My traveling partner in crime had read up about a shabu place in Kyoto. A place that’s been hypothesized as the birthplace of modern day shabu. So what to do, but to venture out and find this place called Junidanya. However, within historical area of Gion where each building has minimal signage, it was a bit hard to find. Plus with the crowds cluttering the street, along with the colorful geisha, we were easily distracted from our quest. On a side note, you really kinda wonder if they’re actually local geisha or just tourist who rented kimonos. Because you know, you can do that here. We’ll get into that some other time.
After a couple of roundabouts, we found it.
Inside, the hostess instantly greeted and seated us. There wasn’t too many people right before noon. We ordered and watched people start trickling in. I’d say the customers were half tourists and half locals. Two geishas came and sat next to us. I saw them order the same items as us. I guess we got something right and after we started eating, I knew we were right. Overall it was worth the find.
570-128 Gionmachi Minamigawa Higashiyama-ku
Kyoto 605-0074, Kyoto Prefecture, Japan
Verdict: Seek this place out if you’re looking for some good hot pot.
Dinner was all about fugu, pufferfish, a delicacy with that deadly reputation of killing people. But really? At this day and age the percentage of people getting a lethal dose of poison is getting rare. There’s rigorous training for chefs to be certified and you can bet restaurants do everything possible to make it safe. One episode, even non-lethal, can close a shop and the reputation of the chef. So no, I don’t think we were in danger having this especially when we went with a nationwide chain, Gempin Fugu.
They are located in the major cities of Japan and have two in Kyoto. We went to the one next to the Yasaka Shrine around Gion. It was a small place that spanned three stories. We got a seat without a reservation because of two things. First, we were there a bit early, around 6pm. The place did get crowded a half hour in. Secondly, according to our ryokan hosts, Winter was the best time to have fugu. Oh well, glad they still serve it.
Note, they don’t speak English here.
Luckily I knew some Japanese but really, it was the fact that there was English on the menu. Yep, the good ‘ol point and nod. We ordered the Tenraku Set for ¥6100 a person which included 7 courses, where one was interchangeable, so we had 8. Oh yeah, 8 courses of fugu prepared eight different ways! Plan for at least an hour of eating and preparation between each course. I’d recommend some beers to help with the transitions. Not to say there were long lulls of nothingness. I’d say there was 5-10 minutes between finishing a course till the next one arrives. We could have cut down that time simply by notifying our waiter. All in all great meal. Every part of the fugu was utilized in various styles of Japanese cuisine.
Gempin Fugu Gion Noseki
Kyoto-shi, Kyoto ru 528-4
Verdict: Although there are other higher priced places, Gempin Fugu is guaranteed good eating.
We chose to visit Shinto Shrine, famous for its rows and rows of Japanese Gates, on a Sunday. Not the best idea for someone who don’t like crowds. And boy do I not like crowds. But the weather was nice and we had little time in Japan. So off we went to this busy tourist attraction. A place I’ve always wanted to see in person.
Arriving there you get an idea of the crowds at the station stop. You’ll see people of all ages taking their Sunday to visit the shrine. At the base of the shrine felt like a night market with all the street vendors selling foods you can’t help but to raise an eyebrow at. Fried mochi on a stick? I think I’ll pass, kinda felt like county fair foods, Kyoto style. Once we made our way pass the foods to the entrance, we took a breather. Still so many people. Once you get started through the gates I had an uneasy feeling this was how the whole trek would be, elbow to elbow with tourists. But eventually we found the cause of the jam. Groups of tourists were taking pictures at the gates, especially at the split. Once we squeezed by, it was easy sailing. I wish I could have went back in time to tell people, there’s so many beautiful gates up ahead. Please disperse! Anyways, I don’t have super powers.
After finishing our tour of the shrine, I have some notes that may help you:
- Go mid-week to lessen the crowds.
- Along the same note, get to mid-mountain and the crowds will thin out.
- Bring a water bottle if you plan to trek through the whole shrine.
- Build up your appetite for some amazing unagi, eel, in town
Getting there by railway is pretty easy. Just take either the JR Nara or the Keihan line to Inari. From there it’s a quick walk to the base of the shrine. There’s no entrance fee so take your time and enjoy the scenery!
Verdict: Worth the visit.
After our boat ride we went up into the bamboo forrest. We passed by a few restaurants and ryokans overlooking the river and turned up the street. A few rickshaw drivers were running their patrons up the block. It was a little amusing given the short distance they covered. I figured they were raising money for their schools given how young and athletic they were. Great idea and so much better then a car wash.
Once we got inside the grove the tall trees provided us with some shade form the sun. We strolled along the paths stopping for photos and small shrines. The amount of people were bearable. You really wish there were less people to take in the beautiful scenes. But it’s a public place, one can’t be too selfish.
Overall the place is rather small and quaint. Plan for about an hour or two within the groves. The walk probably covers only a mile when you add it all up.
When we were done we made our way to town streets that were filled with shops. Lots of places to eat and shops for you to check out. Shops specialized in everything from souvenirs to plum vinegar to Kaiseki, multi-course Japanese cuisine. We stopped by for some unagi, eel, which I’ll cover later, and some dessert. If I had more room in my suit case I’d probably do more shopping. There were so many stores. But warning, the shops do close early. By 7pm places were closing down. I didn’t get to buy a cookie tin I had seen earlier. Mental note, don’t hesitate on small purchases.
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove was on the agenda today. But instead of going directly there we went two train stops further to Kameoka Station. That was where we started our Hozugawa River boat cruise back into Kyoto. Most of it was a gentle ride through the lush green mountains. There were some rapids they warned you about. None of them were life threatening. The only risk you have was getting a bit wet. There are covers along the side to shield you from the waters. Though I didn’t hear about them till after the first splash. Wasn’t too bad. My jeans got a little wet but dried off by the end of the two hour trip.
What you should know is that mainly Japanese tourists do this. I say that because not too many people spoke English. Just the people at the center where you buy tickets. On the boat, it was sign language for boarding and equipment explanations. The water guard was the obvious part I missed. Over all, the crew was very nice and entertaining. They called out various points of interest. Even without understanding you could make things out. Like the rock that looked like a pig. The stairs that led up to the roads above. Or my favorite, the indigenous trees that surrounded us. Beautiful. It all had a calming effect. If I could nap while drifting down stream I would. Wish they had inner tubes. Wait scratch that. That’s my ‘murica side speaking.
One of the other highlights was that toward the end of the cruise, another boat rides up next to you offering you food and drinks. It’s like they knew there was a hungry animal on board. lol.
At the end of the ride, we disembarked before the Togetsukyo Bridge. A perfect place to start our walk into the dense bamboo forrest.
Verdict: If you want to add something relaxing and different to your day, then definitely do this.