Arashiyama, in Kyoto's northwestern sector, is a high-traffic tourist spot year-round, but reaches its peak during autumn. What catalyses this are the yellow, red and orange maple leaves that grace temples, lanes and parks in November. Except that this year, unfortunately, they are still largely absent. Lingering warmth has meant the trees have not realised it is time to turn off their leaves' photosynthesis and deposit them on the ground. While this may not sound very romantic, it is the biochemical process that Arashiyama relies on for a fair chunk of its reputation.
When I went there on Sunday, there was little evidence of the usual general swell of colour in the valley forest; only in isolated pockets could one spot the trademark crimson hue. But much remains for the tourist even amid such unseasonably persistent verdure.
Many of Arashiyama's tourist shops offer free samples of their produce, such as this mouthful of seasoned fish fry, or sweets such as raw yatsuhashi （八橋）, a Kyoto speciality consisting of a rice-paste outer shell filled with seasonal items such as chestnut, or unseasonal ones such as strawberry. Perhaps most popular are those with a liquid chocolate centre. At one particular store, the generous women will offer you not only one or two yatsuhashi, but also a cup of seaweed tea to wash them down with.
Tofu is also prevalent, particularly on the main street -- you can get tiny tofu donuts, and tofu soft-serve ice cream in flavours such as green tea, sesame and purple sweet potato.
Other area specialities are goods made of bamboo, and pottery. You can glaze your own piece at this store.
In my next posting, I'll look at the cultural and historical riches lurking round every bamboo-lined lane in Arashiyama.
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Monday, November 06, 2006
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