The Travelling Trooper Takes It Easy For A Couple of Days

My body was aching after a solid week of non-stop action in Japan. It was telling me to take it easy. And so, I spent a couple days doing a whole lot of not very much at all.

On the first day, I spent the morning editing photos. Oki eventually took us out for some kosu oishi sushi at a nearby joint. It was a pretty cool dining experience. You order from a tablet at your table. After a couple of minutes, a mini bullet train comes by with your order. As usual, everything was a party in my mouth; THIS however, just might have been the highlight.

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JUMBO EEL!

And that is how it’s done, ladies and gentlemen.

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After lunch, it was back to the apartment. I spit out a couple blog entries and Oki whiled away the afternoon studying for an exam he had the next day for work.

Before we knew it, the day had passed us by. Oki offered to take me to the lake nearby to get a nice view of the sunset.

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With the day officially done, it was my favourite time of the day in Japan: Food o’clock. Oki took us to an exclusive restaurant that seated all of about 16 people. And yet, this place was apparently one of the best joints in the neighbourhood. There were usually lines around the block at lunch time.

And in a very Soup Nazi sort of way, apparently the kitchen master in the back occasionally decided to close the restaurant early if the batch of soup for the evening wasn’t up to his standards. Intense, right?!

Let me just say that it was definitely up to par that night.

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I want it all in my mouth right now.

Oki and I spent the rest of the evening watching stupid Internet videos before we eventually called it a night.

Just before we packed it in, though, I remembered to ask him about this guy.

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Apparently his name is Tanuki. He’s an Asian racoon dog. (Could’ve fooled me. I was thinking Care Bear with man boobs and a really weird belly button.) He’s a good luck charm, and he just happens to originate in Oki’s hood.

Sidenote: I just Googled him right now, and learned something fascinating. You see how it looks like he has four feet? Those two middle ones are actually his balls. Dude is PACKING! He’s also carrying a drum and a bottle of sake. My man is a rockstar!

Found this informative blurb online at onmarkproductions.com, which is written by an American fella named Mark Schumacher, who has a whackload of degrees in Asian studies:

“The fox-like Tanuki appear often in Japanese folklore as shape-shifters with supernatural powers and mischievous tendencies. In their earliest malevolent manifestations (transmitted via Chinese fox lore to Japan by at least the 7th century CE), Tanuki assumed human form, haunted and possessed people, and were considered omens of misfortune.

“Many centuries later in Japan, they evolved into irrepressible tricksters, aiming their illusory magic and mystifying belly-drum music at unwary travelers, hunters, woodsmen, and monks.

“Today, the Tanuki are cheerful, lovable, and benevolent rogues who bring prosperity and business success…Ceramic statues of Tanuki are found everywhere in modern Japan, especially outside bars and restaurants, where a pudgy Tanuki effigy typically beckons drinkers and diners to enter and spend generously (a role similar to Maneki Neko, the Beckoning Cat, who stands outside retail establishments.)”

It would mean taking a huge side trip to Shigaraki, but the nostalgic part of me decided I had to check this area out the next day before hitting up Gion district in Kyoto.

After a quick lunch, Oki and I parted ways at the station and I headed for Shigaraki.

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Unfortunately, I ended up missing the hourly train to Shigaraki. Even worse, the place was a total bust. I would’ve been better off buying a quick souvenir at the train station, and then jumping right back on the train towards Kyoto.

Instead, I wandered around and saw a whole lot of nothing but Tanukis everywhere. I mean EVERYWHERE. After a while, they started looking more creepy than cute.

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Gotta love the George Costanza pose in the bottom right.

Even the cultural craft centre was nothing more than a room full of pottery and a couple tanukis.

An uneventful hour later, I was back on the train headed to Kyoto. (A two hour trek, mind you.)

On the plus side, this is the train that gets you to Shigaraki.

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Ninja wookie?

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Smoke and a pair of ninjas will attack you. I approve of this.

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By the time I FINALLY made it to Gion, it was 4:50, and the sun would soon be setting. I headed straight to Kasagiya, a tea house that my friend, Meg, had recommended. I had some omnomnoms and headed out to enjoy what remained of the day in beautiful Gion.  I really wish I’d had more time to explore this area.

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Can’t get enough of those sweet red beans!

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And that was the last we saw of Kyoto. As soon as it got dark, it was straight to the train station for Nara.

Saw this in the washroom of our new host’s place. I found it amusing.

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Now to sleep. In the morning, I’ll hopefully get to watch the Eagles rob the Patriots of another Super Bowl ring before heading out to explore what Nara has to offer.

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