Traditional shojin-ryori cuisine, commonly known as Buddhist cuisine, is based on reverence for all life and is therefore free of all animal products...it is vegan. We were very fortunate to have experienced a true shojin-ryori meal at Shigetsu Restaurant in Tenryuji Temple in Kyoto, Japan.
The wonderful front desk staff at our hotel called ahead to make reservations for us. There are only three set menu options at three price points -- 3000 yen, 5000 yen, and 7000 yen. We opted for the 5000 yen lunch.
When we arrived, we were asked to take off our shoes, and were led to a private room with tatami straw mats on the floor and paper shoji doors and walls. The room opened to a spectacular view of the beautiful Tenryuji Gardens. We were stunned before we even tasted one bite of food.
The first tray came out with seven small dishes, all artfully arranged. Then they kept bringing out more dishes...I think there were eleven or twelve total. The flavors of the dishes encompassed salty, sweet, umami, sour, and bitter; the textures ranged from creamy to crispy to crunchy; and the temperatures varied from chilled to room temperature to piping hot.
Each individual portion looked small, but this was a very filling lunch. We weren't sure what all the food was, but highlights were the gomadofu (chilled sesame tofu), miso-glazed eggplant, and my favorite, yuba (tofu skin) in a clear broth. A couple of the dishes had wasabi (green Japanese horseradish) in or on them, which gives a surprising kick of heat but quickly mellows so that your palate is ready for the next bite. This was a thoroughly enjoyable meal.
Shigetsu Restaurant is located inside the grounds of the Tenryuji Temple and Gardens. There is a 500 yen admission fee to enter (in addition to the cost of your lunch). The admission fee is well worth it. Kyoto has hundreds of beautiful temples, and although we were only able to visit a tiny fraction of them, these gardens were by far the most wondrous and breathtaking. We knew that photos wouldn't begin to do this place justice, but we tried anyway.
The famed Sagano-Arashiyama Bamboo Forest begins inside of Tenryuji Gardens, and that also is so worth visiting. The forest is an open public space with a paved walkway going through the middle of it. There is no ticket office or entrance fee. If you walk around Tenryuji temple garden grounds, it will be quite obvious where the bamboo forest begins. You need to exit the temple grounds to go deeper into the forest (you cannot re-enter Tenryuji without paying another admission fee, so be sure you are ready to leave). Once again, photos can't even start to convey the splendor and magnificence of this forest. You just have to be there. But we took photos anyway.
Dining at Shigetsu inside of Tenryuji Temple was a truly remarkable experience. Definitely allow time to walk and linger around the temple and gardens, and visit the Sagano-Arashiyama bamboo forest as well. We also heard about the nearby Iwatayama Monkey Park, but after some investigating we came to the conclusion that it was more of a money-making tourist attraction (people buy treats to feed wild monkeys) rather than a sanctuary. Since the possibility of animal exploitation seemed high, we made a conscious choice to skip it. We may be totally wrong on this, but we made the best decision we could with the information we had.
Shigetsu Restaurant is currently open for lunch daily from 11am to 2pm. It looked like they were taking walk-ins, but we would highly recommend reservations so you don't miss out.
For links to more restaurant reviews from our July 2014 trip, please see our post "The Vegan Community in Japan is Alive and Well!".
Thanks for reading. Peace and love to all who live.