Thursday, July 11, 2013

Japan 2013: Kyoto Sweets & Noodles

Today's adventure began with a walk (in the still-hovering-around 100F heat) to a 100-year-old wagashi (traditional sweets) shop in our neighbourhood. We've been using the book "Old Kyoto" by Diane Durston as a reference on our trips to Kyoto since our first time here 6 years ago (thanks to our neighbour, Joe, who lent it to us on that first trip :) & it has led us to some amazing places. Charlie has been wanting to visit a confectioner he read about in the book for the past 6 years, but we never had the time or were close enough to get there easily. With some good planning this time, we made it!

It was only about 10 minutes walk away, & the neighbourhood around our hotel is really lovely, so even with the heat it was a fun trip. On the way we cross a stone bridge over a small river that runs along a main road.

The river has been constructed as a series of little waterfalls, & there are little bridges over it in places. It's shallow & kids can play in like a watery playground.

When we got there, we found the shop in a traditional Kyoto machida (long homes homes built with a narrow street-front, sometimes called "eel houses") with a noren curtain covering the top of the entrance. It was a small shop, but the display of sweets was impressive. Their main business is selling tea ceremony sweets, so the shapes & kinds of sweets sold change seasonally. We bought some gifts & made sure to get some jyuraku manju, one of their specialties, to have when we got back to the hotel.

The jyuraku manju is a sweet cake filled with red bean paste. The wrapper is hand-made paper, & the kanji stamped into it commemorates an event that took place in the 1600's. The taste was very delicate & sweet, & according to the book, they use a special sugar made on the island of Shikoku (where we're headed next week!) that is super-refined.

As we were taking photos of the shop afterward, a fellow from the shop ran out kindly & offered to take our picture:

We passed a panya-san (bakery) on the walk home, so we stopped-in to get tomorrow's breakfast:

On the way home I got a picture of the street-shrines that were along the way- these were all within the 10-minute walk:

These all appear to be Jizo (the red bibs are a clue), which are deities who protect children. We passed at least 2 schools on our walk, so the presence of Jizo make sense. Each shrine had offerings & incense burners & are obviously being cared-for by people in the neighborhood.

After eating our manju & cooling-off a bit, we decided to take the shuttle to the subway station & look for a place to eat lunch. Then we'd visit the International Manga Museum, right across the street from the subway station. We asked the concierge (a lovely young woman with Australian-accented perfect English, who told us she spent her childhood outside of Japan) for suggestions for a lunch place & she directed us to a 540-year-old soba shop called Ohariya. So we hopped the shuttle & found the shop easily. After a short wait (I wasn't quite up for the available tatami table, so we waited for a western-style one) they led us upstairs to a table. They had an English menu with a lot of info on the restaurant's history, which was interesting & fun to read. The guys ordered colas & I got oolong tea, & then for a change, we all got something different! Charlie got Tamago-don, seasoned rice with scrambled egg on top & pickles on the side:
Brendan got his favourite zaru soba (cold soba noodles that you dip in broth) with veggie tempura on the side:
And I was completely charmed by the soba-sushi:
It's futomaki made with soba noodles instead of rice! It was yummy, & it reminded me of making sushi from sculpey clay, rolling dozens of tiny strands of white sculpey to mimic rice...

Here's the outside of the restaurant (notice the umbrellas over the lanterns- we've seen this a lot of places):
On the walk back toward the station, Charlie got a picture of this hair salon's sign:
He's still wondering what a hair placebo is...

Next we headed to the International Manga Museum:
There was ticket machine to buy your tickets (& luckily a nice young girl there to assist), which was a hoot. The first thing, after the gift shop, that you come across is a section of western manga, which looked a lot like the display at our local Barnes & Noble. The museum itself is a bit confusing because it's also a museum of the school that was once housed in the building. The most impressive things were the shelves & shelves of manga lining the walls for 2 floors- all alphabetically arranged (in Japanese, of course :) & available for anyone to sit & read, & the caricatures of Kyoto geisha lining the walls, all by manga artists. The second floor also had a room devoted to a timeline of manga, from the 1980's to the present, & it was fun to find some of my favourite series there.

I'm going to admit that I had the most fun in the gift shop (prizes for  my Nerd Wars team- look forward to it! :) & at the museum's MM Cafe :) You had to buy tickets for your food selections, too, & had the choice of sitting at a long bar in one room, or sitting at hilariously decked-out tables in another, which is where we settled. The chairs were covered with frills & lace, & there were fluffy heart pillows on the banquette seats. I had a matcha parfait (after taking about a handful of Lactaid tablets):
Then we hopped the shuttle at the subway station & went back to the hotel. It was mid-afternoon, so after a rest Charlie headed back to the Nishijin Textile for some secret shopping (ooooh!) & Brendan & I accompanied him as far as the 7/11 to buy dinner. This time, we bought enough to choose 4 lucky cards, & 2 of them were winners! Woot for free snacks!!

We had a quiet evening, watching a movie on the laptop (Charlie hadn't seen "Captain America" yet) & listening to the opera singer's voice wafting in from the lobby.

Tomorrow, we leave Kyoto- which would make me sad, but we're meeting Momo, Hiroshi-kun, & Aoi-chan at Kyoto Station & all heading to an onsen-ryokan (traditional inn & bathhouse) in Uji, an historic town just outside Kyoto. Can't wait!

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