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Asia Food Travel

Kyoto – Arashiyama and Kinana Ice Cream

Hello and welcome to the second (and last) recap of my stay in Kyoto. For other posts in this series, see below:

Japan – Conrad Tokyo and Ginza
Japan – Sumo and Takazawa
Japan- Shiraume Ryokan
Japan – Arashiyama and Kinana Ice Cream
Japan – Park Hyatt Tokyo 

After one of our daily breakfast feasts at Shiraume, my husband and I would wake up and explore a different area of Kyoto. Here are some of the highlights from our sightseeing – from the area of Arashiyama – which is about half an hour’s train ride from Kyoto city center. If you go to Kyoto I’d highly  recommend a side trip to Arashiyama along with the Gold/Silver Pavilion, etc.

I have seen quite a few temples and shrines in Kyoto, but Tenryu-ji is probably my favorite. It was founded in 1339 and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. I love the garden which is around Sogen Pond. When you enter, you join the many other people simply sitting and enjoying the view.

Sogen Pond and the gardens are one of those places where the longer you stare the more lovely it becomes. It was very calming to simply sit, and let your minder wander while looking at the beauty of the area. I’d love to come back one day in the fall or winter – the leaves change color and then snow falls.

Very close to Tenryu-ji (walking distance) are bamboo groves – I love bamboo (my ultimate dream would involve a panda popping out and chewing away) and you can walk down the beautiful paths with natural shade. Isn’t it gorgeous?

You can easily walk through the bamboo groves to the Okochi Sanso, which is what we did. The Okochi Sanso is the home and garden built by the Japanese actor Denjiro Okochi – these grounds were his dream and he apparently spend most of his fortune building it over a period of thirty years! Could you imagine many modern day movie stars doing that? After he died, the grounds were opened to the public.

Denjiro Okochi

After walking around Okochi’s creation and seeing all the thought and care put into it, it’s easy to fall into respectful awe of a man who so clearly valued harmony in nature, and spent so much of his life creating something beautiful. Everything from the buildings…

….to the views from walking paths…

…to the paths themselves.

You could easily spend a few hours just walking around the grounds. I think everybody who was walking around all shared the feeling that Okochi must have been an extraordinary man – there was also a small museum dedicated to photos of Okochi and some of his most famous films and roles. With each ticket you also get a little cup of matcha green tea and a mochi cake, which you can sit and enjoy while having one last stare at the lovely views. Wow!

After spending the morning and most of our afternoon in Arashiyama, my husband and I headed on the train back to the central Kyoto train station. It was a pretty hot day, and so I thought it’d be the perfect opportunity to check out  an ice cream shop recommended by local friends – Kinana!

Kinana according to my friend Tak, was a must try and served the best ice cream in Kyoto. He assured us that it was definitely worth it and that the shop would be easy to find on a famous historic street in Gion. What he neglected to tell us was that there are lots of very famous historic streets in Gion, all which look alike, with lots of shops crammed next to each other, and very few of them had English signs. After quite a while of searching, we finally found the shop.

My husband got the ice cream sampler (from left to right): brown sugar, vanilla and green tea. All of the ice cream at Kinana is hand made with local ingredients and needless to say – was delicious! Each order comes with a little pot of green tea.

I got the “dekitate” flavor, which translated means “fresh,” or “just made”. The flavor I hear changes daily, and the waitress had trouble explaining the day’s flavor to me. All that she could say was that it was some kind of “weed” which quite honestly wasn’t very comforting. What kind of weed? Seaweed? Rag weed? The kinds on your lawn? The kind they talk about all the time where I went to college – in Berkeley, if you get my drift?

After the dish came out and some more back and forth while tasting it, we finally figured out that the flavor was St. John’s Wort. “Oh, yes that’s it!” the waitress said, and quickly produced a pad so she could write it down. And surprisingly – St. John’s Wort dekitate ice cream was very, very delicious. The scoops tasted like they had just been made, and had a very light, smooth texture.

Here you can see some of the details of the ice cream – this was green tea. Just looking at these photos makes me wish I had some Kinana ice cream right now. I certainly miss it!

We had Kinana on our last day in Kyoto, and the next morning came very soon. We waved goodbye to Tomoko (the owner of Shiraume, who walked us out) and hopped on the bullet train for our last few days back in Tokyo. While in the Kyoto train station I saw lots and lots of various mochi treats and bought one in sesame flavor to eat on the train.

I hope you enjoyed this post on Kyoto! What a beautiful city. Stay tuned for the next (and last) post for in series – back in Tokyo!