Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Near Disaster (for a photographer)

We headed out for the day and hopped on the train - the first time we had done so since getting to Japan.  The ticketing system didn't pose too much of a problem and before long we were on the train towards Fushimi Inarii - the temple of the fox.  As we were riding along M decided to check the camera and had bad news - "Please charge or replace the battery".  I'm still not sure what happened, I definitely checked the camera the night before and it either had full battery or 2/3 full.  Anyways, we basically had an expensive paperweight.  And I didn't charge or bring the little camera with.  So there we were, on the train, going to what was supposed to be one of the most visually appealing shrines in Kyoto (if not Japan and the world) and we didn't have a good camera.  After the initial anger at myself I decided we would still go up the mountain through the thousands of torii (vermillion colored "gates") - the experience and memories are more important than the quality of the pictures capturing the memory.  We walked a little ways passing many shops until we reached the torii.  The torii were very impressive, as expected.  The typical visit to the Fushimi Inarii shrine consists of hiking for about 45 minutes up the mountain until you come across a part of the path that splits into a few different directions and had a small shop.  Most people stop here because past this point the torii become less and less dense and the views of the city don't get much more impressive.  This is what we ended up doing as well and it was well worth the difficult hike.  It is still amazing how many gates we passed though.



From there we headed back to the hotel to get both cameras recharging.  We walked around the hotel grounds for a little bit then took the little camera off the charger and headed off to try tonkatsu for lunch.  Tonkatsu is a breaded pork cutlet served with a sauce that is hard to describe.  All we know is that it is delicious.  The place we went to is called Katsukura (I am pretty sure that katsu is Japanese for pork, but I have been too lazy to look that up so far, so I could be wrong) and it was amazing.  The place has atmosphere (it looked like it was from the Gion district) and delicious food.  We both ordered the tonkatsu, which is served with a shredded cabbage salad, barley rice, barley tea, and miso soup.  Everything is free refills except for the pork itself.  The meal really hit the spot and I think tonkatsu may be our favorite dish from our trip so far.  There are other variations as well, including curry tonkatsu, domburi (tonkatsu over rice), and tonkatsu udon.




After this we headed to the main street we were near (Shinjo I think) and headed into the huge department store nearby, Daimaru.  Department stores in Japan aren't like what we have - they are huge (this one was 9 floors) and have a ton of variety in the goods they sell.  This particular store seemed to be higher end.  The second floor was dedicated to designer goods including Gucci, Coach, and many others I can't remember.  The layout was interesting as well - each designer had its own little shop - almost like we were at the mall.  Other floors contained: children's toys, calligraphy and calligraphy equipment, model railroads (I bought a small load for one of my train cars), children's toys, dvds and books, a plant nursery, pet supplies (sorry Leinie, we didn't find anything for you), restaurants, baked goods, sweets, and many other foods.  I wish our stores were like these.

After the department store we headed to Nijo Castle again, this time to checkout their famous "nightingale" floors.  They are also known for the painted sliding screens in the castle.  The palace complex with the special floors was very impressive and very cool to see.  The grounds enclosed by the castle walls are also very beautiful and interesting.  They still even have the moat filled up!







After that we headed out to dinner at Shabuzen - a shabu shabu restaurant.  Shabu shabu is a type of Japanese and a style of cooking.  Basically you take thin slices of meat (usually high quality steak) and cook them by swishing them back and forth in very hot (boiling) water.  Supposedly the name shabu shabu comes from the sound that is made when you are swishing the meat back and forth for cooking.  There are usually vegetables and noodles added to the water which are cooked along with everything else.  There are also 1 or 2 dipping sauces, usually sesame sauce and soy sauce.  Once the meat and vegetables are consumed some more vegetables are added to the water and the water you cooked with now becomes the broth for a a soup.  The whole process was very interesting and our waitress (dressed in a kimono) helped us along the many steps.  The restaurant was kind of expensive (I think the minimum was like 3900 yen pp, which is around $39) but we had an enjoyable experience with very good food.  I am glad we experienced it, but I'm not sure we will be paying for it again during our time in Japan.
After dinner we walked back the hotel through the Gion district again (it is so scenic!).  The next day we took a trip to Nara, which was the capital before Kyoto was.  More on that in another post.

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