Sunday, March 26, 2017

Fushimi Inari Shrine Visit - A Shinto Fairy Tale

My visit to Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto was a fantastic experience that was like stepping into a world of legend and magic at times.  Not quite Spirited Away, especially if you're visiting while it is crowded, they place is a beautiful sacred site regardless.  Visit if you like Shinto Shrines in a natural setting, foxes, and atmospheric paths where you walk through hundreds of vermillion torii gates up a mystic mountain.
Main torii gate at the end of the avenue leading up to the primary shrine grounds at the base of the mountain.
Fushimi Inari is the head shrine for the Inari shrines in Japan, so it is Shrine #1 for about 30,000 thousand other shrines that range from tiny to big.  These shrines are dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice, and Foxes are Inari's messengers, which is why there are many fox statues guarding the ways in and all over the grounds.  This shrine is ancient, dating back to 816 AD at this site, and is even older than that as it was moved here from another site in 711 AD. It predates Kyoto being the capital in the Heian Period.

A very famous shrine, it has appeared in Aria the Natural (anime episode 5), Inari Kon Kon anime (where it is set), and of course Memoirs of a Geisha.  It appears innumerably in Japanese media and has millions of visitors at New Years.  This shrine is often crowded with tourists by mid-morning to late afternoon, and a more calm and atmospheric visit can be had in the off hours.   Still, the crowds are mainly in the bottom 25% of the mountain where the torii gates are densest, but you will lose the crowds as you head up the mountain where there is a small shrine at the top.  Going all the way to the top and back down takes a couple of hours, but it will take longer as you'll be taking breaks and stopping to enjoy the sights, etc.  On the way out or in, there is a very busy market street full of food vendors and shops just north of the main avenue up to the shrine.  The smells of bbq and such from the vendors will tempt just about anyone to stop and eat something.

Getting to the shrine is easy as it is just outside the JR Nara Line Inari Station, a 5-minute ride from Kyoto Station.  It is also a short walk from Keihan Electric Railway Main Line Fushimi-Inari station.  In most of the photos for this post, I ran them through a woodcut / watercolour filter to make it more of an abstract representation.  You can experience the true beauty of the place firsthand, with this just being a taster.
Main Gatehouse. Note the guardian foxes on the left and right.
More guardian or messenger foxes in front of another gate. 
Closeup of a fox statue.  The fox on the left usually has a key or cylinder which represents the key to the rice granary, while the other fox has a jewel that represents the spirits of the gods.
A stage on the main grounds where performances are held.  While we were there a young lady was performing.  She must have been a pretty famous traditional singer as there was a photo shoot on the pathways afterwards with a big media presence with video being shot and many cameras.
All Shinto Shrines in Japan are independently run and depend on the donations of worshippers.  Fushimi Inari is a very prosperous shrine, but there is a lot of upkeep in a place this big, so donate some cash by making a wish or buying a ema tablet (these wish tablets are also cool souvenirs).  Shinto priests are also often part business man to make the shrine prosper so they will promote the shrine through collaborations with anime, tourist boards, local businesses, festivals, etc.
Map of the shrine grounds.
Some Torii gate shaped ema tablets.
There are big gates near the bottom of the mountain.  As you go up the mountain the gates become fewer and smaller, but there are lots of gates both big and small up to the halfway point up the mountain where there are tea houses.
You can see how crowded the paths can get.  These are some of the larger gates on the path.  The path is pretty much completely paved and is even lit in the evening.  I hear it is pretty quiet in the evening and very atmospheric with lots of shadows and such.  Might even be a little spooky as you will feel like a spirit could appear.
A long strait section on the lower paths.
The best thing about visiting Fushimi Inari is the journey through the countless vermillion torii gates.  This is a kind of magical experience where you think you could walk into another world, a mystical world, as the shrine is in a very natural setting with forest, birds, animals, and insects.
Lots of small gates here to give the illusion that the gates go on into infinity.
A little further past the main shrine grounds is a smaller shrine area.  Here there are fox faced ema wish plaques.  You do your own fox face and make a wish.  Inari foxes also love the little fried tofu pockets full of rice which is why they are called inari sushi!  Be sure to try some on your visit.
The way sunlight can play on the pathways is very cool.  You are also surrounded by a forest and a lush green canopy all around you and even above the gates.
A stretch of path with no people! 
Some ladies dressed up for the walk up and they're even wearing the traditional wood clogs.  This is not a difficult trail, but you must like steps.  If the trail is wet, the stones can be slippery.
Just below the halfway point is a small lake and just before that is an area full of little shrines dedicated by various people and companies to Inari.  There must be dozens of these little shrines here and it is a very reverent kind of place.  The guardians here seem to be some semi-feral cats that the shrine staff or the business owners take some care of.
Detail of a small shrine.
On our way up, we also hit a traffic jam.  There were workers carrying up the big pine logs to repair a torii gate.  This is backbreaking work to carry up.  With thousands of these wood posts, repair must happen almost daily to replace rotted wood.
People watching the posts being raising into position.
Stone steps underneath torii.
More giant torii.  There is writing on the back side of the gates which indicates who sponsored the gate.  The front side of the gates has no writing.
A parting shot of the beautiful and mystical looking gates.
The well kept shrine grounds at the main area at the bottom of the mountain on the way out.  Even in the late afternoon you can see people heading up. 
I had a fantastic time visiting Fushimi Inari.  I would definitely visit it again and even try to visit first thing in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the crowds.  Kyoto has like 20 million tourists a year visiting, so crowds are to be expected.  This place is also amazingly photogenic, but you might have to wait a bit for the perfect shot, so relax, zen out, and let the shrine put you in a nicer frame of mind.

Visit my travelogue posts page.
Visit Kamakura, near Tokyo, which is like a mini-Kyoto on the coast.

More Kyoto Posts
  1. Whirlwind Tour Through Tokyo and Kyoto
  2. Kyoto Trip Highlights - Amazing Sights
  3. Pokemon Go As You Travel In Tokyo And Kyoto
  4. Eating Well While Travelling In Japan - Part 1 (without breaking the bank)
  5. Eating Well While Travelling In Japan - Part 2 - Kyoto Dining (Ekiben, Bullet Trains, Fushimi Inari Food Stalls)
  6. Eating Well While Travelling In Japan - Part 3 - Kyoto Dining (Nishiki Market Grazing)
  7. Eating Well While Travelling In Japan - Part 4 - Kyoto Dining (Kyoto Style Sushi, Arashimaya, and Kinkakuji
  8. Eating Well While Travelling In Japan - Part 5 - Kyoto Dining (Gion, Ootoya, Kiyomizudera, Kyoto Station Ramen)
  9. Eating Well While Travelling In Japan - Part 6 - Tokyo Finale (kaiten sushi, takoyaki, and curry)

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Sunday, March 12, 2017

Nissin 45th Anniversary Matcha Green Tea Seafood Cup Noodle Review

Nissin celebrates the 45th anniversary of Cup Noodle with a trio of different instant ramen products.  These limited editions celebrate both instant noodles in a cup or bowl and Japan at the same time with the different types of flavourings.

Today, I'm reviewing the Matcha Green Tea Seafood Cup Noodle, a product I'm happy to be able to get my hands on.  The cup noodle is in their regular sized cup, but it has some pretty fantastic looking packaging.  This is one of the things I like about Japan when they go all out.  The theme is green tea, with very traditional Japanese icons shown. 
This is a very attractive cup noodle from the design.
You can see Mt. Fuji plays a centerpiece role, with a bullet train running along the bottom.
Looking to the back, you can see the nutritional content.  Pretty standard for a cup noodle.
On the left of the logo are a thunder god wearing sneakers, some pagodas, a rising sun, a lucky cat, some otaku-looking dude with a flashlight that looks like he is illuminating a Mario-esque level in the clouds, and a truck with some traditional dudes.  Some of the imagery is beyond me, but it is mixing traditional with modern pop themes so it is pretty cool.
On the right there is a skyscraper pagoda, a quadcopter drone with a kabuki mask and a lantern, a lady in fancy traditional kimono with a hot water kettle, and a sumo wrestler that is DJing music.  Again, really cool graphics.
The top of the cup.
The cup again.
Opening up the cup, you can see it does look different from the regular cup noodle.  The green theme of the matcha pervades the contents.  The instant ramen noodles are even green as they are mixed with matcha.  I took a sniff of the contents and can say that the green tea was pretty subtle, but I could smell it.  It is kind of nice that these noodles are not just packaged nicely, they are a little different too.
The ingredients include: powdered milk and cheese, seafood extract, slices of octopus, cabbage, egg, carrots,green onions, black pepper, and many others. 
After adding boiling water, the soup was quit frothy and thicker than normal.  I suspect this was from the milk which added a creaminess to the soup.  Closing the lid, you let the soup for three minutes.
After the three minutes, the soup and noodles have finished rehydrating.  The contents were greenish and it smelled seafoody, but it was pretty appetizing to me. 
The noodles are shown here in more detail.  They have a greenish tinge from the tea, but there is no pronounced tea taste.
This was a pretty tasty cup noodle with  nice pieces of octopus and egg in a creamier seafood broth.  The noodles were firm and the combination with matcha was interesting, as the role of the green tea was subtle on the palate.  Definitely worth a a try, this cup noodle is a winner in both taste and packaging.  It is also interesting to note that you often have sushi with green tea and this just combines both into one package!

More Noodle Reviews and Pop Culture.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Japanese Food and Snacks as Souvenirs (Kit Kats, Whiskey, Chips, and More)

One of the funnest parts about a holiday where you are going to experience new things is the planning.  It is kind of like the journey versus the destination being the main part of a trip.  This is a discussion that could take place over a lot of beers, but I'm an advocate of enjoying the trip experience even after you have returned home.  We're not talking personal growth (which is good), but the fact that you can still enjoy the tastes of the places you've travelled in food long after you have returned home.  I always like to bring home food related souvenirs so the trip can keep on giving long after it is done.

Some of the food type souvenirs I've brought back are shown in the pics below.
Japanese Kit Kats are big thing these days. There are a large variety of Kit Kats in different regional and traditional flavours of Japan.  Green tea, wasabi, roasted tea, strawberry shortcake and strawberry are some of the many different types of flavours.
This is a sake flavoured kit kat and it is really good (must like the taste of sake though).
Various types of more gourmet / deluxe Kit Kats that are unique to Japan.  Some of these will require you to visit a Kit Kat Chocolatory specialty shop that can be found in the major cities.
This is a type of red bean Kit Kat that was a limited edition in the fall of 2014.  It was really good.
Mmmm. Strawberry Kit Kit, Tochigi Edition.
Melon Kit Kats
Japanese whiskey.  You can decide if the fuss over it is worth it after tasting.  I find that they are very smooth and not as bold or "rough" as some of the scotches I also like.
These are packages of single use, pour over coffee filters that fit on top of a mug.  Coffee is included.  They're pretty cool.
Potato chips are always a good snack, especially with local flavours.
Lawson and 7-11 both have awesome rice crackers and other snacks that you can stock up on.
Chicken Ramen flavoured potato sticks.
I like Chicken Ramen from Nissin.  This is the original instant ramen by the way.
Pretz which are flavoured breadsticks/skinny biscuites and the chocolate covered Pocky sticks are great souvenirs and you can always look limited / seasonal editions.
Some giant-sized specialty Pockys in souvenir format. 
Office worker and even natural disaster survival biscuits.  A small box can help you keep going.
Muji (as in the dept. store) sells white chocolate and green tea chocolate covered freeze dried strawberries.  These are great!  I looked for the green tea at a small outlet store, but they only have the white chocolate. 
Cheezas are awesome cheeze tasting crackers that go great with beer.  If you like cheese, try these.
Freeze dried miso soup with eggplant.  One of my faves.
Freeze dried soup (egg drop).  Quite good, light to carry, and keeps for a long time.
This is a box of gift mochi (Japanese rice sweets with various types of fillings).  You can find this type of confectionary in many gift shops and even the airport which is where I picked this up.  They should be really fresh and boy was it good.
This is just a sampling, but take a look at all of the different kinds of chocolate, hard candy, jelly beans, and chips you can pick up at a store these.
This is artisanal candy, hand-sculpted out of sugar.  I bought a pretty fancy lollipop that I'll never eat, but display only.  A shop in the Skytree Mall sells these.
Some very awesome Japanese mints.  They really do a good strawberry, grape, and yogurt drink flavours like Calpis.

You can also bring back some cup noodles of various types to snack on or to have a lunch on one day and think back about your trip.  They're definitely not the cup noodle you'll get at home.  This amazing display was at a Lawson at Narita Airport.
That's all for now about food, but other types of souvenirs are like arts, crafts, stationary, clothes, and toys.  These are all pretty darn cool in Japan.

Japanese Snacks I Would Stock Up On Next Time I'm In Tokyo
More Japanese Pop Culture.