Tsukiji fish market

tsujiki fish markettsujiki fish markettsujiki fish market


Although I have been to Tsukiji fish market many times, I have never been able to get up early enough to see the auctions or other market activities. However, I still enjoy strolling around and having omakase sushi breakfast whenever I visit. But when I heard that the 78-year old market is to relocate to a new location ( apparently the plan has been delayed to 2015), I was quite sadden by the news and decided to return again ( and again if I can) before it disappears…


tsujiki fish markettsujiki fish market tsujiki fish market

Main: map of the market; bottom left & right: interesting cartoons at the entrance


Inside the fish market, the most popular sushi bar is Sushi Dai ( Building #6), I have never seen it with less than 30 people outside. As much as I love sushi, I cannot be bothered to queue for it, I would rather try out other sushi bar or restaurants that are very high in standard too. I have previously tried Ryu sushi ( Building #1) and Sushisay/ Sushi Sei ( 4-13-9 Tsukiji; an excellent and friendly sushi restaurant outside of the market, often overlooked by tourists), so this time I went to Sushi Maru ( Building #10), which is located in a quieter spot of the market.

For the price of 3150 yen, I filled my stomach with 14 pieces of fresh sushi including three types of tuna as well as three lightly grilled ones, so I really couldn’t ask for more! And when I saw the Japanese customers next to me ordering fresh oysters, I was very tempted too, though my self-control kicked in and stopped me from ordering more. I felt quite relaxed at this tiny sushi bar and so I was able to take my time… I couldn’t imagine being able to feel this way at Sushi Dai, so I was glad that I skipped the queue to come here instead.


tsukiji fish markettsukiji fish markettsukiji fish markettsukiji fish markettsukiji fish market

Top & middle left: Ryu Sushi; top right: part of the very long queue outside of Sushidai; Middle right: a shrine inside the market; Bottom left & right: Sushi Maru


What I love about the market is not only the sushi but also the traditional food and cookware or specialist stores selling knives, scales, seaweed, vegetables, pickles and ceramic bowls etc. I love see traditional shopkeepers at work, interacting with their regular customers and doing jobs that have occupied them most of their lives… I would be sad to see this disappear soon.

Due to time constraint, I did not have the time to visit the Outer market this time, but it is buzzing and full of interesting food stalls including a well-known ramen stall ( which I previously blogged about) called Inoue. If you are still hungry after your sushi breakfast, then remember to drop by for some delicious street food.


tsukiji fish markettsujiki fish markettsukiji fish markettsukiji fish markettsukiji fish markettsujiki market

Traditional shops and shopkeepers at the market will soon become history


Yanesen: step back in time

scai the bathhouseyanaka templeyanaka

Top left: Scai the bathhouse; top right: a temples in Yanaka; main: the nostalgic Yanaka


There are so many cool and interesting neighbourhoods in Tokyo, but my favourite is the area known as Yanesen ( including three neighbourhoods: Yanaka, Nezu and Sendagi). In a metropolis where everything changes faster than the blink of an eye, it feels like time has stood still here.

The historical Yanaka was originally developed as a temple town in the Edo period (1603-1867). The area was spared from bombings in World War II and was relatively unharmed by the Kanto earthquake, so many traditional architecture, shops and temples remained until today. The best way to explore the area is by foot or bicycle, and it is easy to spend a full day here. Strolling around the area is a pleasure because there are so many hidden gems here, so it’s best to take your time and enjoy the nostalgic and tranquil atmosphere.

There are many interesting attractions in the area including: Yanaka cemetery, Yayoi Museum & Takehisa Yumeji Museum, Daimyo clock museum, Asakura Choso Museum ( currently closed for renovations), Nezu-Jinja Shrine (build in 1706), and Scai the Bathhouse ( see my previous post).


nezu shrineyanakayanakanezu shrine Ryokan Sawanoya

Top left, bottom left: Nezu-Jinja shrine; Top middle & right: street life at Yanaka Ginza; Botton right: Ryokan Sawanoya


Not far from Scai the bathhouse is the Shitamachi Museum Annex, a restored Old Yoshidaya sake store originally built in 1910 but was moved and reconstructed in 1935 to show visitors how the merchants used to work and live in the old days. The store is filled with vintage posters and memorabilia that you really feel as if you have been transported back in time.


old sake shopold sake shopold sake shopold sake shopold sake shop

Old Yoshidaya sake store


Coffee time

There are many coffee shops and cafes in the area including a kissaten ( an old-style coffee shop) called Kabaya coffee (6-1-29 Yanaka), opened since 1938 and located right opposite the Old Yoshidaya sake store. But probably the most famous coffee shop in the area is Yanaka cofee ( 3-8-6 Yanaka), a small chained coffee shop that first started out in Yanaka ( near Yanaka Ginza). The shop is quite small with limited bar seating ( and a few outside), but you can buy fresh coffee beans including their own roasted ones and bring them home. If you fancy something sweet to go with your coffee, then walk a few shops down the street and you will see a small chained apple pie shop called, Mammies ( 3-8-6 Yanaka), a local favourite where you can find freshly baked pies.

I stumbled upon a cute and cosy cafe on this visit called Petticoat Lane ( 2-35-7 Sendagi), and perhaps due to the familiar name, I decided to give a try. The place has a rustic/ English feel to it, with dark wooden furniture and many old records. The cafe is opened until late and has live jazz sessions, I think it would be my ideal hangout if I was living in the area.


petticoat lane cafepetticoat lane cafekabaya coffeeYanaka coffee Mammiesyanaka coffeecafe do brasil

Top left & right: Petticoat lane cafe; Main: Kabaya Coffee; 3rd row & bottom left: 2 branches of Yanaka coffee, 3rd row right: Mammies’ apple pie; Bottom right: Cafe do Brasil



Not far from the JR Nippori Station is Yanaka ginza, an Edo period shopping street where you can find many traditional food and beverage shops. It is buzzing and charming, but it is nowhere like Ginza, you are more likely to see elderly and housewives with their kids than the well-heeled here.

I especially love the traditional rice crackers ( senbei) shops in this area, one of the most famous one is Kikumi ( 3-37-16 Sendagi), opened since 1875. The crackers are all handmade and they sell square ones that are rarely seen in other senbei shops. Another popular one is Yanaka senbai (18-1-8 Yanaka) not far from the Nippori station.


Yanaka senbai yanaka yanaka rice cracker shoprice cracker shopyanaka

Top left: Yanaka senbai; Top right: a confectory shop facade; Main: Kimumi senbei; Bottom left: 嵯峨の家 ( not sure its English name) Bottom right: miniature shop display at a sushi restaurant


Other interesting shops in the area include:

Isetatsu ( 2-8-19 Yanaka) started in 1864 and specializes in chiyogami, traditional handmade block-printed paper. The small shop sells over 1000 colourful traditional paper and stationery, items here are pricey but it is ‘must’ for all paper and stationery lovers!

Choji-ya dye house ( 2-32-8 Yanaka) is a traditional indigo-dye house that started in 1895. The shop sells beautiful hand-dyed tenugui and other textiles products that are unique and hard to find elsewhere.

Classico ( 2-5-22 Yanaka) is a lifestyle shop that sells simple, minimal and functional household products and antiques. It reminds me very much of Labour and Wait in Shoreditch, London.


IsetatsuIsetatsuChojiya dye house

Top left & right: Isetatsu; main: Chojiya dye house


I was quite excited as soon as I stepped into Bisuit ( 1-21-6 Nezu), a cute gift and stationery shop full of vintage and retro items. I was surprised by the range of vintage English greeting cards ( all genuine) on display, I haven’t seen such a large collection even in the U.K.! It was later that I found out from the shop’s owner/ artist/ illustrator, Masami Takewaki about the cards’ origin. It turned out that Masami had spent eight years living in the U.K. and these cards came from an antique dealer in Brighton, where she lived and did her Masters. Masami also has a vintage fashion shop nearby ( 2-9-14 Yanaka), so pay her shops a visit when you are visiting the area.


biscuitbiscuit cardsbiscuit shopvintage cards vintage card

Top left: Biscuit shop; top right: owner, Masami Takewaki’s illustrations; Main and bottom left and right: Vintage greeting cards from England



Exhibitions in Kyoto & Tokyo

tokyo exhibitionstokyo exhibitions

Left: Different exhibitions’ leaflets on display; Right: exhibition entry tickets


Tokyo is a cultural hub where world-class art, crafts and design exhibitions are constantly taking place. I could spend days visiting museums and galleries when I am there, but on this trip, I only picked out a few due to time constraint.

On the day when I left Kyoto for Tokyo, I made a special trip to see Robert Doisneau‘s retrospective at Isetan’s gallery within the Kyoto station complex. Over 200 photos are exhibited including his famous “Le baiser de l’hôtel de ville”. I have never seen such a comprehensive collection of the photographer’s work, so I was quite intrigued, though it is fair to say that his later colour work are not as striking as his black and white ones taken at the height of his career.

In Tokyo, I decided to spend a day around Ueno Park where I visited the Chocolate exhibition at the National Museum of Nature and Science. The exhibition’s information and displays are all in Japanese, but it was still interesting to see an exhibition dedicated solely to chocolate.


robert doisneauchocolate exhibitionchocolate exhibitionnational museum of nature & sciencechocolate exhibitionchocolate exhibition

Top left: Robert Doisneau’s exhibition poster; top right/ bottom left and right: chocolate sculptures at the chocolate exhibition. Main: National museum of nature & science


Not far from the Nature and science museum is the Tokyo National Museum, which houses a large and beautiful collection of arts and crafts items. Besides the permanent collection, I also visited the two special exhibitions: Enku’s Buddhas: Sculptures from Senkoji Temple and the Hida Region ( until April 7th) and Wang Xizhi: Master Calligrapher ( until 3rd March). The first exhibition displays outstanding carved Buddhist wooden statues by a Buddhist monk and sculptor, Enku, from the 17th century.

Enku was a poor pilgrim who during his travels around Japan, believed to have carved about 120,000 wooden statues of the Buddha. His statues not only display his highly skilled craftsmanship, they are also incredibly mesmerising and touching.

The latter exhibition being held at the Heiseikan building, showcases a large collection of calligraphy work related to the famous Chinese calligrapher, Wang Xizhi (303–361). None of his original work remained today, but there are reproductions and traced copies of his original work, including a rare copy that is being displayed for the first time at the exhibition.


tokyo national museumEnkutokyo national art museumtokyo national museumtokyo national museum

Top left & right: temporary exhibitions at the Tokyo National Museum; Main: Main building; bottom left & right: illustrations on coal-miners


After spending hours wandering inside the museums, I headed away from the park and walked towards Scai the bathhouse, a contemporary art gallery converted from a 200-year old public bathhouse. This gallery is known for discovering and promoting young Japanese artists, but interestingly, the current exhibition is on British artist, Haroon Mirza ( until 23rd Feb). Mirza’s interactive installations are a mix of objects, lights and sounds that work especially well with the bare white gallery space. Unique and very interesting.


scai bathbousescai bathbousescai bathbouse scai the bathhousegallery

Scai the bathhouse and another gallery opposite ( bottom right)


Not far from Shinjuku is Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery, where I saw Arai Junichi: Tradition and Creation and Project N: Abe Minako ( until 24th March). Many years ago, I took some short courses on experimental textiles and I fell in love with the techniques of shibori ( tie-dying). Before the courses, I had no idea that textiles could be manipulated in so many ways, it was a revelation to me. Hence I was keen to see work produced by legendary textiles designer Junichi Arai. Unknown to many outside of Japan, Arai has collaborated with some of the biggest names in the fashion world like Issey Miyake and Rei Kawakubo since 1970s. Arai‘s ability to merge of traditional techniques with unusual fabrics or materials has created many innovated and experimental pieces that can be seen, touched or walked through at the exhibition.


tokyo opera citytokyo opera cityARAI JunichiABE Minakotokyo opera city

Top left: Tokyo opera city’s foyer; top right: Antony Gormley’s Two times (two); main: Junichi Arai’s work; bottom left: Abe Minako’s work; bottom right: cello made of flowers


While I was visiting Muji’s shop in Yurakucho, I came across their free White shirt exhibition ( until 3rd March), which examines the brand’s well-known creation, a simple white shirt. Yes, it’s all about shirts but as you can see from the photos, it’s actually more than a simple white shirt…


muji exhibitionmuji exhibition

White shirt exhibition at the Muji shop in Yurakucho


Tokyo Gift Fair Spring 2013

P1020240tokyo big sight

Tokyo Big Sight


Even though I have a slight phobia visiting trade fairs, sometimes it is the easiest and most direct way to meet potential suppliers and designers and see their products in person. I found out about the Tokyo gift fair while I was planning my annual trip to Asia, and decided to make a trip over to find out what is new in the market.

After I registered online, I was contacted by the organsiser about a week later, asking if I would be interested in joining their overseas buyers’ programme. This would involve having meetings with some local companies who intent to expand their market and export to other countries. There are benefits to joining the programme, and so I was happy to try it out.

I have been to many trade fairs before but I have never been treated so well before! The hospitality I received from everyone at the gift fair made me want to return again and start new business relationships with several companies.


Tokyo gift faircolour brushes

Badge, invitations, food vouchers and gift from the organisers


Since the fair was quite big, it was impossible to visit all the booths, so I had to be quite selective. My favourite section was located on the top floor in the West hall where many young design companies and studios were located.


Tokyo gift fairP1020176P1020178

Inspiring designs could be found in the West 4 Hall… with good coffee made by the lady at the coffee van


One of the designers team we work with, Yuruliku, was also participating at the show, so I paid them a visit in the West 4 Hall. Koushi was very kind and gave me their new letterpressed greeting cards ( see below)…


yurulikuyuruliku cardsP1020180

Main: Koushi from Yuruliku; Bottom left: Yuruliku’s new greeting cards. Bottom right: Samples given to me by the director/ designer of Garrison


After one and 1/2 day at the fair, I was completely shattered, but I still had to attend the evening party where many awards were rewarded to different companies. It was quite a corporate event and I left after downing a few glasses of wine ( I was THAT desperate for alcohol by that stage) and some sushi.

Overall, the fair was rewarding, not only did I make some new business contacts, I also discovered some interesting brands and products. However, I will have to find a way to get out of the corporate parties or events next time…


P1020247P1020245 P1020244P1020246

Live music at the evening party and award-winning designs on display


Shopping in Kyoto

My last Kyoto blog entry is on shopping…

Since I spent much of the time in the rural area exploring temples and gardens, there was barely time for shopping. The day before I left for Tokyo, I went into the city centre during the late afternoon and spent a few hours exploring the shopping district.



Traditional shops selling local crafts and souvenir on Saga-Toriimoto preserved street


kyotogeisha stationery

Kitsch-style shop and geisha-themed stationery



Nishiki Market, known as as “Kyoto’s Kitchen”, has been trading since 1310 is a must for foodies. There are fresh seafood, vegetables, dried and pickled food, knives and cookware etc. The market is one of the cleanest markets I have been to, unfortunately, I arrived quite late and many stores were closing, otherwise, I could spend hours here…


nishiki marketnishiki marketkimchi

Nishiki market

kyoto kit kat

Beautiful food packaging and different types of Kit Kat including matcha flavour & a Kyoto edition


Stationery & paper crafts

As a city known for its strong heritage and traditional arts and crafts, it would be a waste not to visit the stationery or paper crafts shops while I was there. However, these shops are scattered in different parts of the city and due to the limited time, I was only able to visit a few of them within the same district. It is essential to do a bit of planning beforehand as some of them are not easy to find, but shops tend to open until 7.30 or 8pm, so I was able to do some last minute shopping.


stationery shopstationery shop

Traditional stationery shops can still be seen in the city centre


Suzuki Shofudo – this 115-year old paper craft shop not only sells colourful and graphical washi paper and stationery, it also provides paper-making workshops at its premise. If time is limited, this shop is a good place to visit if you are looking for stationery with a traditional touch. I also love the shop’s “frog” identity, it’s just too cute ( see below)…

Not far from the shop is Rokkaku, a more contemporary paper shop that designs and prints customised invitations and cards, but it also sells greeting cards and letter sets. Many of the cards are letterpressed, they are simple and yet elegant and come with very nice envelopes.


Suzuki Shofudobenridoshofudo rokkakurokkakurokkaku

Main, middle left & middle: Suzuki Shofudo. Middle right & bottom: Rokkaku


Benrido – I stumbled upon this stationery shop when I last visited Kyoto and I could still remember my excitement when I stepped into the shop. I love the art-inspired stationery and postcards. I have this odd passion for plastic folders and I have a few of them in A4 and A5 sizes. I find them particularly useful when I travel, but it’s only in Japan where I can find different graphical patterns. Here, the shop has a variety of plastic folders with traditional and contemporary motifs and patterns, which made me very happy. This shop is also a great place to find traditional-inspired stationery for friends back home.





Uragu – this tiny paper shop hidden in an alleyway was surprisingly busy when I visited. It was not an easy find, but the traffic police knew the shop as soon as I showed him the address. There are beautiful greeting cards, postcards, letter sets and notebooks neatly displayed on dark wooden shelves here. The prices are not cheap but the items are one of a kind and are hard to find elsewhere.





Opposite Benrido is the Kyoto design house, located on the ground floor of the Nikawa Building, designed by architect Tadao Ando. There are many beautiful design items on sale here from contemporary to more classic designs that showcase Japanese traditional craftsmanship.


kyoto design house

Kyoto design house



Although I love new and cool designs, I also love traditional designs that beautifully crafted by hand. And in Kyoto, I was constantly drawn by various hair combs and pins behind the glass displays while walking down the streets. Besides hair accessories, graphical tenugui ( a traditional cotton towel or cloth) and tabi socks can also be seen in many shops here.



Traditional fashion accessories

kyototabi sockskyoto

Main: sushi-inspired accessories; Bottom left: tabi socks; Bottom right: tenugui bags


From its cool shop display, it would be hard to imagine that Raak has been around since 1534. It specialises in tengunui, which can be used as a scarf, wine bottle wrapper and even bags. There are many colourful graphical patterns available and are mostly seasonal, a visit to the shop will make you realise how creative one can be with just a piece of cloth.





SOU SOU is the Japanese equivalent of Marimekko and is one of my favourite Japanese fashion brands, originally from Kyoto. I bought a pair of canvas shoes from their Tokyo shop a few years ago and I think they are cooler than Converse. In Kyoto, their main shop occupies three floors selling tabi socks, shoes, bags and their collaboration with Le coq sportif. Opposite the building, there is a womenswear shop, a menswear shop further down, as well as a few shops specialising in childrenswear, soft furnishing and textiles nearby. I love their bold graphical prints and their merge of traditional craftsmanship, techniques with modern designs. As far as I know, most items are made in Japan, so the quality is ensured.


sousousou sousousouSOU SOU




When in Kyoto, it will be hard to miss Yojiya‘s brand identity… a simple black and white sketch of a woman’s face. Founded in 1904, this cult beauty shop is famous for its “Aburatorigami” (Oil blotting Facial Paper), which is particularly useful in summers. There are several shops located in the city but my favourite is the one on Philosophy path, which has a shop and a tea house next door.


Yojiya green tea perfume

Yojiya’s window display and green tea solid perfume made and sold at Taizo-in


The art of Kyoto cuisine


The garden and diners’ view at Yudofuya, Ryoanji temple


Some people view food as fuel or necessity to keep them alive, while others view it as pleasure or art. In Kyoto, culinary is not just an art form, it is a philosophy that is highly influenced by its culture and Zen Buddhism.

Many of my Japanese friends from Tokyo are used to strong flavours and so they find Kyoto cuisine very bland. But for a tofu and vegetable lover like me, I find Kyoto cuisine quite light ( though not after 6 courses), refreshing and interesting. Although most of the time I have no idea what is being served in the beautifully presented dishes, I would eat it anyhow… but of course the experiences do not always fulfill my expectations.

Like the French and Italians, the multicourse kaiseki and chakaiseki feasts can take hours and a meal at the top Kyoto restaurants could break the bank. Luckily, many Kyoto ryokans would include kaiseki meals in the room rates, so I have had the chances to enjoy the seasonal and refined feasts.



Part of my multicourse Kaiseki dinner at the ryokan


Kyoto is well-known for its tofu, and I have previously tried a tofu kaiseki course, which was utterly delicious. This time, I tried out the the vegetarian restaurant, Shigetsu at Tenryu-ji and the yudofu restaurant, Yudofuya at Ryoan-ji, where the surroundings are as important as the food itself. And even with the cheapest set meal ( 3000 yen) at Shigetsu, I almost had to roll out of the restaurant!



Shigetsu and Yudofuya restaurants


Aside from temples, many restaurants in Kyoto also offer stunning views at affordable prices and Arashiyama Yoshimura is one of them. Located minutes away from the Togetsukyo Bridge, there are several restaurants within the compound, but I was keen to try out the handmade soba there and it did not disappoint. A beautifully-arranged bowl of cold soba with vegetables looked even more appetising with the river view in the background.


kyotokyotosobabreakfastice creamsoba

Main, middle & bottom right: Arashiyama Yoshimura; bottom left: breakfast at the ryokan; bottom middle: soymilk soft ice cream


A trip to Kyoto cannot be complete without having matcha, although I had two cups already at the Shunkoin temple and Okochi Sanso Villa, I wanted to visit a traditional confectionery shop or teahouse while I was there. One of the most famous and popular one is Kagizen Yoshifusa in the Gion district, established in 1726. The teahouse is located at the back of the shop, but the shop itself is worth a visit because it has a wonderful nostalgic feel to it, with many wooden molds above the doors and colourful handmade sweets behind the glass display. At the retro-looking tearoom, customers are offered complimentary tea and a piece of sweet when being seated. I noticed that many customers ordered their famous kuzukiri arrowroot noodles served with sweet sauce, but as someone who does not have a sweet tooth, I just went for the matcha set, which came a sweet of my choice. Luckily, it was not too sweet and complimented the tea well.


Kagizen YoshifusaKagizen YoshifusaKagizen Yoshifusamatcha green tea

Kagizen Yoshifusa


Streets of Kyoto

kyoto kyotokyoto


I love wandering and exploring streets of cities beyond the tourist attractions. I think you can learn and understand more about the city from the streets where local people live, eat or work. Kyoto’s cityscape is especially interesting because it has numerous ancient temples and shrines, yet it is also a commercial city with 1.5 million people. And like other metropolises, the city centre is full of large department stores, chained fashion stores, coffee shops and bars.



Parts of Kyoto make you feel like you have stepped back in time


I am not particularly fond of Kyoto’s city centre, I much prefer the historical district, Arashiyama or the surrounding neighbourhoods where I could stroll or cycle without crowds of tourists. Kyoto is a bike-friendly city, and there are many backstreets or alleyways that make cycling quite fun and interesting, and with the grid system, it is hard to get completely lost. I saw quite a few bicycle rental shops while I was in town, but the Kyoto cycle tour project offers tours and bicycle rentals at affordable prices.


kyotokyotokyoto kyotokyotokyoto


While wandering around, a particular aspect of Kyoto’s architecture caught my attention, which is the traditional straw-thatched roofs that are commonly seen in the English countryside. Thatched roof is a natural insulator that is weather-resistant, and thatching is a traditional craft/ technique that has been used for centuries. The fact that England and Japan ( as well as other countries) share the same building techniques centuries back is very intriguing. Unlike England where thatched roofs are becoming popular again, Japanese thatched farmhouses are disappearing quickly in rural Japan. It would be a shame to see these beautiful roofs/ farmhouses disappear from the rural landscape, I just hope that the Japanese would fall back in love with thatching like the English have.


kyotokyotokyotokyoto kyotokyoto



Kyoto temples & gardens ( Part 2)

ryoanji ryoanjiryoanji

Famous rock gardens at Ryoanji ( A World heritage site)


With over 1600 temples and shrines, including 17 Unesco World Heritage sites in Kyoto, it is impossible to visit them all even if you live in the city. Hence it is best to plan ahead, so on this trip, I concentrated mostly around the Arashiyama district and Myoshinji area. However, I was still constantly running out of time as some temples close quite early in winters. And with so many hills, trekking up and down can also be quite tiring. I especially regretted cycling to Ryoan-ji as I had to climb uphill most of the time, and since I am not a regular cyclist, it was extremely physcially demanding for me.

Here are some photos of the other temples that I visited on this trip, but I also recommend Ginkaku-ji, Honen-in and the wonderful Philosophy path which I have previously visited. Although winters may not be the ‘prettiest’ time to visit, but it is less touristy and has a more subdued and calm atmosphere, which made me realise that the beauty of Kyoto can in fact be appreciated in all seasons.



Left: Tenryu-ji ( A World heritage site). Right: Nison-in temple

Ninna-ji ( A World heritage site)


Adashino Nenbutsuji TempleAdashino Nenbutsuji Temple

Adashino Nenbutsuji Temple





Gio-ji gio-ji

Moss gardens at the Gio-ji





Kyoto temples & gardens ( Part 1)

Okochi Sanso Villa

Okochi Sanso Villa


Ever since my parents brought me to Japan at the age of seven, I became fascinated by this country, its culture and the people. Over the years, I continued to visit this country and I became even more intrigued. When I was younger, I was more interested in the aesthetic and design aspects of the Japanese culture, but in recent years, I developed an interest in Zen Buddhism and the philosophical aspect such as wabi sabi. I also wanted to understand more about rock gardens, so Kyoto seems to be the perfect starting point for a beginner like me.


books P1020300

Books on wabi sabi, Japanese aesthetics and gardens in Kyoto


During my short stay in Kyoto, I visited about 14 different temples and gardens ( I skipped some famous ones as I have previously visited them before). Since each one has its own characteristics, each touched me on different emotional levels. Some famous temples, like Ryoanji ( or Kiyomizu-dera Temple) was so touristy and packed that I could hardly enjoy what was on offer. Hence, the ones that I really enjoyed were the lesser-known or less touristy ones.

Here are some of my personal favourites:

Okochi Sanso Villa (Arashiyama)

For some unknown reasons, I felt profoundly peaceful and blissful at this villa/ garden. There was only one other visitor when I was visiting, and I spent most of the time wandering on my own in this beautiful villa and garden built by the famous silent actor, Denjiro Okochi. The view here is stunning, but it is also tranquil and calm… I even spent some time meditating alone in the Myohkohan, where the actor’s wife lived after his death. All I could feel was palpable peace here and I did not want to leave at all. The site also has a semi-outdoor museum exhibiting photos and memorabilia of the actor. The entrance fee also includes green tea and a Japanese confectionery in their tea house.


Okochi Sanso villaOkochi Sanso VillaOkochi Sanso VillakyotoOkochi Sanso Villa

Okochi Sanso Villa 


Otagi Nenbutsuji Temple (Arashiyama)

This small temple up on the top of the hill in Arashiyama is a bit out of the way, so I had to take a bus ( a wrong one… but I eventually got there thanks to a kind bus driver). Like many temples in Kyoto ( or Japan even), it was rebuilt many times and eventually moved to the current location in 1922. The attraction here is not the temple itself but the 1200 carved Rakan figures made between 1981 to 1991. Each figure is different and many of them are quite humourous. Although these figures are relatively new, they merge so well with the surroundings that they don’t seem out of place at all. A fun and unusual site that is worth the track.


Otagi Nenbutsuji TemplekyotoOtagi Nenbutsuji TempleOtagi Nenbutsuji Templekyoto

Otagi Nenbutsuji Temple


Taizo-in  ( within the Myoshin-ji complex)

This small temple near where I was staying has two famous landscape gardens designed by the Zen master and painter, Kano Motonobu and Nakane Kinsaku. I was slightly overwhelmed by the ineffable emotions that I experienced here. I could not explain it, but I was close to tears here for no particular reason. Perhaps the hospitable gardener could sense this from afar, so he waved me over and showed me the ‘secret magic’ in his garden despite our language barrier. It was a very touching moment, and I left the garden smiling and filled with gratitude.


taizo intaizo intaizo intaizo intaizo in



Jojakkoji (Arashiyama)

This secluded temple does not look very spectacular from the entrance, but it has an amazing view of Kyoto and is also a well-known site for autumn foliage. The temple has a Taho-to pagoda, an important cultural property built in 1620, and the atmosphere is particularly subdued here.





To be continued…


Kyoto temple stay


Myoshinji temple complex, the head temple of Rinzai Zen Buddhism


A few years ago, I stayed at a Buddhist temple in South Korea and it was one of the most spiritually rewarding experiences that I could not forget. Since then, I have been wanting to stay at a Japanese zen Buddhist temple because of my interest in Zen Buddhism.

There are only a few temples where foreigners could stay in Kyoto and Shunkoin temple is one of them. The temple is a sub-temple within the Myoshinji temple complex, it offers reasonably-priced accommodation, where guests can also join the daily meditation class and tour in the morning at a reduced rate.

Unlike my previous experience in Korea where I had to get up at 4am to climb up to a hill-top temple for the mediation and chanting session, the mediation class at this temple is much more relaxed and casual. The meditation classes are catered more for complete beginners, but I was glad to pick up tips and advice from the US-educated neurologist and Reverend Taka Kawakami, and to meditate in such a peaceful setting. After the class and tour, we were also offered green tea and sweet, and got to know other guests who were all from different parts of the world.


shunkoin templeshunkoin templerock garden kyotoshunkoin templeshunkoin temple


The temple houses many treasures such as The Bell of Nanban-ji ( over 400 years old), Confucius-influenced sliding door panels by well-known painter, Kano Eigaku, and The Garden of Boulders, a rock garden that represents the islands of Ise Bay.

It was also particularly interesting to learn that the internationally renowned Zen author D. T. Suzuki was a frequent guest at the temple, where he used to discuss Zen Buddhism and philosophy with Dr. Hisamatsu who resided at the temple between 1943 and 1949.


shunkoin templeshunkoin temple

Exterior of the accommodation and the kitchen/ common area


The newly-renovated accommodation building is clean and functional, and has a kitchen/ common area where guests can prepare simple meals and hot drinks. The tatami room itself is quite minimal but has a desk, a chair, air-conditioning unit, private toilet and shower, as well as free wi-fi. I was very satisfied with the amenities as I realised that there was nothing more that I needed apart from the basics.


shunkoin templeshunkoin templerock gardenbathhouseshunkoin templeshunkoin temple


On the last day of my stay, I took the opportunity to explore other parts of Myoshinji, and I stumbled upon a guided tour to the Hatto/ Dharma Hall and an ancient bathhouse ( see above). Inside the hall, I saw ( and heard the recording of) the oldest bell in Japan made in 698 and a magnificent ceiling painting of a dragon, which appears almost three-dimensional and looks different from every angle.

Although Myoshinji is not in the centre of Kyoto, it is close to many famous World heritage sites like Ryoanji ( which also belongs to Myoshinji) and Ninnaji, so with a bike that I borrowed ( free of charge) from the temple, I was able to cycle and explore the area and avoided the crowds in the city centre, which for me was the perfect getaway.


To be continued…