Day 12 – Hiking up Fushimi Inari & Exploring Kyoto on Two Wheels

After finally getting a good night’s sleep, we did not repeat our mistake from yesterday and got up at 8 am like we planned to. For breakfast I’m busting out the kakinoha-zushi I bought in Nara yesterday. To recap, it is sushi wrapped in persimmon leaves, a method of preserving the fish and rice the old days so they can be transported to inland cities like Nara. It has survived to this day as a Nara specialty and a common souvenir domestic Japanese travellers bring back home (and me).

Kakinoha-zushi box set

The unboxing

The reveal!

The set I got consisted of mackerel and salmon nigiri wrapped in persimmon leaves. You can definitely taste the flavour of the persimmon leaves when you bite into the sushi, which isn’t bad but isn’t amazing either. Obviously it’s not as fresh as the sushi you get at Tsukiji or any sushiya, but it does have a distinct taste to it. The rice is kinda sticky so you’ll definitely need to wash your hands after eating. It was a good experience but once off is good enough for me, plus you don’t get a lot of fish so at 6 pieces for about $10 it’s not amazing value either.

Well fed and well rested, it’s time to go on a cycling tour of Kyoto! I can’t speak much for other cities, but Kyoto is a great place to explore on two wheels as it is mostly flat,  relatively tame traffic drivers and well maintained roads. Most tourist attractions can be reached with a 30 minutes to an hour ride from Kyoto Station assuming you’re staying around there, and most hostels can either rent you a bike or point you towards a rental shop. K’s house had plenty of bikes waiting outside that can be rented on a first-come-first-serve basis. I can’t remember how much it was, but on average anywhere it’s probably be about 1,000 yen to rent one for the day. They were enough for our needs, as we don’t anticipate a really long ride or having to gain much elevation.

Most bike rentals will have these basic push bikes, don’t expect 8-gear road bikes!

A short and leisurely 20 minutes or so ride along Kamo River and we’ve reached our first stop of the day, the Fushimi Inari Taisha. One of many Shinto shrines dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice (lol), Fushimi Inari is one of a kind as most shrines will only have a couple of torii gates while Fushimi Inari boasts over 10,000 of them! That’s a lot of dedication to the rice gods! That might seem strange, but you gotta remember hundreds of years ago everyone were basically farmers but you couldn’t take rice for granted like you can now, so rice was basically a proxy for power and wealth. In Feudal Japan, taxes were even levied in the form of rice rather than money, which contributed to the rise of Inari as a prominent god in Shintoism.

The torii gates form a loooooong trail behind the main shrine all the way up the sacred Mount Inari, which also provides excellent views overlooking Kyoto. So it’s no surprise that most tourists come here for the hike up the hill rather than the actual shrine itself. Of course we’re here to see the whole package, but it seems like just like when we visited Yasaka Shrine on New Years Eve, half of Kyoto also had the same idea. In fact it was so crowded that police was brought in for crowd control, and we had to get off our bike more than a block away from the main entrance.

Half of Kyoto showed up presumably for their hatsumode

After finding parking we walked to the entrance of Fushimi Inari, where it was also lined with street food stalls. A note on bike parking, Kyoto is quite strict so you can’t just park anywhere as they will get towed – good luck explaining that to the rental shop. There are paid parking spots around the city that are pretty cheap, but the best way to park your bike is in front of a convenience store which is completely free and unlimited.

The shrine itself has a cool design, but if you’ve spent any significant amount of time in Japan already then you’re probably getting a bit used to them. The shrine does have some significant history, more than 1,300 years old and predating the capital’s move to Kyoto in 794.

Pay your respects, get an omikuji and move on

The real show begins just behind the main shrine, as we followed the masses into the entrance of the hiking train covered by the torii gates. It feels quite surreal walking through them, as I still remember the first time we walked through one on this trip like it was a big deal, but now it’s like well shit I’ve already lost count… Remember torii gates are supposed to be the entrance to the sacred realm and walking through the middle is a privilege reserved for the gods!

Entrance to Mt. Inari hiking trail

Are there more people here or more torii gates?

Look back and you’ll see writing on all of them!

These torii gates are donated by both individuals and companies to pray for a wish to come true, or to thank for a wish that became true, a custom that dates back to the Edo Period (1603 – 1868) and is still going strong. Each is inscribed on the back with the name of the donor and the date it was donated, in the format of the Japanese Imperial calendar which is based on the year into the reign of the current emperor. For example, in the picture above the foremost gate is donated by waste management company called Arai Restem on the 11th month of the 27th year of the Heisei (平成) era , which is the name of the reign of the current Emperor Akihito (who is abdicating soon) and corresponds to November 2015. Even if you can’t tell work out the date, it’s pretty easy to tell their relative age as the newer they are, the brighter and less faded the orange is.

A short while later we reached the Senbon Torii (thousands of torii gates), where the trail splits into two paths, each covered by a dense set of smaller torii gates almost like a tunnel.

Follow the direction of the crowd

Here the torii gates are so dense you literally can’t squeeze past them

They can get quite low so if you’re super tall then better keep an eye out

Once you’re past this section of the Senbon Torii and the two roads join together again, that’s where the hike up Mt. Inari really begins. While it’s not very high and the path is not particularly steep, due to how the paths circle around the mountain it takes a surprisingly long time to get to the top at around 2-3 hours depending on your speed and the crowd. There is definitely a big crowd today but I’d expect not much improvement on a non-holiday day given how popular this Fushimi Inari is, so I’d recommend coming here early, like real early, if you want to have the torii gates to yourselves. This article does an excellent job of detailing the hiking route and outlines all the points of interests on the way, but given the crowd today we decided to just go up and down wherever we could. There are also many maps scattered throughout the trail so don’t worry about getting lost.

Big tree root

As you make your way up Mt. Inari, the torii gates become smaller and less dense. You start to see a lot of smaller torii gates placed around stone monuments known as tsuka. While I know these tsuka belong to particular families, I’m not quite sure whether these are tombstones for their ancestors or just a private place of worship for the rice god Inari.

Got me real curious how much these torii gates would have costed, especially for a family to get their own little place of worship. Is it a privilege for the old and powerful families in Kyoto, or does it just cost a buttload of money? I did end up encountering a sign randomly placed by the side of the road that seemed to shed some light.

It appears that the first column in the table are the sizes of the torii gates and next to it are the corresponding prices. The cheapest one goes for 175,000 yen or about $9,000 and the most expensive one costs 1.3 million yen or a whopping $15,000 yen. A little bit of research and I found a website that showed the corresponding size measurement, so size 5 corresponds to a 15cm diameter and increases in 3cm increments, so size 10 is 30cm in diameter, which I assume that’s referring to the the diameter of the legs on the torii gates. Not too bad actually, a company only needs to cough up $15,000 to get the biggest torii gate dedicated to themselves.

Something else you often see at these family tsuka is statues of foxes wearing a little red napkin around their neck. Kitsune feature prominently here because in Shintoism they are regarded as messengers of Inari. They will often be seen holding a key in their mouth, which represents the key to the rice granaries.

Kitsune as part of a temizuya outside a shrine

There are also some living animals you can spot around the mountain, namely cats. Probably stray cats fed by those living on the mountain operating one of the many souvenir shops, tea shops or restaurants by the side of the trail. We did also see warning signs with “BEWARE OF WILD BOARS” but we kinda just laughed it off, the only time I’ve really given much thought to boars is in Age of Empires II because they can easily rekt your villagers if you send them exploring without keeping an eye on them (they give so much meat if you can lure them back and kill them though!). But oh boy did we get this wrong…more on this later…

Some are tame enough to be around people and let you take photos, but on a super crowded day like today they were all shy 😦

The restaurants on the mountain serve local specialties themed around aburaage or fried tofu skin which is said to be the favourite food of foxes, although I’m not sure they’d pass on some delicious meat for tofu. Well known aburaage based dishes are kitsune udon (udon with sheets of aburaage) and inarizushi, a type of simple sushi where rice is wrapped by aburaage.

Stop for a meal of fox-themed local specialties if you get tired from the hike

As we move up the mountain, the trail start to become less and less crowded so you’ll be able to take much better photos of the torii gates.

And if you’re patient enough, there’ll be opportunities to get some shots of the torii gates without any other tourists ruining the picture!

After about 45 minutes of hiking we reached the Yotsutsuji intersection which is about half way up the mountain. This is a good place to take a rest and get great views over Kyoto at the same time.

A lot of people tend to stop here because they ceebs going up anymore, since they’re mainly here to see the torii gates and after this point they are much less dense. However, we figured if we came all the way here, might as well soldier on and get to the top. A short climb later we reached one of the 3 shrines leading to the top of Mt. Inari, the Shimo no Yashiro Shrine.

No love shown for the lower shrine

There’s also the middle shrine, Naka no Yashiro Shrine, which we somehow missed. Then the top shrine is the Kami no Yashiro Shrine, sitting at the top of Mt. Inari.

Everyone’s waiting for the top shrine instead 😦

Now that we have conquered the challenge that is the 200m or so Mt Inari, we started our descent which loops around the summit then merges on the same trail we ascended on.

Not sure what this is but I’m sure there’s a story behind it

Small pond and what I think is a tea house overlooking it

On the way out back at the bottom, once again there’s a long line of street food stalls taking advantage of the huge holiday crowds. Even though it’s noon and I already planned something for lunch, I couldn’t leave this place full of delicious smelling food without at least trying something.

The local specialty of the district around Fushimi Inari Taisha might seem a little mean for the western palate – grilled sparrows or suzumeyaki.

I didn’t get one as they’re quite expensive at 500 yen each, look real tiny and full of bones

Rather I saw these big grilled pork skewers with spring onion, these look like good value

Not quite Japanese I guess but they did dip it in a yummy soy sauce

I don’t think anybody in their right mind will NOT recommend visiting Fushimi Inari Taisha if you’re in Kyoto. It’s basically a symbol of Kyoto and one of the most unique sites in all of Japan. However, tomorrow I’ll also show you guys a different way of visiting Fushimi Inari in what I’ll call the Spooky Mode ;).

When we went to get our bike, we saw this shiba inu hanging out at the storefront of a kimono rental shop. It looked quite lonely just lying there in that little enclosed space, chained to the gate :(.

Then began the cycle back to downtown Kyoto, to Pontocho where we walked past last night for a restaurant I’ve been particularly keen to try out. On the way, we crossed some railroads and rode along the banks of Kamo River.

Old school railway crossing

Long stretches of Kamo River have have pedestrian/cycling paths on its banks

In the small alleyway of Pontocho we found the restaurant we were looking for, or rather the particular dish we were looking for. Gyukatsua combination of gyu for beef and katsu for deep frying, is beef cutlets quickly deep fried in oil in about 30 seconds so the outside is crispy while the inside is still rare and juicy. Almost anyone who’s had some experience with Japanese food before would know about tonkatsu, Japan’s version of a pork schnitzel (also comes in chicken), but rarely will anybody know of the beef variety and I don’t think I’ve ever seen beef schnitzel at a pub either.

I believe gyukatsu originated from Kyoto, so naturally there’s a couple of well known gyukatsu restaurants here. They tend to be more mid-tier restaurants, so a little fancy and expect prices to match. Since restaurants in Japan tend to be quite small generally and gyukatsu is very fashionable at the moment, expect these restaurants to be very very popular during peak hours. That’s why I put it for lunch today, as by the time we arrived in Potoncho it’s almost 2 pm. The restaurant I’ve chosen is called Katsugyu (might not sound like a very creative name…but the kanji 勝 used in place of katsu sounds the same but means victory, so like a Japanese pun!) and there are several branches in Kyoto. We actually stopped by the branch just two blocks next to Kyoto Station first, but even at this time there was a pretty long line outside and we couldn’t find anywhere to park our bikes :(. As I mentioned before, bike parking is actually quite challenging in Kyoto, and in populated areas like around Kyoto Station even the convenience stores don’t have enough real estate for bike parking. Nearly everywhere you find on the road that looks like it’d be a good place to park your bike, there’ll be a sign saying don’t do it or it’ll get towed away :(.

That’s why we eventually ended up at the Potoncho branch. It actually didn’t help our parking situation at all as everywhere still had those warnings. But since there’s so many tiny alleyways between the buildings and honestly I had enough of this shit, we just tucked our bike away in a nearby alleyway. Seems like a lot of locals are doing that too, since we saw bikes in almost every nook and cranny.

I thought my plan of coming here late had worked perfectly as there didn’t seem to be any one waiting outside the restaurant, but my hopes were dashed when the waiter informed me that it was too crowded to line up right outside the restaurant, and the line actually starts a bit down the road next to a small park. Goddammit. It still did sorta work, as there were only 3 groups of people ahead of us and we were inside in about 15 minutes, a reasonable wait. They have about a dozen items on the menu but we had our eyes on the prize, the two types of gyukatsu – regular Kuroge wagyuu gyukatsu set for 1,980 yen or the premium version for 2,480 yen. I wasn’t sure if 500 yen can constitute an improvement that I’d be able to taste, especially after deep frying, so I went for the regular version.

Gyukatsu served with rice, a variety of dipping sauce, a dash of wasabimiso soup and shredded cabbage just like a tonkatsu

The food came out very quickly and for my first impression I was surprised at how rare the beef was. I suppose they only deep fry it for a little bit but I was still expecting something a bit less red since tonkatsu or schnitzels are always fully cooked. Not that it’s a bad thing, medium rare is just the way I like my steak.

They even provide instructions on how to eat this thing, because apparently just shoving it in your mouth isn’t the best way to appreciate it.

Instructions included

The most important take away from the instructions is that rice refills are FREE. Nah but seriously, the different ways to eat gyukatsu are:

  1. Put a bit of wasabi on it and dip in soy sauce, just like sushi
  2. Dip in salt and pepper
  3. Dip in Worcestershire sauce, which is basically the regular tonkatsu sauce
  4. Dip in curry sauce (little bowl of brown stuff in bottom right)
  5. Dip in a soft boiled egg or grated yam, but these cost extra
  6. Eat over rice with curry sauce or soft boiled egg and grated yam, which I don’t really count as an extra way…

So out of the 4 ways I realistically had access to, I liked the first method the most. Soy sauce is simple and wasabi provided a good kick to go along with both the crunchy exterior and the juicy interior. S&P was too standard and the other sauces were a bit thick which masked the crunchiness of the katsu part, but the gyukatsu itself was really really good so your mouth is gonna have a good time whichever way you ate with. For me, one of the main aims of this trip is to eat authentic Japanese food that aren’t so common in Australia and this ticks both boxes, so 2,000 yen well spent.

With lunch out of the way we continued with our bike tour of Kyoto (thank god they didn’t get towed), and a 40 minute leisurely ride up north to Ginkakuji, the Silver Pavilion. Another landmark of Kyoto, this Buddhist temple was built in 1482 by a shogun as his retirement home modelled after Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion, which was the retirement home of his grandfather. I’ll talk about Kinkakuji when we go check it out tomorrow, but I’ll quickly explain shogun. It is a title given by the Emperor to the country’s top military commander, but during a large period of Japan’s history (around 1185 to 1868) shoguns were the de facto ruler and dictator of Japan. Kinda like Napolean I guess except shoguns never actually declared themselves as the emperor. The Emperor of Japan remained largely a ceremonial figurehead until Emperor Meiji restored his power during the Meiji Restoration and lead Japan on a path of rapid modernisation, which I have talked about previously.

Now back to Kinkakuji, after the shogun‘s death the retirement home was converted to a Zen temple, which is a sect of Buddhism that believes one can achieve enlightenment through discipline and meditation. As we enter, we were greeted with another well maintained Japanese garden.

However, something you may have not seen before are the meticulously raked sand gardens on the ground. It’s actually more like gravel than sand because it is less disturbed by rain and wind, but it is raked into a pattern meant to resemble waves of water ripples, essentially representing the sea. In contrast, the moss covered grounds represent land covered by forest and stone arrangements are used to represent mountains.

Shortly after entering the temple grounds you’ll come across the main building Kannon-den or Kannon Hall dedicated to Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy in Buddhism. It might be a bit underwhelming at first because I was literally expecting a big temple made out of shiny silver, but the name itself is however a bit misleading as it’s more of a light grey colour. In fact it’s never at any point in it’s history been covered in silver, so it sounds like a case of false advertising here!

I guess it’d be too expensive to paint the whole thing with real silver

Next to it is an expansive sand garden that’s immaculately maintained like the others, with a big sand scone about 1.8m tall. The sand garden is known as Ginshaden, or the Sea of Silver Sand, and the sand cone is known as Kogetsudai or the Moon Viewing Platform. Together, they represent the Fuji five lakes and Mt. Fuji itself.

Ginshaden

Kogetsudai

Five Five Lakes & Mt. Fuji

The rest of the temple consist of a trail going around the temple grounds then up a small hill where you can get some okay views.

Togudo, an original temple building famed for its study room apparently, not open to public

Wonder how much is down there?

A well where the founding shogun used to make team from

View from the top of the hill

Moss garden

A different view of Ginkakuji

And that concludes our visit, which took just under an hour. Not gonna lie still feel a bit jipped by the lack of silver around here, but the sand gardens were quite interesting although to be fair you can see them at most temples, as I would later see over and over again. I won’t say Ginkakuji belongs in the top tier of tourist attractions in Kyoto, Kinkakuji is much better in my opinion, so if you’re absolutely short for time and you can only see one of those temples then pick Kinkakuji. However, the area surrounding Ginkakuji has many points of interest, so if you’re spending a day exploring this area then it makes for a good 1 hour stop. Just be wary that all these temples and stuff cost money, e.g. Ginkakuji is 500 yen, so over a few days this can add up!

Speaking of the surrounding area, Ginkakuji marks the start (or the end) of a 2km trail known as Tetsugaku no michi, or the Philosopher’s Path. At the other end is another well known temple called Nazenji, and along the path it is dotted with more temples and shrines as well. The path follows a canal and is for pedestrians or cyclists only. On the side there are many cherry trees so in April it’s a popular place for hanami, or cherry blossom viewing.

On the sides are a mix of residential housing and small boutiques and restaurants, but overall it was quite dead when we visited, probably because it’s past 4 pm and it’s winter. There’s really nothing that special about the Philosopher’s Path, which if you’re wondering is named after a famous philosopher Nishida Kitaro, who used to practice meditation while walking on this path to his job at Kyoto University. I just can’t believe being a philosopher is an actual paying job, I wish I got paid to play around with my imagination and thinking about abstract things with zero practicality.

Actually there is something special about the Philosopher’s Path, but probably only to someone like me LOL. There are soooooo many stray cats that live along this path and I basically stopped every time I saw one, while Karl rolls his eyes. Some are even friendly enough to let you sit next to them, and even pet them!

The cutest part is this random fancy cart that’s suspended in the air by the side of the road with cushions inside for the cats to sleep on.

Even better, a doge appeared! The cats didn’t seem to care at all.

This part along makes the Philosopher’s Path worth it :D, at least for me. If we had more time in the day, we could’ve visited Nazenji when we got to the end. But by now it’s almost closing time so we’ll have to come back another day. I know, I know, this is not maximising efficiency :(.

Our cycle back took us through the district of Gion, Kyoto’s most famous geisha district. It is popular with tourists for its traditional style architecture and for the chance to spot a geisha going to work. Geisha are professional entertainers who attend to guests during meals through a variety of ways, from your casual chit chat to drinking games and dance performances. They are trained as teenagers and work in ochaya or tea houses, which are usually concentrated in particular districts such as Gion. A relic from the past, they can be considered the forerunners of the modern, high-end hostess clubs today. However, despite commonly being misconstrued as prostitutes or escorts, they provide no sexual services so don’t get that part mistaken…If you want to experience the geisha culture you can try to book a geisha dinner through your accommodation or a travel agent. Make sure you look for one that’s suitable for non-Japanese speaking people, since English is likely not one of the many skills in a geisha‘s repertoire. Just beware that hiring a geisha for a mean can cost more than 50,000 yen and the dinner will probably cost at least another 10,000 per person!!! So yeah I don’ care how high-end these experiences are, but on the account of the actual entertainment activities that seemed to be involved, I’m gonna say this is definitely not worth your money.

A stroll through Gion however, is completely free and recommended. The buildings here look very traditional and well preserved, some still operating for their original purpose!  Interesting fact is that in the past property taxes were based on how much exposure the house gets to the main road, so people built their houses really narrow at the front, but really long once you go in. A nice area here for an evening stroll is along the Shirakawa canal is, lined by willow trees on the banks on one side and high end restaurants and ochaya on the other.

Tatsumi Daimyojin Shrine, a local shrine frequented by geisha

Shirakawa canal at dusk

We tried looking for a geisha but was unsuccessful, only spotting tourists cosplaying with kimono -_-. If you do find one, make sure you’re respectful and don’t stop them to take a picture or something, they’re probably on their way to an appointment.

The plan for dinner is in 2 parts (yay two meals) – first we are going to fill up on a cheap (but still delicious) meal before having a taste of something more exotic and expensive. The cheap meal will be at CoCo Ichibanya, a chain restaurant specialising in Japanese curry. Japanese curry is different from say Indian or Thai curry, as it uses no coconut milk, more on the sweet side than spicy, and there’s only 1 variation – a thick and brown sauce. It’s very much a comfort food and more like a stew rather than the curry we’re used to, e.g. Indian butter chicken or Thai green curry. It’s also quite a casual meal considered more of a fast food in Japan, so there’s really no point trying to find it in a high-end restaurant, just go to one of the many chain restaurants specialising in Japanese curry. For us, there was a CoCo Ichibanya just 5 minutes walk from our hostel, so it was an easy choice.

They have a huge variety of curries on offer as well as an English menu so it’s easy to figure out what to order. But we saw a specials menu with some massive portions, so they were perfect to fill us up.

Karl’s monster with 3 types of pork – shredded, loin katsu and fillet katsu

I wanted more variety with the kaki-furai (fried oyster) but got lost in translation and ended up with double portions…didn’t turn out to be that cheap of a meal after all 😦

Let’s just preface by saying that while Japanese curry is good, I think Indian curry is better (Thai curry has too much veggies in it except for Massaman beef curry). But that aside, the Japanese curry at CoCo Ichibanya was on point and mixes very well with the various katsu as a sauce. It’s a very hearty and filling meal, perfect for those on a budget (if you don’t screw up the order like me). To avoid making comparisons subconsciously, I think it’s best to go into a Japanese curry restaurant thinking of it as a stew rather than curry. Different curry chain restaurants have a different style of curry so it’s worth trying them out to see the difference. One particular chain that I saw often but didn’t get to go is GoGo Curry with the unmissable gorilla logo.

Look out for this guy!

Now the whole purpose of filling ourselves up is for dinner round 2, trying out fugu, the highly poisonous Japanese pufferfish. While cute in appearance, the toxic poison tetrodotoxin contained in a fugu‘s ovaries, liver and intestines are 1,200 times more deadly than cyanide, with no known antidote. If consumed, it will paralyse your muscles including your respiratory system, causing a slow and painful death unless you can find an artificial respiratory system to wear out the poison’s effects before you run out of air. So yeah if you screw up you’re most likely going to die. Chefs in Japan must go through years of training and pass some really hard tests with high fail rate (hmm….sounds familiar?) to be qualified to prepare and serve fugu. They need to carefully remove the poisonous organs so the meat is not contaminated, which are them disposed as hazardous waste in a special locked container, which is then burt. Serious stuff. Even now a few people each year still die from eating fugu, but usually fishermen who caught and ate it without knowing how to properly prepare it, rather than at certified restaurants. Interesting fact, there’s actually a law that forbids the Emperor of Japan from eating fugu just in case shit hits the fan, and in the 1600s to 1800s the shogunate banned fugu after many samurai died from fugu poisoning.

However, apart from that relatively short ban, fugu has always been a delicacy consumed in Japan going back thousands of years. Along with all the training required nowadays, fugu restaurants are quite expensive and as with all delicacies if you plan to get full from just fugu it’d be quite expensive. Hence why we just wanted to try some and filled up our stomach beforehand, as we aren’t rich enough for a full fugu banquet :'(. Of course you can get fugu at a specialised high-end restaurant, but the best way to keep the cost down is eating at one of the two fugu chain restaurants – Genpin Fugu and Zuboraya. We picked Genpin Fugu as there was a branch near Kyoto Station and I found an English menu online, where even the cheapest course is 4,300 yen and it isn’t even clear if that’s per person or for 2 people…

Instead we ordered a la carte and split a few dishes.

Fugu sashimi, thin (I mean real thin) slices of raw fugu. A bit chewy and fairly tasteless if you don’t dip in soy sauce. Wish they were a bit more generous with the cuts 😦

Fugu karaage or deep fried fugu – much more flavourful, tastes kinda like fish cocktails from your local fish and chips shop haha

I was done from all the curry before, but Karl went all in and got a serving of grilled fugu too

Negotiated to buy a piece off Karl and it was pretty good!

I think karaage was the best, followed by grilled and then sashimi. Honestly, I couldn’t really tell how fugu tasted different to other fish when they are fried or grilled, if anything it was more bland. So I don’t recommend dropping 10,000 yen for their most expensive course, as ordering a few dishes to try out was enough for me, just so I can say I’ve tried it before :D. Consider it as a novelty and trying something a little more adventurous than your average Japanese affair like curry or ramen.

Okay now to be a party pooper. Apparently some people report a tingling sensation after eating fugu due to small traces of the poison, but I think this is just in the mind like a placebo effect. That’s because in recent years people have found out how to breed and farm non-toxic fugu by not letting them feed on the bacteria that gives them the toxin in the organs. With the increasing popularity of fugu and the corresponding dip in the population of poisonous wild fugu, most fugu restaurants now get their stock from fugu farms. Unless you’re willing to spend, I’m pretty sure a relatively affordable chain restaurant like Genpin Fugu would be selling the non-toxic farmed variety. This is why today, it is common to see fugu in supermarkets for people to just take home and cook, which kinda reduces the adventurous part of the experience. Still, given it’s important in Japan’s culinary culture and value as a conversation starter, I’d recommend giving it a go :), just don’t go all in as you may be disappointed.

Kyoto doesn’t have much of a nightlife when compared to Osaka or Tokyo, the only things I can imagine tourists doing are going to a bar in the Gion district or visit a shrine that’s illuminated. So instead, we took this opportunity to do something we’ve been wanting to do since we left Sydney – to watch スター・ウォーズ/最後のジェダイ otherwise known as Star Wars: The Last Jedi!

Oh shit it’s happening

I really like Star Wars, but I’m in the minority in that I like the prequels the best, because a) I like the storyline of Anakin turning into Darth Vader even if the acting is mediocre at best, b) the special effects and light sabre duels are just much more exciting. Seriously how can anyone who grew up with the prequels handle the horrendous special effects and incredibly boring action scenes in the original trilogy, literally unwatchable. That one scene where the old Obi-wan Kenobi duels Darth Vader, or more like they stare at each other for 5 minutes and swing their light sabre a few times, is impossible to watch compared to the choreographed duels in the prequels, like when Yoda goes HAM.

The new trilogy is okay, I feel like the storyline isn’t too different from the original or the prequel (some random kid trains to become a Jedi against all odds and fights a cloaked Sith villain, except this time it’s a girl for diversity). The things I really didn’t like are (spoiler alert):

  • Rose Tico the new Asian character they introduced, and the whole random arc where her and Finn go to a casino on some planet to find a hacker, just felt disconnected from the rest of the plot and I didn’t care for her at all. One chance to include an Asian girl in a Star Wars film and they screwed it up, although I did like what they done with Donnie Yen in Rogue One
  • General uselessness of Luke Skywalker and how easily he died, I was hoping he’d kick some more ass and show how strong he is
  • Anti-climatic death of Snoke without even giving us any more information on who he is. Better bring him back next film! However, this fight scene was badass!

The cinema we went to is called MOVIX Kyoto, located in downtown Kyoto. Movies in Japan are actually quite expensive, with a standard ticket costing ~$20, more than it would in Sydney (at least if you have Telstra Rewards). However, on different days of the week they have discounts depending on the cinema. For MOVIX they have 1,000 yen tickets on first day of every month and 1,000 tickets for girls on Wednesdays, so do your research beforehand if you plan to watch a movie during your time in Japan. They also do discounted late shows, but their definition of “late” is only 8 pm, so we only ended up paying 1,200 each for our tickets compared to the 1,800 normal price. Usually Hollywood films will have 2 versions, one dubbed in Japanese while one in English dub with Japanese subtitles, so make sure you pick the right one otherwise you’re gonna have no idea what’s going on, although I think the Japanese dub would be funny :D.

A good way to wind down after a long day of cycling and eating, so we can wake up all refreshed to do it all over again tomorrow :).

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2 thoughts on “Day 12 – Hiking up Fushimi Inari & Exploring Kyoto on Two Wheels

  1. Pingback: Day 13 – | Poor Man's Backpack

  2. Pingback: Day 13 – Visiting the Famous Temples of Kyoto & Fushimi Inari After Dark | Poor Man's Backpack

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