Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Shizuoka Prefecture is renowned for green tea, grown in topiary-neat rows like this.
Today was a perfect sightseeing day on a Friday.
I took the Shinkansen bullet train from somewhere near Tokyo ($US50!) where, despite speeds of 207 km/h passengers still find time to fall asleep - I think it's the hi-carb rice crackers.
I landed at Tom and Sumiyo Bickel's rustic house in Kakegawa, midway between Tokyo and Kyoto. They run a language school called Oregon House of Kakegawa (in Japanese, contact them at email@example.com) named after Kakegawa's sister city Eugene, Oregon where they spent 10 years as stewards of the city's cultural exchange farm.
Last night they hosted a very Eugene-style potluck dinner with a number of their friends and students so they could "meet the Chinese-Australian on the folding bicycle." Pot Luck in Japanese translates more or less to "mochiyori" or "bring something over". It's not a custom, but it led to a great buffet, devoid of corn chips and bean dip thank buddha.
There was intense interest in the tikit, with lots of oooooooh, aaaaaaaaaahs as I folded and unfolded it and Tom provided impressive commentary - and brought out his green Bike Friday too.
Next day Tom and I set out on a mini tour of what he calls 'the real Japan' as opposed to 'temple tallying'.
First stop, a tea ceremony at the house of Mr and Mrs Kuroda, the Bickel's landlords. Mrs Kuroda is a sensei, or teacher of the ceremony - her mother was one of the most respected teachers in the area. Their beautiful home is almost entirely tatami or woven mats and shoji screens. The tea room has a curtained alcove to one side called a tokonoma in which hangs a kakemono (scroll painting) and a vase holding a single flower. (In Tom's house, this alcove is stuffed with camping equipment etc). You can read more about the ceremony terminology at this Holymtn.com page - arigato!
The tea is a bright green 'matcha' or powered green tea, which apparently packs a mighty caffeine punch. The water is ladled from an iron kettle sunk into the floor. There are some cubed jellies before and after the actual tea drinking. You can kneel or sit on a little padded stool. Check out their website www.urasenke.or.jp
Next, food. "The best ramen place in Kakegawa", according to Tom, was closed for 2 days. We also popped by the impressive Kakegawa City Hall, an airy place with architecture inspired by a rice paddy, to track down Bike Friday owner Seigo-Okada-san and drag him away from his "salaryman" job for a noodle and a natter. He was pre-booked, but it was fun to show him the all singing, all dancing tikit.
We ate a Y780 Nepalese meal at Ganesh, which served excellent and supersized naan. On the way we heard benevolent Big Brotherish announcements from loudspeakers stationed throughout the countryside, and in people's homes, telling citizens that a con man was on the loose. The speakers also chime at midday and 5pm, in case you are slightly off schedule for dinner. Apparently it's a great comfort to old people. "We disconnected ours," said Tom.
Kakegawa is also home to the Triumph factory - the bra not the motorbike - and its posters depicting a sexy Caucasian model - a different one every year - are dotted the roadside.
Finally, we weaved our way to "the best onsen and I've been to a few", owned by Yamaha Corp. For Y1000 (about $11) we got to bathe and splash about naked in a resort environment of gender-separated pools of varying temperatures and agitations overlooking the forested hills. Unfortunately my non-existent Japanese meant I couldn't tell the green tea pool from the ginseng pool but tried them all, including the submerged armchair structures blasting whirlpools into your nether regions. There was a banner for "Doctor Fish" - a treatment involving having little fish swarm about your feet and eat dead skin off them I believe.
On the way home, I peered into a very strange thing in Japan - a roadside pornography vending booth. Tom kept a safe distance. It was basically a shed with 8 vending machines inside, selling condoms, underwear, magazines, DVD's, and schoolgirl/sailor/etc costumes. In a country so conscious of manners and order - an an absolute absence of nude beaches - it's very puzzling indeed ... the red writing on the building pictured says "real cheap".
More at http://www.galfromdownunder.com/japan