Saturday, December 12, 2015

Japan trip Autumn 2015, Part 4 - Day 4: Arashiyama, Fushimi Inari & Fire ramen in Kyoto

November 29 was the day we left Tokyo to head towards the Kansai region. After we came back from the onsen visit the night before, we packed our bags for our quick two day, one night jaunt over to Kyoto and Osaka.
We had reserved shinkansen tickets for a Hikari train leaving Tokyo station at 08:03 which would get us to Kyoto at around 10:40. We had initially wanted to arrive in Kyoto a bit earlier in the day, but the train we wanted to catch and the one immediately after were both fully booked! We had considered trying to ride standby, but after a very full day the day before, we decided that one hour wasn't going to make much difference and it was better to just relax and not worry about finding a seat.

We hopped on a JR Chuo line train towards Tokyo with our bags.

And then easily boarded the shinkansen and found our seats. This train was quite full as well and we had to sit on the triple seat side with a stranger occupying the window seat. This wasn't a big deal to us as we were planning on sleeping most of the time anyway.

Onigiri I brought with me to eat on the train over the next few hours.

Our hair color this day with the sunlight coming in from the train window.

I missed getting the best view of it, but there was a really really clear view of Mt. Fuji on our ride. I'm actually kind of sad I wasn't woken up to see it better because I've never seen it so clearly on any of my past rides on the shinkansen wtf. But that's alright.

We got to Kyoto station and tried to find some unoccupied lockers to stash our bags while we went out for the day, but couldn't find any! There were certainly quite a few lockers, but literally every single one we found was occupied. The possibility of this happening had not occurred to me since I had always seen the lockers in stations but hardly stopped to use them and didn't realize they would ever be fully booked, but certainly it can and did happen.
Our hotel we booked for the night was in Osaka but we had gotten off in Kyoto because that is where we intended to spend the day and I figured we could save a bit of time (an hour+) if we just went straight, shrugged off our bags in the station and came back and picked them up before we ended the night in Osaka. Besides, we were much ahead of the check in time anyway.
The fully occupied lockers must happen regularly because fortunately there were two "Temporary Parcel Storage" areas available on the B1 level of the station. We chose the one with the shorter line but also earlier close time. We figured that we wouldn't have any problem returning by the 20:00 closing and the 21:30 closing time room had a line almost 3x longer wtf.

Although the line for the room we chose was, by no means, considered "short" either lol.

Thankfully, the staff are reasonably efficient and we were able to get to the front of the line and drop off our luggage for 420yen/bag after about a 20 minute wait. It was definitely faster to have done that rather than to have gone to Osaka and tried to leave our luggage at the hotel.
Free of suitcases, we navigated our way through a very busy Kyoto station and hopped onto the JR Sagano line to get to Saga Arashiyama. Having just recently visited during the spring, I reasonably knew my way to get to Tenryu-ji Temple, and we were quickly on our way.

The area is definitely different in the fall in comparison to the spring with all of the gorgeous changing colors. We don't experience the seasons in this way in Hawaii, so it's always exciting for me to see. While we had seen changing leaves the day before in Rikugien Gardens, this was definitely different because it was during the day.

We paid the entrance fee to enter the temple and followed a huge crowd of people in. I had last visited just before the peak of sakura season in Kyoto in the spring, so I know I didn't get to experience that to its fullest extent, but I still think I might enjoy the colors during the autumn season better. It was absolutely gorgeous and I just wanted to take pictures and selfies everywhere lol.

We walked up and around until we exited the temple area and entered the Bamboo Forest.

We took a short break at a playground just off the path to check on the wifi, charge our devices and eat a snack from my purse lol.

From there, we decided to head back the way we came and go towards Togetsu-kyo Bridge which is the route I was a little more familiar with. We didn't want to do a lot of extra walking since we still had quite a bit more to accomplish during the day.

On the way back from the park, Christa stopped to pick up some takoyaki from the little restaurant that my bf had also bought from last spring lol.

Needing something quick to eat as well, I grabbed a corn dog from the Lawson's next to the station.

We went back to Kyoto station and then switched to the Nara line to get to Inari station. It was very crowded here as well! Our goal was mostly to just walk enough to get past the main crowd and get a few good pictures along the way. We knew we probably wouldn't be game to do the entire trek to the top.

When we had had enough walking, we decided to leave the torii gate path and make our way back to the beginning via the outer area.
When we got back to the entrance area, we sat down and tried to figure out the rest of our plans for the day. There was a specific restaurant that we were aiming to go to but it didn't open until 18:00 and we still had quite a few hours to kill. We had just completed two activities that included a bit of walking, so we were looking for something a bit more low key but also weren't all that hungry so it didn't make sense to go to a restaurant or café.

We ended up deciding to go back to Kyoto station (which we'd have to do in order to get to the restaurant later anyway) and do some small shopping, etc in that area. Christa wanted to go to a Starbucks, so we sought one out below the station. Our pocket wifi wasn't working well at that point, so we hung out in the area to use Starbucks wifi lol. There were also quite a few seats outside with outlets for charging as well.

The line for Starbucks was pretty slow moving and long, so while Christa waited, I browsed through the stores in the area.

And eventually, after agreeing to meet back at Starbucks at 16:45, we split up for a bit to explore the mall area a bit more. I looked through the stores and, for the millionth time during this trip, didn't find anything of particular interest. But I ended up at Auntie Anne's lol. Even though it was less than 2 hours from when we would be eating dinner, I decided I wanted to get something. I usually just play it safe and order the original pretzel which I know I enjoy, but this time, I decided to take a chance and order the Almond Crunch pretzel since it was part of a special holiday menu.
Lol it was alright and it was almond-y and crunchy, but honestly, I should have just stuck with the original pretzel. I never learn that I shouldn't try new things lol.

I met back up with Christa at Starbucks where she had returned and was happily using the wifi and charging her phone lol. I really don't know why the pocket wifi wasn't working well, but maybe it had something to do with the limits of it. Since it was provided by the Airbnb, I'm not sure of the specifics of it.
I had never been to the restaurant before, so I made sure I took multiple screenshots of the route on Google Maps while we still had internet access and we headed off. It turns out that we had just missed the train and had to wait around 15 minutes for the next one lol. But at least we could sit down and wait in the seats.
Because of that, we didn't arrive in Nijo until about 17:45, and it was really dark lol. But by then, I had already had enough time to really familiarize myself with the general map, and we just started off. After walking for about 15 minutes (it was probably less), we arrived at Menbakaichidai.

We were a bit alarmed when we saw a sign that said "Sorry, closed" but then we realized that we were actually still a bit early for the restaurant opening for dinner! I had done as much research as I could to make sure that it would be worth the trip over there, so I'm glad it wasn't randomly closed. And actually, we had meant to arrive about half an hour earlier because I had read that the line can get long because there's a limited number of seats, but even with just a few minutes before 18:00, there was just 1 elderly couple who was waiting outside with us.

They seemed to be regulars who were used to tourists coming to the restaurant and the man offered to help us take a picture of the both of us in front of the restaurant. He clearly had the best intentions but was very unfamiliar with how to take photos with an iPhone lol. It took several minutes and back and forth to try and get this shot, haha. But we are still grateful for it.

At 18:00, the chef/restaurant owner came outside and asked us whether we wanted Fire Ramen or Regular Ramen. The older couple wanted regular ramen and were seated at a regular table, but since we were getting fire ramen, we were seated at the counter and received a different menu.

The big pull/gimmick (if you can call it that) of this restaurant is the fire ramen. And no, it's not ramen that's super spicy. It's ramen that is set on fire in front of your eyes before you eat it. Because there is fire involved, there are rules that you must agree to follow. The staff can communicate in English and the rules and menu are available in English as well. I think there are menus/instructions available in other languages (like Chinese and Korean) too, but the verbal communication is best in English besides Japanese.

Guests with longer hair in the front of your face/bangs are asked to tie their hair up as seen below (also pictured in an instructions sheet) and you are provided a hair tie in a color of your choice that you can keep as a "souvenir". And it's not limited to just women. Men with longer hair are asked to do this as well for safety (and probably also for shits and giggles at least a little, haha). We were also provided with aprons to protect our clothing.

I have a short compilation of videos from the trip uploaded on YouTube and posted in Part 10 - Travel Notes at the end of this series, but for now, here are some screenshots from the video recorded at the restaurant.
The staff are aware that guests want to film or capture the experience, so there are hanging selfie sticks in the kitchen area for the sole purpose of safely taking video when the fire is applied. As far as I could tell from our visit, it's one camera (phone) per party and the phone is returned to you after the feat is completed (so it's not filming you during the entire meal or anything). For your own safety, you are not allowed to film via first person of it happening right in front of you yourself, but I think the selfie sticks and video are a good trade-off.
The fire is real and certainly very hot, but we felt safe in our seats because you could tell that they take the whole thing very seriously and don't want any mishaps which is why there are so many necessary rules. If you follow the rules, you should have no problems.

After the fire part is over (for all at the counter), you are handed chopsticks and instructed not to touch the bowl because the oil on it will cause stains.
It's negi (green onion) ramen with a couple pieces of pork in there as well (although it's hidden in the photo). I'm not someone who typically enjoys green onions, so I can't really judge this, but apparently they are extra tasty here. Just based on the noodles and broth (what I usually eat from my ramen bowl), I thought it was pretty good. Nothing tastes burnt, but there is a slightly "smoked" taste to it. It's not overpowering but you can definitely taste it in some of the bites.
The staff at the restaurant are all very friendly and knowledgeable and accommodating of foreigners or visitors to the area. (All the people getting fire ramen while we were there and just after we were leaving were foreigners btw. The local people tended to just get the regular ramen without the fuss and time limit at the counter.) We had walked to the restaurant and were okay walking back to the station as well, but were provided with instructions with how to bus back without us even having to ask. We were also provided with suggestions for other things to do in the area.
As a picky eater, I wouldn't say this is the best ramen I've eaten (mostly because this isn't the type of ramen of I prefer to eat and I hate most foods, so take that opinion of the taste with a grain of salt), but it was certainly the best ramen experience I've had in a restaurant and also the best and most accommodating customer service I've had in any restaurant so far. [There was another one that comes somewhat close in regards to staff helpfulness, and it was another ramen place but in Shibuya. We ate there during our Summer 2014 trip.] I would recommend this place to anyone who finds the fire affect interesting or exciting, and I would gladly go again if there were others who wanted to go. The location is not as hard to find or far from the station as it seems to be if you have Google maps (although we did have good weather for our walk both ways, so maybe it's terrible during the heat or summer or when it's raining or terribly cold). This definitely seems to be one of those "only in Japan" things, and I'm glad we had the chance to do it without having to wait for a long time!

We would have considered doing another small activity in Kyoto (like an illumination viewing), but we had to go back and claim our luggage, so instead we just walked back to the station and then caught a train back to Kyoto station.

We picked up our bags with no issue and then headed to the shinkansen area to do a little Kyoto omiyage shopping before catching the next Hikari or Kodama one stop to Shin-Osaka where we transferred to get to Osaka station. We walked directly to the hotel and checked in.
The hotel we picked to stay our one night in the Kansai area was Hearton Hotel Nishiumeda. We were looking for a reasonably cheap hotel with very close proximity to the a main station since we were mostly just looking for a place to sleep.
And that's certainly what it was lol. Pretty basic in terms of customer service and the room had what we needed without any extra frills. We did find that it was lacking in outlets though. We each had a phone and portable charger that require through-the-night charging after all day use + the pocket wifi device. I think there were maybe 4 outlets in the room, two of which were right next to the door (with nothing to support any device while being charged) and one in the bathroom. None of the outlets were by the beds. Luckily, we had an adapter that allowed us to split power and charge more than one device at the desk outlet.

After we got settled and were preparing for the next day, Christa realized that she forgot to pack a bottom/skirt for her outfit and only had a top lol. And on this day, she was wearing a dress and didn't want to rewear it the next day if possible. It was about 20:40 at that point, but we quickly gathered our things and headed back out. I knew that Hep Five was already closed and it was likely too late to try and take a train anywhere else because based on the time that many other malls close since we still needed a bit of browsing time. Luckily, the hotel is close to the Eki Marche and Fashion Albi at Osaka station which includes a handful of women's clothing stores that don't close until 21:00. We hurriedly looked through each one and had practically given up when Christa tried looking in one last store, "apart by lowrys", at around 20:55 and found a skirt she was interested in that she didn't mind paying for.
She tried it on and then quickly purchased it. Crisis averted! And the skirt really is quite nice for something that was purchased under pressure. I think it was quite suitable for her too. You'll see it in the pictures for Day 5 :)
We stopped briefly at the Ekidonki (like a mini DonQuixote) located near the exit of Eki Marche near to the hotel to buy some omiyage items now that we were no longer under pressure and was happy to call it a night at that point.

Although I had previously visited both Arashiyama and Fushimi Inari in the past, I was happy to revisit these beautiful areas again during koyo/autumn and see them in a different light. While we didn't do too much more exploring than I had done previously, I don't feel like I'm missing out on much and, with sore feet, I don't mind not getting lost or doing unnecessary walking after introducing Christa to these areas. We didn't make it to several of the more famous temples like Kinkaku-ji which is also beautiful of course, but we had wanted to stay closer to Kyoto station and use JR lines and there will be other trips for Christa, I'm sure. The fire ramen restaurant, Menbakaichidai, was an entirely new experience and absolutely worth it which was simple but exciting and uniquely Japan. I'm glad we made the time to at least stop for the day in Kyoto.
Japan trip Autumn 2015 posts
Part 1 - Day 1, November 26: Tokyo DisneySea
     Part 1a - Planning for Tokyo DisneySea
Part 2 - Day 2, November 27: Hair Salon NALU, Shibuya & Harajuku
Part 3 - Day 3, November 28: Ghibli Museum, Shirohige Cream Puff Shop, Ikebukuro, Rikugien Garden & Nagomi no Yu
Part 4 - Day 4, November 29: Arashiyama, Fushimi Inari & Fire ramen in Kyoto
Part 5 - Day 5, November 30: Minoo Park, Kaiyukan, Tennoji, Namba & Umeda in Osaka
Part 6 - Day 6, December 1: Shibuya, Yokohama (Chinatown) & Seirinkan
Part 7 - Day 7, December 2: Ueno Zoo, Alice Café & Yebisu Garden Place
Part 8 - Liz Lisa & Other shopping purchases
Part 9 - Budgeting for a week in Japan
Part 10 - Travel notes: Planning, Tips, Accommodations & Pocket wifi

Japan trip Summer 2015 posts
Japan trip Spring 2015 posts
Japan trip Summer 2014 posts

4 comments:

  1. Kyoto seems like it would be really pretty in Autumn. The fire ramen looked really interesting - I think I would be too scared to try it myself XD

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    1. I think I did too much research on it so I wasn't even fazed lol.

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  2. Beautiful places *u* and I liked your dress! :) have fun and enjoy Emi!! ^-^

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