Travel Recollection: Kiyomizudera Temple, Kyoto

I had a slight mishap on the second day of our honeymoon/adventure in Kyoto. We were thinking of going around Tokyo by bicycle. The problem is, I only learned how to ride one recently. I was a nervous wreck, and after 10 minutes of trying to recall how to maintain my balance (and failing miserably), we cancelled our bike rentals and went on by bus instead. I guess it was not wise of me to insist on trying even though knowing that I was not comfortable enough.

Anyways, the morning’s mishap fortunately didn’t hamper our excitement one bit. Our trip to Fushimi Inari shrine on our first day in Kyoto has emboldened us to find more interesting places in Kyoto and maintained our excitement level very high for the entire duration of our stay (read: we were acting like chipmunks on caffeine most of the time). After a very short bus ride we arrived near an alleyway that led us to the entrance of one of Kyoto’s famous temple: Kiyomizudera.

The alleyway leading up to Kiyomizudera entrance

Common among many tourist attractions anywhere in the world, we saw a lot of souvenir shops along the sides of the alleyway leading up to the front gate of the temple complex. This area was actually quite lively and we actually spent quite some time window-shopping as there were a lot of interesting things like snacks, little trinkets, etc. Before wasting too much of the morning hours we reminded ourselves that our main destination for the morning was the temple and moved along. But of course we’d be revisiting the area again after we finished our temple sight-seeing. After all, shopping IS part of traveling, right? 🙂

The wooden stage

As soon as we entered the complex we arrived at a large wooden stage that jutted right out of its main hall. This particular place was quite the tourist flocking area. A lot of the visitors could be found here. Some were busy taking photos, and a lot of them were found sitting down on the steps between the main hall and the wooden stage. The massive stage seemed to be one of the temple’s main attraction. According to Wikipedia, it was a common practice during the Edo period to jump off from the stage 13 meters down to the ground under it. Apparently there was a saying that if a person survives the jump, he/she would have his/her wish granted. Well, I say that if their wishes were cracked skulls and broken bones I’m sure they got what they wanted. Such practice is, of course, prohibited nowadays.

Can you imagine how beautiful this place will look like during cherry blossom or in autumn?

Looking around at the foliage surrounding the temple the cook and I can only imagine how beautiful it would be during autumn, where the leaves would turn brown-red. If only we planned our honeymoon at least two weeks later… The place would probably look very beautiful as well during the spring cherry blossom season. A good excuse to visit the city again next time. Preferably with better timing.

Water from Otowa falls channeled by three bamboos with tourists taking a sip from any one of them. They say doing so will grant whatever wishes they have.

There was another main attraction of the temple complex right under where the wooden stage was located. It was a small waterfall which runs off from a nearby hill. This waterfall is from which the name of the temple was derived from (Kiyomizu = pure water). The waterfall itself is named ‘Otowa’. A lot of people lined up to drink the fall’s water (chanelled through 3 bamboo pipes). Legend said that drinking the water would grant the drinker his or her wishes. This is definitely safer than jumping off 13 meters down from a wooden stage. I sure am seeing a pattern here. Also, a lot of the people lining up for a drink were teenagers. Go figure.

Jishu Shrine

There were also smaller temple/shrine buildings surrounding the Kiyomizudera. One of them is called Jishu Shrine. A pair of so-called ‘love stones’ can be found within this shrine. The stones were placed about 6 meters apart. A lone visitor may try to walk from one stone to another with his or her eyes closed. If he or she could reach the other stone with eyes closed, it is said that they will find love, or true love. Try guessing from which age demographic most of the shrine’s visitors were that day.

Someone behind me?

In case you’re wondering, the temple also sells a lot of trinkets, souvenirs, and other wish-granting objects.

Kiyomizudera with Kyoto in the background

Exploring the whole temple complex did not take us long. Soon enough we found ourselves traversing the alley from where we came earlier (the alley’s called Matsubara-Dori). We discovered that the area leading to Kiyomizudera has a lot of other interconnected alleyways and lanes and it was famously known as the Higashiyama district. The district lies on the lower slope of Kyoto’s eastern mountains. We could see that it has some historic significance as almost all of the shops and buildings lining the alleyways were of traditional Japanese designs and were also decorated in a traditional manners. We also found many smaller shrines and temples in the district. This place sure invoked a certain nostalgic feel to it, and it’s highly recommended to visit this area if you happen to be traveling to Kyoto. Anyways, if you’re traveling to Kyoto then you know you’re looking for these things as Kyoto is a city well-known for its combination of the old and new Japan.

For more information on Kiyomizudera (and various interesting places all over Japan), go to Japan Guide’s website. They have tons of very useful information there. This is one of my go-to site when the wife and I were researching our trip to Kyoto.

Enjoy the photo gallery. Hope it will inspire you to visit Kyoto 🙂

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Grill Miyata: Best Beef in Kyoto? (Updated With Map)

This cat says "Come and give me 7000 yen!"

We didn’t find ‘Grill Miyata’ the first time we came looking. After getting ourselves almost lost in Gion area of Kyoto, we gave up our search and went for a different restaurant, near the same area.

I’m getting too ahead of myself. First, a bit of prologue. The cook (who also happens to be my dear wife) and I went to Kyoto for our honeymoon in mid-September this year. For those of you who didn’t get the hint from the name, Kyoto is in Japan. It is located in the central part of Honshu Island, to be slightly more exact. It is a city many said has managed to combine the traditional aspect of Japan and the modern. We decided to go there for this reason.

So, there’s that.

After our visit to Fushimi-Inari Taisha on our first day in Kyoto, the cook went looking for a great dinner place in Kyoto (While in ‘Rome’, right?). After a bit of browsing, she found a place called ‘Grill Miyata’. We noted down the address and went out looking for it in the evening. We found it really hard to look for Miyata-san’s place. We walked back and forth along Shijo Dori, going in and out of its many intricate alleyways, and after spending almost an hour with no luck, we gave up looking. Starving, we decided to go to Pontocho instead to find a restaurant.

Pontocho is a location next to the Kamo river well-known for being a riverside dining area. We planned to go there in one of the following days but since we were not lucky in finding Miyata-san’s place that night, we moved that plan earlier. We found a restaurant that served beef and decided to have dinner there. Surprisingly, the beef they served in the restaurant was melt-in-your-mouth good. It was too bad that we didn’t note down the restaurant’s name as it turned out that the beef they served there was slightly better than Miyata san’s. But more on that later.

Grill Miyata is closed on Mondays. It was a Sunday, and we decided to try our luck on Tuesday evening, 2 days later…

Where Grill Miyata is

Little did we know that at one point on Sunday night we were actually standing in a spot in an alleyway right outside the building where Grill Miyata is. We found ourselves standing on the same spot again on Tuesday night, just a bit unsure whether the building was the right one. Still, we went in anyways. You see, Grill Miyata was located at basement 1 of a very unassuming building sitting at the corner of an L-shaped alley in Gion Nawate Shijo-agaru. The place didn’t put up signs outside the building advertising their existence. I can only say that tourists who go to this place must be really determined to eat here, what with all the abundant of easier-to-find and relatively better-tasting options available nearby.

We went down to basement 1 of the building and found the place. After staring at the entrance door (a Japanese sliding door, complete with a curtain that is usually found in front of Japanese restaurants) and making sure we got to the right place (there was a sign right outside the door), the cook and I looked at each other and we asked ourselves, “Are we doing this?” You see, there were several reasons why we have second thoughts. A meal for one person can cost up to 7000 yen. That’s around USD100, or about 9-10 times the price of a regular portion, and I must say very good, bowl of ramen in Kyoto station. The place was so… well, let’s just say it was very quiet and seems to be lacking customers. We even wondered whether it was open for business that night. From the outside,  it looked so… ordinary, for a restaurant whose meal costs so much. For a place that some claimed has quite a cult following on the internet (just read TripAdvisor), the place sure didn’t emit the kind of aura a place with a cult following should have, at least to us. And have I mentioned that a meal for one person costs around 7000 yen (9-10 servings of perfectly great bowl of ramen in Kyoto station)?

Then again, looks can be deceiving. And we were already there anyways, so we decided to just go all the way. While in ‘Rome’, right?

So we went in, and the atmosphere hit us hard. Straightaway we were greeted with this vibe that I can only describe as like going into one of those old diners you find in the US (I’ve been into one in Orange County, near the park where they shot ‘Forrest Gump’). It was just classic. There were no tables, just a wide u-shaped bar right in the middle of the room. An old lady (who turned out to be Miyata-san’s wife) was serving a pair of customers: a middle-aged couple. There were old photos; old radios; some nostalgic decors, and a big statue of a white cat you find in front of so many Japanese stores, the ones with one of the front paw raised in beckoning position. One door at the back to the left of the room led into the kitchen, and another at the back to the right led into a store room.  A beer dispenser sat on the left side of the bar. The interior of the room was mostly brown-colored.

Kirin beer, Miyata-san's choice

The old lady welcomed us and direct us to the left side of the bar (near the beer dispenser). She couldn’t speak English, so she just smiled and handed us the menu. There were only a few selections in it, so we went ahead and ordered the beef.

While we waited, we listened to the old lady serving and talking to the middle-aged couple (the only other customers that night). They were having discussions as if they were old friends. Our drinks came out not long after we put in our order. A very old man came out of the kitchen, walked slowly towards us and greeted us as we were enjoying our drinks. As you can probably guess, he was Miyata-san. He could speak English, and was quite good at it. He asked us the usual questions like where we came from, how long would we be staying in Kyoto, what places have we visited during our stay so far, and so on. A very friendly old man, he was.

Then the food started coming. We found out that all those 7000 yen didn’t pay for only the beef. We were served with a 5-or-so dinner course meal. I couldn’t remember all of them, but they did serve us some salmon salad at the beginning, then there were the customary french fries, and the drinks were also free-flow. I had two very big glasses of beer that night (and just a bit ashamed to admit that I got a little tipsy). As we were enjoying our meal courses, Miyata-san started regaling us with stories from his youth: how he learned English (all by himself, he claimed), how he opened up the restaurant, his time in the United States, and so on. At one point during our meal, he took down the cat statue from the wall, brought it over to us, and told us that it helped him bring customers in so that he could regain the money he lost during one point in his life. That was nonsense, of course, but cute nonetheless. And the stories kept on coming while we enjoyed our dinner.

The other couple would sometime participate in the talks. They couldn’t speak English, so they would sometime ask a question or two to us through Miyata-san. He translated them to English, we answered, and he translated our answers back to Japanese for them. From the way they talked and how comfortable they were with Miyata-san and his wife, I’d say these people were regulars. I must admit that there were times when I felt just a bit out of place. Then again, that was to be expected. After all, we were tourists and what was worse we don’t speak Japanese. Still, considering all those we were quite at ease as they were all very friendly and polite.

And the beef. Oh the beef was great, alright. Not as good as the one we had two days before, as I’ve mentioned previously, but still it was great. Much better than most beef I’ve tasted my whole life (again, except for the one we had two days before).

At the end of the meal, we realized then that the whole point of going there wasn’t only the beef. It was the whole package. It was the food; the atmosphere and the vibe; and the hosts (and even the two customers) who clearly tried their best to make us feel at home. And in the heart of it all, Miyata-san. We understood then why the place has a cult following. So before we left, we ask Miyata-san to take a picture with us. He walked into the kitchen and asked his son help take a picture of us (“My son’s studying in university right now”, he said as his son was coming out). I handed my camera to him, and we sat down with Miyata-san as his son snapped a photo of us sitting together with his cat statue standing on the bar table. That photo is probably the best thing that can describe our experience in Grill Miyata.

As we were leaving, a young caucasian couple came in. When they entered, they wore a facial expression that was probably the same as ours when we entered the place. Miyata-san promptly stood up, greeted them in English, and direct them to their seats. I wasn’t there to see it myself, but I’m sure they had a pleasant dinner.

Miyata-san, The Geek, The Cook, and The Cat

(Note: I didn’t take the picture of the beef, coz, um, weeellll… I was so hungry for beef that by the time it came out I didn’t think twice and wolf it down straightaway. Anyways, it was just beef y’know, they all look the same everywhere *excuses excuses*.)

(Another note: Grill Miyata also reminded me of this place in Tokyo with similar set-up, where the wife served the customers and the husband tended the kitchen, and they’re both old. The place had a more traditional vibe. Again, I can’t recall the name of the place. I can only remember that it was near to my wife’s workplace, and that they served the best tempura I’ve ever had.)