Japan

Kyoto – Infinite Torii Gates at Fushimi Inari Shrine and the Famous Wagyu and Hirai Steaks!

After a good night sleep on the very comfortable bed of ANA Crowne Plaza Kyoto Hotel, we were refreshed and ready to explore more of the beautiful city of Kyoto. We walked toward Nijō Castle to catch the train to Fushimi Inari Shrine ad passed the castle wall:

It took a little more than half an hour with one train switch to get there and cost 420 yen. Fushimi Inari Shrine is free to enter and it’s famous for those Torii Gates…thousands of them! Early in the morning, there were already students there, we were wondering how come those students are not in school instead they are in every tourist sites…school field trip?

On the side of the entrance, there’s a street of street food vendors but we got there early that they just started to set up their stalls. We stopped by a bakery shop to grab a quick breakfast before heading up to hike the trail of torii gates.

Similar architectural design as other shrines mostly bright orange/red colored.

Here’s a map of the hiking trail covered by torii gates all the way up to the peak of Mount Inari. It doesn’t look that long of a hike right? We were so wrong!

There are many smaller buildings along the way to the first torii gate.

The start of the trail and it was packed with tourists already!

The torii gates are donated by companies and individuals and if you look back, you’ll see the donor’s name and date inscribed on each gate.

It looked prettier by looking backward with the inscribed characters. The ancient style lamps complemented the bright orange/red gates.

Our mistake #1, wasted too much time waiting for people to get out of the way hoping to have photos without other tourists in the picture at the beginning of the trail. Don’t waste time, keep walking, and you’ll find fewer and fewer tourists the longer you hike so it was super easy to have photos without other tourists later in the trail.

We kept walking through the countless number of torii gates and just continued on and take photos.

The best photos are in the area where the sun shines through to give the orange glow of the gates.

We walked at least 45 minutes to reach this part of the trail with rocky torii gates.

And smaller shrines to make a wish, ring on the belt, and pray.

We thought we were almost to the peak and saw this map……we were not even halfway!

Those small torii gates are as cute as well!

Halfway on the trail have tea shops to take a break. And after another 15-minute walk, we decided to turn back as the torii gates started to look the same and we have more sightseeing to do. Our mistake #2: didn’t realize how long the Fushimi Inari Shrine hiking trail really is, it takes 2-3 hours to the summit and back so I didn’t allocate enough time for this. However, I am not sure if it’s worth the time to get up to the summit so can’t really advise you.

We took the shortcut back down to the shrine to save time and by that time, it was super crowded!

We walked back to the station to catch the next train to Saga-Arashiyama Station for our lunch at Steak Otsuka at noon that I made the advanced reservation.

Steak Otsuka is hidden inside the residential area and the restaurant is on the first floor of a house, look at how many people waiting in line! Steak Otsuka only opens 5 days a week during lunchtime 11:00 to 2:30 pm but will close as soon as they sell out their famous steaks: Wagyu, Hirai, and Murasawa. They offered the best value to experience the infamous steaks at affordable prices. Also, note that they only accept two reservations per hour so up to six reservations per day only! They start to accept reservation two months prior so I literally marked my calendar to make a reservation at exactly two months ahead and got it 😀 We walked straight in at noon and the seatings at the counter were waiting for us!

The restaurant is very home-feel and with limited tables so if you don’t have a reservation, you might not even get the chance to get in that day.

Jason wanted to try the most expensive Murasawa beef at 6,200 yen for 150 gram but they sold out already 🙁 Jason picked the next most expensive: Hirai (Premium A5 steak) at 5,700 yen for 150 gram and I picked the A5 Wagyu steak for 4,200 yen. The set plate consisted of a salad, a rice, and grilled corns. My A5 Wagyu steak:

I never have Wagyu beef before, just know it’s famous and expensive, my first bite…..OMG it was heavenly! It is real when people said the beef melts in your mouth, it really is!!! The taste is so different than the beef taste I had at home; words can’t describe the tenderness and the unique taste of the beef fat! Each bite was absolutely a pleasure ahhhh I missed it as I write about this!

Jason’s Hirai steak has more fat so our conclusion was: we preferred the Wagyu beef more because of lesser fat so doesn’t feel as fatty.

We finally get to experience the famous beef and totally satisfied! It is one of my favorite steaks – the other one is the Bistecca Alla Fiorentina (Florentine Steak)!

This is how small the restaurant is so in order to avoid disappointment of not getting a seat, mark your calendar to reserve 2 months ahead!

To burn off the calories, we walked to the famous Arashiyama Bamboo Grove in the area and it was a huge disappointment!!!!

From photos online, I expected a peaceful bamboo forest but in reality it was literally a zoo!

Unless you get here super early in the day, it is near impossible to have a photo without other tourists in it.

We tried to wait but didn’t work 🙁

And the biggest disappointment is not the number of tourists there but how small the bamboo “forest” is.

I think it is totally overrated, perhaps, I grew up in a village in Southern China surrounded by bamboos so this bamboo “forest” looked small, crowded, and not impressive to me.

We couldn’t wait to walk out of the crowded path and back to the station. Along the way, we saw those very cute school buses:

Next stop was the Kinkaku-ji also known as the Golden Pavilion because it’s covered in gold leaf! My mistake #3, didn’t double check the train station name before stepping out of the train! Even on the same train line, some of the trains are express trains with limited stops; Google Maps was saying 2 stops (in an express train) but we were in a regular train so we got off at the second stop and it was the wrong stop 🙁 The next train is another 20 minutes so we searched for another option – by bus. We finally get to Kinkaku-ji!

I really like the entrance tickets in Japan, look at this one like a blessing charm! I collected those entrance tickets as souvenir 😉

Once again, the site was crowded and it was so hot!

It was hard to squeeze in to have a photo with the famous Golden Pavilion.

 

The temple complex was small compared to others so we finished it within half an hour and headed to the next sight – Nijō Castle before it closes at 5:00 pm. The entrance gate at Nijō Castle is so beautiful the golden patterns and colorful painting on the black gate.

Closer look to the details on the gate, so pretty!

The castle’s exterior architecture is bland in comparison to the beautiful entrance gates. We walked into the castle to tour its interior, no shoes allowed so all visitors need to take off their shoes and store them in the shoe racks. We walked through a long wooden hallway and saw different meeting rooms inside the castle; the decors and designs are very simple….well Japanese are known for their simplicity so the design fits perfectly. No photo is allowed inside so can’t show you how it looked like inside but you can Google it.

The castle garden by no means grand or lavish but very peaceful.

After touring the castle, we were already exhausted and luckily our hotel is just right next door to the castle. We walked back to our hotel to take a break before heading out for dinner. A beautiful wall painting at the hotel lobby of the castle that we just visited.

We stopped by the lounge to check it out as we have free access due to our room upgrade. The lounge is quiet and relaxing but the snack choices were disappointing.

Only packaged crackers urgggg who would pay extra for this?

We took a quick rest before heading out to Yasaka Shrine for the blue hour photos of the shrine.

The center dance stage in the shrine with the lanterns lit up was incredible for photos! Too bad we didn’t pack our flash!

The night scene is much quiet but still have tourists around for night photos.

Next, we took the bus to Ichiran Ramen.

At 9:30 pm, we thought the line shouldn’t be too bad but was so wrong! Don’t be fooled by a handful of people lining up on the street, the line continued up on the 2nd floor inside the restaurant, we waited over half an hour! The famous ramen restaurant opens 24 hours so there’s always a line 😛

As like other ramen restaurants, we need to pay first via a ticket machine. This was a good timing to use all the heavy coins 😀

They even have an electronic seating chart to keep track of which seats are open and which ones are about to be done, speaking of high-tech! While we were waiting in line, the waiter handed us a form to fill out – the form is to customize your ramen – you can choose the softness of the noodle, spicy level, amount of green onions, etc all perfectly made to your order.

It was finally our turn and I was super starving! Each seat is a booth with walls, the design is that you can concentrate on the taste of the ramen and not looking around haha! I figured out how to open the wall so I can see Jason 😉

In addition to the famous Ichiran Ramen, we ordered the smoked pork as starter, tasted pretty good!

Now the star of ramens, their broth was so rich and flavorful and the spoonful of their special spicy sauce added a little kick to the flavors! I told you how the ramen I had in Japan totally changed my perception of ramen? This is one of them, it was so good!!!

And the dessert – the green tea pudding, it was a good and refreshing dessert to end our meal 😀

After we were done with dinner, it was like 11 pm and we took the train back to the hotel. The walk was nice and we felt 100% safe walking in late night in Japan!

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