For Koen’s birthday, we decided to try Les Saveurs de Yamada, a Japanese restaurant specializing in Kaiseki Ryori. We had the pleasure of discovering kaiseki when we were in Kyoto in 2016 and were excited to discover we could experience it in Antwerp, as well!
Nara was Japan’s first permanent capital, 710 – 794 AD, and only 30 minutes away by train from both Kyoto and Osaka! There are 8 UNESCO World Heritage sights, 2nd only to Kyoto.
Koyasan is a Buddhist community located on top of Mount Koya in the Wakayama Prefecture (just south of Kyoto and Osaka). We decided early on in our planning to make the trek up the sacred mountain and spend the night at Kongo Sanmaiin, one of the Buddhist temples.
Yakiniku means “grilled meat” in Japanese. The grilling is done inside the restaurant at your table on a grill placed over the direct flame of charcoals. Yakiniku focuses on drawing out the natural flavor of the meat. Additional seasoning is often no more than a bit of salt, a squeeze of lemon, or a splash of “tare” (dipping sauce) after the meat has been grilled. Because of the focus on the flavor of the beef, yakiniku requires high-quality ingredients as well as extra care so as not to overcook it and ruin the beef’s intricate flavor and texture.
Japan Guide describes it best: The Fushimi Sake District is a charming, traditional sake brewing district along the willow-lined Horikawa River in southern Kyoto. Revered for the clean, soft water that flows in abundance from the river’s underground springs, the district is home to nearly 40 sake breweries.
Walking through Fushimi, you can’t help but notice the beautiful traditional appearance of the buildings with wood and white-plaster walls. We didn’t have a lot of time in Fushimi (everything closes at 4:30PM!) but we made it a point to visit the Go-kawa River, the Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum, and the Fushimi Yume Hyakushu Café for a sake tasting.
Unfortunately we had one day of rain during our time in Japan. We didn’t let it stop us, and we headed to Gion and the Nishiki Market, aka Kyoto’s Kitchen.
Dining at the 3 star kaiseki restaurant Kikunoi in Kyoto for our 8th year wedding anniversary was a highlight of the trip. Kaiseki is Japanese haute cuisine, and a big influence of the Michelin tasting menus we know today. A kaiseki dinner is made up of many courses (our’s had 12) that change monthly with the season.
Arashiyama is a beautiful district located in west Kyoto, tucked along the base of the Arashiyama Mountains (meaning “Storm Mountains”). Arashiyama is a must for anyone visiting Kyoto, and although it takes a bit of time coming from central Kyoto, you can easily fill your day with all of the sites.
We arrived in Kyoto after dark, but were filled with energy and wanting to explore. Luckily the Fushimi Inari-taisha is open 24 hours, so we headed to the shrine after dinner. Fushimi Inari-taisha is the head shrine of the kami Inari. A kami is a spirit worshipped in the Shinto religion, like a god. Inari is the kami of harvest and business – in fact each red torii was donated by a Japanese business.