Fast, Food, Flush

Jun 7, 2013 by

Japanese mealNo, not a Fast Food Flush. Which would have to be the horrible reverse of a cleansing diet. Instead, I’m referring to our first full day in Japan which was largely a jumble of planes, trains and automobiles. And food. And toilets. Let me explain. The first hurdle was finding each other as Andy was flying in from Taiwan and I was coming direct from San Francisco and landing at a different terminal. We had timed out the logistics and realized we had about twenty minutes to rendezvous at a central meeting point, find the express train, and buy tickets that would get us to the bullet train which would whisk us into Kyoto in time for the last sitting of the traditional Japanese dinner offered at our guest house. Amazingly, we managed to pull it off, which is less a tribute to our efforts than it is to the wonderful and clear English signage throughout Japan’s transportation systems. Good thing, too, because fewer people than you would think speak English.

Allow me to skip right ahead to the bullet train. Yes, it’s fast. Damn fast. As in 200 MPH fast. That’s a blessing and a curse. You get places in a flash. But don’t expect to see much out the window and you certainly won’t get any good pictures. Also when one bullet train passes another moving in the opposite direction, you’ll experience some sort of rapid transit vortex as each train sucks the other into its slipstream. As I said, there aren’t many photo opportunities. But I did gather some impressions that I can’t back up with any facts or research because I haven’t done any. That won’t stop me from expounding anyway.

bullet train to Kyoto

First of all, the train looks like some sort of weird animal. Maybe a conger eel.

Mount Fuji from bullet train

You don’t really get good views from the train. And besides, it’s all whizzing by much too fast. This is Mt. Fuji in front of rice paddies and through the haze of pollution that is blowing in from China.

This is a better representation of what you see. And, while clean and comfortable, the train isn't as luxurious as I'd imagined.

This is a better representation of what you see from the bullet train. And, while clean and comfortable, the train isn’t as luxurious as I’d imagined.

One of the most interesting impressions was the amount of farmland that seems to be interspersed even in particularly built up areas. You’d see fairly dense housing, what looked like a commercial zone, and in between them, rice paddies and/or greenhouses. In addition, even in tiny townhouses and apartment complexes with postage stamp front yards or only balconies, nearly every resident seemed to be growing some food stuff, even if only in pots. I’m guessing, the Japanese are some pretty dedicated locavores and they aren’t leaving all the farming to the farmers.

It was that local food we were rushing for. We had booked a traditional ryokan or guesthouse and one of their offerings is a twelve course seasonal meal highlighting local fish, meat and produce. Before you think we are eating to reach sumo size, let me assure you that a “course” was usually a small bite or two.

shogun andy

But first Shogun Andy-San slipped into his favorite kimono.

Then the lovely Marimo began a beautiful and ceremonial service.

Then the lovely Massini began a beautiful and ceremonial service.

Japanese appetizer

One of our first appetizers: sesame tofu pudding with red beans, sea urchin, water shiled, wasabi, soy sauce and dashi soup.

Let me just pause here in praise of Japanese tofu. First, tofu has to be one of my least favorite foods — everything from the taste to the texture is repellant to me. In most of the Asian countries I’ve visited, the predeliction for what they call “Stinky Tofu” has moved tofu even further up my “Will Not Eat” list. This is not your Malaysian tofu. Or even your California tofu. Japanese tofu is delicate and perfumed with a silken and buttery mouth feel. Absolutely gorgeous.

sashimi

A few courses later, a sashimi course featuring tuna, parboiled flathead, radish, mioga, green perilla and sea grapes.

grilled Japanese dishes

Now we are into the Hassun course with sushi of Horse Mackerel, scrambled eggs with soft roe of Sea Bream, young taro, boiled fish paste of Sea Bream, simmered abalone, soy milk skin and shrimp paste of pea mixed with dashi soup, roasted beef, mustard and sweet potato.

Now Yakizakana, grilled dishes, with Sweet Fish with salt, snap garden peas, ginger, grated white radish and water pepper.

Now Yakizakana, grilled dishes, with Sweet Fish with salt, snap garden peas, ginger, grated white radish and water pepper.

pickled dishes

Several courses later, pickles with Japanese white radish seasoned with dried plum, cucumber and pumpkin. Did I mention there were about 30 vegetables in the dinner and Andy ate ALL of them?

Oh, I could go on and on — as dinner did — but I promised you toilets. You see, I’m a great investigator of toilets when I travel. I believe you can tell a lot about a culture by its toilet facilities. My one previous encounter with Japan was just a night stay in Narita airport between flights. But I had time to discover that the Japanese have elevated the toilet to the very limits of Art and Science. We may be staying in a traditional guesthouse, furnished much as it was when it was founded 200 years ago, but for the owners, this was no excuse not to splash out, as it were, on the very latest toilet technology.

Japanese toilet

This may not look special, but through infrared lights or artificial intelligence or maybe frickn’ laser beams, this toilet senses when you have entered the room, lifts its own lid and shoots a blast of warmth through the seat.

Somehow, this toilet senses when you are seated and starts a series of flushing sounds — just sounds, mind you — to, well shall we say, mask any other sounds you might not want to be heard. And it knows when you are finished and commences the real flush.

toilet control panel

There is a Star Trek Enterprise worthy control panel should you wish to captain your own toilet. I was afraid to touch it.

All I can say is: “Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto!”

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4 Comments

  1. Andy first visited Koyoto about 30 years ago when he came through on a business trip to Tokyo. Back then, he said most of the buildings were the traditional ones and almost all the women on the street were wearing kimonos. Now, we are only seeing very few rocking the kimono. And there are coffee shops and French patisseries on every block.

  2. pam johnson

    Sailing around the Danish islands now with friends from Kobe. We have done this with them in many parts if the world, and they are so adaptible to cultures where the language is different. Of course, they speak passable English, but they always carry a little handheld translator, discreetly retrieved every few minutes. I think they are just used to the fact that the world doesn’t speak their language, unlike we Yanks. Japan has become so much easier to navigate than it was during our first visit in ’82: nothing in Romaji then. Now, the road signs are bi-alphabetic (is that a word?) so we don’t get as lost driving in the countryside. The biggest change is the toilets; even more incomprehensible the first time than Kanji! Our friends have one that would put the cockpit of the Dreamliner to shame. Agreed on the tofu: almost as good as Danish soft ice cream. Kaiseki dinners are one of Japan’s great contributions to civilization.

  3. debKuroiwa

    what a rare shot of Fuji-san…..gorgeous!!!

  4. The density of Japanese farming is due to the high density of the population. They need to grow food everywhere that is arable to sustain the population numbers. I loved seeing your photos but so sad to see the pollution they are getting from China. I lived in Japan for a year when I was young and loved seeing Fuji-san again. Thanks!

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