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.

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