Does anyone have recommendations for a woman dining alone in Kyoto? I'm going to be there for a few weeks and am looking for some good ideas. I speak fluent Japanese, and I've lived in Japan and been to Kyoto many times, but I never know where to eat. Oddly, I have no trouble in Tokyo, but the restaurant culture there is very different.
I'm looking for cheap, mid-priced and expensive places -- anything but the conbini!
I don't think it's all that difficult for a solo woman dining alone in Kyoto. Restaurants with counter space for dining are abundant.
I will second Kashin, because it is such a wonderful small, family-run restaurant. Keiko the daughter speaks excellent English and is a very talented chef. I would say it's typical of Japanese cooking in that the focus is in bringing out the natural flavors and freshness of the ingredients. We sat at the counter and did the seven course Kaiseki meal for $50. Amazing value for this experience. They prepare and assemble most of the dishes in front of you. I believe there are alacarte options.
I also don't think you need to be adventurous. If all you eat is teriyaki, tempura and some sushi, it could be challenging. If you can handle something like cooked conger eel (hamo), no problem.
Here's a tip: From the train station, walk to the Avanti department store (5 minutes). When you reach it, turn right and walk around it. Kashin is not directly on the main street south of Avanti. It's just a few doors down on a side alley that turns south. See photo. You could literally eat here between trains.
I like sitting at the counter if I'm alone.
Last time I was solo in Kyoto, I ate at the counter at "Kashin."
There's a lot of Kyoto specialties, like tofu and kyo-yasai (done as "teppai" [nuta] and as takiawase), to jidori and hamo.
It's a family affair, with a father doing the sashimi and the grill, a daughter doing the vegetables and a mother pouring the sake. The daughter, Keiko-san, speaks English, but your Japanese ability will go a long way in conversing with the other solo diners at the counter.
Check out some photos here: http://gaishokujin.wordpress.com/kashin/
12 Higashikujo Nishisannocho, Minami-ku, Kyoto-shi
(One block south of Avanti, below Kyoto Station
Do you usually go there solo? To me Okariba is the kind of place better experienced with a dining partner (even better with a large group), but ymmv and all that. (kind of like dim sum--you could certainly go alone, but you wouldn't be able to get very many dishes, and it wouldn't be as much fun).
I lived in Kyoto for two years and after moving elsewhere in Japan, visited often. The only places I wouldn't consider dining alone were izakayas, yakiniku restaurants, and similar places where dishes were meant to be shared (Spoon, for example). I think maybe some kaiseki places are probably less solo-diner friendly (and perhaps some high-end European places), but I ate at places like Ten-you, Yoshikawa, O-men, Katsukura, various French, Italian, Indian, Thai places, etc. etc.
I'm also female, btw, and if I ever felt a tiny bit ill-at-ease at a restaurant, it wasn't because of my gender.