Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Going Vegan: A Vegetarian’s food guide in Japan

Let me confess upfront, I was a very fussy eater in Japan. A pure vegetarian traveling in a country habitually relying on fish as one of its base ingredients, I had always been skeptical. What raised my doubts further were the incomprehensible Japanese signs and symbols and the unfamiliar smell that emanated from inside the eateries while passing by them.

But this is not to say that I starved. Nope, far from it actually. I had my moments with food and I found in them my pleasures too! So, here is a sneak peek into my, a veggie's, food travails in Japan – a humble attempt to help all those vegetarian's out there planning a trip to this part of the world.

A) TOKYO

1. Vegetable Sushi Potager


A date with the Expedians, it was here that I also had my first Japanese Sushi, actually two and both purely vegetarian ones!

Sushi: no fish, only vegetables

What amazed me was that it was their first attempt at a vegetarian sushi and this fact itself gives you an idea of the picture of vegetarianism in the country.

Fresh fruit juices to top

Anyways, the entire sushi experience was good value for money and I had topped it with a pineapple juice which tasted quite bitter.

Website: www.sushi-potager.com/en/concept/

2. ISKCON Govinda’s Restaurant

Who would harbor thoughts of an Indian thali in a foreign land and why? But we did and even got it in the ISKCON temple at Funabori in Tokyo.

Indian Thali of Govinda's

Though, the eatery is a bit on the outskirts of the city but it is one place where you can head if you are in search of a hearty pure vegetarian meal in a foreign land. Attend the arti (prayers) and head to the restaurant just besides the temple – the Indian fare is not only tasty but very economic too.

B) NARA

1. Shyojin Ryori

You can think of a Shyojin Ryori, as simply a Japanese version for a pure vegetarian restaurant. Buddhist vegetarian cuisine served at either temples or special restaurants, these are places where you can just close your eyes and dig your chopsticks in without worrying about the ingredients!


Incidentally, our very first stop in Nara was to sample this fare. The ambiance was typical zen - peaceful and tranquil - complete with a humble looking dining house furnished in matted seating and wooden tables.

The interiors: Quiet, peaceful and in the heart of nature

The food was served one after another in a chronological manner, so rhythmic and meticulous that towards the end, the entire table looked visually quite appealing. I remember troubling cosmos and sarah with a lot of my questions on the various dishes being served and its ingredients and they patiently answering every one of them but alas! today, those names have faded in my memory. What I can tell you, however, is that the proportions of everything on offer was moderate - never too much, nor too less and the spices used were minimum, making the food subtle and mild.

The Shyojin Ryori course

Overall, the cuisine tasted very very different to my Indian taste buds but this is not to say that I did not have my favorites. I loved having some fried tofus (Atuage) and this sweet dish right in the end,

Simply sweet!

A small one for someone with a sweet tooth but still a perfect finish to the course!

2. A home meal


Nothing beats a home cooked meal. And I was highly honored to get an invite for a treat at Yoko’s house - a treat that is today a treasure... priceless.


Vegetable spaghetti

There was everything on the plate - company of friends, Japanese hospitality and warmth, smiles, joys and laughter, a lot of curious questions, a bit of anxiety as well, oohs and ahs and of course a lot of food – everything. In all the fun, I even forgot to take any decent pictures except this lone one - sincere apologies.

3. Asura Vegan restaurant, Naramachi
 
Nara is a disappointment when it comes to pure vegetarian restaurants and eateries, but snowwhite and redrose found this quaint little eatery named Asura in the Naramachi area.

Asura vegan restaurant, Naramachi

It boasts of a vegan delight and has some simple yet tasty menu up its sleeve.

Menu card

Plus a quiet ambiance and a homely atmosphere ensure that you leave the place all satisfied and content.
 
Bread, rice and curry - My plate

And if you do happen to be here, do not forget to say a hello to the sweet lady at the desk who has an Indian connection.

Hello!

Her beautiful handmade crafts and pieces decorating the interiors –
till someone picks them up!

4. Tea Ceremony, Jikoin Zen temple

When in Japan, one of the things you just cannot miss is attending a tea ceremony and Jikoin zen temple of Nara
is one place where you can head to to have your experience of this interesting ritual.

Tea ceremony at the Jikoin Zen temple, Nara

Dwell on the concept of 'One time, one meeting', appreciate the beauty in nature, the beauty in your own self and sip your tea. The tea tastes bitter but I second what my friend, cosmos tells me

Who knows, when it becomes an acquired taste :)

C) From here and there

1. Cookies, Biscuits and Munchies: Takeaways from India and from Japan

When all of the above fails, trust these nitty bitties to come to your rescue. We bought a few Marie biscuits, chocolates, cadburies and roasted peanuts from a supermarket store in Tokyo and stacked them up in our food bag.

A peep into my food bag

Bakery produce: biscuits and muchies

Even though, these might not be as fulfilling for a diet but they do manage to squash those hunger pangs. And of course, the delight of indulging in something Japanese-made is always there.

2. Fruits:

If you still find yourself at a loss for picking out things, look no further and go for fruits. Bananas, cherries, apples, Japanese supermarket stores have them aplenty and they all come at a good price for our pockets.

Fruits

The best thing is that all these fruits are unlike any of the fruits we have here in India and they taste way better. I’m sure they are much more healthier too!

3. Bread and butter:

Look out if you hotel offers you a complimentary breakfast. If yes, you can ask one of the hotel staff to point out all the vegetarian options in the menu.

My breakfast plate of bread, butter and milk at
hotel Villa Fontaine Roppongi, Tokyo

The desk staff are generally well conversant in English and are more than glad to help you out.

Last but not the least: Do your research -

Talking to the locals surely helps but the existence of a language barrier cannot be denied. Just to be on the safer side, I would advice you to do your own research before you leave. Especially, Tokyo has lots to offer for all us vegans out there. All my Nara blogger friends were surprised when they realized that we had mostly survived on the breakfast of Hotel Villa fontaine while our stay in Tokyo. And rightly so, because one can easily find a lot of vegan options there if some time is devoted for research on the internet before leaving your country. Something we regretted to having missed out on before leaving India.

So as a vegetarian traveling in Japan, plan wisely and eat delightfully. And do not forget to say - Itadakimasu before you start your meals! Happy Eating!


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Temple of the Golden Pavilion or Kinkaku-ji in Kyoto, Japan

Day 6 in Nara: New Miyako Hotel, A review - Heian Jingu Shrine and Garden - Nanzenji Temple and grounds - Nijo Castle - TEMPLE OF THE GOLDEN PAVILION

We stood in awe, watching the patch of gold shimmer brightly in the afternoon sun. There was a positive aura emanating from the ancient structure...

It felt like we had approached a tremendous power radiating furnace...

The Kinkaku-ji or the Golden pavillion of Kyoto in Japan

Guided by the lovely Nara blogger friend stardust (Yoko), we were standing at our final destination of Japan - the grounds of the Kinkaku-ji or the Temple of the Golden pavilion - one of the most sought after places to visit when in Kyoto.

The Kinkaku-ji or the Golden pavillion of Kyoto in Japan
Kinkaku-ji or the Temple of the Golden Pavilion

Listed among one of the 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites today, the original structure of Kinkaku-ji dates back to the Kamakura period (1185 – 1332) when it was known as the Rokuon-ji Temple. Explaining the history behind the temple, Yoko said that the building had seen many changes over the centuries. There was a time when the structure stood as a recreational villa in 1397 and then went on to become a Zen Buddhist temple in 1422 only to be later burnt down by a fanatic monk in 1950.

However creepy some of these stories may sound, but today, the 3 storied temple building of Golden pavilion remains as a proud history of Kyoto.

The Kinkaku-ji or the Golden pavillion in Kyoto, Japan
The present standing structure was eventually rebuilt in 1955

As we made our way past the touristy crowd, we saw it. A few meters in the distance, like a blooming lotus in a pond, stood one of the most magnificent structures I had ever seen. The temple seemed to exude an unusual air of propriety; in the background, I could see the mountains standing guard as shoguns, military chiefs overlooking a thick cluster of foliage. The enchanting beauty of the Golden pavilion and its beautiful setting left us spellbound.

Words can’t do justice to describe its splendor... It was ethereal.

A close view - the Kinkaku-ji or the Golden pavillion, Kyoto in Japan
The Temple of the Golden Pavilion or Kinkaku-ji

From the tourist viewing square area in the temple courtyard, we saw and savored this golden beauty framed delicately under the vast blue skies from different angles possible.

Can you see the Buddha inside?
Yoko turned our attention towards the ground floor.

First floor of the Kinkaku-ji or the Golden pavillion, Kyoto in Japan
Peek inside the open window of the temple

Through the window which lay open, I caught a rare glimpse of the Buddha meditating inside the dimly lit hall. Perhaps, this is where the aura was coming from, I thought.

The first and the second floors were closed but there was one more thing to watch out for and that was the top of the temple. Here, rested a golden figure of “Ho-o” – a classical Chinese mythical phoenix bird.

The golden figure of “ho-o” – a classical Chinese mythical phoenix bird in the Kinkaku-ji temple, Kyoto in Japan
"Ho-o": Ready to take flight or guarding the temple?

Leaving the area, we now started walking through a trail skirting the pavilion and I found myself in a world that turned out to be as fantastic and mesmerizing as what I had just seen. Strewn all along the path were typical Japanese styled Hojo buildings, silent ponds, a dribbling waterfall, prayerful coin statue, restful tea rooms and vivid souvenir shops.

A small pond in the Kinkaku-ji or the Golden pavillion, Kyoto in Japan
A man feeding fish in the Kinkaku-ji or the Golden pavillion, Kyoto in Japan
Kinkaku-ji or the Golden pavillion, Kyoto in Japan - back view
A waterfall in the Kinkaku-ji or the Golden pavillion, Kyoto in Japan
Coin statue in the Kinkaku-ji or the Golden pavillion, Kyoto in Japan
Fudo Hall temple in the Kinkaku-ji or the Golden pavillion, Kyoto in Japan
Fudo Hall, a small temple hall which houses a statue of Fudo Myoo,
one of the Five Wisdom Kings and protector of Buddhism.

As we weaved our way through the courtyard, I realized that this place was not about golden beauty alone. It was equally of the other elements present there, all of which had blended together beautifully to contribute in the overall charm and nostalgic appeal of the temple. There was something so infectious about this place, its modest nature and its mystical entice was palpable even in the environs.


The Kinkaku-ji or the Golden pavillion, Kyoto in Japan
A golden page from Kyoto's history book

As the clock wound its way towards evening, there was no time left for anything more to see and we left for Kyoto station. An entire day had flown by, and the time was finally upon us to bid Kyoto...

... to bid Yoko, a hearty goodbye.

Sunset picture from Tokyo, Japan

You and I will meet again,
When we're least expecting it,
One day in some far off place,
I will recognize your face,
I won't say goodbye my friend,
For you and I will meet again.
~ Tom Petty

That evening, as I sat staring out of my Shinkansen window, I found the warmth of the evening sun a little more appealing than usual. In it, I could see reflections, my treasures, my very own sweet little bundle of sunshine ...

... Memories ... a priceless gift to cherish for a lifetime.



Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Nijo Castle in Kyoto, Japan

Day 6 in Nara: New Miyako Hotel, A review - Heian Jingu Shrine and Garden - Nanzenji Temple and grounds - NIJO CASTLE - Golden Pavilion Temple

Apart from the many temples and shrines, if there is one castle that you must visit in Kyoto, it's the Nijo castle. A UNESCO world heritage site today, the castle originally dates back to the year 1603 (rebuilt in 1628) when it was built by the infamous Tokugawa shogunate (head of the feudal military government during the Edo period).

Main entrance to the Nijo Castle in Kyoto, Japan
The main entrance to the Nijo castle

The castle stood guard to the nearby Kyoto Imperial palace and served as a residence for the shoguns to stay when they visited Kyoto.

Ninomaru Palace and Garden

Two gates at the entrance – the Ninomaru Higashi-otemon and the Ninomaru-goten Karamon lead you to the spacious grounds of the Nijo castle. Here, as a living testimony to an era gone by, stands the Ninomaru palace.


Entrance to the Ninomaru Palace - Nijo Castle in Kyoto, Japan
Entrance to the Ninomaru Palace - Nijo Castle in Kyoto, Japan
The Ninomaru palace and grounds

A walking tour through the palace leaves you fascinated as you pass through a number of rooms, each containing decorative paintings and life-size figurines depicting the life and living of the shoguns as it was during the 16th century. Not only the room but the floors known as 'the Nightingale floors' are equally mesmerizing too as they let out a squeal when you walk on them – an efficient safety alarm that the feudal lords and military chiefs created to protect them against treachery and assassination attempts.

Adjacent to the Ninomoru palace is the extensive and beautifully landscaped Japanese garden called the Ninomaru Teien with rocks, stones, trees, flowers, fishes, waterfalls and of course, a lot of tranquility.

Ninomaru Garden, Nijo Castle in Kyoto, Japan
Landscape of the Ninomaru Garden, Nijo Castle in Kyoto, Japan
The pond in the Ninomaru Garden, Nijo Castle in Kyoto, Japan
Ninomaru garden

Honmaru Palace – Inner-Inner Nijo Castle Grounds

Cross a bridge, walk across a moat and one comes across the inner and the main circle of defense housing the Honmaru palace and grounds.

Inner moat,  Nijo Castle in Kyoto, Japan
Inner moat seperating the Ninomoru and the Honmaru sections of the castle

One of the best ways to view this ground dotted with Japanese-style palatial buildings and scenic gardens is by climbing an elevated terrace in the grounds.

Honmaru Palace view - Nijo Castle in Kyoto, Japan
Honmaru grounds view from an elevated terrace

Alternatively, one can also walk across the winding trails of the surrounding gardens and get a feel of the area.

Honmaru garden - Nijo Castle in Kyoto, Japan
Walking along the Honmaru trail

Note: The Honmaru palace remains closed for the common public barring some special days.

How to reach

Timings: 8:45 to 16:00
Admission fees: 600 yen
Access: Nijo castle is close to Kyoto station. You can take the local bus (a day bus costing around 500 yen is a great way of getting around in Kyoto). Alternatively you can take the subway to the Nijojo-mae Station.

Previous Posts from the Japan Trip -

1. Planning for Japan: Visa, Flight Bookings, Hotel Reservations, etc.
2. Sunrise pictures from the flight to Japan
3. Entire Day 1 of Japan (includes Review of Hotel Villa Fontaine Roppongi, Tokyo, Expedia Japan Office Meet: An Afternoon to Remember)
4. Entire Day 2 of Japan (includes SensoJi temple: Asakusa - Tokyo, Nakamise Dori Shopping Arcade in Tokyo, Sumida River Cruise, Tokyo, A Stroll in the Hibiya Gardens, Imperial Palace and East Gardens, The Tokyo Tower, Japan)
8. Where to stay in Kyoto: New Miyako Hotel
9. Heian Jingu Shrine and Garden, Kyoto


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Nanzen-ji Temple in Kyoto, Japan

Day 6 in Nara: New Miyako Hotel, A review - Heian Jingu Shrine and Garden - NANZEN-JI TEMPLE AND GROUNDS - Nijojyo Castle - Golden Pavilion Temple


Wooded temple buildings peeped out from a cloak of greens...
Forested mountains stood guard behind and the clear blue skies looked on.
Standing fixed,
I moved my eyes and took a panoramic view of the complete scenery,
Nature was at it's best here.

View from Nanzen-ji terrace

The Nanzen-ji Temple and Grounds

Walking further from the gardens of the Heian Jingu shrine, we reached the Nanzenji temple – one of the most prominent zen temples in all of Japan. A huge Sanmon gate greeted us at the entrance, it’s magnanimity - a soft reflection of the grandiosity that we were to view inside.
Massive two storey high Sanmon gate at the Nanzen-ji Temple

The gate makes way to the grounds inside which are large and spacious, including an array of 12 subtemples and a few Zen gardens which makes it quite difficult to explore everything on foot for an average traveler who is generally short on time.

Narrow pathway fenced by trees and shrubs on both the sides with the Nanzen-ji temple standing in the centre.

The Nanzen-ji temple

Once a retirement villa of an emperor, the Nanzenji temple was impressive but the main highlight for me, surprisingly, was not the temple but something else.

It was the Sanmon gate terrace views! Even though climbing to the terrace requires you to pocket out a fee of 500 Yen, do not think twice about it. Just go! We had contemplated about skipping this one but a little coaxing from our friend, stardust and a few minutes of stepping and sightseeing was all it took for us to realize that the steep climb to the Sanmon terrace had been totally worth it!

The terrace verandah of the Sanmon gate


As you stand in it’s verandah with the cool breeze blowing, it is a wonderful feeling how the large grounds of the temple or rather the entire city of Kyoto suddenly seems to come within your reach. All the numerous temples, shrines and gardens neatly nestled in the forested cluster of trees, the slopes of Higashiyama mountains, the clear blue skies stretching far and wide – everything is simply an eye-sight away and looks incredible from every and any angle that you see.

The Sanmon gate terrace views

Besides this, the floor also houses a small dark room which holds a few images of Buddha and some amazing art work of young women and phoenixes on display.

Adjoining the temple, is the beautiful and sombre Hojo garden, also known as the Tiger and Cubs Zen Garden, with specific rock formations and patterns (the tigers and the cubs) all surrounded by pure and neatly decorated white sand (a stream).


The Hojo zen garden

The most striking feature of these gardens is that it shows you beauty from the other side of the coin - beauty that lies in remote barrenness, in the emptiness that one can sense in the rocks, the stones, even the shrubs - beauty that we often tend to miss out on.

The stone and sand patterns in the Hojo zen garden

In them hide embedded messages... that nudge us to delve within ourselves and understand the true ways of life and living. Surrounding the garden are rooms or Abbot's quarters decorated with impressive paintings and other artifacts neatly preserved and dating back to the 16th century.

A few meters ahead of the hojo, also on the Nanzenji grounds, is a long roman style aqueduct which is part of the Lake Biwa Canal constructed in 1890.

The roman style aqueduct

This aqueduct is historic, supplying water from the Biwa lake to Kyoto for more than 100 years but what makes it memorable for me, today, is the reminder of the humble lunch that we had in it's cool shade... of those few peaceful moments that we spent in each other's company, talking in hushed tones and soft smiles while also relishing the beauty found in simplicity... simplicity of food, thoughts and surroundings.

How to reach Nanzen-ji Temple:

Approximately 20 minute walk from the Heain Jingu Shrine.

Timings, Admission fee, Tips, etc.:

Timings: The temple grounds remain open till 5 PM. (might change during certain festivals and seasons)

Charges: There is a fee of 500 Yen for admission to various parts of the temples like Sanmon and the Hojo garden. The Aqueduct is free.

Tip: Do not miss the Sanmon terrace views.

Previous Posts from the Japan Trip -

1. Planning for Japan: Visa, Flight Bookings, Hotel Reservations, etc.
2. Sunrise pictures from the flight to Japan
3. Entire Day 1 of Japan (includes Review of Hotel Villa Fontaine Roppongi, Tokyo, Expedia Japan Office Meet: An Afternoon to Remember)

4. Entire Day 2 of Japan (includes SensoJi temple: Asakusa - Tokyo, Nakamise Dori Shopping Arcade in Tokyo, Sumida River Cruise, Tokyo, A Stroll in the Hibiya Gardens, Imperial Palace and East Gardens, The Tokyo Tower, Japan)
8. Where to stay in Kyoto: New Miyako Hotel
9. Heian Jingu Shrine and Garden, Kyoto


Blogger Widgets