A visit from the Mothership. (Featuring Miyako Odori) 24.04.14

I’ve had an exhaustingly adventurous couple of weeks, and my calendar shows no promise of letting up. However, this can only really be a good thing right?

Last week my mother endured the arduous 17 hour journey to come and see me. She even brought me some salt and vinegar crisps of which there are none in Japan, not proper ones, not even in world food stores. She was a model traveller – trying everything from the standard Japanese curry house ‘Coco Ichibanyaa’, to the less palatable perhaps… Sashimi (raw fish with rice and seaweed). Sushi has grown hugely in popularity in the uk recently, and I’ve got lots of friends who love it, but I don’t blame those who don’t. After all, not everyone likes fish cooked – let alone raw.

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She did very well, even if she did have to hide her leftovers under her chopsticks. I think it might have been the raw squid that almost sent her over the edge. We also tried two regional styles of Okonomiake, a night of Yakiniku (thanks to the Freitags!), ramen, and I tested out my new ‘Nama fu’ recipe rather unsuccessfully.

Unfortunately my dad couldn’t make it this time, but, as he has a crippling fear of heights it meant that without him we could brave the cable car and rope way up Mount Hiei. Even those of you who enjoy walking should take the cable car up one day, it’s a lot of fun and feels like you’re on a proper ride. Here’s my mum taking her life into her own hands getting into the rope way car at the top of the mountain.

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Kyoto is bowl shaped, it’s surrounded by mountains. It is said that the mountains keep evil out, so they are very important. In august huge kanji characters are burned into the side of the mountains.

One of the highlights from my mums visit was taking the Shinkansen. It’s such a reliable, fast, and comfortable way of travelling. It’s expensive though! What would have been roughly a five hour journey by car took us just under two hours, from Kyoto to Hiroshima. First we went to the peace park and took in the museum there, I can’t recommend it highly enough. The museum covers the history surrounding the bombing of Hiroshima in a balanced and informative manner, and somehow maintains the essential element of sheer tragedy and horror. I’d like to delve further into this subject, but I know I wouldn’t be able to do it justice in this format.

The second part of our trip to Hiroshima was a tram ride over to Miyajima Island. Our day passes covered unlimited tram and ferry travel so it was super easy, I love trams, why aren’t there more trams?? Anyway, the weather was perfect and we spent a long time looking through countless souvenir shops, gazing at the famous Miyajima gate, and visiting the aquarium (which was my mums favourite part of her visit). I’d never seen a sea lion before, they are HUGE! I’ve popped a picture of the famous gate below. The tide was out, but it’s still quite a sight, it was built in the water because it was thought that the island is a God.

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Here you can see some of the island, and ma.

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My mum enjoyed her trip a lot, and cited how organised and clean Japan is. She also found Japanese people to be ever so kind and welcoming, thanks Japan!

Today I enjoyed a hugely special treat. Gion’s Miyako Odori. Miyako Odori (dance of the capital) is quite the astounding show of art and talent. Kyoto used to be the capital of Japan, but, as Tokyo became he capital Kyoto needed to retain its popularity somehow, so the attractive and intriguing Miyako Odori was created. It is now one of Kyoto’s most famous events.

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Here is a Geiko performing tea ceremony. Maiko are trainee Geisha, Geiko are full Geisha. Geiko clothes and accessories are simpler. Here’s a photo of a Maiko below she was assisting with the ceremony.

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The tea ceremony part of Miyako Odori was extra and optional, I’d recommend going for the whole experience. With your matcha tea you also receive a sweet. Aren’t they pretty?

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The show itself was out of this world. Such talent and elegance, the costumes and music – ahhhh I loved it! All the music was played by Geisha, there were even Geisha playing male roles on stage. As well as music and dance performances there were scenes covering each season, each one with a different short story. I kept thinking about how happy I’d be if I was somehow reborn as a Maiko… But I’m happy there are women who have chosen to go into that profession still, and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be cut out for all the hours of training and entertaining. I’ve not got any photos of the show, but, somewhere online I’m sure they exist – go and take a look, it’s worth your time.

If anyone has any travelling/Japan tourism questions please go ahead and ask.

See you next time,

Love Rach x

Standing and Staring.

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My mind is full of pink and white flowers. My journeys to and from work take me five times as long, and every day or night out has been tailored mostly around looking at trees or eating and drinking spring themed foods. This leisurely madness which is ‘Hanami’ is the tradition of viewing Sakura, cherry blossoms. Groups of families and friends sit under the trees to share food and drink. Apparently a long long time ago the Japanese would celebrate Umé blossoms (plum) the same way, but now it’s all about the cherry. It’s such a wonderfully extended way of saying Hellooo to spring and the new academic year (in contrast to the uk academic year which starts in September).

The picture below is of Hanami Dango. I went to Arashiyama to see the blossoms and visit the monkey park again with friends, I had to try these – aren’t they pretty?? They are made of mochi which is rice cake, and are plain, Sakura, and grass flavoured. The grass one is way nicer than it sounds. Typically for Japanese sweets the Dango aren’t overpoweringly sweet and instead are pleasingly delicate. Very spesh.

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I’ve been to about five different blossom viewing spots around Kyoto and there are so very many more. I feel like one could stay here for ten years and still feel like they missed out on some of the best blooms. Sakura gets a lot of news coverage. There are daily reports on which blossoms have reached 100% and discussions on where the optimum viewing zones are up and down the country.

Here’s another snap, this one was taken on the way to work from my Japanese class. This demonstrates why getting anywhere takes so long at the moment….

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Of course these flowers aren’t good news for allergy sufferers. There seem to be quite a lot of people who get hay fever in Kyoto. It might just be because they are more noticeable though – often people wear face masks. A couple of weeks ago I had a disgusting cold which kept me up at night. The dry air wasn’t helping so I was wearing a face mask at night – it did actually help me to feel a bit better! I wore it for a day for my lessons but it felt peculiar so I only did it for that one day.

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Thanks fully I don’t get hay fever and I’m fully over my cold so.. I was all ready to learn to cook – finally!

I’m not a natural chef. I take after my grandma in that I’m not gifted with domesticity and I’ve got a big forehead. But having just inherited a fridge (and lost my neighbour in the process, boo!) it was the perfect time for me to learn what to do with all these wonderful and weird Japanese ingredients I’m always too scared to pick up at the convenience store. I was invited by a friend who works for Kyoto Journal – which is a tool I’ve used quite since moving – and we serendipitously found out another friend from Kyoto Journal would be joining us for the class.

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So here’s Lisa and Lucinda being taught to cook, not sure what at that point but over the course of the afternoon we learned to make dashi, dumplings, sesame seed dressing with spinach, and some fish. Of course all the dishes had proper names but this is in no way a food blog and my recipe sheet is all the way over there in the kitchen. We were taught in English and as well as practical advice we were taught a bit about where our food came from and how to serve green tea – ooooh plus a spot of sake tasting.

The proof of the pudding was today when Misaki became my test subject and came over for lunch. I cooked the dumplings again with a twist. Today I cooked sweet potato dumplings with a mushroom and miso filling instead of chicken. It seemed to to down well, so maybe I’m not such a hopeless cook after all. Thanks Cooking Sun!

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Ok this picture is from the class and not the meal I cooked today, but looks great doesn’t it.

I’d better get back out in the sun then.

Lots of love,

Rach

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