Celebrating Food! Celebrating Life!

Japan Mar 2011 Day 5 – 伏見稻荷大社 & JR Kyoto Station

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Our third and last day in Kyoto and we didn’t want to pack the day’s itinerary with too much activities but alas, I think we “underdid” ourselves as we were pretty much done with Kinkakuji and Kitano Tenmangu by mid-day, initially thinking that we’d probably need a full day for these two spots in northern Kyoto 洛北. Not wanting to waste any precious time in this beautiful city, a quick decision was made to visit sourthen Kyoto where the infamous 伏見稻荷大社 Fushimi Inari Daisha lies. But going there was not without hiccups…
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From a bus stop outside 北野天满宫 Kitano Tenmangu, we waited for a single bus service back to JR Kyoto Station, but the queue for it was hilarious (and yes! the Japanese queue even at bus stops, like in Taiwan and Hong Kong! Shame to us!). A quick check of the bus time guides and we’d realised the bus was still a comfortable 5-6 mins away. So we walked up to the previous bus stop and I’m so glad we did. A much much much smaller crowd and we managed to get seats on it! True enough, the bus became so packed when the bus eventually reached the station outside the shrine that some folks couldn’t board it at all. *phew*

But the journey back to Kyoto station proved to be a long and treacherous one and J dozed off… probably too tired from all that walking. And so did I, I think. :p

Thankfully, we were headed for the terminal stop at JR Kyoto Station and quickly woke up when we heard the flustering of everyone alighting the bus when it reached its final berth.

Alas came the next challenge, getting from the bus terminus to the JR station. How difficult can that be right? Since both are within the same compound. But mind you, JR Kyoto Station is HUGE!!! And to make things worse, it came with an “underground maze” of shops and restaurants as well as very poorly marked signboards which led us in circles.

With some difficulty, we’d found the JR exit and got ourselves train tickets to 稻荷 Inari where the shrine resides.  But the train leaves in 2 min, so here again another mad rush to the boarding platform, not realising that we’d boarded the wrong train! The JR system comes with very many different services, “express”, “rapid” and “section rapid”, depending on the number of stops that particular service would call upon along its route. Inari happens to be a “minor” station which not all services would stop at and we were so very unfortunate to have boarded a “rapid service” train which would bypass it!
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Thus, we had to quickly alight at the next station which the train stopped and it happened to be quite a distance away already from Inari. Quickly boarded the train coming in the opposite direction and then wait for a “section rapid” service which would stop at Inari. And I have to thank the train service people for all their help rendered to these two blur-going tourists from Singapore. One station master even ran with us up and down several flights of steps as we were on the wrong platform and radioed his colleague along the way to stall the train which we were suppose to take and was about to leave, for us for a teeny moment as we clambered onto it in an utmost embarassing manner with everyone in the cabin looking at us as we bent down to catch our breath!

I swear I almost cried when we’d finally reached the station and saw the sign above. And the station is really “minor” to say the least, with only two platforms covered by galvanised sheets flanked on both sides of the railway tracks.

It was already about 3 pm in the afternoon, but alas we’d finally reached…
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Gigantic red torii that greeted us, a sure sign of a shinto jinja.
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伏見稻荷大社 Fushimi Inari Daisha worships the Kitsune, fox spirits in Japanese mythology who are able to take human form, the other being the Tanuki, racoon dog. Kitsune are guardian spirits for agriculture and thus often seen clasping stalks of padi heavily ladened with grains in their mouths, bestowing a bumper harvest to devotees who come to worship and pay their respects.

Kitsune are also known to have a liking for those fermented Japanese beancurd skin sweetened with mirin, which can be slit open to form pockets to hold vinegared Japanese rice to make “Inari sushi”, which are aptly named after this place! And udon in soup cooked in a simple konbu-benito broth, embellished with dried seaweed (wakame) and sheets of inari is called “kitsune udon”, to honour the fox spirits!
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Main Hall in bright vermillon
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The highlight of this shrine is their “torii formation” , wooden gateways made typically with cypress wood painted with in brilliant vermillon as well. They were donated by devotees and worshippers over the years, laid and aligned carefully in a tight knit like domino blocks to form a tunnel-like passage way which ran for several kilometres into the hills behind the shrine, looking like the spine of a red and black dragon that spirals and resides in the nearby mountains.
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They start very big…
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And begin to get smaller, lower and narrower…
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And yet smaller, lower and narrower…
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And yet smaller, lower and narrower….
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Wooden wish plaques ema 绘马 in kitsune and torii motifs. There is an odd-looking motif as well, a rabbit with an inverted head! Wonder what that symbolises…
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By the time we got back to JR Kyoto Station, the sun has well set. An elevated view of Kyoto Tower, the tallest structure in all Kyoto. Only small plots near and around Kyoto Station are built-up in a more modernistic manner while the rest of this ancient city remains very well-preserved with most of the infrastructure dating back mostly to the Edo and Meiji period.  I guess that’s what captivates people to come visit from all over the world.
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We were absolutely famished! And the basement depachika of Isetan Kyoto provided just the right solution!

Imagawayaki 今川焼き, circular red bean-filled pancakes in the making…
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These fellas  came in two flavours, red bean filling tsubushi’an (赤餡) and lima bean filling shiro’an (白餡)! And just look at how generous the filling was!!!
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Taiyaki たい焼き in making, Japanese red bean pancakes in the shape of sea bream (tai).
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Using a funnel batter dispenser to ensure evenly sized pancakes!
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Packing in the tsubushi’an 潰し餡!
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A quick browse around, and we finally settled for San Marco cafe tugged in one of the corners in the depachika. So far we’d had really good experience with “kare” dishes in Japan so we’d figured curry can’t go very wrong in Japan! We shared two dishes, curry omu rice and katsu curry rice. The omelette rice was fairly decent though the minced meat in the curry sauce was too sparse. The curry was also a tad too mild for me but just right for J.
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The fried rice within was lightly flavoured with ketchup but not overpowering as what we’d tried in some other places. What I enjoyed the most was a series of condiments on the table which would be added onto your dish. There were finelly chopped spring onions, pickled young ginger and pickled cabbage. I particularly enjoyed the pickled cabbage! So refreshing and tang yet remaining crisp! And the best part is the condiments come free flow!
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The katsu curry rice was also quite enjoyable! Or perhaps we were too hungry to be critical and discerning!
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Succulent chunks of loin cuts which remained really juicy! The panko was crisp despite being drenched in curry. Oh yeah! Like the condiments on the table, second helpings of rice and miso soup came free!

After dinner and a short rest in the cafe, we’re on to do some shopping in Isetan! This has become an almost second-nature procession as Japanese depato depachikas have become like a funfair wonderland to us, with so many things to look at and try!

Keep a look out for what we brought back for supper in the next post!

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5 responses

  1. i’m seeing shrines everywhere in your japanese trip posts..the japanese are really very religious people, eh? also very helpful i presume…like the station master..

    February 14, 2012 at 10:45 pm

    • Alan (travellingfoodies)

      Yes! Sembahyang is a huge part of Japanese culture, with an infusion of Shinto and Buddhist practices. They pray, make wishes and get their fortune told for every thinkable issue. I’d even seen the Japanese people driving their brand new cars to the Shinto shrines to have them consecrated and blessed by the Shinto priests! Judging by how many toyotas, hondas, nissans and mazdas are made every year, angbaos received for the car blessing ceremony is a very very lucrative business in Japan!

      And yes! Japanese people are very helpful indeed, though I find it more so in Kansai region than in Tokyo. Everyone seems to be so busy and in a hurry to get somewhere in Tokyo.

      February 15, 2012 at 1:33 am

  2. Pingback: Japan Mar 2011 Day 5 – Surviving Depachikas in Japan « travellingfoodies

  3. Pingback: Japan Mar 2011 Day 5 – Pâtisserie Jouvencelle Oike Kyoto « travellingfoodies

  4. Pingback: Japan Mar 2011 Day 6 – Nara Koen and Katsuga Daisha « travellingfoodies

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