about wearing one because I am a foreigner in Japan and it is not native to my culture, but I realized they are very flattering and fun to dress up in when you are seeing temples in Japan.  I encourage everyone to try it at least once~

Aesthetic Dining Experiences in Kyoto, Japan

IMG_5574
Soft mochi and iced green tea at a traditional sweets store in Gion.

Whenever I travel to a new place, I like trying a combination of the local cuisine and the most crazy places that I can find.  Kyoto is known for its tofu, noodles, kaiseki (vegetarian dishes), and of course; matcha sweets (which includes green tea-flavored ice cream, parfaits, and more).  Here is a list I have compiled of the most unique dining experiences I have had in Kyoto:

Gold Ramen at Zundoya

Zundoya is an extremely popular ramen chain in Japan because of their affordable and delicious bowls.  In their Tokyo and and Kyoto branches, they have the option to purchase gold flakes which you can sprinkle on any ramen dish on their menu.  This comes with a hefty extra 5000 yen charge, but was fun to do just for the aesthetic purpose of eating golden ramen.  You can buy these gold flakes at souvenir shops in Kyoto and Kanazawa.  They can be used as a topping for virtually any food due to them being flavorless.

The regular bowls of ramen are also packed with flavor!  The funny thing was I came here after a music workshop with some of my Japanese friends per their recommendation.  That’s when you know it’s a good place to eat!

Kichi Kichi Omurice

Omelette and rice dishes (dubbed omurice) are an extremely popular food combination in Japan, and this restaurant does it best!  When you see the head chef, Yukimura Motokichi, slice a freshly baked omelette and have it perfectly melt over the rice in an almost cinematic fashion, you’ll understand why this restaurant is so popular.

This meal was seriously the best omurice I had ever tasted because the omelettes are cooked to be extremely fluffy.  Since this website is so popular, it is recommended to make a reservation on their website.

Kitten Company Cafe

As the name implies, this cafe has cat-themed sweets, and is extremely vegan-friendly.  I tried their vegan curry, chocolate cake, and kitten cookies.  All of them were scrumptious, and I was delighted to see the curry arranged in the form of a happy cloud!  No reservation is required for this restaurant, but you can see their website here.

Menbaka Fire Ramen

NO RAMEN NO LIFE” is the English slogan that greets you at this ramen restaurant.  I immediately liked the atmosphere the minute I entered.  Menbaka puts a large amount of green onions and pours oil right over the dish before it is served to create an explosive fiery effect.  Just watch the video of me seconds before the fire starts to burn:

The taste of the ramen is quite ordinary; maybe a little more oily but otherwise unnoticeable.  It is worth going to once just to see the fire!  This restaurant does not accept reservations; you must lineup and take a numbered ticket.  You can explore other places in Kyoto while you are waiting, so it’s not so gruesome of a wait.

Green Tea Soba Noodles

Tsujiri Teahouse offers one of the most unique noodle dishes I’ve ever seen in my life: green tea soba and tofu in a white milk-like broth.  Though that doesn’t sound appetizing at first, it actually has a refreshing taste!  I ordered mine chilled and they really hit the spot.  If you are feeling adventurous, this is definitely a good thing to try!  In additional to noodles, there are many parfaits and sweets here.  Next time I come to Kyoto, I’ll be sure to keep my eye out for more unique food like this!

Exploring Hikone: A Castle Town with a Mythical Island and Fierce Cat Samurai

Over the weekend I made the amazing discovery that samurai cats are real!  About an hour east from Kyoto lies a quiet castle town called Hikone with the adorable samurai cat mascot you see here: Hikonyan.  Hikone is in Shiga Prefecture and borders Lake Biwa, one of the most famous lakes in Japan due to its lovely scenery.  I decided to start my trip by taking a ferry from Nagahama Port, which is just a few stops north of Hikone Station on the JR Tokaido-Sanyo line, and visit the mythical island in the middle of the lake called Chikubushima.  See the ferry schedule for reference–a roundtrip ferry ticket is around 3000 yen.

Chikubushima is known as the “Island of the Gods” and is said to be imbued with magical powers.  Though I am not a religious person, I appreciate going on journeys like this because it gives me the chance to see rare parts of the world!  You can walk around the whole entire island within 30 mins and see shrines, a beautiful view of the lake, and also try some local cuisine at the cafes (though the selection is very limited).

The main point of interest here is visiting Hogonji Temple and making a wish with a daruma doll.  Daruma Dolls are a special kind of talisman here that you can write your wish on a slip of paper and put it inside the doll for good luck.  The Japanese people at the shrine were extremely kind and helped me do this.  Though this island was tinier than I expected, it was a very nice way to start my trip!

After the pleasant ferry ride back (which only takes 30 mins), I then decided to go directly to Hikone Castle to see the Hikonyan Show!  During this time, the fiercely adorable samurai cat will come out before the castle gates to greet his visitors.  Hikonyan is treated as a celebrity by Japanese people.  I was surprised to see a line of people with cameras out waiting to see him, but he is definitely worth the hype!  He appears every day and you can see the timetables here.

In addition to Hikonyan, you can walk through the Hikone Castle, see the Genkyu-en Gardens, and also visit the Yume Kyōbashi Castle Road that has shops and souvenirs.  I visited all of these places by foot from Hikone Station, but you can also take buses around the city!  By 6pm, I was exhausted from all the travel so I decided to go back to my capsule hotel in Kyoto.  Hikone makes for the perfect day trip from Kyoto because it is easy to access and full of history.

Ine: A Beautiful Fishing Village in Northern Kyoto

img_5501
A native Ine bird freeloads on my fishing boat.

When people think of Kyoto, they usually think of the historic temples, people clad in colorful kimonos, and the Arashiyama bamboo forest.  All of these are wonderful aspects of visiting the city, but there is actually a lot more places explore!  In the far north lies a beautiful fishing village called Ine which welcomes visitors.  Ine is extremely important to the history of Kyoto because it is where rice-growing was introduced from China, and it also shows how people traditionally lived by the sea.  This culture has been preserved since its establishment and is truly magnificent to see.

There are a number of boathouses called funaya that are available for visitors to stay in, but they require reservation at least 2 months in advance.  The advantage to staying in one is that you will have a meal plan and can relax while seeing and an amazing view of the ocean.  You can also rent fishing equipment quite easily.  I wanted to watch the weather to ensure it was a sunny day when I arrived, so I opted to just take a day trip here.

I’ve been to Kyoto numerous times, but this is the first time that I’ve ever gone this far north!  From Kyoto Station, you can take the JR Line to Miyazu, then reach Ine by bus in approximately 3 hours.  The trip is very long, but the scenery you see along the way is a great way to pass the time.

The reason I wanted to come to Ine is because it reminds me of Terazzi, a town in one of my favorite PS1 games called Tales of Destiny.  Tales of Destiny is an amazing game because it takes the player through forests, castles, harbors, and even to Utopian societies in outer space.  Namco utilized the Linear Motion Battle System in the game so you really feel compelled by the battles and the areas you travel through are quite memorable.  Though I first played it nearly 10 years ago, I still remember how the towns felt like real places.

Terazzi always stood out to me because it is this beautiful, Venetian-like city but has boat houses almost exactly like those in Ine.  Terazzi and Ine are both have a number of residents living in them, but also feel a bit isolated at times.  In the game, you must navigate through a maze of waterways to find the entrance to the castle, much like how walking around the boathouses is here (although sadly there is no castle).  I can see a clear resemblance of how many port towns in games are inspired by real places like Ine.  It feels surreal when you finally experience them in real life!

Going back to reality, when I arrived at Ine, I decided to take a few pictures by the harbor and walk alongside the ocean.  There are a few houses you can enter and see the boats up-close in.  I went to the tourism office, and they were able to arrange a boat tour for me and a few other people for only 1000 yen.  The boat trip was really fun because you get to learn about the history of Ine, and they also give you bird food so you can feed the local birds!  They really aren’t afraid of people and flew close to the boat.  I was able to capture some amazing photos:

Besides fishing and being on the ocean, you can also walk around and see a few local shrines.  There are restaurants and cafes open during certain times as well where you can try the local cuisine and a lot of seafood.  I stayed here for about 3 hours, and that was more than enough to see everything I wanted.

If you are an adventurous traveler who has already seen most of Kyoto and likes being near the ocean, I would recommend this trip to you!  Please note that this area is quite remote, but easy to navigate on foot.  Just be careful to watch the bus timetable when you get off, and you’ll be absolutely fine.

Amanohashidate: An Eerily Beautiful Beach in Northern Kyoto

Over the weekend I had a wonderful trip to obscure fishing villages, islands, and beaches in northern Kyoto and Shiga Prefecture.  One of my favorite places that I discovered was this sandbar in Miyazu called Amanohashidate (try saying that three times fast)!

Amanohashidate is a 3 hour train ride from Kyoto Station with four different transfers, but its scenic atmosphere and remote location make it the ideal getaway for hotspring vacations or even just day trips away from the city.  Due to my bus itinerary, I arrived here around 7pm just as dusk fell.  I wasn’t sure if I would be able to walk across the entire sandbar this late at night, but surprisingly it’s open 24 hours, which is often rare for public beaches in Japan.

When I reached the southern tip of the sandbar (which is just a short walk from the station), the beach was illuminated with backlights in stark contrast to what it would normally look like during the day and some serene music was playing from a speaker.  It was like being at a rave, but with calming music.  I felt as if I was an alien that had landed on another planet!

Though I’ve been to many wild beach parties in Thailand, my stroll on Amanohashidate was something I’d had yet to experience.  I’ve never seen such a thin and beautiful beach lit up like this.  In the middle of the sandbar is a shrine, and there are lookout points on both ends of it.  It takes about an hour to cross the sandbar by foot, but bike rental is available during the day.  I was extremely tired from all of the travel, but during this trek I felt rejuvenated by soaking my feet in the water.

I’d recommend for most people to visit Amanohashidate during the day so you can ride the cable car, but unfortunately I did not have time to do this.  However, I was pleasantly surprised by the experience I had here, and would recommend it to people who have already been to Kyoto and Osaka and are looking for something different.  Walking across a sandbar is definitely a unique experience for most people traveling in Japan!

Before I went back to central Kyoto, I decided to try a course meal at a restaurant near the station called 310 Amanohashidate Japanese Table.  Since I do not eat meat, I requested a fish and vegetable course a received avocado, salad, tofu, sashimi, and some delicious grilled fish and rice:

If you have the time, please consider exploring northern Kyoto.  You will find less tourists and a lot more culture here!

Making the Most of a Rainy Day in Kyoto at Cozy Coffee Cafes

With its historic temples, crowds of people wearing colorful kimonos, and perfect view of the mountains from its central station, Kyoto is hands down one of my favorite cities in Japan.

However, a rainy day can definitely damper plans! Instead of going hiking in the mountains and risk being stranded in a downpour, I decided to check out the local cafes and stumbled upon Alpha Foods & Drink near Nijo Castle. This is a relatively new cafe with a hipster vibe that will definitely brighten your day!

Mimicking the weather, I decided to order the “clouds over coffee” cotton candy drink. You can choose other drinks like hot cocoa, banana milk, and soy milk coffee (which I chose). The cotton candy stick is creatively balanced so the steam from the drink will slowly melt it in for a subtle sugary taste. Additionally, you can choose to eat the cotton candy separately if you prefer or request a cold drink instead.

Another reason to come to the cafe is to meet the owner’s extremely adorable miniature schnauzer! She was an extremely polite yet energetic dog that sat quietly on the couch but was friendly when I approached her:

My Japanese friend also took me to this extremely charming % Arabica Coffee store in Higashiyama which is unique to Kyoto but is gradually expanding due to its popularity with the locals. He claimed it was one of the best coffee shops in Japan due to the founder exporting coffee beans and owning his own coffee farm.

Was it really worth the hype? Yes, it was! Usually I don’t always try coffee shops with large crowds like this one, but the wait time wasn’t too bad. However, I tried the iced coffee latte, and was extremely impressed with not only the taste but also the cup design:

Overall, I had an amazing time exploring both of these places even though the weather wasn’t favorable. Both of these drinks were cheaper than Starbucks and more delicious too! I’ve been to Kyoto nearly 5 or 6 times, but there are always new things to explore each time I come!

Seeing in the blue shirt at Kaga Onsen Festival After Party

kagaonOn July 20th, directly after my crazy backpacking trip in Hokkaido, I decided to take a plane from Sapporo to Komatsu airport, where I ventured off to the hot springs town known as Kaga for its yearly music festival.  As a music enthusiast, this was a rare opportunity that I didn’t want to pass up!

About Kaga Onsen Festival

Kaga Music Festival is one of the biggest original music festivals in Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan, and has a total of 7 stages (some being lounges and some being club stages).  The genre of the festival is mostly electronic, pop, and rock music, though I noticed that there were a number of indie artists that appeared at the after party this year, including one of my favorites from Kyoto City: in the blue shirt.

98DA6BB7-D14F-4D63-A479-4DA3572C0DE0.JPG
in the blue shirt playing a live set at the official Kaga Onsen after party.

Though I was unable to attend the main festival due to time constraints, my experience at the after party made my trip here more than worth it.  If you are looking for a festival that is unique to Japan and isn’t over-crowded like Fuji Rock or Summer Sonic, then this is definitely a solid choice.  Kaga Music Festival has enough variety to keep you interested, but the music lineup doesn’t ever feel overwhelming and you can see almost everything you want.  As an added bonus, there are many hot springs nearby that you can visit on the way home!

Getting to the Venue

To get to Kaga Music Festival, it is recommended to take a bullet train from Tokyo to Kanazawa then take a local train to Kaga Onsen Festival where you can catch a free bus to the main venue.  You can alternatively fly to Komatsu airport and take a local train there like I did.  This is a cheaper option, but the number of flights are limited due to how remote the area is.

Most of the accommodations by Kaga Onsen Station are quite expensive, so I booked a cheap room by the nearby Daishoji Station.  After getting settled, I headed over to the main venue which was called Rurikoh, then walked to the after party located called Mori no Sumika Resort & Spa.  The entrance fee at the door was 3000 yen with one drink.

Attending the After Party

The inside of the venue was absolutely stunning with flattering neon lights, a relatively large indoor stage, and an outdoor pool area you could go swimming in.  The crowd here was mostly Japanese in their early 20s or 30s, but I saw a few foreigners walking outside the area.  After checking out the venue, I immediately grabbed a vodka tonic and went to see the first performing artist.

The first artist was an electronic music producer called Yackle, and I caught their performance right as they were mixing a capsule song into a Nakata Yasutaka song, which was perfect timing because those are two of my personal favorites.  This producer mixes a lot of different genres and makes their own edits so they are extremely fun to watch!  Yackle has recently released an album called Frank Throw which features beautiful vocals and a mix of trap and bass music elements.  This was my first time seeing one of there performances and it was an extremely fun experience.

in the blue shirt played his live set immediately after which consisted of a unique blend of vocal chops and remixes of his own songs, as well as other artists like Pasocom Ongaku Club:

This set was extremely exciting for me, because I haven’t seen in the blue shirt since Large Size in Kyoto which was nearly 5 months ago.  Some of the people that attended that event recognized me here and pulled me to the front of the stage!  I was extremely flattered to see that they remembered me and enjoyed dancing with everyone.

Recollect the Feeling

In April in the blue shirt released his latest album called Recollect the Feeling which is growing to become a respected indie release in the music scene.  With its harmonic and compelling use of electronic samples that are intricately spliced in what appears to be its own language, this album definitely leaves a tremendous impact on the listener. Consisting of both English and Japanese lyrics, each song has an abstract yet nostalgic feel to it using indie electronic and triphop music styles, along with a variety of synths and instruments.  Though some of the songs are short (under 2 minutes), when the album is played as a whole it takes your mind on an unforgettable journey through time.  It’s still too early to say if I like this album more than Sensation of Blueness, but it is a polished release that I truly feel was worth waiting for.

On the latest album, I think “Casual Remark”, “Good Feeling”, and “Bamboo Leaf” are my favorites because they are great to listen to when exploring new places—I feel like I’m completely in my own aesthetic world when I listen to them.  I believe his personal best work is “Cast Off” as it was the first song officially released and has the most consistent composition, but it’s really hard to choose because the album is best listen to as a whole. What’s amazing is most of these songs were played on his sets as WIPs/transitions since 2017 and it’s amazing to see them completed now.

Overall I’m really happy for this artist because they’ve managed to accomplish everything that is most important in album production: they’ve delivered a compelling album with quality merchandise, collaborated and done shows with other artists I really like, uploaded previews and mixes so we know what’s coming, continually have showed their progress, and seemingly created a new record label / collective called The Wonder Laundry.  I’m so happy to have kept up with them through the whole entire release process and see them playing at big festivals now!

Other Recommendations

Of the other performing artists, I also recommend checking out PARKGOLF, Tomggg, and Avec Avec.  All of them have unique electronic styles and are respected performers I have seen at various events in Japan.  I spent the rest of the after party socializing with friends that I met and hanging out by the pool, but here are some of my favorite tracks that I recommend:

I will consider attending the main festival next year if more of my favorite artists continue to make appearances.  I am excited to attend more unique music events similar to Kaga Onsen Festival this summer!