Edo Wonderland

I feel a little bit like this today:

I’m not sure if it’s an allergy to the Japanese cedar tree or just a nasty cold, but my dizzy little rear end has been glued to the couch for the past 24 hours. I even missed Japanese class today, which means that though I missed just one day, when I return I’ll be a week behind. They move in warp speed.

But it’s the perfect opportunity to tell you about my trip to Nikko Edomura. Last week my school shuttled everyone up to visit Edo Wonderland, a 1600-1860s era “cultural theme park.”

As is the case for all school trips, the day’s highlight was the least educational component: the Ninja House.

Sorry this photo is fuzzy — there was a lot of balance concentration going on.

Inside, you must shriek with delight. It can’t be helped. Built on the slant of a hill, the interior is all wonky and crooked. It messed with my head so much, I thought the floor was moving.

But it wasn’t all fun and games. I visited the wax museum, where there was a whole lot of this:

And some of this:

And to round out the day, a dancing water show. I have no idea what was happening. It was a rainy day and I was sitting on a tatami mat, so all I could concentrate on were the smell of people’s feet.

The most amusing part about this trip for me was that just 30 minutes away, in the town of Nikko, sit some amazing UNESCO World Heritage sites, Tōshō-gū shrine among them. As in, real Edo-era buildings. (You can read about my first visit to them here.) Yet, our teachers didn’t mention these once. Maybe UNESCO should add a Ninja House.

If you are looking to visit Edo Wonderland, a good video showing what you’re in for can be found here.

Snow Lando

Last weekend I took a break from studying and stitching to find snow.

I found it and then I crunched it under my boots. I rolled around in it. The feeling of snow inside my gloves is like an instant time-machine: back to the yard of my youth, to snow forts and sofas and dishes made of ice, to knocking icicles off the gutter alongside the garage even though I was told they’d stab my eye out, and to the ice rink my dad made that left behind dead grass the following spring and summer. (It was worth it.)

Something about a crisp winter day rejuvenates me. I look good in rosy cheeks.

We spent the weekend in the Southern Alps in Nagano prefecture. I pretend to snowboard, but really I end the weekend with bruised knees and a few good runs under my belt and call it a success. A day of snow sports in Japan always ends visit to an onsen, but you don’t want to see those photos.

Kyoto is for Eaters, Again

As Dan reported, our recent trip to Kyoto was livelier than expected. While wriggling fish haunt his dreams, all I can think about is this:

Parfait perfection.

Maybe we need to look at that again…

This was lunch. I’m not ashamed. I also wasn’t alone — this is what my father-in-law ordered:

We’re like two peas in a pod sweet beans in a parfait.

But let’s back up. After we arrived at Kyoto station, Dan and I used our keen instincts — we found the only restaurant with a line and stood in it — to track down some seasonal soba.

Clockwise from the top left — pickles, tempura mushrooms and green peppers, warabi (a soybean-powder-covered mochi dessert), soba noodle soup with mushrooms, tempura dipping sauce, yuba (tofu skin, a Kyoto specialty), mushroom rice (kinoko takikomi gohan), and more pickles (another Kyoto specialty).

Nishin soba, another Kyoto specialty.

After lunch we went for a hike. At the peak there was a restaurant serving beer and ice cream, of course. What do you think this shop owner’s commute is like?

When you climb a mountain and meet a guy wanting to sell you ice cream, you can’t refuse. This one was kinako.

Our weekend wasn’t all about food, I swear. We did some sightsighing, and a little more sightseeing. And then after an especially rainy afternoon, we found a charming little omurice restaurant. Maybe not the haute Kyoto cuisine my in-laws were expecting, but it was perfectly placed comfort food for a chilly evening.

And, to round out the weekend (and our waistlines), we ended with a trip to Kyoto Ramen Street.

With a belly full of noodles and a cold beer in-hand, we hopped on the shinkansen for a sleepy trip back to Tokyo. Ah, how I love Japan in the fall.

Kyoto is for Eaters

Kyoto is so beautiful it almost makes me mad.

But since we’re being totally honest with each other, I’ll admit I was the most excited by this sight:

Black sesame and honey ice cream. With a gingersnap spoon. I shoved it into everyone’s face, insisting they must try the Most Delicious Ice Cream Combo, until I realized that meant less for me. So I sneaked away to lick my cone clean in the dark shadows of a shrine.

We opted for the kaiseki meal in our ryokan, which meant dinner while wearing our pajamas and yukata (cotton robes). While our server delicately described the seasonal components and zen balance of each dish, I was busy taking photos and so I had no idea what I was eating. Vegetable or fish? Who cares! It’s boiled!

It was great, but it made my mouth tired.

Our ryokan also served us breakfast, with amazing little pillow-like cubes of tofu.

I love Japanese breakfasts. I’ll take some rice and grilled fish over an omelet any day.

On our way out of town we stopped for lunch at Katsukura, a tonkatsu (fried pork) restaurant in Kyoto Station.

The sorta-trendy restaurant serves you sesame seeds with a small mortar and pestle, to grind and add sauce to for dipping. I did it wrong. Who knew you could be so uncouth at a fried meat restaurant?

In case anyone is curious we stayed at the lovely, not-too-fancy Ryokan Motonago. The tonkatsu restaurant is located in the JR Kyoto Station, The Cube, 11F (above Isetan).

A Weekend in Pictures

Hello! I’m back, at least physically if not-quite mentally. We spent the weekend with friends in Aichi prefecture, and it was fantastic.  Here’s a look at our weekend and some of the reasons I love summer in Japan.

We started the weekend with a proper lunch, prepared in Nagoya’s hitsumabushi 櫃まぶし style.

The evening found us in yukata 浴衣 at the Nagoya Castle summer night festival.

Mmm, cream puff.

Sunday meant a trip to Gifu for a river swim.

Then a post-swim hike.

Back in Kisogawa, as we waited for the hanabi 花火, the sunset almost outdid the fireworks show.

After some of the best fireworks I`ve seen (according to our friend, the display was 1/6th as big as others), it was off to an onsen. It rained a bit as we sat in an outdoor pool, cooling our faces. That night, curled up on the tatami mat, I never slept so well.

Soba School

While in Nagano Prefecture a few weeks ago, we learned how to make soba noodles from scratch. I’m not going to provide commentary, so you’ll have the same semi-clueless, watch-and-mimic experience as me:

Got it? Now time to eat!  They cooked up our noodles while we headed downstairs to the restaurant.

A satisfying feast.

Food Porn, Nagoya Edition

This past spring Dan and I spent a weekend in Aichi Prefecture with a friend to visit her family. It was one of the best weekends I’ve had in Japan. We visited Inuyama Castle during its springtime festival and watched the candle-covered wood carts creak through town, visited temples and an outdoor onsen, took in cherry blossoms along the river, and spent time with some wonderful people. And we ate a lot of food.

It was my first Shinkansen trip. So awesome. If you listen closely, you can hear Dan clapping and giggling like a 10 year old as the train approaches. OK, back to the food.

Because of the festival, Inuyama’s streets were lined with food carts. We started slowly with curry-filled croquettes, fresh from the fryer.

A shrimp pancake. Because why not.

Grilled miso-dipped mochi. And a feisty raccoon flag. This area of Japan is known for its miso, so the local specialties have a rich flavor, which I loved. I even liked it in the sweets.

Noodles for lunch, with more miso and yep, that’s a raw egg.

For dinner we had grilled eel, which might be my new favorite food.  I try not to think about this when I’m eating it.

On Day 2 we were too busy eating to snap photos, and all I caught was our tea-time snack of grilled mochi in warm red bean…soup? broth? Who knows, but redbeansoupbroth was niiice.

A train trip wouldn’t be complete without a beer for the road. This was a local brew. Our friend’s mother then sent us home with a huge bag of goodies — cake, a pomelo, strawberry-filled mochi, tea, and a ton of snacks. She must be related to my mother-in-law.

Such a lovely weekend.