A dinner date with my high school mate Tsang beckoned, so killing two birds, we’d arranged to meet in Sham Shui Po so that I could check out the Golden Computer Arcade for various bits and pieces. I picked up a number of cooling fans, and graphics cards which will complete my newly designed HTPC.
In a strange for me role reversal, I blend into the crowd whereas Anna & Sarah stick out and are easy to spot. Dinner was great, and we thought we’d trawl some night markets only to discover that they kind of closed early, and offered on the whole what could only be described as cheap crap.
Bit sad, maybe I’ve become a quality snob in my middle age.
A day trip out to Takayama saw the first use of our normally excellent value JR passes. Typically you can travel the entire rail network with some small exceptions, and you have to be a foreigner & purchase the pass overseas, but otherwise excellent value. Except that our plans went skewif due to the Great eastern earthquake/tsunami.
Takayama was about 2 hours out from Kyoto and at the foot of very snowy mountains. A popular skiing holiday destination I believe, and I was disappointed to have not thought at all about packing the K2s. The beautifully preserved old town fascinated, but carried a tinge of disappointment of being more tourist oriented than historic (not that it was a problem). I was delighted to be back online as Takayama is better known for having free wifi almost everywhere (and b*gg*r paying Telstra $29 for 10MB!).
After lunching on Japanese style toasted sandwiches in another delightfully jazz music filled cafe, we wandered the historic streets admiring the copious amounts of Japan Black adorned fascias. We happened upon a pagoda with a particularly old (1000+ years!) gingko tree and pondered the gingko sapling we’d planted at home not too long ago.
A bus tour then took us to the Hida Folk Village where we could have spent much longer, but for the time restrictions. A historic village of carpentry and timber makers – several of the buildings had slid from their original locations due to various earthquakes. The plaques and displays of tradition timber making was revelatory, as was the below zero temperatures.
For dinner, we thought we’d try some bento boxes from the JR station. On purchase, the seller lady made some tugging motions at our food boxes. Thinking it to be a local greeting, we motioned the same back to her. Only later did we discover that each bento has its own heating device which warms up your food when the string is pulled. Delicious instant hot food!
We finally got to try Yakitori near the corner of Saikaishicho and Higashimonzencho at a franchise run by fabulous proprietors who made our night really wonderful (so much so that we abandoned our ‘try something different every meal’ mantra and went back a week later).
Unfiltered sake was a bit of a revelation. Sort of a milky slightly fizzy yoghurty taste without the fumes except that a small bottle still had around 15% alcohol. Hic! Brother Jon did the honours of ordering for despite my outward Asian appearance, I’m not Japanese.
Apparently I further compounded the situation by learning how to say “I cannot speak Japanese” in Japanese, because people did not believe me (ie: Yes you do, you did just then!)
And the cost was cheap! Generally speaking you’d want to eat locally where ever you travel, but for what we ate and drank, we paid for all 4 of us what you’d pay per person back in Oz.
After a lap around Niomon Dori to discover that our preferred Yakatori meal was shut on Mondays and that the only other option was pizza or Maccas, we landed on the doorstep of this fine establishment (whose English name I do not know) and decided on the banquet for four. Warm sake was a revelation for me (I don’t normally like Chinese rice wine either as it reminds me of window cleaning solvent), but this was nice.
The many many small courses which in Cantonese might have been called dim sum, not only warmed the heart but filled the stomach. Or perhaps it was the warm sake…
Walking the Dōtonbori seeking inspiration for dinner this night, we finally decided upon Okonomiyaki (a savoury Japanese cabbage pancake of sorts). We tried this meal years-ago in Sapporo when as unknowing foreigners, we were not quite sure what to do with a plate of raw ingredients and hotplate. The serving staff then graciously tossed everything together & cooked it as we watched.
Being prepared for that, we were not quite prepared for the rather long queue. Or the fact that the outer queue was for the outer waiting seat which itself was a queue for the inner waiting seat (the final queue!). We were also unaware that at this establishment, a press of the table button was what brought the rapid attention of wait staff, as oppossed to them floating & watching.
Travel fatigue started to settle in on an otherwise delicious meal.
Our overseas trip to Japan had a difficult start, what with a magnitude 9 earthquake, numerous aftershocks, a tsunami, a nuclear meltdown and a volcanic eruption to the south. We decided we’d only cancel the trip & claim the insurance if the situation got worse. Osaka was cold(er than Melbourne) and I’m always cranky hauling 20ish kilos of luggage bertween destinations. Still some hot midnight Osakan octopus balls hit the spot…