Walking The Philosopher’s Path in Kyoto

I’m traveling in Japan at the moment, researching my next two Hiro Hattori mystery novels and spending some time with my son, who just completed his degree (in Japanese language) at UC Davis. After spending two lovely days in the mountain resort of Hakone, we traveled by shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto for an overnight stay before heading into Wakayama Prefecture for a night on sacred Mount Koya. With only a single afternoon to spend in Kyoto, I opted for a walk along the famous Philosopher’s Path–a paved walkway that parallels a peaceful canal. The famous path lies in northeast Kyoto, and

Read more

Kyoto’s Best Cream Puffs

While visiting the preserved historical streets of Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka in Kyoto’s Eastern Higashiyama ward, I noticed a line of Japanese people snaking out the entrance of a tiny shop. The line extended almost 30 feet into the street, which made me curious, so I headed over for a closer look. The sign outside the shop featured a rabbit and the words “Yatsuhashi Cream Puff” – and since I’m never one to pass up a pastry, especially when the evidence suggests it’s a good one, I joined the queue. Like many snack shop lines in Japan, this one moved quickly.

Read more

The Best Tonkatsu in Kyoto

Japanese food is not all fish and saké. The food in Japan is diverse, vibrant, and almost always as fantastic to the eye as it is to the palate. When traveling in Japan, I try to eat at different places every day, to experience as much as possible. Although I often want to repeat a meal, I rarely do, because I want to sample as much as possible on every trip. However, on occasion I can’t resist a repeat meal … and Tonkatsu KYK (とんかつKYK京都ポルタ店) in the Porta underground dining area immediately adjacent to Kyoto Station was responsible not just one, but two of the best meals I’ve ever

Read more

The Dry Waterfall at Kyoto’s Tenryu-ji

During my recent trip to Japan, I visited Tenryuji, a Zen temple and monastery in the mountains northwest of Kyoto. The temple is famous not only for the “heavenly dragon” (Tenryu) painted on the ceiling of its worship hall, but also for its lovely botanical gardens and Zen landscape. The primary garden at Tenryuji was designed by Muso Soseki (1275-1351, also called Muso Kokushi), a follower of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism. His major contributions to Zen garden design and landscaping include the “dry waterfall”–a stone arrangement designed to mimic the appearance of water without the use of any actual water

Read more

A Visit to Kyoto’s Nishi Honganji

Kyoto’s Nishi Honganji is one of Japan’s most important Buddhist temples. The Jōdo Shinshū, or “True essence of pure land,” school of Buddhism was founded by a monk named Shinran Shonin (1173–1263), whose teachings focused on a return to a more pure form of Buddhist understanding and enlightenment through verse. Originally known simply as “Honganji,” the temple now called Nishi (“Western”) Honganji was constructed in 1602 on land granted to the sect by Tokugawa Ieyasu. A second temple, known as Higashi (“Eastern”) Honganji sits several blocks away (not surprisingly, to the east). Nishi Honganji remains an active Buddhist temple (with services open

Read more

Ootoyo Jinja’s Guardian Mice

I’ve blogged before about Ootoyo Jinja (sometimes romanized “Otoyo Jinja”), one of my favorite Shinto shrines on Kyoto’s famous Philosopher’s Path. Today, we’re heading back to Ootoyo Jinja, to take a look at the history behind its famous guardian mice. The shrine that belongs to Okuninushi features not only a stone torii but a pair of guardian mice watching over the holy space. The one on the left has a sake bowl–a symbol of health and fertility. (Pregnant women worship here in hopes of ensuring a healthy baby.) Had you ever heard the story of Okuninushi and the field mouse? I first read it as a child, in a

Read more