Noodly heaven at Kyoto Station

Been looking forward to that first meal in Japan? Well, why not slurp down some delicious noodles at Kyoto Station straight off the train from Kansai Airport? Surely there could be no better welcome to Japan than a chilled plate of ‘zaru-soba’ in summer, or a steaming hot bowl of udon in autumn or winter.

Plastic food at Kyoto Station

Tasty plastic food… or is it! That tempura looks real to me

On many occasions I have arrived at or departed from platform 30 at Kyoto Station. Home to the Haruka Express which runs between Kyoto and Kansai Airport, platform 30 has at its entrance a small noodle restaurant. How many times I have walked past this modest establishment (or perhaps more often than not, late for my train, running in an ungainly fashion, shoulder bag swinging as I attempt to pull my luggage along behind me in a frantic rush to not miss my departure and more likely than not, my flight!)? It is hard to say but I had not once stopped and thought to myself why not go sample their tasty fare.

That is until today!… Or rather 9 days ago now I have finally published this post. Fresh off the train from KIX, I was meandering along the platform with only a handful of other new arrivals when I felt myself being drawn towards the plastic depictions of noodles promising a noodly heaven and perhaps more pertinently, having missed breakfast on the plane (those final minutes of what passes for sleep on long haul flights were worth far more to me than some cold meats and a ropey croissant), satisfaction for my quietly murmuring stomach – “Feed me, feed me” – well at least that is what I assume it was saying anyway.

Udon Kyoto Station

I can’t get no satisfaction… or maybe if I just get in line, then I can!

I joined the queue of suited salarymen, gave my order – “udon kudasai” and mere seconds later was handed over a bowl of the steaming hot thick white noodles. From the help yourself tempura I selected a prawn, a thick, flat piece of squid and just for good measure, tempura ‘nasu’ – aubergine. At the end of the counter were the essential condiments – spring onions, fresh ginger paste, soy sauce, “sauce” and my personal must have, shichimi, a mixed chilli spice. Fortunately I was not the only diner with major luggage so didn’t feel to awkward as I clumsily made my way to the window-side counter to take my seat and tuck in.

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And 10 minutes later it was all over. And now that a week has passed, my Kyoto Station noodles are but a mere memory. But I will be back! These might not have been the best noodles in the world. They might not even be the best noodles at Kyoto Station. But for a first meal back in Japan this was true noodly heaven. Yokosou Japan!!

Kyoto for Free! (part one)

Call me cheap, but I’m currently planning a long awaited holiday to New York and have been googling free things to do in the Big Apple. Which got me thinking… we all know Japan has a widespread reputation for being expensive. But in reality there is so much to see and do that won’t cost you much or often anything at all. That’s why I’m introducing…

The Big List of Stuff to Do for Free in Kyoto!

I lived there for two years, so I should know :)

By the way, I am not going to include any free stuff that you can only get if you buy something else. Such as free drinks if you buy a really expensive meal. Or a free tea ceremony if you have already paid the entrance fee into the garden. Those kind of “free” lists really annoy me…

1. Take in some Temples and Shrines

There are many stunning temples and shrines that do not cost a penny to look around. The sister shrines of Shimogamo and Kamigamo are two of my favourites, as is Fushimi Inari. Thousands and thousands of red shrine gates line up in tunnels across the mountain at Fushimi Inari. This temple never seems to be busy, so you’ll often have the place to yourself.

Fushimi Inari

Fushimi Inari

2. Get a Volunteer Guide

Kyoto is a big city and sometimes it can be hard to know where to start. Or you’ve seen pictures of certain temples, but you’re looking at the map and can’t work out where they might be hiding. A local guide is an invaluable resource if you only have a short time in Kyoto. Best of all, there are lots of volunteer guides in Kyoto who offer their services for free! Have a look at the list of contacts on the Japan National Tourist Organisation website.

3. Forget Kyoto Tower

I hate Kyoto Tower, which is a long rant that I will have another time. Anyway, save yourself from this expensive, tacky tourist trap, and climb to the top of Kyoto Station instead. The architecture is so much more impressive and the free skywalk gives you a great panorama inside the station and across the city. Plus on the west side of the station, you’ll find the ‘happy terrace’. Enough said.

Kyoto StationGood times

Good times at Kyoto Station

4. Learn some Nihongo

If you’d like a crash course in Japanese, check out ‘Klexon’ (Kyoto Language EXchange salON). This non-profit organisation runs free language exchange meetings on Tuesday nights. If you happen to be in Kyoto then, why not drop in? Beginners are very welcome and you’ll be paired up with a Kyotoite who can teach you the basics.

5. Party with the Locals

Kyoto bars are small, often with room for just four or five customers. Which is why in summer time huge crowds of Kyoto youngsters gather by the Kamo River at Sanjo bridge. Without paying a single yen, hear local bands play, watch fire dancers perform and mingle with the locals.

Kyoto's Kamo River. Much more lively at night.

Kyoto's Kamo River - much more lively at night

Parts two and three coming soon!

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