Monthly Archives: February 2014

Kinkakuji Temple, Kyoto

kinkakuji

Kinkakuji is one of the most famous temples in Kyoto, and indeed all of Japan. It is the singular most beautiful building I believe in the entire city and therefore my #2 recommendation for places to visit when in Kyoto.

It’s name Kinkakuji means “The Temple of the Golden Pavilion” and it is appropriately named because the top two stories are covered with pure gold leaf.

kinkakuji

About Kinkakuji Temple (金閣寺):

Kinkakuji is an impressive Zen Buddhist temple built overlooking a large pond named Kyōko-chi, or in English “The Mirror Pond”.  This pavilion was built at the end of the 14th century and was originally intended as a villa for Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, the shogun at the time. After his death, it later became a temple.

Although the original building has burned down numerous times – once due to the Onin Civil War, and a second time in 1950 because it was set on fire by a fanatic monk –  is still breathtaking to behold.

Recognized by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage, Kinkaku-ji is one of the historical buildings most representative of Japan.kinkakuji2Tips For Visitors:

  • The very best spot for pictures with the temple in the background is as soon as you enter into the garden.
  • At this prime photo location there will be hoards of tourists. It is always busy from open to close, it’s inevitable. Prepare yourself mentally to hold your ground, wait patiently and seize the moment when you get a chance to have that fence area all to yourself.
  • I can’t even begin to describe how crazy and pushy people can be here, the camera-trigger-happy visitors will make you want to flee as quickly as possible but try not to let them ruin your special moment viewing it. Laugh. Breathe. Smile!
  • After you finish taking photos, take a step back and savor the view. (For additional entertainment, watch the crazy camera wielding people!) Then when you’re ready, continue along the path into the gardens walking slowly.  kinkakuji3

Entrance Fee: 400yen

How to get to Kinkakuji Temple:*Note that getting to kinkakuji temple will take a while as it’s located far from the city center and other tourist locations. By bus is the easiest route, although it will take some time.

  • By Bus: From Kyoto station take bus #101, #205 until the stop “Kinkakuji-michi” (220yen) (time: 40-minutes or more if heavy traffic) (Check out the bus map here)
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Categories: Tips For Traveling In Japan | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto

No trip to Kyoto is complete without a visit to the Fushimi Inari Shrine. This shrine is my #1 sightseeing recommendation in Kyoto. The reason being not only is it a spectacular view it’s also a magical experience to explore this shrine too. I’ve attempted to write down everything I have learned about this shrine to improve your experience when you visit and answer commonly asked questions. I hope it can help future visitors to Kyoto!

A long time ago I watched the movie “Memoirs of a Geisha” and the scene where a young Sayuri runs through a tunnel of orange gates to make a prayer was imprinted in my memory. I promised myself one day I would see it with my own eyes.  fushimi inari memoirs of a geishaWhen I arrived in Japan and stood looking at the orange tunnel nearly 10 years later, I still remembered how I felt when I first saw it. “This must be a dream,” I thought to myself too stunned to take a step inside. My friend looked back at me, wondering why I had stopped talking and walking. As I slowly stepped under the first gate and into the tunnel that seemed to stretch on towards the heavens, I was very overcome with a wave of emotion. I couldn’t come up with the words to explain to my friend how magical the whole experience was.  It was the moment a childhood dream became a reality. Many people I’ve spoken to who have visited this shrine say similar experiences happened to them. I’ve witnessed tourists actually jump for joy when they first see the orange gates and couples hug one another. Clearly I’m not the only one for whom seeing the Fushimi Inari Shrine is a dream come true.fushimi-inari shrine kyoto5

About the Fushimi-Inari Shrine:

The Fushimi-Inari Shrine is a popular shrine for tourists located just outside the city center of Kyoto. It’s most famous for it’s orange gates, filmed in the movie “Memoirs of a Geisha”, which form a tunnel that tourists may walk through.  These gates are called “torii” in Japanese. It is possible to walk under the torii all the way to the top of the sacred Mt. Inari, which is 233m high. fushimi-inari shrine kyoto8

When you first arrive you’ll see the largest torii gate of the Fushimi-Inari Shrine. I think this one of the best photo opportunities so be sure to snap a picture before heading into the shrine.fushimi-inari shrine kyoto6Take you time exploring the main temple grounds, and be sure to take a peak into a tiny temple located on the far right of the main temple area. It has thousands of paper cranes. The hopes and dreams of shrine visitors in a rainbow of offerings is always something I enjoy seeing.  According to Japanese legend, if you fold 1000 paper cranes your wish is supposed to be granted. fushimi-inari shrine kyoto4 Once you’ve finished exploring the main temple grounds, head up the stairs, and begin your hike through the torii tunnel.

fushimi inari2These torii gates, interestingly enough, are all donations by families or companies. On the back of the torii gates you will see written in black kanji the donator’s name and the date it was donated. A small torii is around 400,000 yen as much as 1 million yen!!!!Fushimi-inari shrine kyoto 10The further up you walk the fewer people you will see and the quieter it will become, the steep slopes effectively weaning out those unfit for the challenge of a climb (*cough cough* the women wearing stilettos never make it very far, never fear). This is where you’ll easily be able to get photos with just you and your companions, the real trick will be waiting for a friendly person to take your picture! IMG_8766

What’s With All The Foxes?!?

By the time you finish exploring the shrine, you may be curious as to why you saw so many statues of foxes.  This is because foxes in Japanese culture are regarded as messenger spirits. fushimi-inari shrine kyoto7The Japanese word for fox is “kitsune” and if you look carefully you’ll see many restaurants in this area serving kitsune udon. Don’t be alarmed, it’s not fox noodle soup! Kitsune udon is a delicious dish made with thick udon noodles served in a dashi based soup stock and served with a piece of fried tofu. Kitsune udon is named after the Japanese fox because according to legend fox spirits are big fans of abura-age, the deep fried tofu that gives all the flavour to this great food.kitsune udon

My 6 Tips For Visiting Fushimi Inari Shrine:

  1. Wear comfortable shoes! I really do mean this, wear running shoes or at least comfy sneakers.
  2. Budget plenty of time as it’s quite a long walk to the very top.
  3. Don’t let other people hurry you, walk at a slow pace and savor the moment.
  4. Be patient taking photos. If you’re patient and wait for the perfect moment you’ll be able to get great solo shots.
  5. Try and go early in the morning, or towards the end of the day (if possible) as the experience is more magical the fewer the people. If you do, you’ll also be able to get photos in the torii tunnel with only you!
  6. If you don’t have time to do the entire walk to the top walk as far as you feel comfortable, but be sure to at least reach the beautiful photography point where 2 tunnels appear!

fushimi-inari shrine kyoto10

How To Get To Fushimi-Inari Shrine:

There are several ways to get to the Fushimi Inari shrine. I highly recommend traveling by one of the train lines!

  • By JR Line: Take the JR Nara Line train from Kyoto station to JR Inari Station (Time: 5 minutes, Price: 140yen, 2 stops later)
  • By Private Train Line: From Kyoto Station take the Keihan Line to Fushimi Inari Station
  • By Bus: If you have the Kyoto Bus Sighseeing Pass you can access the shrine via the #5 bus from Kyoto Station. (See the map here) *I do not recommend this option as it take far too long compared to a train. It’s worth spending the extra money to get there quickly.*
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What To Do In Kyoto

If there is one city in Japan I wish I could spend more time exploring it’s Kyoto. Being an avid lover of traditional culture, Kyoto is the epitome of everything I love about Japan.

I think Japan is a very unique country for many reasons. One of the biggest being that Japan is fortunate to have not only a very strong traditional culture that is still alive today, but also a second evolving modern culture. If you’re looking to explore Japan’s modern culture I recommend Tokyo with its big city lights…. but if like me you’re looking to immerse yourself in the more subtle traditional culture, than Kyoto is where you’ll find what you seek.

Kyoto is home to more than 2,000 religious sites such as temples and shrines, and there are hundreds of beautiful gardens in addition to that! You could spend a month here and still have things to see! All in all, it can be quite daunting for a traveller to decide which places to visit, especially with only limited time to explore.

I have traveled to Kyoto six times now since I arrived in Japan two and a half years ago. I wish I knew then what I know now. It would have saved me a lot of stress when planning to visit this maze of temples with family and friends. This is why I’ve complied a list of the best things for Kyoto visitors to experience.  I wanted to share my recommendations so that you too can see the best Kyoto has to offer.

Top 10 Places To Visit in Kyoto

#1) Fushimi Inari Shrine  (伏見稲荷大社) – Choosing my #1 recommendation for Kyoto was tough. This one was the winner because it’s not just a beautiful place to see, it’s also an experience like no other in Kyoto. Nothing can compare with the magical atmosphere felt walking up the mountain passing under the orange torii gates for what feels like a small eternity. (More info here)

fushimi inari2

#2) Kinkakuji Temple  (金閣寺) – The Golden Pavilion is hands down the most beautiful structure in all of Kyoto and absolutely can not be missed if visiting. (More info here)

kinkakuji

#3) Kiyomizudera Temple (清水寺) – One of the most popular temples to visit in the heart of Kyoto. The streets and shops leading up to it are very quaint.  Also, the trees surrounding the temple are breathtaking in spring during cherry blossom season & in autumn with the fall colors. (More info here)

Kiyomizu-dera-2018

#4) Explore the Arashiyama area – There is SO much to do here, it’s the perfect day trip to escape the chaos of Kyoto. Be sure not to miss the bamboo grove! Check out the monkey mountain and some of the beautiful gardens if you have a whole day to spare.arashiyama bamboo forest

#5) Kenninji Temple (建仁寺) – Located in the heart of the Gion district, Kenninji has the most breathtakingly beautiful dragon ceiling and its calm, relaxing atmosphere makes it one of my favourite temples to wander around. (More info here)kenninji2

#6) Gion Street At Night Gion is the oldest district of Kyoto, the area you’re most likely to catch a glimpse of an elusive ‘maiko’.  At dusk (just after the sun’s gone down and the lights come on) is the best time to take in this area’s splendor. kyoto_gion_at_night_0701

#7) Sanjusangendo Hall (三十三間堂)A stunning hall filled with 30,000 golden deity statues is sure to wow any visitor to Kyoto. I love this temple because it’s very different from all the other temples and there’s nothing else like it in Kyoto, perfect for anyone who’s feeling a little “templed-out” or “over-shrined” sanjusangendo hall

#8) Nishiki Market  (錦市場) – This is a large covered market area with lots of local goods and foods (tempura chocolate anyone?). Grabbing lunch here one day is sure to be an adventure, and an excellent place to do a little shopping.

nishiki market

9) Shopping in Kyoto Station + Malebranche CafeAs powdered green tea is one of Kyoto’s specialties, visitors often want to try matcha and matcha sweets. My favourite hideout is the Malebranche Cafe which is located on the bottom floor of Kyoto Station. These desserts are seriously Kyoto’s best kept secret.  It’s the perfect place to recharge after a little shopping in one of Kyoto’s coolest shopping centers, all of which is underground and therefore perfect if the weather’s not the nicest!dessert1

10) Ryoanji Temple (龍安寺) – This temple, whose name poetically translates as “The Temple of the Dragon at Peace”, is home to one of Japan’s most beautiful rock gardens. It’s one of Kyoto’s quieter and less busy temples, so feelings of zen and great tranquility can be felt here as you sit gazing out at the garden. Kyoto-Ryoan-Ji

If you have any other recommendations, or special little gems in Kyoto you’ve stumbled upon, I’d love to here them! I’ll be going to Kyoto for one last visit in May and I’m already excited!

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Let The Music Fill Your Soul: Ikeda Music Concert 2014

When my friend Lizzy first told me she would be have a small koto recital I was all aboard. I whipped out my calendar, and saved the date February 22 using a pen! There was nothing that could possibly come up that would make me miss it because I’m a firm believer that when you promise someone you’ll be there don’t cancel, not to mention she’s my bestie and I of course wanted to be there to support her.

The koto is a traditional Japanese instrument and Lizzy has been learning to play it for about 5 months now. Her teacher is incredibly talented and one of the sweetest people I have had the pleasure of meeting in Japan. I’m so proud that despite her already busy schedule, Lizzy was able to make time for her Japanese dream before we both leave this summer.

The funny thing is that when she mentioned a small music recital it brought back my own memories of piano recitals that were stuffy, more than a little boring, and filled only with the families or friends of the performers. I always enjoy Japanese music though, so I figured, what the hey. The actual recital was totally different than anything I had imagined. IMG_2631 To begin with it was out in the middle of nowhere. I drove a car full of friends for an hour to get to Ikeda, a tiny little town in Fukui Prefecture that I didn’t even know existed. The next interesting fact, was that the concert was to be held in a giant house.IMG_2441All in all, this “recital” felt more like a group of good friends all jammin’ out together and everyone getting their own moment in the spotlight. We chatted, most people drank, and everyone tucked into the food. The most interesting food by far was the inoshishi nabe, or in English, wild boar hot pot stew. IMG_2450 IMG_2458 IMG_2443I was pretty excited. I always love the opportunity to try rare specialties of a region and it was my first time to eat inoshishi. To be perfectly honest, I doubt I will ever consume inoshishi again. I enjoyed the first bowl, or at least the first half of my bowl. Ultimately though, and unfortunately for me, the gamey flavor and extra chewiness of the inoshishi was a turn off.   To make matters worse that smell permeated the whole house, and was inescapable. After a while you stopped noticing it. But when I got home (at 2am I might add!) rather than crawl exhausted into bed I instead couldn’t strip myself of my stinky clothes, throw them into the laundry and dash into a shower quick enough! You know I don’t like a smell when I’m willing to do laundry at 2 am.   I woke up the next morning, and then proceeded to strip the sheets off my bed because they too now stank of inoshishi.

Luckily for me, it was a potluck style event and I was able to nibble on some other goodies throughout the night. I was peckish but I definitely didn’t starve.  I happily allowed the music make me forget my hunger, because trust me, the music is what you come for! It was all Fukui locals performing, and they were great! There something for everyone with a huge variety of styles. IMG_2471I particularly enjoyed the group The Grasshoppers Plays which was lively and very instrumental with a tuba, oboe, guitar, vocals and several other instruments I don’t know the names of. The lead guitarist jumped around the stage just like a grasshopper while he played, and the energy with which they played their songs had me smiling and clapping along very quickly. I particularly loved their rendition of a song from the movie Howl’s Moving Castle, which is one of my favourite Studio Ghibli movies. IMG_2473 IMG_2481Another thing I never expected was a Japanese country group to perform! Much to many of my friends shock and amazement I love country music. It must come from living in Calgary for most of my life, affectionately nicknamed “Cow Town.” In case you don’t know, Calgary is home to one of the world’s largest rodeos every summer. This group of older Japanese men definitely channeled some country spirit, one dressed in jeans and red flannel, a second in a Canadian tuxedo with a large shinny silver belt buckle, and the best of all was the guy wearing red flannel and jean overalls! It totally made my night! IMG_2504 IMG_2501 IMG_2490 IMG_2503 Good times, good times! We had a short intermission and when the show started up again it was a cute family style reggae group. The mom was the singer, her children sat right next to her and played small drums themselves, and other family members played the guitar and drums. The songs were pretty adorable, about cooking with tomatoes and other cute themes. Even cuter though, was her little boy playing the drums. I couldn’t take my eyes of him he was so adorable! IMG_2549 IMG_2550 IMG_2528 IMG_2525Finally it was the moment my friends and I had been waiting all night for! Lizzy and her koto group were the final act. She and her teacher played 5 songs together, with her teacher singing the words in Japanese.  She sounded amazing! I was so happy I had come to support her. IMG_2612 IMG_2608During the final song was one of my favourite memories of the night. Another boy Cian and I had decided to surprise Lizzy with flowers after the concert, so I had smuggled a small bouquet into the event (I don’t think, Lizzy ever saw the flowers, I was a real ninja). As Lizzy was playing her last song, and her teacher singing beautiful lyrics which were all about flowers on a mountain, Cian leans over and whispers “Jessie, where are the flowers?” For a second, I was a little confused why he had asked me at that second to translate the song, but replied anyways as I know how frustrating it can be to not understand what’s going on when it’s all in a foreign language. “They’re on the mountain,” I whispered back. The look he gave me was priceless. He had meant our bouquet for Lizzy, but had asked me specifically at the perfect point for me to misinterpret him and think he meant the song lyrics. We both burst out laughing when we realized what was going on.

After Lizzy finished her songs, her teacher performed once more with another student. The last performance of the night was Lizzy’s teacher herself. She is one of the most celebrated koto players in Japan, and has actually been flown to Europe this week to play a concert. It was so beautiful, the intricate music pulled at my heart, and not a single person spoke. IMG_2632After the concert was over there was a lot of photo taking. Everyone wanted a photo with these lovely ladies.  IMG_2635 Once things quieted down slightly Cian and I found a moment to spoil our golden star. I think she really liked her flowers!IMG_2652Then it was time to get the party started. IMG_2669 IMG_2683So that Lizzy could fully savor her evening in the spotlight I had generously volunteered to be the designated driver which meant no alcohol for me. I enjoyed myself regardless! Who could fail to be entertained when you are friends with lovable goofballs like these! IMG_2658 IMG_2678 My “I’m sober and completely ok with that” face.

Soon with much prompting the ALTs got involved with the after concert jammin session.  We sang a couple songs “Country Roads”, which is always super popular with Japanese people, and then 2 songs by The Beatles, “Hey Jude” and “Let It Be.” This was a great decision as we had almost everyone singing along with us pretty soon, and endeared all of us to the locals.  jamminShortly after midnight, this little Cinderella fled home to go to bed. Luckily for me, Cian and I both wanted to be home by about 1am; he for a rugby game, me because I’m a granny at heart.
I’m really glad I was able to go. It was something radically different than what I had expected, in the best way possible. I felt truly at ease at the Ikeda Music Concert, everyone was so kind, and even with my limited Japanese I enjoyed talking with many people. I only wish I knew more small, local events like these that I could go to. It would be wonderful!

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Apple Aroma Ambrosia

This weekend I was exceptionally lazy. Which is pretty much unheard of because I typically make busy little bees look like couch potatoes. I don’t know why but I’m always dashing hither and thither, and seem to thrive despite my insanely long to-do list. I don’t particularly enjoy it either, I just seem prone to being an overachiever and overly efficient I suppose.

While I am certainly never going to be satisfied with a sloth-like lifestyle, I did decide to schedule a little rest and relaxation this weekend. I was still productive  (I couldn’t resist scrubbing all my floors and the majority of my apartment to boot, just because it was looking a little lackluster) but I also spent an equally lovely amount of time in bed reading.

Reading books again is like discovering long lost treasure. I was a voracious reader as a child, and as I grew up and changed from an adolescent to an adult, my social calendar in all its busy glory surreptitiously sucked away my time to indulge in my favorite pleasure. The worst part was that it happened so gradually I never noticed until I went to Hawaii this Christmas! Since then I’ve been fairly diligent planning reading time before bed.

Saturday AND Sunday morning I rolled over, opened my curtains wide to let the sunshine pour in and grabbed my Kindle which was waiting on my bedside table. I simply adored the luxury of lounging in bed with nothing else to do than read my book (and eventually migrate to my kitchen for my necessary coffee and then back to my bed & book).

Whenever I’m truly happy nothing can keep me away from my kitchen. There is nothing like cooking with sunshine  pouring into my kitchen and singing along to country music…my poor poor neighbors, they must absolutely hate me when I’m happy.

This weekend’s creations were all apple themed because I had quite a few waiting to be used in my fruit bowl. I resolved to cook with apples more because it makes your house smell like heaven! apple chipsInspired by something I saw on pinterest, I decided to try making apple chips. My first try was a spectacular disaster. Please, pleeeeease do yourself and your house a favour and never ever attempt to make apple chips in a toaster oven. I burned mine to a crisp….(literally, charcoal black) and set off the smoke detector, much to my embarrassment. I had to open all the windows in my kitchen to air it out and flee to the sanctuary of my bedroom in shame for quite a while before attempting batch number 2, using my oven this time, which thankfully turned out ok. As my friend Lizzy said, sometimes even the best cooks have to mess up every once in a while.

The secret to making apple chips is to slice your apples very very thinly, cover in cinnamon sugar, bake in an OVEN for 1 hour at 100ºC. Turn them all over and cook another 1 hour (or more) until nice and crispy.

My second recipe was equally delicious, and luckily I nailed it on the first try. I’d really recommend it if you are looking for some yummy comfort food this cold winter!

BAKED APPLE & MUSTARD CHICKEN:

What you’ll need:

  • 2 large chicken breasts
  • 1 apple
  • salt & pepper
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup apple juice
  • 1 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 2 tbsp grainy Dijon mustard
  • 3 tsp chopped fresh rosemary

What you’ll need to do:

  1. Sprinkle chicken breasts with salt and pepper to taste. Then coat in flour, shaking off any excess.
  2. Heat olive oil in frying pan. Once oil is hot, place chicken breasts in pan and cook until golden on both sides. Remove from pan and place in casserole dish.
  3. Peel apple and cut into thin slices.
  4. Add apples to frying pan. Cook on medium heat for 3 minutes.
  5. Add apple juice, cider vinegar, dijon mustard and rosemary to the pan. Cook together with apples and bring to a simmer.
  6. Pour this sauce over the chicken.
  7. Turn on oven to 190ºC (375ºF) and cook for about 30 minutes, basting your chicken occasionally.
  8. Place chicken on plate, spoon sauce over top and garnish with fresh rosemary. Tada!

chickenNow doesn’t that look yummy! I certainly think so! Very easy-peasy to cook too! I would also throw out the recommendation to serve this with a cider instead of white wine. I personally opted for Strongbow and thought the two went great together. Then for dessert I whipped up my favourite chai-spiced rice pudding. A savory way to end a beautifully-lazy weekend!

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Supuya – My Ode to the Fukui Russian Restaurant – すうぷ屋

In my opinion winter is a great time of year! The snow transforms the world into a glittering, magical world and snow bunnies like me get to hit the slopes for some quality snowboarding.

It’s a quiet time, perfect for letting your inner hermit rejoice and run rampant, if curling up with a good book, steaming mug of tea, and blanket in a granny-style rocking chair can ever really be called “running rampant”. Winter’s  the only season where it is perfectly acceptable to hibernate like a big old brown bear in the warmth and sanctuary of your apartment. Finally, and most importantly, in an enormous foodie’s world (like mine),  it’s an excuse to indulge in piping hot comfort food!

In search of quality comfort food I and my good friend Tomomi headed to Supuya, Fukui’s one and only Russian restaurant yesterday and indulged ourselves with some of the best comfort food I’ve consumed in years! It was pretty difficult to track down but thanks to Tomomi I finally found it!

My coworker John has raved about this restaurant’s piroshky ever since I first met him 2 and a half years ago, it was high time I finally went! I was very excited to go for lunch because Supuya offered a fabulous lunch set for the bargain price of 1,500yen which included a piroshky, borscht soup and tsuboyaki (forgive me, I don’t know the Russian name for this item!).

Walking past other people eating the food I was dying to try was sheer torture. I couldn’t order fast enough!

The first item served was a piping hot piroshky, and my coworker was right it was simply to die for. If I ever am feeling particularly, exceptionally gluttonous in the future I could easily see myself coming back to Supuya and ordering 5…or 10…of these beautiful pieces of fried dough stuffed with meat sauce. I might die of a heart attack soon after, but I’d probably die very, very happy.photo(2)Next came the borscht soup. Borscht was the only Russian food I had ever tried before, and the hot pink soup I had imagined in my mind never came. This, my darling foodies, is what authentic borscht looks like apparently.  I had no idea.

It was a good thing (for my waistline) the piroshky was followed by such a healthy soup, the subtle flavors of the vegetable medley in this soup sang together in perfect harmony.  I can’t wait to try making my own sometime soon (keep your eyes peeled I might experiment this weekend!) supuya2 supuya1While I do love fried goodness, my personal favorite comfort food has always been soups and stews. In the cold of Canadian winter, there is nothing quite like a steaming bowl of stew, it always seems to give you a little hug of encouragement from inside your stomach. Needless to say therefore, I adored the borscht.

After the borscht came the pièce de résistance…. supuya3 supuyaI only know what this is called in Japanese: tsuboyaki. (‘tsubo‘ refers to a ceramic bowl that you cook something in, and ‘yaki‘ means grilled or baked.)  If anyone knows the name of this delicious Russian dish please enlighten me!

What is it you ask? It’s stew or chowder served in a ceramic bowl, which is then covered with a piece of bread or pastry, and baked all together, bowl and all, in a large oven until the bread is golden and fluffy.  At Supuya, with this set lunch, you could choose the flavor of your tsuboyaki. They had about 8 choices, I chose beef stew and Tomomi chose the salmon, scallop and spinach chowder option. Both were amazing! supuya5After these 3 dishes we were so stuffed we felt like turkeys on Thanksgiving, in the best way possible. However, in our world there is always room for tea. Thanks to a fortuitous accident I got to try another classic Russian speciality: Russian tea.

On the menu it was listed as chai, both Tomomi and I adore chai tea, so we both ordered that expecting Indian style chai tea…..nope! What came out instead were two mugs of dark, clear amber tea and a little bowl of strawberry jam! russianteaWhatever I had just been served definitely was not chai, and it had never occurred to me to put strawberry jam in my tea, so I was a little confused at first. Once Tomomi explained the mix-up though, I was pretty happy because I always love trying new types of tea! It was good, and if you’re looking for a classic Russian drink to go along with your Russian meal, it’s something I’d encourage you to try too!

Supuya Information:

  • Japanese name: すうぷ屋
  • Phone Number: 0776-34-2099 *I would highly recommend making a reservation as it gets pretty busy!*
  • Address: 4 Chome-1-14 Kamogawara, Fukui, Fukui Prefecture 918-8057
  • Parking: There is a limited amount of parking out front.
  • Hint: If you’re driving along the main road, look up the steep concrete embankment and you’ll see the back side of a large brown wooden house with a Russian flag and large windows nestled in what appears to be a residential neighborhood.
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Funky Monkey Time: Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano

For 2 winters fate thwarted my plans to see snow monkeys bathing in hot springs. During my first winter in Japan, a mere week before a planned trip to Nagano I succumbed to a vicious bout of pneumonia. If the doctor hadn’t firmly placed me under house arrest for fear of a Fukui-wide pandemic spreading I would never have cancelled. In my second winter, I escaped to Nagano for a few days of boarding, only to be bombarded with a snowy blizzard the only day I had left to see the snow monkeys. If I was a drama queen I would have pressed my hands and face again the rear window in misery as we drove home a day early, and howled my woe at missing the opportunity to see the snow monkeys a second year in a row. Luckily I have more self restraint than that, if just barely.

This year, my final winter in Japan, I was definitely 100% going to see those snow monkeys. I couldn’t leave Japan without accomplishing this item on my bucket list. Fate realized that I wasn’t kidding this time, and decided to play nice. It took us about an hour to drive from Hakuba to the Jigokudani Monkey Park. I was delighted that everyone in the group decided to join me! IMG_2403IMG_2395 IMG_2385 IMG_2397

The monkeys looked downright adorable as they relaxed in the onsen.

INTERESTING FACT OF THE MONKEY PARK:

  • Monkeys don’t sweat, so they are in no danger of catching a cold from hopping in and out of the hot springs in the middle of winter!

My friends joked about what would happen if I tried to kidnap a monkey baby and bring it home with me. They knew I’ve always wished for a little friend like Abu, Aladdin was a pretty lucky guy. Finding a monkey best friend in Agraba would be much easier than in the 21st century…

Pretty sure this little fella on the right was dying to come home with me, but there are laws these days that need to be abided by. IMG_2372IMG_2377While I pined over adorable monkey babies, Stuart was feeling a little pensive and found a monkey to philosophize with…or maybe just think up some monkey-worthy trouble for the 4 hour car ride back to Fukui.IMG_2378Inspired by Stuart’s ease making friends with the monkeys I decided to put on my best smile and win them over with my stellar personality and witty humor. IMG_2408This monkey wasn’t particularly impressed with me. He did not want to be friends. Most of them didn’t want to be friends…they wouldn’t give me the time of day, much to my and my photographer/friend’s dismay. I tried and tried!

I slowly started feel like one of the desperate men I had met at Tracks Bar the night before. You know the guys I’m talking about, the ones who flit from girl to girl, repeatedly trying to pick em up. “Huh,” I thought to myself, “so that’s how it feels…” But luckily I have better manners than some of the not-very-gentlemanly guys I met the previous night and didn’t call the monkeys terrible names when they wouldn’t come home with me!

I sat down on the fence weary and feeling like it was time to give up. I reluctantly came to accept I wasn’t going to get an awesome picture with a monkey….when this friendly chap showed up. He was a little shy but soon we were chatting away like old friends.  IMG_2440 IMG_2439This is my “I made a monkey friend and I am SO happy about it” face!

Unfortunately for him, I’m a fickle creature. As happy as I was talking him, when a new friend came around and I saw his adorable, cheeky smile, my heart went pitter-patter and then promptly melted into mush. With just one lopsided grin he stole my heart and I knew we’d be best friends forever. Talk about a cutie!IMG_2425He’s probably the most charming monkey I will ever meet so it was pretty tough to say goodbye! So glad to be able to say now that I visited the monkey onsen park in Japan. One item on my bucket list down and only 6 months left to go!

Useful information for planning your trip to Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano:

  • For the Official English website click here
  • For access information to the park click here
  • For another great website full of useful information (seriously might be more useful than the official one) click here
Categories: Life in Japan, Travel | 1 Comment

Snowboarding in Nagano – Cortina

I’m pretty passionate about snowboarding, some friends might even go as far as saying I have a snowboarding addiction. To be perfectly honest, at times I don’t think they’re wrong. Thankfully there’s no such thing as “snowboarders anonymous” or I probably would have been forced into a program by now, luckily society doesn’t look down upon sporting addictions.

Yet this year, while many Fukuians have been rejoicing because of the lack of snow and unbelievably warm temperatures (+11 degrees Celsius in JANUARY!!!), I have been as miserable as the Grinch before Christmas.  It was nearing February and I hadn’t made it to the mountains so much as once because the snow had been so pathetically non-existant. So, just as the Grinch hatched a daring and devious plan, so did I.  I plotted to escape the warm Fukui with my favorite cohort in crime Lizzy. We gathered a group of good friends and decided to go in search of snow. Our destination was Hakuba, Nagano which was home to the winter Olympics in 1988. I had been to Hakuba before and loved it, so we coordinated the trip and set off.

I just about wept tears of frustration upon arriving in Hakuba. Within minutes of chatting up a few people in our hostel I knew we had chosen the wrong weekend to come. Hakuba’s snow conditions were suffering too from lack of snow, which goes to prove that even the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray. My friend Stuart and I quickly started asking the Hakuba locals about our best options for the weekend, ultimately settling on a mountain called Cortina because it was settled in a valley. It also offered a kick-ass package deal if you presented a coupon (ask your hotel to get one) which included a day pass + lunch coupon for 1,000yen + onsen ticket for only 3,500 yen! It was a total steal, so hop on that deal if you go! nagano 2While the conditions of Cortina were only so-so it was still a great day boarding. Our decision to go here turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Our group was split pretty evenly between expert snowboarders and beginners so Cortina offered the opportunity to continuously meet up here and there, because it was much smaller than Hakuba 47 & Goryu (where we had originally intended to go boarding). Therefore I’d really recommend Cortina if you’re going with a group of mixed abilities. In particular, this mountain was great for beginner-level boarders.nagano 5 nagano 6All in all you couldn’t have asked for a better day in terms of weather. It was a robin’s egg blue sky and warm enough I saw quite a few people snowboarding without their jackets.nagano 1 nagano 4 We did a few warm-up runs together as a group, before the expert boarders headed off on our own little adventure.  At first I took this photo because I was laughing at how the run was warning it was “expert-level” because it wasn’t groomed (face palm, this really is a beginner-level mountain lol), it was only when posting this on the blog I noticed it was “expert onry”….ooooooh Japan, I love you and your “Engrish” nagan 7While boarding these “expert-level” runs, (which weren’t anything close to the Canadian-level black diamond I was expecting, they were much easier) we got the most spectacular panorama views of the day.nagano 8 nagano 3We met up with the beginners and I gave Lizzy a few tips and pointers on carving and turning. She was having a blast on Cortina as a beginner so I was happy!nagano 10For the final run before lunch, while the sun was still shinning on that part of the valley keeping the snow soft, my only other friend who likes expert-level runs and I decided to try our hand at the most challenging run on Cortina (Run #2). It was steep but if you’ve boarded black diamond runs in North America, then you’d be fine. It was a little icy but it was a good challenge so I had a blast!nagano 9After a late lunch we headed out for a few more runs as a group on the other far left side of the mountain. Fun fun fun!nagano 12At 4:00 we finished up so that people in the group could return their rental gear in time and afterwards headed off to the onsen to get all squeaky-clean for the night’s activities and fun.

If you’re looking for the best place to chill out after a day hitting the slopes it’s Tracks Bar. They had great live music, a pool table, reasonably priced drinks and a great atmosphere. Good craic all around!IMG_2360The best part of the night for me was getting to meet an old friend there. We were childhood friends back in Calgary, Canada and he recently moved to Japan for a co-op program just outside of Tokyo. I debated inviting him along on this trip because I know how much he loves snowboarding but it would have been so last minute I decided not to ask and stress him out. We skyped the weekend before however, and it was such a crazy coincidence, because he told me HE was going to Hakuba the following weekend too! We agreed we definitely had to meet up for a beer that night at Tracks. nagano harryI was absolutely delighted to see him when he got there. Is there anything cooler that getting to meet up with an old friend from home, after an awesome day boarding, in a foreign country, when coincidence would have it you both planned a boarding trip to the same mountain? I don’t think so. Talk about it really being a small world after all!

For further information coordinating your own trip to Hakuba, I posted some useful websites below:

  • Mountain: Cortina (about a 20-30 minute drive from Jimmy’s House)
  • Accommodation: Jimmy’s House (3,500 yen/night, English-friendly reservation, awesome staff)
  • Best bar in Hakuba: Tracks Bar (great atmosphere, on nights with a live event cover is 1,000 yen, 5-min walk from Jimmy’s House, foreigner friendly)
Categories: Life in Japan, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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