Even though our feet were pretty worn out at this point of the trip we couldn’t skip the 3.5 km hike through thousands of painted orange gates at Fushimi Inari Taisha. Many people suggest going first thing in the AM (it’s open 24 hours) but we just didn’t get up that early so we arrived with lots of other folks at 9:45am. The whole trip to the top (including time stopping for a ton of photos) and back took us two hours.
The streets leading up to the main shrine gate are lined with vendors selling snacks and souvenirs as usual in Japan.
While the base was chock full of people, as the climb ascends to the top of the mountain, people start turning back and we were able to get some unobstructed shots of the gates. Plus there were several mini shrines along the path so if it got too crowded we ducked off and took some photos while larger groups passed.
There were several places to stop along the trail with vending machines and benches, and at the top it was serene and wonderful without hordes of people!
We took a different path down the mountain and witnessed a man on a tall ladder hand-painting some characters onto a newly painted gate.
Ready for some down-time away from people, we took the train back to our hotel area, purchased a Vitamin C lemon drink from a vending machine for Eric and some chili chips at Family Mart and went back to the room to relax before heading over to the Higashiyama District on foot.
Our first stop was the Yasaka Shrine which was very busy with people hanging out, reading fortunes, and snacking on street food. We were both surprised at the amount of women dressed in geisha-wear. Apparently there are many places in the district offering to dress you from about 3000¥ (~$28). Hair and makeup were extra, usually about 1500¥ each. I didn’t have a desire to do this but it seems like an affordable thing if you are into it, and you certainly would not be the only one!
From here we headed south through the Nineizaka and Sanneizaka streets up lots of stairs (stopping for a salted cherry blossom ice cream) and peeking in shops along the way. There are a few paid shrine gardens in this area but we had our fill for the week. I also paused to rub the Marishi-ten statue with both hands to be better for contests in wit or skill (you’re welcome Tuesday night trivia team)!
At the top of the hill is the scenic Kiyomizu-dera temple where we spent some time relaxing, people watching, and resting our feet. There are some city views but the sun was shining right at us and Kyoto is much more scenic at street level.
As the sun went down, we wandered back to the room to drop off Eric’s camera and then walked to a nearby restaurant, Tsujikawa, to have a beer. They had a huge craft beer list outside but after asking, we discovered they only had about 8 of those options on draft at any one time. This was a tiny place and having just beer (no food) meant standing at the counter but we decided to stay when we both found an option to try. We each got a small pour – jazzberry (raspberry fruit ale) for me and the Kyushu Craft orange ale for Eric. I had to squish myself against the counter a few times for the owner to get by with trays of food for the upstairs seating area but it was always done with a smile and ‘arigato.’ :)
For dinner, we had decided ahead of time on Manten, a yakitori (food on skewers) restaurant we found the day before while wandering down Pontocho Alley. To get there we dodged numerous groups of baffled and hungry people trying to find a place to eat amidst a sea of mostly Japanese menus – I could sympathize as this was us on Saturday night!
We didn’t make reservations so we were hoping for the best when we arrived at 7pm. We joined a small queue at the door and were told it would be a three minute wait which was totally accurate. There is a large wrap around counter downstairs that faces the grills and it was very smoky. However, we were seated on the second floor, which was surprisingly less smoky. An English food and drink menu arrived (thank goodness) along with small salad and the mention of a service charge. We found out later there is a 300¥ per person charge and that was the ‘free’ appetizer that comes with it. It was good, so no complaints. Also worth mentioning is the menu prices did not include 10% tax, which was an anomaly in our experience.
We placed our first order – cucumber salad, grilled sirloin with yuzu sauce, chicken meatball, trumpet mushroom wrapped in bacon, Camembert cheese, and ajo pig. Eric got a kabosu sour (a Japanese citrus fruit) and I ordered a sake sangria. Food came out quickly and the waiter described each portion (although it was pretty obvious).
Eric found the pig a bit too fatty but enjoyed the chicken meatball. I would have liked the bacon a bit crispier on my mushrooms but the steak was perfect. So, for our second round we ordered two more chicken meatballs, another sirloin and I splurged on a whole conger eel! Eric switched to a mandarin orange sour and I had another round of the sake sangria. Overall the service was polite and efficient. We liked that there were a lot of choices for both of us.
After dinner we returned to Bar Cordon Noir for two more rounds of whisky and a chocolate plate. Everything was excellent again!
On this visit we tried:
- Nikka Black Crossover – fruity (cherry), a little plastic, with a very light smoke finish. A little bite, but quite smooth (expected since it is a blend) with a mineral aftertaste. (E)
- Kirin Fuji Gotemba Single Grain Blender’s Choice 2015 (E, again!)
- Kirin Pure Malt Fuji Gotemba Distiller 20th Anniversary Distiller Limited – toasted sugar on the nose, lite coconut and salty bite on finish, slightly oily texture, very smooth. Quite lovely indeed for 1300¥. (L)
- Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky – lots of fruit on nose and palate. Light alcohol burn on nose, but very smooth. Tropical fruits and honey. (L)
Back in the room I had a little time to try out the hot spring public baths before they closed to women for the night at 10:50pm. It was a unique experience. There are lockers for your clothes and the key is on a wristlet cord. Then you enter the bath room where there are several seated shower stations for you to wash your body and hair before entering the bath. The water was hot and wonderful and I stayed in until I was red, about 15 minutes. Eric went down at 11pm when it opened up to men. After all the walking and a hot soak, we both slept remarkably well!