Monday, July 8, 2013

Japan 2013: Shinkansen to Kyoto

Today was a transition day. We packed-up & got a taxi to Tokyo Station (above pic is a street view from the station), then hopped on the shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto. During the taxi ride I got some photos of place saround Tokyo:

I wanted to get the the station early enough to have time to choose some ekiben- train station bentou- for lunch. These bentou usually have a rice base (or little rice balls in different colours) & then okazu (side dishes, like pickles & veggies, tamago yaki & tofu), and some sort of fish or meat as well. Brendan browsed the bentou with me, & when he found something that looked good, we stopped & got 2 of those- 1 for Charlie, too. I found a similarly colourful one with lots of yummy okazu & little shrimps. You just tell the kiosk lady the number of the bentou (they're in a window in plastic form :) you want & how many.

We waited & bit, & then went up to the platform in time to get our luggage onto the 11:03 Hikari to Kyoto. There's a space for luggage at the back of each car, so we've learned to enter from the back & stow our bags as quickly as possible before the space fills up. Most folks riding the shinkansen during the week are business men or ladies our for a day of shopping, but there are also folks like us traveling around with everything they own in tow...

outside the shinkansen

 And a sight not often encountered where we come from- a Buddhist monk heading for the car behind ours.

As the train pulled out of Tokyo I got some more photos of the busy streets:

The train trip to Kyoto takes about 2 hours, so Charlie & Brendan played cards while I crocheted:

 Every seat has a map of the amenities on the train:

 ...and a place for your cold drink, too.

Then it was time for ekiben!! I was so excited to open my box. Charlie & Brendan's looked like this outside:

 And here's inside:

Here's mine:

Mine was supposed to be similar inside, but...
Yikes!!! She gave me the wrong one!!! This one has unagi (smoked eel), a couple of sad-looking dead fishies with heads & eyes, & what looked like dead chickens on the left there. Sigh. No colourful cute okazu!!! Clearly a guy's bentou :(

Unagi is not my first choice, but I can eat it, so I dug in. The pickles were fine, & the bed of rice was cooked in dashi (broth) so it was really quite yummy. What appeared to be dead chickens turned out to be little clams, & they weren't fishy-tasting at all, so that was ok. After I ate enough of the rice I could roll the poor, dead fishies out of the way & keep eating the rice & clams. In the end, I was amazed by how delicious this disappointing bentou was :) Plus, Charlie & Brendan gave me most of their okazu!

As we got closer to Kyoto the scenery changed from cities & industrial areas to countryside.

And the closer to Kyoto the mountains showed-up, hazy in the distance:
When we got to Kyoto, we found a taxi pretty quickly (not too shabby, as it's a big station) & headed for the Kyoto Brighton Hotel. It had been described in a review as representative of Japan's "bubble economy" of the 80's & they weren't kidding! Our room is at least twice the size of the one in Tokyo:

There is free matcha green tea & 3 kinds of regular green tea & a beautiful teapot & cups to serve it. The bathroom has a separate room for the shower & ofuro (huge bathtub) glassed-off from the rest of the room. There's plenty of space to move around, a table to eat on! So comfortable :)

After moving in & going down to chat with the concierge about the shuttle bus & such, we decided to take the shuttle to the nearest subway station, & then take the subway to Kyoto station to find some dinner. Kyoto station has a department store as well as an underground mall, & even the little subway station has a small bakery. The subway spit us out in the underground mall, which led to the basement level of the department store, where, like Takashimaya in Tokyo, all the prepared food kiosks are. Yum!!!

We were in the mood to eat in a restaurant, so we went to the 11th floor & looked at the restaurant map, choosing a tempura place. Little did we know the adventure we were in for... 

 In Japan, it's most common to have set meals & they don't generally like to alter the menu, so when I asked the hostess if they had yasai dake (vegetable-only) tempura & she said yes, I assumed it was on the menu. In fact, it was not. We were seated at a long table around the tempura chef (like the places where they cook the food on a hot plate in the table) & the chef asked each of us what we liked. Charlie doesn't like any seafood but scallops- duly noted by chef. Brendan is saishoku-jin (vegetarian)- duly noted. I'll eat practically any fish or seafood (except for poor dead fishes with eyes...) but no meat- duly noted. They showed me a menu & asked me to choose a set meal (which is when I figured-out that they were changing the menu for us) & then we were off! 

The hostess arrived with cute bibs ceremoniously tied on, along with a discussion of Brendan's rattail :) 

A pretty tray soon arrived with all sorts of bowls & things. 

The chef showed us the containers on the counter with dipping sauce & flavoured salt (both popular with tempura here) & then he started cutting & frying things. The tempura arrived piece by piece, hot from the deep fryer. It was amazing. 

He showed me my shrimps before frying them, fresh & leggy, & a few moments later presented me with the tempura-fried legs...

I jokingly asked him if they were yummy, & he just laughed. So I ate them. They were very crunchy, a bit weird, & quite delicious.

Here's our chef at work:

The meal ended with kakiage- a sort of fritter made to order. Mine shrimp (sans legs), Charlie's with scallops, & Brendan's with veggies. Then they took our trays & served us yummy green tea. Since I had been doing most of the talking, I got to pay the bill :)

It was a pretty awesome experience!!!

Then we went back to the department store (for the record, it's Isetan) & bought stuff for breakfast, stopping by the entire floor devoted to sweets first. OMG!!! We are going back there...

And then back to the subway to catch the train to the station where the shuttle-bus stops.

We just missed one bus, but another arrived soon & the evening was very pleasant- & we are in Kyoto!! 

Tomorrow: more adventures in Kyoto!

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