A Travellerspoint blog

Japanese Food

Must mention food as a diary from a Westerner visiting Japan (especially a vegetarian one) wouldn`t be complete without some reference to what`s available. It has been pretty challenging to find places where there is any English on the menu and all three of us can find something to eat - e.g. Sophie prefers Western food, meat, stodge etc, but to her credit has been open to trying new things (despite subtly trying to encourage us into every KFC, TGI Fridays or McDonalds in our path); I am pescetarian (vegetarian that eats fish and thank god I am or things would have been impossible, as even vege dishes are cooked with fish sauce); and Naomi doesn't eat meat either but is not keen on fish. As you can imagine we have to trawl a good deal of eateries before we find something suitable, especially in a country whose cultural norm is to garnish dishes with a tentacle or half a raw fish. I love what I thought Japanese food was, based on the versions available in the UK (e.g. Wagamama's and supermarket sushi selections) and thought I would easily eat well. Over here there is more influence on meat than I expected and the sushi tends to involve a lot more raw/ rare fish and whole squid. Although we did eat very well at a delicious sushi restaurant yesterday, with one of those revolving belts which is ideal if you don't understand the menu and can inspect the rawness and presence of tentacles before committing.

We are sticking to 'less adventurous' things like tempura battered vegetables and prawns with plain rice, etc. A typical meal would be this tempura, bowl of rice, bowl of miso soup, dish of pickles and green tea or water to drink - healthy and filling but not necessarily cheap. (Everything is at least as expensive as at home, if not more.) Different types of noodles are common staples and can be cheap but unfortunately for me and Naomi often cooked in beef stock. Through trial and error I've found I don't like udon noodles (like thick slimey worms) and prefer soba noodles (more like super noodles).

Culinary 'delights` on offer include frozen squid liver, deep fried chicken cartlidge, raw horsemeat and shark fin soup (fin whole and recognisable). In the snack aisle of most corner shops you can find bags of dried tentacles to munch on, alongside the peanuts and crisps.

Japan's doing well to resist the advancing tide of junk-food outlets, a national preference for stodge and the obesity problems, which can only be a good thing for the nation's health. Despite Western influence the culture still seems to favour healthier, less processed foods - E.g. it is most noticable with packed lunches - whereas it is our culture to fill up on bread/ sandwiches and crisps, a typical Japanese person might eat a rice patty (tasty) or sushi and (one of Naomi's favourites) a 'mochi'. These are kind of a dessert type item - like a doughnut of white gluey rice-based dough with bean jam/ paste filling. The only thing I can liken it to is eating a lump of playdough with mushed up, slightly sweetened kidney beans inside. Naomi can't seem to get enough of them but I'm not sure I'll be buying another one.

Posted by Sambosonic 00:20 Archived in Japan Tagged food Comments (0)

Hiroshima & Miyajima

22nd-24th March

rain 15 °C

Miyajima was the closest we could get accommodation to Hiroshima (about half an hour away by train). Hostel was clean and fairly small with a nice, relaxed atmosphere and felt pretty safe. The only downside was being in a dorm with bunk beds separated into sections with curtains - noisy if you have inconsiderate room mates, which we did.

Tues 23rd HIROSHIMA:

We visited the Peace Memorial Museum dedicated to the impact and the victims of the Atomic bomb of 1945/ WW2, Children"s Peace Memorial, Victims Cenotaph and A-Bomb Dome (one of the few buildings which partially survived the blast - the remains are now preserved and listed as a World Heritage Site for remembering the horrific consequences of nuclear warfare). The Museum was interesting and very well done but as you would expect very emotive which affected me quite deeply. The cold, calculated 'scientific' planning of how US forces selected Hiroshima as a target was as distressing as reading about the horrific injuries caused by the blast and the radiation. I would definitely recommend it though and think any of the world's politicians who think developing and stockpiling nuclear weapons is justified, should be made to visit this museum and be confronted with the shockingly cruel, inhumane realities. The grey, cold, drizzle that persisted throughout the day added to the sombre mood :-(

I am pleased to say we have had opportunites to participate in democratic activities here - E.g. I have signed two separate petitions campaigning for reductions / abolition internationally in nuclear weapons stocks. Well it's obviously made a difference already as I am very pleased to note in the news that the US and Russia have just agreed to reduce their nuclear warheads stocks - a big step in the right direction!

While Naomi and Sophie warmed up and dried off in a cafe I was considerably more hardcore and walked on for a brief photo call at Hiroshima Castle and nearby Gokoku Shrine.

Weds 24th MIYAJIMA ISLAND:

Miyajima is a small, pretty island which is a conservation / nature area known for its wild deer, great views if the weather is nice, 5 storey pagoda, several shrines and a `floating' torii gate (which in my opinion is a bit over-rated as one of Japan's top sites - it's a red metal structure in the harbour which marks the entrance to a shrine. What's special about this one is they're not normally in the sea - when the tide's in it's meant to look like it's magically floating on the water. Call me cynical but it blatantly isn't).

Naomi and I did our good deed for the day by saving a deer from choking on some litter it had started to eat. Standing by ready to attempt a heimlich manouvre, fortunately we just needed to wait for it to spit out the plastic and swiftly pick it up before they could swallow it. Animal rescue = storing up some good karma around all these Buddhist shrines.

Unfortunately the weather was grotty again so the "Matty Mac" (pac-a-mac lent to me, thanks Matty) has already earnt its space in my backpack (also lent to me, thanks Penny).

Posted by Sambosonic 23:59 Archived in Japan Comments (1)

Bullet Train & Japan Itinerary

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Monday 22nd: We travelled from Tokyo to Hiroshima (about 5 hours away) on the Bullet Train (after a bit of an ordeal trying to find the right counter at Tokyo central station to activate our Japan Rail Passes (it"s huge and our lack of Japanese and their lack of English made things difficult).

When the Bullet Train arrived in the station it was quite impressive to see a team of immaculately dressed cleaners whisk on first, spin all the seats round 180 degrees to face the direction of travel, change the headrest covers, clean the surfaces and brush the seats! Filthy filthy British trains be shamed. There was loads of leg room. Only possible negative observation was a faintly fishy smell which we decided must be due to the snack trolley serving sushi and not a lack of attendance to our personal hygiene.

We have found it surprisingly difficult to book accomodation for the places we want to visit - most of the ones within our budget are either fully booked or can only do 2 of 3 nights we want and so on. We think this is probably because it"s cherry blossom season and everywhere is busier than usual. So our main bit of advice so far is: Book well in advance! Oops. Anyway we"ve managed to sort out a route, narrow down where we want to stop and have booked all our accomodation. Itinerary is:

22-24th - Hiroshima
25-27th - Nagasaki
28-30th - Osaka
31-3rd - Kyoto
4-8th - Tokyo (again, until flight to Argentina)

xxx

Posted by Sambosonic 20:58 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Tokyo (Part 1)

Ueno, Tsukiji, Harajuku

semi-overcast

Hi All,

So Tokyo (which I really liked)... We stayed in the Asakusa district of Tokyo (Tokyo is huge!). Asakusa is known as the old traditional part so the route from the tube station to our hostel was lined with stereotypical Japanese pagoda-type buildings and a traditional market of food and souvenirs. I felt a bit bad that it reminded me of a theme park (think Dragon River at Chessington!). Lovely hostel with private room for us 3.

We have been getting around a lot by tube on the underground system which is similar to ours - thankfully the stations have the names in western alphabet underneath the Japanese characters, otherwise we"d have been totally screwed with little hope of working out where to get on or off!

Also thankfully we have been able to leave our backpacks at the hostel as they weigh a ton. Mine is the lightest (so guess who"s ended up with the washing powder and fabric conditioner?! Damn, I shouldn"t have sacrificed that valuable shoe space.) Naomi actually needs someone to lift hers onto her back for her - they are almost as big as us so we have attracted some funny looks and sniggers trying to lumber them around the underground and up flights of stairs without falling over backwards. On the bright side it"s a good thigh and bum work out. If I did overbalance I think I would look like a turtle that had got stranded on it"s back with it"s legs in the air and not much chance of righting itself.

The weather in Tokyo has been dry and pretty cold (like home) but mostly bright.

We spent our first (jetlagged) day in the Ueno district which is the museum area of the city. We visited Tokyo National Museum which was disappointing to say the least but to be fair it was probably more down to us being pretty clueless about what we were supposed to be appreciating. One gallery promised us "treasure" but our expectations were not met by the dull bronze statues and faded strips of paper on display. Not going to fall for that one again. Next we went to Ueno park (no sign of cherry blossom yet) and where Horyuji"s ancient treasure failed to do anything for us we were significantly more impressed by the plasticky-looking yellow and pink swan pedaloes we found on the lake. Obviously we had to get one, and proceeded to swan around rounding up the ducks.

We started our second (jetlagged) day with an early morning tour of Tsukiji Fish Market, which is on all the guides as a must-see, as apparently the biggest fish market in the world. Naomi and Sophie found it interesting and enjoyed the tour but I found it rather gruesome - as someone who turned vegetarian for compassionate reasons and reluctantly went back to eating fish only if I don"t think about it"s face or it swimming around, I didn"t like seeing the trays of blood and half-dead fish struggling to gasp their last and wriggle out from under their dead companions. To me it wasn"t worth getting up at 5am or nearly getting taken out by the motorised fish carts that zoom around the market aiming for tourists.

We went back to the hostel for a power nap (all three feeling pretty rough - me and Sophie really jetlagged from taking two days to get here and missing two nights sleep; and Naomi who brough an unwelcome guest in the form of a stomach parasite picked up in India, which hitched a ride over and despite treatment managed to regroup to inflict more crippling stomach cramps on her.) However we pushed on through and went out in Roppongi (neon nightlife district) but felt rather like Cinderallas as we had to be home before the last train turned into a pumpkin at midnight (couldn"t afford taxi). However we still managed to have fun before that in a "Motown" theme bar, which had a relaxed friendly atmosphere but very expensive drinks (e.g. Corona was 900 Yen: about 7 pounds!!).

Sunday we went to Harajuku / Jingu Bashi park as this is renowned for eccentric characters and fancy dress lovers getting together and hanging about for photo opportunities (what a shame I didn"t bring my Tigger outfit). It"s pot luck who is there when you go and we saw a large group of 50"s style rockers who looked like a cross between a Grease cast and an Elvis convention dancing in the park. There were a few others (see photos when I work out how to put them up), a dog creche (over here they make jeans for dogs and we saw two dogs wearing full outfits!! And oh yes, I managed to capture pohotographic evidence of the one wearing jeans) and Meiji-Jingu shrine. We were lucky enough to arrive to see what looked like a traditional wedding party leaving, with the bride in full Geisha costume, but I didn"t get a photo as it felt inappropriate to take one.

Well if you"re still reading I"m glad you found it interesting. That"s it for Tokyo at the mo but we are coming back at the end of the trip...

xxxxx Miss you already!!! xxxxx

Posted by Sambosonic 00:52 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Colombo Airport, Sri Lanka

"in transit" with a suspicious package:

sunny 35 °C

So Sophie and I are currently waiting at Colombo airport for our connecting flight to Tokyo. We have been up for over 30 hours now so pretty knackered which meant the following incident seemed even more surreal. It appears, in this climate of international terrorism, that the Sri Lankan airport security staff have a rather relaxed approach to potential security threats:

Having just arrived in the airport with a long wait ahead of us for the next flight, I noticed two suspicious looking oblong packages carefully wrapped in newspaper and left unidentified and unattended on some seats near us in the 'transit' lounge. When Sophie returned from the loo I pointed them out and we convinced ourselves they either contained several pounds of cocaine or a sizeable bomb (neither of which we fancied waiting next to). As there was a sign nearby reminding passengers of the death penalty for drug smuggling, so we reasoned someone trying their luck had seen this sign, thought better off it and quietly offloaded the packages so this was the more likely option.

We thought we had better report it to someone so they could deal with it appropriately so Sophie went off to do her duty as a responsible citizen. If you bear in mind something like this at Heathrow would probably have warranted immediate cordoning off of the area, evacuation of at least one terminal and the summoning of sniffer dogs and bomb disposal experts from miles around until the package was either identified as harmless or defused... Well a passing security guard came over and had a look, shrugged his shouders and went off to 'get security'. In the time that elapsed before they returned I went to the loo and missed a tour guide, leading a large group of asian-attired, middle-aged women, coming over to pick up the packages, feel the weight of and stack them neatly back on the seat, before leading the gaggle onward. On my return a cleaner had wandered over to the packages, given them a poke and a shake and by the time two more security men swaggered calmly over with the original man in tow, was unwrapping and ripping the layers to reveal..... nothing but sheets of newspaper wrapped in a parcel shape. The security men shrugged and wandered off again, the cleaner disposed of the newspaper and Sophie and I were left rather bemused at their serious lack of 'suspicious package' procedures.

Naomi and Matt have now arrived from India so the four of us are going to try and get some sleep before getting on the next 8 hour flight in 3 hours time.

xxx

Posted by Sambosonic 07:57 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged air_travel Comments (0)

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