Sunday, March 19, 2017

Japan 2017 Day 12: In Which We Go Crackers...

Okay, actually we bake & decorate them. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

We begin our day with photos of a very cute child:

We all were up by 7:00 because it had been communally decided that getting out of the house too late was not kind to Mai-chan, who needs to eat lunch around noon. Otherwise, she screams until fed. Babies, you know :) So we had another delicious breakfast, including 2 kinds of tamagoyaki (rolled omelet)- sweet & cheese, various side-dishes, spinach, tomato sauce, and a delicious rice porridge made from the rest of last night's rice + the broth from the nabe + an egg cooked into it, called ojiya.

The goal was to leave by 9:00 am, walk to the train station (about 10 minutes away), and ride a taxi to a senbei (rice cracker) shop that allows you to decorate & cook your own senbei crackers for a nominal fee. When Momo & Hiroko proposed this, it definitely sounded like fun for kids & adults, but I hadn't imagined that it would such a cool place. We were out of the house pretty much on time & caught 2 taxis for the 7 of us for a 10-minute ride to the shop. Momo got the number of the taxi company for a return ride.

Somehow I hadn't realized that this wasn't just some little senbei shop... it was big! So many counters selling so many kinds of senbei! So many samples!! But first, we purchased uncooked senbei crackers & went into the room where we were shown how to cook them a bit first, before getting to draw on them.

We used soy sauce to draw lightly on the crackers with brushes. Then we cooked them some more, ending with a soy sauce wash and final roasting.

It was very warm in there, but it was a lot of fun. Then, we sampled senbei and shopped! The place had an area at one side where they had free ice chips & beverages, plus tables & chairs to eat & sip in.  It was very kid-friendly, except that the kids really filled-up on ice & samples :) The shop gradually became very, very busy with customers buying senbei. Charlie & I picked out a few bags too. Momo & Hiroko bought lots of them as omiyage presents for friends & family. Senbei is a perfect gift because it's not very expensive, lightweight, & delicious. As we partook of some beverages, assorted children made a beeline for the bathroom & Charlie ended up with all of the bags :)

After our cracker adventure, Momo called our taxis again & we ended-up taking them for a longer trip, into the train station in Nikko (we've been staying in house outside Nikko, in Imaitchi). From there we walked to a nearby restaurant for lunch. We were very aware that Mai could become "exploding Mai" if we were late for her lunch, but we got there in time! On our way to the restaurant we noticed shops selling sakura soft ice cream, & yuba manju, and decided that we'd hit them on our way back to the station at the end of this part of the trip. Lunch was noodles & very yummy. I had soba noodle soup with mochi, among other wonderful things, in it (yum!!!!) and Charlie had "kitsune" soba with squares of aburage (fried tofu). Ma-chan had vegetables & rice, baby-food-style.

The plan after lunch was to visit some nearby parks so the kids could run & play. On the way we found a shop selling Japanese-style crepes with yuba & sakura flavors, so we had to buy one & share it. Okay, so what is this yuba thing? Yuba is the skin that forms when you boil soy milk, which is skimmed off & cooled. It's served as "sashimi" (vegetarian raw fish?) and also in lots of different dishes. Most of the restaurants in that part of Nikko specialized in some kind of yuba dishes, so we decided we were in yuba heaven :) (Fun fact: the kanji for Nikko, 日光, means "sunshine.) The crepe was really interesting. As the lady cooked it, she placed yuba, sakura flowers (pickled but added to sweet bean paste), & cream cheese on the crepe, then rolled it all together. My section (divided among the 6 non-baby-food-eaters) was mainly cream cheese & a bit of sakura, and it was really good.

Charlie had found a the parks on a map in a guidebook. When we got there, google maps only found one, but thanks to Pokemon Go, we found the other one too :)

After lots of play time, we found a little Inari shrine nearby to visit. Last time in Japan, when we visited Kyoto with Momo, Hiroko, & the kids (with one less kid :) we went to the Fushimi Inari Taisho Shrine, which is the head of all the hundreds of Inari shrines in Japan. Inari is the goddess of agriculture, which has been expanded to include business in modern times. Inari's guardian messengers are Kitsune, folk-tale fox spirits, so there are always statues of kitsune at Inari shrines (that's a pretty good clue to figuring out which god is in residence, as many have favored guardians).

All shrines & temples have areas set aside for washing, to make yourself spiritually pure before praying, or just to get clean, spiritually. It's a great opportunity for water play, too, although there's a specific method used for washing. Charlie & Aoi-chan went together to become "kirei"- beautifully clean.

Charlie found himself in great demand with the kids all along the way today :)

After getting clean, we walked back to the shops where we'd seen the yummies before lunch. First, we bought yuba manju for after dinner (more on them later). Then we had some sakura soft ice cream, which was very nice. It had a cherry flavor, which came from little bits of cherry in it. Sakura trees don't have fruit, and cherries are called "sakuranbo" in Japanese, so I think they mixed some sakuranbo in with their sakura.

Then back to the station... did you wonder what we'd done with all those bags of senbei? We put them in a coin locker when we left the station before lunch :) So we collected our senbei, got on a train, & 10 minutes later we were walking back to the house, with a stop at the store for breakfast supplies.

We actually got home before 4:00 pm, as the kids had played pretty hard & we were all ready for a rest. We got the heaters going again & Charlie & the kids watched tv until they were bored. I did some origami with Aoi-chan & Nozomu-kun, and then the kids ran off to play with the origami animals, & Hiroko & Momo got dinner started, which was chirashizushi, a bed of rice & pickled veggies & sauce, over which they scattered scrambled egg & chopped cucumber. I often make it for Japanese New Year, so it was a yummy and a nostalgic meal :) There are few photos because I was enjoying it so much!

Aoi-chan decided to help Charlie dry some dishes after dinner:

And then we had yuba manju for dessert. The manju are filled with sweet red bean paste (anko) and appear to be rolled in a covering of yuba that is then fried. Very wow!

After dessert Momo & Hiroko prepared their kids for bath time. Mai-chan has been very adventurous today & has allowed both Charlie & Hiroko to hold her (she's at the age where Mom is the only one she wants). I am jealous. My bronchitis is moving along, but I still cough & blow my nose far too much to be holding her :(  So here's Hiroko holding her, to prove it can be done:

 Bathing then commenced. There was much tooth-brushing, soaking, occasional displeased crying, & very clean people afterward. Once the kids were asleep, both Momo & Hiroko came down to the kitchen to visit with Charlie & me for a bit. Then, kids stirred & moms headed to bed themselves.

Tomorrow Momo, Hiroko, & the kids head back to Tokyo. Sigh. Charlie & I will have one more night here before we leave for the next part of the journey. At least we get to spend one more morning with the gang. And we'll spend next Saturday with Momo, Hiroshi, & the kids in Tokyo!

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