A Travellerspoint blog

Down to a Stroll

We slowed down to a stroll today. It is supposed to be a vacation, after all. The heat has followed us. But no matter how hot it gets, I always appreciate a heated toilet seat. We read up on Japanese Gardens, since today we are visiting Kenroku-en, ranked as one of the top three gardens in all of Japan. It has the six attributes for perfection:
seclusion,
spaciousness
artificiality
antiquity
abundant water and
broad views.
It is from the Edo period and is classified as a Strolling Garden. It deserves the Top Three ranking. We strolled for hours. What is really intriguing about a strolling garden is that the views are constantly changing. It includes four ponds, well-pruned trees, a tea house, the oldest fountain in Japan, a plum garden, and we learned what "borrowed landscape" means: when trees or mountains appear to be a part of the garden, but are really outside of it.
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Matthew had a problem with being naked with a bunch of dudes, so I went by myself to the hotel's onsen. Just like our separate beds, the onsens in Japan are gender separated. I shared the onsen with an older Japanese woman, who had no problem baring all, so neither did I.
One must follow strict rules if partaking in the hot spring fun:
1. Take off underwear
2. Clean your body - please sit down on the stool
3. Relax and enjoy
4. Do not run
5. Do not wash your clothes in springs
6. Rinse body after

Our Kyoto ryokan host continues to help us. Before we left he gave us a Google maps print-out of a restaurant he recommends in Kanazawa. Izakaya Musashi may have broken into our Top 5 of the trip. We saddled up to the counter and watched the chefs make fried rice from white rice, flip omelettes, grill pork chops. We ordered one item from each of the seven columns, save the tofu column and the salad (in which case we ordered two items from the meat column) : sashimi, Squid legs, Gyoza (pork dumplings) and chicken notombori, eggplant and bacon, and fried rice. It was all rounded out with dry sake, an Osaka Tigers vs. Hiroshima Karp baseball game, and even though it was a pub, it still had to have vases of fresh flowers on the bar.
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Posted by LaurendeMatt 01:02 Archived in Japan Tagged kanazawa Comments (0)

Until next time, Kyoto

Avoiding our Kyoto departure, we went to eat my last Japanese toast at our Second Breakfast place. Instead of taking a left back to our ryokan, we took a right. We discovered a whole neighborhood back there with shops
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and we "stumbled" upon the Big Bodhisattva. Her nose alone is 3 feet 3 inches. She was beautifully serene with a green mountainous backdrop.
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She was constructed in 1955 to honor all Japanese soldiers who died in WWII. What was touching was it also included soil from the allied soldiers burial grounds and a card catalog of sorts with the names of all the Allied Soldiers who perished. We were alone there, most travelers were visiting older temples; it was really nice. We left incense in the cauldron.

Because we made that detour this morning, we opted not to visit Sanjusangen-do Temple, or as we call it, the shrine of many Buddhas that our host recommended. We made our own pilgrimage. We will save that, Nijojo Castle, Kinkakuji Temple (Golden Pavilion) and the dry landscape garden at Ryoanji for another time.
We needed another week in Kyoto. Clearly.

Once in Kanazawa our first goal was - what else?- to eat. Unfortunately it was 3 in the afternoon, when all restaurants go on siesta. So, again, we found ourselves eating tempura on a bench in the basement of a department store.

After wandering the Nagamachi neighborhood with well-preserved samurai quarters (all we saw was the mud-stuccoed, tiled-roofed-outsides of them. I guess things were closed?) we took the Loop bus home the long way. We were ready to eat again, on a recommendation and a reservation from the nice front desk lady, we ate at Sushi Keitan. Sake and a whole lot of tuna, please, including a tuna that looked like salmon. The sushi master recommended one, which he didn't know the English name equivalent for since it is just found in the Sea of Japan.

Posted by LaurendeMatt 09:31 Archived in Japan Tagged kyoto kanazawa Comments (0)

Do Geisha Take Cabs?

My question was soon answered as Matthew and I, or rather I, stalked the Gion Corner in search of geisha between 5-6:30 when they are usually on their way to their first appointment. Matthew coined the term "Geisha-razzi"; and that is exactly what I was. I was obsessed, on an almost-lifelong goal to witness geisha in action. Yes, I saw three at the Temple the other day, but I wanted more, it is like an addiction. I want MORE!

I got more. I saw 4 meiko. But the times were so fleeting. It is like, as a 5-year-old seeking out Cinderella in Disneyworld; it is a fantasy for me. The meiko we saw are stunning. I wish I could freeze time and simply stare at them. But they all quickly turned the corner, ducked into a tea house, or as I found out, into an awaiting black cab. Yes. Geisha take cabs. The girls (meiko are under 20) are unmistakable with white faces, red-cornered eyes- a jingle when the walk (from their hair ornaments) and platform sandles. And when I say platform, I mean like 6-inched, angled wooden flip-flops. I do not know how they do it. And with such grace!
I was debating whether to get the "geisha experience" dressing up as one. But seeing one in the flesh, I was happy with my decision not to be a poser. A) I'm not Asian and
B) It's too hot, although posers wear cotton, not authentic silk kimonos.
C) I'm not a geisha, they are in a league of their own.

Our entire day was quite magical, from start to geisha to end.

With limited time left in Kyoto, we had to make some cuts. The Golden Pavilion and the Fashima Inari did not make it. Arashiyama did. It is in western Kyoto, an hour or so from where we are staying and it had the most bang for our buck: a bamboo grove, a temple and private grounds. The Tenryu-ji Buddhist Temple and gardens were a nice stroll
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and we strolled seamlessly into Bamboo Road. It is a walkway through a Bamboo Grove with an eerie, magical quality to it.
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This stroll backed up to Okochi Sanso, the estate of a Japanese actor known for his samurai films. It includes a nice strolling garden
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and a tea house among the bamboo grove where we stopped for some green tea and some cake bite.

Again, I was in a constant state of glisten; at times downright sweating. It was so hot people were walking with hand-held mini-fans. After all our strolling we wanted to sit in a/c and eat. But the place we found only served tofu sets, so we excused ourselves and got french fries. We were wondering why the donut place was not open in the morning, but was in afternoon. It's dessert! And it was exactly what we needed mid-afternoon: donuts with ice cream and sauce. I had cocoa with maple syrup, Matthew black sesame and dark sugar.

K made dinner reservations for us and again, escorted us there. We returned after our successful Geisha Watch.

The Mame-cha: Kyoto Obanzai restaurant was a 13 seat counter. We took off our shoes and joined the packed, rowdy crowd. We ordered the Pork set menu for 2 and a bottle of Rose. Then a bottle of sake...It was 8 courses, starting with a 'Obanzai' box of traditional Kyoto family food - tofus, fish, eggplant, then sashimi, funky and airy egg soufflé, tempura fish and vegetables, radish salad, grilled pork with Balsamic-like vinegar, rice and some sweet thing. The nice man next to us, who knew all about Cape Cod and JFK, offered us a bite of his tofu "free of charge" and bought us another dessert. He also complimented Matthew on his chopstick skills. "Her... Eh"

Not that we needed to, we went to the Sherry Club, an 8-person bar that, upon entering, we found out is in the Guinness Book of World Records for most variety of Sherry. We appreciated the test tubes and graph to show different variances of dry/sweet and light/heavy.

Last night we learned from our pizza-place guy that o-kee-nee is how Kyotans say thank you. Ar-ee-gah-toh is too formal. Well every time we thanked anyone with okeenee today we got joyous laughter and surprise.
Okeenee, Kyoto!

Posted by LaurendeMatt 02:59 Archived in Japan Tagged kyoto geisha Comments (0)

Where's the Beef?

It's in Kobe.
Today's sole mission:
To eat Kobe beef in Kobe.

Off a tripadvisor recommendation, we had made reservations via the front desk lady at our Osaka hotel. After second breakfast of Japanese toast, we took the 50-minute-express JR train to Kobe. The smart move is to go for lunch there, not dinner. Our 100 g piece of steak was 5100 yen alone for dinner, but for lunch it was part of a set: salad, cream soup, vegetables, rice, steak, tea. Two options: filet or sirloin. The adorable woman recommended one of each so we could try both because she and her son (pointing to the grill master) like filet and her husband (pointing to the man behind the counter) and her mother (pointing to the 3-foot-nothing woman at the register) like sirloin. It is a family business and an intimate setting. We sat at the grill and watched the master grill up one of each marbled Kobe steaks and our veggies.
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It was the best steak I have ever had. Even if I didn't have teeth I could bite it.
Matthew and I barely spoke as we savoured every bite. And sure enough, I preferred filet, Matthew, sirloin.
With our Mission Accomplished, with satisfied buds and bellies, we got back on the train to Kyoto.

Posted by LaurendeMatt 15:55 Archived in Japan Tagged kobe beef Comments (0)

Cross it off my bucket list

I can now die.
I saw geisha today. Well, one geisha and two meiko (apprentice geisha) I spotted them from afar at the Nanzenji Temple. I knew they were real, and not some tourists dressed in kimono, when I saw their white faces and quaffed hair: the meiko have lots of hair ornaments, the geisha had a different crazy-three-part-do. They were on an outing with a politician or an actor, our ryokan host believes he is an actor, or some important public figure because he was followed by an entourage. The geisha seemed very uninterested; they did not smile for the pictures,
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but once they began walking the geisha did their jobs, laughing and giving attention.

"Good morning!" K sang in a sing-song-y voice at our door. She surprised us with a breakfast tray with hard boiled eggs, banana pieces, cherry, and lychee juice (we are not positive what the fruit, but it is our best guess). After first breakfast we proceeded to walk to a café for second breakfast of iced coffee and I ordered that thick buttered delicious Japanese toast. Matthew was the brave man and ordered a hot dog for breakfast.

A useful fact about Kyoto buses: You pay when you get off. You enter through the middle door and exit out the front, after paying the driver: 230 yen per ride. We rode the 100 bus to Ginkakuji Temple, nicknamed the Silver Temple. The Silver Temple was not so silver. The gardens were beautiful.
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We strolled the Philosophers Walk, a 2-km pedestrian walk along a canal.
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It is lined with cherry-blossom trees, but obviously they are not in bloom now, but there were pops of color and funky trees. There were many temples along the way. Honen-in Temple had the absolute coolest scenery we were by ourselves in a Buddhist cemetery, left with the eerie light coming down from the tree canopy. It was very cool.

It was so hot even the koi fish lazed-about in the shade of the bridges. Our legs were giving out so we stopped for a beer and a bathroom break. The Japanese sure love their rules, and this cafe was no exception. No going to the bathroom unless you buy one dish each.

Our dinner was something special. It was at Tseuneo, an eight-seat counter around a grill and stove, and next to an extensive wine fridge, just three doors down from our ryokan. It was one of this memorable experiences: we watched him cook and had no idea what was coming next, so we tried some things we wouldn't have otherwise tried. Our chef wore a fedora, and did not speak much English, and his menu was in Japanese so he suggested omikase.
"Like raw fish?"
Yes, yes we do. Each dish was a work of art:
Sardines w flowers
Caviar on toast (a first for us both and we both loved it!)
Sashimi: tuna, pike conger, uni I didn't hate
Corn, honey, fois gras, and an obscene amount of shaved truffles on toast (sounds odd but was phenom!)
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Abalone tempura w a liver mousse. Me no likey. Chewed it for like, 8 mins.
Most refined fish n chips w mackerel and Cole slaw-esque, anti-Russian dressing condiment
Pigeon rare, like the whole bird, m ate 1/3 of my pigeon.
And three sakes, all in wine glasses. I hiccuped my way home, afraid we may awake with a case of the Gout.

Posted by LaurendeMatt 01:39 Archived in Japan Tagged kyoto Comments (0)

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