“Summer” is here again and for a tropical country like Singapore who knows no seasons, it is usually marked by unbearable heat waves, and hopefully late afternoon thunderstorms which help to dispel the heat for more tolerable nights, only to wake up to repeat this “daily cycle” all over again. While I loathe the heat, I love “summer” for several reasons and one of which is the coming of seasonal fruits we get only during this time of the year. Stone fruits take centre stage but not forgetting our lovely tropical mangoes and soon-to-come durians as well. One of my favorites is 日向夏柑 Hyuganatsu, a citrus from Miyazaki, Japan much loved for its refreshing sweet and sourish flavour combination. Amongst all the varieties of Japanese citrus available throughout the year from an assortment of different cultivars of Mikan to Yuzu, Kiyomi, Dekopon, Satsuma etc… Hyuganatsu is one which is particularly enjoyed to “welcome” the hot season, as the name of this citrus 夏 “natsu” literally means “summer” in Japanese. The Japanese love it and often present boxes of hyuganatsu as omiyage or gifts to friends, family and business associates whenever the fruits are in season. Though good to be eaten on its own, Hyuganatsu can also be used to make a variety of desserts, including the popular 日向夏柑の寒天ゼリー Hyuganatsu Kanten Jelly, which is so easy to make but incredibly enjoyable.
Back to Osaka after a couple of days out in Kyoto and Nara, we’re down to our second last day in Kansai. The original plan was to explore Umeda in northern Osaka but we’d decided against that after passing through the area on the train to Kyoto. Towering skyscrapers and looming office buildings seem to characterise this part of town. Well, it is afterall a commercial hub in Osaka, that reminded us of the western end of Shinjuku. A quick change of plans brought us to Kobe, another coastal city barely an hour from Osaka by train. Kobe, well known for its beef and the great Hanshin earthquake in 1995. Kobe was highly recommended by Chef Lynn Chen, the macaron instructor at Palate Sensations who supposed that the quality of some patisseries and confectioneries in Kobe are on par, if not better than those in Tokyo! Since we were already in Kansai, it seemed wrong not to pop by Kobe for a visit!
The bento lunch was cold but tasty, and alas, too short. We continued our way around Nara, crossing Nara Koen and making our way to Todaiji 東大寺, an ancient buddhist shrine, which boasts many “firsts” in this ancient city.
Day 5 in Japan is our 3rd day in Kyoto. Incidentally, its our last day here too. We love this city so much and lamented at the thought of not being able to stay here for another day. No wait, make that the rest of our lives! Its an ancient city yes but still so very much alive! The juxtaposition of the ancient and the new, the young and the old is all too dramatic and attractive for us. 3 days is really
barely NOT enough to see Kyoto and I often wonder how people do those “one day Kyoto stopovers” as they travel from Fukuoka to Tokyo via the JR line. I bet they leave the city with memories like… erm, Kyoto… what Kyoto?
Apart visiting kiyomizu-dera 京都清水寺, we headed northwards passing through numerous small lanes which we so well-preserved of Kyoto’s glorious past. Some of the houses have been standing for hundreds of years. Even rebuilts were modelled after the old design. If not for the people, one would have been transported back to the Edo period…
After waking up to a cold and lazy morning, we took a bus from outside the hotel to Kyoto Station. Though the train station is nearby, we opted for buses instead as its cheaper. Moreoever, we get to sightsee along the way, and hopefully chance upon something which would be interesting. Today’s itinerary is to cover Higashiyama, which literally means the “eastern hills” of Kyoto. We had glimpses of the place yesterday since Gion is located there. Today’s walking trail would bring us from Kiyomizudera to Heian Jingu.
2nd day in Kyoto, we woke up to a pleasant surprise. it had been snowing the night before and the neighbourhood was enshrouded in a white veil. barely 6 am in the morning but the sky’s already quite lit but the air was chilly and dense. the neighbourhood was still in slumbers, quiet and peaceful saved for an occasional but infrequent bark. probably an Akita. clouds ominous and grey brood in the distant mountains foreboding a storm making its way down the hills. True enough, it began to snow again.
Pâtisserie Henri Charpentier (PHC) is easily the most “accessible” french bakery in Japan, with many takeaway outlets in depachikas of the major departmental stores like Isetan, Daimaru and Takashimaya, all over Japan. In fact, I don’t recall not seeing them at any of the departmental stores we went to! If one is forced to draw comparisons, PHC is like BreadTalk in Singapore, only that the former is much much much much much much…better, especially for a pastry junkie like me!
As we were on our way, leaving Gion to cross Kamogawa for Takashimaya Kyoto, we chanced upon our first french pastry shop in Kyoto, Pâtisserie Gion Sakai. Amidst the traditional Japanese architectural infrastructure of this part of the ancient city which beared two-storey shophouses with wooden framed doors, this establishment seemed like the most unexpecting and perhaps awkward juxtaposition. Nonetheless, we are glad that we have found it.
We took a bus from Arashiyama back to Central Kyoto and boy oh boy was it a long journey. The bus weaved through the numerous streets of Kyoto which we probably won’t have known or visited otherwise. We stopped around Gion-Shijo area and walked down to Hanamikoji 花見小路 for some geisha spotting!
After visiting Tenryuji and a walk through the Sagano Bamboo Groves, we found ourselves back onto the main street of Arashiyama where we were treated with a rare sight, even in Japan – a female rickshaw puller. We only saw another one a couple of days later in Nara. She was all smiles to everyone along the way but did not go about touting her services actively unlike the others around. Couldn’t resist a candid shot of her.
Prior to our trip, we did some info-scouting on tripadvisor and we had some wonderful advice from the good people there. One person I really want to pay tribute to is Kobekeith, an expert for the Kansai region on the website forum. His recommendations and suggestions were really superb and helped us a lot in planning our own itinerary.
After Otagi Nenbutsu-Ji, we took a cab back down to Arashiyama station. The walk back downtown is quite a long one and we didn’t want to upset the schedule for the rest of the day. We saw a cab “straying” around the area when we were waiting at the bus stop and we flagged frantically to catch the driver’s attention. I’m pretty sure he was as glad to have chanced upon us as we’d found him!
Day 3 in Japan started early, checking out of the hotel in Osaka before daylight and making our way to Kyoto. The weather was biting cold and even started to snow! Alas everything went on rather smoothly. After checking in at Kyoto Kokusai Hotel opposite Nijo castle, we headed westwards for Arashiyama. Our first stop was somewhat off the beaten track. A rather quiet temple within the hills of Sagano, 愛宕念仏寺 Otaginenbutsu-ji.
Again, more of a photo log than a writing post. Enjoy!
Sorry for the lack in updates from our recent Osaka trip. These two weeks had been hectic as hell for me with students’ mid-year exams round the corner. Trying to cram in as much last minute revision as possible. But alas I’d better get this going cos we are going Taipei next week and that would mean a severe backlog to clear! So here we go!
Patisserie Alcyon is another home-grown brand under “Anjou and Alcyon” whose humble beginnings in 1972as a restaurant in Shinsaibashi Osaka, specialising in Mediterranean cuisine. The patisserie branch debuted in 1986 and has since grown not only locally but reached the shores of France, with dessert boutiques in Paris. We visited their takeaway outlet in Umeda, Osaka which is reputed to have a very good selection of macarons. And indeed they do! 30 flavours in all!
Pâtisserie Factory Shin @ Daimaru Umeda, Osaka. Another “home-grown” name trying very hard to make a name for itself in the patisserie circle in Japan, and had been somewhat successful, having almost 40 dessert boutiques and takeaway counters all over Japan, including Daimaru Umeda which we’d visited. And they had one of my all-time favorites, Mont Blanc in not just one, but two flavours!
Dinner time and we found ourselves back along shinsaibashi suji 心齋橋筋. Not wanting to travel far out, after a long and tiring day at Osaka Castle and Umeda, Dotonbori seemed like the best option, and 鶴橋風月 大阪焼 Fugetsu Okonomiyaki located just next to Dotonbori-bashi was ideal. It’s authentic and its piping hot for the freezing cold weather!
Cute pinky piggy on the menu whom i’d affectionately called “buta-san”.
No trip to Japan would be complete without sampling authentic Japanese cuisine. We ain’t very keen on Kaiseki 懷石料理 though. Exquisite it might be, the damage is not going to be dainty on our wallets. Our overnight stay at an mini onsen resort in Hakone during our last trip to the Kanto region came with a mini Kaiseki dinner, so its more or less a “been there done that” for us. But we’d not had 和菓子 wagashi yet. Not the authentic ones at least, unless you count the countless sticks of dango we’d bought from supermarkets! So we are definitely not going to miss the opportunity this time round to try some and zoomed in on those offered by 竹路庵, a very famous wagashi shop from 岚山 Arashiyama. We’d read online that the flagship store in western Kyoto is always packed with tourists! Thankfully they have a stall located at the basement of Daimaru in Umeda Osaka which is well supplied with freshly made confections sent from Kyoto 2-3 times a day. That definitely saved us the hassle of queuing, and not to mention giving us a preview of Kyoto, and a taste of spring…
Before our trip to Keikanshin Japan, we did some reading up on the patisseries in the region which are accessible to us. The list was quite overwhelming frankly. But given the time constraint, we had to trim it down to a small compilation, mostly those with takeaway outlets within the depachika of major shopping malls like Daimaru, Takashimaya and Sogo. Jean Philippe Darcis, Michel Belin, Wittamer etc were just some of the international names that had landed in Japan over the last few years. But personally, I’m more keen on sampling creations by the Japanese patissiers.
From a recipe book “Monter au Plus haut du ciel” published by MOOK, I learned about Hayashi Syuhei 林 周平 a patissier from Kagawa Prefecture in Shikoku and now currently based in Kobe with his own Patisserie, Mont Plus. The book title, literally meaning “To Reach for the Skies” was very intriguing and so were the creations within. Kobe wasn’t on our itinerary but thankfully, Hayashi san opened an outlet, mont plus PAYSANNE in JR Osaka Station in Umeda. I knew I had to pay a visit to sample his works.
We were absolutely famished after a whole morning at Osaka Castle and the Plum Blossom Garden. We headed for Umeda via the Osakajo Koen Subway Station on the Chuo line.
Second day in Osaka was biting cold but somewhat sunny. What an oxymoron yes I know but that was exactly how we felt! But the perfect weather to visit the Osaka Castle. Not so much of a writing post, more of a photo log.
Venturing pass the main shopping corridor of Shinsaibashi, we’d reached Dotonborigawa 道頓堀川, whose banks are laden with restaurants and eateries of all sorts. One photo caption I’d read over the net mentioned that “Dotonbori typifies the flamboyance of Osaka”, and I couldn’t agree more.
Colorful sights and sounds along the banks of dontonbori, made famous by a prominent Osakan trademark, the Glico “Running Man”.