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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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Along the Philosopher’s Path

During my research trip to Japan last summer, I spent a lovely morning walking the Philosopher’s Path, which runs along a tree-lined canal:   from Ginkaku-ji (in the north):   to Nanzen-ji, at the southern end of the canal, a distance of just under two miles. My son and I walked the path together, and though a determined traveler can cover the distance in under an hour, the wise visitor takes much longer, and stops to see the various shrines and temples along the way. Our afternoon on the Philosopher’s path took almost four hours, start to finish, and though the larger

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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

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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

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