The last major food group we needed to "check-off" was soba noodles. According to tripadvisor, we needed to eat at Teuchisoba Ebisu; and it was spot-on. In its front window we saw the tail end of the cook cutting the buckwheat noodles. We sat in the leg-numbing, criss-cross, pretzel-position while eating at a traditional Japanese low table. The cushions did their best to lessen the discomfort.
Our server gave us a very handy comic instructing how to eat cold soba properly:
1. Put as much wasabi and spring onion into the sauce as you like and mix it all together.
2. Use your chopsticks to pick up some of the soba noodles and dip them in the sauce before eating.
3. It is customary to slurp the noodles. ZUZU ZUZU (smooth smooth)
4. By slurping the noodles, air is mixed with the noodles and the sauce. The noodles and sauce then become aromatic, and you can enjoy both the taste and smell of them. If you don't slurp, you will miss out on this beautiful rich flavor.
At 2 pm we had a to meet our Satayama Experience bike tour guide, Shinji, in Hida-Furukawa, a 15-minute train ride. With us was a family with 3-grown boys from Indonesia. It was a 2 1/2 hour tour through the countryside. The flat course took us through the canal-lined streets filled with Koi fish (Karp in English), through rice patties, into a nice-lady's house, past the gender-separated Hida beef-cow pens, along a fresh spring where we bottled up some of the pure water, and stopped for barley tea.
We learned a lot along the way. I was very happy to have a willing person answer all my questions.
Q: It seems as though Japanese eat anything that swims, why not the Koi fish? Are they sacred or something? or just taste bad?
A: No they are not sacred. They are looked at more as pets. The townspeople offer baggies of bread so others can feed them. I have not tasted them, but I heard they do not taste good.
Because the winters are so bad and the canals freeze up, the townspeople catch all 1000 or so Koi and put them in a safer location.
(Luckies, they have their own winter residence!)
Q: I hear the sound "maas" at the end of much Japanese dialogue directed towards us, what does that mean?
(If it actually meant something derogatory he didn't let on. Instead he said,)
A: It is the more formal way to address someone. It shows respect.
Q: Why are so many kids in uniform now?
A: Most kids are on summer break, which is 5 weeks long. During the summer some offer extensions like field trips or classes.
Ryokan Tanabe is classified as an onsen ryokan (traditional hot-spring inn). To avoid any tired muscles, I went for a soak. The stone bath was open for women. Making sure I'd followed the many rules first, I relaxed. On the way back to the room, with my cotton kimono wrapped around me and my sash tied haphazardly in one tie, I was stopped in the ryokan hall by an older Japanese woman. She untied my tie, flung open my kimono (revealing I had indeed followed the strict no clothes onsen policy) and wrapped me up the proper way: in a pretty bow. She smiled at me, proud of herself, gave me quick pats on the back, and I thanked her. I assume she works there.
We are in the Hida Region. We must eat Hida beef. Shinji recommended Suzuya. We did it right. We bought two fat sirloin steaks. The cook was very excited as he exclaimed, "new beef, just in!" It's nice to know they're fresh..."this year's!" They are nice and marbled and juicy with fat. The best part was the dollop of wasabi and a quick soak in the sauce made each bite divine.
Almost every restaurant we enter or exit, it seems like every worker yells a greeting. This reminded Matthew of the movie, Defending Your Life, (never heard of it) so we watched it on the iPad, lying on our bellies on our separate futons.