Category Archives: Food

Zenbu Zen Winter Tour of Kyoto January 2016 with Food Writer Jane Lawson

zenbu zenIn December 2010, food writer and photographer Jane Lawson, escaped her overworked and stressed out life as a publisher and ran away to her dream city: Kyoto. Here she spent five months exploring Kyoto culture, particularly Kyoto food culture, and wrote a book to record that exploration. Zenbu Zen is part memoir, part cookbook, and part pictorial tribute to the city she loves: a beautiful book to look at and an excellent primer for the study of Japanese cuisine. But the story doesn’t end there, for Jane has continued her love affair with this city and each year hosts expert culinary and cultural tours of the ancient capital. Here’s Jane to tell us more…

Thinking about travelling to Kyoto but don’t want to do it on your own? Do you lean towards an intimate, connected travel experience over larger in-personal group travel? If so, this in-depth Kyoto tour hosted by food and travel writer Jane Lawson, author of Zenbu Zen – Finding Food, Culture and Balance in Kyoto has just 4 spots ( of 8) left!

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Winter Cuisine & Culture Tour of Kyoto

12 days/11 nights

9 -20 January 2016

AUD $10, 199 p/p or $9799 p/p twin share

(maximum of 8 places available)

Jane says, “We’ll spend our days soaking in the serene atmosphere of Kyoto, the country’s cultural and historical heart, returning each night to the luxurious Kyoto Hyatt Regency Hotel – an appropriate base for witnessing the best of this city’s omotenashi (hospitality).

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This is an in-depth experience for like-minded folk who appreciate the finer things in life – great food, sake and laughter. Meet creative and talented locals, visit quiet temples, shrines and gardens. Shop for artisan ceramics, antiques or stunning contemporary home-wares. Float around galleries and museums. Sample your way through this spectacular cuisine in some of Jane’s favourite restaurants and take time out to relax or explore on your own. We’ll also day trip to wonderful Kanazawa, the ancient city of Nara and vibrant Osaka.’

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Blissful Kyoto, encircled by snow-capped mountains is the perfect place to relax and recharge for those who appreciate aesthetics, culture and peace. Magical vistas, alpine air, seasonal delicacies and the opportunity to wander minus the crowds of spring and autumn. Experience the beauty in simplicity and be nurtured and inspired by this mystical city of layered textures.”

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Click the link for more details!

All images courtesy of Jane Lawson.

Gods, Monks, Secrets, Fish – An Extract from Deep Kyoto Walks by John Ashburne

Today John Ashburne takes us on a mouth-watering tour of Nishikikōji market and along the way adds a sprinkling of zen spice from the Buddhist teacher Dōgen Zenji…

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Maintain an attitude that tries to build great temples from ordinary greens, that expounds the buddhadharma through the most trivial activity, handle even a single leaf of a green in such a way that it manifests the body of the Buddha. This in turn allows the Buddha to manifest through the leaf.

Two and a half decades ago, I would have read the above, and dismissed it out of hand. Buddhist transubstantiation? Temples made of lettuce! Bah humbug! I would have snorted. Not anymore. When the missus announced the other day “If a person is unhappy inside, you’ll taste it in their food”, I just nodded in silent agreement. Reverence. Awareness. Cooking as meditation. Sounds good to me. And I reckon if Dōgen had lit out for Venice Beach, he’d have made a killing.

Whilst you’re in Kyoto, you should push the boat out once and eat at one of the great restaurants. Sakurada is one of the best. Here’s a tip. Reserve a table for lunch. It’s the same with all the ryōtei, you still get the fabulous cuisine they serve in the evenings, just at a third of the price.

Head up Karasuma, across the busy Karasuma-Shijō crossing, until you reach Nishikikōji-dōri and turn right. Head past the Christian off-license advertising ‘Wine for Mass’ and Trappist Butter, and where the proprietors never, ever smile. If you’re hungry but the budget doesn’t stretch to Sakurada, try Eitarō, the noodle shop underneath Irish Pub Field. Their yuzu ramen with Japanese citron is excellent, especially on a cold winter’s day when the aromatic fruit are at their freshest. Or you can just wait till you hit the market. We’re nearly there now.

As you enter Nishiki from the Western entrance, notice the fabulous paintings of cockerels by the market’s most famous son, Itō Jakuchū who ran his father’s grocery, Masuya, before becoming one of the Edo period’s most celebrated artists. Jakuchū’s ‘Colourful Realm of Living Beings’ is a masterful collection of paintings of the very highest level, and it always puzzles me that he hasn’t achieved the fame in the West accorded to the likes of Utamaro and Hiroshige. I’d put him up there with the Old Masters. Not bad for a grocer’s lad from Kyoto.

Known nationwide as Kyō no Daidokoro, ‘Kyoto’s Kitchen’, the Nishiki market has existed here since the 17th century. Back in the day, the market specialized in footwear for samurai, and was known as Gusoku-no-kōji, ‘army footwear alley’, but the locals abbreviated it to Kuso-no-kōji, the rather less flattering ‘shit alley’. Its current name – Silk Brocade Street – was bestowed upon it by Emperor Go-Reizai, in 1054, and the market has been pandering to Imperial appetites, and basking in the approval of the upper class and the wealthy, ever since. And rightly so. Nishiki rocks.

The market is in fact a long, narrow, covered arcade, the 130 or so stores facing each other across a paved walkway of ishidatami ‘stone mats’. As you enter Nishiki from Takakura-dōri the smell of charcoal and roasting shellfish draws you immediately to a perennial favourite, Daiyasu.

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Nishiki Market View

‘Daiyasu-san’, the old man hauling oysters from a crate, greets me with a warm smile. “This foreigner knows his Japanese food, all right” he tells two young Japanese tourists. They look more bemused than impressed. The phrase Daiyasu-san uses is washoku no tsu, washoku meaning Japanese cuisine, and tsu a cross between gourmet and expert, but not at all snotty unless you use it of yourself. I wish we had a word like that in English. I can’t stand the self-congratulatory element of ‘foodie’, and ’maven’ sounds like a witch. ‘Gourmet’ too posh. I reply with sono koto nai, the diffident denial expected on such occasions, but secretly I feel pretty chuffed.

Those of us long enough in the tooth remember when Daiyasu was just a regular, unassuming fishmonger. Now it’s turned into a fish shop-cum-izakaya, the in-place to eat fresh magaki oysters from Toba, Mie Prefecture, oasari giant venus clams from Aichi, fresh hotate scallops and sazae turbo. The latter are cooked in the tsuboyaki style, ie roasted in the shell directly over a flame. Watch out for their super bitter wata intestines and reproductive organs, the Japanese gourmet’s delight and very much an acquired taste. As a good friend succinctly put it, “Like a shit bomb going off in your mouth”. When I reported this to another mate, he replied “Well actually, in gastropods, the anus is located on the head”. For once, I didn’t know what to say.

At Daiyasu I usually content myself with Toba’s finest, and a cold beer. “Shellfish are the prime cause of the decline of morals and the adaptation of an extravagant lifestyle” harrumphed Pliny the Elder, clearly not a fan. Jonathan Swift deemed oysters cruel and uncharitable. Not these, they are superb.

Text by John Ashburne. Daiyasu photograph by Michael Lambe. Nishiki Market View by John Ashburne. To read the rest of John stroll through Nishiki Market download Deep Kyoto: Walks here: LINK.

DeepKyoto-cover-0423-finalAbout Deep Kyoto: Walks

Deep Kyoto: Walks is an independently produced anthology of meditative strolls, rambles, hikes and ambles around Japan’s ancient capital. All of the writers and artists involved in this project have lived and worked in Kyoto for many years and know it intimately. The book is in part a literary tribute to the city that they love and in part a tribute to the art of walking for its own sake.

John ASHBURNE for Canon 1About John Ashburne
John writes on Japan, and in particular on its Food Culture, for a host of publications including the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, the Japan Times, etc. He is guest editor for the Fall 2014 Kyoto Journal special issue, ‘Food’. He has lived in Japan for 27 years, and calls Kyoto home. His hobby is extracting ‘dashi’ from a variety of seaweeds, fishes and certain mystical mushrooms that you’ll only find growing half way up a mountain in Gunma.

John blogs at
See also:
Meet the Authors
Meet the Artists
An Exclusive Extract from Judith Clancy’s Walk
Old School Gaijin Kyoto – An Excerpt from Deep Kyoto Walks by Chris Rowthorn
Ghosts, Monkeys & Other Neighbours – An Excerpt by Bridget Scott
Blue Sky – An Excerpt by Stephen Henry Gill
Across Purple Fields – A Reading by Ted Taylor (VIDEO)
Kamogawa Musing – An Excerpt from Deep Kyoto Walks by John Dougill

A Call for Submissions for Kyoto Journal 82 – the Food Issue

John Ashburne
, who has written an excellent piece on walking the Nishiki food market for our Deep Kyoto: Walks book, will be guest editing the long-awaited FOOD issue of Kyoto Journal. This from his blog:

…Few remain silent on Food. And why would one? What a natural topic for discussion, discourse, eulogy, outrage, comedy, reflection, prayer, ire, poetry, love. Food defies time. It exists in the memory and the here and now. It is simultaneously universal and particular, literal and metaphoric, indelibly bound with meaning on an infinite variety of levels. Yet let’s not forget, it is also life-affirming, edible, incredible fun, a celebration of life itself. And so many of its greatest exponents and proponents live here in Asia.

For all of the above reasons, we look forward with great anticipation to Kyoto Journal’s 82nd issue, due out in winter 2014 — our long-awaited special on Food. We seek tales, observations, musings: a sumptuous buffet of interesting, unusual ideas on Asian-related food and food lore. Coffee-table tomes already exist on everything from kaiseki menu planning to dining preferences amongst the headhunters of Borneo …so we are not looking for more of the same, including recipes or restaurant reviews. What we arehoping for is a balance of the personal and the profound, articles that mix wit, gravitas, novelty and spontaneity that will surprise and delight even the most jaded reader’s palate. Let us know what you’d like to cook up for what will surely be a memorable KJ feast! (Link to full article)

—KJ 82 Guest Editor, John Ashburne


About John Ashburne:
John A
John writes on Japan, and in particular on its Food Culture, for a host of publications including the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, the Japan Times, etc. He is guest editor for the Winter 2014 Kyoto Journal special issue, ‘Food’. He has lived in Japan for 27 years, and calls Kyoto home. His hobby is extracting ‘dashi’ from a variety of seaweeds, fishes and certain mystical mushrooms that you’ll only find growing half way up a mountain in Gunma.

John is also a Deep Kyoto Walker.

To learn more please visit John Ashburne’s blog:

Kyoto Fish Market Tour

fishyKyoto International Community House (“kokoka”) have organized a free tour of Kyoto Central Wholesale Market for Saturday May 10th. What they don’t mention is that the market is open to the public, every second Saturday of the month, 12 months of the year and worth a visit with or without a guide. It’s not quite on the league of Tokyo’s Tsukiji of course, but an interesting place to visit nonetheless and the seafood is extremely cheap. Mewby and I picked up a huge bag of mussels there on our last visit at a very reasonable price.

Anyway, here are the details of the free tour if you would like some expert guidance to all the fish varieties on offer:
planIf interested in this tour then please apply at this link:


Support Maki Shoten!

Maki window
Charles Roche writes,

I have a favor to ask.
For many years Maki Shoten was the imported food lifeline for the expat community in Kyoto. We would certainly have survived the holidays without turkeys and mince meat and cheeses and honey and candy canes, but without the smile. Today, with large import shops in more convenient locations Maki is being forgotten. That’s a shame.

Mr. Maki

Mr. Maki

The favor:
Please remember Maki’s. Stop in (after lunch at Didi’s) and pick up a few things (best herb and spice selection I know of).

Help a Kyoto landmark…for old times sake.

Thank you Charles!

Maki signMaki Shoten is a little shop brimful of goodies on the east side of Higashioji Dori, just south of the Eiden Mototanaka railway crossing. Among their copious food supplies they have a very impressive cereal selection and apparently, the cheapest cheese in Japan.
Open every day but Wednesday 10:00 ~ 22:00
Tel: 075-781-3670

Papa Jon’s Honten

On Saturday we took a stroll up to the Shimpukan, intending to grab a bite to eat at Papa Jon’s Eatery. Unfortunately for us, they were hosting a wedding party. However, very fortunately for us, we bumped into Charles Roche (the owner) on his way out, and he offered us a lift up to the 本店. Nice chap, isn’t he?

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I’d noticed this place on the way to events at Impact Hub but never been it. Much smaller and cosier than the Eatery, it’s a good spot for lunch if you happen to be up near Imadegawa station. I enjoyed my fritatta – an Italian dish mid-way between a quiche and an omlette.

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And Mewby really enjoyed her chicken, potato and coconut curry. She was very impressed with how well it went with couscous!

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After that we were quite satisfied, but being greedy ordered some of their famous cheesecake to take home. You can’t go to Papa Jon’s and not have cheesecake! Can you guess which we chose?

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I had the raspberry and Mewby had rum raisin. Absolutely delicious! Thank you for the lift Charles!

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Papa Jon’s have stores in the following locations. Click the links for maps!

Papa Jon’s Honten (Imadegawa)
Papa Jon’s Eatery (Shimpukan)
Papa Jon’s on Kitayama
Papa Jon’s at Shugakuin

Cooks4Cooks Charity Party at Tadg’s Sunday 15th December 2013


A special Xmas charity party in aid of friends in West Bengal, India
All Welcome!!!!!!
but please bring baked goods to sell!!
Join us on Sunday 15 December 2013
at Tadg’s Irish Restaurant & Bar
1.00 pm ~ 6.00 pm
(visit: for directions) Continue reading

Strolling down Kyoto’s Nishiki Food Market


Chestnuts on sale at Nishiki Market

Nishiki Market is an essential sight-seeing spot for food lovers visiting Kyoto. This 400 year-old market extends for 400 meters between Teramachi and Takakura and has the reputation of being a place where you can find anything! Almost everything here is locally produced and reasonably priced. Filled with all kinds of colorful sights, unusual smells and the cries of the market traders this is a lively location and a favorite haunt of photographers! Here below are some photographs, videos and spherical images from our own stroll down Nishiki. Continue reading