During the five days with my parents in Japan, I wanted to pick one meal and splurge. I was looking for good food and a Japanese experience. Eventually, I decided on sukiyaki at Moritaya’s Kiyamachi branch — Kansai region style of sukiyaki with kuroge wagyu beef, a tatami-floored private dining room, and a view of the Kamogawa River. It was a fantastic lunch that everyone fully enjoyed. The surrounding area is fun to walk around. I definitely recommend this place for a Kyoto trip.
跟爸媽在日本關西的這五天，想安排一餐奢侈一下，要美食又要日式風格 (又吃不起米其林星星京料理)，最後選了森田屋木屋町店的壽喜燒 — 關西風格壽喜燒、和式榻塌米包廂、窗外正對鴨川，全家都非常滿意，這一帶又很好逛，很容易排進行程。
On our last day in Kyoto, we took a nice stroll at a serene temple with colorful flags and beautiful fall foliage, went back to the townhouse we rented to pack, scheduled a delivery service for our luggage to get to the Kyoto Station, checked out by phone, and started the rest of the day worry-free. (Check out the townhouse we stayed in.)
To kill some time before our lunch reservation, I came up with an interesting short stop — Honnō-ji Temple (本能寺). This temple was known for a coup that marked an important transfer of power in the 16th century.
離午餐時間還早，我找了個短小有趣的行程 — 本能寺，本能寺之所以出名是因為織田信長，織田信長從聲勢如日中天準備統一日本到消失在歷史就發生在京都本能寺，劃下日本戰國時代重要的權力轉移。
We took a bus to the Sanjo area and started walking. To our pleasant surprise, we accidentally ran into the mall “Times” designed by the famous architect Tadao Ando!
If you have clicked on other posts about Japan in my blog, you might have read that I ate at a restaurant founded in 1540 and got its name from a famed warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi; and I visited a much less traveled temple that Toyotomi Hideyoshi built in memory of his son and his rival Tokugawa Ieyasu took that from him and gifted it to someone else.
Well, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Tokugawa Ieyasu, and Oda Nobunaga are the trio of Japan’s “game of thrones” period that lasted from 1467 to 1603 (the Sengoku period). Individually, these three men nearly or actually unified Japan. This temple, Honnō-ji, was about the end of Oda Nobunaga.
從西元1467年 to 1603年是日本Game of Thrones時代，織田信長、豐臣秀吉、德川家康號稱日本戰國三雄，分別統一或差點統一了群雄割據的日本，本能寺是織田信長被叛變而自殺的地方。
Oda Nobunaga (織田信長) was a powerful warlord who acted as the leader of Japan from 1568 to 1582. He overthrew the previous feudal military dictatorship and conquered most of Japan.
In 1582, Nobunaga was getting close to the last steps of unifying Japan. Most of his samurai generals were all over the place, preoccupied with conquering remaining areas that were not under Nobunaga’s firm control. He ordered his samurai general Akechi Mitsuhide to aid another general with a skirmish. Nobunaga also led a small crew of bodyguards and servants to head the same way. While traveling, he decided to spend a night at his usual stop Honnō-ji.
This general Mitsuhide pretended to follow Nobunaga’s order and marched through Kyoto with an army of some 13,000 soldiers. Before dawn, he announced to the troops “the enemy awaits at Honnō-ji!” (敵は本能寺にあり)
The general’s treachery led to a successful military coup. The army surrounded the temple. Nobunaga understood that it was futile to resist. He committed suicide at the Honnō-ji.
This coup is known as the Honnō-ji incident (本能寺の変).
This general staged a successful coup but didn’t get all of his ducks in a row to take the throne. Upon receiving the news, Toyotomi Hideyoshi negotiated a truce with whoever he was fighting against and marched 120 miles in seven days back to fight the traitor. Thirteen days after the coup, the traitor was defeated by Toyotomi Hideyoshi and later died. Toyotomi rose to power. There are so many conspiracy theories about why this general staged the coup. I don’t know much about Japanese history to say which one is more believable.
Some say the temple housed lots of explosives so it was burned to the ground during the conflict. Some say those who conspired together deliberately torched the temple to the ground and relocated Honnō-ji to a new site to bury any evidence there might have been.
Either way, the Honnō-ji we see near Sanjo is the new site. It is not the original temple where Nobunaga committed suicide.
Four hundred year later in 2017, a beverage company got the descendants of warlord Oda Nobunaga and the traitor general Akechi Mitsuhide together for an advertisement campaign for its green tea! The 17th generation of the Oda family is a figure skating competitor. The descendant of the general is Chris Peppler, a Japanese-American radio personality. (Chris Peppler’s tweet of him wearing a kimono for the tea event.)
After this short detour, we walked towards Moritaya’s Kiyamachi branch for our highly anticipated lunch.
Lunch was sukiyaki. Sukiyaki is a Japanese dish that is prepared by cooking meat (typically thinly sliced beef), vegetables, and other ingredients in a shallow iron pot at the table in a mixture of soy sauce, sugar, and mirin. After the ingredients are cooked, you dip your food in mixed raw egg and eat it.
Sukiyaki is prepared differently in Kansai or Kinki region (関西) versus Kantō region. Kansai region is the southern-central region of Japan’s main island Honshū that includes Kyoto and Osaka. Kanto region includes Toyko. The biggest difference is that Kanto style sukiyaki simmers ingredients in a broth of soy sauce, sugar, and mirin; Kansai style sukiyaki adds sugar to the hot cast iron pot before they pour a minimal amount of sauce in the pot. The caramelization adds flavor to the food.
I picked one of the most famous Kansai style sukiyaki restaurant, Moritaya (モリタ屋). This restaurant was founded in 1869 as one of the first beef specialty restaurants in Kyoto. Moritaya runs its own farm in the Tanba region of northern Kyoto to raise quality Japanese black cattle for kuroge wagyu.
It operates five locations in Japan. I chose the Kiyamachi (木屋町) location because this restaurant has private dining rooms with tatami floors and a view of the Kamogawa River!
The entrance of this restaurant was easy to miss. You want to enter this narrow hall way in between two storefronts to get to the front door of the restaurant.
我選了關西風格的壽喜燒森田屋 (モリタ屋 / Moritaya)，森田屋是明治年間西元1869年創立的京都首家專賣牛肉餐廳，森田屋有自家經營的牧場，在京都北邊的丹波，養丹波黑毛和牛。森田屋在日本有五家餐廳，我選了木屋町店，因為有和式的包廂，又可以看到鴨川。
The staff was extremely friendly. You will need to take off your shoes and change into slippers because of the tatami floors. The hosting staff even remembered what shoes we wore! When we were leaving, upon seeing the first person in our group, the host grabbed all five pairs of our shoes and neatly laid them out at the door.
We reserved a private dining room that faced the river. The restaurant does not take special request but would note it.
The serving staff came in to take our orders. They also prepare food at the table for you.
The beef can prepared in one of the four styles: sukiyaki, shabushabu (like a hot pot), oiru-yaki or steak. Moritaya offered four tiers of sets. The differences were the quality of wagyu beef and side dishes.
We ordered four sets of sukiyaki, three of the cheapest tier and one of the meddle tier. I didn’t think Aaron would eat raw eggs so I ordered him a oiru-yaki. All meal sets came with an appetizer, tea, main dish, and seasonal fruits.
From the picture below, you can clearly see the difference between the cheapest and the one level up cut of beef. More money means more evenly distributed beautiful marble pattern of fat. And we surely tasted the difference. It was worth spending the extra money to try the higher quality wagyu beef.
The beef for sukiyaki was thinly sliced. Oiruyaki came with small pieces of steak.
Then the show started. Aaron’s grill was much less eventful, and yet the server certainly treated all the ingredients with care. His dipping sauce was a mixture of ground daikon and ginger topped with probably seven spice and what seemed like a Japanese light soy sauce.
Our sukiyaki was much more exciting. The waitress started with coating the cast iron pot with beef fat. She then spread a thin layer of sugar on the pot. She cooked the beef and then drizzled some soy sauce and mirin mixture in the pot. The heated sugar and soy sauce quickly caramelized. Then she reached for our individual bowls of egg mixture and placed one slice of beef for each person in our own bowl.
She made the fancier beef for the first round. It was melt in your mouth quality! So smooth and tender!
Aaron normally hates eggs, not to mention raw egg. This sukiyaki was so good that he in fact loved my raw egg covered beef more than his steak.
After one round of meat, the waitress put all the meat, green onion, onion, burdock, tofu, and konjac noodles in the iron pot to cook in a thin layer of sauce.
We asked, and the waitress was able to tell us the origins in Japan where each vegetable was harvested. My favorite was the almost leek size green onion. It was so flavorful and sweet! My second favorite was the edible burdock. I don’t know what people call it in English: lappa, greater burdock, edible burdock… It’s the root of some plant in the sunflower family and it’s very common in Japan and Taiwan.
The meal was served with rice and hōjicha, oven roasted Japanese green tea. It also comes with different kinds of pickled veggies because pickled food is what Kyoto is known for. The pile at the upper rights corner is dried fish. One of the traditional dish in Kyoto is chirimen sansho — dried whitebaits with Japanese pepper, which tasted like capers to me. I realized I didn’t like the darker color miso in the Kansai region.
A tip that lots of people don’t know about: towards the end of the meal, when you no longer have any grilled ingredients to dip in the egg, lots of Japanese people would pour the remaining egg mixture in the bowl to the bowl of rice, stir it up, and eat the rest of the rice and egg that way. It’s worth a try. I liked it.
Lunch is cheaper than dinner. Lunch sets range from 4,800 to 7,500 yen. Dinner sets range from 5,300 to 7,800 yen with a premium set that costs 10,000 yen.
This branch has traditional tatami private dining rooms. (Click to see some of the seating situation at this riverside branch.) In summer, Moritaya’s Kiyamachi branch offers “kawayuka” (納涼床) style seating — outdoors tables on an elevated terrace near or over the river. The downside is that this location takes reservation only over the phone.
Another restaurant for fancy sukiyaki is Mishima-tei (三鳩亭). I didn’t get to try both so can’t tell you which is better.
Like many stores, Moritaya set a neatly shaped pile of salt outside at the front door. It’s for good luck and good business. There are two explanations for this practice. Number one: salt can purify. Setting a pile of salt at the door can ward off evil spirits and offset negative energy. The second one: Legend has it that there was a Chinese emperor who visited a red light district on a carriage. A hooker set outside some salt. The oxen stopped to lick the salt, and the hooker got the business. Today, businesses leave salt beside the door to attract customers.
Right next to the sukiyaki place on your left is a famous Japanese sweet treats shop.
There’s a lot to do in this area: the Teramachi (寺町通) and Shinkyogoku (新京極通) shopping streets, the Shijō Kawaramachi shopping district, and the Nishiki Market are all within walking distance.
We got a single order of this cinnamon-y yam sweet treat from 小松屋, saw a cool store that sells firefighter-branded clothing and bought a souvenir for our volunteer firefighter friend, and walked around a traditional stationary shop Kyukyodo (鳩居堂).
Then we strolled along the Takase River which used to be a canal. Before railroad transportation became common, the economy heavily relied on this canal for about three centuries. The walk along this river is a great cherry blossom viewing spot in the spring.
Our afternoon break took place at a unique coffee shop — Traveling Coffee. This coffee shop was housed in a deserted elementary school next to this creek.
The school was founded in 1869. The existing classroom buildings were constructed in 1928. The school was closed in 1993. Now it served as a community space for movie screening and discussion.
The coffee shop is located inside an old classroom. You can flip through a coffee table book that shows what a 1920’s Japanese elementary school looked like.
Click here for a Google Map of these places
Moritaya モリタ屋 Kiyamachi (木屋町) branch
Mon-Fri: 11:30 am – 3:30 pm; 5:00 pm – 11:00 pm
Sat-Sun: 11:30 am – 11:00 pm
Double check the link below for hours
11:00 am – 8:00 pm