Thursday, August 31, 2006
Then, after everything is cleaned, you put two scoops of this powered tea into the cup, pour in some hot water, and whisk away. You want to create big bubbles in the tea first, then break them up and make small bubbles (see video 1 below). When it is all done being made, you drink it and then clean everything again! It was actually very fun and super instructive... the teacher/student answered all of our weird/annoying questions like "is there a different ceremony for different kinds of tea" (the answer is yes, but they're all more complicated) and "how long have you been studying here" (3 years!!) and "why do you have to line everything up in the center of the plate at the end?" (because it makes the tea table look nice). Other people in the museum came over to watch us make tea, and if anyone ever visits Kyoto, they simply MUST come here to make tea. It really was that good, and it was only 400 yen per person, which is about $3.50, and it comes with a snack and tea!
First up is a video of Justine whisking her Japanese Matcha tea.
Next, a video of us grinding tea leaves to make the powder for the ceremony. In the video, you'll catch a glimpse of Hiroshi (older dude with a beard) and of the student who taught us (wearing the Kimono).
Now... about Hiroshi. To remind you, we met Hiroshi when we were in Nikko at the Toshogu shrine, which is the shrine and burial site of the Tokugawa Ieyasu (the guy that unified Japan). He was chatty, even though he didn't know much English, but gave us his number in Kyoto and said to call him when we arrived. Which we did. We were looking forward to seeing him and having a contact in Kyoto, and he took us out for a very nice lunch (which he insisted he pay for), then drove us over to the palace here in Kyoto. J and I wanted to make reservations to see the palace gardens, and I guess Hiroshi thought he was going to spend the rest of the day with us, too, perhaps not realizing that the tours would take place another day. Instead, he took us to his house, which was full of weird Americana stuff (like Pepsi and Levis ads). Let's just say that I'm glad we didn't end up as part of his collection (and we refused to drink his Kool-aid)! I'm making it out to be worse than it really was. Although it was a bit weird and uncomfortable (because we didn't know what to expect), he was very genuine and generous. Hiroshi then took us to a very nice Zen garden near his house (see a video here), and since we brought him something from Takayama (a hoba miso set), the next day, he insisted we meet with him to receive a gift from him, which was 2 very cool Japanese fans and some friendship charms.
Well, until next time, BHT readers, this is Mike and Justine signing off, in sight of Mt. Fuji!
These pictures are from the beginning of our trip, including our first ryokan (a Japanese traditional where you sleep on futons rolled out onto the floor, which consists of straw mats called tatami) and of the Tokyo National Museum in Ueno, a neighborhood in Northern Kyoto.
Third set If you only look at one picture, check out the one on the first page of this set. Justine took it and it:s absolutely my favorite picture. It:s the one of me casting the Buddha shadow.
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
We have many other videos, including some video blogs we:d like to post, but it:s difficult to upload such large files. Watch for them in the
CLICKY FOR PICS
These pictures include Takayama and the couple we met that helped us miss our bus, Chris and Nicole. It also includes pictures of the Hoba Miso and our train ride over from Takayama to Kyoto and the first night in Kyoto. Yes, we took pictures of our vegetarian buffet and a few blurry pics of the Geisha.
Finally, sorry for not having the pictures properly rotated and such, but I can:t really be bothered to do all of that for a million pictures. So just tilt your head ;)
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
Matsumoto is a pretty large mountain town north and east of Tokyo, known for music. It was a really excellent place to hang out and the bars were really happening. Most of these pics are from an area near Matsumot called Hotaka, which is a small farming village about 30 minutes away on the train. We visited a wasabi farm there.
We arrived in Kyoto this afternoon and are staying at a very nice western-style hotel near downtown. This evening, we had a huge vegetarian buffet dinner and then went down to Gion near Pontocho-Dori (dori means street in Japanese) to see the Gishas. They were out in full force, getting into all manner of taxis and fancy sedans with smartly-dressed businessmen and the girls looked absolutely stunning. They are living legends and the whole scene was very surreal. The neighborhood is a historical preservation area and the buildings are all these old, wooden houses painted black. Justine was thrilled to see the old areas from that book Memoirs of a Geisha. It was as she had imagined and we saw at least a dozen or more Geisha, because we found a house that has them and just watched them come in and out. We also follwed a pack of them down the road for a while, so I have one or two pics I can post soon.
Monday, August 28, 2006
Again, sorry for the lack of updates and the lack of of pictures, but
for the tech capital of the world, Japan sure has some crummy old
computers!! Hopefully more will come soon.
Briefly, we left Tokyo many days ago and went to a town in the north
called Nikko, where we were supposed to go hiking. We didn:t because
we were so tired and it was raining all the time. We left Nikko and
went back to Tokyo to hang out for one night (we stayed at a great
youth hostel there), before moving on to Matsumoto about 100 miles
north and west of Tokyo. Matsumoto has a really exquisite old castle
there shaped and painted up like a huge crow. It was fabulous. From
Matsumoto, we came to Takayama, which is what I:ll post about today.
The road from M to T is a twisty mountain road that takes about 1hr
and 45 on a bus (and costs a hefty 30 bucks each). We met two very
nice Americans on the bus named Chris (an MD) and Nicole (who owns her
own marketing/business consulting firm). Nicole speaks Japanese
pretty well, and when the bus made a pit-stop most of the way through
the Japanese Alps, she told us the bus would wait about 40 minutes
before finishing the journey. Actually, the bus only waited a minute
or two before leaving with all of our baggage! It was really not a
big deal, as Nicole was able to communicate with the bus terminal and
make sure our bags would be safe in Takayama (which they were), and we
got to spend an extra hour or so with them in Hida. That night in
Takayama, they very generously bought us a Ramen dinner with many
bottles of sake!
Today (28.Aug.06), J and I visited the Hida Folk Village museum, which
contains many traditional Japanese housing (think: thick thatched
**news flash, this is Justine now writing**
We wandered around the re-created village for a while, which had
somewhat of a Vasona Park (for you bay area peeps) feel to it - not
entirely original or organic. We had first planned on taking a bus
out to some of the real remaining thatched-roof housing villages that
are designated World Heritage sites in the Shirakowa-go area, but
ended up deciding it was too far and too expensive to get out there,
and that we would do better to explore the Takayama. The houses,
known as gassho-zukuri houses after the act of putting hands together
in prayer, are wooden structures with immensely thick straw roofs at a
60 degree angle that take something like 200 villagers two days to
re-build one side of the roof. Anyway we were able to see some of the
re-constructed houses here in Takayama. I have to admit one of the
better experiences we:ve had here in Takayama is the food. We tried
the local specialty of hoba miso which is mountain vegetables (and
even beef) roasted on a magnolia leaf over a little burner set on the
table. It was another flavor adventure totally new to us and well
worth it! We dont always strike food gold but so far have been pretty
lucky considering the vegetarian and language limitations. In fact
the food here has been so amazing I might have to put it up on the
list of :best experiences: in this country.
Tonight and last night we are staying at another youth hostel, this
one connected to a buddhist temple. The cheaper rooms are segregated
male-female, so we tried that last night and each met some fellow
(Japanese) travelers in our respective dorm rooms. Tonight however we
returned to find the place over run with other travelers and decided
to shell out the extra yen for our own tatami room so we can actually
Tomorrow we leave for Kyoto via a series of train connections on the
JR lines. It should be a long day of traveling so I am thinking we
will have to seek out :western style: rooms since we are practically
getting bruises from sleeping on thin futons the last couple of weeks.
It hasnt been so bad but we occassionally realize that the simple
things we take for granted back home are actually pretty damn good and
we wouldnt mind having a pizza or sleeping on a bed. Or having our
own bathroom or being able to communicate freely.
Well a line is beginning to form at the dorms here so I am going to
end this posting. Hopefully it goes through OK because we are having
to post this one via our email since apparently the computer is set to
block blogspot. Again, strange to find these technological
limitations in Japan of all places....
Take care and feel free to email me because I do like to hear updates
Justine (and Mike)
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
16.Aug - SFO to Tokyo
Flight from SFO to Tokyo was actually comfortable and the food was really good. We had two meals and Mike talked to a really nice Japanese guy who gave us tips on where to go in Kyoto. Our hotel in Ueno (a neighborhood in Northern Tokyo) is really awesome and super comfortable. It is a tatami room, which means that the room is just a big empty room with tightly-woven straw mats (called tatami mats) on the ground. There:s a big square table with Japanese tea and snacks, and for beds, the hotel staff roll out futons on the floor. For dinner on the first meal in Tokyo, we walked to a place called the Full Length Table and ate Japanese Spaghetti. It was really great and the sake was the best ever! We paid 1700 Yen (or about 17 bucks) to split one plate and drink the sake, so it was kind of expensive, but the atmosphere was really good and the staff very friendly. I think there were only 5 tables in the joint and only one other couple in there.
We both feel like this trip is not really happening... even getting off the plane and figuring out which train to take wasn`t too difficult. But we are so worn down that we were practically zombies bythe time we got to the hotel. We acknowledge that this is likely the nicest place we:ll stay, and it:s no bargin at over $200 a night, but SO worth it as we could only appreciate after getting here. Now, clean and full and with a bed, we both think it might be the best sleep we:ve had in weeks. Mike:s out already!
17.Aug - Asakusa
Today, we took a subway to Asakusa (in northeast Tokyo) and went to the huge Buddhist/Shinto shrine there called Senso-ji. In Japan, most of the Buddhist temples share their land with Shinto shrines, so it`s kind of weird. The temple did not dissappoint, and the crowds were massive. For lunch, we ate soba noodles with Tofu and vegetables. We didn`t really eat dinner, but after lunch we walked a bunch around asakusaand found a huge Buddhist temple/cemetary. It was raining, so we hung out there for a while. On the main drag leading up to Senso-ji (ji means temple), all kinds of street vendors hawk their cheezy wares to Japanese and western tourists, but we did buy 10 freshly-baked cookies filled with that bean paste stuff, which I think is called Azuki. They:re delicious!!!
Walking around Ueno after we got back form Asakusa was strange on the senses... bright lights, tall buildings, pachinko parlors everywhere, and strange smells and sounds. It was Tokyo like I expected.
After today:s walking and sight-seeing, it`s hard to believe that the rest of our trip will be like this. It`s only been two days, and we already need a day to relax! It:s still hard to believe that we:re in Japan... we could be in LA, for the most part: Department stores look the same inside and out, there:s a bunch of AM/PMs, 7-11s, and Denny:s restrauntss.
18.Aug - Ueno to Akasaka
We went to the Tokyo National Museum and saw only two of the 5 bulidings there in 4 hours. Both had excellent exhibits, including a bunch of stuff on Samurai and some excellent screen paintings. As a huge added bonus, most of the exhibits had English explainations, which made the museum much more accessible. After that, we took a train to a new hotel in Akasaka, which is in southwest Tokyo. We ate expensive Indian food for dinner and realized that our bags are really heavy!
19.Aug - Impreial Palace
Buffet breakfast at the hotel is good and cheap! We spent about 6 hours at the Imperial Palace, which was kind of dissappointing. You can:t actually see the palace from anywhere, and we spent a lot of time walking around the outside not being able to get back in after we left from the northern gate. We probably walked nearly 2 miles just to get back to the southern entrance, and decided not to go back in, anyway.
Instead, we walked across the street to this park that has a bunch of water features, one of which sprays mist all over you. Since it`s about 35 C (100 F), we hung out there to recover for a while. Now, at 630pm, it`s off to Roppongi for dinner. But still, why doesn`t this feel any different than regular life? When will it sink in that we:re not going home in a few days? When will we stop observing as tourists and start being a part of the city? We need to meet some people today, Japanese or otherwise.
Mission accomplished. Well, sort of. Roppongi kind of sucked; we could have been on the 3rd street promenade in Santa Monica or on Melrose or the Strip in Vegas. It:s just a SUPER busy housing/mall/office/museum complex of about 5 gigantic buildings and everything is overpriced. There:s also a Cold Stone there, and the line was litteraly a block long! Roppopngi is not the kind of place we`d normally hang out at, so we left promptly, but it was interesting to see once.
We found our way to a back-alley basement restraunt where drunk locals gave us the evil eye for stepping in. A very nice local woman helped us order, though, and the food wasn`t great, but it was a good experience, anyway. They eat mayonaise on salad here, by the way. Later, we made it to a sake bar aclled Tommy`s, which had a Philly West vibe... a kinda dive-y, hole-in-the-wall place that`s just our type! The owner (Tommy?) and locals were very friendly and Tommy speaks perfect English. One guy called me Jack Bauer when I told him I live in LA. Doesn`t that show take place in DC? Anyway, we:re going to go back tomorrow.
Ginza and Shinjuku I wrote about below, and we tried to take Nick (the British fellow we met at our hotel) back to Tommy`s, but it was closed. That:s why we drank at the Cuban joint, instead.
Okay, I:m tired of blogging, so I`ll stop, here for now. Today (23 Aug), we`re leaving Nikko to go to Matsumoto. I`ll try to get pics up as soon as possible.
We will be leaving Tokyo today (Monday, 21st) and heading for the
mountain town of Nikko about 100 miles north of Tokyo. It has been
really hot here, but we met a really nice British guy yesterday and
went out to a bar with him near our hotel last night in Roppongi. It was a Cuban bar, and they didn:t have any sake, but it was fun anyway. The night before, Justine and I hunted around for a sake bar in Tokyo and it was surprisingly hard to find one in Roppongi. I think this is because the area where we:re staying (called Akasaka) is the international neighborhood (where all the embassys are) and Roppongi is where all the Japanese kids hang out. So all the bars serve western-style drinks for a bunch of money... think Sunset Strip (8 bucks for a small G&T!?!)
Yesterday, we went over to the ritzy shoping district of Ginza in the
day and the major downtown of Tokyo called Shinjuku, which has Tokyo:s
Time Square, at night. The day before that, we went to the Imperial
Palace, which was sort of dissappointing (pics to follow whenever I can find an internet cafe with computers newer than 1999!).
We:ve been walking many many miles a day, and I:m sure I:ve already
lost a few pounds... it:s hard to get calories in Japan! Finally, I
have no idea where the apostorphe key is on this computer, so I:m
sorry they look like colons.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
We left SFO on Wednesday at noon, arriving in Narita Airport near Tokyo at 11 pm. The flight was not too bad and the food on ANA was actually good!
We took the train from NRT to Ueno (the neighborhood where we are staying in Tokyo for the first two nights), which took about an hour. Our hotel is right next to Ueno Park, which is a huge tropical forest looking park with tons of great statues and shrines inside. It is so green here and it is not what I expected Tokyo to look like at all. Yesterday (which was Thursday for us and right now it is Fri. morning), we went to the oldest and biggest Buddhist temple in Tokyo. They had a really cool 5-story pagoda and it was this gigantic sprawling complex with all kinds of cool Shinto shrines. When we got back to the hotel, we visited the Onsen here, which is the Japanese public bath/hot springs. That was a lot of fun and very relaxing.
So far, food has not been a problem for us. The first night we at a place called the Full Length Table, in Ueno. They made us vegetarian spaghetti (Japanese-style) and we drank the smoothest sake ever! For breakfast, the hotel is serving us a traditional Japanese breakfast (Miso soup, rice, and weird sea vegetables), along with two fried eggs. Yesterday for lunch we had Soba, which was really good.
Overall, it is hard to believe that this is really happening... that our lives will be like this for 8 months. We have not had any problems communicating or taking the Tokyo metro. It has been painless, except for ordering the Soba noodles yesterday, but we eventually figured it out.
Okay, gotta go, but expect pictures next time!
Sunday, August 13, 2006
- We leave for Tokyo at noon on Tuesday. That's only 38 hours from now!
- I just finished packing my bag and it's only 26 lbs. I'll try to post a picture of J and I in our bags before we leave on Tuesday.
- Yesterday (Sat. 12.Aug.2006) my folks threw J and I a HUGE bon voyage party. People were so generous and fun and some friends (Court, Ruben, and Dani) and family (Randy and Ray) came a long way to see us of! Check out the pics here.
- The newest episode of The Venture Bros. was totally awesome.
- Capital One credit cards have no international conversion fee, and their customer service reps are great.
- My sister Lisa will be meeting up with us in China. She'll travel with us from Shanghai to Hong Kong (pronounced more like Xiang Gang in Mandarin) between the 3rd and 12th of October. I hope Bertrand and Katherin (sp?) or Dan and Heather can meet up with us overseas, as well.
- My in-law's dog Cookie is the cutest dog ever! See for yourself here, along with some other pictures from the first week of August. The two night shots on the first page of the gallery were 3 minute exposures.
- The code that generated these galleries (and the server that is hosting them) were generously donated to our cause by my totally cool brother-in-law. Thanks J!
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
My mother-in-law showed me this today, and I'll try to be brief in recounting our story.
Several weeks ago, I made a reservation with U-Haul online. I was supposed to pick up a truck on Sunday morning, 30 July, drive it up to Santa Cruz on Monday, and return it on Tuesday. On week before we were supposed to move, I called U-Haul to confirm the reservation. No problem. Two days before the move, I called again. No problem. One day before the reservation, they called me and told me when and where to get the truck (10:30 am at Hollywood Mail & Message in LA). So, Sunday morning rolls around and J and I have been calling the store to no avail, calling U-Haul and holding for hours on end, and finally just show up at H-Wood M&M to get the truck at about 11 am. Of course, the store is closed on Sundays. Many hours later, at 6:30 pm, U-Haul calls me and says "why didn't you get the truck this morning?" "Because the store is closed on Sundays." The U-Haul operator confirms this for me. "Yes. H-Wood M&M are closed on Sundays."
"I know," I said. "I went over there and they were closed."
"So why didn't you get the truck?"
"Because they were closed."
"You were supposed to call them."
"I did call, but there's no one to answer the phone at the store," I said slowly, so that the operator would understand.
"That's because the store is closed on Sundays."
"Well how the hell am I supposed to get the truck?" I asked.
"You're supposed to call the guy and make an appointment. His number is xxx-xxx-xxxx."
"How come nobody told me that? How was I supposed to know that? You guys told me on Saturday to just show up."
"Well, sir, you can't just show up because the store is closed on Sunday."
And it went on like this for a while. Finally I asked to speak to her manager and she says, I am the manager. I realized at this point that it was useless to argue with her because she, herself, was useless.
I call the guy who owns H-W M&M and I ask him to go open the store for me. He says he's too drunk, but his kid can go open the store. Great. Well, at least the kid was totally professional and friendly. No problems, and I got the truck home at 9pm, only 10.5 hours after I was supposed to get it!
But the story doesn't end here. No sir.
My brother, Justine, and I loaded half the truck Sunday night, and the rest Monday morning. When we were finally leaving LA, I may have slightly side-swiped a parked car. It really was a minor thing, and since I had U-Haul's insurance, I just left them a note that said something like: Sorry I winged the front of your car, here's my name and number. I have U-Haul insurance, so there shouldn't be any problems.
So besides being totally frazzled about packing and moving, now I had this on my conscience! I felt horrible, since I had probably just ruined someone's day. How awful to come out and see the front side of your car all scratched up.
Anyway, now I was all nervous about driving the truck in the city and I just wanted to get out of LA and onto the freeway. So we drove up to Santa Barbara, and things were going smoothly. We stopped at an Ihop for a break and since James had driven to LA and back, we needed to drop his car off so he could ride with J and I up to the Bay Area. To make a really long story shorter, we found out that one of the rear wheels on the U-Haul had blown out! Possibly from when I winged that car in LA, but also maybe from something on the freeway. So we waited at the Ihop until about 10:30 pm (we had left LA ad 2pm and gotten to the Ihop at 5!) for someone to fix the tire. The guy seemed to think it was something on the freeway, suggesting that there's no way I could have driven it like that all the way from LA. Plus, I check the truck after the incident and didn't notice any problems, and we were doing freeway speeds, also without problems. (By the way, the 17-foot truck we rented has those double-wheels in the back, so even if one does blow out, there's another one for me to drive on.)
Finally, on Tuesday morning, we made it up to Santa Cruz and my in-laws helped me unpack and store all of our stuff in their basement. Here it is, now, Wednesday morning, and all that remains is for us to return the truck.
In case you're wondering, the woman whose car I hit in LA called and said don't worry about it. Well, I'm still worried about it, and I'll tell U-Haul what happened when I return the truck, but at least I probably don't have to deal with this while I'm overseas. Speaking of which, I can hardly believe that I'm leaving for Tokyo in just 13 days. There's still so much to do! Thursday, J and I have to spend all day in San Francisco trying to get our Indian visas.