Friday, September 19, 2014

Ohara and Sanzen-in. October 2013.

I like to visit Ohara as regularly as I can. It's just north of Kyoto city - about an hour in the bus from Kyoto station but feels so much further away. I love the local farming atmosphere but the main reason I come here is to visit Sanzen in (temple) or one of the other smaller temples in the area. 

It is a really charming day trip - I usually head up in the morning around 8am and have a wander around one or more temples -  then I stop in somewhere for lunch, do a little shopping and then bus it back to town.  Here's a post on another of my favourite temples in the area JAKKO-IN and if you are interested they also have a morning farmers' market on Sundays
Take the number 17 Bus from Kyoto station - if you take it from here you are more likely to get a seat! If you get on further up town you may well have to stand for 45 minutes. Don't say I didn't warn you.

The bus stops at a little depot which has a small stall selling locally grown fruit vegetables, pickles and rice. If you are staying in an apartment it is worth picking up some of these wonderful items and cooking them when you get home - you might like to wait until you are leaving though as carrying a pumpkin up and down the hill can take its toll. 
Umeboshi pickled plums on the left, figs, baby eggplants and cucumbers  - all typical of end summer/beginning of autumn bounty. Below are green togarashi peppers on the right, some okra at the back and Myoga - ginger buds on the left. God that is making me homesick for Kyoto. 
Hikari rice and pumpkin below
When you walk by the stalls toward the road you will see a set of traffic lights and a crossing - you will  need to cross over here to the eastern side of the road to get to Sanzen-in (if you were going to Jakkoin you would head down to your left (west). Do wait for the lights to turn as cars and trucks tend to whizz around the corner from your left - you can't see them so take extra care. In just a moment you will see this restaurant ahead  
It is actually worth checking out for lunch when it gets to be that time -they do pretty decent tempura and various other comforting dishes.  Here is a faded old pic of the menu which shows  yudofu (simmered tofu and accompaniments), various soba noodle dishes - hot and cold, dengaku tofu (tofu grilled on sticks with various miso pastes)  - the set courses including rice, soup etc are very reasonable  - around $15 AUD except for the yudofu which is about $25. There is plenty of food. 
To get to the temple you need to follow the road that runs past the restaurant and up behind it - so you need to turn left just after the restaurant. As you walk a few metres you may note that on the second floor of the building is a rustic looking cafe  - their coffee and homemade simple cake is not bad and they also have a little ceramics/souvenir shop attached. 
This is the sign that reads SAN ZEN IN  - so you know you are heading in the correct direction!
You will walk to the right side of this field which in season is filled with bright yellow canola flowers. The rows look too perfect!
Directly opposite the field is a set of shops selling a variety of souvenirs, clothes, handbags, hats, brollies, Japanese paper, glassware, ceramics etc and a few food items.
Keep walking up the hill as the path veers around and you will see quite a few more restaurants , shops and stalls - probably a good idea to resist the urge to shop until the walk down so you don't have to lug it around all day.
Although if it is hot you may be tempted to stop for one of these shiso flavoured ice creams
This place below looks interesting - I must check it out next time - vegetable flavoured udon noodles with sesame tofu which looks like it might have been flavoured with shiso... or it could be sun affected
Once out of the shops you will look for this sign which points towards the forest behind sanzen in.
Shortly afterwards you will see this temple sign - yep still heading in the right direction
Another small group of stalls greets you before you make it to the main entrance
The local ladies 'Ohara me' wear this traditional farming garb (or similar) when they are working in the fields - there is also a festival in May which celebrates their strength and hard work and you can see all the local women dressed in this 'uniform'. 
Keep walking - not much further now. 

OK - so finally you will walk up some stone steps to your left and about 50 meters in front of you - on the right hand side is the entrance to beautiful Sanzen-in.  Take a look.

It is common for me to take quite some time to sit on the smooth deck of Sanzen-in and soak up the energy there - particularly when it is quiet - it is as if there is no one else in the world at that moment and you can really open your heart and mind - so blissful. On this particular day it was still quite hot - the end of summer hanging on for dear life - so I was grateful for the rest. 
After about 45 minutes of temple gazing I walked through this building up towards the main area of worship. 
Just look at that face. Such a serene Jizo  
Happy little cherubs
As stated, it was pretty hot so I didn't walk further up through the extensive gardens - there is plenty to see up there so I'll search from some pics from another trip and add them when I can - or just go and take more snaps - it is a great excuse to return.
The slow stroll towards the exit... just so peaceful
And we're out....  this is looking back through the exit into the serene grounds - the gates framing the scene.
A brief stroll back in the direction you originally come from takes you past souvenir shops and sweet shops before you get to the same set of stairs you walked up 
Otabe sweets below - glutinous rice wrappers (nama yatsuhashi) wrapped around fillings such as red bean, green tea and white beans, and in one of these seasonal boxes they've included ingredients such as pumpkin , chestnut and sweet potato. There's matcha and houjicha tea wrappers. There's also an eclair otabe with chocolate wrappers around fake cream and custard...hmmm.
These young ladies are taking a break with some mitarashi dango -  rice dumplings grilled and served with a sweet soy glaze - these don't look or sound particularly appetising but a good mitarashi dango is a beautiful thing
As you reach the stairs, on your right hand side you will find the restaurant Seriyou.  Here's the sign to look out for if you think you might like to try it.
I've walked past it so many times and wondered what the food was like so I finally ventured in.  It was a little expensive but I thought - hey, that probably means it is pretty decent. Even though my previous experience of the more expensive food in this area was not that great. I should have taken my own advice but I thought it might have been worth checking out for my groups. Mistake.  The cheaper places are definitely worth sticking to. The food was fine but not worth paying the extra dosh - the typical tourist trap. Having said that it is a really lovely venue and had there been a spot outside it would be the perfect place to while away an afternoon.
From the plastic food display outside it certainly looked appetising. 
I went for the tiered box for 3150 yen - abou $35 AUD.
Goma doufu -Sesame tofu
A selection of vegetables, seafood, rice
Gourd shaped rice
Dobin Mushi - fragrant matsutake mushrooms cooked in broth in a teapot - a popular autumn dish
It is a shame the food wasn't really upto scratch  - as you can see the place is quite lovely
And down the hill you go 
I was very temped by these bamboo baskets ... they have a little vase inside for you to pop a flower into - just gorgeous... but I do already have some at home. Even if they were just over $5 AUD....
The wares in the little group of shops along the road can be pretty eclectic

It is definitely worth stopping to check out some of the pickle action. On a summers day these cucumbers are definitely refreshing
I haven't quite managed to do a whole eggplant pickle on a stick yet
I love a good persimmon tree - not quite sure what it is about it.  But the orange against the blue is so stunning. 
More jizo below -dressed in their bibs. I thanked them and made my leave this day.  
Back across to the bus stop and you will note there are fairly regular departures  (about every 20 minutes or so). Stop off in town for the remainder of the afternoon and evening if you aren't too laden down with parcels. The bus stops in several key places in the main grid. 

And that's Ohara until next time. I highly recommend checking the area out if you have time when in Kyoto.

Pssst! If you are a discerning foodie traveller and would like to experience Japan with me - please check out my Kyoto Cuisine and Culture Tours. 

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