Ok so no, I didn’t go to the golden temple… I went to Kyoto and only did 2 of the major temples. And you know what, I survived to tell the tale!
Listen, Kyoto is FULL of temples and you could spend your entire trip doing just that, so I decided to cut down (+ I’m going back in March so I’ll do more then). The temples I did do were: Fushimi-Inari and Kiyomizu-dera. Check out the videos.
To reach the temple you’ll pass a thousand and 1 shops of various goodies and be MEGA matcha overloaded. Since I did this trip 1 month into my arrival in Japan, I wasn’t yet jaded by the hyper commercial alley. But I digress.
The first thing that hits you upon entering Kiyomizu-dera is the brightly painted, coral red gate and pagoda. But what truly blew my mind is that this structure dates from 1633 and NOT A SINGLE nail was used to build the 13 meter stage! Fun fact, Kiyomizu-dera gets its name from the waterfall area near it, Kiyomizu meaning clear or pure water.
I have a very vivid memory of accessing the wooden stage under a ceiling of wind chimes. It was such a beautiful and peaceful sound, a welcome soundtrack while overlooking the lush greenery from the stage.
So there you have it, you CAN visit Kyoto without doing EVERY SINGLE temple until your eyes bleed, and still enjoy the ones available to you!
I couldn’t continue talking about my Kyoto adventure without including fashion! SOU・SOU was created in 2002 by Katsuji Wakisaka, Hisanobu Tsujimura and Takeshi Wakabayashi and is based in Nagakyo-Ku. Their products are a modern interpretation of traditional Japanese clothing and techniques. In addition to their Kyoto location, they also have a store in Tokyo and San Francisco. DO YOU KNOW HOW EXCITED I WAS TO SEE THEIR STORE!? DO YOUUUUUUUU?
The expression of Japanese culture is at the heart of SOU・SOU and the name itself is an entertaining example. Of course, we all know how often sou sou is used when speaking in Japanese, and according to the founders, the use of sou sou is a direct expression of Japan’s uniqueness.
What are some of the aspects that allow SOU・SOU to offer a modern Japanese style? Let’s start off with the beautiful textile designs created by Katsuji Wakisaka. Often debuting as postcards, the designs are inspired by changes of the season in nature and traditional Japanese patterns. Follow them on Instagram for an @sousoukyoto! Fun fact, Wakisaka was the first Japanese designer to work for Marimekko (1968-1976), a well-known Finnish textile company.
Moving on to a distinctly Japanese item that often results in many giggles in the West: jika tabi. Believe it or not, this split toed shoe wasn’t invented for laughter but rather to offer better balance. All SOU・SOU shoes are handmade in Japan and in order to adapt to our modern lives, the traditional thin sole is replaced by a thicker, sneaker like sole.
Their men and women’s line is what first drew me to the website of SOU・SOU. The kimono is such an emblematic feature of Japan and, especially in the West, seems impractical for daily wear. The kikoromo is SOU・SOU’s answer to this dilemma for women. Men can turn to the kei I clothing line, a modern interpretation of kabuita mono or kabuki mono,Muromachi era terms describing carefree people with a different dress.
Their clothing line is fascinating and endearing to me because of the traditional elements that come together: the overall shape, the patterns and the fabric. The Chizimi, Bizen and Ise cotton are found in many of their collection; Chizimi is a Japanese crepe cotton, Bizen is a cotton produced in 1950 for school uniforms and Ise is a special export from Tsu city.
Being a lover of Japanese culture as well as art and costume history, I am mesmerized by SOU・SOU. I am now lucky enough to be a proud owner of 6 SOU・SOU pieces and wanted to bring to light their efforts in maintaining and adapting Japanese techniques and aesthetics. I hope the information I’ve highlighted will encourage you to discover not only their history but also the clothing and fabrication history of Japan.
What better way to kick off part 2 of my Kyoto adventure than with some #nom food, delicious sake, and David Bowie. I (didn’t) know much about sake but, I wanted to delve deeper into it; little did I know I would get a 2 for 1 deal since this establishment I found doubles as a soba restaurant during the day and a sake bar by night!
So let’s kick off with the soba first! Soba is Japanese for buckwheat but refers specifically to these thin noodles that can be eaten hot or cold in a variety of ways. Soba has been a popular dish since the well known Edo period, in fact many establishments doubled for soba and sake… just like this one! The restaurant is small, serving maybe 10? The chef is welcoming but busy as it’s a popular destination. The menu is short and sweet, as it should be; I decided to go ahead with the classic mori soba (chilled soba noodles served on a flat basket). Open from 11:30 am to 3:00 pm, there was a constant flow of local traffic, looking to slurp down the delicious chewy goodness that are these hand cut soba.
It’s funny enough that I should choose to eat soba in Kyoto because it’s known as a typical Kansai dish, meaning it’s more popular in Tokyo (for example). It’s also a staple New Year’s eve dish that I’ve been fortunate enough to have in the past for that very occasion.
Now on to the sake! As I mentioned earlier, the establishment is shared and turns into a sake bar at night. It’s open from 6 pm to 12 am, from Wednesday to Saturday. If you do decide to go, I suggest reserving ahead of time as it’s quite popular and small. Why is it popular? Well it might have something to do with the owner being able to speak English (Yoram is not Japanese, he hails from Israel originally) AND him being very well versed in the ins and outs of sake.
Sadly I don’t remember the names of what I tasted BUT I did take pictures of the bottles I liked with my phone so I’ll include them below. First important element of note: We’ve all been drinking sake wrong! Following Yoram’s instructions you must take a sip, keep it in the front of your mouth for at least 5 seconds and then swallow. IT. CHANGES. EVERYTHING. To be honest, before this I’ve always found my sake experiences to be very hit and miss and quite frankly it wasn’t really a go-to drink of mine. With this method however, you can really appreciate the individual and unique flavour that lingers in your mouth and doesn’t burn you in the back of the throat. Really eye opening!
Second important element of note: sake is not always pale or clear in colour! The reason behind this is of course oxidization, however it is not an indication of the age of sake. In fact, sake changes overtime in the bottle and doesn’t necessarily reach a cap; that is to say it can go from good, to bad, to good, to bad and on and on. Unlike wine, sugar is not responsible for the change in flavour, but rather the amino acids. Sake is produced by a brewing process similar to that of beer, where starch is converted into sugars which ferment into alcohol. Tasting sake through time is how to know if it’s ready to be consumed.
Last important element of note: warm sake is not of superior quality to cold sake. Yes temperature does have a role in the overall flavour, but to say warm sake is superior is equivalent to saying white wine is inferior to red, or white Porto to amber (for example). So drink up and enjoy!
Yoramu was attentive and kindly answered the many sake questions that were thrown his way. But his most important quality? He’s got good taste in music! I spent a delightful evening noming on grilled mochi (with butter and soya sauce) and yuzu chrysanthemum petals, sipping wonderful sake, all to the tunes of David Bowie. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Kyoto has the honour of being the first road trip I’ve taken since I arrived in Japan. Since I did a fair bit in 4 days, I decided to break it up into several parts. And what better way than to start with the stunning Fushimi-Inari shrine! I’ve also put a video up on my YouTube channel so be sure to check it out.
*Scroll to the end for details on how to get there.
You’ve probably seen its iconic red torii gates in movies (Memoirs of a Geisha to name one) or even photographs. They are absolutely enchanting, a bright vermilion, lining most of the 4-5 km trail up the mountain. Founded in 711 AD, the shrine and the mountain it sits on both bare the name Inari. Fun fact: famous cosmetic company Shiseido revers Inari and even have shrines on top of their corporate headquarters!
Inari is the main Japanese Shinto deity of foxes, fertility, rice, tea (and sake), agriculture, and financial prosperity. Foxes, or kitsune in Japanese, act as messengers for Inari and are pure white. And you will get your fill of foxes while there, either big statues with a key (for the rice granary) in their mouth or small icons places at the base of tori. I find the foxes absolutely delightful and along with the torii they provide all the character and charm of the area. Walking up to the entrance you’ll encounter many vendors selling fox masks, key chines, cookies and basically anything you can transform into a fox… I got a charm for my cellphone!
Since this shrine is dedicated to a deity associated with prosperity, allllllllllll those red torii you see were actually donated by a patron upon their wish being fulfilled; the right hand side bears their name and the left hand side the date it was donated. Although I didn’t do the whole trail –it was 35 degrees hiking up that mountain!- I did get my fill of these vermillion beauties. Despite the decent amount of tourists, the area is peaceful and surprisingly quiet.
Although the torii are the show stealers, let’s not forget about the other buildings in the complex! Past the main gate is the dance stage where the Miko (shrine maidens) perform during yearly rituals and to its right is a small subshrine named Higashimaru-jinja Shrine.
The latter is also were I experience my first dose of harassment… fuuuuuuuuuuun. A random Japanese man has been very angered by my presence and proceeded to repeatedly yell at me and then physically intimidate me by pushing himself on me. He also yelled at me to get out of Japan, clearly oblivious to the fact that I was among MANY foreign tourists… But the most unpleasant part was the employee at the shrine who refused to come to my help (despite my calling him over), laughed at me from his booth and then told me to get out when I confronted him. Crazy right?! So, if this should happen to you: Snap a picture of the offender (in this case I felt the employee had behaved worse than the random crazy man) and proceed to the nearest information area and make a complaint. But most importantly, don’t let it ruin your day in such a beautiful place!
I believe you can visit the shrine at night? I’ve also read that it’s a popular destination for hatsumode (first shrine visit of the new year); I don’t know if there’s snow at that time but if there is it must be quite a sight to behold.