Breakfast, (again, ruined by the previous evening’s meal), packed and in the lobby for the 10.30 a.m. shuttle bus to Tokyo station.
There was no 10.30 shuttle bus.
We took taxis.
Spent the time waiting for our train wandering the vast underground shopping city beneath the station, talking to a very friendly crow and eating some delicious vegan ramen.
Nice, comfortable NEX to the airport.
Posted the internet back to its home.
Then the long, inevitably claustrophobic, poorly catered flight back to Australia. By the end of which, I believe, the air staff thought student one and I to be a gay couple – we did get extra wine out of the relationship, which was a bonus.
Home and time to start planning the next trip.
We got up, we had breakfast.
Then we packed and waited around and it turns out we missed the shuttle bus to the train station.
So, waited for student one to finish packing, then caught 2 cabs, (three in one and three in the other), to the train station.
We went into a café in the train station. I had a doughnut, mum had a coffee and pumpkin tart.
Then me, mum and dad went up above the train station.
We saw a lot of stories, just by sitting on the bench, then a fire truck caught my attention.
We saw a spectacular crow.
It was big, fat, gorgeously adorable, (Japan has stunning crows, way better than Aussie crows).
Then caught the NEX train to the airport for a couple of hours.
When we finally arrived at the airport, we did the security stuff. I bought my future Simba, (adult version), then waited . . . . . . until we can board the plane.
On the plane, I watched Monsters Inc. and the Lion King, then I snoozed for only an hour; I wanted to watch the Lion King again until landing.
We landed, then hopped off, did security stuff in Australia, then caught a maxi taxi to student two’s house to pick up the car. (Mum HAD to stop for coffee, so we came inside).
After that, went home!!!
Unpacked, then I can play my game!
Had dinner, cleaned teeth after shower, then went to bed . . . . ahhhh.
Having eaten so well the night before, the hotel buffet breakfast was far less appetising.
Wife, daughter and I set off for a “brush museum”.
Turned out to be a display room for a brush making company – all types of brushes, from make up to the other kind.
It was shut.
Then to a sword shop in Asakusa.
Unfortunately, it was located right in the middle of shopping mall hell; so it was slow progress as shiny shops kept distracting the other two.
Did overhear an American tourist explain to a friend that the ryokan they were staying at, “too their slippers very seriously”.
At the sword shop, wife bought a new katana bag and sageo, and I heard another tourist ask a random Japanese stranger whether samurai were a Japanese or a Chinese thing.
They were pleased to discover it was Japanese, because The Last Samurai was such a good movie.
Time to meet up with the others at the national museum.
On the way, I finally had my Lebanese/Japanese falafel roll; it was good.
Relatively easy trip to Ueno Park where daughter interacted with a street performer and was rewarded with a balloon flower sculpture. (This actually survived back to Australia). He worked hard for his hundred yen.
Joined up with the others and headed into the museum.
Did not make it much passed the first sword room, before I had to vacate the building with a seriously misbehaving child.
We sat outside the museum for two hours as she ran through every incarnation of a temper tantrum known to humanity.
Back to the hotel for some quiet time whilst others continued shopping.
Last night’s excellent vegan restaurant was our choice for a final dinner together.
It was shut.
Student two found an Indian place nearby which had vegan options. We went there.
It was good, very, very good.
A nice cultural moment at the end of the meal when the owner corrected daughter’s Japanese grammar; she said it is delicious, instead of it was delicious. No native born Japanese person would ever have pointed that out.
I wish they would.
Hotel and bed.
We got up, then had breakfast.
We went to Ueno and then went to a museum.
Then I started to be naughty.
No, no, not a good idea.
Then more snapping from dad, then mum snapped.
Back to the hotel, then relaxed.
I have to wright today’s journal.
Then we went to dinner . . . . .
Room too dark and claustrophobic for full comfort, but the beds and pillows and shower are all good.
Wife slept well.
The hotel has an included buffet breakfast that contains enough variety to feed even the vegans amongst us.
Turns out the museum we were going to visit is shut today, so plans changed to a visit to Akihabara in the morning for some of us, and then to meet up at the Edo museum.
Wife and daughter had alternate plans for the afternoon.
Akihabara was much as anticipated and failed to live up to any expectations other than heat, crowds with a higher than normal proportion of foreigners and lots and lots of walking.
I did pick up a present for the wife, which, hopefully, she will enjoy.
Off to meet back up with student one and an easy trip to the Edo museum.
And now the gods laugh at us!
We gave ourselves a more than need half an hour to make the journey – it took us more than two.
First, much discussion as to which train, which line; we had it on good authority that we could easily walk there from the Sky Tree stop.
Within minutes, student one had figured out the subway system and took charge.
Countless changeovers later, we and the hundreds of thousands of other sardines emerged into the light and air at the Sky Tree.
The Edo Museum is not near the Sky Tree.
I suggest a taxi.
Student one, determined not to be defeated by the train system insists we go back down into commuter hell.
Again, gasping for air, we emerge.
Again, we are nowhere near our desired destination.
Student one hails a taxi.
My Japanese works and we set off.
Student one is not happy with the route the driver took, but, at least we do get to the museum.
Museum was large and impressive, very child friendly and interactive.
Briefly met with students two and three, but was by now too tired and done with crowds to do justice to the place.
I walked the half hour back to the hotel, leaving the others at the museum.
Later went to dinner with wife and daughter at a relatively close vegan restaurant.
We were dubious about going at first as the online reviews were mixed, based on the smallness of the proportions. Also, it meant another subway ride.
Correctly assured by the wife that the train trip would be comparatively painless, we went.
Food was delicious, portions more than adequate, décor that of a concrete bunker.
Only complaints, stodgy rice, (there is way too much reliance on rice cookers in this country), and the overpriced alcohol.
We could not eat all the food that was served, there was so much.
Back to the hotel for a quiet rest of the evening.
Yes, another day in Tokyo.
We had breakfast, of course! Then we did, (me and mummy), the Paper Museum.
When we were going to the 3rd floor, we took the stairs and ended up at the 2nd floor.
There was an exhibition on, so we peered in and asked if it was okay with them.
The answer was: YES!!!
So we came in and a woman started chatting to us!!
Also she gave me a copy of her book, (she teaches kids how to speak English and to read Japanese and English).
Then business cards exchange.
Then she made me an origami heart ring.
We took two and a half hours there just CHATTING.
That is incredible.
Back to the hotel for a bit, then me, mum and dad went out to dinner.
Then shower, clean teeth, then I went to bed.
I had a sore muscle, then finally I went to sleep . . . . . zzzzzzz . .. . .
Two cars to the train station – minshuku owner insisted on helping out with his car.
Then hanging around till the first train – the small Aizu Mountain Express.
Daughter and the train driver became friends and chatted together for much of the journey.
When it came time to switch trains, he got off his and walked us as a group to the next one, making sure we were all sorted before going back to his own train.
Long journey to Tokyo and an approaching typhoon.
Subway to the appropriate stop and a short walk to the hotel.
Not a fan of western style hotels, but the beds are comfortable and the shower is good.
They charged us an extra 9 000 yen to put in a sofa bed for the daughter, having assumed, when the room was booked for two adults and a child, that the ten year old would sleep in one of the beds with an adult.
Wife set out into Suica Card Hell.
Daughter and I went to one of the many local combini to forage for food, then an early night.
The typhoon was disappointing.
We got up.
Crazy finalised packing, then had breakfast.
Checked out of the minshuku.
We went on the local train and made friends with the train driver, who let us, (me and mum), stand up the front.
He gave me chestnuts.
Saw the kitten train station master.
Then fancy train for three hours when a typhoon was brewing.
Quickly rushed to the hotel.
Turns out they did not have my bed ready yet, so we waited . . . . . .
Finally my bed was ready and we went into the room.
Mum did jobs.
Me and dad went to the combini for dinner, then bed.
When the typhoon hit, I was fast asleep.
Another relatively lazy day.
No appetite for breakfast.
Drifted in and out of sleep in the minshuku whilst wife climbed a nearby mountain.
Once she had returned, we wandered to a dengaku place down the road that I have always wanted to try, but never quite got the timing right, (they only seem to be open for a couple of hours a day, around lunch time).
Turned out the others were also there, finishing the remains of their meal.
The usual communication battle to express our vegan needs, along with the no miso sauce caveat of the child. This, in particular, is always a difficult concept to express in such venues.
Mochi was the best and freshest so far and the tofu even better; all cooked on an open hearth in the floor next to us.
We separated back into our original groups and our three headed to the local pottery shop.
Aizu is famous for its pottery.
The owner, Ryoko, remembered Wife and daughter from last year and a very cute and broken English conversation ensued.
Purchases made, she followed us out of the shop, exchanged names with daughter and waved us off.
She may be waving still.
Wife asked if I minded going to the giant Samurai House gift shop on the way back.
I did mind.
So I said no.
In we went.
More purchases were made.
I did find a nice gift for the instructor left behind, who was running the classes for us. One relevant to his first trip to Aizu many years ago.
A minshuku drop off and then up to the onsen area to book a private room for a family bath.
Everything was shut or overbooked, so we settled for soaking our feet in the preferred foot bath of the Shinsengumi.
Eventually, we went to our final Ne Ne Ya, for a comparatively subdued meal and are now packing for our trip back to Tokyo, tomorrow morning.
There are problems of Newtonian physics involved; matching the now expanded level of mass, compared with the available baggage space and number of carrying appendages.
Last Aizu day.
Oh my, Japan is going so fast!
We got up and had breakfast.
We were given presents from the minshuku owners: Japanese sun umbrellas.
Then mum went for a walk, while me and dad relaxed. I got a new phone game: merge plane.
Went and had lunch at the mochi place. Fresh mochi, (not as good as at the castle).
Soaked our feet in an onsen foot bath, then headed back to the minshuku.
But at the Samurai House, mum went into a gift shop. So much stuff.
Mum has bought more stuff.
Dad bought a pack of cards for the instructor back home.
Relaxed at the minshuku, then at 5:45 p.m. we headed to Ne Ne Ya for dinner, then cleaned teeth, then went to bed!
ZZZZ. . . . .
As we bring our stay at the minshuku to a close, they finally bring out the big guns.
This pickle is daikon with a vibrant orange colour.
It glows with promise.
Thinly sliced, about 2-3mm.
Cut in quarters.
Salty, with the perfect amount of moisture.
A strong turmeric flavour.
I am pleased with this pickle.
When I close my eyes and think about Japanese pickles, this is the flavour and texture that will come to mind.
Classic daikon pickle.
This is what you expect from a Japanese pickle.
Almost as good as my own.
Slow start, very tired.
Wife, daughter, student two and student three went for a drive.
Then daughter, myself and wife headed for the castle, so daughter could do some souvenir shopping.
They went ahead and abandoned me, but by catching the next, correct, bus, I arrived before them.
Student one was on that bus.
Daughter did her shopping then we went to the saké brewery and did ours.
Another bus to drop things off at the minshuku, then another bus to town for wife to do some stationery shopping.
Reconnected with student one.
He and daughter and wife raced ahead to look at another shop; I lost them whilst photographing the sunset.
Had a very expensive beer in a bar and rejoined, by now, everyone, in a very expensive Italian café for half a bowl of very expensive salad.
It was drink saké from the castle walls night, so to reduce taxis, student two and I walked there whilst the others headed back to the minshuku to pick up the saké and car.
We climbed the walls, drank, viewed the moon.
Back home for bed.
Today we had breakfast, then me, mum, student three and student two went into the car.
We got out at a forest mountain walk. We found a playground, then we played.
I had turns with student three on the flying fox, then went on a forest walk.
There has been a bear incident here recently, so that has freaked us out a bit, so back in the car and drive back to the minshuku.
We, (me and mum and dad), tried to catch the bus, but left dad behind!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
So he caught the next bus, while me and mum are on the bus taking the long way to the castle.
I bought stuff.
Then mum bought stuff from a stationery store.
Back to the minshuku, then at 8.?? p.m. we head back to the castle to watch the moon rise, but we made it at 9.30 p.m.
It was still beautiful and the castle was glowing and everyone was having a good time.
Back to the minshuku, shower, bath, chip stars, clean teeth, then around 11.00 p.m., bed.
Ahhh, so relaxing.
The hum of the surrounding refrigerators adds white noise to the already ticking clocks and buzz of the light fixtures.
Pickle 1 – Plum
It was suggested that the plum should be added to the morning’s rice, sprinkled with dried ribbons of seaweed.
The plum was pitted and shrivelled.
It is a strong flavour.
Strong enough that first contact with the rice is enough to flavour the bowl.
After stirring the rice, the plum disintegrates.
It is an incredibly sour plum.
I do not like it.
By comparison, the lemon served with it was positively sweet.
Pickle 2 – mini eggplant – the size of brussel sprouts.
It has the soft texture of a black olive.
It is juicy, but not in a good way and the juiciness is watery and slightly briny.
Not an enjoyable pickle.
It is difficult to bite and too large to eat whole.
I recommend serving it to guests who have annoyed you in some way, but you want to remain friends with them – possibly because your children have activities together.
Went to a Buddhist temple on the way to Kitakata.
We like Kitakata because two years ago we had a gestalt culinary experience there; which we hoped to duplicate.
The temple has a gingko tree that is over 800 years old.
But the open, unwalled hall, built almost 1 000 years ago is now my preferred Japanese dojo space.
From here to the restaurant: we talked, negotiated an agreed price and food type and a time to return.
We wandered and returned.
Then we ate.
It is nice when expectations are not just me, but exceeded.
Food was good!
From here we went to the temple that made the red cow famous, their name escapes me, but is possibly on an Aizu brochure somewhere.
Nice temple, with river and misty mountains as a backdrop.
Stopped somewhere on the way home that was not where we thought it was and then went home.
Had a bath, a beer, a saké; may relax soon.
We got up and had breakfast, yum, yum.
Then went to the AKABE TEMPLE!!
This was where Akabe became famous in Aizu.
Said thank you to Akabe.
Had a selfie, then did a video for class 5S.
Then had a yum, yum lunch, then back to the minshuku.
Oh, also, me and mum went in a graveyard that was closed then back to the minshuku.
Now I am writing this diary, waiting for my shower and bath.
See you later!!!
A heavy onion theme in this morning’s menu.
The noodle broth and fried potato featured prominently.
Pickle 1: shallot
At first, it looked like a large clove of garlic.
Firm, with a slight sheen, almost pearlescent.
You have to go all in on this one. It is too slippery to be held with chopsticks and bit into.
Not overpowering in onion flavour, but definitely like eating raw onion. The brine was sweet and thin. Almost superfluous.
I can’t think of a time I would eat this again.
It has no complexity or subtlety.
Pickle 2: Plum
25mm in diameter.
Heavily wrinkled, like a walnut.
The skin has a slight sandpaper texture.
It is a firm, crisp pickle that is tart and the medicinal sweetness comes very late in the tasting.
The size is dominated by the pit, which makes it difficult to eat around.
Honestly, that damn onion is still all over my tongue and this ruined anything good this pickle has to offer.
It is mediocre in quality and too much work for the small reward.
More traditional umeboshi than yesterday, but too crisp for my taste.
I enjoy popping a whole umeboshi into my mouth and sucking it off the seed.
Not possible with this plum – too large, too hard.
It remains uneaten on the plate.
I did not regard the shallot as a pickle.
Connoisseur one – Kitakata observations
Kitakata eggplant symphony restaurant
Pickle – cucumber
Thick slices, probably 10 mm thick and 50 mm in diameter.
A perfect size for takin two bites per piece.
A dominant sprout flavour.
Not very salty.
Crisp with a slight miso under current.
A good complement to the rest of the meal, which featured eggplant and wasabi tofu.
Only two pieces were provided.
It was a good interlude to the meal.
Any more sprout flavour and it would be too much, but it balanced the cucumber flavour with the sweetness of the roasted eggplant and took my mind off the sadness of knowing I would never again taste the ecstasy of that fig dish.
Today we fully abandoned the “serving suggestion” trip itinerary that was thrown into chaos by the introduction of student three’s car.
We drove to an Edo period post town, taken off the main highway by the Meiji restoration, so retaining its original buildings. Lots and lots of gift shops, housed in beautiful old buildings with thatched rooves
Bought my first hard core souvenir: a dragonfly noren, with money wife gave me for such things two Japan trips ago.
Later, on her advice, daughter and I visited an off the path shrine.
It was truly magical. No. Just for student two, I make that capital T, Truly magical.
Daughter herself stopped talking, except in occasional whispers.
It was an other worldly place. Totoro lives here.
Too early to go home, so we bathed our feet in a train station, foot bath, onsen, where wife made a new friend.
Then we took student one to see a nearby, famous rock/river/sacred site, that the rest of us had visited two years ago.
He enjoyed the geography, but apparently not the cave monk’s lack of the pursuit of excellence in table manufacture. Student three and he subsequently engaged in a long winded, pointless, philosophical argument about this table.
On the way home, we stopped at a tori leading into a forest, that we had spotted earlier, on the way to the village.
Best steep stairs in Japan so far.
Student one once again demonstrated his arachnophobia was as real as he has always claimed.
Brief chill out at the minshuku, then Ne Ne Ya for the usual excellent repast. This was marred only by a heated philosophical debate on extreme cultural relativism versus universal truths. Personally, I find that kind of relativism equates to moral cowardice, but this is not the place to carry on the argument.
Food was good.
Back to the minshuku.
Now drinking sake with my beloved wife.
I got up, played some phone games while waiting for mum and dad to get up.
When they FINALLY get up, we had some breakfast.
When we were done with breakfast, we got ready to go out to an old village.
It was AWESOME.
You might think this is a crazy idea, but I found, FULL BOTTLES OF DRINK IN THE MOUNTAIN WATER!!!
That is TRUE!
That is what they did before we had refrigerators. They would use cold mountain water.
We also had my favourite food, mochi on a stick. So yummy.
Then we headed somewhere so amazing, me and dad.
It was SO MAGICAL.
This was walking distance, not far from the old mountain village. It was like a Totoro forest, how a bunch of trees were growing together.
Once we entered the gate, all the loud noises just, WERE JUST GONE!!
We could not hear any cars at all! Then we entered another gate.
Even the mushrooms were glowing.
We did our shrine wishing, then back to the village.
We saw some cool looking spiders, Mummy long legs.
Once in the village, we waited for the others to get back . . . . . then they FINALLY arrived.
We hopped in the car. Then went to the place that I went to on my first trip. I was eight then and I was scared, but now, not as much. Did exploring, then bought some peaches and apples.
Then went back to the minshuku, then had a shower and bath, cleaned teeth, then went to bed.
The quality of light reflecting on the tatami highlights the glossy shine of today’s pickle.
The breakfast was heavy with mushrooms.
Only one pickle today.
Seaweed with some thin mushrooms.
I can’t nail down the flavour of this pickle.
The seaweed is firm with almost a candied coating.
It is salty with an earthy sweetness.
Not a good pickle for eating on its own, but would be good in a sandwich to provide a counterpoint for mustard.
Seaweed and mushroom.
Flavour is difficult to define, but distinctly Japanese.
Texture chewy, but not overly so.
Not a palate cleansing pickle, but certainly a tasty one.
Today, student three bought a car, so transportation is now positively luxurious and simple.
Our weary legs thank him.
In said car we travelled to the Nisshinkan.
The dynamic between student three driving behind the wheel and student two driving from the back seat is going to be a source of ongoing entertainment.
Nisshinkan was good, is always inspiring to visit.
We then lunched at Ne Ne Ya, successfully feeding everyone.
Next stop was the helix tower and its surrounds: White Tigers memorial and other shrines.
Student one paid for us to ride the travellator instead of the stairs, continuing the leg free theme of the day.
Wife, not coping with all the easy travel and worried her blister were beginning to heal, decided to walk back to the minshuku.
We chose the car.
A relaxed evening of chatting, drinking student three’s yam vodka, playing cards, then bed.
I got up.
We had breakfast, then hopped in the car, drove to the forest, then had a beautiful walk.
I went up the hexagonal, weird tower with students two and one. Dad did not go up though.
Then looked at some SPECTACULAR sacred trees, they were HUGE. Daddy too my photograph with the SPECTACULAR TREES.
Started to go back to the minshuku, then mummy showed up at the door as we arrived.
We went inside, then I had a bath and shower, cleaned teeth and then bed.
The ticking of the one working clock was there to remind us of the fleeting beauty of the morning’s breakfast pickles.
Freshly made cucumber in a sweet brine.
Accented with small pieces of seaweed.
A good start and the sweetness keeps with the theme of the breakfast.
As previously reviewed: nice and hot.
But probably not an intermediate course between two sweet pickles.
About 30mm in diameter
Slightly furry texture on the skin.
Biting into it is an exercise in commitment. There are no nibbles with this pickle. There is initial resistance, until sufficient pressure is applied and then you bite straight down to the pit.
The flavour is intensely sweet, but doubtful that is due to the natural sweetness of the fruit.
The first impression is cherry syrup that would be poured on shaved ice.
There are notes of cough syrup and old lollipops.
I enjoyed this pickle.
Mainly because of the lingering sourness that arrives and stays.
It is practically candy.
Fresh cucumber and seaweed.
Fresh is the correct term for this pickle.
Delicious, not too piquant.
An excellent palate cleanser.
Large umeboshi – also homemade.
Too sweet, hints of aniseed.
Odd texture and quite vile.
Kimchi is back.
Perfect as before and necessary to remove the taste of the plum.