Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Full Spring Bloom in Himeji 「姫路の満開の桜」


Head Above The Clouds

Now that the clouds have cleared up, blue skies and pink and white sakura trees were in full bloom. Instead of going to the Himeji Castle, I went to visit my favorite jogging spot where I burned of my beer belly running the stairs, Tegarayama Park. When sakura is in full bloom, the trees' horizons give the effect that you're floating amongst fluffy clouds.

Tegarayama has the best views in Himeji, in my opinion, and once you reach the top of the steep hill you're rewarded with a beautiful panoramic view of the the whole city. In Japanese culture, it's disrespectful to build anything higher than the city's castle. Since Teragayama is a mountain, it naturally provides an equal or even higher view point. For those of you who are familiar with LAX, there's definitely a resemblance between Tegarayama's cafe structure on top of the hill and LAX's revolving restaurant - it made me feel like part of LA was in Japan.

Reaching the top of Tegarayama, I was able to enjoy a few tall cans under then sakura canopies while I caught my breath. There's something therapeutic about kicking your feet up and watching sakura, every once in a while I need that kind of therapy - no phone, no music, no distractions.  
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Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Beginning of Spring 「春の始まり」


Japan's Grill Season Begins

In America, summer time is grill season. Fatty burgers, juicy sirloins, and smoked bratwurst sizzling and smoking on the barbie while everyone is knocking back cold ones on the lawn chair - the American dream. In Japan, where it's cold for more than half the year and summers are just too humid to want to even stay outside, grill season is usually done in spring. In spring, the weather is starting to warm up and the sakura trees make great canopies for people to sit under to enjoy the view while they BBQ. At the time of these pictures, the sakura hadn't blossomed to it's full bloom but they were still enjoyable and the feeling of Japan spring was all around the Himeji Castle.

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After walking around the castle, we headed over my uncle's house for a Japanese style BBQ. Unlike American BBQ's, you'll find some odd parts of a cow, pig, or even a horse - my personal favorite.
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Japanese BBQ's usually last from afternoon all the way till the next morning or till there's no more beer or meat left. There's never really any designated person grilling for everyone either, everyone usually gathers around and takes turn cooking for everyone. If you're not cooking, you're job is to make sure no one is dry on beer.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Journey to Udon Country Pt. 2 「高松のアドベンチャー」


Chasing Sunsets

Since morning, we kept our food intake to a minimum because we were going to be stuffing our faces with a carb load of noodles all afternoon - or so we thought. Finding these udon shops is like going on a scavenger hunt and you have to work fast starting from the early morning. Usually udon shops close around 2-3pm depending on how many customers come because they make a certain amount of fresh noodles a day. You're probably going to have to start your udon tour early on weekends because of all the out-of-towners rolling by to get their noodle fix. 

Our first stop was somewhere in on a mountain side and to be honest I wouldn't be able to get back on the main road from here. The GPS was even having a hard time trying to direct itself around the dirt paths because the roads to get here aren't "officially" in their databases. Some other udon shops don't even have sign indicating that it's a shop, that's actually how most udon shop are like out here in Kagawa. It's funny when you pull up to a shop like this out in the country side and how frequent cars and taxis pull in and unload a car full of people. The average person stays for about 8-10 minutes max. It's not a place to sit and talk amongst friends, the places are actually quiet except for the workers shouting orders. People are so focused on enjoying the simplicity of the noodles and broth that there's no words that can express what they're experiencing. 
These shops take so much pride in their noodles that you don't need all that fancy sauces and side dishes to make a great meal. Simplicity is key - less is more. True udon connoisseurs know that when eating udon it's all about the quality of the noodles (well for people from Kagawa at least), and other soups like ramen are about the broth. So when you get a chance to eat unfrozen and fresh udon noodles, make sure to keep the broth and other ingredients to a minimum and slurp the hell out of those fatty noodles. A dash of broth to slightly douse the noodles in, a pinch of green onions and if available, a raw egg yolk to give extra girth, you are good my friend! 
Manners for eating noodles? You couldn't bow low enough to the chef to show such respect as you would for slurping so passionately for every mouthful. The louder the better, but don't be obnoxious, it shows when you're faking it.
We've finally made it into Takamtsu, because of my car obsession we were running a little late on our udon tour so we settled for a more "commercial" shop which had a line snaking around the front of the house. This place was obviously popular amongst the locals but in my taste I wanted something more simple and not so flashy. Believe me, I wanted to get the curry flavored one with raw egg yolk and beef but what's the point? I couldn't compare the taste and quality of the noodles, so I refrained from temptation. This is what I got but I was still happy with it, but I definitely saw a difference in eating the simple ones from the commercial popular ones.
Obaachan and Okaasan were getting full already, only on our second place and they were tapping out. They were being good sports about it so we drove another hour to our last udon spot that was more traditional. It wasn't served out of someone's house but it definitely had an ambience that it had been in business for a long time making udon. There were signs of sakura getting ready to bloom outside of the restaurant. 
Obaachan always has great stories about her drinking and gambling days. You would never be able to tell now, she plays the sweet granny role so well. 
This is it! Our final meal of the day.
It was Maru's first road trip and she loved it just as much as Peko loves traveling, looks like we're gonna be doing a lot more traveling. 
Okaasan was feeling the food coma so while she rested for the 3 hour drive back to Himeji, Sachi, Maru and I took a look around the mountain side shrine. 
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The view from the top of the mountain side was amazing - it was almost time for Takamatsu's sunsset
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It looks like the sakura was starting to bloom from up here...
....Maru also finally got her stair climbing practice, which she finally finessed!

When we arrived at the very top, at the gates of the shrine, they were already closed...
...but I was able to get my lens through a little hole in the wooden lattice and got a glimpse of the building. It's shame we didn't get to roam around the area any longer but we still managed to make it on the road for...
...a Takamatsu sunset - my first sunset on this trip!