Our last day in Kansai was one of my favorite parts of our itinerary, both in 2005 and again in 2007. We headed up early in the morning to Kameoka ‘龜崗’ to catch the Sagano Romantic Train ‘嵯峨野浪漫小火車’ to Arashiyama ‘嵐山’. It was a beautiful ride, with lots of trees, a river, and the silliest conductors. Some of them walked around in masks and costumes and tested their Chinese on us by singing loudly in old Chinese songs.
The bamboo walk in Arashiyama is gorgeous. It’s a pass to the Tenryu-ji Temple, which is the head temple of the Tenryu branch of Rinzai Zen Buddhism. Construction for the temple was finished in 1345! Seven hundred years ago. I do believe it’s the original building, too.
It was a really small temple and took only about 15 minutes for us to go through. There was a small, moss garden. Close to it was another small temple that we spent about 10 minutes walking through. My favorite part of Arashiyama, besides the bamboo walk, is the small town in Arashiyama that follows. There were a lot of cute, local crafts stores. One of the largest was a cloth store that made really adorable paperweights, wallets, and a ton of accessories entirely out of the most brightly-colored cloth. There was also a towel store where you could choose any towel in the store and have them stitch your name in for free. :> And we had a lot of ice cream. Per usual. We stopped at a stand that let you choose 3 flavors for maybe around $3-4. Not a bad deal, right? I believe we got cantaloupe, black sesame, and green tea.
Mmmm. But as we explored Arashiyama further, we discovered a really interesting ice cream stand: ice cream made out of tofu. Not only that, but if you held the ice cream upside down, the viscosity of the mixture could hold the shape of the soft serve in place. Gravity-defying ice cream! Tofu ice cream tastes a lot better than it sounds; it was basically soy milk in soft serve form. Omnomnom. At the end of the town is a “Honeymoon Bridge”, 渡月橋 Togetsu-kyo Bridge. Legend has it that you must walk with your significant other to the end and back to ensure a long and happy marriage or relationship. If you stop halfway or go together separately, that guarantees separation. Dun dun dun.
Then we hit lunch time. My favorite parts of the day are the ones where I’m eating. Yesterday was Italian, today was Korean. Korean BBQ, to be exact. Everyone had their own booths and grills and a ton of beef.
We had vegetables, naturally. To supplement our lunch, we also had this amazing tofu salad with raspberry/blueberry vinaigrette and a bowl of bibimbap, my absolute favorite Korean dish. It wasn’t the okdol (hot stone pot) bibimbap, but it sure hit the spot. Usually big chunks of tofu turn me off since tofu has no tase, but that tofu was so silky and soft; it had completely absorbed the flavors of the vinaigrette and soy sauce.
Other big tourist stop of the day was the Kinkaku-ji 金閣寺, or Temple of the Golden Pavilion. It is one of the most visited Zen Buddhist temples in Japan; unfortunately, like many important buildings and temples in Japan, Kinkaku-ji was burned down and rebuilt in 1955. Extensive gold-leaf coating was used in its rebuilding, the purpose of which was to mitigate and purify any polluting, negative thoughts and feelings towards death. Kyoko-chi 鏡湖池 is the ‘Mirror Pond’, which reflects the building. Really iconic place to go, if you’re ever in Kansai. I literally see this temple on Japanese calendars and postcards all the time, so I definitely felt a sense of accomplishment being able to see this twice in person.
Then it was time to head back to Osaka, since we would be departing from Kansai Airport the next day. We were left to our own devices when we were back in Osaka, about 2-3 hours to explore the 心齋橋 Shinsaibashi and 道頓堀 Dotonbori area. Shinsaibashi is near ‘Amerika-mura’, which is an American-themed shopping area and where all the Osaka youth congregate. This was probably one of the few places you could find American brands. Neither my mom nor I were interested in American stuff; after all, we were in Japan!
So we spent most of the time in Dotonbori, a single street that is home to historic theatres and a conglomerate of giant, neon signs. It’s also known as the main destination for food travel in Osaka, whether you’re feeling some okonomiyaki, takoyako, or udon. There were many famous ramen places on the street: most of them didn’t have vegetarian ramen :'(. Highly unfortunate. But if you’re not vegetarian, then Kinryu Ramen (with the dragon) is where to go. Also, there’s a huge fugu (pufferfish) restaurant right by it. Not to be missed if you’re the more adventurous eater. Pufferfish carry a potent neurotoxin with no antidote and victims die of asphyxiation because the poison paralyzes the muscles. Fugu chefs in Japan have to train 7-10 years before obtaining their license and can legally prepare fugu. We took the safe route and stumbled into a cafeteria that served vegetarian kitsune udon.
Clutch! We also went to Meoto Zenzai, an old eatery in Hozenji Alley, for the signature zenzai (sweet red bean soup). Meoto Zenzai literally means “couple and 1000 years”. The sweet bean soup comes with a glutinous rice ball in each bowl, and the rumour is that couples who eat this dessert will happily stay together forever. So couples traveling together, look out for this place! It’s really cute and the soup is delicious, not just a tourist trap. I promise!