Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Adventure in Kyoto: Saturday (Part 2 of 4)

Link to Part 1

I felt much better on Saturday. Plain potato chips and some Pocari Sweat* fixed me right up.

* Pocari Sweat, I think, is what Gatorade should be. It was described to me initially as, "Japanese see this and think 'when you sweat, you need this,' but Americans think there is a Mr. Pocari and this is his sweat."


We started the day at a craft center, five or six floors of stuff. I say "stuff" because there was everything from antique framed woodblock prints to kimono to chopsticks to greeting cards to tee shirts to keychains and doodads to fans with gorgeous designs to mind-blowingly intricate silver and gold handmade jewelry. It's easy to bleed money in Tokyo, but it's easy to hemmorage money in Kyoto. Everything's just so darn purchasable. It's either adorable or gorgeous or amazing or perfect for so-and-so back home or completely unique and you just have to have it.

We each got yukata (lightweight kimonos) and obi (belts). The girl that went with us (I'll call her "TF" for "Traveling Friend") got a blue one with an intricate swirly pattern, the Mew got a navy and white one with sumo wrestlers, and I got a dark green one with light-colored flowers.

As we were walking along, minding our own business, we passed by a tofu restaurant. I'm not sure if it served anything other than tofu; according to the guide books it's not uncommon for a restaurant to specialize in just one type of food. I was proud of my Other for coming in with us, considering tofu is definitely not his kind of food. He rationalized that it's his equivalent of my going to a Brazilian steakhouse with him.

This place, the name of which I can't remember, served a 10-course lunch with almost everything being made of tofu. I didn't get a picture of the first course, but it was very artistic. The waitress did her best to describe each dish as she served it and explain how to eat it (there were a couple that required instructions on dipping), and she was very nice about it.

Second course - I have no idea what these are, but they were warm and kind of sweet, almost like a dessert. Different flavors, both fantastic.

This one, the three of us decided, was Advanced Tofu. The flavor was fairly bland, but the consistency was pretty gooey and would have been right at home in a haunted house as melted brains.

This is tofu au gratin. We heartily approved. You can't go wrong with cheese, really.

We had split opinions of this dish. The outside is a many-layered tofu skin, inside is beans and mushrooms inside. TF liked it, it wasn't my favorite course, and Husband o'Mine couldn't bring himself to eat it.

There was a bit of a mix-up about the main course. Everything except the main dish was individual bowls, the main dish being a shared dish sitting in a pot on the heating element in the center of the table to be shared. We had definitely ordered a completely tofu meal for 3 people (there was an option for the main shared dish to have chicken, but it upped the price by about $20 per person), but we don't speak much Japanese and the waitress didn't speak much English, and somehow we ended up with the chicken dish. There was a very awkward 15 minutes while we tried to explain that I don't eat chicken because I'm vegetarian (yeah, yeah, I'm pescatarian if you want to be technical about it, but I don't know how to say that in Japanese, so "watashi wa vegetariano desu, niku wa tabemasen" was easier.) and she kept asking if the other two could eat chicken and we tried to explain that even though they didn't have dietary restrictions, it wasn't what we ordered or what we wanted.

The resolution was that the husband and TF ate as much of the chickeny stuff as they could (by this time we'd eaten a lot of food and we were all getting pretty full), I fished out a couple of pieces of tofu, and they charged us the tofu price instead of the chicken price. It kind of put a damper on the remainder of the meal, but things like that are part of living in a country where we don't speak the language fluently. On the plus side, I'm told that this dish was downright amazing.

Dessert wasn't tofu, but it was green tea ice cream. The waitress was very sweet and made sure that ice cream (which contains eggs - I had no idea) is okay for me to eat. I told her both eggs and ice cream are just fine for me.

Walking about, we saw a cool house:

And quite possibly the smallest public restroom building I've ever seen.

We went to a neat little store called Green T that has a sort of minimalist version of the Threadless aesthetic. The designs are modern and chic and inspired by traditional Japanese motifs. The mannequins are a little unnerving, but they are distinctive.

We passed by this neat old building, and learned later that it's the train station.

Sometimes I really wish I could read Japanese so I can figure out things like WTF is this advertising, exactly?

One of our goals was to visit Fushimi Inari Taisho, a Shinto shrine known for its many (many, many) fox spirit statues and its thousands of torii gates.

The fox statues always seem to be in pairs, one is carrying a scroll and one a ball. I'm not sure of the significance.

And so it begins. The stroll through the torii gates.

We walked for a few minutes before realizing that if we'd been facing the other way, we could see the writing on those gates. TF can read a bit and made an educated guess that one side is the date and the other side is who donated it. Usually businesses, maybe some local government offices.

If the shop were open, you could purchase fox-shaped tablets to write your wish or prayer.

This is what the gates look like from the outside:

And, in case you'd forgotten, again from the inside. We probably could have kept walking all day without seeing the same gates twice.

Outside the gates, though, was some pretty nice scenery.

I think people have family shrines here. We walked through an area that looked like a neighborhood of small shrines, narrow streets between impressive statues piled high with miniature torii gates, each with its own set of fox statues.

One even had a cat.

Apparently this shrine is a good place to be a cat. A lot of shrines seem to be.

In the midst of all the bright orange gates, there was the occasional stone or cement gate.

On our way back downhill, we passed the place I can only describe as the Frog Garden.

Frogs are associated with fortune. I guess frogs with two little frogs on its back are even more lucky.

Feed the frog a coin, make a wish!

...and more foxes. This one is a bit more toothy and intimidating than the others.

Something else random we stumbled across (by this time we were much farther away from the path than we expected and were making our way back).

With the sacred vending machine. Have I mentioned lately how much I love the vending machines?

This is an ad in a train station. I don't know what it's for, but it's a bear with an apple on its head and I like it.

Another spectacular train advert. Click the image to see the larger version and note that the drill sergeant with the mustache in the bottom left is a woman, too. I rather wish we could see this production of An Officer and a Gentleman, because I suspect that not a single cast member falls into either category.

I like discovering random little shrines/temples tucked into city alleys. This is in downtown Kyoto in the middle of bright lights, scarf stores, and restaurants.

That evening we visited the Gion Corner theater for a tourist-focused event of seven traditional Japanese art forms squished into an hour.

I'm glad we saw the show, but we had really mixed feelings about it. This woman performed the tea ceremony with grace and dignity in spite of all the stupid tourists getting up out of their seats and crowding around, coming in late and talking loudly about where to sit, and camera flashes constantly going off in her face. Then the rest of the production started on the main stage and she was all but forgotten before she finished.

I'm very glad there was an English program, because nothing spoken was in English and having a synopsis of the comedy helped quite a bit in figuring out what the heck was going on.

There was a segment of flower arranging that didn't involve actual flowers. Artfully arranged conifer branches, to be sure, but no real flowers.

The traditional 14-stringed harps were awesome. Made me think of that fight scene in Kung Fu Hustle, except that the musicians in this case were elderly women instead of blind men, but whatever. The harps were great. I love the sound and admire the skill.

There was a segment of something called court dancing that the three of us simply couldn't appreciate. The costume of the dancer was pretty cool, all gold and tassled and masked like a laughing rat god with a blue dragon on his head. The band, though...oh my. I heard somewhere that the Eastern world has a different musical scale than we do, 7 notes instead of 8, so their harmonies sound weird to Western ears, but sweet mother of all that is good an innocent, that was not okay. One instrument in particular seemed to choose the notes at random, and, failing that, expelled every note it could at the same time. I don't think the musician was unskilled, I think that's actually how it's supposed to sound, and I simply don't have the capacity to appreciate it.

I didn't get a picture of any of this was because I was so disgusted with the audience at large for their lousy camera etiquette that I resolved not to take any pictures. I stuck with it for about half the show. By then most people had either managed to turn the flash off or took fewer pictures.

I couldn't not get a photo of the maiko, though. (Geishas in training.) Their dance was small and slow, more of a series of poses than a dance as we think of it, but I suspect that a) the dances are intended for a room of a handful of people instead of an auditorium full and b) they are largely filling the role of being something beautiful for patrons to look at (and they are very beautiful), and this small dance gives them something graceful to do instead of awkwardly sitting there and being stared at. If that comes across as crass and uncultured, someone with more experience please correct my assessment.

The last segment was a form of puppetry. This is one where the English synopsis in the program was invaluable. The story relied so heavily on the narration that even though we knew what was supposed to be happening, we couldn't figure out what was going on.

The elaborate puppet (with articulated, moving fingers!) was graceful, operated by three people, and told the story of some star-crossed lovers.

The Gion district at night.

People will go to Gion at night in the hopes that they will see a real live Maiko or Geisha. We saw a Maiko and immediately felt sorry for her. She walked as fast as she could, eyes down, and ducked into an alley at the first opportunity. She had to - she was mobbed by tourists, who were literally running after her with cameras. Like paparazzi, but not professionals.

My request for food that night was Bar FSN. I read about it in this article and thought it would be a nice place to try. It's owned and operated by just one guy, he's vegetarian, he has a wide variety of music and will play anything you want to hear, and there is no menu. You offer him some money for food and he'll make something up on the spot with the ingredients he has on hand. I like being surprised with food, even more so when I know it won't make me ill in half an hour. We had a small salad of tomatoes and olives with garlic in olive oil on bread, some Thai-esque curry-type something on rice, and some patties of something that tasted like an excellent falafel. The man can cook, no doubt. It's a small bar, it holds about 10 people (four at a booth and six at the bar), and for a while we were the only ones there. He doesn't advertise, all his business is through word of mouth and that article I read (that his friend wrote). It's a little hard to find, but if you go to Kyoto, I recommend it.

This is the logo, although he told us that in the next few days he was going to put up a larger sign to make it easier for people to find.

It's down this alley:

And this is what it looks like on the inside. I had to use the flash to get anything to show up in the low lighting, so take my word for it that it has a nice ambiance.

One thing that's neat, that I neglected to ask about, is that the kitchen/behind the bar area is small and sunk into the floor. It puts him, standing, at eye level with the patrons at the bar. I suspect this is intentional, and he was happy to talk to us about himself and how he went from France to owning a bar in Kyoto. Cool guy.

We had a few drinks to go with our amazing food, and I tried something called Troll that has a much girlier flavor than the name implies. It was more like Bailey's than anything that lives under a bridge.

We stopped briefly at a liquor store on the way back to the house. I don't know what this is, but I'm very curious.

We decided it was time to try on our brand new kimonos. And learn how to tie the obi. Turns out the man obi is pretty straightforward, but the lady obi takes some practice. And yes, we put these on over our pajamas. The orange tee shirt isn't part of the outfit, and I'm glad you can't see how disgusting my sweat-soaked hair is after walking around in the heat all day.

I even got a decent bow on the second try.

Oh, I got a new fan, too. It doesn't really match, but matching doesn't seem to be a big priority when it comes to things like this, so I guess it's okay.

Like I said, we put these on over our pajamas. Sumo kimono meets banana camo, flowers meets ho-pants. We're so sexy.

End of Day 2. Stay tuned for the next exciting installment in the Long Weekend in Kyoto series.
Link to Part 3

1 comment:

  1. I have also been in situations while traveling that I have been embarrased by the loutish behavior of fellow countrymen.
    I truly believe that the choice to become even more conscious of the level of respect and courtesy on your part is noticed and appreciated. I applaud your emotional response. The ID of Ugly American continues........