Kansai 2018 – Kyoto (Matcha, Wagashi, Kakigori, Ichigo)

Day 5 and 6 of my trip was spent in Kyoto, the famous old capital of Japan. It’s my 4th time in Kyoto so I am pretty familiar with this place. I personally think that Kyoto isn’t a place which you can see 100% of in a single trip. It has way too much to offer and honestly, some of the attractions can seem repetitive (temples, shrines etc) and if you spam visit everything at once, you probably can’t fully digest and appreciate all of it. I visited Kyoto for only a few days at a time on each trip, strategically choosing attractions which are convenient to visit together – like all in the east, all in the west, or in the center. You shouldn’t be FOMO about Kyoto because even you try to see all of it in a single trip, you’ll still want to come back again someday because Kyoto is simply too attractive. Just savour what you can in the present moment and leave the rest for next time. This time, I wasn’t going to visit any cultural attractions. I think I’ve seen enough in my previous trips, so my main objective for Kyoto this time was sakura and food (what’s new right?).

I got here via an express Highway Bus from Arima Onsen, and alighted near Hachijo-dori side (south) of Kyoto Station at around 11:15am, after a 75minutes bus ride. Kyoto Station is huge so it is important to know where you are. Even transiting between train lines is not that straightforward. Anyway, my first activity was to have an early lunch at Nakamura Tokichi located within Isetan at the JR Kyoto. I’m sure you all know that Kyoto is the best place for matcha in Japan. This shop is famous for all things matcha! I rarely repeat my food because variety is everything to me, but this one is too good to not repeat. It’s my third time here!

The cha soba never fails! Everyone who’ve tried it loves it. The texture was very fresh and nothing like soba cooked from dried versions. The soba set comes with a mini matcha jelly on the side and that’s really good as well.

This is the seasonal strawberry themed parfait. I am usually not crazy over parfaits (there are other desserts I’m crazier about), but the combination of everything was just impeccable??? As I went along eating it I got more and more impressed. Now I get why locals are crazy over parfaits – I spotted a guy on the table next to me eating this alone and having nothing else. I don’t have proper words to describe my feelings about it. It’s just good.

People who likes simplicity can go for the matcha zenzai. It’s hard to be bad when the matcha quality is so good to begin with.

If you’re thinking whether you should make a trip down to Uji to have Nakamura Tokichi at their main store, I’d say it’s only worth the trip down if you also want to see the traditional buildings and have that traditional Japanese atmosphere. At Uji’s main store, you can take part in tea ceremony and grind your own matcha, but this activity is conducted entirely in Japanese, so bear in mind if you have language issues.

If you’re only really interested in eating their food, this branch at Kyoto Station actually is on par and I reckon the branch at Byodoin in Uji is too for food quality. It’s not worth the long queue (trust me the queue at the main store’s cafe is perpetually long) at the main store, and it’s not worth making a trip to Uji just for the food. The food quality is the same at any branch! I did not have to queue at all for my meal at JR Kyoto Isetan branch.

Nakamura Tokichi Kyoto Station Store
Suvaco JR Kyoto Isetan, 2nd and 3rd fl. (in front of the west ticket gate of JR Kyoto Station)

Getting around Kyoto

I had a few places lined up to visit today. They’re all on the east side of Kyoto but still pretty far apart and some of the places are only accessible by bus. Hence I decided to get the 1 Day Bus + Subway Pass.

I’ve actually never taken the municipal subway before in Kyoto (only the Keihan train or JR trains), and all my 3 previous trips to Kyoto, I had a 1 Day Bus Pass.

For a 1 Day Bus Pass, you can actually purchase on board any bus, from the driver, for ¥500. One bus ride cost ¥230 (no matter the distance), not allowing any tranfers, so if you need to board at least 3 different buses, getting a daily unlimited pass is worth it. Sometimes you’ll never know – you may have gotten onto the wrong vehicle or something, so even if you only planned for 2 buses, I’d say it’s safer to get a 1 Day Pass in case you need to take more buses than you thought you’d need!

For a 1 Day Subway Pass, it cost ¥600 and you can buy it from the ticketing machine at any station. The purchase procedure is just like Osaka’s! One subway ride starts from ¥210, so as long as you have at least 3 subway rides, getting a daily unlimited pass is worth it.

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1 Day Subway Pass

In Kyoto, the subway network is really old and not well developed. It may move faster than buses, but buses will take you to a lot more places. It all depends on where you’re intending to go to. If you’re going to take at least 2 buses and 3 subway rides, or 3 buses and 2 subway rides, getting a 1 Day Bus + Subway Pass combination pass for ¥900 is the best deal! If you need it for 2 days, it will be ¥1700. This combo pass is actually 2 separate tickets and you have to use different tickets on the bus and the subway. However, do note that you need to purchase it as a set to enjoy the discounted price, and you do not buy it from ticketing machines or on the bus.

I bought mine from the Kyoto Bus Information Office in front of the JR Kyoto Station central entrance – it is on the outdoor area on the ground floor, towards the south side of the station. At this information office there are different 2 lines so don’t just join whichever that is longer, you approach the line at the left entrance.

There are also other places to purchase these passes but I’m just listing down the easiest!

In summary:

  • 1 Day Bus – ¥500. Purchase on the bus
  • 1 Day Subway – ¥600. Purchase from ticketing machines in stations
  • 1 Day Bus + Subway – ¥900. Purchase at Kyoto Bus Information Office

I had 1 night in Kyoto and I decided on my accommodation based on pricing. Hotels in Kyoto are typically more expensive than Osaka, and even more expensive on weekends. I intentionally chose to stay here on a Monday so I could get a better price and I found this hotel near Gojo station, 1 subway stop from Kyoto Station, for ¥12000 a night on Japanican.com. For Kyoto standard, this is considered a good price.

The hotel was really near Gojo station, but the exit has no escalator or elevator – you need climb up the stairs with your bags. The hotel was of Japan quality and it exceeded my expectations! I booked this a long time ago and in my mind I was thinking I booked a very basic business hotel since the price was quite low.

However, if a vibrant surrounding is what you’re looking for in your accommodation choice, you may want to look somewhere else. Gojo itself has nothing much going on -there’s no traditional Kyoto vibes kind of landscape, big malls or anything famous to eat. It’s only good because it’s only one subway station from Kyoto station. There’s a drugstore and convenience store in close proximity though, so you can still get your necessities. On the other hand, Shijo Station one stop further has a lot more going on.

Vessel Hotel Campana Kyoto Gojo
498 Shimomanjujicho, Gojo, Higashinotoin-dori, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto

For this trip I made it a point to check out a traditional tea house, Saryo Housen 茶寮 宝泉, which I’ve been wanting to go to since my very first trip to Japan. It’s my tenth time to Japan so it’s high time I checked it off my list!

I first learnt about Saryou Housen from Tabelog and their rating is significantly higher than most others from the dessert category. The location is kind of out of the way and far from most other points of interest in Kyoto, so getting here will require committing time to commuting and finding your way around. It doesn’t help that most places in Kyoto closes by 4 or 5pm and there’s only so much you can do in a day. I prioritized other points of interests in my previous trips, hence I had to give this place a skip. For this trip, I didn’t plan to see any temples, shrines or castles. I prioritized my food so here I am! I had to take a subway and then a bus to get here. It wasn’t easy.

Wagashi offered here changes periodically and the sweets available for the day was displayed outside for customers to order before being seated. A set with your choice of wagashi and matcha cost ¥950. You could also choose other teas like sencha, gyokuro or iced matcha, but price will be different.

The warabi mochi here is not like those you get from shops – it is made of real bracken starch. Traditionally, warabi mochi refers to this confectionery made from bracken starch, but real bracken starch is actually very expensive. Modern versions uses other starches including (but not exclusive to) katakuriko (potato starch) and that’s what most people use nowadays because it’s cheap and not bad. That said, the warabi mochi you’ve tried (especially if it’s not from an authentic Japaneses tea house) is highly likely to be made from other starches. Real bracken starch warabi mochi has a very different texture from modern warabi mochi and the texture was simply sublime. I felt it was worth my ¥1100 to experience the real unparalleled deal.

Do take note that the last order at Saryo Housen is at 4:45pm and they are closed every Wednesday. You will also need to wait to be seated inside the tea house, and they’ll arrange for you to sit side by side. You might also be facing another of people table face to face and that’s kind of weird. Nevertheless, it was a beautiful place and worth to check out if you appreciate traditional Japanese sweets and tea.

Saryo Housen 茶寮 宝泉
25 Shimogamo Nishitakagicho, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 606-0861, Japan

I took a bus and alighted near Philosopher’s Path. This is a very famous hanami spot in Kyoto, but I totally missed the bloom and most of the flowers have fallen. I managed to find one tree though! This looks like the weeping species which blooms later.

While randomly walking, I found more sakura! Yes I planned this outfit to match the flowers. I was holding on to the possibility of seeing some in Kyoto despite it being end of season.

Had a break at Blue Bottle Coffee. I’m not into coffee at all but the cookies were nice. The flavours were very interesting.

I took a subway down to Sanjo station and while walking towards Gion area, I found more sakura! This looks like someiyoshino to me.

I also spotted these beautiful kanzan variety sakuras in full bloom. They are characterized with big pom pom like flowers of many petals and copper coloured leaves.

My objective for coming to Gion area was to have Kakigori at Tea and Sake room ‘Tatsuki’. I love how the entrance of this place via a bridge over a canal! The lower level is a cafe while the upper level is a retail store called Pass the Baton.

I know I’ve had one too many meals today but I was determined to have kakigori even though it was freezing. I’ve noticed how Japanese locals seems to love this and I always notice them ordering this instead of all other desserts no matter what season. I’ve also seen this all over Instagram from Japanese users and I actually found this cafe by looking through pictures of kakigori! I will first disclaim that I was never like a crazy fan of ice desserts like this in the first place. I was always ok and alright with having them if it’s good. I wanted to try kakigori purely out of curiosity, to learn what the hype is about. My guideline to choosing food in Japan is to always eat what the locals eat, and kakigori is one of them.

They have a minimum order per of 1 item per person and I didn’t want anything else but kakigori from here so we’re going to have 1 kakigori per person. Bring it on.

The first one to arrive was Houjicha Kinako (¥1100). it’s a regular flavour on the menu (the other is matcha) and the size was huge. It’s amazing how they served this on such a small bowl. Upon the very first mouth, I was sold. This is NOT shaved ice; it’s more like fluffy snow! I read somewhere that the trick lies in the angle of shaving the ice to achieve this unique texture. The texture was more powdery than crystal-sandy. It was so soft and fluffy and the amount of flavoured syrup added was just nice. It was so addictive! Compared to Taiwanese shaved ice or Korean bingsu, Japanese kakigori is a whole different level of finesse and I definitely would try it again, next trip to Japan.

The other flavour we had was Ichigo Daifuku (¥1400). This was one of the seasonal flavours for the month of April, the other being Mikan. This one was really good as well and despite looking really sweet with that layer of condensed milk, the flavour was actually just right. I can’t decide which one I liked better. The tables next to us were filled with locals and they too had one kakigori per person. It’s worth the hype.

Tea and Sake room ‘Tatsuki’ お茶と酒 たすき
77-6 Sueyoshicho, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture, Japan

I spotted these beautiful preserved table floral arrangement in Kyoto BAL mall. Kyoto BAL houses several houses a collection of up market home design and fashion stores. This mall is near Rokkakudori where I was going to have my dinner.

I wanted to try Red Rock for dinner. This chain started from Kobe (nope, they don’t use Kobe Beef, but nice try on confusing people) but they have several shops in most major cities of Japan as well as a few in California. For Kyoto, it is located in Rokkakudori. I actually stayed at a hotel on the same street in my 2014 trip and I can’t believe I didn’t know about this place! Or perhaps it could be new?

It’s a casual dining restaurant and you first purchase your meal tickets from the machine before entering. You can have someone queue up while one of you go buy your meal tickets to save time. I was here around 8pm on a Monday night and waited around 10 minutes to be seated. It was pretty confusing for a first timer to purchase from the machine because there are different combinations, sizes and types of beef. I ended up with a large Roast Beef Teishoku (¥1200) and a regular Steak Don (¥850).

On hindsight, I should have gotten the large Roast Beef Don (¥1100) instead because it looks better piled up on rice compared to being plated on the side of a plate. The side salad and miso soup was also quite unnecessary. But that aside, the roast beef here was pretty damn good! I first had roast beef in Japan during my trip to Hiroshima just a month ago, where we had roast beef for lunch by accident because we messed up the original itinerary – and that roast beef kept me wanting more! It was a moment when I realised I’ve been missing out on so much over the years of visiting Japan. (Again, I would like to disclaim that I was never a fan of roast beef to begin with, and only became a convert after trying it in Japan.)

You may have had roast beef in Singapore and think nothing much of it, but bear this in mind: Japanese style of roast beef is NOT like those you see at buffet spreads in Singapore.

The beef was soft, tender and still moist, not like the dry mass of protein you get in Singapore and most places. I don’t know whether it’s due to the source of beef, the ageing method (if any) or the cooking technique – whatever they do in Japan is simply different from any other roast beef I’ve tried.

And if you’re wondering about the Steak Don, yes it was good as well and probably better than most you get in Singapore too, but the Roast Beef was much better. If you dine at Red Rock just go straight for the Roast Beef Don and have no regrets!

Besides Kyoto and Kobe, you can also find Red Rock in Tokyo, Osaka, Sendai, Hiroshima, Nagoya and Fukuoka. This is probably one of the most value for money meals I’ve had in Japan. Go plan it (or any other Japanese roast beef restaurant) into your next Japan trip NOW!!!

Red Rock
452-4 Matsugaechō, Super Grand Building 1F, Nakagyō-ku, Kyōto-shi, Kyōto, Japan

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While waiting for my bus along Kawaramachi, I randomly got this watercolour set with brushes from Danish lifestyle store Flying Tiger Copenhagen for ¥400. The colours makes me happy. It is way better than Daiso’s. A very random purchase but it sparks joy.

Flying Tiger Copenhagen Kyoto Kawaramachi Store
59-4 Kawaramachi-Dori Sanjo Odori-machi , Nakagyō-ku, Kyōto-shi, Kyōto, Japan

Strawberry Hunting いちご狩り

I have yet another disclaimer to make: I don’t like to eat fruits. I almost never touch those apples/ oranges/ pears we have commonly in Singapore. It’s not Singapore’s fault because I know we don’t grow fruits locally and it’s all imported but can I just say I don’t like most of them?

However, Japanese fruits are different. They taste different, they look different and they’re just the best. I appreciate how these farmers dedicate their whole lifetime to the craft of farming. It takes a lot of effort to research and experiments to come up with the best methods to get the best produce so the fruits in Japan are simply superior. This is also why all Japanese fruits are generally more expensive.

Strawberry (ichigo) is definitely very popular and highly regarded in Japan. There are also many varieties of ichigo and they have different characteristics. I actually had my very first Japanese ichigo only last year and I was sold, forever. The juiciness, sweetness and flavour was superior to any other strawberry I’ve had, not to mention the appearance looking so much more beautiful as well. This was at ABC Cooking Singapore’s Strawberry Tasting session for members and it also gave me a crash course about some different species. I am still in the midst of learning about all the different cultivars of ichigo like I am for the different types of wagyu and sakura. I always like to be aware of what I’m eating.

There are two main reasons for why it took me this long to try Japanese ichigo:

  1. It’s way too expensive in Singapore, before Donki opened in December 2017
  2. My previous 9 trips in Japan wasn’t during the ichigo months of January – April

Generally most Japanese fruits sold in Singapore cost 3 times the price you’ll pay for the same thing in Japan, and 5 times the price of their counterparts from our neighbouring countries, so whenever you’re in Japan, don’t take the fruits for granted! I strongly advise every visitor to Japan to buy fruits or if time allows, go visit a fruit farm! I previously got to see apple, pear and grape farms which were in season during later months of the year. This is my first time having spring in Japan and finally I met the ichigo season, so いちご狩り I MUST!

Ichigo is farmed in many areas of Japan with the more famous prefecturesbeing Tochigi (for Tochiotome) or Fukuoka (for Amaou). Ichigo is also farmed in Kansai so Kyoto, Osaka and Hyogo do have farms.

I made the mistake by not booking my ichigo hunting session earlier, and most of the farms were fully booked by the time I started looking. My first few choices of farms were full for the day I wanted but I was lucky to find Hanayagi Farm with vacancy. It seems like ichigo hunting is really very popular in Japan. For other fruits during my previous trips, I never had to book and the farms weren’t crowded!

Getting here was not the easiest thing. I took a train (Kyoto Subway + Kintetsu Line) down to Shin-Hosono Station, and walked 15 minutes to reach the farm. My entire journey took around 1hr from my hotel in Gojo to Hanayagi Farm. However, I do like coming to rural areas and it was an enjoyable walk.

The ichigo hunting was carries out in specific time slots and they have 3 slots a day (10:30am, 1:30pm and 3pm), reservable online. Reservations are necessary and they have records of to match with when you check in. It cost ¥1700 for adults and teenagers, ¥1500 for children aged 6 – 12 and ¥1200 for children age 3 -5. The activity starts exactly at your reserved time and everyone will move off together from the reception area to the green house. Do arrive 15 minutes earlier because you need to make payment at the counter before it begins. My appointment time was 10:30am and the group was quite big, around 30 people at least.

The ichigo was sheltered in a house from the sun and rain and it’s true that strawberries needs to be babied. When washed before eating, their outer texture immediately started to deteriorate. I swear they were perfect when I freshly picked them! This is an all-you-can-eat experience and you can go for as many rounds as you wish! I ate 2 -3 bowls full of ichigo. I am not certain which species these are but at Hanayagi farm they mainly grow Akihime 章姫 and Sagahonoka さがほのか varieties. While it may be cheaper to simply get a pack from the supermarket (you can find them as cheap as ¥400), the experience of picking my own from the source was valuable and enjoyable.

Hanayagi Farm 華やぎ観光農園
Kanetsukeden-31 Shimokoma, Seika, Soraku District, Kyoto Prefecture, Japan

I made my way back to Kyoto for lunch and digressing, I totally forgot that I was going to take at least 3 subway rides today and should have gotten a 1 Day Subway Pass! Do not make this mistake! I alighted at Shijo station of the Karasuma subway line. In this area you can find the famous Nishiki Market and Daimaru Kyoto. It’s quite a popular place for local style shopping in Kyoto.

I had my lunch lunch at Snoopy Cha-Ya within Nishiki Market. It’s a Peanuts themed restaurant. As you know, Peanuts is very big in Japan with their own museum in Roppongi – the only other Peanuts museum in the world besides the one in their hometown of Santa Rosa, California. There are four Snoopy Cha-Ya in Japan, the others in Otaru (Hokkaido), Ise (Mie) and Yufuin (Oita). Kyoto Nishiki branch is the most accessible out of the four. I like how much effort they put into making the food and ambiance match with the Peanuts theme yet injecting some Japanese influence. I found to food quality to be actually quite decent.

The retail shop below has a pretty unique selection of items, most of these you probably cannot find anywhere else. You can find Peanuts designs on traditional Japanese items here (chopsticks, chopstick holders, plates, bento cloth, Japanese purse etc) and also some Peanuts themed souvenir snacks.

Snoopy Cha-Ya Nishiki
480 Nakauoyamachi, Nishikikoji Yanagaba West Entrance, Nakagyō-ku, Kyōto-shi, Kyōto, Japan

For afternoon tea break I had a specific patisserie in mind. Maison De Frouge was a short walk from Nishiki Market, around 5 minutes. I learnt about this place while watching one of those documentary videos on the in-flight entertainment system from one of my flights and the topic for that episode was strawberry in Kyoto! The documentary featured a few cake shops and wagashi shops that served ichigo themed sweets as well as a good ichigo farm for strawberry hunting (but that farm in question was full for for the date I wanted by the time I got down to booking). I was particularly interested in Maison De Frouge because this is not just a shop which serves ichigo cakes as one of their products – the entire shop is all about ichigo


Maison De Frouge ~Ichigo no Omise~

They literally called themselves “the strawberry shop”.

Maison de Frouge is more serious about ichigo than I imagined them to be. ALL their products involves ichigo. I love it when a certain shop is dedicated to a single theme and from this point I KNEW I was going to love it.

They don’t use just any ichigo, but for every cake they choose ichigo of specific species and origin. This is labelled on every cake. Hover over each picture to see where they’re from in the captions! Eg. Oi C Berry from Kyoto, Marihime from Wakayama etc. There were originally more cakes but they got sold out before I arrived.

I arrived around 2:30pm and there were 2 groups ahead of me. I was so worried that my shortcake would be gone because there was only 1 slice left! Thankfully, the groups before me chose something else and I got my last slice of shortcake! We had to place our orders first to reserve the cakes we wanted, and then wait for a seat to be vacant. This is a very small shop with only 4 tables. By the time I was seated, around 20 minutes later, almost all the cakes were sold out and customers who came in later left disappointed. I would suggest coming here before 2pm to be safe, and even earlier if it’s a weekend.

When I said that this shop serves only strawberry flavour everything, I really mean everything. Their drinks menu only offered strawberry flavoured drinks! We got the Iced Strawberry Milk Tea and Hot Strawberry Tea to go along with the cakes. I had the Premium Ichigo Shortcake and a Ichigo Financier and I loved them both. Shortcake was always my favourite cake so this cannot go wrong.

But surprisingly, what blew me away was the financier! This was my first time ever having financier and previously I just wrote it off in my mind as a plain looking tea cake, like a pound cake. The sort that nobody cares about. But I was so wrong – financiers are so not ordinary! Once again I had this I-couldn’t-believe-I’ve-been-missing-out moment (like when I first tried roast beef in Japan). I wasted no time in taking the Financiers & Cookies class at ABC Cooking Studio when I returned to Singapore because I was missing this so much after I left. Having ichigo in strawberries made it even better and I recreated this at home using Sachinoka ichigo from Donki.

The Strawberry Milk Tea was made from strawberry infused black tea instead of plain black tea and I suppose it’s the same tea base as the other cup of Hot Strawberry Tea we had. The strawberry flavour was subtle and it was really nice! I initially thought they would be adding strawberry syrup to normal milk tea, like you know, from bubble tea shops? But this version was so much better. You could control your own sugar level by adding syrup if desired.

Overall I love Maison de Frouge so much and I feel so thankful for the in-flight video I watched because I would have never discovered this place otherwise! I don’t think this place is well known online because I certainly haven’t seen anyone talking about it. I would definitely come here again. It’s paradise for strawberry lovers!

Maison de Frouge
201 Sammonjicho Higashinotoindori Sanjosagaru, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto, Japan

That’s all for Kyoto for this trip. I moved on to Osaka for the night and you can read all about the mini “drama” that happened with my accommodation here!


One thought on “Kansai 2018 – Kyoto (Matcha, Wagashi, Kakigori, Ichigo)

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