Shigetsu (Arashiyama, Kyoto) – ★★★★

Quick Check:

  • Quality: ★★★★ – Delicious!
  • Location: Within Tenryu-ji Temple, Arashiyama, Kyoto
  • Type: All Vegan; Japanese Buddhist Cuisine/Shojin Ryori
  • Hours: Mon-Sun, 11:00 am – 2:00pm
  • Price: $$$-$$$$, Somewhat Pricey to Expensive
  • Language Barrier: English menu available
  • Website: HappyCow Page, Restaurant Website

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About & Directions:

Shigetsu is a restaurant located within Tenryu-ji, a Buddhist Temple in Arashiyama, Kyoto.  The restaurant specializes in Japanese Zen Buddhist cuisine (Shojin Ryori), which is traditionally entirely vegan.  Although different temples do vary a bit from this rule, Shigetsu is quite strict.  Shojin Ryori is a must-try experience, and with such moderate prices and an incredibly beautiful setting, Shigetsu is a great choice (Another excellent option is Ajiro, which is also vegan and has a Michelin star).   It’s a good idea to make reservations, since it is popular.

Address, Access & Contact:

  • Special Note: Shigetsu is located WITHIN Tenryu-ji’s gardens.  You must pay a ¥500 entrance fee to go in. (It’s well worth it)
  • English: 68 Susukinobaba-cho, Saga-Tenryuji, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, 616-8385
  • Japanese: 〒616-8385 京都府京都市右京区嵯峨天龍寺芒ノ馬場町68
  • Train Access:
    • Via Keifuku Dentetsu Arashiyama Line: 5 minute walk from Arashiyama Station
    • Via JR Sanin Main Line:  15 minute walk from JR Arashiyama Station
  • Phone Number:  (075) 882-9725

Google Map:

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Restaurant Review:

I’m not even sure how to review this place.  I’m not a chef or a connoisseur by any means, and my typical rating system is merely based on whether or not I want to keep eating until I feel like I’ve ruptured something.    Eating at Shigetsu is an entirely different experience, requiring an appreciation of the presentation and the variety of textures & flavors created with simple ingredients.  I can appreciate a good ice cream sundae, but appreciating something this much more subtle was an unusual experience for me.

I know I took notes as I ate, then lost them somewhere, so I’ll just have to work from memory.  First off, I arrived early and spent my time wandering around Tenryuji’s incredible gardens.  Definitely give yourself extra time so that you can really appreciate the place – you’re going to pay the ¥500 entrance fee anyways, you might as well get your money’s worth!  Personally I’d recommend going before your meal, simply because I was stuffed afterwards I really wasn’t in a position to appreciate natural beauty (although wouldn’t a nap here be nice?)

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Once I entered, they asked if I had a reservation, and after a short wait led me into a large, traditional Japanese tatami-mat room with a long red carpet rolled out on each side.   The middle of the room was broken by sliding doors, which broke the large room into two smaller rooms.  It appeared that Japanese guests were served in one room, while foreigners were served in another, which was kind of weird (but maybe it was just a coincidence).  The dining style was communal, so I sat on the red carpet along with various other visitors, and ordered my meal.

I ordered the Yuki set (¥3,000, not including the ¥500 yen entrance fee to Tenryuji Gardens), mainly because I wanted to experience Zen cuisine but also wanted to keep to my budget.  I was concerned that, since the food was high-quality, ¥3,000 might only get me a very small meal.  In actuality, however,  it was MORE than enough food – in fact I’m not sure how anyone is able to eat the larger sets.  I have a pretty healthy appetite, but over the course of nearly 2 hours I just barely managed to finish my meal.  I was simultaneously concerned about overstaying my welcome and nervous that leaving food uneaten might be incredibly disrespectful.

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¥3,000 Lunch Set (not including 2 other sides)

The set was enormous: rice, soup, pickles, 5 other vegetables sides along with a sliced melon for dessert.  Each side dish consisted of different vegetable-based ingredients prepared in unique ways, from a starchy-tasting cold soup, to cold soft tofu in a light sauce, to what seemed like grilled eggplant slathered in a rich miso paste.  I couldn’t identify a lot of what I was eating, but since I knew it was all vegan the experience was pretty exciting (food mysteries are usually unpleasant when you’re vegan, so this was fun!).

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Beautiful array of mochi, plum, sweet potato, konyaku and other mysterious squishy things

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Pickles

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Cold soup

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Eggplant with Miso

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And one perfect slice of melon for dessert!

Everything was clearly prepared with care and an larger vision of how each would work in the set as a whole.  I’ll admit that I didn’t much care for the soup (it was definitely based in something starchy, and the texture was unusual for me), and I found that the miso on the eggplant was a bit too thick and somewhat overwhelming.  However, I would still go again – it’s important to get out of your comfort zone with food!

I found that sitting for so long on the floor was a bit uncomfortable, so if you have knee or back problems, please be aware that you will be eating from the floor and a lot of sitting and bending is involved.  I liked the communal setting, since it was fun to see how the people near me reacted to what they at, but I was also a little confused by what seemed to be segregation (but again, maybe I misinterpreted it or it was a coincidence).  Everyone was generally quiet and respectful, so in spite of sitting so near to other I was able to relax and appreciate the food.

Overall, I’d recommend that anyone wanting to try out Shojin Ryori consider Shigetsu – I haven’t tried Shojin Ryori at other temples in the area, so I can’t say it’s the best, but the location is beautiful and the food excellent.  ¥3,000 may seem steep at first glance, but for an enormous amount of food and a truly memorable cultural experience, it’s a great deal!

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