This blog features food, fun and festivals. Well in Japan that's many days.
But our Couchsurfing Host Aki's pretty extraordinary. We can tell you he's overly generous, humble, non-confrontational, etc to a fault (more later). But he's on a mission to spread Couchsurfing across Japan. He's got a blog going and a book deal about CS lined up. Couchsurfing is just so un-Japanese. There aren't many hosts, and the idea of letting strangers, smelly foreigners at that, into your home, when you wouldn't even entertain your own friends...well that's just so American.
The Japanese colonized Korea, invaded China and did lots of nasty stuff. My mom reeeeeally didn't want me going to Japan and remembers the war like the Japanese are still down the street ( so you better eat all you can, and as fast as you can)
And of course China for its part are ostentatious bullies with the manners of village rats.
The Koreans inflicted thundersticks on the world and has the unfortunate bad luck of being caught between China, Russia, Japan and North Korea.
We don't historically get along and Aki wants to be part of changing that. So far he's done his part.
He schooled us on good local eats.
Like this udon place. Dude on left rolls out dough and cuts noodles. Dude up front cooks the noodle, the ladies do the tempura and handle the cash. Three bowls of in house made noodles with tempura fish, veggies, some shrimp.... $20. Gotta love going local.
The 2nd night we hit an izakabaya...devouring, whole baby shrimp, fatty tuna, mackerel, yakitori, fish cake and loads of stuff we happily destroyed.
He also took us to another off the gringo track a country tea house for 'brunch', overlooking a stream.
But we schooled him on Couchsurfing etiquette and he even posted our rules on his blog (amen lo.jp/fine-connector). He'd hosted probably a hundred people, going out of his way, spending wads of dough and time. No no no ...we explained how some people were exploiting his generosity and being disrespectful. He's so Japanese in that common courtesy and absolute consideration for others is a given, so it's difficult to acknowledge and see that others might take advantage of such dignity and respect towards others. But he has now learned to say no and doesn't feel obliged to feed everybody he takes in.
Kurashiki isn't on the gringo trail, but the Chinese (who are everywhere) and the locals are here en masse. Why not? It's got a compact historical area on a willow lined canal that's drop dead gorgeous.
While in Venice, we cheaped out and skipped on the 100 euro gondola ride. Here it was 11 bucks for 20 minutes, hat included.
Another reason to come to Kurashiki was several fall festivals.
Here ppl go around bopping others on the head, symbolizing the importance of education.
Every fall merchants and prominent homes display family screen doors and paintings.
In the evening free folk performances with historical themes, took place at one of the temples.
We think all this dancing is part of Shinto, the natural indigenous religion. It has no fixed dogma or book, no holiest place, no person or kami regarded as the holiest, and no defined set of prayers. Instead, Shinto is a collection of rituals and methods meant to regulate the relations between living people and the spirits.
The main theme in the Shinto religion is love and reverence for nature and tradition, so rituals rule.
It all started well--colourful costumes, authentic music....but it went on and on and on, and on. Most of it repetitive and endless.
Except for the tiger dances with an athleticism and precision absent in many Chinese lion dances.
And then there was one of the highlights of our trip...Taiko Drummers. We've heard troupes from Toronto and Ottawa but nothing prepared us for the thunderous precision of these cats. Even Aki had never heard anything so good.
This was a highly anticipated day on bikes, island hopping from the main island and Honshu to Shikoku, the latter was too far and quite frankly, much of the landscape was heavily pockmarked with shipyards, heavy industry and industrial blight. Other adventurous souls ( you listening, Marc?) can do the 65km one way on rented 10'speeds, good luck with that. I got halfway and took the sardine ferry back to the mainland.
We did however find small pleasures in scarecrows and the spectacular bridges connecting the islands.
Just reopened after five years of restorations to the main keep, Himeji Castle is THE castle of castles in Japan.
Modern in construction because of the stone and rifle slits, it's walls are framed with bamboo, then slathered with thick layers of dried mud before plastering of up to 45cm in places, making it rain and fire proof. Its supposed to resemble a white egret, and the gleaming white is an in your face to all the wannabes below.
The crowds were among the thickest in Japan, making this a possible miss destination, unless you're crazy about castles.
We're always in search of the ultimate ramen, and have it about every third day. This was decent, 4 stars.
Trish had her soya base ramen with roast pork, I go for the heavier miso based bowl...both made by Jerry Lewis, as the Geisha Boy.
Not all toilets come with a heated seat and warm water sprays, some are just down home refined holes in the ground...with instructions.