Japan – Day 22 – Tea, tori gates and tasty udon

We decided on a pot noodle breakfast as we had eaten a lot of egg and bread. I forgot just how easy it was and there were even superior chopsticks provided. As usual, the previous day James had insisted on an extra bacon bakery good <Editors note – Which In San immediately ate half of, demanding that I heat it up and feed it to her. As always bacon is a good choice.>.

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We decided to walk to Fushimi Inari shrine however James may have misread google maps <EN – We walked for about 5 – 10 mins past a turning which was enough of an excuse to take the train for one stop. In San was feeling abused because of all of her mosquito bites so it was fair enough>. Because of this, we decided we should hop on the underground to make up the lost time. This involved being led around a diversion by an official looking guy with a traffic flag, he was very helpful but we felt a little guilty that he had to leave his official station <EN – He let us slowly and carefully to the turning then when he though we were out of sight ran back to his post>. We also realised that we had spent a lot of monies and needed to get some more cash out, luckily 7-11 <EN – Actually a Family Mart which charges ūüė¶ > never fails us in terms of providing ATMs.

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The ATM itself only dispensed JPY 10,000 notes, obviously this is pretty chunky so James wanted to get snacks to break it up. He opted for a matcha and red bean choco pie <EN – Because we hadn’t got one in Korea and this was a Korean brand eg. Lotte> and I went for a healthier juice which had kiwi, banana and pak choi.

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We made it to the shrine and it was incredibly busy. We are usually cheap and travel in off peak so were not used to the crowds. It turns out even shrines like to make sure everyone knows their trip advisor rating.

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It was a beautiful day but it was so busy it made it difficult to get photos without any other people in the background. We loved the orangeness of the gates and the general feel of the area.

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We decided to wander off the main track so that we could avoid the crowds. This was successful for that but being away from humanity meant we were closer to our enemies, the mosquitos.

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<EN – Seconds after taking this picture of In San she was bitten>

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At this point, I was impressed by the scenery but also dispirited by the number of mosquito bites I had acquired.

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As usual, we found another wooden stick with mushrooms on it and stopped to take photos. There wasn’t a view point at the top of the mountain but the sheer number of tori gates was impressive. <EN – We had taken almost the same route as last time which was interesting but had missed out on the vital most magical staircase, our vague memories failed us>

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<EN – Some of the good luck charms drawn by visitors were very well done, others were … less artistic.>
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<EN – The man with the frame on his back was running up and down the mountain delivering supplies to the shops>
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<EN – The view from the top was pretty good but the main attraction was the local scenery and all the tori gates.>

With the shrine completed, we set off for lunch. We had already decided to have a tuna bowl at a cafe near our AirBnB at the host’s recommendation but this meant a 40 minute trip back. Because of this and James sensing my hunger, he suggested some snacks. Initially he saw some dango and wanted to go for it but at JPY 500, I felt it was a rip off even if there were 3 large balls. Instead we opted for some fried chicken for the same price.

Good snacks are like buses, they all come at once <EN – We had not walked past them before as we were going to a different station to the one we arrived at>. As soon as we saw some custard filled doughy goodness we had to stop by the stall to finish our chicken to purchase one for JPY 150. And then there was a vending machine that had Orangina, even though it didn’t have the shake it to wake it slogan we felt compelled to purchase it.

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We eventually made it to the station but there was a bit of drama when the barriers came up and then swiftly came down, as the area was so crowded, the barrier came down onto a car and another car drove at the pedestrians to get through to the other side. It was quite panicked and was a good lesson to impatient drivers that they shouldn’t start crossing until there is space at the other side to get to.

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It was hot and getting past 1.30pm at this point and I was definitely flagging. James directed us to the cafe and asked for the Igirisu menu which confused the waitress. When we asked for the Eigo menu, she immediately understood. It was a bit confusing as the menu indicated the tuna bowl was sold out but when we asked for it, it was still available so we managed to get a bowl each. It required a different person to come out and explain that we would need to eat the food first and then we could pour the dashi soup into the bowl afterwards to drink.

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As this was a matcha cafe, we had some matcha desserts to share. We were sensible and opted for the mini (rather than full size) parfait, this had a bit of everything and the matcha ice cream tasted high end. We also shared a matcha shaved ice dessert which looked massive, again this required the same guy to come out and explain in English that we needed to eat the top part and then once done we needed to add the extras in and mix. The matcha flavour on this was much stronger and the ice was super fine, it didn’t melt that quickly and tasted so light, we were both impressed. <EN – We also ordered some tea to drink it was pretty good and they even gave us strainers and little timer hour glasses so we would brew it the correct amount. Quality>

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Once done, we were totally stuffed. We headed to Kyoto station to purchase tickets to the airport for the next day, we figure we will be sleepy tomorrow and it makes sense to buy it now.

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James wanted to buy matcha so we headed to the Ippodo tea store. This was a very different one to the previous store where we brought the sencha. It was very commercial but they did have free tastings. The matcha was limited to one tasting per group so we got to try one out and the lady serving us was clearly practised at getting really small air bubbles into the matcha super quick. We will need to practise a lot more to get anywhere near as good.

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With our matcha purchased (JPY 1,500 and JPY 1,080, plus tax for 20g tins) <EN – There is a huge markup for matcha in the UK so this was a good price for the quality>, we headed off for dinner. We had decided on udon rather than yakitori for our last night as we were already feeling generally gross from the lack of fruit and number of mosquito bites so opted for udon at Uneno, turns out this is exactly the sort of place we would go to in London. Amazing food at very reasonable prices, we felt our AirBnB made particularly good recommendations.

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James being James opted for a more expensive (JPY 1,700) and extravagant udon, his was cooked and served in a pot. I opted for a more standard version and enjoyed it immensely, the flavour was delicate but balanced and it felt like great value at JPY 1,200.

Once we were done, we decided to be lazy and get public transport back rather than walk 35 minutes so that we could pack and get ready for our flight back home tomorrow.

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We are sad to be leaving and ending our holiday, however we also feel ready to sleep in our comfortable beds at home away from mosquitos. I suspect James is also looking forward to sleeping on a fluffy pillow.

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Japan – Day 21 – Bit of a pickle in the bamboo forest

Sad though it makes me to admit it we are finally getting tired of bread and eggs. However it is cost efficient and filling. Then we headed up to our first stop of the day¬†Higashiyama Jisho-ji Temple. It was an interesting and intensely structured place, unfortunately it was filled with hundreds of energetic Japanese school children which rather took away from the tranquil and harmonious nature of the place <editor’s note – there were absolutely tonnes of school children, we somehow managed to get the shots below without them in which was a miracle>.

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Higashiyama Jisho-ji was small but interesting as the birthplace of the Zen aesthetic in Japan.

The route up to the temple was filled with some snacks, mostly ice cream. We remember more snacks and variety, we suspect in summer they all switch to ice cream as it is easy and popular when it is hot.

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Matcha ice cream and matcha mochi … of course.

Once we were refreshed we headed for the main reason we had walked all this way, the Philosopher’s walk. ¬†We have been a couple of times but it is still pleasant to walk along with interesting shops and previously lots of snacks including delicious dango with matcha sauce. Sadly this time there were no snacks, only more ice cream. Other snacks must be a more of a winter thing. There were however many more cats which seemed friendly but dis-interested unless you had food for them.

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We returned to our favorites spots today including the Philosopher’s walk.

After we had worked up an appetite and achieved the correct frame of mind we headed to Izuju, a tasty alternative sushi place for some¬†Edomae sushi. This was the sushi popular in Kyoto in the past when they did not have access to fresh fish so they made sushi using pickled fish that lasted. Today a few restaurants continue this tradition and it makes an interesting alternative to the usual fare. Interestingly in summer they had a couple of special options (conger eel which we had seen everywhere and also horse mackerel) which we decided to go for along with the classic¬†saba-zushi (chub mackerel wrapped and pickled in seaweed). One thing we really like about food in Japan is that they really like to use seasonal ingredients, if it is fresh and in season they have it everywhere but if not they move onto what is in season then. It keeps things fresh, delicious and interesting. We also had a Kyoto style soup which was a light and fresh clear fish soup. The sushi is very delicately pickled and is sharp and slightly sweet, complementing and cutting through the slightly salty oily fish. It is very different and delicious <editor’s note – James neglected to mention a nice older Japanese lady started a conversation up with him whilst I was in the bathroom, apparently his starting conversation is strong but then with his extremely limited vocabulary, the lady has to speak in English to ask about our trip in Japan>.

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Of course we had to return to Izuju for some Edo era style sushi. Pickle-tastic.

On our way out we picked up more snacks … we have a problem <editor’s note – James has a massive problem, I kept on trying to resist but James is a bad influence, the roll cake was justified because usually you can only buy the whole ring and he really wanted the dango as it was done over a barbeque>.

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We had never actually tried good ring cake as it was only ever available as a whole, but we found it available as a slice. It was delicious. Plus a dango, we couldn’t resist.

Today we were heading to all our favorite places in Kyoto so of course we had to go to Arashiyama (In San vetoed another trip to the monkey park sadly). As always it is such a calm, lazy and enjoyable place to visit. This time in bright sunshine, it was nice to be able to walk around in t-shirts and the sun made everything more magical. We did miss the variety of snacks as everybody had switched to ice cream. Seeing the bamboo forest in the day was nice and they had opened up different paths through for autumn.

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Continuing our theme we returned to the lovely Arashiyama for snacks and a relaxed and tranquil setting.
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We found some unique chocolate dango and mochi so we had to try it <editor’s note – James had to try it, I knew I wanted a skewer which had green tea paste inside and we both agreed my skewer was tastier>.
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We relived our first visit with some tasty rice cakes of various sorts and continued our trend of tasting soy in all its forms with a soy doughnut. It was surprisingly good <editor’s note – when we ordered the last chewy rice skewer, they put a sold out sign up and told James he was very lucky, good thing we did turn around to go back for it otherwise James would have been very sad>.
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No more snacks we promised. But they had Taiyaki (japanese fish based pancakes) with green tea (and mochi as it turned out) inside so we could not resist <editor’s note – I said I would resist but when James insisted he wanted the fish, I felt it was fair to get myself a dango, by stating I wanted it without any sauce the price dropped from JPY 180 to ¬†JPY 100>.
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Walking through the bamboo forest is always impressive. This time in daylight.

<editor’s note – what particularly amused us was when a guy had a dog with sunglasses and a hat, it appears that 2 attractive ladies asked him if they could have their photo taken with the dog and he obliged, he even gave the dog commands so that it could pose, it was very impressive>

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It is beautiful with lots of new things we discover each time we visit. Sadly we had no time to go to the monkey park this time.

Weirdly most of the restaurants there (that we could afford) closed really early so we headed back for Kyoto’s signature noodle dish, soba. We went to¬†Honke Owariya, a very traditional place. I decided to try hot soba noodles for a change rather than the usual cold noodles with cold dipping sauce <editor’s note – James decided under the pressure and immediately began thinking he may have made the wrong choice>. I think I prefer the cold noodles more but I enjoyed the tasty light and refreshing soup. The tempura was tasty too. In San doesn’t believe in cold noodles so she went for a fish cake and vegetable mix which seemed tasty too. Personally I would recommend going for the cold noodle tempura set (which is what most people in the restaurant were going for).

What was tricky was that it was closing at 7pm and we only arrived at 6:10. We assured them that we would order and eat quickly. Most of the customers seemed in be in a similar situation, it seemed a weirdly early time to close. Everybody ate fast and finished in time because it was all so tasty.

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For supper we went to Honke Owariya the oldest soba restaurant in Kyoto (it is 552 years old). It is so popular even the Emperor (in various eras) has visited. It was surprisingly affordable.

On the way back we decided to mix it up (also walking past the four seasons hotel every night was making us feel poor) so we walked a different route back, it was interesting as we got to see a couple of new sights.

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In San saw a hot royal milk tea and she could not resist.

As we start to reach the end of our trip we are packing in the snacks, sights and meals but it is also nice to go back and do some of our favorite activities.

Matcha cupcakes

After a leisurely lie in and a hearty breakfast involving porridge and home-grown raspberries, we decided to make matcha cupcakes for a dessert and treat feast we will be attending later today.

I had already decided that we would make matcha cupcakes as we still somehow have matcha left over from our travels.

Matcha cupcakes mmmmmmm
Matcha cupcakes mmmmmmm

Ingredients (makes 12 cupcakes)

Cupcake

  • 110g butter ¬†softened at room temperature
  • 110g golden caster sugar
  • 2 medium eggs,¬†lightly beaten
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 110g self raising flour
  • 1-2 tbsp milk

Icing

  • 200g icing sugar
  • a few grams of matcha (for colour and some flavour)
  • 2-3 tbsp water

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C and prepare 12-hole cake tin with paper cases.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar together in a bowl until pale.
  3. Beat in the eggs a little at a time and stir in the vanilla extract.
  4. Fold in the flour, adding a little milk until the mixture is of a dropping consistency. Put the mixture into the paper cases until they are half full.
  5. Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes (13 in our example), or until golden-brown on top and a skewer inserted into one of the cakes comes out clean.
  6. Set aside to cool for 10 minutes, then remove from the tin and cool on a wire rack.
  7. Sieve icing sugar and matcha into a big bowl. Add a little water at a time until a thick spreading consistency. Put onto cupcakes and add sprinkles to decorate.
    Butter it up
    Butter it up
    The creaming begins, luckily with have a kmix to do it for us
    The creaming begins, luckily with have a kmix to do it for us
    Flour and most importantly, matcha
    Flour and most importantly, matcha
    An ice cream scoop makes it easy to put it into the cases
    An ice cream scoop makes it easy to put it into the cases

    Easy icing (we found buttercream didn't work so well with these cupcakes)
    Easy icing (we found buttercream didn’t work so well with these cupcakes)

Matcha cookies

Delicious cookies, with a matcha twist.
Delicious cookies, with a matcha twist.

I am always on the lookout for a¬†good¬†cookie recipe and although it doesn’t compare to my favorite super chocolate brownie cookies, it¬†has always been tasty. I am a big fan of crisp crunchy outsides with a chewy (but not doughy) centre.

I like cookies and I like matcha … why not both?

Ingredients

  • 350g sifted plain flour

  • 1 tsp¬†baking powder

  • 1 tsp salt

  • 225g¬†butter

  • 175g¬†caster sugar

  • 175g soft brown sugar

  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

  • 2 eggs

  • 350g¬†dark/white chocolate,¬†sliced into little cubes

  • 2¬†tsp matcha powder

I normally prefer dark chocolate but if you want to really taste the matcha you can go with something less overpowering like white chocolate (make sure you get something decent).

How to bake this deliciousness:

  1. Whack that oven up to 180 C (375 F for you non metric lovers)
  2. Cream the butter and both sugar together, keep at it until it becomes smooth it is hard work but worth the effort. Drizzle the vanilla extract and mix in the eggs.
  3. Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda, matcha and salt into another bowl.
  4. Fold the flour mixture gently into the creamed butter.
  5. Mix in the tiny cubes of chocolate.
  6. Spoon out the stiff sticky mixture onto some clingfilm and roll it up into a delicious sausage shape, aim for a diameter of about 5cm. The cookies will spread to about twice the this size.
  7. Put the cookie sausages into the fridge.
  8. Resist the urge to take them out for minimum one hour!
  9. Slice them into little disks of about 1cm thickness and put onto baking paper on a tray into the oven.
  10. Wait 11 mins, do not be tempted by the delicious smells coming from the oven.
  11. When the edge¬†of the cookie starts to brown whip them out onto a cooling rack, you don’t want all your hard work to go soggy.
  12. Enjoy!
Plonk them on a cooling rack straight away to keep them crispy.
Plonk them on a cooling rack straight away to keep them crispy.