Kyoto is one of the world’s great sightseeing cities. Blessed with a rich cultural heritage of Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, its complement of must-see attractions seems inexhaustible. But as you plot your sightseeing route, don’t forget to build dining opportunities into your plans. For example, if you’re heading for the vicinity of Gion to take in Kenninji Temple, Yasaka Shrine and Maruyama Park, you’ll want to sample udon or have a boxed lunch at a traditional Japanese restaurant. At the World Heritage sites of Tenryuji Temple, Kinkakuji Temple and Ginkakuji Temple, savour Buddhist vegetarian dishes or soba. The environs of Kitano Tenmangu Shrine are known for Japanese cuisine.
In this article, we introduce you to a few Japanese restaurants that share some of the history of the ancient capital.
This eatery is close to Maruyama Park, symbolised by its tall weeping cherry tree, and Kodaiji, a temple closely connected to shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi and his wife Kita-no-Mandokoro. Nene-no-Michi, the cobblestone road that leads from the temple to the park, is steeped in the mood of that period. Kikunoi Mugesambo is a shop specialising in traditional Japanese restaurant-style bento boxes and Japanese sweets. After the lunch hour, the restaurant operates as a Japanese-style sweets shop.
You’ll find Ichihana near Nijo-jo Castle, built by Tokugawa Ieyasu for the protection of the Kyoto Imperial Palace and as the Kyoto residence of the shogun. This unassuming kappo is famous for its kamameshi (a rice, meat or vegetable dish served in a small pot). At lunchtime, a popular dish is “Kamameshi Gozen”, a set meal of decoratively-arranged sashimi or tempura accompanied by kamameshi. À la carte dishes are added to the menu in the evening.
A restaurant serving Buddhist vegetarian dishes, operated by Tenryuji within the temple precincts. The Dharma Hall ceiling is painted with a cloud dragon; the garden is landscaped to frame views of distant Mt. Arashiyama and Mt. Kameyama. Shigetsu draws you into the nature, history and culture of Kyoto, making it an ideal place to savour the character of Buddhist cooking.
Just steps away from Ginkakuji Temple, one of most famous examples of the Higashiyama Culture from the Muromachi period (1336–1573), Juu-go lies along Tetsugaku-no-Michi (Path of Philosophy). This footpath, connecting Ginkakuji with Kumano Nyakuoji Shrine, heralds each season with cherry blossoms in spring, vibrant green in summer and reds and golds in autumn.
Tozentei is a family-operated restaurant within walking distance of Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, dedicated to Sugawara-no-Michizane, the patron deity of academics and learning. The shrine has long been venerated as offering the blessing of a successful end to schoolwork. Of special note for sightseers is the main shrine, a National Treasure with preserved Momoyama-period (1583–1600) construction that gives it an air of grandeur.
Gion Yorozuya, a place to enjoy Kyoto-style udon with tender noodles and lashings of Kujo spring onions, is handy to Kenninji Temple. Constructed during the Kamakura period (1185–1333) and known as the oldest Zen temple in Kyoto, Kenninji is a calm retreat where you can soothe your soul and forget the clamour and bustle of Gion.
Savour soba, udon and bowls of rice with toppings in a setting redolent with the ambience of Gion. Located close to Yasaka Shrine, affectionately known as ‘Gion-san’, Gombei is a convenient place while sightseeing. Numerous events are held in this neighbourhood during the July Gion Festival season, filling the air with excitement.
Sobashubo Ichii is the perfect place for grabbing a bowl of soba to fill your stomach or simply enjoying a snack or cup of sake as you enjoy your sightseeing. It is handy to Kinkakuji Temple, the symbol of Kitayama Culture, created through a fusion of the cultures of the noble and samurai classes.
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