Where Diego stretches his legs, visits three very different parts of Kyōto, and samples three very different kinds of tea.
Fourth and final part of four.
I still had a couple of hours or so to spare before my train journey to Matsumoto. Nonetheless, it didn’t feel like quite enough time for a thorough exploration of any other major tourist attraction in Kyōto, and I was feeling rather peckish so I’d have to spend a few moments over lunch anyway (reducing the window even further). In any case, I was feeling quite satisfied – sightseeing-wise – and decided that whatever else remained to see can wait for one of my future visits.
Almost on an impulse, I decided to make the most of my unlimited subway pass by riding the rails all the way to the northernmost stop on the line. Whilst there, I’d tuck into a simple lunch in a nearby park before heading back to Kyōto Station for my afternoon shinkansen ride.
After picking up a few onigiri and other edibles from a convenience store, I tapped my way onto a Karasuma Line train and got off at its northern terminus, Kokusaikaikan Station. From here, a short walk brought me into the wide green spaces of Takara-ga-Ike-kōen.
If you’re a first-time visitor to Kyōto – and especially if you’re pressed for time – I wouldn’t recommend making the effort to go all the way out here. On the face of it, there’s not much to see (apart from the hulking edifice of the Kyōto International Conference Centre next door); it’s just an ordinary park like so many others in Japan and the world.
On the other hand, if you’re after a side of Kyōto that few casual tourists will bother to see, the park’s ordinariness is precisely what makes this a worthwhile detour. Unlike the hills of Higashiyama or the streets of Gion, this is an area that the invading day-tripper hordes have chosen to ignore, or are perhaps even completely unaware of. The young families strolling along the winding paths, the elderly folk chatting animatedly on worn benches, the bike-riding photographers snapping pictures of the local wildlife amongst the thickly wooded trails – signs that this little slice of the city has remained stubbornly within the control of the local population.
I found a small clutch of tables in a clearing and seated myself at one of the them, enjoying the peaceful – and wonderfully silent – surroundings over a simple lunch of store-bought treats.
After the meal, I tidied up and made my way back to Kyōto Station, from where I departed on a short northerly walk into the downtown area to get a feel of the city’s urban landscape. Not far from the station, I spotted a Baskin-Robbins sign and headed inside for some dessert.
Now you might recall that I mentioned sampling “three very different kinds of tea” today. The first two I sipped in Kasagi-ya (more on that here): a refreshing clear tea to start, followed by a bowl of traditional frothy matcha served with a freshly prepared sweet.
Well, here’s the third. It’s that green stuff under the ball of light red ice cream.
Yep, green tea ice cream. Of course, you’ll find this served all over the world, but I was surprised at how wonderfully authentic this particular variant tasted: full-bodied, well-flavoured, and with almost no hint of sweetness. (Much of what I’ve tasted elsewhere practically reeks of sugar and easily fails on that last point.) But what really made this whole dessert work was the reddish scoop on top, a flavour labelled dainagon azuki (大納言あずき) on the shop menu. This was a marvellously sweet concoction, tasting strongly of azuki and highly reminiscent of traditional desserts made with the same main ingredient. As I dug into my ice cream, the contrast between the slightly bitter and richly sweet flavours reminded me of the same incredible combination that I’d tasted earlier that day in Kasagi-ya.
In other words, what I’ve got here is a traditional Japanese tea service in frozen dessert form.
With that done, I retreated to Kyōto Station and took a few farewell shots of the soaring structure.
It’s interesting how Japan’s ancient and famously traditional former capital can boast of one of the country’s most futuristic expressions of transport architecture, whereas Tōkyō’s main railway station – newly restored to its pre-war glory – is one of the most iconic and venerable examples of early 20th-century architecture anywhere in the country. (We’ll see more of that when the glacial crawl of my travel posts finally reaches the present-day capital.)
All right, time to go. Hail and farewell, Kyōto – until we meet again.
Back to the hotel for my luggage, then off to the shinkansen platforms. Here’s today’s route:
I took the Hikari 528 shinkansen service, scheduled to arrive at Nagoya 17:23. Here’s the inside of the Green Car.
At Nagoya, I transferred to the limited express service Wide View Shinano 21, scheduled to depart at 17:40 and expected to arrive at Matsumoto 19:45. The Green Car was at the front end of the train on this run.
This meant that the first row had a splendid view of the track ahead through the driver’s compartment.
I wasn’t lucky enough to secure a seat on the first row this time around, but lesson learned: I made the appropriate selection when I rode the same train en route to Tōkyō the following day.
The car windows gave me a decent view of central Nagoya’s soaring skyline.
Speaking of Nagoya, the city’s historic castle has just regained part of its former palace, which was destroyed by wartime air raids in 1945. Reconstruction work began several years ago and will continue until 2018 or thereabouts, but part of the rebuilt palace has now opened to the public. As a castle nut, I can’t let this one slide by unnoticed: it goes without saying that Nagoya will be a priority destination on one of my future trips to Japan.
For now, another castle town beckons – and we’ll have more to write about that shortly.