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Craig and Jeane Visit Japan - 2013 Trip Report

Craig and Jeane Visit Japan - 2013 Trip Report

Nov 13th, 2013, 06:32 PM
  #41  
 
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A lot of company is even better

Bob
kmkrnn is offline  
Nov 13th, 2013, 11:50 PM
  #42  
 
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Sooo envious of your GTG!

That said, we met two friends on our first day in Tokyo, one a local I'd met on twitter and we'd met in Tokyo on our previous visit last year, and the other an expert in Japanese tea who I met at the Oxford Food Symposium this summer.

And then we met another online friend from the Wanderlust travel forum, she's a French Canadian who has lived in Japan for several years, currently in Kumamoto. We also met her American friend, both teach English there but both are soon moving to Kyoto.

And we met yet another online friend from Chowhound in his home city of Fukuoka.

And lastly, we met another three friends (all three of whom we met on our last trip) for our last night of the trip, also in Tokyo.

Plus we'd booked a volunteer guide in Fukuoka, she was amazing, and also bought along an English expat living there with his Japanese wife (with our prior agreement) and the four of us toured the city together.

So I guess I can't complain on the social front -- but would have loved to meet you all too!
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Nov 14th, 2013, 03:14 AM
  #43  
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Before I continue with day 7, there were a couple of things I missed on Days 5 and 6. There is a convenience store a easy 5 or 10 minutes away from Kikunoya on one of the main streets. On the day we arrived, we used it to stock our small kitchen with juice for breakfast, bread and jam for toast, milk for coffee and a bottle of wine for me. I should also mention that every morning, the Kikunoya staff would deliver a Japanese breakfast consisting hot and cold vegetables, miso soup and tea. Hence the need for fruit juice and toast.

Jeane wanted some fresh fruit to snack on, so early on day 6, before all of our other activities, we took a 10 - 15 minute walk to Ohmicho Market. I was so glad I brought my camera, because the market was packed with photo opportunities. There were sellers of seafood, vegetables and fruit. There were also a butcher, a couple of beautiful cut flower shops, and a shop that sold sakes, wines and other beverages. This market was quite different from any other Asian market we’ve ever been to. It was completely covered but very well lit. Everything was very clean and the items for sale were beautifully displayed. The selection of fish was amazing - everything from octopi to sea urchins. We were impressed by the huge and expensive (up to $120) crabs. There was also a large variety of fruit and vegetables for sale. Jeane bought some apples. They were some of the largest I’ve ever seen and quite tasty, according to Jeane. She paid about a dollar or two each. We probably spent a good solid hour at the market.
Craig is offline  
Nov 14th, 2013, 04:04 AM
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Great report! I've now bumped Japan up on the "someday" list!
progol is offline  
Nov 14th, 2013, 09:25 AM
  #45  
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Day 7 Kanazawa/Geisha Performance

I let Jeane sleep in until breakfast was delivered today, as her cold had gotten worse. When we finally got going, we headed on foot to nearby Higashi Chaya Gai, the geisha district. The sun seemed to be trying to break through the overcast skies. There were lots of tourists wandering around this quaint little area made up of of historic homes and small shops. We toured the two 19th century tea houses that were open to the public - Shima, where we saw the rooms where the geisha would perform and displays of the instruments they played, and Kaikaro, which is still an operating tea house. Photos were permitted in Kaikaro, but not in Shima. Both were interesting and worthwhile to visit. Along the way, Jeane had spotted some little decorative make-up mirrors that she could buy for her girlfriends back home, so we returned to the shop where she found them. While she was making her purchase, the skies opened up outside and it started pouring rain.

We had not brought our umbrellas, so we were stuck for a while. It was nearly noon so we dashed to a restaurant across the road. It was full and there were more people by the door waiting to get in. The shop that we had just come from sold soft-serve ice cream and had a little area where you could sit down and eat it. So we decided to go back there and wait out the storm. Eventually the rain subsided and we returned to Kikunoya to drop off Jeane’s purchases. Along the way I saw a collapsible umbrella for sale, and for three dollars I was able to replace my broken one. The lesson - bring an umbrella, even if it doesn’t look like rain.

Our next stop was the DT Suzuki museum. Jeane told me she was okay with walking, so we set out on foot. It turned out to be a very long walk. By the time we found the museum, Jeane was pooped. Suzuki was a Japanese philosopher known for his key role in introducing Zen to the west. It was a small museum. I read about Suzuki’s life and work while Jeane sat down, put her head on a table, shut her eyes and rested for a while. After visiting the museum's water mirror garden and meditation room, I asked Jeane if she was up for just one more place, if we go by taxi. She said that was getting her “second wind” and that taking a taxi was an excellent idea.

So we headed to the main road and hailed a taxi to Nomura-ke, a 400-year old restored home and garden in the Samurai District. We both enjoyed seeing the lifestyle and artifacts of the era when the samurai were prosperous. Afterward, we walked a ways to the main road where we quickly found a taxi and returned to Kikunoya. Jeane was able to take a long nap while I went out to the convenience store to pick up some beer and wine for the evening’s geisha performance and dinner.

We had a full house that evening. Bob, Karen, Peter and Linda arrived at 7 pm. Shortly thereafter two of the Kikonoya staff came to prepare our dinner, followed by Kim. a translator (I forget his name) and the three geishas for their performance at 7:30. At the start, we offered each of the geishas and the translator a glass of wine.

It was a very special and memorable evening. We were not expecting three geishas. Kim really outdid herself in setting this up and to quote her, the night was “truly rock star awesome”.

And, quoting from Bob and Karen’s post on our “live” thread: “First the ladies - all beautifully dressed in traditional dress that takes them 15 min to get on due to the many layers. These all had fall motif due to the theme of our program. We had a string player, a singer, and the third geisha was a dancer and drummer. The three together presented songs about autumn. There were 2 drums being played at the same time. At the end of the program one of the geishas played the flute in a semi dark atmosphere. Very haunting. The food was catered. We started with a bento box full of little fall dishes with white fish, seaweed salad, and 2 types of beans one sweet, one in its pods. Next was a clear broth, with a crab cake , followed by a beautifully presented plate of sashimi. A savory seafood custard was followed by a tempura plate that included shrimp, and 5 or. 6 different vegetables. A bowl of soba noodles, and the biggest peeled grapes I have ever seen finished out the meal. All leisurely paced and presented, which lead to a fun relaxed evening in a very special private setting. There was even audience participation, which you will have to see if someone posts the videos. Kim brought in a table and chairs to add to our comfort, although it is not traditional, we all were thankful.”

The audience participation was a lot of fun. Several of us got up to play the drum along with one of the geishas - it was amazing how she could pick up on our rhythms and play along with us. The entire performance is difficult to describe really, but Jeane and I have many great photos that I will post in due time.

At the end of the evening, we presented each geisha with an envelope containing a small cash gift, as is Japanese custom.

Jeane and I slept well that evening after another great day.

Next: A Night at Beniya Mukayu, a Very Upscale Ryokan
Craig is offline  
Nov 14th, 2013, 12:30 PM
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Yup, rock star!
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Nov 14th, 2013, 12:42 PM
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Oh the geisha evening sounds amazing!
Kavey is offline  
Nov 14th, 2013, 12:45 PM
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What a wonderful time you had a Kanazawa!
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Nov 14th, 2013, 02:29 PM
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Craig, I continue to enjoy reading your posts. I can understand why the get-togethers made the trip so much more special.
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Nov 14th, 2013, 07:22 PM
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The evening was a blast, we laughed so much, enjoyed each other's company, and enjoyed speaking individually to the geishas. The food was very good, save the broth in the noodles which our host said, "sucked"---way over served I'm guessing...

The house craig stayed in is quite fabulous, affordable and would make a perfect spot for a family or a couple of couples... Contact kimjapan for this and other travel needs..

Bob
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Nov 16th, 2013, 11:52 AM
  #51  
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Days 8 & 9: Beniya Mukayu, a Very Upscale Ryokan

Jeane was looking forward to an easy couple of days so that she could further recover from her cold. She spent most of our final morning at Kikunoya resting in bed, while I did some final packing. Kim had made arrangements to send our two big bags ahead to Kyoto and for a taxi to take us to the train station at noon, our check-out time. At the train station, we purchased our tickets for that day’s trip to Kagaonsen and the next day's trip to Kyoto. I had written down all the details on a piece of paper, so the transactions went quickly and easily. Our train didn’t depart until almost 2 pm, so we had some time to kill. We decided to search out a restaurant at the train station and camp out there. We chose one that wasn’t too crowded and where the plastic food models looked good. I had tonkatsu (breaded pork) and Jeane had a Japanese hamburger - a delicious lunch. No one bothered us as we lingered and waited to catch our train.

The train ride was only 25 minutes but instead of waiting by the exit with our rollies when we arrived at our station, we stayed in our seats until the train came to a full stop. Big mistake - as we tried to reach the exit, about 10 passengers boarded the train, blocking our path. We reversed direction and raced toward the exit at the rear of the car. The door closed just before we reached the exit, leaving us to travel to the next station and switch to the next train and return. The conductor was very helpful in advising us on the schedule and making notes on our ticket so that we could complete our trip without anyone questioning us. The next stop was only 10 minutes away, so we didn’t lose much time. I called Beniya Mukayu on my cell phone, so they could let their shuttle driver know that we would be arriving a few minutes late. He was waiting for us when we finally arrived. After a 10-minute ride through a light industrial area interspersed with small farms, we arrived at our hotel, pleasantly secluded in a wooded residential area.

After our welcome drink, check-in and a tour of the facilities, we were escorted to our room. The decor of the common area and our room was Japanese minimalist, with lots of concrete and lighting strategically placed to create a calming effect throughout. We observed a couple of interesting artistic displays in the hallway that led to our room. Guests have a choice of western-style or traditional Japanese rooms. We had chosen the western option so our bed was essentially a futon that sat on a slightly raised platform. Our room was large however, with an attached deck that looked out into the woods. The bath was clean, modern and equipped with a large array of toiletries but it had only a single sink. To the right of the bath was a separate room that housed the Japanese toilet, the only one we saw in Japan with an illuminated bowl. To the left of the bath was a large area with a modern shower and a door that led outside to the deck and a hot spring bath. For privacy, the bath was protected by a 6 foot bamboo fence.

We had scheduled a tea ceremony with the owner at 4:30 pm, so after settling in for a bit, we donned our yukatas and headed to the hotel’s tea house. Kazunari Nakamichi, the owner performed what I would call a tea ceremony “lite” - short and sweet. We didn’t mind, because we had seen the real thing and since it was rather dark, we couldn’t see much. It was nice to meet the owner, however. We returned to the room and prepared for our first bath. Since it was a private bath, the water was changed between guests. A quick rinse was all that was required before entering. There was a communal bath in the hotel with male and female sections, but I didn’t really see the point of that, at least for us. Anyway, the water was at the perfect temperature. You have the option to dilute the bath with hotter “tap” water, but there was no need. Jeane and I felt relaxed and ready for dinner afterward.

We had observed other guests wearing their jukatas with the “overcoat” that was provided in the rooms. A google search does not reveal what these are called, but I am sure that someone will chime in. We decided that wearing these made sense (as opposed to adding western layers for warmth) and put them on before heading to dinner. Dinner was served in a special dining area with a sparse but relaxed decor consistent with the rest of the property. This was not the norm for a ryokan, as dinner is usually served in the room. In any case, it was served kaiseki style or multicourse and was very, very good. The staff had inquired beforehand if there was anything we didn’t care for. Jeane has an aversion to raw fish so hers was cooked. We had eight courses. Our menu actually showed what we were having and its location on the table. The meal was all local and fresh - mostly fish and vegetables, except for duck meatballs served toward the end. While I have appreciated the presentations at previous meals, everything here was beyond beautiful. I noticed that the owner ate with the rest of the guests at his own table.

We did another bath when we returned to the room and, after a restful sleep, another bath in the morning. We had a sunny day so I went out on the deck and took some photos of the city in the distance and the trees in the woods, just starting to turn. We had scheduled a late breakfast since our train departure would not occur until after 11 am. I think Jeane was finally starting to feel better. Breakfast was as delicious and well-presented as our dinner the night before. Jeane and I had the option of ordering either Japanese or Western. So we had one of each and shared. The menu again showed what we were having by its location on the table.

At check-out, the owner came by and bid us “sayanora”. He and I exchanged business cards and then we went outside to pose for photos together. I had my iPhone camera available, but he also had a camera. I received an email with his photo today. The shuttle was waiting, so we hopped in. After a short ride, we were headed to our train and a two hour ride to Kyoto.

Next: 5 nights in Kyoto
Craig is offline  
Nov 16th, 2013, 03:38 PM
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Very interesting. Waiting for Kyoto. Thanks.
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Nov 16th, 2013, 03:56 PM
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The owners of Beniya Mukayu are very friendly.

I actually prefer to eat outside of my room because of food smells that tend to linger. When we stayed at Tawaraya in Kyoto, top place, my one complaint would be that part of the dinner was fish roasting in burning straw - stunning presentation and delicious but the smell of burning straw, smoke and fish was still in my room in the morning.
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Nov 16th, 2013, 04:11 PM
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Entertaining as usual. Sounds like a nice relaxing place..
kmkrnn is offline  
Nov 16th, 2013, 05:21 PM
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Beniya Mukayu sounds lovely!
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Nov 16th, 2013, 05:27 PM
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This last place does sound very relaxing! Still very much enjoying your report. As you can see, I have not gotten around to writing mine yet.
Florida1 is online now  
Nov 16th, 2013, 05:56 PM
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The jacket with your yukata is called a haori (ha-o-ri).
mrwunrfl is online now  
Nov 16th, 2013, 07:55 PM
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Was the experience worth the huge price???
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Nov 16th, 2013, 07:55 PM
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From bob...
kmkrnn is offline  
Nov 17th, 2013, 01:41 AM
  #60  
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I knew someone would ask about the price. We paid about $650 for our night at Beniya Mikayu, which included breakfast and an 8-course dinner. It was worth it for the experience alone. However, if we had the opportunity to do it again, I would prefer to try out some place else.

Note that we booked Beniya Mukayu through The Art of Travel (KimJapan), so our rate was a bit lower than the "rack" rate...
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