Tokyo Bound

It's June 15th and our trip to Japan is finally under way!

Our flight left O'Hare at 12:10...we were seated upstairs on the 747..and all prepared (as much as we could be) for the longest flight we ever took; 11.5 hours! There is actually a 14 hour time difference, and we crossed the international Date Line! Narita was nice; most signs were in Japanese and English! At the baggage check Wayne said "Konichiwa" ("Hello") and the agent asked (in English) "Do you speak Japanese?" "Just konichiwa", he replied. But the agent was very friendly. Got on board the hotel's shuttle ("Friendly Limo") for the 90 minute ride to the Imperial Hotel in downtown Tokyo. Our first big surprise was that they drive on the left! Who knew? On board, announcements were made in Japanese and English. The friendly female voice said "Please do not use portable phones on the bus as they annoy the neighbors."!!! We love this country.

At first sight, Tokyo looks a lot like New York, but with a Japanese accent. Lots of friendly helpful people in the hotel...even some ladies whose only job appears to be to push the elevator button for you and then bow as you get in. In our room the beds were small, but the robes fit nicely (they must have been designed for shorter people like us!). It was about 4 pm, so we decided to walk in the garden across the street.

Even though we had umbrellas and rain coats, it was raining too hard (rainy season!) so we had to come back in after only 15 minutes. We decided just to eat in the hotel, so we went to the top floor Teppanyaki. There we had Japanese beer, scallops, sea bass with mushrooms, salad, veggies, garlic rice, miso soup, and tea. We must have been hungry! All this for 112,000 Yen. Then we headed to bed even though it was only 8:00 (who knows what time it was on our bodies).

Friday, June 16: aarrgghh!!! Woke up to a pouring rain! Oh well..time to eat again: the traditional hotel breakfast buffet! There was a choice of Japanese foods plus Western foods (waffles, pancakes, bacon, omelettes, fruit, toast, and the ever popular chocolate croissant!). Then it was off to Ueno Park (think NY's Central Park, the park in Barcelona, the one in Madrid, Rome, Florence, San Diego's Balboa Park...same idea). This one had several museums which we sort of zoomed through (boring plus no air conditioning, so they were stifling). Came out and it was still raining.

Time for lunch! We went to an authentic Japanese restaurant. How authentic? a) shoes off b) we were the only non-Japanese there c) menu COMPLETELY in Japanese (though with pictures)   d) sat on the floor. Wayne ordered the basic Bento box and Wendy had the deluxe Bento box. They came in about 2 minutes and were sooooo beautiful. But as we ate, it was "What's this?" "What's this?" "Do you know what that is?" " idea." Even after we ate some of the things we still didn't know! But of course there was rice and miso soup. Then, more walking and it finally stopped raining. Oh yeah...we got there an back by train (not subway). It was actually easy to figure out: announcements in English, not crowded (despite all those "stuff 'em in the subway" pictures we've seen), and very clean.

Back to the changed for dinner - finally going to meet the rest of the tour group! Our tour guide, Larry, announced that anyone who was interested should be in the lobby at 5:45 am for a special (off tour) visit to the big Tokyo Fish Market. We're in!

Tuna and Baseball!

Saturday, June 17

A pretty sleepless night; jet lag (to be expected), and knowing that we had to get up at 4:45! So we were in the (very quiet) lobby at 5:30 waiting for the rest of the group. Time to visit the Tsukiji Fish market. The bus took us past the Ginza area. The market is unbelievable!!!!! 17,000 trucks per day come and go. They auction off these 5 foot long solidly frozen tunas.  Little carts are zooming every which way - watch out! - you can get injured. There are 1,700 stalls!  Eels, squid, octopi, still flapping fish, beautiful shrimps...amazing!  We spent about an hour there and got back to the hotel at 7:00.

Time to eat. Then we still had about 2 hours to kill before the tour actually started. Finally on the bus with the whole group. First, we drove around the city a little and stopped at the Imperial Palace, where we walked the grounds - an impressive compound.  Then back to the Ginza shopping district for a quick (!) 15-minute teaser.  Then we stopped at Meiji Shrine, a very important Shinto shrine.  Shinto is not a religion - it is more of a way of living. No "Bible", no rules, no pictures of holy creatures.  And, of course, as always happens on our trips, there was a wedding going on! By this time the sun was out and with the humidity, the bridal party must have been really shvitzing.

Then at 2:00 we headed for lunch. This time it was at another hotel where they gave us a delicious salad and steak with French fries!  Nothing mysterious here. it was very tasty.

Then back to our hotel where Wendy took a nap, while Wayne went back across the street to the Hibiya Garden. No rain this time; it was warm and beautiful. Lots of people, lots of cats!

7:00, and back on the bus for dinner!  They took us to a loud, jumping, Yakatori place. No one was hungry after that big lunch.  First, they brought out big pitchers of beer.  Then a beautiful (of course) salad with tuna tartare (Hey! You look familiar. Didn't I see you this morning?), a large chunk of tofu, and radishes and green onions.  Then a dish with meatball-sized potato croquettes and something that looked like sea urchin (but it was really ground shrimp fried in a ball with long "fried" tentacles). Actually quite yummy! No room for more. Oh look! Here comes skewers of chicken and beef...when you finished one they brought another!  Then, a bowl of shrimp tempura and bean sprout soup (no rice). Finally...dessert! Vanilla ice cream with bean paste cubes (looked like little dice but were rubbery). A very fun time. On the bus on the way back, our local guide Toshi-san told us that the Japanese government recommends eating 30 different kinds of food a day!  Makes sense. So that's why they have so many little things in each course.

Sunday, June 18

Still had trouble sleeping, so we got up early and went for another walk in Hibiya Garden.  Less humid and no rain.  Then onto the bus. More driving around Tokyo; first to a Buddhist temple, then to another Shinto shrine.  The temple had been damaged in the war so most of it was only 60 years old, but the shrine was from the 1700's!  From there we walked to a Maxwell-street-like market. Food, fans, shoes, cookies, clothes, etc., etc.  Our guide, Larry, warned us that there were a lot of tchotchkes, but it was still fun to look. Then back on the bus and back to Ginza!  We went into the big department store which had a two-floor food court!  Wow!  So many beautiful things. Bento boxes and fish and pastries and chocolates.  But no place to eat!  It was more like a take-out place. This was the end of touring for the day. We bought a tempura shrimp and asparagus to snack on.  We debated having a whole lunch, but opted for Plan B - lunch at the hotel.  So we walked back - 9 blocks in the rain! The hotel was very crowded and we couldn't get a seat in any of the restaurants, so we went to Plan C: Room Service!!! This was also good because we had to pack our one-night bags for the trip tomorrow. Wendy had tuna rolls (15!) and Wayne had a beautiful and delicious salade Nicoise (when in Rome....). This was also because we weren't sure what they would have to eat at the ball game (yes!  we are going to a baseball game!). Then we went to THE TOKYO DOME!

Wow!!!! It's "Tokyo Dome City"...the ball park, an amusement park, and an arcade. It's kind of like the Metrodome in Minneapolis. What an experience! The game was very good but it was more like a football or basketball game re the spectators. First of all: NO SCORECARDS :-(   No one keeps score.  Very few people wore baseball caps, but a lot wore jerseys.  Before the game there was no National Anthem, but in the 7th inning the Giants (home team) and the Eagles cheerleaders came out and did YMCA!!!! Yes! I kid you not.  We were glad we had eaten earlier, but it wouldn't have been a problem: there were many, many food stands: KFC, hamburgers, mystery foods, beer, Ritz crackers (!), but each stand also sold bento boxes (different sizes) and everyone was buying these.  Again, everything was soooo clean.  The people would eat their food and put the garbage in a plastic bag and then go to the concourse to throw it out!  Nothing on the floors.  The vendors were all young women. They sold beer (from kegs on their backs) and whiskey and scotch, and Tokyo Dome ice cream sandwiches.  That's it - no peanuts, hot dogs, or Crackerjacks. They did not shout "Beer here" which is good since no one would have heard them - the cheering was non-stop - not so much from the fans but from the teams' cheering sections. The home team had the whole right field and most of the left field bleachers; those fans wore orange shirts and waved flags and blew horns and they sang a different song for each player!  And not just before he batted or in between pitches, but the entire time he was up!  The Eagles had a smaller, but still loud, section in left.  Both sections did this the entire game!  The fans were very polite to both teams; no booing at all. In between innings the scoreboard would show ads and they played American songs from the 60's and 70's. There was lots of English. The score board often said "Make some noise!", but apparently no one could read it because mostly they didn't (except for the cheering sections). At one point the Giants were losing 2 - 1 but had the bases loaded and 2 outs and the batter (Joe Dillon!) hit a long drive to deep center. We both jumped up and started to yell and scream; the center fielder caught it at the wall - and we looked around and we were the only ones standing!   Cultural faux pas!!!!  Well, the Giants lost, but it was a fabulous experience. Took a cab back to the hotel (all the cab drivers wear white gloves and the back doors open and close automatically!  Don't touch!! tipping.), and tomorrow we say sayonara to Tokyo.

Crossing the Country

Monday, June 19
Up and out early with our bags to head for the famed bullet train.
Tokyo station was mobbed (at 8:30), but everyone moved in an orderly fashion. The train pulled out exactly as scheduled at 8:56. They said it can get up to 180 mph; it was hard to tell if it did.  It was very smooth and quiet, and we made 2 stops and then got to our stop and the whole trip was 35 minutes.  We arrived at Odaware-Hakone Station and hopped on our tour bus to go to the Hakone Open Air Museum. A beautiful park on many different levels just filled with wonderful sculptures and statues by Picasso, Moore, et. al.  And the weather was absolutely perfect. Toshi-san told us that japan (or at least this area) gets about 35 sunny days a year and the rest are cloudy or rainy. We all thought we were so lucky, but he said today was still cloudy "in the mountains", so no view of

Next a short bus ride to lunch in the Il Miraggio restaurant in the Hakone Hotel. Again - fantastic! The restaurant sits right on Lake Ashi which is in the caldera of a volcano that last erupted 40,000 years ago. The view reminded us of our lunch overlooking lake Louise in Banff.  Lunch was a splendid buffet with a wide variety of Japanese and other foods.  Next we took a ferry boat ride across the lake (45 minutes).  Very smooth, with beautiful tree-covered holls all around. Then, the "rope-way" - which is their name for a cable-car / gondola (the Alps kind, not the S.F. kind). The station is right above a sulphur mine so clouds of noxious sulphur hydroxide were venting out of the ground!  The gondola held about 10 of us. No ventilation, very hot and sulphurous-smelling, but a tremendous view (alas, no Fiji-yama!). The whole ride (which went across a chasm and then straight down) took 8 minutes.  Then we got on a funicular to go down the rest of the mountain (can you believe this?).  THEN....we got on a little train (jammed with locals) for about a 2 minute ride to the next station. Then, following Toshi, we walked for about 5 minutes and were the Hakone Museum!!!! Whoa!

Finally, a 10 minute bus ride to the Fujiya Hotel.  This hotel was built in 1887 and looks it!  A classic old wooden Japanese building (modernized somewhat), but with the typical old hotel "wall of photos" of dignitaries from the 20's, 30's, yadda, yadda....   The hotel has lots of beautiful gardens so we walked around for a while. Then to dinner.  Everyone had pre-ordered but when our waitress came we wanted a bottle of wine. This really confused her so we were just sitting there (with 2 other couples) while everyone else was being served!  Eventually we got our dinner, but the food was really unmemorable.   Tomorrow, a long bus ride to Takayama (and, maybe....a glimpse of Mt. Fuji!).

>> Time out for a word about the toilets.  The hotels and even most public places have toilets with an electronic seat. Press one button and you have instant warmth for your buns!  Nice!!  Press another and it works like a bidet.  When you first sit down (or even lean forward and then back again) it swishes fresh water into the bowl.  Very civilized and functional.  On the other hand, some of the less fancy public restrooms (like in a park) feature those good old squatter things.  How in the world they expect anyone (male or female) to use that is completely beyond us.  Luckily, haven't been forced to use an "Eastern" style one yet.

Tuesday, June 20
Hakone to Takayama.
Off on an hour-long ride to the Itchiku Kubota Art Museum to see the fabulous tie-dyed kimonos.
These are not like psychedelic tie-dyed, but feature beautiful scenes of nature.  And, from the museum we actually had great views of Mt. Fuji!  Toshi said it is only clear enough to see from this spot about 65 days a year.  Then a short bus ride and it was time for lunch.  We went to a hotel and again had a great view of Fuji, but that was the best part as the food was really bad (note:  when you go to japan, DO NOT order chicken! They don't seem to know how to cook it).

Next, a 2 hour ride to Matsumoto Castle, a national treasure.
Note that this is not a castle like we think of them (thick, stone walls), but a tall (5-story) wooden structure (but still with the obligatory moat). It was pretty neat.  The stairs inside are intentionally steep to slow down invaders (too bad for the folks who lived there the other 99% of the time!).  Then, another 2 hour ride, but this time it was a beautiful ride up into the mountains as we followed a river past 3 dams, many switchbacks, and through long tunnels (some over 2 miles).  The temperature was posted by the side of the road every few miles and it went from 24F to 18F by the time we arrived at the Takayama Resort.

Wendy checked out the hot springs bath (in fact, all of the hot water in the hotel comes from the natural springs!). Then we had an amazing 11-course Japanese dinner. First, a rectangular wooden box with 3 little bowls inside.  One had pickled fish, one had mooshed tofu, and one had ???? (some sort of jellied stuff; we had no clue).  Then fish dumpling soup with a green soybean matzoh ball (which, surprisingly, had no taste).  Next, 3 little dishes of raw fishes (sounds like a children's book!)....shrimp (tiny ones), tuna, and ?????  Next the waitresses fixed up some little stone stoves at each place and put on a plate of radishes, pumpkins, eggplants, shrimp, green peppers, all with a miso-based sauce. It cooked for a few minutes and then we ate it.  next...a plate with a 6" whole fish (which did not appear to have been gutted) which had been grilled, accompanied by citrus, ginger, and pepper, and a small tomato filled with other veggies. Then!!! the stoves were relit and she brough us plates with thin slices of Hida beef (local - better than Kobe). We each grilled our own and ate that. Yum!  Then a bowl of rice with tiny dried baby sardines.  Then (of course) miso soup.  All was washed down with sake (Wendy) and 2 bottles of beer (Wayne). Next, a plate with 3 kinds of pickles. FINALLY, a slice of watermelon and soy milk tofu.  We were totally stuffed!

Tempura and Rickshaws

Wednesday, June 21
Exploring Takayama!

Finally, a real Japanese town!  This is what we were looking for: narrow streets, a beautiful river, the morning market, shop after shop of foods, boxes, furniture, clothes, etc.  First we went to the Takayama Float Museum. They have a spring festival and an autumn festival, and for hundreds of years they have been having a parade of these ornate, huge, wood-carved floats. Some have wheels, but some do not. They weigh several tons! The ones without wheels require 20 - 30 people to lift and carry through the streets. We saw some old ones, and some of those are still in use.  Others are housed in "garages" throughout the city.

Then we walked to another beautiful Shinto shrine.

Along the way we saw groups of school children in uniforms who waved to us and said "Hello!".  Then we walked through the main part of town. At lunch time, our guide said we could eat wherever we wanted, so a group of 6 of us set out to find a particular tempura restaurant that was on our guide map. We followed the streets and actually found it, but it looked like it was closed.  We tried pulling and pushing the wooden door but it didn't open. We were standing there trying to decide what to do when I suggested we try to slide it open! Sure enough, that worked.  We walked in and the whole thing was two sit-on-the-floor (no leg holes) tables and a counter with 6 seats. How fortunate!   So we sat and ordered the "regular tempura".  We were all very thirsty, so we ordered the "Beer large" ($8).  The glasses were so big it took two hands to lift them!  They must have held 24 ounces!

The "chef" was on the other side of the counter. He began cutting up stuff and coating it and putting it into a big rusty pot that looked like it was from the Ming Dynasty period (ok, wrong country, but you get the idea).  It was better not to look.  After 10 minutes or so we got bowls with rice on the bottom and then tempura shrimp (2 large ones), eggplant, nori (seaweed), a leaf of some sort (yummy), a piece of squid, and some unidentifiable vegetable (pumpkin?).  It was all sooooo good!  Not heavy at all. And we pretty much finished the beers!  Then the two of us went back to the center of town and took a genuine rickshaw ride!  Our "driver" said he didn't speak English but we said that was ok.  So he gave us another tour of the town.  He stopped to say "river", "garage", "sake factory". He took our picture with a "Hai...cheese".  Awesome fun!
Then, back on the bus to the hotel, and before we knew it, it was time to eat again!  Wayne had just about reached capacity, so he stayed at the hotel (as did the other four from our group), but Wendy went with the others for shabu-shabu.  This is where they give you very thin slices of the best grade of beef and you dip them in boiling water.  The heat melts the fat and cooks the beef very quickly.  They also give you vegetables.  Wendy said it was very delicious.  She came back around 9:15 and we watched the end of "Singin' In the Rain" on TV, in English with Japanese subtitles.  Don Lockwood-san!

Thursday, June 22 (a 6-month anniversary day)
Back on the bus for another winding, tunnel-filled ride to Shirakawago (almost sounds like "Chicago" when Toshi says it).  This is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  It is famous because there are about 175 thatched-roof houses in the area.  Some of the roofs are almost 4' thick and contain 4,000 yards of thatch!  Then we walked through the village and over a bridge on the rushing river. A beautiful spot.

Back on the bus to go to lunch and....UH OH!  The bus won't start!  So, many in the group opted to get soft serve ice cream cones made from the local milk. Delicious!  After about 30 minutes we borrowed a bus from another tour group to go to the restaurant in Kitano-sho.  We walked in and there were long tables and each place had about 15 little dishes with different kinds of food and those little stoves cooking beef.
Do they eat like this every day??  And, of course, more beer!  When we were done our bus was still not fixed so we had to stand around, and some folks had another soft serve cone!  Finally, the bus came and took us to an overlook above Skirakawago.  What a beautiful sight.  Then a 40 minute ride, through one last tunnel, and we were out of the mountains - the gorund was flat!  And the houses in this area all had black tile roofs.  Toshi said we were getting close to the Sea of Japan.  Strong winds come off the sea, so they need the heavy roof tiles.  We stopped at a fisherman's wharf (gift shop and fish market), and then back on the bus.  Wendy has been supplying everyone with various treats on the bus, so it was time to stuff ourselves again with various cookies!

Then, into Noto and the Kagaya Hotel.  This is the most fantastic place! Beautiful views, architecture, painting, tapestries.  Everyone expected a little place (since the rooms are "authentic"), but it is a big hotel.  But the rooms are really Japanese.
We have a suite and each room can be closed with sliding paper walls.  Tatami mats on the floors (no shoes).  A low table in the center.  Each room comes with a personal assistant (ours was Yoshiko). She sat us down (on the floor) and brought us green tea and some gooey sweet dumpling candy.  Then we had to get "dressed" for dinner.  Ha Ha!  Getting dressed means just underwear plus your yakuta - white with blue flowers for ladies, blue with white flowers for men.  See, the thing is, everybody in the hotel walks around wearing these!  Kind of weird to see everyone the same, but fun in our group.  Plus, little slippers. So we all went down to take out group picture.  How fun!   Then into a large room for dinner.  You had a choice of sitting on a cushion on the floor or on a new invention - the chair!  Wayne lasted about 2 minutes on the floor.
Dinner, as you can see, was about the same as lunch - tons of delicious beautiful food in small portions - but they kept bringing more and MORE and MORE and M-O-R-E!!!   Vegetables, sushi, beef, chicken, fish, pickles, soba noodles, miso, rice, watermelon, cherries, grapes, sake, beer!  Then, back to our room where magically the table was gone and two futons (really just mattresses) were laid out on the floor. Sleepy time!  End of Day 7 (only 7?????)

Kanazawa and Kyoto

Friday, June 23

Sleeping on the futons was fine, but getting up off the floor was a little tough. And no one wanted to leave this beautiful after just one day, but we had to.  But first - breakfast!  Back to the same large room for an authentic Western meal, but still sitting on the floor!  Beautiful fruits and salads and scrambled eggs and bread. Yum! 

Then onto the bus. As we pulled out, about 40 of the "personal room assistants" were lined up on both sides of the driveway waving and smiling and bowing (they do a LOT of smiling and bowing here).  Toshi assured us that regular Japanese folks do not eat 3 meals like this a day; this is vacation eating.  He also told us that almost all children begin learning English at about age 12 (though it is not compulsory ) in school.

We drove through more mountains and tunnels until we got to Kanazawa and the Kenroku-en Garden (voted the 3rd best garden in Japan!).

From the guide map it looked like it was very big, but it was actually about half the size of our own botanic garden. But it did have many beautiful (and old; it dates from 1759!) trees and statues and ponds and fountains.  Once again we had perfect weather Toshi remarked how this has NOT been a normal "rainy season" week).  After an hour or so it was.....yes! Time to eat!  This time they laid out a beautiful tempura lunch -
shrimp, several kinds of veggies, plus R&MS (rice and miso soup!) and chicken in sauce (actually good!!), and salad.  Then an hour more on the bus to the Nomura Samurai House.  This several-hundred-year old house belonged to a mid-level Samurai.  It was beautiful but surprisingly small.  Next, a short ride to another market.  Mostly fish (this one is famous for its crabs), but had flowers and veggies, too.  Really cool.  Walking back to the bus we saw a store with a purple soft serve cone outside!  So we had to investigate.  Was it blueberry ice cream?  Boysenberry?  Mulberry? NO! It was sweet potato!  Wendy got one and said it tasted....sweet!  Not really potato-ey.  Then back on the bus to catch our next train.

Note: As mentioned in the previous post, Wendy (and others) have been buying crackers and cookies and candy at the markets and stores and then passing them out on the bus as we drive to the next stop.  But by now, everyone is so stuffed that no one did this.  But as we were getting ready to drive off, "Big Bob" walked down the aisle offering everyone pieces of onaga that he had just bought. Sadly, he got very few takers. You see, onaga is EEL!

We got to the station and boarded the Thunderbird #32; not a bullet train (there are none on this side of the country), but very fast and smooth anyway.  A beautiful ride past many mountains covered with millions of trees.  Even when we were close by it was hard to see the ground - that's how thick the trees were.  And hundreds of tunnels.  There was one that was nearly 10 miles long.  After 2 hours we got to Kyoto.  Our guide had warned us we had about 1 minute to get off the train (tight schedules or an old tour guide trick?), so we were up and ready as it stopped.  He was so happy because he said we all got out in about 30 seconds!  At first sight Kyoto reminds us somewhat of Florence - that is, the Kamo River looked like the Arno with many bridges and shops on both sides.  Kyoto has over 2,000 temples, but we doubt they will be like the churches in Florence.  We checked into the Westin Miyako and were surprised to see so many Western people (at the Tokyo Imperial there were very few).  We had a regular (i.e., Western) dinner (Caesar salad, steak, fish) and then to sleep - dreaming of tomorrow's day of shopping.

Amazing Kyoto

Saturday, June 24

Exploring Kyoto! First we went to the Sanjūsangen-dō Buddhist Temple - a huge centuries-old building. Inside are 1,000 wooden gold-colored statues (all basically identical) from the 13th and 14th centuries!

Each one has 40 arms/hands.  They are lined up in rows 10 deep; 500 on one side, 500 on the other.  In the center is a much larger Buddha.  Truly amazing!

Then we went to the home of the Suzuki's - an elderly couple (he looked like a 13th-century Yoda!). We sat on tatamis (and chairs) and they showed us a traditional tea ceremony.  All 42 of us got a sweet cake and a cup of green tea. Then they cleared that away (with helpers) and put out little tables and gave us an origami lesson!  Mrs. Suzuki told us that children in kindergarten learn origami, but that does not mean it is easy!  We made a Samurai helmet and a little box.  Really cool!  And then they gave each of us an origami kit to take home.

Next we drove to the Gion district - a shopping area and home to the Geishas.  We walked around and saw lots of neat buildings and our new guide, Shiro, told us interesting things about the area.  Wendy got a green tea soft serve.  The afternoon was free time, so we walked past Shinto arches, the Kyoto Zoo, the Kyoto Art Museum, and then to the Kyoto Crafts building. The building has 5 floors with different specialties on each (e.g., dolls, kimonos / yakutas, ceramics).  A mix of tschochkes and some good stuff.  Many from our group were also there.  Then a walk back to the hotel and a well-deserved spot of tea plus a scone with cream and pureed strawberries (where are we?).  You notice there was no mention of lunch today - it was not included - because we are walking and trying to build up an appetite for our special fancy dinner at Misogi-gawa, one of Kyoto's best restaurants. 

Note: Kyoto was the capital for about 1,100 years!!!  "Kyo" = capital, "to" = metro / city.  Now of course it is Tokyo, which has the same letters, but here it means: "To" = East, "Kyo" = Capital (The capital in the East!).

OK: dinner. WOW!!!!  Fantastique!!  The restaurant is on the Potocho, a narrow "street" (no cars, room for 4 people abreast) with bar after restaurant after club for about 6 blocks.  We managed to find the restaurant easily enough though the taxi had to drop us at the end of the street.  Inside it was all wood and traditional Japanese décor, but Wendy was speaking French to the owner. Yes, it is a Japanese-French restaurant! They took us to a private room and we did the sit-on-the-floor thing (well...on pillows).  Then they started with the food.  All French, but served in beautiful Japanese dishes (so tiny!).  Here are some pix:

The amuse bouche: Mille fuillee with smoked salmon, cherry tomato with cheese mousse, pickled peppers, and a tomato basil tart no bigger than your thumb!  Then, the first of 3 great appetizers:  thin-sliced prawn topped with black caviar on red pepper mousse on a sea of spinach puree, with a little tomato and endive garnish.  #2: beef stew with mushrooms, watercress, gravy on a bed of mashed potatoes; the whole thing would fit in the palm of your hand with room to spare.  #3: scallops topped with dainty mushrooms and a truffle slice on a lemon and wine sauce (sauce rendezvous) garnished with okra.  Wayne had been taking pictures of each course but we suddenly realized we had missed the last two! (we were so busy oohing and aaahhhing and tasting!)  Then, soup...onion for Wayne (in a little tiny crock) and vichysoisse consommé on ice for Wendy.  Next, the fish course!  A beautiful brown crisp puff pastry filled with sea bass, tiny asparagus pieces in a little edible nest on a wine sauce with little heart designs.  Then lime sorbet to cleanse the old palate.  Finallt the main courses!  A salad with tomatoes and cukes grown in the mountains of Kyoto.  Cooked seasonal vegetables (carrots, beans, sweet potatoes, tomatoes), and thin slices of beef cooked perfectly in a demi-glace sauce.  And....dessert!  A thin cookie cylinder filled with several kinds of red berries floating on white chocolate mousse. And then (of course) the plate of sweets:  lace, almond tuille, mini cream puff, a grape-jellied thing (really a fancy Chuckle!), orange candy, chocolate square.  Plus two glasses of champagne, two bottles of beer. No pain...only happiness.

Sunday, June 25
After a light breakfast we took a short trip to Nijo Castle, home of one of the Shoguns.  The floors intentionally squeak like nightingales when you walk on them to warn the residents of invaders (these people were really paranoid!).  It was a little drizzly outside, but we were prepared. By the time we got to Nara an hour later, it was raining pretty hard.  Our luck during this rainy season had finally ended.  We ate another crummy chicken lunch, then took a short ride to Kasuga Grand Shrine/  There is a large park, and in the center is this Shinto shrine filled with thousands of 4' - 7' high stone lanterns. Amazing!  The park is also filled with hundreds of deer. Yes, deer!  Somewhere back in time a deer had helped someone, so now they are protected.  And they are not afraid of people and are very polite (like the Japanese!).  if you give them food (you can buy little deercakes) and raise your hand and say "Arigato", they will bow their heads 3 times!!!  yes, really!!!!!  So we walked through the paths to the main shrine building in the rain and luckily there was another wedding!  This time we got to see the whole ceremony...very neat.  Then back to the bus for a short ride to Todaii-ji Temple.  This Buddhist temple is the largest wooden building in the world!  Inside is a Buddha which is 53' tall!  Parts of it are form the 8th century!  By now it was raining harder and we were running late (due to the wedding) so we rushed to the bus (ha-ha - 42 people - our guide said we should learn to talk AND walk like the Japanese do) for the ride back to Kyoto.  By the time we got there the rain was just about over.  Wendy and several other women had to hurry to their 5:00 appointment to be made up like Geishas!!!!! 

First, they do the white face thing, then some eye and lip highlights.  Then they dress them up in several layers of slips and robes which are each pulled very tight (each one said "I can't breathe!").  Then the top kimono and the "backpack" thingie.  Then they put on a helmet of hair!  When they came out, Wayne was not sure who was who!
OK...that is Wendy on the right!

Then they all paraded around, and a pro photographer to many photos with various props.  A lot of fun - a once-in-a-lifetime thing!  But they couldn't wit to get out of the costumes!  The dressing part took about an hour; the undressing about 10 minutes.

Then we walked over to the Pontocho and met Dr. Bob and Rhoda, Howard and Irene, and Barbara and Mike for dinner at River oriental.  It was raining a little so we couldn't eat outside.  We had another great dinner:  spring rolls, spicy shrimp, lobster salad, snapper with arugula, and mashed potatoes.  Then chocolate mousse and fruit parfait for dinner. Really fun.

Monday, June 26
Our last day.  Three more temples to visit today (that only leaves about 1,990 to go).  First, the Rokuon-ji Temple, also known as the Golden Pavilion.

This is another Buddhist temple (actually, many of these temples consist of several to many buildings surrounded by gardens and/or a forest).  This temple is covered on 20,000 3"x3" gold leaf squares!  It was another gray, rainy day, so we couldn't see it's full brilliance, but it was still very neat.  Then on to Daitoku-ji Zen Temple.  This is noted for its beautiful raked gravel gardens. By this time most of us were "templed out" again. Luckily, it was time for lunch; this time "Italian style"!!!  But another fabulous meal:  it started with a salade Nicoise, then pasta Bolognese, then chicken (duck?) atop chick peas and kidney beans, and then a tri-dessert of mint (?) ice cream, apple coffee cake, and tiramisu.  Yum!!!!

Then off to one last temple: Kiyomizu-dera.  Even in the rain it was beautiful. A huge pagoda and big buildings rising out of the mist and lush mountainside (it looked exactly like Shangri-La).  So beautiful the camera could not capture it.  Then down one of the many shopping streets that surround the temple (hmmm.....temple....tourists.....shops.  Coincidence?).  We bought some beautiful pottery. Then we opted to walk back to the hotel instead of taking the bus. What a great idea!! The street eventually led us past several more beautiful temples and a park with a bridge and a lagoon. 

A fabulous way to end a fabulous trip!

Japan Photo Album Links

You can see our Shutterfly photo albums for this trip.


Japan Vol 1:

Japan Vol 2: