09/30/2009

All's well that ends well

Anybody looking to crash for a night or five near Kyoto Station and you say your budget isn't the primary concern?
Want to blissfully count your J-Land sheep in a relaxing atmosphere of refined charm and Eastern elegance?
Craving a taste of Old-School Kyoto Machiya-Style flavor gently blended with all the creature comforts (albeit in a much smaller size) of Home?
Need a piping hot Breakfast to fortify you before you tackle your day's sightseeing adventures?
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(check-in Time)


If you're nodding your head right now then SAKURA/KAEDE RYOKAN may be the place for you.

http://www.kyoto-ryokan-sakura.com

The Ryokan Experience is a distinctly Japanese way of unwinding that graciously carries a list of very subtle attributes that may not be suitable for everyone but I'm certain can be appreciated by most and Sakura will satisfy, most likely in proportion to your expectations.

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The decor and design of the rooms are understated and pleasing but you should adjust your scale to the Japanese model lest you face frustration. These are not Western-Size rooms or really anything near it; they are pleasant, pristine and placid with just the proper amount of low-key taste.
The many reassuring pluses include-

Fine Shiseido Shampoo in your immaculate bath.

All rooms are Non-Smoking but for you tobacco die-hards out there an efficient smoking alcove is always available for use.

A suprising (considering the building's dimensions) amount of clean, natural light during the day.

And the highlight of my stay.....

Your tatami sleeping space and the luxurious futon that goes with it like your childhood peanut butter and jelly.

Now if you've never felt the perfection that is tatami matting beneath your grateful toes then do yourself a favor but watch out because you may never go back to anything else.
And I don't know what they filled their futons with over at SAKURA but when I tucked in for the night and woke up in the morning my rejuvenated body told me it just had to be angel feathers sprinkled with moonbeam dust and topped off with those snowflakes from the poppy field scene in the Wizard of Oz!

Want a great night's slumber? You got it!


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Please don't forget to slip into your supercool, comfortable and casual all-cotton Yukatta after your bath because you'll be glad you did and why not chill in the Garden a bit before bedtime as you admire your own sartorial splendor.


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You won't worry as you saw logs and you won't have to because in the morning pretty Girls will be there to serve you a hot meal and hotter coffee.

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Having mentioned these strengths the savvy Traveler should definitely weigh the Ryokan's perhaps somewhat weaker points against them.

The smallest rooms are almost claustrophobic and will not please everyone.
Internet service (an unimportant feature to me but...) is only available in the very public Lobby area.
Your bath, while immaculate, may be uncomfortably small for your larger-size Westerner.
No Dinner.

But if you're seeking a stylish, homey alternative to the sometimes antiseptic, sometimes slightly cold blandness of Big Hotels then check out the way they do things around these parts.
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(check-out Time)

Depending on your pocketbook and your expectations you might be glad you did.






posted by Billy at 14:45 | Kyoto (Japan)

09/28/2009

Welcome to Ramen Season!

Congratulations World-Travelers because if you've arrived on these shores about now then you're just in time to bask in the near-perfection of J-Land's end-of-summer climate.
Comfortably warm during the bright, sunshiney days without a lick of humidity and blissfully cool when the Sun hits the horizon, bringing us absolutely perfect sleeping (or anything else) weather.

And, for this K-Ranger, along with these cooler climes comes the ever fresh satisfaction of a hot, steamy bowl of Ramen to make you feel good all over before your date with Mr. SandMan.

So my annual quest for the Ramen goods begins anew, praise all!

And this Saturday night the Quest brought Team Kyoto to-

DAIICHI-ASAHI!
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Now, a little Ramen background for the uninitiated.
A quick poll of my J-Friends recently confirmed the consensus that a proper bowl of Ramen should be 3 things-

GOOD
HOT
and
FAST.

A side order of Gyoza is optional but preferred, the price must always be reasonable and conversation while chowing down should be kept to an absolute minimum.
This is Ramen Nirvana.
All other aspects of the dining experience (decor, service, presentation, etc.) do not, and should not, disrupt this essential formula.

In other words.......FOOD HEAVEN!
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So, adhering to these criteria, Daiichi-Ashahi scores a touchdown and does the dance, Baby!

Located on Takakura-dori, just south of Shiokoji-dori and about a 3 minute stroll directly east of Kyoto Station, DA delivers the Goods with rapid-fire speed and a tasty, tasty payload that won't even scratch your wallet.

Be warned- This is NOT a no-frills Ramen Shop...this is a NEGATIVE-FRILLS Ramen Shop. This lean, clean Ramen machine is stripped to the bone and built for your belly, not your eyes.
You will be expected to grab your seats, talk fast, catch your grub, work those sticks, snag a toothpick, pay up and then leave immediately because there will be desperately hungry Ramen aficionados waiting for your spot.
The only promise DA delivers is delicious chow, all other bets are off.
If you don't feel comfortable in this type of environment then don't go 'cuz at DA you're expected to lead, follow or get out of the way!

Having established that, personally, I think the Average Joe/Jane should be able to hack it as on Saturday I saw every conceivable type of K-Towner in attendance, with their faces tucked gratefully into their bowls, from your Hi-Powered Business Man with the $3000 tailored suit to your teenage, bleached blonde, wanna-be hip-hopper with baggy jeans hanging off their ass to any and every type in between.
Everybody happy, comfy and very busy eating!

Hours are 4pm- 2am.

Got a taste for something good?
Had a few too many and want to fill up on something great before you hop on the train or crash for the night at your hotel?

Don't bother dipping your toes........
Just dive in, Brothers and Sisters, the Ramens's FINE!

posted by Billy at 16:07 | Kyoto (Japan)

09/23/2009

Food's Tight, Drink's Right, Money...Light!

If you and your Party happen to be prowling around the tremendously popular, densely populated, laid-back, hyped-up Sanjo/Ohashi/Pontocho area with dry throats and growling bellies then here's a helpful hint that will definitely satisfy both needs as you fill up your tank with dee-licious food accompanied by very Adult drinks without breaking the bank before you blast off into your Kyoto Evening Mission.

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ISSIAN
http://www.ishiyaki-issian.com/

For the hungry, thirsty, weary wanderer ISSIAN offers a number of attractive features to go along with its alluring entrance and quite convenient location.

Chief among these is, of course, the FOOD!P1000714.JPG

Ishiyaki translates roughly as Stone-Grill Cooking and that's how they do it up right at ISSIAN.
After you place your order (they offer a slew of Beef, Pork, Veggie and sundry options but Chicken is a house specialty that was especially lip-smacking good) your friendly (and timely) waiter will be back in a flash with the Goods to get your grill, your grub and your Good Time started.
Following that He won't appear unless you wish him to (and then he'll pop up like a Magic Genie) and you are pretty much on your own to enjoy the stone-grilled juicy delights along with your ice-cold beverages.P1000708.JPG

Have it your Way!

Next on the list of very strong points- The Drinks!

What did you say you had a taste for? Because if it's in the Adult Beverages Department ISSIAN's got it.
Wine. whiskey, Chu-hi (try it), Shochu (ditto), Sake or just plain old-fashioned Brew (personal fave around now) they got it.....and Yes, my Friend, you read that price list correctly so your next decision will probably be when to stop 'cuz your wallet will be cheering you on-GO, GO, GO!

Next up for my Touristic Amigos- If you're feeling a bit beat down by culture shock or suffering from sensory overload ISSIAN generously offers easy-reading menus in English (go ahead) as well as friendly Ego-speaking staff (talk to Ken-san P1000717.JPGbut try not to bend his ear too much as he is trying to work) who will easily guide you through any rough spots or patiently answer any of your questions.

Last but certainly not least- The atmosphere is relaxed, efficient and comfortable yet gracious enough for Dates (indeed there were 3 young couples digging in when we sat down) and friendly enough for families or small (maybe 4,5 max) parties. I can't think of anyone who couldn't enjoy their particular groove so don't be afraid to pop in and plop down for a marathon grub, chug and growl. P1000695.JPG
Time's flying!

Interesting Sidenote- Last week was actually the 2nd time I've indulged in their fare. The 1st being one of the luckiest nights of my Life in J-Land and hey.....Don't we all need a little luck around now?


posted by Billy at 15:44 | Kyoto (Japan)

09/08/2009

Free for me and You too!

I'm not sure about anybody else but I hail from the U.S. of A. where we have a little saying that goes, "If it's free, it's for me!"
Yes, we love free stuff better than Christmas presents and birthday cakes combined no matter what the sh*t is, where it comes from, how we got it or what we can or can't do with it.
I suspect we are not alone in this compulsion.

In Japan, however.........well, most J-Folks appear to have a real aversion to all things gratis and tend to generally treat freebies with disdain.
Indeed paying your way seems to be deeply embedded in the J-Character along with all the responsibilities and rewards that surely follow behind.
Case in point- try to imagine a country where grown, successful, adult Men pay lovely, young, seductive Girls for, wait for it..... conversation. In the West you may recall conversation, it's the thing that happens after sex.

But I digress.

My point is freebies of any kind are damn difficult to come across on this side of the Pond (perhaps for good reason) so yesterday I was very pleasantly suprised to discover

Harimaya Station.
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A Free (yes, you read that right) Cafe that offers Osembe (rice cracker) snacks along with soft drinks, coffee and a perfectly comfortable, bright, spacious room to enjoy same. I pulled in quite accidently and had no real expectations but exited refreshed and impressed by the efficient yet warm and laid-back atmoshpere waiting to greet you inside.

Located on Kawaramachi just north of Maurutamachi and directly across the street from the Western edge of Gosho, Harimaya graciously offers their wares as a brand of product advertisement and while I was there chugging coffee I saw plenty of K-Folks gratefully partaking in the generous spirit of the enterprise as they chilled, munched, sipped, smiled and generally enjoyed the gift.
Books and newspapers were in abundance (bring your own), wallets and purses unopened and no one seemed to be in any hurry to hit the doors as they took a wel-deserved break from the sweltering Sunday heat.

Bottom line?
If you're banging around Gosho and need a spot to decompress as you enjoy some delicious coffee and light snacks then drop in here and your budget won't suffer a scratch!

And if you absolutely feel the urge to plunk down some of your hard-earned cash, my Tourisitc Friends, then hit the Gift Shop on your way out the door.
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Easy to pack, feather light to carry and a tasty Japanese treat for your good neighbors back home!
posted by Billy at 12:16 | Kyoto (Japan)

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