Man... I just had an awesome jaunt through Japan. I misunderstood a web page I read and thought that we had to pay $280 for a week long subway pass. I knew Tokyo was really expensive, so I didn't question it. The only problem was that this mysterious train pass could only be bought in certain cities, none of which are in Japan. One such city was San Jose, where our stopover was, so we picked up two passes then. As it turns out they only work on some of the subways, but they do work in almost all of the trains that take you between different Japanese cities. Once we realized this, we planned the Ultimate Japanese Day Trip (tm).
- First we took an overnight train from Tokyo to Kyoto. Once we got out of the train we saw a huge mass of school kids going to school. Naturally, we followed them. Their walk to school includes walking through a shrine every day. How cool is that? Here's a picture of me at the shrine :
And here's another one.
We got to the school, but a very friendly teacher told us that we couldn't go in today because they were doing standardized testing. He wasn't at all phased that two strange looking white guys had followed a herd of kids half their size to school.
We turned around and caught a bus to Kinkaku-ju, which is a huge temple completely covered in gold leaf. Don't believe me? Check it out :
It was further away than we had expected, so our schedule got messed up and we missed the train we wanted to take. Instead we had to pay a little bit extra to go on the Nozomi Shinkansen - the fastest train in the land (that may not be true, but it is the fastest public train in Japan). It was cool. Here are some pictures of that
We took the Nozomi to Kobe, for one reason only. We wanted to eat real Kobe beef in Kobe. For those that don't know, Kobe beef is the best beef ever. The cows are a special breed that have perfectly marbled fat, and they are fed good diets, given tons of room to roam, and are massaged every day. Read about it in Wikipedia if you want.
We found a very highly regarded Kobe restaurant and went for lunch. It was spectacular. The table had a grill right in front of us where the chef cooked the beef as we watched. To give you an idea of how extravagant it was, I'll just tell you about the garlic.
The garlic was sliced into uniformly sized wafer thin pieces. The chef monitored each and every one and flipped them several times individually to make sure they were perfectly golden brown on each side. It was totally insane. After all the garlic was finished he inspected it and cooked one piece further that wasn't brown enough.
The beef was cut into bite sized chunks and each chunk was cooked like a little mini steak. Some we ate plain, some we dipped into soy-mustard sauce, some we ate with salt and/or pepper, and others with garlic. It was amazing. They also served soup, salad, smoked salmon, green tea, and six different kinds of vegetables and tofu. It was one of the best meals I've ever had
After our lunch we took another bullet train to Hiroshima. We visited a building that was still left partially standing after the blast, saw the memorial, and toured the A Bomb museum. It was pretty interesting to hear about the whole thing from the Japanese perspective. The best exhibit was a set of two scale models of Hiroshima and the surrounding area. One showed Hiroshima the day before the blast, and the other showed it afterwards. Seeing how 99.9% of EVERYTHING was destroyed was pretty astonishing.
For dinner we went to a very strange place. Three stories of a huge building in downtown Hiroshima are taken up by little restaurants. What's so strange about that? THEY ALL SERVE THE SAME THING. Seriously... no exceptions. Some were packed, some had one or two people, some had no people. We looked through all three floors and finally picked one that had a lot of Japanese people. They must know something.
The food item they make is a weird Japanese quesadilla thing. On the bottom is a thin savory pancake, and on the top is an egg, and in between is meat (no specification on what kind), lettuce, soba noodles, sprouts, onions, sauce, and possibly some other things. It was good, and a fun experience to see the cook make it in front of you. For some reason all of the Japanese people at the table laughed at us several times. This isn't an isolated occurrance.
After dinner we walked around and checked out the city. We went through a few stores looking for the hilarious "Engrish" t-shirts everyone wears. I spent $15 or so in coins trying to get a shirt out of a claw machine that said "luxury beauty life".
Finally we made it to the train station to reserve our seats back to Tokyo. The only problem? We didn't understand the web site and didn't realize that only sleeper trains were going back to Tokyo. Our passes didn't cover sleeper cars, so we'd have to pay $100 each. We tried to find an alternate route, but with no internet and no common language with the ticket counter guy, we resigned to paying. At the last second he told us that there was a direct train to Tokyo which we wouldn't have to pay extra for. Its hours were perfect, which seemed strange. I hadn't seen this train online. We hastily agreed to take that train, got our tickets, and headed for the track.
After a few minutes the train pulled into the station. It was taller than most trains, and looking through the windows revealed that at least some of the cars were sleeper cars. We got in the train to discover that we had little beds! The ticket guy hooked us up!
For about $3, we each bought a shower card and got to take a shower on a moving train! It was awesome. The next morning we arrived in Tokyo clean and well rested for another adventure... which I'll write about next time...