After I settled on a place to eat lunch, there was only one last thing to do – get there. The lunch place was on the other side of town. There are only a handful of things I would go to the other side of the city for, but lucky for them all you can eat vegetables was one of them!
Just as I was leaving, a little group of kindergarteners came by. They must’ve been on a field trip to see the monkeys at the monkey park! This was maybe one of the cutest things I had ever seen, but it was no time to get distracted. I walked back over the Togetsukyo bridge to the other side of Arashiyama.
The streets around here were so fun and touristy. There were rickshaws all around and almost every café had some type of matcha-themed dessert. It really was a cool place and if I had more time in Kyoto, perhaps I would spend the whole day here. There was just to much to see! I quickly shuffled through the streets, stopping only to take a few pictures of a really cool statue and shrine I saw on someone’s front porch.
I was headed to an area around the Higashiyama district. Although there is a lot to see in this area, the trains around here are few and far between. You may have to walk about 30-45 minutes to get where you want to go, but in my experience it is well worth it for the extra exercise and all the sights along the way. I would be heading back here later to see the sights but today was all about the food. I got off at the closest station and began to walk down the street, searching for this magical home of the all you can eat vegetables. Eventually I found it!
This place is really interesting. It is called “Miyakoyasai Kamo” and I believe there are a few spread out across Kyoto and a few other major cities in Japan. Breakfast and lunch are super cheap at under $10 but dinner ends up being a pretty standard meal at around $13. You put your money into a machine and take a ticket and then you hand that ticket to the people that work there and you are free to roam around and eat as much as you like!
I ended up going to this place a few times. It was nice to be able to sit down for close to an hour, eat on my own time and also get a healthy dose of fruits and vegetables into a diet that until now, mostly food from 7-Eleven. If you are vegan or vegetarian, this place is perfect because they have signs on almost every dish to indicate what is contained in the food. They use pictures instead of words, which was perfect for me because my Japanese vocabulary is super limited.
Although I can’t vouch for the gluten free side of things, they did have signs on the food indicating whether or not there was wheat in the dishes, but I am not sure if it is entirely “gluten-free”. It was delicious however, and I ended up getting a big salad, a big soup and a big bowl of fruit. It was nice to let my guard down a little bit here. The Japanese like to put fish in just about everything, and although I would always ask, here I could be 100% sure my food was untainted. Coincidentally, after leaving the restaurant I found a vending machine that sold dead fish inside water bottles.
I don’t even know what you are supposed to do with these. Eat them? Drink them? Cook with them? If somebody knows, please leave a comment below, I’m very curious.
Next on my list was Nishiki market, possibly one of the biggest markets in Kyoto. This place was huge! I was used to the word “market” being one street or row of shops, but in Japan a market can span for multiple blocks. I hadn’t seen this since Bangkok. In these street markets, there were roofs over the larger parts, combining the coziness of an indoor mall with the chaos of an open-air market.
In this market, they sold just about everything you could imagine. They also sold a few things you couldn’t imagine, like baby octopus lollipops, and little sea urchins meant to be eaten on the go. I’m used to the U.S, where people are more secretive about their animal cruelty, here they seem pretty proud of it!
I was here on a mission though. I was searching for the elusive tea market. It is only open on certain days and during certain hours, and there was no way to find out where it was online because it was not really “on-the-books”. I stumbled into kiosk that made their own bean snacks and coated them with things like matcha and cinnamon. They were so delicious and the samples were free to try. They also sold vegan ice cream here. It was made with beans and soymilk, with little to no additional sugar added. It was nice to try an ice cream that wasn’t so unbelievably sweet.
The woman inside showed me a map of the market and I took a couple of pictures of it so I would be able to get around. If you end up in Nishiki and are looking for a particular place, I would recommend trying to get a peek at one of these secret maps. I’m sure a lot of store owners have them.
I soon learned that the tea market was closed today, so I would try to come back another day. The sun would be going down soon and even though I had been exploring since 7:00am, I still felt like I should try to see one more thing. I hopped on a train to Nijo castle, and just made it into the castle complex on time.
I’m not going to lie, this tour was pretty cool. Instead of just seeing the building and then leaving like you do at most places, we actually got to walk around the inside of the castle. We couldn’t take any pictures here, so unfortunately there isn’t a whole lot I can share with you. This was definitely the largest wooden building I had ever been in. The palace constantly squeaked with the pressure of a thousand footsteps walking through it. There were beautiful paintings on all the walls that we recreations of the ones that used to be in there.
This castle was built in the traditional Japanese style, meaning there was basically one giant room separated into many rooms by sliding doors. It was really cool to walk around here, and you could really “feel” the history.
It took about 10 minutes just to walk through the castle, and then we took a brief walkthrough the castle gardens. What was really cool was to see the system of moats that were put in place to keep out invaders. I’m sure this was definitely one of the safest places in Japan 500 years ago. There were two large moats and a giant castle wall behind each of them. These would be patrolled by guards at all times, so if you wanted to get in you would have to scale two 30 foot walls and swim across two moats without being seen by the guards.
This was definitely one of the highlights of the trip so far, but this entire day was full of highlights. There was the bamboo grove, the monkey park, Nishiki market and Nijo Castle, all of which exceeded my expectations. I put my head on the pillow that night without a single regret. Tomorrow I would be taking an even bigger journey to Nara and Uji. Stay tuned!