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...two travellers in search of the world's wildlife

3 November 2015

Kimonos everywhere

6 October 2015

In Kyoto there’s one common sight that I never expected, and that is the number of ladies skittling around in traditional kimonos! Traditional national costumes usually being reserved for folk museums and cheesy tourist restaurants. Now, Kyoto is the traditional home of the geisha, and we certainly saw a handful of these elite entertainers while walking around the Gion and Pontocho districts. But we also saw hundreds and hundreds of Japanese women (and men) exploring the city and its temples in traditional garb. And it’s all hired kit. Yep, kimono hire is big business, apparently much more so than the first time Tim & Nessa visited Kyoto ten years ago. I do love the Japanese for being unselfconscious about following trends and fads. It certainly makes a visit to Kyoto more colourful!

Kimonos everywhere

Kimonos everywhere


Colourful is the right word for the hilly pedestrian streets that lead up to the temple of Kiyomizu-dera. They were absolutely thronged with people, including hundreds of gaggles of school kids in a rainbow of smart uniforms, and to either side are wall-to-wall souvenir and snack shops vying with each other to be the most gaudy and attractive. In other parts of the world this area would be the avoid-like-the-plague zone for us, but as I said previously, Japan is one of the most fascinating places for just watching people, quite apart from wondering what exactly all those odd and colourful objects in the shop fronts are actually for. Are they decorative or edible is only the first question.

Our meal tonight was the big blow-out, a traditional kaiseki menu at a 3 Michelin star restaurant called Chihana (means 1,000 flowers). The raw stats are: 14 courses, 3 hours, £150 per person, 200 thank-yous. I made that last one up, but since the presentation of each dish came with three or four ejaculations of “arigato gozaimasu!” it might not be far off. Silliness aside, it was a meal packed with fascinating little dishes, many of which I’d never had the like of before, either in texture or taste. Chihana is supposed to be at the very top of innovative kaiseki, but the problem we had was in having no basis for comparison. In really simple terms I’d have to admit to enjoying a number of British menus more that Chihana’s – but that’s because I’m so much more used to the textures and flavours at home, even when the chef is being clever and inventive with them. I think I’d need to have had several more kaiseki meals to really understand how special Chihana might be.

Beautiful sushi at Chihana

Beautiful sushi at Chihana


One other point to note: if two people turn up for a meal at a Japanese restaurant, they are usually seated at the counter and so get served by the chef and have the pleasure of watching him prepare the dishes; if four people turn up for a meal, they are usually seated in their own private booth and served by waiters. It’s a slightly different experience and sometimes you do feel as though you’re missing out on the action.

Still, this was a fascinating plunge into highly traditional, but highly modern, high-end Japanese dining and a great way to end our stay in Kyoto. A stay that feels far too short, as it seems a lovely, friendly city with plenty more to see. Definitely worth a whole week.

Mushrooms in broth at Chihana

Mushrooms in broth at Chihana


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