Jason Truesdell : Pursuing My Passions
A life in flux. Soon to be immigrant to Japan. Recently migrated this blog from another platform after many years of neglect (about March 6, 2017). Sorry for the styling and functionality potholes; I am working on cleaning things up and making it usable again.

Okonomiyaki

In spite of occasional binges cooking okonomiyaki, I don’t think I’ve ever bothered to photograph the results.

I have two or three variations of vegetarian okonomiyaki that I cycle through… Later this fall, I’ll probably start making some with kabocha, and I sometimes like to make it with kimchi and cheese. I probably should have done something with corn this summer, but I only started to think of making okonomiyaki when I saw a great deal on nagaimo recently… it was $3/lb, instead of the usual $6–9.

In this case, I’ve made a mochi cheese okonomiyaki, with a healthy dose of grated nagaimo, kizami shouga, and tenkasu. The mochi I purchased frozen, so they aren’t quite as dry as the kirimochi that are sold vacuum-sealed; they required no special consideration except for a few minutes of thawing before being cut into small pieces.

Tenkasu are small fried balls of tempura batter, which were originally merely side effects of deep-frying foods but now are produced as a carefully manufactured, predictable product. They add a little crunch to okonomiyaki, but the texture disappears quickly since okonomiyaki takes about 10–15 minutes to cook and steam will often soften much of the tenkasu.

Okonomiyaki

In the last minute or so of cooking, I add Japanese-style mayonnaise, okonomi sauce, and some aonori (unseasoned gren nori flakes).

I did do some actual work today and met with a whole bunch of people, most of which were productive, though nothing I can quite reveal yet. I was running around but not really overwhelmed.

Fujiya Hotel at Oowani Onsen, Aomori

After our cherry blossom viewing, we retired to Oowani Onsen to rest a bit, with the overly ambitious intention of returning to Hirosaki for night time cherry blossom viewing.

Fujiya Hotel has insanely roomy washitsu, or Japanese style rooms. The washitsu, which features tatami flooring, consists of a large dual-purpose room and a smaller one that might sleep a couple of children. But wait, there was more! For those who don't love Japanese-style bedding, or for particularly large parties, two twin beds are available in another chamber off the hallway.

We felt like we could live there... it was probably slightly larger than the weekly apartment where we were staying in Tokyo, and that was one of the roomiest places I've ever rented in Tokyo.

We chose to have a late dinner after a long bath. Both the men's and women's bath offer rotenburo, but the water wasn't especially warm, and it was more comfortable to bathe inside. They also had a sauna room, which I stepped into briefly before realizing I should have taken off my glasses first... I popped into the cold water for a bit and started turning my attention to dinner.

Menu

Fujiya Hotel Menu, Onsen hotel in Aomori

We ate in the hotel's dining room, which meant dinner was a little less intimate, but close to the kitchen, allowing for some surprisingly fresh, well-made food.

This menu reflects Hiromi's meal, and closely parallels my pleasingly customized one. Although

Grilled bamboo shoots

Grilled takenoko, bamboo shoots 

It's springtime, and I had a lot of fantastic grilled bamboo shoot dishes on this trip. But this was far and away the most visually dramatic, and one of the best tasting. I think it's seasoned with little more than salt and soy sauce and perhaps a hint of butter. I really enjoyed it and will be longing for this simple, elegant dish until I can find my way to Japan in springtime again.

The bamboo sprout's skin also decorated a dish made with soramame (fava beans) and potatoes.

Mango puree with shrimp

Mango puree with shrimp

This was Hiromi's, and at first I was a little bit jealous, but eventually my own version served with shibazuke instead of shrimp came. I can't say I've ever seen mango on the menu at a Japanese inn...

O-Sake

Joppari sake (stubborn sake!)

Apparently this sake's name, joppari, means stubborn, which fascinated Hiromi so much that she had to try it. It also happens to have a pleasingly complex flavor, even as it drinks rather smoothly.

Yakimono on urushi

Yakimono

This fish-like fillet for Hiromi is actually kabocha atop ham and cheese, with a few pine nuts. I believe it was served with a grilled scallop and a carved vegetable.

Aemono

Blanched and dressed with gomadare, sesame sauce.

Zenmai

Zenmai

More mountain vegetables, in a simple but pretty ohitashi.

Salad

Another example of Aomori-ken's fascinnation with Western food, this salad featured mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, cheese, and a fairly intense vinaigrette.

Terrine

Hiromi's featured youshoku dish, featuring cooked and cured ham and mint, koku no mi (the red berry sometimes put on top of okayu) or capers. 

Wagyuu

Wagyuu

Hiromi also has a grilled wagyuu dish featuring local beef, cooked on a ceramic plate over a small flame.

Kiritampo nabe

Kiritampo nabe

In place of the beef, I have another variation of that northern Japanese specialty, kiri-tampo. This is a simple kiritampo nabe, or hot pot dish. Since I can't have this in the US very easily, I'm pleased to have another chance to taste it.

Oh, and a very nice chawan-mushi, or savory egg custard, arrived at just about the same time as this was ready... Alas, it didn't photograph very nicely, but I'm a sucker for a vegetarian interpretation for chawan-mushi. It seemed to take advantage of some seasonal vegetables as well.

Kinoko no foil-yaki

Kinoko no foil-yaki

A simple grilled foil parcel of various mushrooms...

Ringo to sansai to shiitake no tempura

Ringo to shiitake to sansai Tempura

Ryokan tempura is often a little bit dreary, as it tends to be made quite far ahead of service... However, this one was served close to the end of our meal and was still mostly fairly warm. It featured tara no me (one of many Japanese mountain vegetables), fuki (butterbur) sprouts, shiitake, and, most interesting of all, a slice of apple. I've had heavy American fast-food fried apples before, and I have to admit having a soft spot for them, but this was surprising. The fruit was unprocessed, and fried just a short time, so it remained crisp and gently tart, and had the same light crispness that the rest of the tempura featured.

Kamameshi and Suimono

Kamameshi Suimono with sakura no shiozuke and mushrooms

Rice is cooked at our table... Hiromi's is a seasoned kamameshi with bamboo shoots and I think some pork. Mine was plain, but rice cooked in this kind of pot always tastes better. We also receive a simple clear soup with thin slices of mushrooms and salt-cured cherry blossoms.

Apple sorbet, in apple

Apple sorbet in fruit shell

This was a very good apple sorbet inside an apple shell... It's Aomori, after all, and apples are a big deal here.

Before dinner, Hiromi had thought we'd go back to Hirosaki, but I think we fell asleep no later than 9 pm. We somehow woke up again, but it was already approaching midnight... too late to seriously consider the 25 minute trip back to Hirosaki Park, but not too late to head to the outdoor ceramic onsen tub on the same floor as our room.

Hanami in Hirosaki, Part 1

 

May 2. Hirosaki, Aomori, Japan.

Sakura (cherry blossoms) bloom late in northern Japan, and the blossoms typically coincide with the Golden Week holidays.

As I always seem to find myself in Tokyo toward the end of March, and never at the beginning of April, I was looking forward to finally seeking sakura in full bloom on this trip... For Hiromi's schedule, late April worked better, so we chose to make a special trip up north to take advantage of the seasonal progression

Hirosaki Park in Aomori prefecture has more than 2600 cherry trees, and the timing of the blooms makes this park a popular destination for both locals and out-of-towners.

May 2 wasn't technically a holiday, and we faced some rather dreary weather... overcast skies and occasional rain, along with periodic bursts of wind. Thanks to that, the crowds were fairly mild.

I don't think we ever got around to having a normal lunch that day, but we did have some nice sakura-mushi-dorayaki, steamed dorayaki pancakes made with salt-preserved cherry blossoms and sweet white bean paste, found at one of the many vendors inside Hirosaki park. Later, we discovered a section populated entirely with yatai and hungry park-goers, and snacked on kabocha dango with a sweet miso sauce, as well as some black simmered konnyaku on a stick.

We imagined we might come back at night when the park was completely illuminated for night-time hanami, when various salaried workers would congregate, drink a little too much, and eat some combination of yatai treats and hanami bento... Alas, we reached our evening destination, took a bath, had dinner, and were completely exhausted... we didn't make it back until daylight.

Moat

Moat

Shidare-zakura

Shidare-zakura

Botan

Botan

Hashi

Hashi

Solo

Solo 

Branch 1

Branch 1

Branch 2

Branch 2

Clusters

Clusters

Petals on water

Petals on water

Petals over water

Petals over water

It could be snow

It could be snow

Hirosaki-jo

Hirosaki-jo

View from a castle

View from a castle

Exhausted

Exhausted

See part 2.

 

 

The dangers of Yurakucho

For people who appreciate food and would like to take a bit of Japan home with them, Yurakucho (Yuurakuchou) is a dangerous place. It’s home to the regional food specialty shop Mura-kara Machi-kara Kan, which features fresh and packaged foods from all over the country, as well as alcoholic drinks, and Hokkaido Dosanko Plaza, which features lots of treats from Hokkaido. A short walk from here will take you to another shop that focuses on all things Okinawan.

If you’re easily tempted, it might be best to avert your eyes as you walk by these shops.

Yuurakuchou-shopping

We left with soba karintou (buckwheat sweet crackers), haru yutari karintou (a wheat snack), black sugar peanut crunch, a shiso drink base, yomogi senbe (mugwort-flavored crackers), Hokkaido Tokaji wine caramels, Hokkaido hascup caramels, Hokkaido’s famous raisin butter cookie sandwiches (not from the most sought-after brand, but still quite tasty), murasaki-imo senbe or purple sweet potato senbe from Okinawa, another purple sweet potato snack also from Okinawa, some yuzu-flavored konpeito (hard candy), shiikuwasaa kokutou (Okinawan citron flavored black sugar), shiikuwasaa Calpis, some snackable salted konbu (kelp), kiritampo (rolls of mochigome toasted sort of rotisserie style, often used in nabemono or hotpot meals) from Akita, some heart-shaped cookies, umi-budou (sea grapes) from Okinawa, smoked eggs, yuzu-miso, yuzu kanten, yuzu-sake, ume-shidzuku (chewy Japanese apricot kanten candies) and two bottles of yuzu juice. Hiromi also picked up some drinking yogurt from the Hokkaido shop flavored with hascup berries, but we drank that before even getting back to the hotel.

Most of these items found their way into our luggage, but the Hokkaido raisin butter sandwiches have long since disappeared, because, of course, they are so perishable and we couldn’t possibly keep them…

For the most part, these shops carry items that are not widely distributed even inside Japan, so if you want to suprise someone with a little gift with minimal probability they will find the same thing in their local Asian market, this is the place to go.

Slacking in Yokohama and Omote-Sando

I suppose I could say I took the day off today. Hiromi and I went to a crepe shop in Omote-sando which is famous for its soba (buckwheat) crepes. I ate most of a carrot soup, and I ordered a buckwheat crepe with fresh fava beans, various vegetables, an egg, and a relatively young gruyere. She ordered one with an aged soft chevre topped with mixed greens and walnuts. For dessert, we ordered a buckwheat crepe with rhubarb-orange jam. We also ordered coffee. She had a “Bretagne Irish Coffee”, an espresso drink served with some caramel liqueur and a little cream. I had espresso with calvados.

Afterward, we headed off to Yokohama and wandered around the Daisambashi (大桟橋) pier, which is sort of a boardwalk jutting out into the bay. It’s an international port, but also doubles as a place for parents to bring their small children to play, and functions as a date spot for an uncountable number of couples. On the way there from the station, we see a few quirky little restaurants, the storefront of a vacationing reflexologist, and a couple of stores that sell hemp products or various other things that might appeal to twenty-somethings.

Basha-michi road, nearby, features a red brick building called Akarenga (which, not coincidentally, means "red brick building", if I am not mistaken) that is filled with various shops and chain stores, and is so shopping-mall-like inside that I would probably see it as a destination of last resort if I were back home, but it’s kind of interesting to see how stuff is being sold (and bought) here. Some of the shops are hipper than the usual shopping-mall fare. It kind of strikes me as similar to University Village in Seattle.

We stopped at a department store for some grocery items for dinner. I picked up some mushrooms which are similar to cauliflower-mushrooms, a little bunch of spinach, some already-grilled-tofu, and some things for breakfast. For dinner I cooked the remaining bit of penne with a sauce of butter, garlic, pine nuts, the grilled tofu, spinach, the mushrooms, and some of the tsuyu from yesterday’s noodles, then topped with some pecorino romano. The mushrooms turned out to be a little fragile and shouldn’t have been cooked more than a few seconds. The sauce was pleasant enough, but as I’ve come to expect from the pans I have in my rental kitchen, I couldn’t heat it through again in the uneven fry pan quickly enough to avoid slightly overcooking the pasta.

FoodEx Day 3 and on to Hoteres

I had a pretty interesting conversation with a Sri Lankan tea company director… They have a pretty decent upscale tea that they mostly sell in England, and they aren’t very happy with their U.S. distributor, which has started to focus on its own branded tea. They sell single-estate teas

Anyway, he’s interested in doing a line of “healthy” teas and could source organic single-estate products, and says he could contribute some kind of marketing effort for this line; some kind of high-profile tasting event, for example, which they have done in London. They’re also creating a sort of prefab tea bar concept, which is a British-style presentation, but kind of interesting. I could actually start with relatively small shipments with them, which may be compelling; they also have a reasonably interesting story (163 year old company, bought back from the English by a Sri Lankan family, and their tea line is all single-estate, they’ve got a standing deal with the Queen of England, etc.) It’s not necessarily in the “pacific lifestyles” category, but with an organic product line I think I could be happy.

Beyond that, I noticed a couple of gems that I had previously overlooked in the Japanese food sections. I was kind of frustrated that I hadn’t seen many products from Japan that I thought were must-haves… I still don’t know that I’ve found a must-have item, but I did discover a nice natural aromatic vinegar line and some interesting grain-based tea beverage products, including an azuki bean tea similar to mugicha.

In the afternoon I went to another trade show at Tokyo Big Site in Odaiba, the big artificial island in Tokyo Bay. That show was mostly food equipment and furnishings for hotel, hospital, and restaurant businesses. I think I don’t really understand food equipment well enough to operate as an importer for that kind of thing, but I did see some cool stuff… there was a product that takes a small block of ice and turns it into large spherical, soccer-ball-shaped, or other novelty shaped large ice “cubes”. Another product in the same vein makes ice bowls for serving food, and produces the sort of ice you’d expect to serve oysters atop. Beyond that, I spent a while talking to a guy whose company produces a product for making fresh oborodoufu (custard-texture) tofu at the dinner table, for home or restaurant use. The device could be used for other recipes as well, but they have a companion product which is soy milk mixed with nigari and some other ingredients, and has a fairly long room-temperature shelf-life. I think it could sell to certain Japanese restaurants and maybe to Asian shops in the west coast; the tofu it produces is actually pretty decent.

The other cool thing was an ozone-generating hand dryer that operates with the mythical (by which I mean often overstated… another story) Japanese efficiency… very high powered air. Unfortunately, none of the companies producing these devices have a 110 Volt product yet, but if they did, it would be really cool as an alternative to the paper-towel heavy solution that health departments in the US seem to prefer. One of the companies producing them has one that’s been marketed mostly to medical institutions and outperforms alcohol-based hand sterilization using a combination of heat, high air pressure, and ozone. I got a non-specific invitation to go out for drinks with a representative from one of the companies making these before I leave Japan.

For dinner, I went out with Hiromi to Okonomiyaki at a family-restaurant style chain in a Shinjuku department store. The okonomiyaki was average, as would be expected; I’ve been there before, but we were at a loss for interesting okonomiyaki restaurants in Shinjuku, which is dominated by expensive corporate concepts and chains.

The main selling point of this okonomiyaki restaurant is the cheap drinks… a grapefruit and cassis drink went for 280 yen, and another drink made with lychee liqueur and a self-squeezed grapefruit half went for 380 yen. By way of contrast, afterward, I ordered a small pot of tea at a popular cake shop, Comme Ca, for 600 yen, with a couple of slices of impressive-looking cakes for 700-800 yen each. 90% of those attending the cake shop were women, and maybe more than 95% of the male customers are there with dates.

I haven’t decided what to do tomorrow… I’ve seen nearly everything possible except some seminars at FoodEx, and I’m not sure that the rest of the Hoteres show will be that valuable for my current business direction, though I’ve only walked through half of the exhibition area.

A reunion: Rappopo pie with Hiromi

Rapppo sweet potato apple pie

I don't remember how long ago it was, but probably about four or five years ago I was staying somewhere in Nishi-shinjuku... Several times on the way to somewhere more interesting than Shinjuku, I found myself walking right past a tiny bakery called Rappopo. I was tempted by the aroma of constant baking, and by a shockingly long line for a train station bakery.

Most people were walking away with a Rappopo Pie. It's built on a foundation of pie crust, or perhaps what in Germany is called Biscuitt-Teig. Above that, there's a thin layer of something like pound cake, followed by a thick layer of sweet potatoes, and a layer of apples, and then topped with some sort of lattice-pattern piped streusel.

At about 700 yen, give or take, it seemed like too much to indulge in all by myself, so I kept waiting until I had a good excuse to buy one... maybe a chance to split one with a friend or three... well, such an opportunity never arose on that trip, so I finally grabbed one on my way to Narita airport.

Once I arrived at the airport, I set out to eat one quarter of the pie while it was still a bit warm, thinking I'd snack on some of the rest during the middle of the 9 hour flight.

Narita airport is a really boring place to be trapped for a couple of hours, especially if you've been there a dozen times or so and you've seen all of the duty-free shops, convenience stores, and gift shops. Even more so if you've already done all your gift shopping before leaving.

So after due consideration... Do I want to walk around the airport aimlessly for another twenty minutes? Or have another slice of this nice pie? I chose the more comforting, fattening route.

Every 20 minutes or so I repeated this internal conversation, until the pie had completely disappeared.

Friday afternoon when I arrived in Tokyo, I had some time to kill, so I spent an hour or so at Shin-Marunouchi building on opening day, but I avoided every temptation to try one of the many fantastic-looking new shops.

But when Hiromi and I met on the Yaesu side, we passed another location of Rappopo, and our fate was sealed... we had to have one of those pies.

Reunited with both Hiromi and Rappopo, the three of us made our way to the Ochanomizu weekly apartment we had arranged for this stay in Tokyo. Hiromi and I each tucked into a small wedge of the pie shortly before we started hunting for dinner, some towels and some knee supporters for my increasingly temperamental legs.

 

Tōkyō ni tsuita : Arrived in Tokyo

I arrived in Tokyo last night... There's still a lot to write about from my Korea trip, but I just wanted to post a quick update... Off I go to cause trouble with Hiromi.

My timing was fortuitous., or insane, depending on your perspective... right outside the Marunouchi exit of Tōkyō station, a brand new building opened up, the Shin-Marunouchi Building. Just as you might expect, it was crowded and bustling with activity... When something new and big comes to Tokyo, everyone wants to be there.

Shin-Marunouchi Building Opening Day Congratulatory Flowers

Hanawa

These flowers mark the opening of a new building or business.

Lining up

Shin-Marunouchi Building Opening Day

Every restaurant or cafe had a long queue.

A new restaurant menu

Dashichazuke

Dashi-chazuke. Rice with various toppings and Japanese soup stock instead of the typical tea.

Gateau Fraise

Gateaux Fraise

I just managed a glimpse of the goods at this fancy cake shop.

Coffee from my hood

Caffe Appasionato Tokyo, Shin-Marunouchi Building

Seattle's Iranian-American family-owned Caffe Appassionato gussies up their look for the Japanese market.

Fancy little gourmet shop

Salad dressings in Shin-Marunouchi

Too many salad dressings.

An upscale outpost of an ordinary supermarket

Seijo Ishii

Somewhere to buy the essentials, and everyday splurges.

 

Jiyuugaoka, A restless kind of leisure

Last night Hiromi’s parents picked us up at the airport and took us to our hotel near Shirakanedai station, and treated us to dinner at a kind of izakaya-like spot at Meguro station called Himono-ya.

Himono-ya is one of many basement restaurants in Tokyo, a class of restaurant that occurs primarily in extremely urbanized parts of the U.S. but is fairly ubiquitous in Japan. I recall most German city hall buildings even in moderately small towns tended to have a restaurant, often called “Ratskeller” (City hall basement, unpoetically rendered in English), which tended to serve standard bourgeois German fare. Most of the U.S. restaurant scene prizes street level space and ignores all other options, which means that we don’t spend a lot of time eating underground.

Anyway, we had a pleasant meal that, after 10 hours in an airplane, might have tasted much better than it really was. We had a plate of variously dressed hiya-yakko (cold tofu), an assortment of grilled vegetables with simple condiments, a kabocha salad (more salad than kabocha), and a couple of grilled fish dishes for those who were eating animals. I started falling asleep toward the end of our meal as I didn’t rest on the plane at all and only had 6 hours of sleep the previous several nights.

Today we woke up around 5am and nibbled on whatever we had smuggled into the country with us. We ate some slightly less than agetate curry pan at a Meguro deparment store, and then made our way to Kobeya bakery, where we indulged in some more carbohydrate laden fare.

Satsumaimo Boat

Satsumaimo-boat

Behold, a “Sweet Potato Boat”. This is a crumbly cake with nutmeg and cinnamon and serious sweet potato chunks.

Sakura danish

Sakura danish

A bit more seasonally appropriate, we had this star-shaped sakura (cherry blossom) danish, full of buttery decadence and featuring bits of presumably preserved cherry blossom seasoned bean paste. Nearly cropped out of the frame are some mochi-mochi mini cheese-filled buns, which we would also recommend.

Tribute to Roboppy

Crumbs

These crumbs are all that were left.

We headed to Jiyuugaoka, not far from Shibuya, for aimless shopping (really, market research). We have some very cool booty from a 100–yen shop and some more extravagant minor indulgences which we’ll post later when we are less completely jetlagged.

I’d like very much to highlight our lunch, but the low lighting conditions in the restaurant meant that our meal was represented sufficiently blurrily as to be unrecognizable. We ate at a restaurant which focuses on negi in all its guises, from scallions to Japanese leeks and perhaps some European varieties. Hiromi had some kind of unagi-topped rice garnished with scallions and served ochazuke style, with tea. I had tororoimo with negi served over brown rice with some pickled konbu, sweetened miso and tarako as accoutrements, along with a nice springtime nimono of simmered bamboo shoots and lotus root, along with a sweet dashimaki tamago with scallions. We both had a nice wakame soup with spiral o-fu (wheat gluten) strips.

Late afternoon we made a pilgrimage to a tea shop operating out of an old house, where we ordered two very Japanese confections.

Anmitsu

Anmitsu

Anmitsu is a dish of fruit and anko (sweet red bean paste), often served with a black sugar and honey syrup called kuromitsu. In some cases it may be augmented with ice cream, though the shop where we went serves it fairly simply. Anmitsu is the main reason I keep coming back to Japan on a regular basis. (OK, so that’s a bit of an exaggeration…)

Thick matcha and zenzai

Matcha-zenzai

Zenzai is usually little more than anko  and shiratama, but this nifty version is elegantly bittersweet, slightly covered with thick matcha. I feel a need to replicate this in my own kitchen.

At night we met up with an old friend of mine from my Microsoft days, and a friend of Hiromi’s, whom Hiromi has known since elementary school, dropped in after a late shift at a hospital. We ate at Meguro’s Tuk Tuk, a clever Italian-Thai fusion restaurant that plays it safe on some things, and does a few innovative things. We kept our dishes primarily in the single-metaphor range, and had fairly nice results, by the end of which our jetlag started winning the battle for control over our minds and bodies.

Farewell to Aomori

Finding washoku in Hirosaki for lunch was actually suprisingly tough... the streets perpendicular to Hirosaki park were mostly full of meaty youshouku-ya-san and kissaten. Finally we settled into an unremarkable department store restaurant floor, which had three choices.

We both had some sort of soba dish. Mine was a sansai soba, or mountain vegetable topped soba. Usually sansai soba in Kanto is a slightly more elegant looking dish with just a few vegetables on top, but this place used a surprisingly generous amount of vegetables.

Sansai soba

Sansai soba

It wasn't the nicest version of this dish I've ever seen. The vegetables probably came in foodservice packs and the soba was a little overcooked. But we were hungry and tired, and this was comforting and warm.

Driven by sunnier weather, we had done our second day of hanami, but we didn't do enough snacking at yatai to feel full. So a couple of orders of noodles helped fill us up.

I also did a little bit of shopping, making my first serious investment in urushi. I really like nurimono, or lacquerware, but I've never really been brave enough to commit to anything beyond some cheap wooden misoshiru bowls and chopsticks. Aomori's style of urushi is very distinctive, and appeals to Hiromi's love for visual drama and my own quirky tastes. I actually have some older chopsticks from Aomori given to me many years ago by a friend, but I bought my first lacquer serving ware and two really nice sake cups... I promise they'll make an appearance on my blog in the future, but I didn't take any photos in the shop.

We headed off to the mountains...

Sublimating valley

Sublimating valley

Dirty snow pocks

Dirty pockmarked snow surrounding trees

Somehow trees absorb just enough heat from the spring sun to help melt away small circles of the old snow.

We made our way to a tough ski destination... you have to trek your own gear up the slope, as there are no mechanical lifts. Our purpose for making this trek was to go to a hyakunin-buro, 100 person bath, with a highly sulfurous composition. Unlike most onsen in Japan, this hot spring spot has only konyoku buro (gender mixed baths) and has been that way for a very long time.

And unlike most konyoku buro I've been to in Japan, it was also very crowded.

You just pay a a small fee for entry... I think about 600 yen per person ($5-6)... if you're smart, you will come with a couple of towels; we neglected this and had to buy some tiny ones.

Hiromi scoped out the other women to decide whether she'd be brave enough to go with just the small towel as cover... After a demographic analysis, she caved in and bought this sort of bathing suit that loosely covers her body. Most of the women in their 20s or 30s, at least the ones without children, wore something similar; older women and women who came with children in tow concerned themselves less with such modesty, though most draped themselves with a large towel when entering or exiting the baths.

The men, for the most part, used their small towels when moving in and out of the bathing area, and some covered themselves when outside of the baths. It's a strangely communal experience, but I think the experience was so unfamiliar to most contemporary Japanese that I'm sure most people were fairly self-conscious most of the time.

In theory, the baths typically had a male and a female side, but the dividing line wasn't strictly enforced; I think it was just to give people some semblence of separation to create a small suggestion of privacy.

On our way out, we had some warm soba manjuu (buckwheat cake stuffed with sweet red bean paste) and some surprisingly decent sumibi-yaki coffee from the onsen gift shop.

We started heading toward Hachinohe again, where we wanted to get a quick dinner in before taking the long train ride back to Tokyo. In the mountains, plows had dug through several meters of old snow, but the roads were clear... as we headed down toward the base of the mountain again, I snapped a couple of photos, though the snow wasn't nearly as high down below.

Layers of old snow

Layers of old snow

I was probably too sleepy to remember to take pictures up higher, where thick layers of old snow were piled up even higher.

When we got back, we had a slightly rushed meal at a little train station robata-ya. I had packed away my camera in my luggage in the rental car, but we had a few memorable things... Hiromi had senbe-jiru, a soup made with puffed grain senbei and chicken, if I understood correctly; it's a regional specialty. I've kind of lost track of everything we ordered, but it was pleasing... I had a glass of a surprisingly whiskey-like aged shochu made with buckwheat. We also had some good tamago-yaki served like nigiri-zushi, grilled shiitake, and some really nice miso grilled yaki-onigiri. I'm such a sucker for charcoal grilled rice balls, because I can never get them quite right when making them at home on an electric appliance.

Everything was shutting down early that night, including gas stations, but somehow we managed to refuel and return the rental car just in time to make our train back to Tokyo.

 

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