Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Japan 2011 Day 10 (July 6): Exploring Uji

We woke up early due to the thin futons, but that allowed us to take our time getting dressed & do some catching-up with diaries & blog posts, & picture-downloading. 

Breakfast was downstairs in the restaurant & it was delicious. They had little pots of yudofu (soft tofu simmered in water flavoured with mushrooms & greens) cooking at the table plus an array of yummy soup, pickles, rice, fish, & salad. 
After breakfast we got our things together & went down to catch a taxi to the farthest destination for the morning, the Mimurotoji Shrine. The folks at the front desk offered to drive us instead, which was really lovely of them. 

The Mimorotoji shrine site has been used since about 700 AD but the present buildings are about 200 years old. It’s on a hillside, a very steep climb, but the view is gorgeous. A little valley of hydrangea & interesting, lumpy bushes at the bottom & the beautiful shrine buildings at the top.

 There were various statues there that were for making prayers for different purposes (all with little money boxes attached). 

Brendan & I lit incense at a shrine for the first time, Brendan for success in school & me for continued recovery of my back (the incense sticks were printed with the intention of your prayer & could be purchased for 100 yen). 

The grounds of the shrine were covered with pots of lotus flowers- simply gorgeous! And the smell was heavenly.
Charlie & I bought some omamori there as well:

From there we walked to the Genji Monogotari (Tale of Genji) Museum, about 15 minutes away. It was hot & humid, so it was a relief to stop in the cool museum building. The Tale of Genji is considered to be the first novel ever written, & it was written by a woman named Murasaki Shikibu about 1000 years ago during the Heian Era in Japan. I’ve read some of the Tale of Genji & it’s basically a soap opera, or maybe a cliff-hanger serial, about people who were unlucky in love. There was a short movie dramatising some chapters from the Tale that are set in Uji, & it was very dramatic (even in Japanese with no subtitles). The museum doesn’t have many exhibits, but what’s there is very interesting. They had traditional incense in clear boxes with holes so you could smell it, which I really enjoyed, plus life-sized dioramas showing people in Heian Era dress in the rooms of the time.
After the museum we decided we were ready for some food & rest, so we walked about 10 minutes to our favourite  sweet shop in the world, called the Tsuuroon. This is our third time to visit this shop & every time it’s a wonderful treat. I had anmitsu, which is a base of unflavoured gelatin with green tea & vanilla ice creams (I took lots of lactaid tablets because I wasn’t going to miss this!), sweet red beans, fruit, sugared mochi & regular mochi on top, with your choice of match syrup or kuromitsu, which is a dark brown sugar syrup. I went with the matcha syrup, & the whole thing was so delicious it brought me to tears. 

Brendan went for a sundae with soft green tea & vanilla ice cream & green tea syrup, mochi, & fruit at the bottom, decorated with green tea dango (mochi balls) on top.

 Charlie had a parfait, with green tea ice cream, fruit, unflavoured gelatin, & mochi. We also bought some green tea dango for later from a shop next door.
We now had the energy to continue, so we headed to the Ujigami Jinja (shrine) to buy omamori & pay our respects. 

The Ujigami’s guardian animal is the rabbit, & this year is the year of the rabbit (usagidoshi) in the Chinese zodiac, so they had special omikuji (fortunes) in the shape of little ceramic rabbits- so cute!

 The beautiful brocade omamori have rabbits woven into them as well, so we bought a bunch as gifts for friends at home. Everyone could use some luck, right?
Next we crossed the Uji River on a nearby footbridge & I found a bamboo tree- just what I’d been looking for! I had made a Tanabata-themed set of tawashi (Japanese-style eco kitchen scrubbies) from the book I bought in Tokyo & wanted to photograph them in a bamboo tree for a Nerd Wars project :) Then we went back to our favourite tea shop in the world. We happened to find it on our first visit 4 years ago & have returned every time we come to Uji, to buy tea & other yummies. The family that owns the shop, the Kanbayashi, have been selling their Mitsuboshi (3 stars) tea in Uji for 17 generations (generation 18 was there as well, a year-old grandson :) & the owner showed Charlie & Brendan upstairs to a small museum while I bought tea, & there were all sorts of memorabilia, including an original certificate from the family’s participation in the Philadelphia World fair of 1846! There was also a letter from Date Masamune attesting to the quality of the tea. The Emperor’s family drinks this tea & also attests to it’s quality.  When I mentioned to the daughter of the family that we always buy tea at their shop, she gave me their web site info, so I can buy it now from my home in the US! What a world...
After this we headed home- my feet were killing me! The room had been cleaned & the futons put away, & a fresh teapot & green tea was available for refreshment. After a short rest, Charlie went back out to do some “special shopping” so Brendan & I broke out the dango & had some with our tea. That, along with our anmitsu snack earlier made today’s lunch :) 
After Charlie came back we went down to the lobby to get back on the internet & I started downloading my blog posts that cover our time in Mizumaki up till today. It was a good feeling to get them up & available for everyone to see what we’ve been up to in Japan! 
Dinner was another visual & culinary masterpiece. Charlie enjoyed his meal more now that it was vegetarian like Brendan’s, expecially when he saw the teeth on my fish... 

It was my first time eating tai, a very popular fish in Japan, often served on special occasions because it turns red when you cook it (& red is an auspicious colour here). Mine was cooked in a sweet, soy-based sauce. I really enjoyed it- it had a mild flavour that wasn’t too fishy, although I had to mind the bones. 

We also had tenpura served with salt mixed with matcha tea, I had unagi (sea urchin) which had a nice, creamy flavour.

 dessert was a savory soup made with red miso & ginger leaves, fruit, & sweet bean paste in mochi-like konnyaku. 
Charlie enjoyed playing with theirs as much as they enjoyed eating it :)
After dinner Charlie looked up train times for tomorrow & did some emailing & I put up some blog posts & posted my first Nerd Wars, second challenge project, little star-shaped tawashi in honour of Tanabata, which is tomorrow! 

At bed time, I found the right combo for comfortable sleeping (yay!). I doubled my fluffy top futon & used  my yukata as a light blanket. Tomorrow to Tokyo!

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