Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Japan 2011 Day 9 (July 5): From Mizumaki to Uji

I was up around 6:00 am this morning because I wanted to help Nobuko-san with breakfast on our last morning in Mizumaki. She had made goma-dofu the day before, which is tofu made with ground sesame seeds. She served it with fresh-ground ginger & green onions (to which we added soy sauce to taste). I also watched her make tamagoyaki, the rolled-omelet made with sugar & dashi. She also added green onions to the layers & I learned a few more tricks for my own tamagoyaki-making from her. There was also miso soup, rice, tomatoes, kamaboko (pressed fish-paste), & pickles for breakfast. We ate around 7:30 because we needed to leave around 9:15 to catch our train.
The bags did actually close, but were noticeably heavier when we piled them by the genkan before leaving. We’d hoped to be able to go in Nobuko-san’s car (a Toyota Vitz, by the way :) but her trunk was too small for everything, so Tomoko called a taxi which arrived very quickly. The luggage fit in the taxi, & we piled-in too, while Tomoko rode with her mom on the 5-minute trip to the station. Nobuko-san & I became very teary when we said good-bye. It was so lovely to see her again after 4 years, and who knows when we’ll meet again? Tomoko accompanied us to Kokura, where we were to catch the shinkansen north. Tomoko also helped us get our shinkansen seat-tickets at Mizumaki station, where the ticket guy had never seen a JR pass before!
We said “mata raishuu” (see you next week) to Tomoko at Kokura because she’s hoping to see us in Tokyo next week on her way back to Touhouku & her work with the earthquake survivors. 
There was only about 15 minutes to wait in Kokura, so we bought beverages & eko-ben & were in our place to board the train when it arrived. It was about 2 hours to Himeji, where we changed trains to Kyoto. We only had 8 minutes between trains, which felt a bit hairy, but our next train arrived on the same platform (although we & our luggage went down the escalator, asked for directions, & then were directed back up the same escalator to the same platform all in that 8 minutes) so it wasn’t much trouble at all...
We were in Kyoto in another hour, & happily our next train, the Nara Line local to Uji, was really close. We hopped right on the train & sat with our luggage in front of us for the ~20 minute trip ti Uji. Then we took a short taxi trip to the Hana Yashiki (Flower Mansion) ryokan, right on the Uji River.
On our first trip to Japan, 4 years ago, we spent a few days in Kyoto & decided to take a day trip to Uji, which has lots of historical temples & shrines, and is a big tea-growing region in Japan. We visited a very old sweets-shop on the Uji River, visited the Ujigami Shrine & the Byoudoin Temple, both very old & beautiful, & I discovered shincha- the first tea of the season- which is absolutely delicious. Two years ago we made it a point to come back to Uji when we spent a week in Kyoto & had another lovely time. I found a tea shop that I’d visited on the first trip (but no shincha, since it was April at the time) & was able to chat with the ladies there, & we revisited the sweets shop by the river for yummy anmitsu (a mix of green tea ice cream, sweet red beans, cubes of unflavoured gelatin, fruit, & green tea syrup- yum!!!). We then decided that Uji was our favourite place in Japan. So this time, when Brendan said he really wanted to go back to Kyoto, we decided to stay right in Uji for a couple of nights. It’s shincha season (yay!) & Charlie read about a few more museums & temples that we’ve missed on earlier trips, & we’ll go back to our sweets shop as well as buy green tea & yummy things made from green tea. 
The Hana Yashiki is gorgeous! 

The view is spectacular! 

The rooms are all tatami mat flooring, & with the exception of a raised area for the tv, it’s all room. There are closets for the futons, extra seats (floor seats with backs & pillows), & then outside the room are 2 small rooms, one for the toilet & one for the sink/dressing area, with the small ofuro room off of that. There’s a large table that you sit on the floor at, & luckily a little patio space with a table & small chairs to sit on. Luckily because I don’t do well on the floor the whole time... Off the enclosed patio is a narrow porch that you can get to through a sliding door. Our view of the Uji River is exquisite. We’re right at one of the historical little footbridges that cross the river to a small island in the middle of the river. Another bridge comes off the island farther down, which allows walkers to go across the river without going all the way to the big bridge for vehicles that’s farther downriver.
When we arrived it was a bit too early to check in, so we dropped our luggage there & took a little walk, map in hand, & found a sweets shop. Charlie had matcha ice cream with sweet red beans & I had zenzai- sweet red bean soup with mochi & chestnuts, and tea. Brendan had a soft ice cream cone with twisted green tea & vanilla flavours. We wanted to sightsee a bit after our snack, but it began to rain, so we went back to the Hana Yashiki & our room was ready, so we checked-in. After an introduction to the place (in Japanese) by a kimono-wearing nakai, or room maid, (during which I got the impression that we’d have to use the big ryokan ofuro for baths, men & women segregated for communal bathing) we had some tea & explored the room. I discovered, to my relief, that we have a private ofuro. I’m just not ready to get naked with a bunch of strangers, even if I do understand the customary way of bathing without offending anyone! Charlie filled our small ofuro & we took turns showering & having a soak & putting on our yukata. 

Then it was nearly time for our kaiseki, or traditional Kyoto cuisine, dinner. Kaiseki comes out in small courses of exquisite foods & the rice isn’t served until last.

 We made sure that Brendan had a vegetarian meal, but even some of his food was strange to him. 

We passed dishes around & sampled bits of each-other’s food. 

After the preponderance of sashimi (raw fish) in our non-veggie dinners, Charlie decided to ask for veggie for himself tomorrow night :)

 It was all gorgeous & yummy to my taste, though. I don’t normally eat sashimi at home, but in Japan I eat it happily, knowing it’s been really well prepared from the freshest fish. During dinner we had a bit of excitement- our first earthquake in Japan! According to an email from a friend, the epicentre was in the Kinki region of Japan, but all we felt was the table shaking, although we did realise that it was an earthquake!!
After dinner we went to the lobby, where there’s wireless internet, & looked at emails & sent a few. I plan to start putting up blog posts tomorrow in between trips around Uji.
Then we settled in back in our room for a bit, & then the nakai came in to put out the futons. The futons in Japan are much thinner that the ones in the US because they’re folded up & put in a closet during the day. Nobuko-san’s futon were on the edge of comfortable for us, since they’re on the tatami floor. The ryokan futon tend to be even thinner, so even though there were very fluffy, thick covering futon (they’re all called futon, top or bottom), it was not easy to get comfortable. 

After Charlie & Brendan had a game of Magic, the Gathering, we snuggled in & finally fell asleep.

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