Monday, July 30, 2018

Kyoto and a quick bite in Osaka

Sunday, our second full day in Japan. 

Sorry about the total lack of posts.  As a tour guide, I find that my job is very taxing, especially given the demands of my clients. I also need some sustenance myself.  And a tiny bit of sleep.  Ice coffee definitely helps me. Plus the coffee is delicious, especially at 7-11 and Family Mart.

The job also doesn't pay well, which means there is little incentive.

Again, if you want to see full resolution pictures, just click on a picture. I have fairly hi-res pics posted, but didn't want these pages to load slowly.

I think it will be well after we are home before I get this trip journal completed. I have copious notes written here and there so I should be able to get my details (fairly) straight.

Anyway, we started this day at breakfast here at the Royal Daiwa. We got various deals here and there for lodging, and this particular leg included breakfast for three (remember that Em is at “school” and we actually thought she wouldn’t be with us this weekend).  Em joined us and I opted out of breakfast, so that they could eat with Em.  They said that their buffet was fantastic, rivaling the breakfast at Breeze Bay in Miyako). The normal cost is ¥3000, so it better be good.  Anyway, more narrative on this particular breakfast at the Royal Grande later this trip.

We head towards Shijo, their “downtown.  Where Nishiki Market is located.  One of our favorite places in Japan.  Hot already, early in the morning, so we get ice cream. We’ve had this many times:

Warabi mochi. 

I can actually take a picture of Sam, without hoards of people, because it’s still early.

Black Sesame dango.

Black Sesame ice cream.

OK, contest:  Here are two pictures of us on granite seats opposite each other in a Shotengai in Kyoto. Email me the caption.  I choose the winner. This is in Teramachi, adjacent to Nishiki in Downtown Kyoto.

Here is the Kyoto Downtown Katsukura.  Great place! I dined alone, since the kids and Connie went to a vegan place called Tamisa in Teramachi.  Katsukura is well documented; it's a chain.  It is very crowded, but I get in right away, since I'm a singleton, and get a prime seat at the busy counter.  Most people are in groups.  The chef is right in front of me. He carefully weighed every piece before cooking.  I saw him "discard" one; not sure if it was underweight or not up to snuff.

I got the small 120 g special Materra Rosu.  I suspect that Materra has something to do with Teramachi, since I don't see that on the menu at other Katsukura's. Remember to always order Rosu, not Hire, since the Rosu is the fattier, juicier cut.  Hire is dry, but, I guess, lower in fat.

It was served with Wasabi-Katsu sauce as well as the grind-your-own Goma sauce.  I preferred the traditional non-wasabi.

Here are some unedited pics from the others' meal.  Not certain what those are.

That evening, Em had to return to school (it was Sunday).  Sam, Connie and I decided to go to Daichi Asahi, the ramen place, close to Kyoto Station, that had a huge line the year before.  This place is open 21 hours each day!  Perpetual line (though I never passed by at 1 AM to check).  The line was manageable at about 15 minutes, and we were efficiently seated.  High Tabelog scores mean something...

The ramen was good, but not great, by our standards.  Decent flavor, lots of pork in my bowl, which was tender and not "dry."  Sam and Connie got the "vegetarian" option (though it is made with pork broth).

Sorry. It's a miss.  Won't go back again.

Monday AM, Umi no Hi (a National holiday devoted to the Sea).  I get the Royal Daiwa breakfast that they have been raving about. 

Buffet style.  Japanese call it "baikingu."  I won't get into the etymology of that, but trust me, it has to do with Smorgasbords, which doesn't translate to Japanese very well.

All the typical Nihonshoku and Youshoku foods you expect for breakfast.

We planned to meet up with Em, after her AM class, at a Vegan place near Nijo-jo, called Morpho Cafe.  So, with just a couple of hours, we didn't know what exactly to do.  Inari was close (only two stops away from Kyoto Station by JR -- plus our JR passes became active this day!) and I had read that they have great street food there. We were there before, several years ago.

Hotter than usual, which is pretty bad. And though it was only the AM, it was crowded.  Amazing that there are so so so many Chinese tourists everywhere!

We didn't even go to the main shrine area (just look at numerous Fushimi Inari pictures online). We just people watched, and looked for food.

It was an ok experience, though it was so hot!  There was competition among tourists for the few places in the shade along the short walk from the station to the shrine.

Met up with Em, and took a short bus ride to Morpho.  But they were full!  Em was disappointed, since she enjoyed her meal there a week or two before, and wanted us to enjoy.  So, plan B, is Gomacro Salon, another bus ride away.

Umi no Hi means a special menu.  Only a curry stew set menu.  With or without corn.  Below is the corn set.  It was pretty tasty (for vegan).

So, we have our JR passes, which mean JR train rides are "free."  Em went back to school, and Sam didn't want to go, but Connie insists that the two of us go to a Yakitori place in Osaka called Gappo, which she spied on a Youtube video.  So, we literally hopped on the Shinkansen for a 15 minute ride to Shin-Osaka, and then a short subway ride to Namba station.  The Shinkansen unreserved cars were practically empty in the late afternoon.

Gappo is located in Dotonbori, a very touristy area of Osaka, lined by a canal, seen above.  It was, again, uncrowded; maybe the holiday?

So, we end up in Gappo and get a bunch of dishes!  ¥4800 for 16 skewers and other treats, including salad, Yaki-Onigiri Ochazuke, and Shiitake. Not bad for a completely full belly!

Negima (thigh and green onion)

Furisode (meat closest to the skin) and an order of Cartilage.

Tebasaki (eaten with hand).


Yakionigiri chazuke


Seseri Negi (neck meat with green onion)

Another Furisode with an order of Chicken skin.

Mmm. A fine meal.  Tomorrow, to Okayama.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

First Days in Japan

Some little snags came up at the last moment, with the recent epic rainfalls throughout Western Japan and Shikoku.  You’ll note that we had planned to spend four nights in Shikoku but one of their major JR train routes was hit with difficult-to-quickly-repair damage. A structurally important bridge pillar was damaged due to river flows.  A bus bridge has been set up, but buses travel slower than Express trains, so some tight scheduling has become impossible. Much of the last few days have been spent communicating with a couple of tour providers to try to find out the new train schedules.  Google translate also helps with Japanese websites.  Still a work in progress, this should play out in the next day or so. Stay tuned.

For those who don't know, Emily had been in Japan already.  She's attending UC Davis "Study Abroad" Summer Quarter in Japan, along with about 30 other students. Taking Biochem.  Staying at Ritsumeikan University outside Kyoto in Kusatsu.  She's been hardly studying and blowing off classes working hard to learn something about the subject, while also taking the short train ride into Kyoto to explore. We had this trip planned to meet up with her near the end of her term.  

We got to SFO at 430 AM Thursday. Sam came up from her home separately. First time I ever took Uber.  The driver took a very inefficient route, and if it was a taxi, I’d be fuming, since it would spin the meter a few times. These two kids have the life, at SFO.

Air Canada to KIX, with a 4 hour stopover in Vancouver, was “ok.” Nothing like ANA or JAL though.  The YVR airport was disappointing. I was last there 20 years ago,  but I don’t remember that short stay at the Vancouver airport.  The long 10 hour plane ride from Vancouver to Osaka was made easier by my purchase of so-called “premium” economy seats for us. An extra 5”of legroom was welcome, but more welcome were the several unoccupied seats around us on the long cross Pacific leg. Sam moved to two empty seats across the aisle from me and Connie stretched out over two seats.  I just had my extra-legroom single seat...  I say if the price is right, then do it!  It certainly did make the trip more tolerable. Note, for some reason, Em, when traveling in June to KIX on Air Canada, got a business class seat on the YVR to KIX leg.  I definitely paid coach fare.  I still don't know why.

BTW, food onboard was NOT worth the bandwidth to share pictures.

We landed without incident and flew through immigration and customs with no delay. Picked up our pocket wifi and mobile phone.  Walked a fair distance to the KIX JR Station and took the 1.33 hour train ride to Kyoto Station. For US citizens arriving at KIX and staying in either Osaka or Kyoto, the Icoca, Haruka and Kansai One combo deal is clearly the deal to make. A substantial discount on the Ltd Express train in addition to an Astroboy prepaid IC card = No Brainer. These are unreserved seats, but the train isn't crowded.

Emily just returned that afternoon from a field trip to Nara, so we met up with her at our hotel. She was supposed to climb Mt. Fuji this weekend, and Sam, Connie and I were going to find things to do, just the three of us.  However, her traveling companions for the climb all bailed out on her.  There were others who were going to climb after the programs completion in a month, but Em was going to travel with us, so she was unable to go with them.  So, she's spending the weekend with us.

We are staying at the Royal Grande Daiwa, about three blocks away from Kyoto Station.  Everyone was monku-ing about how far the hotel is, from the station.  Spoiled! Anyway, a brand spanking new hotel which just opened up last month.  I'd call it a medium range hotel, and their claim to fame is that their foreign language support is superb.  And it really is.  They have multiple languages covered, and where it really matters, English, they do shine. The room is rather cramped but with all the usual amenities that are necessary.

Friday night, our first night, Em takes us to the B1F level of the Kyoto Tower building. They have a food court with many types of food, including several vegan options. I, of course, skip those, and get Tonkatsu.

Sorry for the banding on the picture, but it was really dark and this was a focus stacked picture... Much post processing.  Sammie got a bowl of noodle soup.

Em got some vegan pasta and Connie got Tsukemen.

The next day, Saturday, our first full day in Japan, we puttered around the hotel and station.  I was unable to keep our previous plans due to the storm's effect on the JR tracks in Shikoku, so I had to cancel our leg to Matsuyama, with its castle and Dogo Onsen, one of the most famous onsen in all of Japan. I put together an alternative by extending our first Kyoto leg by a day and spending a night in Okayama.

We had arranged to meet with Maki and Megan for lunch at Natural Food Village, a vegan hole in the wall (almost literally a hole).  Unfortunately, Megan was ill, but Maki met up with us there. This place is, I guess, in Northern Higashiyama, near Ginkakuji, and close to Megan's school, the Kyoto University of Art & Design.

It's a cool, hippie-like place, typical for a vegan restaurant.  

Maki, Sam and I had the "cutlet."

It was ok.  Em had Pad Thai noodles.

Connie had a burnt, crispy, Okoge-type meal.

I think that her Crispy rice dish was the best.  Good choice!

After lunch, we met up with Sho.  Not Sho from Yoshino Beach, but a different one.  They don't look alike.

We found this "experience" in the Airbnb tokyo website. We had some extra money in credit to use, so we chose this class on "making vegan ramen from scratch."  We actually made vegan udon, but it ended up quite tasty.

Here, we see the dough from just flour, water, and salt in a plastic bag.  Some mushrooms in the background.

The dough getting spread.

Putting our weight into the dough forming.

Rolling it out.

Getting the handcut noodles ready for cooking.

Our bowl.  Sorry, I couldn't wait; no nice presentation picture.  The texture of the noodles was great.  Vegan broth.  Really tasty.

Really nice two hours! I'd do it again.  We're going to do another vegan cooking class later this trip in Osaka.

We're jet lagged and full, so we call it a day/night.