Takuma Restaurant, Kyoto

Two nights before our amazing dinner, while wandering the Gion District along the banks of the Shirakawa River, SMS spotted the scene below across the water…

The restaurant looked awesome and instantly, we all knew we wanted to eat there.  We found the front entrance and tried to get in but it is reservation-only.  Saddened but not defeated, we trudged away to the lamb shop to plot our next step.  Ok, ok, that sounds much more nefarious than it was.  I had grabbed a business card at the restaurant, which was exclusively in Kanji.  I emailed it to the caretaker of our Machiya and asked him to make a reservation.  Voila!  We were in!

The restaurant was Takuna, a restaurant specializing in an amazing sushi and vegetable heavy meal presented in multiple courses.  The chef:diner ratio was about 1:1.  There were a few chefs who spoke passable English and their information greatly enhanced our experience.

The happy dining crew, before we’ve even started to feast!

The chefs took our picture before we even started our meal, which was nice since they were busy prepping!  The menus in front of us had the Kanji to an old Kyoto drinking song on it.  Although she’s not in the picture, the woman to Rip’s right was a lovely Japanese woman out celebrating with her husband.  They were first-time grandparents and they were out celebrating even though on a day-to-day basis, the woman explained, “We go like this! *makes repetitive fist bumping gestures* Always fighting!”  She was really great in describing some of the courses that were a little harder to figure out.  It also made the dining experience a little more communal in feeling.

Linda took pictures of all the courses while I took furious notes.
1. Plate of assorted bite-size treats: roasted ginan (gingko nuts), tofu, a gelatin mixed greens cube, pickled onions and the world’s most perfect potato chip
2. Amazingly delicious sashimi with Shoyu foam.  It was awesome!  Soy sauce foam, so light on the fish.  Delectable!
3. Broth-based soup with mushrooms and white fish.  It was in a larger, almost tea-pot like container and the broth was poured out into a tiny cup
4. Sawara (Spanish Mackerel) with daikon
5. Steamed vegetables
6. Tempura- lotus, pepper, fish
7. Sushi with a vinegar sauce that shredded ginger was stirred into (Demonstrated by Rip’s dining partner)
8.Tofu wrapped unagi in a miso-broth soup
9. Iribancha (smoked tea), rice, dark miso soup and pickles
10. Dessert plate: Apple slice, Persimmon slice, squash ice cream (YUM! For real), cake and kochi
[Two women next to me ordered the other set and seemed to have more sashimi, a small fish speared on a small wooden skewer and cooked whole, and a shabu-shabu course]

At the end of the meal we saw the sagi, or lonely bird sitting outside the window.  It was hard to tell if it was hungrily looking in or down at the water.  Probably in.

Reading the list above, some of the descriptions are very basic but the dishes were spectacular.  The vegetables were delicious and able to stand on their own as courses.  The fish was perfectly cooked.  The sawara was cooked on little skewers on a charcoal grill right in front of us, impeccably timed to correspond with our being ready for the next course.  Yum, yum!

There were two set courses to choose from and we chose the less expensive option.  It wasn’t inexpensive, just less expensive but we thought it was worth every penny.  Not only was the food exquisite, but the two hour production that we got to watch as we ate the results was really incredible to observe.

Linda & Rip Take On Japan! Day 5: Kyoto, cont…

Tom Sawyer in Japan!
We woke up to clearing skies after the heavy rain from the night before.  We were pretty excited to see more of beautiful Kyoto!  I walked down the street past the onsen. I discovered Boulangerie Tom Sawyer, a cute little bakery with delicious pastries.  I guess the name makes a little sense when I think that Mark Twain liked Paris but it was a funny name for a bakery deep inside one of Kyoto’s old neighborhoods.  I bought pastries for the group and then headed into FamilyMart, our local coffee shop on this trip.  There I ran into someone who looked vaguely familiar…oh, it’s Rip!  We walked back to the house and partook in a delicious breakfast.
By the Silver Temple (SMS)


What industrious gardeners! (SMS)
We took a cab over to Ginkakuji, the Silver Temple.  The temple, wood not silver, sits by a small pond next to a raked gravel garden of Mt. Fuji and ocean waves.  The grounds of the Silver Temple are some of the best in Kyoto.  We climbed the stone stairs (more stairs!) through the gardens of trees and shrubs with their roots bathed in a gorgeous, heterogeneous moss blanket.  The moss was vibrant and stunning after all the rain. It’s amazing how meticulously cared for the gardens are.  Ginkakuji and Ryoan-ji are my co-favorite temples in Kyoto.
Touching the love stone at Kizumizu.  I have SMS- I win!!!! (SMS)


Drinking the fresh water- to health! (SMS’ Dad)
Next, we went to Kiyomizu Dera.  The cab let us off at the base of Kiyomizu-michi, a shopping street leading up to the temple.  We looked in a few shops along the way.  Linda and Rip ended up buying a gorgeous pottery bowl, while I bought a few decorations from the Kyoto Chirimen Craft Museum.  It’s actually a shop specializing in chirimen crafts, made of a specially-weaved fabric that creates a lot of texture.  I bought a Fall and Christmas decoration that I’m pretty excited about.  It takes me one step closer towards my ultimate dream of seasonal decorating to the point where I have turkey-shaped salad plates from Williams-Sonoma!  (I realize this is a weirdly specific goal.  To make it more universal, just picture wanting to chant around a bonfire, “Mar-THA, Mar-THA!”)
Kiyomizu itself was ok.  There was a lot of construction so it wasn’t as harmonious as when I visited it in 2008.  I’m sure it will look gorgeous in a few weeks when they open the veranda at night with floodlights illuminating the foliage below but for a standard itinerary, I would rank other places above it.  One highlight was that I did walk the 10m between the two love rocks.  SMS was my trusty guide!
My new favorite market! (SMS)
Then, we were off to Nishiki Market.  I hadn’t heard of it until yesterday night when we were watching Ep. 8 of The Mind of a Chef.  In the episode, David Chang shops in the market as part of the trip to his Kyoto, a culinary inspiration.  Rip saw it and said, “I want to go there.”  Done!  We tried to time it with lunch and walking among the vendors definitely whet our appetites.  It was really cool and a very serendipitous discovery.


In the Tunnel of Torii (SMS)


The handsome photographer in front of the lens!
After lunch, we headed to the JR station to head out to Fushimi Inari, a shrine consisting of thousands of orange torii gates along a hilly walking path.  I had never been but always wanted to go- this was the second new-to-me site in one day!  We arrived and walked up to the temple on its impressively large stone staircase.  Then we hiked for a bit up the hill, marveling at the sheer number and subsequent beauty of the orange torii.  Occasionally, an older stone torii would be interjected in the riot of orange.  After our mini-hike, we took the train back to Kyoto and headed to the house.  There we got ready for the most incredible dinner at Takuma, a restaurant SMS had spotted the night before.  It was so amazing, it deserves its own post!

Linda & Rip Take On Japan! Day 4: Kyoto (cont…)

Maple Leaves and reflection at the Ryoan-ji Lake.

Our first full day in Kyoto coincided with the arrival of rain from the remnants of typhoon Vongfong. Fortunately, the rain held off until early afternoon and we made the most of our morning.  It was another early start and this time, we were powered by Japanese pastries- soy-dusted donuts, sweet potato donuts, etc.  I switched up the itinerary a bit and instead of going to Nijo Castle first, we decided to go to some temples and gardens since it wasn’t raining.  It had rained overnight so I thought the gardens would be especially verdant.

Looking good, feeling Zen! (SMS)


Rip and I, walking around Ryoan-ji (SMS)

First, we went to Ryoan-ji.  This is one of my favorite temples in Kyoto.  The main feature of the temple is the Philosopher’s Garden, a rock garden consisting of 15 rocks in a gravel bed.  The existential crisis that this garden provokes is that, no matter where you sit, you can only see 14 of the rocks at any given time.  Although the temple is cool, I think the surrounding gardens are the highlight of the site.  The grounds are absolutely beautiful and meticulously groomed gardens and a gorgeous lake.  In the Spring, there are gorgeous, overhanging wisteria trellises.

Yay, family portrait! (SMS)

After strolling through the gardens, we went to the nearby Kinkaku-ji.  Here, the main attraction is definitely the gorgeous, gold-leaf covered temple.  It’s a beautiful building and quite striking against the vivid green of the landscape.  The lake is also its own rock garden with views designed to inspire contemplation.

Amazing coffee stop, right by Kinkaku-ji. (SMS)


Nijo Castle (SMS)

After the two temples, we headed over to Nijo Castle as we could tell our luck with the rain holding off was about to run out.  There, we walked through the outer Ninomaru Palace with the famous nightingale floors.  The uguisu-bari corridors are designed so that the floorboards rub against spikes underneath that create a nightingale bird sound to warn of intruders.  It seems to be especially squeaky if a person is trying to be quiet!  We also saw the room where the shogun period ended with the signing of power back to the emperor.

Nijo Castle entrance bridge. (SMS)

We had our umbrellas with us so we walked around the palace grounds and over to the staircase that let us scale the large guard wall.  Then it was time for lunch!  We went to the Iyemon Salon restaurant, where I had been during my parents’ visit.  They had excellent lunch sets.  SMS was the winner with the mackerel set.  I had a tasty curry and Linda and Rip had the beef stew.

Afterwards, we headed back to the Machiya to hang out and relax.  The rain was coming down pretty hard and we only ventured out for dinner.  We went to a nearby izakaya where SMS showed off his mastery of navigating a menu written only in Japanese.  He did great, we all ate and everyone was very happy!

All pictures in this post by SMS!

Linda & Rip Take On Japan! Day 3: Kyoto

The next day, we went to brunch at the Officer’s Club on base.  There we met up with one of the general surgeons and her parents.  She was actually roommates with SMS’ sister in medical school so she and SMS’ family go way back.  It was serendipitous that the parents could meet up again and everyone could catch up.

Unfortunately, this was the morning I figured out that I had no idea where my id card was.  After lots of searching in multiple places over the last few days, the best idea I can come up with was that I had it in my pocket at Narita and in the midst of running (literally) like a madwoman (figuratively), the card inched its way out of my pocket.  *Sad trombone!*

Our Machiya! (SMS)

After brunch, we got a ride to Yokosuka-chuo, went to Shin-Yokohama via Yokohama and headed down to Kyoto on the Shinkansen.  It was a smooth ride and the whole trip takes about 3:15 from base all the way to Kyoto main station.  We took the bus to the upper Northwest in the Nishijin district where we had booked a Machiya, or traditional Japanese house.  It was very cool.  Tsutaya-san showed us the house and some of the workings (lights, hot water, etc).  The stairs were very steep but we all navigated them like champs.  There was a sitting area, enclosed small garden with a porch that led to the bathroom, a kitchen, dining room table and two upstairs bedrooms.  One had some room while the other just barely fit two futons.  We loved it and I would highly recommend it unless someone had balance issues.  I also would not rent it in Winter because I think it would be terribly cold and potentially uncomfortable.

That night, we went to the Gion district and walked around.  We ate at a little restaurant we came across that only served New Zealand lamb dishes.  We had a lovely meal in the cute, small dining room and spoke with a customer who taught physiology at UCSB from 1979-1981.

We walked around a few more allies, bought some ice cream and then hopped back on the bus to the Machiya.  We all crashed almost as soon as we got there.  Another successful, full day!


Day 3: Arashiyama, Kyoto

Little o-jizos

We slept in a little bit on Day 3.  Then it was off to the Western part of Kyoto to Arashiyama, a beautiful, less urban part of the city where we explored several temples and walked through beautiful bamboo forests.

We took the public bus with a few dozen of our new best friends for half-an-hour.  Hmmm, this was not the best way to start the day and may I suggest the train in the future?  Both the JR and Keifuku Electric Railroad head out that way and it may have been more enjoyable.  Also, the Randen line is a streetcar line that goes out that way.  That also may have been nicer.

Top: Tenryu-ji garden Bottom: Happy Dad on Tatami

We arrived and saw the Togetsukyo bridge crossing the Hozu river.  It was really pretty but I knew we had a big walking day ahead of us so we just admired it from the bus window as we headed to the Tenryu-ji bus stop.  Tenryu-ji is a beautiful Buddhist temple with gorgeous gardens that include the nearby mountains, Kame-yama and Arashi-yama, as part of the recruited landscape that is part of the garden view.  Shakkei is the term for using surrounding landscape as part of the garden composition.  The garden was designed by Muso Soseki (early 1300s), a master gardener, and it’s thought to be relatively unchanged from its original form.

The temple served as the only legal middleman for China-Japan trade in the 1300s-1400s.  As a result, it became very wealthy.  We thought it was really beautiful and Dad once again fell in love with walking on tatami mats.

Top: Washi paper fans Left: Flowers at Gio-ji Right: Bamboo forest

We walked around the gardens and then went out the North Gate to the Sagano Bamboo Forest/Trail.  It was really pretty, which is not how I ever really thought of bamboo.  I always thought bamboo was relatively common and almost weed-like since it grows so fast and spread but it is really pretty and the trail was so quiet.

We exited the trail and went to a cute coffee shop/pizza place for lunch.  It was clean, cute and airy.  The pizza was delicious!  I wish I wrote down the name.  I thought I had it on the receipt but when I asked Miyumi-san to translate, she said it just said, “Receipt.”  Oh.  *Sad trombone*  But if you want to go, make the a right at the bamboo forest t-intersection, walk past Okochi Sanso, make your first right and its the third(ish) building on your right (a field will be on your left).  After lunch, we went to a small shrine across the pond which ended up being the Shrine to the God of Hair.  This made for a very funny joke the next day when Dad told our tour guide that the day before he went to the shrine, he was bald!

Then…we started walking.  We found a beautiful washi paper store and bought quite a few things.  In return, they gave us a walking map and highly recommended Gio-ji.  I’m so glad they did.  It had my favorite moss garden of the trip!  It was so serene and pretty.  I highly recommend it, too!

Next was what I call “The Letdown Temple.”  I really wanted to see the temples with the expression-filled Buddhas.  When I came across the sign for Adashino Nenbutsu-ji and the 8000 Buddhas, I thought I was in luck.  Eight THOUSAND cool carved Buddhas.  Yeah!  Well, nope. The sculptures were more like lumps of rocks with some features here and there.  Boo hoo!  Where were my funny-faced statues?!?!?

YAY!  My favorite temple with scary guard statue (top right) and resident bell-ringer (bottom left)

Up the road!  Yes, uphill (woo hoo, parent torture tour continues!) about 10 minutes past the Ichi Torii gate (keep it to your left) was the Otagi Nenbutsu-ji temple.  Notice how only the first word is changed.  Tricky, tricky.  Anyway, HERE was the temple I was looking for.  There were so many kawaii statues.  And although there are only 1200 instead of 8000. I was very happy!

Dad had my camera and documented his favorite thing: tourists taking selflies.  One picture is not a selfie (guess!)

The end of the temple touring day was nearing and since we were on the Western side of town, I wanted Mom and Dad to see the Golden Temple, Kinkaku-ji.  It was crowded and a very different vibe from Arashiyama but I’m glad we went.  We didn’t have time for Ryoan-ji, but fortunately we saw it our last day of Kyoto (foreshadowing!).

Dinner was tasty.  We went to a Kyoto place that I read about on a blog that must be in every guidebook because it was completely filled with white people.  That was a first for me in Japan- even base is more diverse!  But the gyoza were pretty awesome.  Then we went to a chain izakaya and ordered lots of delicious food in my very best J-english.  Then it was time for bed.  We had a tour guide the next day.