Tempura Bar at Yoshikawa Inn. The chef serves us tempura omakase style - whatever he decides to be on the menu that day. We had shrimp, asparagus, yam, shinoki mushrooms, eggplant (i think). I might have missed out a few dishes they were all so good. The batter was light and didn't cover the ENTIRE food item. Its amazing how the oil he used for frying stayed clear throughout our meal and I learned afterward that he uses a special oil. He was cooking for 11 people in total because that's how much space the bar can accommodate. We arrived slightly around 1.30pm or so that the hostess only accepted another couple after us and started turning customers away (they close at 2.30pm and open later for dinner). We were also served shredded cucumber and tiny anchovies that we ate with rice. The kind hostess explained that we can dip our tempura in spiced salt (it wasn't spicy, just spiced) as an alternative to dipping in the sauce. She was so nice and I was afraid that she'd turn her nose up at us because we weren't Japanese and didn't know the proper etiquette for eating tempura in a proper establishment. I guess they get lots of foreign visitors. The tempura bar is in an actual ryokan.
Serene beauty: Kyoto (3 days… or 3 years)
Get back to Honshū and head to Kyoto, the place where you’ll find all the stereotypical images you probably have in mind about Japan: zen gardens reflected in peaceful ponds, infinite rows of red gates, and even — if you’re lucky — the fugitive sight of a geisha gracefully gliding down the street. Geishas are professional artists hurrying on their way to work, by the way, not cultural oddities: please don’t stop them to try and make them pose for a picture.
Get lost in the silver-green bamboo plantation, get a taste of ancient Japan in the teahouse district of Gion, risk blindness by contemplating the bright Golden Pavilion, stroll along the canal, explore the nearby mountain villages… and maybe consider sticking around for a few years. “I would happily include Kyoto among the ten cities in the world where it is worth living for a little while”, Nicolas Bouvier wrote in Japanese Chronicles The Travelettes Itinerary for Japan(which you should read by the way, no matter whether you have the intention of visiting Japan or not).
Thanks to the Google gods, we were able to find a great restaurant where we could enjoy some local flavors like oyster and sashimi! And surprisingly, it was incredibly affordable! My meal set (pictured above) was under 2000 yen, and came with so many things to try! The oyster was 1100 yen or so on it’s own, and I have to admit that I much prefer mussels, but it was great to try. They also offer kaiseki meals (traditional Japanese meal sets) for a range of prices, but those might need a reservation. Anyway, I would definitely recommend Torimatsu to those of you driving through Kyotango! :>
Kyoto is connected to Tokyo by the Shinkansen or the Bullet Trains which can take you from Tokyo to Kyoto in times that range between 140 Minutes to 4 Hours for the 460 Kilometer journey, depending on the speed of the train you choose to travel in. Kyoto was the capital of the erstwhile Japanese Empire from the 8th to the 19th Century, and thus has numerous shrines, temples and other architectural structures like the Kyoto Imperial Palace and Nijo Castle that provide an insight into Japan's history.
After trekking around Kyoto for hours looking at these temples in the heat we had been worrying that we’d be shunned from restaurants looking the way we did (read: sweat-stained tank tops, shorts and mosquito-ravaged calves). However, we were welcomed into a beautiful, traditional restaurant where we were invited to take off our rank sneakers, given a booth, offered sake to try and left with a bell to ring when we wanted something from our very pleasant waiter. In the pub we went to afterwards, the bartender poured us sake in addition to the drinks we ordered and invited us to try Umeboshi, salty plums, with the three locals sitting at the bar.