Friday, April 4, 2014

Journey to Japan (Part 3)

I woke up early again the next morning. My stomach was growling and I needed sometime to boost my energy enough to get up and get ready to leave so that I could eat a proper breakfast. Luckily, I had some melonpan (or melon bread) that I had gotten on the way back to the hotel the night before from a convenience store. For those of you who might not know, melonpan is a sweet bread; it's basically a cookie wrapped around a piece of bread. They come in different flavors, too. On my trip I had regular, chocolate chip, and custard cream filled. I hear there are actually melon flavored melonpan as well, but I never ran into any.

I took my shower and got prepared for the day ahead.
Before long, I was on a train to Tokyo station. We took a brief stop there to find something to eat and ended up stopping at a Yoshinoya. I got a gyudon there (a beef bowl); Yoshinoya is my favorite place to eat gyudon. The meat is really nice and tender and at about $3 a bowl (a few cents extra for the extra meat I tend to get) it's quite a nice go to meal.

Back in the station, I found advertisements for what I could immediately tell was a pastry based on a cat's tail. I made it my epic quest to hunt down the places selling them.... Okay, I just happened to pass by it eventually. The name of the shop selling these was "Tokyo Banana Roar".  They had plenty of other pastries, but their main sweets were these soft banana cream filled cakes. The cat tails in particular had caramel flavored stripes in the cake. I had to have one, but they only sold them in packages of four. It ran about $6 for the entire box, but it was well worth the money. The cake was as soft as a cat's tail to the touch and was really tasty. The banana cream was probably actually made from real bananas and nothing about the sweet was overpowering at all.

Before going to Sendai, we would first visit Comitia, a very small version of Comiket. I say very small, but this place has more vendors than I've ever seen at any convention; but that's all it was. You wouldn't find any cosplayers here or panels or concerts like a convention in the US. It was just rows and rows and rows of vendors. I didn't even get through them all. Still, it was extremely fun to go around and look at all the different creations from people. There wasn't a lot of Touhou there because of a Touhou event happening somewhere beyond my reach at the time.

I ended up coming back with a Sakizo artbook and a few other goodies, including a really cute cat pin.

Then it was back on a train. First to Tokyo station again, and onto a Shinkansen (Bullet train) to Sendai. You'll hear a lot of being on a train while I'm in Japan. In fact, that's the main way everyone gets around in Japan. If you need to get somewhere, a train can most probably take you there. The trains are also notorious for being on time. Being late for a train is usually a minute behind schedule, though in the snowy weather, you'll probably wait up towards 5-15 minutes if it's really really bad (or worse case, the trains are shut down). Even on a really quick train, it may take some time getting someplace, but it didn't take too long to get to Sendai. It was already dark outside, though, and it had begun to snow a bit. It was dinnertime, too. We searched for someplace to eat and I agreed to eating at a burger place. Little did I know that it would be my favorite place to eat while I was in Japan. It's called Mos Burger (pronounced like moss but there is no moss on the burgers ☆~(ゝ。∂))

I got the teriyaki chicken burger; the main thing I was told about Mos Burger before arriving is that their food looks like what it does on the menu. I'd say that is a completely correct statement. The burgers aren't greasy, the fries aren't dripping and soggy; it's not like american fast food burgers, despite this being a fast food restaurant that plays off western fast food. 

And finally, a cab to the place I would be staying the next few nights in; a huge traditional Japanese house! The rates were very inexpensive and for staying multiple nights, we'd get to participate in a tea ceremony in the house's tea room and tea garden. Plus the futons looked reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeallly comfy.

When we arrived, it was pretty dark and the hosts wanted to go ahead and get through the tea ceremony. We took our shoes off at the front of the house, put our things away,  and walked to the tea garden door. They asked if I wanted to remove my coat, and I didn't want to be rude so I had them told that I was always cold (and then laughed). They laughed too and seemed understanding. From there, we had to put on geta (wooden sandals) to walk through the garden. It was very pretty, even at night. It was necessary to 'clean' ourselves at a small pool of water before entering. You pour water over your hands and wash the outside of your mouth. Only the people translating for me told me to drink the water, and that was wrong! Don't drink the water unless it's said to! We had a laugh about it and entered through a small doorway into a small room; the tea room. I can't even begin to tell you how everything is done. In fact, even though I was being taught on the spot, it felt like a test that I never knew I would have, much less study for. (I would have failed  (⊙︿⊙✿) ). It was still so much fun. I hate matcha (a kind of green tea) but I drank some anyway out of politeness. It's better to be polite than risk offending someone in these kinds of situations.

We were next given a tour through the house. Sometimes you were required to wear slippers, other times you could walk around in your bare feet. You don't wear shoes in Japanese houses though. We were on the downstairs floor. We were shown several toilet rooms, one just for men; then there was the bathroom, where you could wash up- it even had a sauna in it! Of course the living room, where they offered to let us watch TV there, and our bedroom. There were three of us, so there were three futons laid out side by side on the floor. They were so fluffy and looked as comfy as they did in the pictures. But before I could get in my futon, I needed to wash off all the dirt from the day. I double checked the routine and then went in for my shower/bath.

It's different taking a bath here because you have to shower first. The bath water is for the entire house, so you can't get dirt in it. Instead, you sit down and wash yourself off, do all your shampooing and soaping and whatever else you need to do to get clean before getting in the tub. Unlike our showers, again, you can choose to sit down. In fact, there is no containment of the shower, it's really just there on the floor where the water drains. You might wonder what the bath is even for then; hint, it's for relaxing in! It's nice to sit in a bath without worrying about getting clean. It's more like.... cleansing your mind! Getting rid of all that stress from the day. It was a really pleasant experience. My aches and pains just kind of melted away. When I got out, I got dressed in my pajamas, braided my hair, and flopped into my futon. It was just as comfy as I imagined. The comforters on it really sealed the deal, too. I'd sleep in those every night if I could.

I couldn't go to sleep yet, though. Our hosts had invited us to talk to them in the living room. They offered us all housecoats, which I promptly took, again, always being cold. (at home I tend to wear a blanket like a cape or I wear a haori (jacket that is worn over a kimono) that I picked up while I was in Japan.) They helped us find which buses and trains to take for our next day in Japan. The lady of the house also made us all drinks. She made me milk tea, which was really very tasty. I ended up drinking more over the trip, but the cup she made was always my favorite. We had japanese oranges as well. Our hosts were very helpful in the planning process. Eventually we went back to the room and I got to sleep all snug and sound in the futon.

I may have stayed in bed all day if there wasn't such an exciting day happening when I woke up the next day; we'd be going to Tashirojima (known as Cat Island!)

Created with flickr slideshow.

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