京都 Snapshots: November

And so we plunge into December, and I begin to freeze in my woefully lacking-in-central-heating room. My air con does heat, but it also doesn’t seem to know what 21 degrees is and aims for more like 30 degrees, leaving me perpetually too hot or too cold.It seems Japan  missed the memo that central heating is actually a pretty good idea.

This minor issue aside, I look forward to my first Christmas in Japan, and it seems Japan’s looking forward to it too – there are Christmas lights and decorations everywhere. Hopefully my next month will be filled with fun things to write about even though its getting cold.

Also exciting news blog-wise: I now have my own domain – Japangie.com! I had to buy a storage upgrade because of all the pictures I’m hosting on here and it came with a domain which is pretty cool.

For now lets mop up those bits and pieces from last month that have been sitting by waiting their turn for some attention. This will be a miscellany of temples, interesting buildings, Christmas lights and food, so I hope you enjoy some snapshots of what I’ve been up to.

紅葉 Autumn is Ending

Here are a few more pictures of the koyo (turning of the leaves) in Kyoto. This month was definitely koyo month for my blog – beautiful red leaves everywhere. Sadly it rained recently and most of the red leaves were blown away, so no more picturesque temples with autumn colouring I’m afraid.

These pictures were taken in the park nearby, by the Kamo River and near the Heian Jingu.

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 武道センター The Kyoto City Budo Centre

I came across this building on my way to Heian Jingu. I initially thought it was a temple and went in to check it out. It turns out it’s actually a dojo, and not only that but its the oldest martial arts training hall in Japan, built in 1899. At this dojo  you can train in most Japanese martial arts – Akido, Judo, Kendo, Karate etc. as well as ping-pong for some reason. Apparently they are pretty foreigner friendly (though they don’t speak English you’re still welcome to go) and offer one-off classes, so if you’re into martial arts you can train in a beautiful old dojo as part of your trip to Japan!

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 妙傳寺 Myoden-ji

This is yet another interesting building I found when I was wandering around Heian Jingu. This is a temple belonging to the Nichiren sect of Buddhism, founded in the 15th Century. It has been rebuilt several times – monks from Enryaku-ji burned down Myoden-ji in 1536 as part of Tenbun Hokke no Ran which was basically a war between the three main sects of Buddhism in Kyoto. The Tendai monks burned down temples like Myoden-ji for their affiliation to Nichiren Buddhism (Nichiren Buddhism was in competition with Tendai for taxing the people and owning land). In the process they also burned down over half of Northern Kyoto and a lot of Southern Kyoto too. So much for the peaceful teachings of Buddhism…

The current Myoden-ji was built in 1708. I couldn’t find anyone to stamp my book (it was after hours) but I had a quick look around.

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御辰稲荷神社 Otatsu Inari Shrine

This small shrine is opposite Heian Jingu, and I don’t think it gets many visitors as everyone wants to see Heian Jingu instead. I decided to go in and have a look because I think even small shrines are interesting to look around. This is one of the many sub-temples dedicated to Inari, the god of foxes and rice (the god of Fushimi Inari). The temple did have a Shuin so I got my book stamped. As it is a smaller temple the stamp is very simple – just the name of the shrine, the word ‘worship’ and the date – no fancy calligraphy but still nice to remember the shrine.

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Papa Johns Cheese Cake Company

This is a small shop just behind Doshisha University’s Imadegawa campus. I love cheesecake so I was happy to find that we have a shop so close. The cheesecake was absolutely delicious and the shop itself feels cosy. I would recommend it if you are living in Japan and craving cheesecake. I really like fruit cheesecake so I got a banana slice and a raspberry one, both were superb. Yes, two slices, sometimes you just can’t decide, and maybe you shouldn’t have to.

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Cafe-Creperie Le Bretagne

I got some really nice crepes at this place in Sanjo Teramachi doori. They also have this creperie in France so you know its going to be good, though it is a little pricey for students (around 1500円, £8, for most of the dishes).  My crepes were scrambled egg, ham and some onion mustard. They were really tasty. I would definitely recommend this place if you feel like some non-Japanese food for a change.

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土支社エーブ Doshisha Eve

Japan really likes Christmas, or at least Christmas decorations. My university gave us 3 days off for ‘Doshisha Eve’, the university’s cultural fair where clubs create stalls and they get acts to perform to the students. I dropped by briefly but I was mostly doing other sightseeing stuff (like Kobe, or Kiyomizudera). The Christmas tree they’ve installed is pretty impressive and almost makes up for them making us go to class on both Christmas eve and Boxing day. Almost.

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花 Flowers

I have recently got a job at Tadg’s Gastropub, which serves hard-to-find foods such as decent fish and chips and chicken pot pie. They also do craft beer and ale, so it’s basically a perfect job for me. Last week we had a wedding party book up the pub and at the end they left us some of the flowers to say thank you. I got to take some home, they’re still alive even a week later! I hope the couple have a long and happy marriage.

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I hope you all had a lovely November and have sufficient jumpers to get you through the colder months coming up! Next month we’ll look at Christmas and New year in Japan, and if I’m lucky, maybe it’ll even snow!

錦市場 The Kitchen of Kyoto

After class today I took a trip south on the train to Gion-Shijo with no real destination in mind – it was sunny so I figured I should make use of the daylight while it lasted. Upon arrival in Gion-Shijo I realised I’d forgotten my Shuin book, and I was reluctant to go to a temple without getting a stamp – it seems I have become a collector. Instead I turned West, towards Shijo, a busy shopping district, and hunted down Nishiki Market.

If you read any guidebook on Kyoto, there will be some mention of Nishiki Market (錦市場). This market is just north of Shijo street and sells any Japanese food you can think of. As soon as I stepped into the very narrow street I was cocooned in smells of cooking and spices – there are plenty of stalls selling food to eat straight away, not just groceries to cook at home, so there is an intense cooking smell.

I took a stroll up and down the market, taking in the wide variety of shops and small restaurants and snapping pictures when I thought the owners weren’t looking (it feels rude taking pictures of stalls when you don’t intend to buy anything off them). It turns out its currently the ‘End of Year Market’ (according to the 歳の市 sign hanging at the start of the market), I’m not sure if this means there is something special going on as this was my first time but I’ll be sure to note the difference when I go next year.

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The market has a long history; the area Nishiki, where the market is located, is special in that the groundwater under the market remains under 15 degrees (centigrade) all year round. As a result merchants have been using it to keep fish fresh since the 8th century, creating a market above the water. The market’s scope broadened gradually, becoming the supplier of fish to the Imperial Palace in the 16th century, and eventually branching out into fruit and vegetable produce alongside meat and fish.

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Throughout the 20th century, the survival of Nishiki Market was uncertain; Kyoto Wholesale Market opened in 1927, providing cheaper fish in bulk, and Nishiki’s groundwater was slowly depleting. Several shops were driven out of business or had to move in order to survive, but the result was a market dedicated to quality and freshness in order to compete with the cheap fish of Kyoto Wholesale Market. This means that while the prices at Nishiki may be higher than elsewhere, the quality is excellent and the shops often go back many generations, passing down traditions and knowledge.

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Most product at Nishiki Market is grown or caught locally – the freshwater fish are caught at the nearby lake Biwa (琵琶湖) and the vegetables are grown in the Kansai region. There is a focus on ‘Kyoto Yasai’ (京都野菜) or ‘Kyoto Vegetables’ – vegetables that are prominent in Kyoto cooking and are specialities of farmers near Kyoto. These Kyoto Yasai include aubergine, spring onions and bamboo shoots. They also seem to like everything pickled or dried – you can get almost anything in pickled or dried form. For more information on Kyoto Yasai this is a pretty good article.

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Kyoto’s sister city is Florence, Italy (since 1965), and so Kyoto’s Nishiki Market is twinned with Florence’s Mercato Centrale. As a result you can find some pasta and Italian foods if you look carefully and apparently the Mercato Centrale has some stalls with signs in Japanese. Though both markets mostly stick to their own style of cooking and produce, it’s a nice gesture of goodwill and cross-cultural cuisine.

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I simply couldn’t go to a market full of amazing food and smells without eating something. To be honest most of the food I saw I didn’t recognise or couldn’t name, so I decided against buying something odd, and settled for a grilled squid on a stick for 180円 (95p). To some that might still be pretty alien, but I found it absolutely delicious. It was really tender and the sauce was slightly sweet. I probably could have eaten ten of them but I restrained myself.

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If you visit Kyoto I would strongly recommend Nishiki Market – you can always just go for the half hour it takes to walk the length of it. It’s also a great place to go if it’s raining because the whole market is covered. The market is open from 9 – 5, but on Wednesdays and Sundays a lot of the shops are shut, so bear that in mind. You could also combine it with the Teramachi shopping arcade to the Eastern side of the market for a day of rainy-day shopping – you could even throw in some purikura!