February 23, 2009: “Day #6: A Bullet into Kyoto”

Larger version of my Kyoto Fushimi Inari Torii...

Image via Wikipedia

This morning we arose early to prepare for our excursion to Kyoto. Lisa gave us excellent subway instructions so we arrived at the shinkansen (bullet train) early. Our shinkansen arrived at precisely 10:52AM and the doors were only open for exactly two minutes. The Japanese are VERY precise and everything runs on schedule not just to the minute but to the exact second.

We boarded the shinkansen and immediately were greeted by a shanai-hambai-in (a hostess) who bowed and said, “Arigato” (thank you). On the train the hostess had a food cart and she went between the cars offering eki-ben (box lunches) and an assortment of beverages. The hostess would bow when she excited each train car. The bathrooms were located in between the cars. There was a Western style and Japanese style accommodation to the left and to the right (across the aisle) was a private sink. (If you are in any way confused by the differences between a Western and Japanese style bathroom please refer to my October 2008 trip.

While on the shinkansen, my hubby and I shared a mikkusu-sando itchi, which is an assortment of sandwiches. We had three small half sandwiches – egg salad, tuna salad, and a cured beef and cheese sandwich. Japanese egg and tuna salad sandwiches are absolutely incredible. Japanese bread is moist, thick, and complements the texture of egg and tuna salad so remarkably well each bite nearly melts against the warmth of your tongue.

As I write this we are on the shinkansen watching the beautiful scenery fly by us at approximately 180 MPH. The scenery in Japan is very different from that in America. The Japanese live in housing that is remarkably close together. I am in absolute awe of how they live. I am puzzled how a culture that is so incredibly resourceful also has such high air pollution (though nothing like Beijing). While they take great care to separate their trash four different ways, they are not necessarily a “green friendly” country as America is rapidly becoming. I am interested to see, since Japan looks to America to set their “trends,” if our environmentally conscious behavior will transfer trans-Pacific to this beautiful island country.

I am not sure if I have mentioned how incredible Japanese dairy products taste. They have the most amazing heavy cream and yogurt I have ever tasted in my entire life. The yogurt tastes more like crème fraiche (a French cultured type of light sour cream) and comes in small containers with only approximately four spoonfuls. Their yogurt is almost too incredible for words. It is tangy, yet sweet and much thinner than the yogurt back home.

Another interesting fact is that Japanese milk cannot be purchased in containers larger than a quart. They do not consume dairy products with the fervor that Americans do. In fact, they believe milk is too high in calories to give their children regularly. The Japanese are under the assumption that sardines provide enough daily calcium, though I really feel this belief is extremely flawed due to the number of elderly people with obviously severe osteoporosis. I did however notice the price of cheese is absolutely astronomical!

This most recent time in Japan has been different from my previous trips in the sense that Lisa and I have noticed our pictures are not taken very often. Perhaps it is because we have our tall American men with us and they find them intimidating. I have, however, noticed people glancing – pausing if you will – a little too long. The young children gaze at my hair as though they have never seen a foreigner and they look at my hubby as though he is a blue-eyed, curly-haired giant.

We are amazed at the produce that is in season here when the weather has been so similar to ours in Washington. For example, they have the most delectable, sweet, beautiful strawberries in season right now. If you taste one of their heavenly strawberries with a smidgen of heavy whipped cream … we’ll, you’ll be experiencing a Zen-like tranquility that only the cuisine in Japan could possibly offer.

We will arrive in Kyoto at exactly 1:13PM and we only have one minute to disembark so we must be well prepared. We had to pack enough clothes and toiletries through this Saturday, when we arrive back to Zama.

Our plans have slightly changed this weekend. We are planning on attending a large Asian market sale (similar to a yard sale) and then on Monday we will be meeting Lisa’s friend in Kamakura. I am certain she will adore Jason’s ringlets, especially since she thinks Americans look like “movie stars.”

We haven’t done that much shopping. We have ventured into some stores and made a couple small purchases. We have really focused on sightseeing which has been a wonderful experience.

My last trip I decided I didn’t like daifuku, but upon trying it again with my hubby we decided it was rather interesting and definitely worth trying again. Daifuku is a thin layer of mocha (thin mushy, paste-like rice) wrapped around sweet bean paste. It has a unique flavor all its own and it is like nothing we have in America so it is virtually impossible for me to describe the taste.

We are eager to explore Kyoto. I am sure the temples will be beautiful and amazing. I am also sure we will be in for an adventure learning their bus and train systems that are specific only to Kyoto. Kyoto is known for their geishas. As you can probably tell from my previous emails, each area of Japan is famous for something which makes each area extremely unique. Kyoto was the capital of Japan for more than 1,000 years – from 794 to 1868 (when the capital was moved to Tokyo).

I will sign off now and say matane while we will be sure to raise a glass of sake and say kompai (cheers) to our time in Kyoto!

****

Wow, what an intense experience it was trying to maneuver around the Kyoto Station. We were hoping the staff spoke better English, but we must have arrived on a day when most of the English-speaking staff were unavailable as everyone just looked at us with great confusion. Most times we just bowed and said “Arigato” (thank you) and moved along to try and figure our way around on our own. I also greatly misunderstood the size of Kyoto. It is the seventh largest city in Japan and has a population of approximately 1.5 million. We finally were able to find the shuttle to our hotel – Rihga Royal Hotel Kyoto. The shuttle arrives at the Kyoto Station every 10 minutes and our hotel is only a seven minute walk from the station. We arrived to the hotel, checked into our room, and immediately headed out to the train station in search of a train to the JR Inari Station. I know it sounds simple, but when you are wandering around a foreign country in a foreign area the simplest task can prove to be beyond overly complicated and frustrating. Thanks to my hubby, we were able to locate the train and we went to visit the Fushimi-Inari Shrine. The shrine was amazing. It is apparently a Shinto shrine where business owners and/or merchants come to pray for success and prosperity. The temple was established in 711 AD and is dedicated to the goddess of rice. We walked the 2-1/2 mile path which was lined with more than 10,000 red torii gates. In between the paths and torii gates were large stone foxes and the Shinto followers kept clapping, chanting prayers, and bowing to these odd looking statues (for the longest time I thought they looked like Egyptian dogs). This shrine was so incredibly beautiful and it did not even feel as though we had walked 2-1/2 miles because we enjoyed every minute of the glorious walk. We took dozens of pictures so we will be sure to email them upon our return.

Afterward we returned to the Kyoto Station and ate dinner at a small restaurant located inside the station. The restaurant’s name was “Katsukura.” My hubby ordered the pork fillet cutlet and a prawn cutlet. It was the LARGEST prawn we had ever seen! I ordered a pork fillet cutlet and a snow crab cream croquette. The croquette was absolutely fabulous and I savored every bite, all the while wishing I had an entire plate of croquettes! I noticed the two young Japanese women sitting next to us kept staring at us and then giggling about drinking sake. When we were done with dinner we stopped at a small pastry shop, purchased four pastries, and returned to our hotel for the evening.

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