Kaiseki meal in Kyoto

Kyoto is famous for kaiseki cuisine. Kaiseki is an exquisite multi-course meal. It can even be considered as an art form, where one tries to balance the taste, texture, appearance, and colors of food. It goes without saying that only fresh, seasonal ingredients are used. The dishes are served in carefully selected bowls and plates, that enhance both the appearance and the seasonal theme of the meal.

The word kaiseki may also be used to refer to the meal served at a tea ceremony, although one may also add term ‘cha’ (as in chakaiseki) to indicate the difference with restaurant kaiseki.

One rainy October day in Kyoto, friends invited me to a kaiseki lunch. We walked through a few bustling, touristic Kyoto streets and ended up at this little place:

kaiseki restaurant in Kyoto

Kaiseki restaurant in Kyoto

Kaiseku menu Kyoto

There was a choice between two menus

Our meal was comprised a multitude of mouth-watering courses, several of which involved tofu. Now, before any Western readers start turning up their noses, you must take into account that Japanese tofu is nothing like the tofu you can get in the West. Western tofu is often tasteless with a rubber-like texture. Japanese tofu comes in a wide variety of delicious tastes and has textures ranging from silky to firm. And I have the impression that Kyoto is famous for tofu as well as for kaiseki.

kyoto kaiseki meal tofu

To start things off, two tofu appetizers.

kyoto kaiseki meal tofu

Then some broiled tofu, in a beautiful paper container

kyoto kaiseki meal tofu

Yet another way to prepare tofu, in a kombu broth, served in a cherry blossom themed donabe

kyoto kaiseki meal

After all that tofu, we got the main course, full of gorgeous, seasonally themed little pieces of food. And two of the dishes (top right and middle right) are once more different tofu preparations.

kaiseki meal kyoto

Our table full of food. There was also all-you-can-drink tea included in the meal. We were sitting on the floor, but cleverly hidden below the table was a recess for our legs, so that we more or less sat in the position of sitting on a chair.

kaiseki meal kyoto

The meal was concluded with a generous serving of rice, some pickled vegetables and a bowl of soup. Nobody left the table hungry, that’s for sure!

kaiseki meal kyoto matcha

To top off the meal, a delicious bowl of matcha tea with a Japanese sweet. I think the sweet might be some type of mochi, perhaps warabi mochi? I am not sure though, because warabi mochi feel to me a bit summer-like and don’t really seem to match the autumnal harvest theme of the meal. If anyone knows more, please leave a comment below.

All this exquisiteness comes at a price. While the standard price for a lunch in Japan is about 1000 yen, a kaiseki meal will easily set you back 3000 yen or more.

Advertisements

It’s a real-life geisha! Right?

When walking around in Kyoto, foreign tourists will often be very excited when they spot ‘a real-life Japanese geisha’! Indeed when walking around the area near Kiyomizu-dera temple, one often sees groups of young girls dressed in bright kimonos.

Maiko group in Kyoto, Japan

A group of girls dressed in beautiful kimonos

Maiko-san tourists in front of temple

Tourists dressed as maiko-san posing in front of temple

What most tourists probably don’t know is that these girls are not geisha, but dressed-up tourists themselves. There are many studios in Kyoto where one can undergo the transformation into an apprentice geisha, called maiko. Maiko are young girls, usually aged 15 to 20 years old, who are training to become geisha. Their hairstyle and kimono differ from geisha. Typical elements are the long ‘obi’ (sash) and the hairstyle where red fabric is showing in between the hair (which traditionally was considered to be very erotic).

The ‘maiko-experience’ is very popular with young and not so young girls. For the ‘small price’ of roughly 15000 yen (about 150 euro), a professional team sets to work: applying make-up, doing your hair (a wig is used) and dressing you in colourful kimono. The experience usually also includes a photo shoot by a professional photographer.

maikosan professional photographer

A group of maiko-san with a professional photographer

To see a real geisha, several conditions have to be met. One has to a) go to Gion or Pontocho, which are the geisha districts in Kyoto, b) wait until nightfall, c) be very lucky.

Maikosan posing for a picture

Maiko-san posing for a picture

Let’s go Japan!

ganbarou nippon flags at a temole in toyota cityIt’s over a year ago since the big earthquake and the ensuing tsunami took place in Japan. But even now I regularly keep seeing ‘Ganbarou Nippon’ flags en logo’s everywhere.

‘Ganbarou Nippon’ (がんばろう日本) means ‘Do your best, Japan’ or ‘Let’s go, Japan’. Following the March 11th quake and tsunami, the ‘ganbarou nippon’ campaign was launched. Abroad it is more commonly known as ‘Pray for Japan’. I’m not entirely sure on the details but I imagine the campaign was meant to encourage the victims of the disaster and to rally the rest of the nation to donate and volunteer where they could.

ganbarou nippon flags near temple, toyota city

Ganbarou Nippon flags at a temple in Toyota City

Now, one year later, the Japan National Tourism Organization has started a ‘Japan. Thank you.’ campaign. It consists of posters and banners ‘aimed at thanking overseas organizations for their support after the March 11th disaster. It also means to thank tourists who visited Japan and contributed to its economic health following the disaster.’ (Quoting Japan Today).

'Japan. Thank you.' Campaign

'Japan. Thank you.' campaign image

I came across one of the ‘thank you’ posters in  Nagoya Castle. I was elated to recognize artwork by Kimura Hideki, a Japanese artist that I had discovered recently and was proudly considering ‘my secret find’. But maybe he is more famous than I realized.

'Japan. Thank you.' Campaign poster

'Japan, rising again' poster with artwork by Kimura Hideki

Kimura Hideki is based in Gion, the geisha area of Kyoto. He has a shop with textiles, paintings and other items, and he paints murals all over Kyoto. His artwork is a mix of Asian and Western design. I love his graphic style!

Kimura Hideki shop in Gion, Kyoto, Japan

Kimura Hideki shop in Kyoto. Picture taken from his website (click on the picture to go to his website).

Mural by Kimura Hideki in Kyoto

Mural by Kimura Hideki in Kyoto. If you go to his shop in Kyoto, you can get a map with the locations of the murals.