One of my favorite things about Japan is how easy it is to find tranquility within its urban metropolises. In Tokyo, it’s not hard to find ethereal shrines adjacent to winding highways and looming office blocks…
The Nezu Shrine was founded in the 17th century, and remains in absolutely pristine condition (which is another thing I adore about Japan: how well they care for their historical landmarks and places of worship.)
If you’ve read any of my other posts about Japanese shrines and temples, then you’ll already know how much I love Inari shrines and their vermilion torii gates, and lucky for me, the Nezu shrine has a beautiful Inari shrine and a tiny little path of torii gates!
Of course, the Nezu Shrine had nothing on the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto (which still remains the most magical place I’ve ever been in my life!), but there were plenty of cute, mossy foxes sitting around.
The path of torii gates here was TINY compared with the massive, labyrinthine ones at the Fushimi Inari Shrine, but with the summer sunlight streaming through the gaps between the gates, the cicadas buzzing, and the sound of water trickling from the nearby koi pond, it certainly felt a little bit magical and filled me with all kinds of warm feelings of peacefulness.
I think this was actually the first Japanese shrine I’ve been to that had a koi pond, filled with gilded fishy friends.
There’s actually a word in Japanese which conveys the sight of sunlight filtering through leaves: komorebi. I don’t know why we don’t have a similar word for this in English, cuz it’s one of my most favorite sensations ♥
After enjoying enough spiritual respite in the Shrine, we headed to the very touristy Imperial Palace (which we’d surprisingly never been to before!)
Well, maybe it’s misleading to say that we visited the Imperial Palace, cuz we just wandered around the East Gardens (the only portion of the Palace grounds which is open to the public.) And OMIGOD it was SO HOT, so we didn’t hang around for too long, for fear of actually melting down the cracks in the pavement.
The gardens were pretty nice, anyway. The two most exciting things that happened to us were Eoin finding an injured cicada on the ground and sticking it back onto a tree, and seeing a motorcade presumably containing a member of the Imperial family (some cute old lady who waved at us while we gazed back with dazed, heat-stricken stares.)
This street lamp was pretty funky, too.
And now, prepare yourselves for the most beautifully crafted and presented (and also the most expensive) food we’ve ever eaten…
This unassuming little building on a tiny, residential street contains the most astounding (vegan-friendly!) Buddhist cuisine ever.
Bon specializes in Fucha Ryori Buddhist cuisine (check out their website for a detailed explanation of what Fucha Ryori is, as well as menus, directions, and instructions on making reservations!)
The interior of the restaurant is dimly lit and divided into a series of private rooms with sliding paper doors. The staff were wearing kimonos, there were tiny Japanese gardens within the restaurant, and they greeted us by bowing and exclaiming “ah, Amanda-san!” which turned me into a pile of giggles. (We’d asked our hotel to make the reservation for us, because the staff speak very little English.)
Here’s our little private dining room, with a garden view!
The room was complete with Westernized tatami mat seating, which was awesome, cuz I’m terrible at sitting on the floor without getting dead legs and squirming around every two minutes.
I’d intended on going for dinner, but it was too difficult to get dinner reservations during the short period we were there, so we opted for the bento lunch instead. I was expecting to just get the bento box lunch and be done with it, but it involved a whole series of courses and took well over an hour! The lunch started with this puffed brown rice green tea and a candy to cleanse our palettes.
Bottoms up, old boy! The menu was written entirely in Japanese, with no numbers or pictures, so we just had to make guesses about what we were eating. Our server was a super nice little old lady who tried her best to explain the dishes to us using a combination of Japanese, random English words, and hand gestures.
The beautiful bento box in all its glory, oh my god!
It actually took me a while before I could bring myself to start eating it, I felt like I was stuffing art into my mouth.
I usually like mock meats, but this tofu-based eel was just TOO real. Mind you, I’ve only had eel a couple of times in my life, but this had the same slightly flaky, gelatinous texture I remembered. They’d stuck seaweed to the bottom of the tofu to replicate the grilled skin. What’s the point in killing animals if you can eat vegetable-based meat that tastes and looks exactly the same?!
Next, we had a mushroom and seaweed soup and some super yummylicious plum wine.
Then, a chilled salad of gelatinous goop, tofu skins, bell pepper, and OKRA! I swear to goodness, after each of these dishes I was thinking ‘ok, that’s lunch finished now!’ BUT MORE STUFF KEPT COMING!
Beautiful tempura! 💖 They’d even made fake shrimp from carrots and seaweed! The tempura was served with a big bowl of chilled soba noodles, too.
And finally, dessert! Yummy summer fruit with jelly.
And a hot pot of tea to finish off the meal (which cost us over a hundred bucks…but it was worth it, and I’d totally do it again!)
There was also a small shrine and temple just down the street from the restaurant.
Still more Tokyo tales to come soon! xoxo