“If a picture paints a thousand words, then why can’t I paint you,”—the melodramatic lyrics of the popular 1971 song, “If” sung by the American band Bread, linger in a sort of rhetorical prose dedicated to a kind of perennial beauty that beckons no verbal explanation; a beauty that feeds clandestinely on your yearning eyes, heart and palate; a beauty that greets you bracingly upon walking through a sturdy stone gate where a calligraphy of Lord Sensho Manabe of the Kyoto Shogunate rests to be always remembered.
This sublime beauty awaits you at the Junsei Shoin, one of Kyoto’s exquisitely preserved Japanese garden restaurants. Sitting below the grand Nanzenji Temple, it is a vast 5,000 square‐meter estate established in 1839, and comprises of a main restaurant building that serves the most delectable traditional Kyoto yudofu (boiled tofu) dishes, and several 19th century teahouses that cater to private meals and banquets—all encircled by robust pine trees, intricately carved shrubbery, meandering stone pathways, and sculptural ponds beaming with red and white carp.
Junsei Shoin is a sight for sore eyes that tempts you so infectiously to remain there in an almost dream‐come‐true fairy tale: to bask in a subtle silhouette of untainted colors, perfect as they glow as in a painting.
Ryotei Shingu (1787‐1854) was a rags‐to‐riches physician who established his clinic on these grounds. He descended from a poor family from Kyoto, but worked his way up through generous donations from wealthy clients, and by painstakingly treating almost a hundred patients a day. The Junsei Shoin estate also became a valuable niche for artists with a passion for culture, which explains the abundance of calligraphy art and paintings inside the buildings.
Today, Junsei Shoin is famous for its authentic yuba (bean curd skin) and traditional tofu dishes garnished with fresh vegetables simmered in soymilk. Yuba and tofu dishes are considered auspicious elements of Kyoto cuisine due to their association with shojin food (temple food) taken in Buddhist temples. The tofu skin first appeared in Chinese and Japanese documentations during the 16th century, which makes it a significant ingredient in traditional Kyoto cuisine. Junsei Shoin’s Yudofu set (lightly simmered tofu) also comes with tempura, sashimi, pickled vegetables and other sumptuous Kyoto side dishes. Meat‐eaters can, likewise, enjoy a delightful shabushabu set (Japanese beef fondue) with traditional appetizers.
As you consume the delicacy of the cuisine at a slow and undisturbed pace, take a silent glimpse of the stunning view from the window, where every object of nature becomes a supplementary ingredient on your taste buds. Cherry blossom and pine trees, lotus flowers gleaming on the pond, a stone bridge over swimming carp pond, a red parasol at the entrance, and Japanese teahouses welcome you for another irresistible meal. You can go for a peaceful stroll around the garden and pick up each petal of elegance, to be forever embossed on your mind even after you leave this spectacular haven to set forth into your next classic Japan destination.
And so, the song continues…
“If the world should stop revolvin' spinning slowly down to die
I'd spend the end with you
And when the world was through
Then one by one the stars would all go out
Then you and I would simply fly away”
‐“If,” lyrics by David Gates
Nanzenji Junsei Shoin
Nanzenjimon‐mae, Sakyo‐ku, Kyoto‐shi, Kyoto 606‐8437