Travel: Japan Trip #4 2016 (Day 12 – Kyoto [Kinkaku-ji, Soujiki Nakahigashi])

See: Travel: Japan Trip #4 2016 itinerary and intro

Day 12: January 29

This day was the worst weather all day. It rained nonstop and heavily. I changed our itinerary slightly (given the weather) and we visited Kinkaku-ji in the morning instead, which is one of the most iconic sights in Kyoto. It was my third visit and I’m still never sick of it, though it’s always ridiculously crowded! This is one of those sights where it’s absolutely worth making an effort in planning itineraries to avoid weekends/holidays and to be there at the start or end of the day.

We took a subway to Kitao-ji then a bus to Kinkaku-ji. On my way out of Kinkaku-ji, I saw an purchased my first goshuin-chou and two goshuin. It was all very emotional and I actually cried, LOL.

We didn’t really have any time to find food, especially as the area around Kinkaku-ji is pretty quiet. We had some nibbles (including dango, of course) from those tiny eateries that serve takeaway food and have some small ledges or seats inside/outside.

The rain was pretty rough by now, so we took a taxi to the Kyoto Imperial Palace (my first visit). Back then, access was only with guided tours that needed to be booked in advance, but it seems now entrance to the palace grounds is permitted without joining a guided tour.

To be honest I had never been in such heavy rain for so long. My knee-high boots were spattered with mud at least three quarters of its height. It was hard to pay attention to the tour guide or hear her over the rain and the large number of people in the group while being so miserably wet and cold, so I admit I wasn’t really present. I think we would have made better use of our time skipping it and doing something else indoors.

After the tour, we took a subway back to our hotel for a break to dry off and change clothes. T had to change shoes too because they were completely soaked through! Then we took another subway to Shijo to visit the Kit Kat Chocolatory in Daimaru but left empty-handed as there was nothing there we didn’t already have.

The main even of the day was dinner at Michelin-restaurant, Sojiki Nakahigashi. I wanted to book a meal at a Michelin restaurant in Japan as a surprise for T. Australia doesn’t use the Michelin system, so although I don’t think awards are a representation of the kind of food I enjoy, I thought it would be a cool experience since we love Japanese food. Although chef’s menus stress me out a bit (because I am not adventurous), T is very adventurous and open to new food experiences. I think I made my booking around 3 months in advance (usually that’s when bookings open for most restaurants, off the top of my head). I think this was my second or third preference from my Kyoto Michelin restaurant shortlist, but the others I rang first would not accept my booking (as I was calling from overseas). I know usually tourists would ask their hotel to make the booking for them, but I wanted to bypass the middle man/woman and risk of miscommunication to make sure I got the date, time and set menu I wanted. The staff at Sojiki Nakahigashi were very lovely and since I didn’t have a number they could contact me on for confirmation prior to the date, they just asked me to ring them the day before to confirm. I was able to use a pay phone in the hotel the night before to ring, but I wasn’t really knowledgeable about how much phone calls cost, so the first coins I entered rang out too quickly meaning I accidentally disconnected with the lady at the restaurant. That was pretty mortifying!

We picked our own cup from a selection of all unique ones.

Charcoal grill.

Cooking rice throughout the meal. When we were served rice towards the end of the meal, everyone got a share of the crispy rice.

I couldn’t drink the coffee because I didn’t drink coffee at this time. It was incredibly embarrassing.

Soujiki Nakahigashi serves kaiseki and I had opted for the most expensive omakase set, which was more courses than the fingers I have. Everyone is seated around the kitchen, where a surprisingly large number of people are situated, cooking (using an astounding array of methods of cooking for a small space) and serving. Nakahigashi Hisao, the owner and head chef, is VERY passionate about vegetables (particularly root and mountain vegetables, from my observation) which he picks fresh every morning in a field north of Kyoto. While certainly using a lot of technique, care and amazing produce, there is only so much wild mountain vegetable in its purest form (think unwashed) I can take. Some ingredients I simply couldn’t eat and I had to really make an effort to sneak them to T without being seen by anyone (not eating the food served to you is HIGHLY rude). T thought the food was good and it was a great experience though. One of the chefs was the designated English-speaker, and he would explain each of our dishes in English when placed in front of us. Nakahigashi himself was friendly to us and chatted in Japanese. Other diners appears to be regulars (and work colleagues) and they were all chatty with Nakahigashi too. I can’t remember how much the most expensive omakase set was in 2016 (current prices don’t look too familiar and I’m sure they’ve increased), but I want to say it was around the ¥20,000 mark per head, give or take ¥20,000. We also had sake. At the end, one of the ladies handed me a tiny piece of paper with the bill amount handwritten. I was also aware that they were cash-only so I had brought plenty of cash along.

At the end of the meal, they also called us a taxi and walked us to the car holding umbrellas for us.