Visiting Kyoto for just a one day trip was not enough for Stan and I, so we decided to pay another visit to the city. Also, it was an excuse for us to visit this restaurant called Kichi-Kichi for the chef’s famous omu-rice with demi-glace sauce. Our first stop for the day was the Fushimi-Inari shrine, which most people who have watched Memoirs of a Geisha would be familiar with. Unfortunately, we did not see any young aspiring geisha running through the torii gates full of glee.
We were first greeted by this cheeky fox statue as we entered the shrine. Images and statues of foxes are seen almost throughout this shrine since they are regarded as messengers for the Shinto God of rice, Inari. The shrine is also famous for its torii gates covered hiking trail, called Senbon Torii (thousands of torii gates), which comprised of two dense rows of torii gates that run parallel to each other.
After exploring the main shrine, we made our way to the Senbon Torii hiking trail and started to ascend the steps. We worked up quite a sweat hiking up the mountain trail and it did not help that some parts of the gates got a bit congested with the amount of both local and foreign tourists who decided to turn this hike into a leisurely walk. I was pretty impressed to spot some elderly making their way up the mountain without any signs of exhaustion.
As we ascended the mountain trail, we saw several signs warning visitors to watch out for wild monkeys. Luckily, we did not spot a single one around as I am not a fan of those creatures with their fingers sticking into every nooks and crannies in your bags or pockets to search for food.
The torii gates along the hiking trails are donations by either individuals or companies. The names and dates of the donation are inscribed behind the gates. For people who are on a budget, they could make a small donation in exchange for a mini torii gate which would be stacked with many other miniature torii gates found outside of smaller shrines that are built alongside the hiking trail.
Small wooden restaurants could also be found along the way of the hiking trail. These restaurants served locally-themed dishes such as Inari sushi and Kitsune Udon (Fox udon). Some of the restaurants also sell soft serve ice-cream with smaller range of flavours.
As the number of torii gates became more sparse, we knew that we were close to the summit. To be honest, the view was alright but Stan could not stop snapping pictures. Perhaps, I was just really hungry and could not wait to dig into some hot and steamy udon. I’ve made a mental note to myself that I should disassociate how movies portray certain locations. In real life, I do not possess such stamina to run through a bunch of gates after discovering that I have a major crush on a man twice my age.
Stan and I each ordered Nabeyaki Udon and a plate of Inari sushi to share on the side. Served in an earthen pot, the udon was topped with a prawn tempura, fishcake, shittake mushroom, egg with a runny yolk and some seaweed. Needless to say the meal was well worth the hike. The Inari sushi was just as pleasant as the udon. The sweetened aburaage (fried tofu skin) was very appetizing to the palate and it is believed to be the foxes’ favourite food according to folklore.
After our meal and a short rest, we descended the steps back to the main shrine and had a walk around the souvenir shops. Food stalls that sell local snacks such as takoyaki and yakitori can be found alongside the souvenir shops. Stan and I bought this adorable little fox figurine made of ceramic as a souvenir since it is a nice breakaway from the maneki-neko (the beckoning cat).
We took a bus to our next stop, which was the less famous ‘relative’ to Kinkakuji (The Golden Pavilion), called Ginkakuji, that is the Silver Pavilion. Unlike the Fushimi-Inari shrine, the temple was less packed and we could afford to stroll at a slower pace. Yes, Stan and I are the type of people who would feel bad and embarrassed with we block other people’s pathway.
The temple itself is not really covered in actual silver but it is a nickname coined a century after the temple was built to contrast the Golden Pavilion. Besides the beautiful architecture of the temple buildings, Ginkakuji is also well-known for its meticulously maintained sand garden.
The well maintained sand garden was impressive but to us personally, the moss garden was more to behold. Stan and I enjoyed a nice peaceful stroll in the moss garden before exiting the temple to again, try some local snacks.
We came across a small stall that sold this interesting snack, which we did not get to learn the name of. The snack somewhat resembled a miniature okonomiyaki ( a type of savoury pancake) topped with an egg with runny yolk, pickles and bonito flakes. We decided to order it out of curiosity since we spotted a lot of tourists ordering them. Our curiosity did pay off and the oozing yolk was a great complement to this warm gooey snack which we would never learn its name. At the same time, we ordered a stick of dango to share. The glutinous rice dumplings were drizzled with a savoury and sweet soy sauce and topped with a generous amount of soybean flour.
While savouring the snacks, the poor stall owner has somewhat ‘harassed’ by these bunch of obnoxiously loud tourists. One of them stopped in her tracks and shouted, ‘Russell! You want green tea ice-cream, RIGHT?!! This stall sells it! Oui! Russell! Green tea ice-cream here!!!’ The lady then proceeded to order her ice-cream as if she was in a fish market and the stall owner was deaf. Embarrassingly, the lady was probably from Singapore or Malaysia as she had a Singlish accent.
After we had our snacks, we headed to the narrow alleyways of Gion to find Kichi-Kichi. We got to know this restaurant via a Youtube video, demonstrating the chef’s kitchen prowess while serving up his signature omu-rice dish. The restaurant is very small and narrow and the kitchen is just wide enough to accommodate the chef and the waitress. We were seated on the bar counter, watching the chef cooked up his signature dish in awe. The chef was an eccentric fellow; with a pair of sunglasses he occasionally checked himself out while ABBA songs were blasting in the restaurant.
The chef topped the omu-rice off with a rolled omelette which was cooked on the outside but still runny on the inside. With his knife, he sliced the omelette open and the half-cooked egg just drizzled on top of the rice. He finished the dish with a drizzle of demi-glace sauce. Needless to say, it was worth paying 2500 yen (around 25 dollars) each for this dish. After dinner, we had a casual chat with the chef and waitress before heading off to Osaka to meet up with a friend for supper.
Back in Osaka, Stan and I made a short stop at our hotel to freshen up before meeting our friend, Audrey. We met up at Dotonburi, which was very busy during the night and decided to have yakitori at a random yakitori restaurant we came across. Initially, we wanted to have yakiniku but most of the restaurants were fully booked.
We ordered various types of skewered chicken, chicken karaage (fried chicken pieces) and a serve of baked tomato rice topped with cheese. It was nice catching up with Audrey and the food was scrumptious. We headed off to an arcade centre nearby to take some purikura pictures and hanged out for a bit before we parted ways. It was a productive and exhaustive day and we just could not wait for what our next trip in Japan has to offer!