A Travellerspoint blog


The Final Leg

The day has finally arrived. We are heading back home from this long trip after 18 weeks. While Stacey and Ben finish packing up all of luggage I had one last thing to do. After failing to secure tickets for Monday, my friend Wesley and I got up early, around 6am, to wait in line to get tickets for the sumo tournament that was being held in Tokyo. Most of the advance tickets had already sold out and we were not going to pay $95 anyways. While we were in the nosebleed seats, the stadium was pretty much empty as the main wrestlers don't enter til around 2pm with the grand champion matches held around 5pm. Sumo is a wrestling match that is steeped in Shinto traditions. The ring itself is a sacred place and there are several purification rituals they do throughout the day to keep it so. The purpose is to either push or throw your opponent out of the ring or to have any part of his body, other than the souls of his feet, touch the ground. The ring is raised and several times the wrestlers would tumble off into the crowd.


For lunch we had chankonabe. This is the traditional dish served to sumo wrestlers to increase their weight in a healthy and nutritious way. While there are different styles, this one had chicken, cabbage and mushrooms in a fish stock. It was actually rather light and, having only eaten a rice ball from a convenience store hours before. was filling.


From here it was a scrabble on several different subway/train lines to reach the airport on time. Once we got our tickets and made our way through security (Ben lost his North Korean wine as he forgot to put it in Stacey's checked luggage), we met up with one final person on the trip. My mother happened to be flying through Narita airport just hours before we left Japan. She is on her way to Singapore for a tour of SE Asia and if I had done better planning I could have joined her and extended my trip a few more weeks. However, I had no money left and Stacey would have been very angry with me.


From Tokyo, we flew to Los Angeles and onward to Portland. For reasons I will never know, it would have been $1,200 more to fly on Delta's direct flight to Portland that Stacey was on, then it was to fly via Singapore Air and Alaska Air via LAX. As it was, I prefer non-American carriers and enjoyed several Singapore Slings and watched some summer blockbuster movies that I had missed. Due to the international date line, we arrived 12 minutes before we left Japan. Since I got up early, it was about 30 hours that I stayed awake other than a few minute naps on the plane. Arriving in the evening, I wanted to make sure I was tired and could fall asleep. Stacey was waiting for me due to her earlier flight. I immediately went and got Sichuan and Mexican food within a hour of landing.

Ben and I have traveled over 25,000 miles for this trip and now I must return to a regular life and begin compiling and testing recipes for cook book. It might be audacious but I hope to have a rough draft by Thanksgiving and have it edited by Christmas. Thank you for reading and to all who have helped me along the way. I will continue to post updates on this blog as the book comes together.

Posted by CulinarySojourn 13:02 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Kamakura, Japan

Kamakura was once the seat of power in Japan centuries ago and still hold onto some of those traditions. The main draw is the second largest Buddha in Japan (the largest is in Nara). This one is made of metal and was once housed in a building but a tsunami destroyed its lodgings long ago. Kamakura also has several festivals throughout the year with the biggest one held twice. This festival is for yabusame, or horse archery. The main road in front of the shrine (which incidentally, is called Yabusame Road), has sand pours into a wooden frame for the horses to run on and there are three wooden targets placed evenly along the road. We initially found a nice spot in the shade near the second target but due to an old man complaining, the priests moved us to the third target. In typical Japanese fashion they apologized profusely for the inconvenience. This spot worked better though as we could see the entire run as well as the finish. Some of the riders would be going to fast and there was not much room for the horses to stop. One rider jumped off his horse when he lost control. I have a video but can't seem to upload it here.


We also stopped by a shrine where you could wash your money in order to gain some more. All I had on me was some single yen coins, so even if it doubled it still wouldn't be worth anything (1 yen = 1 cent).


Other than extremely expensive delicacies or full course meals, Kamakura is only known for sweet potatoes. As we were heading back to Tokyo, we only had a small snack of purple sweet potato croquettes and baked sweet potato ice cream. Other than the color, purple and regular sweet potato tastes the same. The breading was crispy and is the filling a nice change from normal croquettes. As for the ice cream, the baking gave it more flavor and developed the sweetness. It was odd with the ice cream texture but not the weirdest thing eaten on this trip.


Posted by CulinarySojourn 11:15 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo, one of the biggest cities in the world and our last major stop on our circumnavigation trip. Not really a single city, more of a collection of several large cities that have a complex system of public and private rails that all interlink in a seemingly haphazardly fashion. Expensive to travel in and expensive to stay in, Tokyo nonetheless has something for everyone; shopping, nightlife, red light district, anime and food from around the world. We met up with some friends from the US and Britain and hit the town. Unfortunately, they have better cameras than I and many of the photos taken are still with them. I will add them later to the blog once they return stateside. We visited several major shrines such as the Tokugawa family's shrine (the rulers of Japan for about 250 years), as well as the burial sight of the famous 47 Ronin. Ironically, I had just watched the new movie of this tale starring Keane Reeves on the bus ride from Nagoya.


The area of Asakusa is known for its old temples and major shopping street. Here is a shop that in the early 17th century, invented a now ubiquitious shichimi togarashi. This seven spice blend contains sesame and poppy seeds, orange peel, sansho (berries from the prickly ash tree that cause a numbing and cooling sensation), nori (seaweed), ginger, and dried orange peel. This is the stuff you see on the counter of pretty much every Japanese restaurant. Luckily, they are still in business and I purchased their medium and spicy blends. For a snack we had sweet potatoes (if you have noticed pretty much everyplace has sweet potatoes during this time of year in Japan) that are steamed then covered in honey and sesame seeds. I had left one for the others to try but Stacey ate it all.


There was also the trip to the artificial island of Odaiba with its model of a Gundam as well as a Mexican festival. This was complete with wrestlers, sombreros, serapes and tequila. I had a empenada that was close to the real thing. For this trip we stuck with local food only but by this time I was really missing Mexican food.


As for the local food we had ramen of course. The restaurant had several different styles; shoyu, miso, tonkotsu, shio and the elusive tantanmen. This dish is similar to the Taiwan ramen in Nagoya and the dandanmien from Sichuan that I mentioned in the previous post and I was excited to try it out. Unfortunately, this one didn't live up to my expectations as the pork was cubed not minced, cold and not spicy nor tingling from sansho. As for the other types, Tokyo restaurants seem to use a much fishier soup base that can be tasted over the supposedly primary flavor. They did have a tofu desert with sweet potato noodles that was creamy and sweet that was incredibly good. Similar in texture to a custard and had strawberry jam on top. In another restaurant, I had dipping ramen. This is a deconstructed ramen, with everything out of the liquid. Then you have a much more intensively flavored dipping sauce, in these case sesame, that you dip into. The noodles are served cold and is refreshing on a hot day. The serving style is based on that of soba (buckwheat) noodles.


Posted by CulinarySojourn 20:53 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Nagoya, Japan

Leaving Ise for Tokyo, we traveled on the Kintetsu railroad to the industrial city of Nagoya. One of the largest cities in Japan, it is famous for sumo, cars and being a transportation hub to get to or from Tokyo. We only had a few hours in the city and once we found the bus stop and stowed our luggage we went in search of some local culinary specialties. On the local tour maps we found two streets titled with enticing names like, "Food Street" and such but to no avail. There was actually no food to be had here. Extending our search, we found tebasaki, or Japanese fried chicken wings. In Japan, the entire wing is fried. This includes the wing tip that has little meat on it but does give more crispy skin and the peppery flavor of the marinade. Another local dish is Taiwan Ramen. Named for a immigrant from Taiwan that invented it in the 70's, this is a spicy version of the ubiquitous noodle dish. Finely ground pork is fried with green onions and bean sprouts with chiles and other spices. Then it is placed on top of ramen in a soy sauce based soup base. Fried garlic chips were served as a garnish. It reminds me of dandanmien, a Sichuan dish from central China. While spicy according to Japanese tastes, it had only a noticeable heat.


If I had more time in Nagoya, I would also have tried miso-katsu. This is a standard tonkatsu, breaded pork cutlet, but served with a red miso sauce. This is a specialty of the region but being full I had no room left. Instead, I tried to find the castle but with inconsistent signage on the maps and roadways, we made it within four blocks before having to turn back due to time constraints. After we ascended the JR Towers, we saw how close we were.


Our trip out was on a six hour bus ride. We went to one of the numerous convenience stores and bought drinks and snacks for the trip. Here we found a fruit sandwich. Two slices white bread, with the crusts cut off, with whipped cream and assorted fruit. Odd from an American point of view but it worked.


The bus had a TV, video games and a pull down cocoon that fitted over your head to block light so you can sleep. Or it would, if we were not giant Americans. The trip itself went quickly and we arrived in Tokyo around 10pm. Here we settled down in a AirB&B we rented and got some rest before tackling Tokyo.

Posted by CulinarySojourn 10:26 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Ise, Japan

Heading east from Osaka, we traveled to the city of Ise. While relatively unknown outside Japan, it is the location of the major shrines of the indigenous religion of Shinto. The main temple dedicated to the Sun Goddess is here and the Emperor of Japan is believed to be a descendent. Due to its importance it also houses one of the Imperial Regalia, similar to the crown jewels of Britain. Shinto architecture is simple and all of the temples had tall fences built around them. This was one of the few areas that I did not see many fellow foreign tourists. One of the basic tenets of the Shinto religion is cleanliness and this pertains even to the buildings which are rebuilt every few decades. This meant that about a quarter of the buildings were surrounded by scaffolding and could not be seen. Also pictures of the larger shrines is prohibited, although not with signs but some of the priests scolding you if you try.


In the afternoon we went to the Edo Wonderland Ise Azuchi-Momoyama Bunkamura theme park. Here they recreate a town in the 16th century and have a host of carnival games and shows including a ninja demonstration and haunted houses. These were entertaining, albeit a bit rundown.


As for afternoon snacks, I had fried chicken skin with a teriyaki sauce and sesame seeds and wasabi soft serve. The chicken skin was served cold unfortunately but was still nice and crispy. They gave you a toothpick to use but they mostly just broke when you tried to stab into the skin. As for the wasabi soft serve it was not what I was expecting. Instead of it mixed into the soft serve like other flavors, it was young shoots of wasabi that was grated and then frozen into a granita. While I was waiting for it to thaw, the soft serve was melting but once I was able to start mixing the flavors it was pretty good. The wasabi would be to much on its own but since it was from younger plants and mixed with dairy you really only got the flavor and not the burn. Most of the time at least.


For dinner we had some local specialties. Ise noodles are thick, flour noodles in a thick soy and fish sauce. This is topped with green onions, chili powder and tempura bits. The flavors were simple but intense, with the thick noodles giving it a chewy texture and made the overall dish filling. The second dish was the local tuna, dabbed with soy sauce and served atop rice. The fish itself had a deep red color and melted on your tongue.


Posted by CulinarySojourn 14:23 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

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