Senbei: A Traditional Japanese Treat

Senbei are crispy crackers made from rice (and often flavored). These crispy treats come in   both sweet and savory varieties, and have been a Japanese favorite for over a thousand years. Traditionally, the crackers are made from rice flour (sometimes with the addition of potato or other glutinous flours, though usually without wheat) either baked or grilled until crispy and light. The shop’s displays demonstrate the wide variety of senbei; I sampled many and enjoyed them all. Another popular cracker, similar to but distinct from traditional senbei are the small, round crunchy crackers known as arare (あられ) or “hailstones.” Many Western markets carry these small, round

Read more

Into the Shogun’s Palace (Part 2): The Honmaru Garden

Last Monday, we traveled (virtually) across the moat and onto the island that housed the Honmaru Palace, which served as the Tokugawa Shoguns’ personal residence in Kyoto. (Here’s the link to that post, if you want to catch up.) This morning, we continue that journey, starting from the courtyard just beyond the bridge: From the courtyard, visitors climb a set of stairs (constructed during the early 17th century, along with the rest of Nijo Castle’s grounds) to reach the elevated level of the Honmaru Palace and the lovely gardens that surround it. The palace and gardens were elevated primarily for defensive purposes, though their height also ensures good drainage–and

Read more

A Visit to Ginkakuji (Part 2)

(For the first half of the adventure at Ginkaku-ji, start here.) After hiking a mountainous path to see Ginkaku-ji’s famous Silver Pavilion from the elevated vantage point atop the temple gardens: My son and I descended the slippery stone steps (carefully–I didn’t want to ruin the trip by falling off a mountain right at the outset) through groves of bamboo, pine, and maple: …to the famous gardens that surround the pavilion itself: Although most people refer to the temple as Ginkaku-ji (“Temple of the Silver Pavilion”), its actual name is Jishō-ji (“Temple of Shining Mercy”). Construction of the main temple began in 1482, on the

Read more

A Visit to Ginkakuji (Part 1)

On the third morning of my recent research trip to Japan, we visited Ginkaku-ji, the “Temple of the Silver Pavilion,” named for its founder’s intended desire to overlay the roof of the temple pavilion with silver leaf. Time and cost defeated that plan, and the temple (largely constructed during the 15th century) retains its original wooden roof. Like many famous Japanese shrines, the entrance to Ginkaku-ji lies at the top of a narrow road lined with a variety of shops selling special snacks, souvenirs, soft-serve ice cream in flavors we don’t often see in the West (here, we saw peach and chestnut in

Read more