Welcome to our travel blog. We are Tabitha and Nic. In 2011 we 'retired' in our early 40s and set off to travel the world. We spent our first year in South America and have been lucky enough to make two trips to Antarctica.

Our blog is a record of our travels, thoughts and experiences. It is not a guide book, but we do include some tips and information, so we hope that you may find it useful if you are planning to visit somewhere we have been. Or you may just find it interesting as a bit of armchair travel.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Kyoto - Castle, Gardens and Sake

Nijo-jo, Kyoto
Our first bit of sightseeing in Kyoto was the castle, Nijo-jo, which was originally built in 1603 by Ieyasa, the first Tokugawa Shogun, and subsequently added to. The late 1700s saw the destruction of both the original tower and the Honmaru Palace, the latter of which was replaced by bringing over part of the Imperial Palace at Katsura.

Nijo-jo, Kyoto
In 1867, Yoshinobu, the fifteenth Shogun, returned sovereignty to the Emperor in a ceremonly held here at the castle, and it became an Imperial Palace.

Cherry blossom, Kyoto
The Nimomaru Palace has many impressive wall paintings by members of the Kano school, although they have been replaced with replicas, with the originals now moved to the gallery for conservation. The castle was donated to the city of Kyoto in 1939 and renamed Nijo-jo.

Cherry blossom, Kyoto
After the castle, we stopped for something to eat in Cafe Bibliotic Hello. It was a great cafe, and we decided to try the day's special of wagyu; we didn't regret it. We were to try more wagyu later, when we got to Kobe, and I will post about the beef there, but this was a relatively cheap wagyu, and yet still tasted delicious. Pity they didn't have it on the menu all the time.

Cherry blossom, Kyoto
We couldn't linger too long though, as we were off to the Imperial Palace Gardens. The buildings of the Palace are hidden away behind large walls. It is possible to do a tour inside the walls, but you still don't get inside the buildings, so we didn't bother. We were here to see the gardens, in search of the cherry blossom.

As well as the normal trees, they have a few nice weeping cherry trees in the gardens here, which do look quite pretty. But we were soon feeling quite frustrated, as there were endless people posing in front of the trees, making it impossible to take an unobstructed shot.

Cherry blossom, Kyoto
Having done our sightseeing for the day, our plan was to head to the nearby Sake Bar Yoramu, run by an Israeli man who is something of an expert. We had looked for it earlier. But not found it, so we left plenty of time to get there, as we knew that it was, like many Japanese bars, a tiny place and can get very busy.

Cherry blossom, Kyoto
In fact, we found it quite quickly, so arrived just as it opened. As it turned out, it was very quiet all night, which was great, as it meant that we could monopolise the owner and learn more about the sake. I'll do a separate post about sake at some point, rather than talk about it in detail here.
The owner was certainly something of a sake snob, refusing to stock or drink anything other than premium, small batch sake, so his stuff wasn't cheap, but it was excellent. We tried a good number, learned a bit about the types that we prefer, and blew a few sake myths.

Sake Bar Yoramu, Kyoto
In particular, we discovered that, if it is of good enough quality, sake can be kept and aged. We tried one from a brewery called Kidoizuma, called AFS 1976, that was 49 years old. It is very hard to get hold of now, but was delicious. Like most drinks, aging changes the nature of the drink, and this becomes more reminiscent of a sherry than normal sake, but it certainly shows that, in the right conditions, sake can be aged.

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