Wagashi of the Month: Minazuki

Here comes June again –  the month of Minazuki, June in the lunar calendar, and the month for Minazuki, a confection. One of my colleagues brought the latter Minazuki from Gionmanju in Kyoto for me, so once again I am posting this Wagashi.

 

Wagashi of the Month: June last year

 

Kyoto Trip in Minazuki Day 1  from my post last year:

 

Kyoto Trip in Minazuki Day 2 and Minazuki sweets from my post last year:

 

 

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Kyoto Trip 2014 – Day 2

Itinerary – 2nd day (30th June 2014):

Central Kyoto – Shugakuin Imperial Villa – Kamigamo Shrine – Tenyu – Kamesuehiro – JR Kyoto Station – Tokyo

Unlike the rainy first day in Kyoto, the following day was bright and clear. Lucky enough to have such a lovely day as I was suppose to visit Shugakuin Imperial Villa with breathtaking beauty and great masterpieces of Japanese gardening.

The Shugakuin Imerial Villa (Shugakuin Rikyu), built in the mid 17th century for retired Emperor Gomizuno, is a set of gardens and outbuildings (mostly tea-houses) in the hills of the eastern suburbs of Kyoto. It consists of the Upper, Middle and Lower Villa areas, each featuring gardens and buildings of the traditional imperial style.

 

Fusuma sliding doors of Jugetsu-kan, the Lower Villa building where Gomizuno would rest before going on to the Upper Villa.
Cedar wood sliding doors depicting the Gion Festival, Kyoto’s most well known festival in July (Middle Villa)
Regarded as one of the ‘three most treasured shelves’ in Japan (Middle Villa)
on the way to the Upper Villa
Upper Villa

shugakuin 3

shugakuin 2

The Shugakuin Imperial Villa is only accessible through guided tours, which require advanced booking because it is one of the Imperial properties and under supervision of the Imperial Household Agency (Click for the application).

For more information:
http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3936.html
http://www.japanvisitor.com/japanese-culture/shugakuin-villa

Kamigamo Jinja (Shito shrine)

After Shugakuin Rikyu, caught a taxi and hurried to Kamigamo Shrine (Kamigamo Jinja), one of the oldest Shinto shrines in Kyoto and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, for Nagoshi no Harae, an ancient Japanese summer purification rite which many shrines conduct on the 30th of June. In this religious ceremony, of which origin goes back to the Nara period (AD 710 -794), people atone for their sins in the first half of the year and then pray for their health for the remainder of the year by walking through a tall chinowa wreath (a large sacred ring made of loosely twisted miscanthus reeds called chigaya).

Shinto priests

Unfortunately, I couldn’t reach the shrine in time for the rite – well, I knew I couldn’t make it after the Shugakuin Rikyu guided tour, but anyway, I followed the worshipers: walked through the chinowa wreath three times  in a 8 shaped like form (1. counterclockwise, 2. clockwise and then 3. counterclockwise) praying ‘Purification Prayer’ to purify myself from misdeeds (tsumi), impurities (kegare), and misfortune, and wished for good health for my family and for myself.

Chinowa

Below are Nagoshi no Harae – Summer Purification – rituals:

evening ritual

The 30th of June is the day of Oharae or Oharai (Grand Purification), purifying sins and bad lucks not only for an individual but also for the public and the country. This Shinto ritual is held twice a year: on the 30th of June and the 30th of December (Toshikoshi no Harae). On the day of Oharae in June, people in Kyoto eat Minazuki (as for Minazuki, read my Wagashi of the Month).

Minazuki

It is said that the triangular shape and Azuki bean, especially its red colour, guard people against evil spirits and protect against misfortune and illness. Minazuki is also believed to expel any negative actions of the first half of the year like the ritual. That is the reason why they eat Minazuki at the halfway mark in the year, praying for a good second half.

Nowadays, you can buy the confectionery anywhere in Japan, but I wanted to try authentic one, so I tried Kamesuehiro (est. 1804),  one of the most famous traditional confectioneries in Kyoto. Unlike others (very exclusive! – ‘Ichigen-san, okotowari’ which means ‘New customer/first-time customer/chance customer, no admittance’ is common among long established restaurants, tea-houses, confectioneries etc. in Kyoto), Kamesuehiro is exceptionally customer-friendly. I recommend, however, you should make an appointment and place an order in advance as people do with other long established confectioneries, esp. when you purchase a seasonal speciality like Minazuki.

Minazuki
Minazuki from Kamesuehiro

Also bought a small box of Kyo no Yosuga with higashi (dried sweets) and hannamagashi (half-raw sweets). Kyo no Yosuga is ideal for gifts (Click for more info).

Kyo no Yosuga: the sweets represent seasonal feature of Minazuki, or June: e.g. blue one with a green leaf — hydrangea; pink (dianthus) etc.

Hang on, what about lunch? The foodie is highly organised when it comes to food 😀
I had already ordered a bento lunch box to takeaway as well as Minazuki. I can’t afford to stay and dine at Tawaraya Ryokan, one of the best ryokan inns in Kyoto, but I can afford a box from the tempra restaurant Tawaraya runs! So I made a phone call to Tenyu (Reviews on Tripadvisor and photos of their dishes and obento boxes).  Tenyu offers a bento box of the month as the photo shows below: for June, Ayu Gohan bento box – fishing season of ayu, or sweetfish starts in June and the fish is one of the most popular ingredients of Kyo Ryori, or Kyoto Cuisine.

 

Fully enjoyed Minazuki, June in archaic word, in Kyoto, and the bento on a Shinkansen bullet train back to Tokyo :-9

 

 

 

 

Kyoto Trip 2014 – Day 1

I paid a quick visit to Kyoto in June 2014: a two-day trip from Tokyo in the rainy season.

Itinerary – 1st day (29th June 2014):

Tokyo – JR Kyoto Station – Lunch at Daiichi Asahi – Yogenin Temple – Byodoin Temple – Dinner at Ishikawa – Drink at Oku

Headed to Kyoto Takabashi Honke Daiichiasahi for Ramen as soon as I hopped off a Shinkansen bullet train. Just a five minute walk from Kyoto Station, and I found some people were queuing up. Waited for 15 minutes or so, but worth the wait! Reviews on Tripadvisor

 

Ramen @ Daiichiasahi – with extra Kujo-negi scallion topping

 

Then, went to Yogenin Temple, which is famous for its blood soaked ceiling:

The ceiling above the corridor of the main hall is well known for the “blood ceiling”. At the Battle of Fushimi Castle in 1600, Mototada Torii and his subordinates, ordered to defend the Castle by Ieyasu Tokugawa (1st Shogun in Edo period), were defeated and killed themselves. The floorboards stained with their blood were brought to the temple to pray for those departed souls.

You might think it’s creepy, but Yogenin is one of the most historically interesting temples in Kyoto. It’s worthwhile visiting if you are interested in Toyotomi and Tokugawa Clans (click for more details).

 

 

After Yogenin, took a train down to Uji to see Byodoin Temple, one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites. ‘Byodoin Temple is a striking example of Buddhist Pure Land (Jodo) architecture. Together with its garden, the temple represents the Pure Land Paradise and was influential on later temple construction. Byodoin was initially built in 998 as a countryside retreat villa for the powerful politician Fujiwara no Michinaga, not as a temple.’ (ref: japan-guide.com)

You cannot miss the interior of Amida Hall, or the Phoenix Hall, ‘built with the sole purpose of housing the Amida Buddha image. It has three wings, creating an image of the mythical bird of China, the phoenix. The central hall is flanked by twin wing corridors on both sides, plus a “tail” corridor. The roof of the hall is surmounted by bronze phoenixes.’ (ref: sacred-destination.com)

The hall accepts up to 50 visitors at a time, and each tour is limited to 20 minutes. Check with the admission and times when visit.

Byodoin in rain — If you happen to have a 10 yen coin on you, you might want to contrast and compare.
Cleared up!
Byodoin in reflection

 

If you visit Uji in June or July and have a plenty of time there, try Mimurotoji Tempe for beautifully bloomed hydrangeas and lotus flowers. I was going to stop by, but stuck in the temple because of heavy rain and couldn’t have enough time to make it….

 

Hydrangeas @ Mimurotoji

 

Headed back to Central Kyoto to book in a hotel, and went out for Obanzai dinner. Obanzai is:

the traditional home style cooking of Kyoto. It is made up of multiple small dishes that are usually quite simple to prepare. Local produce that is in season is best suited for the dishes. Although the cooking methods are usually not complicated, obanzai dishes can be made very rich by chefs skillfully bringing out the natural flavors of the ingredients.

Restaurants that serve obanzai ryori can be found all over Kyoto. Many of them have a relaxed and friendly atmosphere that reflects the home style of cooking. A full meal usually costs 2000 to 3000 yen, but can vary depending on the number and type of dishes ordered.   (ref: Kyoto Food Guide)

Enjoyed Obanzai a lot at Okazuya Ishikawa.  Reviews on TripAdvisor

 

After Obanzai dinner, chilled out at Bar Oku with a dram of Scotch.  Review on TripAdvisor

 

Alternative Obanzai restaurants:

Menami
My favourite Obanzai place –  I used to be a Menami-goer when lived in Kansai. Nama Yuba Harumaki, or Yuba (Tofu skin) Spring Rolls, and Renkon Manju, or Lotus Root Dumpling, are highly recommended! Loved to go back again, but it’s closed on Sundays. Reviews on Tripadvisor

 

Aji Rokkon
Tried 3 years ago and liked it very much. Reviews on Tripadvisor