Organic Café Choice.

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DSC_0690The waitress’ smile wides in recognition as we step out of the Kyoto night and into the restaurant. This is our second visit today alone. Not because choice (pun intended) is limited for the kyotan vegan. In fact, the city is a bit of a haven for veg grub in Japan and that is just what sets the scene for places like Choice to flourish.

So what is it then that makes us return for dinner mere hours after we have left from brunch? What makes Choice stick out among the crowd?

Well, first and foremost – by making and offering their own range of vegan cheeses! *angels singing*

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The backstory

With an increased interest for plant based foods and  particularly ways to make vegan cheese, the café founder set out to meet Miyoko Schinner in California back in 2011. Schinner, about to become somewhat of a “health food superstar”, had namely just succeeded in making a fermented cheese out of plants.

Applying the techniques taught by Schinner, albeit adjusted to suit the Japanese climate, soon resulted in the variety of (nutritious yet delicous) nut- & soy cheeses that are served at the café today. Plenty are being used along dishes from the menu, but may I suggest the cheese platter to try a select few?
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It is a full concept

Choice is formed as an open space that invites for conversation between its visitors. The interiors are bright, woodsy and contains plentiful of beautifully printed chalk boards revealing the daily specialities. On the menu you will find veggie burgers, risotto and pancakes along with freshly pressed juices and raw cakes.

One thing I am a big fan of is when chosen coffeeshop or restaurant has spent some time on their menus. A neat layout and something to read while awaiting the food. Choice does this brilliantly with little booklets for anyone to grab. (Even providing me with facts to use in this blog post!). To any café owner out there: do this! This gives customers a chance to be impressed by your particular story, and gives you a chance to brag and boost your efforts, ingredients, awards or whatever you please.


Choice Café & Restaurant
Where |89-1 Suzukikeiseigeka Bldg. 1F,
Ohashi-cho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto
Subway | Sanjo-Keihan, Exit 2
Website
Cuisine | Vegan, Gluten Free

Japan Photo Diary, Day 12-13: About (cherry) bloomin’ time!

Resuming where we left off last post, mid way through the Tuesday in Hakone – we catch the train back to Tokyo. And so our roundtrip has reached its first and final destination once again.


It is late afternoon, aka rush hour, when we arrive at Tokyo Station that seems busier than a bee hive. We lock our bags away in safety boxes there at the station, eager to be on our way to the Ueno Park, as I have spotted some pink flowers on the Instagram-geo tags of said park.
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Hoards of people are getting off at the same stop and in the nearby supermarket aisles long queues are forming amongst shelves emptying rapidly from beer and bento boxes. It seems we have finally hit the jackpot and are about to experience hanami in full throttle.

It is so interesting to see the Tokyoites, who are normally so proper, well-mannered and tidy finally let loose. It is nearing 6 o’clock in the evening and people are smashed off their faces. Rubbish everywhere. Cigarette butts and asahi cans. Workers have left their offices early and built long tables of cardboard boxes stacked next to one another forming long tables which they surround, passing around heaps of foods from nearby take away outlets. People sleep in the park under an open sky to secure a spot for their party the next day.

It is a bit like being at a party (full of teenagers) and not knowing a single person.
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I cannot help but to feel a little melancholic. Last time we were in Tokyo we had everything before us; the train journeys, the unexplored cities, the constant anticipation and waiting for the sakuras to let their buds burst into a beautiful blossom.

And now, on our way home. Everything blooms around us.


DSC_0256DSC_0263Next morning we* have decided to go to the Tsukiji Market. Which is essentially a giant fish market (you can imagine my great excitement, “we” in this case means = a mother wanting fresh sushi.)

A lot of tourist go there in the early morrow (like 2am for an event that starts at 5am-early!!) to ensure getting a spot at the fish auction, as they only let a certain amount of people in.
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Thankfully, we get to keep our beauty rest and even make (yet another) pit stop at the Ueno Park to glimpse the cherry trees once more. (Different light in the morning, duh!)
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After some sushi (where the waitress seemed very unpleased with me for only ordering veggie starters — good news for fellow veg munchers, as they are not considered “proper sushi”, they are so cheap!!) we walk over to the up-scale shopping district of Ginza.
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We only pass by the peculiar and impressive looking high end stores, I have a particular place in mind. Namely, itoya — or stationary heaven if you will!

There are two itoya stores just across the street from one another and one of them towers up 12 storeys. I take my time watching pens, note pads, washi tapes and hand made papers until mum taps my shoulder saying
“I’ll go wait outside, we’ve been in here for 2 hours.” Oops…
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As a last sakura excursion, we went to Aoyama Cemetery (because flowers + tombstones, you cannot deny that is the world’s most beautiful juxtaposition).

Oh, and taxis too apparently.
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On the bucket list we had watching the Tokyo skyline from above at dusk. Of course SkyView is closed on said evening. We quickly take the metro to the Metropolitan Government Buildings that offer a free tour up their observatory. Of course #2, the freebie comes with a queue that stretches around each and every corner and out on the parking lot…
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Whilst already in Shinjuku, we end up at Ain Soph Ripple again. Not realizing until we are right outside the door, it is the very same place we went on our first evening in Japan. The story comes to a full circle!

After downing one of their vegan cheese burgers each; we bring some mason jar tiramisu back to the airbnb, pack our bags and I stress out over not knowing where the fudge I will sleep the following night back in Aberdeen. #curseofthetimeoptimistic


This was part 7/7 and thus the last one of my Japan Photo Diary entires. The previous posts can be found below:

Jetlagged in a rainy Tokyo.
Livin la vida Ryokan & the 1st glimpse of Kyoto.
Bamboo groves, trendy coffees & hidden gems.
Neon lights & deers of might.
A historical hike & a last, lazy day in Kyoto.
The Lost in Translation One & Museum Hopping in Hakone.


Up next I am working on a full 14 day itinerary of the trip (something I found incredibly useful when planning ours!) and a survival guide for vegans in Japan.

Vegan at SAS | & the meat norm of in-flight meals.

bild 3SAS cater to a wide range of dietary requirements on their transatlantic and Asia bound flights. Give them 24 hours notice prior to departure to have a meal free from beef, gluten or even honey. Sounds pretty dreamy, eh?

One roll of bread and three types of condiments later

Now I don’t know if it was just as we were flying out of Copenhagen, a city that is generally quite – pardon my French – crap at providing vegan friendly food but thank goodness I had brought a whole bunch of snacks. What I was served on my near 11-hour flight between the Danish and Japanese capitals was rather ridiculous, particularly seeing as they do claim they cater to special diets and I have paid just as much for my ticket as fellow passengers in economy. Should I not receive the same amount of food?

It seemed all they had really done was to take the food items containing animal by-products and replace them with… jam. In different varieties. I mean, kudos for the effort of providing a poor vegan with the choice of different flavour jams but I am yet a little puzzled how exactly it will make my bread roll more filling? (My breakfast is pictured in photo above; while omni passengers were served filled baguettes, yoghurt with granola and a piece of frittata.)

The exaggerated meat norm should not board

And by no means is this a bash particularly aimed at SAS. (In fact, on my return flight from Tokyo the amount (and taste) of food was definitely improved.) In general it puzzles me how flight companies are thinking when planning their menus. The standard when it comes to in-flight meals on offer seems to be a choice between two. Meaning, as some people refrain from eating beef for a range of reasons, the alternative meal option will be something as far fetched as *drum roll* (or should I say drumstick) CHICKEN!

With a growing vegan population, and in regards to the fact that it is suitable for most religious- and dietary requirements, as well as just a more environmentally friendly way to eat — does it not make sense to provide a vegetable meal? Some grainy salads and for the bread roll opt brie for some tub of hummus. It is by no means original. But then again, neither is meat as an alternative to meat.


Until then, my dear special dieters – I reckon we are best off getting one of those bags Hermione carries in the deathly hallows and stuff it with snacks.

First two are outbound meals, third is return flight dinner from Tokyo.

Japan Photo Diary, Day 10-12: The Lost in Translation One & Museum Hopping in Hakone

Koya-San

I put so much effort into planning our route FROM Koyasan, that I seem to believe getting TO Koyasan sure cannot be that difficult. All I know is that we need to take three trains.

Of course, taking rural countryside trains are a bit more of a hassle than the metro that run every 5-or-so minutes with clear signs even foreign eyes can comprehend.
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After catching the first two departures alright, I seem to have a flick on the third and get us off one station too early. We end up seemingly in the Middle of Nowhere, or at least that is what I imagine this train stop would translate to in English. Getting off a station too early is not a big deal. Unless the next train will not arrive for another hour.

This one event seems to be the first in a long row of domino bricks of mistakes. To make a long story short: We leave Kyoto around 7am and arrive on top of Koyasan just after 4pm…
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Getting to Koyasan is a bit of an adventure on its own. (Like, without the extra detour to Nowhereland). For the final bits the train winds its way up the mountain, with its wall on one side and steep valleys on the other. At the final station, you catch a cable car to reach all the way to the top.
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Most people visiting Koyasan will stay in shukubo (aka temple lodgings).
As a) I do everything last minute and b) this is high season, we however spend the night at a capsule style backpackers called Koyasan Guest House Kokuu.

It has a design that brings chapels slash stables to mind along with the best English spoken staff encountered the entire trip. (One has even studied in Scotland and gets muy excited when hearing about me arriving from Granite City!)
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The biggest attraction is undoubtedly Oku-no-in — where the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi resides surrounded by circa 200’000 tombstones and monuments. Kobo Daishi was the founder of the Shingon Buddhism that Koyasan is a pilgrammage for; he was last seen in year 835 and according to legend he is to this day sat in meditation inside his mausoleum awaiting the arrival of Miroku (the Future Buddha).

It is a really atmospheric, almost eerie feel walking about the cemetery as the sun begins to descend. Despite knowing we are most certainly not alone as visitors of the mountain, it sure feels like it as you vanish into the large grounds.

You can also watch the monks do their morning chanting in the early am’s over at Okunoin, as we did the following morning. Brings me back to my week at Doi Suthep in 2014.
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Koyasan has recently gotten a new supermarket that stays open until late, but other than that everything closes early (like 5pm max). Which in this case means I did not have time to try out Shojin-Ryori — a traditional buddhist veggie (vegan actually) cuisine — typical for the region. Alas, the more reason to visit again!

On the bright side, it brings people inside and together — we spend the evening drinking copious amounts of tea at the hostel, chatting to fellow travellers about our Japan feels.

Hakone

DSC_0114DSC_0081Fresh out of the chanting, we hurry off to catch the cable car back down to the train station. With the disastrous logistic failures of the day past, we were on a roll. The perkiest bit was when I realised we could get off the shinkansen already in Odawara, instead of travelling all the way back to Tokyo to swap trains. Ha-le-lu!

It is still quite the bus trip to reach the top of the mountain though. Once we are checked in at our hotel Mount View, we head straight out and into Museum of the Little Prince just up the road. Which must be the most unpredictable of locations to find a museum dedicated to a French childrens tale?
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Apparently the founder was so fond of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s book that she felt a museum was in order. It is a full on experience, with a French style townscape and gallery of St Exupéry’s life doings. (Most of the accompaning captions with the works found in the latter are in either Japanese or French though… Of course I do not really mind just watching photos).
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Back at the hotel (it is so alien to me staying in a hotel that my fingers automatically add an extra s in there) we change into our yukatas to get into the groove. We head downstairs for dinner, then spend the remains of the evening in the public outdoors onsen.

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The following morning I dress up in my most museumy outfit and we take the bus to Hakone Open Air Museum. It is a very hot morning and thus the sun creates some really harsh shadows over the works unfortunately.
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Hakone turns out to be a right mekka for art museums – there seems to be something for every taste, at every other bus stop.

This makes me completely forget what we really came there for – to catch a glimpse of infamous Mount Fuji…
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Unfortunately the installation I am most keen to watch, The Symphonic Sculpture, is having maintenance work made on this very day (what are the odds?!) so there is no entry.

They do host an enchanting photography exhibition by Kishin Shinoyama – a series of portraits of fellow artists, including Yoko Ono, in their right element. That along with the vegan friendly sushi bar down the road makes it a pretty decent excursion anyway.


This was part 6/7 of my Japan Photo Diary, the previous entries can be found below:

Jetlagged in a rainy Tokyo.
Livin la vida Ryokan & the 1st glimpse of Kyoto.
Bamboo groves, trendy coffees & hidden gems.
Neon lights & deers of might.
A historical hike & a last, lazy day in Kyoto.

Why a Shawl is your best Travel Accessory.

Processed with VSCO with g3 presetWhenever going travelling I try to think what I can get maximum use out of, and those are the items that will end up in my packing, often leaving little to no space for accessories. But there is one that always gets to come along on different venturings. The Shawl.

What else can you squeeze into your backpack that takes up so little space, yet get so much use of? Hear me out:

1. Dry shampoo, who?

Whether the hostel you stay has shitty water pressure in the showers, you have to get up in the early am’s to catch a flight or is just a fellow member of the Lazy Gals Club™  — hair washing mightn’t sound so appealing. And this is why we wrap it up! The instant cover up of greasy hair. Dry shampoo, who?

2. Quick Cover up.

So ponder you are out for an evening stroll at your latest destination and by chance you pass by a majestic church or temple that you would just love to have a peek inside? In most places and cases it is considered inappropriate to enter with bare shoulders for instance. Luckily for you, a simple swirl of the scarf over your shoulders and you are good to go! Getting changed quicker than Superman in his phone booths.

3. Lighten up an outfit.

When packing for a shorter trip, I usually end up with an all black wardrobe of items easily mixed and matched between each other. A colourful scarf can easily lighten things up a little, plus you feel kinda fancy like you were on your way to the opera. (No, just me?)

4. Sun Protection.

Heading out for a trek? Protect your head from strong rays and  by wrapping it up in a turban. And don’t forget so bring some water with you!


What are your best useful travel accessories?

Japan Photo Diary, Day 8-9: A historical hike & a last, lazy day in Kyoto.

Magome – Tsumago

DSC_0840DSC_0841DSC_0847Saturday morning we take the train northbound once again, from Kyoto to Magome via Nagoya. Our aim is the 7.8 kilometre hike between Magome and Tsumago.
DSC_0849DSC_0852DSC_0858The hike is part of the old Nakasendo route. Nakasendo in turn used to be one of five highways during the Edo period, this particular one connecting Edo (present day Tokyo) to Kyoto.

Plenty of restoration work has been made to give the hike as an authentic feel as possible, with Magome and Tsumago being some of the most picturesque villages along the route.
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Although loads (like, literally) and loads of buses full of tourists are found at our Magome starting point we quickly descend from them.

Throughout the hike we only meet a dozen of other hikers, and an equal amount of warning bells ↓ to ring in order for the bears living in the surrounding areas to stray elsewhere at the sound.
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Passing waterfalls, tiny villages, a dog or two, bamboo groves, cemeteries and (lucikly) no bears- it is a really beautiful hike, and a perfect day trip away from the big cities.


Kyoto

Come Sunday, I am completely knackered from acting constant tour guide. The cold that had been harassing me with seemingly new symptoms ever since our long flight, seems to have finally given in and left. Possibly he felt I was not paying him enough attention.

(But what conditions for a cold though; subway stations with cross drafts, slushy snow, hours of hiking in damp socks, sun and clouds overlapping one another — I am so lucky it did not completely knock me off my feet, forcing me to spend the holiday in horizontal mode munching on penicillin rather than onigiris!)
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So we make our way into town after a little lie in, go for coffee at % arabica before the queues hit the shop and then sit outside the narrow alleyways of Gion, people watching under the sun, sipping our liquid joy.

Side note: let me just point out that the latte acting model in this photo above is mum’s dairy one; their soy drinks looked no better than what comes out of caffè nero.
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As the afternoon nears, we decide to go see a Geisha-performance at Kyo Odori. At this venue the shows are held annualy between the 1st and 3rd Sunday throughout April, luckily our visit coincides with the very first.

The show lasts circa an hour and we are not allowed to photograph. We are sat on the balcony in the very stuffy theatre. In combination with the loud music and my aching menstrual belly, it all feels a bit claustrophobic.
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For a late lunch we go to Kamisa — a little cafe and shop within a yoga studio. They offer set lunches from circa ¥1’000; the translations only say “brown rice lunch” or similar, but it does not really matter when the entire cafe is profiled vegan. It comes with soup, salads and soy meat.

From the café, we bring some freshly baked orange flavour muffin and coffee to enjoy down at the river along with fellow worshippers of the sun. Truth be told, the winds are way too cold for such activities but who ever learns.
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For our final Kyoto activity, we walk up to Ginkaku-ji (the silver pavillion) which is crowded now just before sunset. We skip the ¥400 entry fee because of this; as you can see an equally beautiful sunset from Kyoto Station free of charge.

As the spring is yet cold, we are all watching the cherry trees with great anticipation, hoping they will bloom soonest. So when you stumble over what is seemingly the town’s one early bloomer, expect a camera fest galore.
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Then we argue over sushi, go back to the airbnb to pack and check train time tables… Yet unknowing of the horrendous amount of mix ups I am to do regarding said time tables the following morning. Until then!


This was part 5/7 of my Japan Photo diary; the previous entries can be found below:

± Jetlagged in a rainy Tokyo.
± Livin la vida Ryokan & the 1st glimpse of Kyoto.
± Bamboo groves, trendy coffees & hidden gems.
± Neon lights & deers of might.

 

Japan Photo Diary, Day 7: Neon lights & deers of might.

Remember my post the other week from a rain covered Osaka? Well, here is the prologue leading up to that evening. Welcome to Friday and day seven of our Japan trip, an intense day travelling from temple sites to urban jungles.

Nara

DSC_0701DSC_0703We start off the morning touring Nara – Japan’s first ever permanent capital; today renowned for housing one of the world’s largest bronze statues and about 1200 deers who roam around the town as they please.
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The Bronze Statue in question is the near 15 metre tall Daibutsu (‘giant Buddha’). To give you an idea just how giant it is, one nostril measures about 50 centimetres(!). While we are on a number dropping spree, the statue is also kept in one of the world’s largest scale wooden buildings. Pretty impressive, hey?

Originally the creation was completely covered in gold leaf, making it a construction that brought Japan close to bankruptcy back in the 8th century.
DSC_0733DSC_0759The deer on the other hand were in pre-buddhist times believed to be messengers of the gods; a reputation they are still enjoying the benefits of as they wander around town; slowing down cars and chasing (particularly the children of) tourists that are unfortunate enough to carry food around.
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Nara is a fairly compact town, so we manage to do a loop around its main sights before the rain does so.

We have lunch at Kinatei; enjoying our warm meal with the dusky weather hovering outside, then place the first ever pins for “Umeå” on the owner’s map over her guests.

Osaka

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On impulse, we catch a train to Osaka rather than returning to Kyoto for the afternoon. I really had no expectations for this 3rd largest city of Japan (rather than it being a massive urban jungle), but boy am I glad that we went!
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After spending some time lost in one of the city’s many stylish-enormous-shopping complexes, we reluctantly head out to the rain and winds outside, trying to catch some sights of the town.
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We followed Lonely Planet’s “Sights of Minami”-city walk, covering about 2.2 kilometres of the city. First on the hit list was the Amerika-mura neighbourhood, which (as you may have guess from both name and photographs) translates to American Village. The name derives from shops that started to appear in the area after the second world war.

The general vibe is sort of futuristic and hip (I feel SO OLD whenever I attempt using the word hip?!), with many things to rest eyes upon; from murals to peculiar street lights and not to forget the miniature Statue of Liberty surveying it all from the rooftops.
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Continuing on, the map takes us down the Shinsaibashi-suji arcade – a market street that routes all the way down to the Dotombori-gawa canal and where you will encounter the bridge Ebisu-bashi.

Take a moment to stop on the bridge for photos of the glittering neon signs reflecting in the canal (well, on a clear day I imagine so) and look back at the crowds making their way down the market arcade.
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Finally, as we were walking down the infamous and buzzing Dotombori Street, I thought to myself

All that glitters is not gold.
Sometimes it is NEON
and that is a heck of a lot better!”

As mentioned, we end the evening at Le Coccole – the cherry atop this pleasant surprise-afternoon, before taking the train back to Kyoto; with drenched socks but with eyes and bellies very well-fed.


This was part 4/7 of my Japan Photo Diary, if you enjoyed this post you can find the previous parts below:

Jetlagged in a rainy Tokyo.
Livin la vida Ryokan & the 1st glimpse of Kyoto.
Bamboo groves, trendy coffees & hidden gems.