Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Nishiki Market, Nishiki Tenmangu, and Teramachi Shotengai, Kyoto, Kyoto

We left Tofuku-ji at 4:30pm and we decided to grab a cab over for a quick peek at Kyoto's popular Nishiki Market that intersects with Teramachi Shotengai and Shinkyogoku Shotengai (didn't get to this one, sadly), and the famous Nishiki Tenmangu (錦天満宮) that nestled in between the two paralleling shotengais.

Why take a cab for only a quick peek? Because the Nishiki Market closed at 5pm daily. Now what kind of market closes at 5pm, folks?!? The kind in Kyoto, that's what! Argh! Although the two shotengais stayed open slightly later, we had to be back at Seikoro Ryokan by 6:30pm for dinner.

At least the taxi ride was interesting. First we passed by this go (圍棋) school. Then as he was weaving through a neighborhood alley, the taxi driver suddenly turned to his side window. "Oh, a geiko," he mumbled to himself in Japanese.

No, not that geico. This geiko. And not the particular geiko pictured (who, by the way, is geiko Tsunemomo of Gion Higashi), but a geiko.
***Stock photo courtesy of the interweb, and geiko photo  courtesy of this website.

Hubby and I heard the taxi driver of course, and the both of us immediately whispered to our friends C. and A., "That's a geisha." Our collective necks whipped around so fast you would have heard them crack were you there in the taxi with us. As the taxi moved farther and farther from the young woman who'd just stepped beyond her wooden sliding doors, we craned our heads back to stare at her until she was out of sight. She was wearing a soft peach-colored kimono with minimal hair and makeup. And while she was pretty, her appearance was also exceedingly--no offense intended--ordinary.

That's because a geiko doesn't dress up or do her makeup unless there's an engagement or a special occasion. Otherwise, she'd appear no differently than any other gal in kimono on the Kyoto street. Would you have known this woman is a geisha? I bet not.
***Photo courtesy of pinterest.

How the taxi driver spotted a geiko out of the blue, we'd no idea. It could very well be that he knew the neighborhood, and therefore knew that particular house the young woman had emerged from was an okiya (geisha house). As for us, were we to stand close enough to rub shoulders with her, we'd still be oblivious. 

So, Nishiki Market. It's pretty much a gallery of small mom-n-pop groceries, fruits, foods, snacks, clothing, shoes, knives (there was a famous knife shop there that we missed!), you name it. If you've been to a Taiwanese night market before, it's very similar, only under a covered roof, decorated, well lit, and of course, clean. We were running out of time and pretty much power-walked through the whole thing, stopping only to get what truly interested us, mostly food and snacks for me ^.^"

And the food and snacks that caught my eyes? Matcha popcorn, matcha dango, matcha warabimochi, and of course matcha itself! 

These dried ume shiso wakame (top right) and wakame soup (bottom right) were so good. I bought extras to send home for my mum and dad and they loved them! Also, this ume konbucha (bottom left) is some of the best I've had. I love it so much I brought it home with me and still have some left ^.^! And no, I'm not talking about the Russian kombucha that was all the rage a few years ago but the Japanese kind. What's the difference? This CNN Travel article can explain much better than I can. I've tried the Russian kind and hated it, but then again I dislike all fermented teas including puer. C. on the other hand loves the Russian kombucha. The first time she tried the Japanese kind she nearly spit it out. Why? Because the Japanese konbucha is more of a savory broth than a tea. As a broth it's delicious, but if you think of it along the lines of sweet teas it'll disgust you.

Nishiki Tenmangu (錦天満宮) is a tenjin shrine that has since dedicated itself to love (...why does that sound so cheesy?), as in you go there and pray for successful relationships and marriages instead of scholarship and literature. It was very crowded and we were in a hurry so we didn't linger long.

We also power-walked through Teramachi shotengai but found Nishiki market much more fun and interesting. At least for me, the local foods, snacks, and omiyage were far more fascinating than any clothing or shoes.

It was 5:30pm then, and hubby suggested we should walk back to the ryokan rather than taking the train or bus or taxi. According to Google maps, the walk would be 20 minutes, plus it would be fun to see the neighborhoods of Kyoto, hubby said. And so we walked and it was indeed lovely, ...but it was also 45 minutes and not 20. Google maps lied to us, and we barely made it to dinner. Woops. We walked east towards Takashimaya Kyoto where there were numerous shops and restaurants, then southwards along the canal.

Among the shops we saw was this Lord Stow's Bakery and I picked up some egg tarts in 4 different flavors, original, matcha (of course!), salted caramel (with the whipped cream that got mushed), and mocha. I wouldn't bet money on the "creator of the egg tart" claim but holy smoke, these were some of the best egg tarts I've ever had! I still drool thinking about them!

Check out these kawadoko establishments along the Kamo River. Read more about kawadoko here and here. I don't know if C. and A. already did kawadoko by themselves before hubby and I met up with them, but the four of us didn't even bother because frankly we had neither the time nor the stomach for it. We had only one weekend in Kyoto, two days and two nights, both nights with Seikoro Ryokan. Any reservation with a ryokan will secure a big kaiseiki dinner and an equally huge breakfast per night per guest. Some places will allow you to opt out of the meals for a lesser room charge, but why would you want to? The food's a huge part of the ryokan experience in my humble opinion.

That left us with just 2 lunch spots for kawadoko kaiseki lunch, but that would have been 1-2 hours out of our day for another giant meal none of us needed. The breakfast was already so big we were perfectly fine just snacking until the big dinner. So keep that in mind if you're planning to do kawadoko in Kyoto. Perhaps it's best to stay at a Western-style hotel so you won't miss out on any included meals, then have a light breakfast if you plan a kawadoko lunch or have a light lunch if you plan a kawadoko dinner.

Other Kyoto omiyage I bought home included several furoshiki printed with a map of Fushimi Inari Taisha, and of course, a few boxes of matcha yatsuhashi.

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