We visited all of the grandest temples and shrines in Kyoto on our initial visit, but we overlooked Toji Temple: a UNESCO World Heritage Site founded in the 700’s! Luckily, it was located within walking distance from our hotel, so we stopped by for a gander.
Toji is most famous for its five-story pagoda, actually the tallest pagoda in Japan!
It was pretty hard to get a good view of it without the sun getting in my eyes! Toji’s close proximity to Kyoto Station made its atmosphere a tad less peaceful and contemplative than the forested hills surrounding Kiyomizu-dera and the Fushimi Inari Shrine (my two favorite holy sites in Kyoto), but it was still pretty nice. The cicadas were all out buzzing away, and there was a cool breeze blowing through the trees. We were so lucky with the weather on this trip! The week was meant to be peppered with cloudy skies and thunderstorms, but it ended up being pure sunshine the entire time! And temperatures in the high 30s Celsius…phew!
There were a few beautiful halls on the temple’s grounds, housing a variety of precious statues. The most impressive ones were three towering wooden Buddhist figures which had been charred during a fire (of course, photography – and even sketching – were prohibited inside of the halls, so you’re just gonna havta go and see ’em for yourself!)
There were two massive temples we’d passed on our final bus ride to Kyoto Station on our last visit. I’m pretty sure I shouted “NOOOO” as we drove past them, because they looked so freakin’ impressive and I was so bummed that we’d missed them, so we sought them out again on this trip! They turned out to be the Nishi Honganji and Higashi Honganji temples, built right beside each other in quick succession in the late 1500’s.
There are ornate, gold details all over both temples, and a huge ginko tree in the center of the grounds.
These temples were impressive for their sheer vastness.
We had to take off our shoes to walk around the actual temple. The wooden floors were so smooth and creaky.
The craftsmanship that goes into these temples and shrines never fails to blow me away. I love the organic feel of the wood and paper doors; so supremely peaceful. My favorite bits of these particular temples were those huge, golden lanterns. Well, what was underneath the lanterns, really.
GOOGLY EYES! Yes, I audibly giggled when I noticed these bug-eyed dragon dudes, and YES, some other tourists gave me a big weird look and came scuttling over to see what they were missing out on. I’m easily amused, what can I say.
Well, all that temple-touring made us hungry, so we headed in the direction of Kyoto Station and stopped into the huge Yodobashi electronics store. Vegan and veggie folk in Japan, if you don’t already know about Chabuton and its glorious green noodles, listen up!
I’ve been to three Yodobashi stores in Japan, and they’ve all had a Chabuton in them, so I’m presuming that they all do? Let me know if I’m wrong. Anyhoo, Chabuton is a ramen fast food-style chain, complete with futuristic noodle vending machines, wahh!
Okay, okay – the noodles don’t actually come out of the machine (as I’d hoped when I first heard about these glorious places); you put some money in, press a button of your choosing (there are big, gaijin-friendly pictures on the buttons), and a little ticket pops out. Give the ticket(s) to a server, take a seat, and wait to eat! Chabuton has two veg-friendly options: green noodle vege-ramen, and veggie gyoza. The vege-ramen is labeled as such in English, but the gyoza isn’t. Just pick the green-ish hued ones.
Green ramen! It’s made with spirulina, hence the color. The broth is greasy and salty, just like any good ramen broth should be, with leafy greens and thinly sliced veggies, and topped with crispy fried onions. I certainly wouldn’t label this as healthy eating, but it fills ya right up, and you can’t go to Japan without eating ramen, right?!
The gyoza are equally greasy and tasty, so hot and chewy! The filling is made up of diced mushrooms and glass noodles (from what I could see, anyway). I’m not sure if the dipping sauce is vegan, however, so just avoid it if you don’t want to risk it.
We also discovered a new and seriously splendiferous vegan eatery in Kyoto: Vegan’s Cafe, near the Fushimi Inari Shrine. We had intended on seeking this place out on our first Kyoto trip, but then we got lost in the mountains of the Fushimi Inari Shrine, and my knee exploded, so we gave up. Thank goodness we looked for it again this time around, cuz it is one hundred percent worth the search!
This place is not easy to find; as you can see, it’s not really clearly marked or anything, and it’s located in a quiet, residential area. We turned right out of the JR Inari Station, crossed the train tracks, then crossed a little bridge over a stream, and walked along the stream for a bit; if you pass a house with loads of tacky animal figurines outside of it (I mean loads), then you’re going in the right direction. Turn right down a little street soon after the tacky animal house, and Vegan’s Cafe will be on the corner on your right. I know these are totally pathetic directions, but I don’t know how else to describe this place’s location; it’s pretty random. Here’s a link to Vegan’s Cafe on HappyCow, for the map and address.
The interior is super simple and so relaxing; the perfect place to just sit and chill out.
The floor seating in here is so clever! Your legs hang down underneath the table; so much more comfortable than actual floor seating, where my butt inevitably falls asleep and I end up squirming around and stretching my legs every which way.
We went all out and ordered two pizzas, a large beef bowl, two milkshakes, and a parfait. The server, who didn’t speak a word of English, thought this was hilarious and held her hands way out in front of her stomach, to which I grinned and nodded and said ‘OK!’ We came to Japan the day after my birthday, anyway, so this was like making up for my lack of a cake.
Omigod, I’d read good things about the pizza here, but the real deal totally blew me away. It was damn near the most perfect pizza I’ve ever had. EVER. And it came topped with big hefty slices of eggplant. Oh, eggplant ♥ The week we started dating, Eoin’s first gift to me was an eggplant topped with a bow. The way to a woman’s heart for sure.
Is that an expression of pure bliss or what?! Eoin usually inhales his food before he’s realized what he’s eaten (growing up in a house with six brothers and sisters made him have to scarf down whatever he could grab, I guess), but I can safely say he savored each slice of this pizza.
They were all out of the curry pizza, which I’d really wanted to try (a reason to return!), so we got the creamy pizza instead. Potato and sweetcorn are really popular pizza toppings in Korea; I’m guessing it’s the same in Japan, too. I really wasn’t keen on this one. A pizza without tomato sauce just felt all kinds of wrong to me. The vegan cheese was phenomenal, though.
The beef bowl. Holy moly. This is the closest thing I’ve had to real meat since becoming vegan. The chef actually used to work in a barbecue restaurant, before deciding it was unethical to eat animals, so the marinade on this mock meat was divine, and it just melted in my mouth, with the perfect amount of charred crispiness around the edges. You can get it in small, medium, and large sizes, so PLEASE treat yourself. Unless you can’t tolerate meat-like textures, in which case this is not the dish for you!
Here are the ‘milkshakes.’ Not really milkshakes at all, but mugs of soft-serve delight. I got strawberry and Eoin got chocolate. Both were decadent bliss.
By this point I totally understood why the server thought ordering milkshakes and a parfait was a ridiculous idea. A delicious, ridiculous idea.
Eoin somehow managed to consume his with a straw, but I stuck with a spoon. Let me just reiterate that these bore no resemblance to milkshakes.
The leaning tower of parfait. Holy shmoly. A whole lotta vanilla soft-serve with big ole kiwi and banana chunks and a quartered banana nut muffin. That’s sorta healthy like, right? We somehow managed to consume ALL of this. Sheer determination and perseverance.
Peace, love, and over-indulgence.