Food. Food everywhere: Japan. Days 8, 9, and 12

Day 8

Shibamata
The entrance to Shibamata.

Today I took a trip to Shibamata, a historical town and temple only one stop away from Kanamachi.

green-tea dango with red bean paste. Easily the best thing I've eaten so far, which is saying a lot.
Green-tea dango with red bean paste. Easily the best thing I’ve eaten in Japan, which is no small feat.

Along with a beautiful temple, Shibamata has some of the tastiest foods I’ve ever eaten. Oh my goodness. I had green-tea dango with red bean paste and takuyaki.

Takuyaki! Takuyaki is octopus cooked in batter to make these tasty little melt-in-your-mouth balls that you drizzle with fish flakes and mayonaise. Eating it was one of the things on my to-do-in-Japan list.

IMG_1813
Takuyaki. Yum.

 

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The stalls down the street leading to the temple at Shibamata.

Shibamata is a beautiful place. Along the sides of the street are stall after stall of food, souvenirs, good luck charms, and religious items.

At the end of the street is the temple and temple courtyard. When inside the courtyard, you can hear monks chanting. Whether it was a recording or whether it was happening live I do not know, but the effect was the same.

The entrance to the temple at Shibamata.
The entrance to the temple at Shibamata.

I went alone. It’s the first time I’ve gone sightseeing by myself beyond my own neighborhood. Some of the most fun I had in Shibamata was talking with the shop owners. They only spoke a little English and I only spoke a little Japanese. In our mutual non-understanding, we had common ground. It really is better to try speaking even when you know you’ll mess up than to not try at all.

Inside the courtyard of the temple at Shibamata. The sound of chanting monks was on the air.
Inside the courtyard of the temple at Shibamata. The entrance to the temple is up the stairs under the tree.

Day 9

Sunday. I’ve got to say, I’ve enjoyed having weekends off. I’ve always worked on the weekends, so it’s a nice change. I slept in and went out into the rain at noon to go looking for a fluffy scarf. One of my goals for this trip is to buy a scarf that is cuter than any item of clothing ought to be.

Kanamachi in the rain.
Kanamachi in the rain.

I didn’t find anything sufficiently cute, so I gave up and went to Doutor Coffee. I bought the same drink as last time, partly because it was good, and partly because it was the easiest thing to point to on the menu. I took my coffee and my pastry upstairs to an empty table. Well, my table was empty, but it was right between two full tables. That’s another thing that’s different between Japan and America, or at least between Japan and Oregon. In Oregon, sitting at a table next to someone else would be considered an invasion of space. But not in Japan, probably because of the limited amount of space.

The magazine I bought to practice hiragana and katakana. It's all about animals.
The magazine I bought to practice hiragana and katakana. It’s all about animals.

On my way home, I picked up a magazine to translate from hiragana and katakana into romaji. It was harder than I thought it would be to find a magazine with more hiragana than kanji. I don’t know where to begin learning how to pronounce kanji, but I know where to begin with hiragana and katakana.

If you don’t already know, hiragana and katakana are phonemic alphabets, where each “letter” represents a sound. For example, in the word “kawaii” (cute), there are three symbols: ka, wa, and ii.

Kanji is an entirely different animal. With kanji, each word has only one or two complicated symbols. As far as I can tell, you can’t sound them out. You just have to memorize what it means and how to say it. Kanji, hiragana, and katakana are used together in Japanese writing, often in the same sentences on everything from road signs to magazine articles to bags of potato chips.

Day 12 (because on days 10 and 11, all I did was school)

Kami and I went to Asakusa today after class. Asakusa is a busy part of Tokyo with a large temple. Today was National Foundation Day, so everyone had a day off of school and (I’d assume) work, except us foreigners, so Asakusa was packed with people. It took all my energy just to make sure I didn’t get carried off with the crowd to some mystery location.

The stalls in front of the Asakusa temple.
The stalls in front of the Asakusa temple.

We managed to stay together and got some great food, which Kami insisted on paying for. Seriously, she’s the most stubbornly generous person I’ve ever met in my life.

Inside the temple courtyard was a fortune-telling booth. When Kami said we should get our fortunes, I immediately imagined going to someone in a tent with a crystal ball, but it was nothing like that. The fortune-telling booth was a fixture in the courtyard with rows of little  numbered drawers on all sides of it.

Me in front of the Asakusa temple.
Me in front of the Asakusa temple.

To get your fortune, you put a 100 yen coin in what looks like a tumbler, and turn it upside-down. When you do, a chopstick falls out with a number written on it. You open the drawer with the corresponding number, and inside is a paper with your fortune.

If your fortune’s good, great! Take it home. Do whatever you want with it. If your fortune’s bad, you have to tie it to the string next to the shrine in order to make sure it doesn’t come true. I, uh, I had to tie my fortune. I’d rather not have bad luck in employment and relationships. No thank you.

To the left is the fortune telling station. Straight ahead is a large bowl of incense. You're supposed to cover yourself with the smoke before going into the temple.
To the left is the fortune telling station. Straight ahead is a large bowl of incense. You’re supposed to cover yourself with the smoke before going into the temple.

After making sure our bad luck wouldn’t follow us home, Kami and I took a rickshaw ride around the city. The rickshaw driver was very friendly and energetic, but he didn’t speak any English. Luckily, Kami speaks Japanese and translated for him.IMG_1829

I have endless respect for rickshaw drivers. It takes a high level of physical fitness, a lot of training, and on top of that, you have to be engaging, knowledgeable, and friendly.


A/N: Supposedly, kanji symbols are supposed to look something like what they’re describing. I don’t know whether that’s just a pneumonic device or whether that was actually part of the intention. I can’t see them, either way.

 

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