Monday, July 06, 2015

Vegetarian in Japan

After a few days in Tokyo, we moved on to beautiful Kyoto. We arrived in the afternoon and it was raining, so we had a bit of downtime, and enjoyed the different feeling of our ryokan room - tatami mat floor, sliding screens between room areas. Some of us dragged multiple spare mats from the cupboard to make their beds more cushy.

Sleeping on the floor was actually pretty comfortable, until the morning I happened to roll over and stretch while half awake around 5am and pulled a muscle in my neck. The next couple of days were a bit painful.

Overall the stay in the ryokan was lovely, but after three nights I was ready to return to a western style hotel. Stern warnings about spilling any fluids (tell us right away! it will damage the tatami!) or dragging suitcases on the floor, the feeling that we needed to leave our things tidy and each of the screen doors closed when we went out, all made me feel a bit anxious.

But back to that first evening. After a lounging couple of hours writing postcards and drinking green tea, we started to think about dinner and so we went out to wander the immediate neighbourhood.

Now, we are not serious foodies (I'm definitely not, anyway) and we never did any research or planned or booked anywhere. We always just wandered, and chose somewhere that looked good. It was helpful, but not essential, when they had an English menu displayed or at least a menu with pictures.

The vast majority of meals we ate during the whole two weeks in Japan were really good to amazing quality, and usually quite cheap as well. We learned to clumsily navigate a couple of complications in ordering, one of which was my stubborn vegetarianism.

I know some people make exceptions when they travel, in part to experience other cultures more fully and to enjoy the experience. I get it, but I also can't imagine doing this myself. I did a little research beforehand and I learned a few words to explain, and I don't think I ever had to go to quite the lengths that one website recommended, to specify: "I don't eat meat or fish or ham or bacon or chicken etc".

fancy food
Sashimi - not mine.

sit at counter
The place we happened upon that rainy night in Kyoto turned out to be amazing. As we didn't have a booking, they regretted that they could only seat us at the counter. We ended up thinking we had the best seats in the house, because the chef was working right in front of us and he was an artist to watch.

I was so surprised to see that the menu included a vegetarian version of the multi course set meal that I ordered it (around $50 - I'd expect the equivalent in Australia to be much more than that). My sister went with a set meal too.

Delicately arranged tofu, with wasabi. This might be the only time I ate tofu in Japan. Maybe it's true that tofu is usually part of meat dishes, not seen as an alternative.

Grill I'm always suspicious of those cook it yourself deals. Why would I want to pay to cook it myself? (I know, I'm lazy) This one was part of my sister's meal. In fact, though the grill was placed in front of her, the restaurant staff were very attentive and mostly cooked and served the food for her.

I had one of these things too - mine had a pot of water with tofu, mushrooms and greens. And a wire scoop to pluck items out and dunk them in my sauce.

There were plenty of shallots and crunchy seaweed to go with it, too.


This was the most delicate tempura. All of the tempura I had in Japan was better than any I've had in Australia. And this was the pinnacle, I think. I actually had tempura at an old local favourite the other day and it just didn't do it for me any more.

I was too busy eating to photograph everything, but I think there was at least one more savoury dish, and dessert too. It might have been green tea sorbet.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Visit to the cat cafe

P6090543 P

Here is a very Japanese thing we did in Kyoto.

While researching where to go knitting and craft shopping, I had heard that Tokyu Hands department store in Ikebukuro features a 'cat house' floor. I thought that would be interesting to see, but we ended up going to the Shinjuku branch instead.


Apparently the cat cafe concept isn't original to Japan but has really taken off there, partly because many people live in small apartments not really suitable for keeping pets. It's clear that cats are pretty important and well loved in Japan and we encountered friendly cats in some public places like the garden at the Hotel New Otani, plus of course cat motifs and cute cat merchandise everywhere (not limited to Hello Kitty).

At my sister's urging we did try one cafe several floors up a high rise in Shinjuku, but it was booked out for the next few hours.

Cat cafe

A few days later in Kyoto, we just happened to wander past this one. We went in and paid a modest fee for half an hour, and we had the place to ourselves.

There were plenty of cats in the room, most of them lounging or sleeping in baskets and cardboard cylinder beds (what is it with cats and cardboard?)

up high

hanging out up high


studiously ignoring us (probably hoping the next visitor would bring food)

 under sink

This one stayed here under the sink the whole time.
making coffee

There was some interest when my coffee arrived and I added milk.


 fave and finally our little favourite, with tiny ears, climbed onto my lap when I sat down on the floor. small ears  And now, just this week, look at the news in my hometown:

Capital Cat Cafe Canberra hopes to features cats named in honour of former parliamentarians.

I think Julia Gillard is an excellent name for a cat.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

I love, love, love having a big city to explore


And Tokyo is truly, by anyone's standards, a big city. As I had never been to Japan before, everything was interesting, new and different, everywhere we went and (almost) everywhere I pointed my camera.

Quite near where we were staying, we came across the Benkei Fishing Club in Akasaka.


Fishing Club, Akasaka, Tokyo

What is now a pond for boating was once part of an old castle moat.


Fishing Club, Akasaka, Tokyo

My wonderful sister, bless her, was much better at planning than me, and always carried a Rough Guide or two. The Tokyo one tipped us off to the gorgeous secluded garden at the Hotel New Otani.


Hotel New Otani garden
The garden is actually hundreds of years older than the 1960's hotel. Part of what made it a bit magical was that you couldn't just access it from outside - we went up a couple of floors from the hotel entry level and wandered a ways through the building to get there.
Koi in the garden at the Hotel New Otani, Tokyo

There were several friendly cats roaming the garden, and lots of colourful koi in the water.

P6060417 O on bridge


from Tokyo Metro Government Building

The next day we went to Shinjuku. First destination was the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building, which has observation decks on the 45th floor. You can see a whole lot of Tokyo from 202 metres up. Apparently you can also see Mt Fuji, but it wasn't clear enough for that the day we were there.

Yoyogi park

While there are one or two other, higher, Tokyo towers, this one charges no admission fee, and we had other business in Shinjuku anyway. We had loose plans to stop in Harajuku on the way back as well, but sort of ran out of time - the closest we got was this view of Yoyogi Park (the big green area in the photo above).


Also Shinjuku

Our other business - the many floors of craft and haberdashery that is Okadaya - required getting from the west side of the massive Shinjuku train station to the east side. It was frustrating, but I'm not sure there is any simple way to do it. Although they do directional signs, even in English/Rōmaji, pretty well in stations (and in Japan in general) it's just really hard to find a straight path through a complex station, and avoid paying for trains you aren't going to catch.


By the time we made it out to the correct exit and fresh air, we had picked up lunch/snacks on our way through the station, and were really hungry. We had already worked out that eating on the street is not really done, but resigned ourselves to attracting some stares by eating while leaning on a railing outside the station. It's funny, there is lots of really, great, cheap convenience food available but I guess it's intended for taking home/to the office/eating on the train (though not, it appears, the metro).


During our two weeks such etiquette matters came up a bit. Japan just seems so polite and conservative in many ways (though I'm aware there are all sorts of undercurrents and countercultures), Though it felt like odd tourist behaviour would be pretty well tolerated (within limits I'm sure), we still were probably overly aware of how we were different. We'd catch ourselves talking/laughing on the metro, taking silly photos...

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The way people dress is pretty conservative too. As well as not wearing very tight clothes, I noticed that most women showed very little skin, wearing flesh coloured hose and socks even in very warm weather (and even sometimes with shorts!) Our summer clothes were nowhere near indecent, but we often felt less covered up than the average Japanese lady. Also less dressy - it seemed that people don't just dress up for work but also for almost any outing (eg) a day trip to an island involving a lot of walking, climbing stairs - the kind of thing Australians would probably dress most casually for.

  In Shinjuku

string shop quartet

A crowd had gathered outside this violin shop to listen to the quartet playing inside, facing the window, with speakers on the outside.


Thursday, June 25, 2015

Three Sherwoods went to Japan

Bicycle, Akasaka
The idea of a trip to Japan with my Mum and my sister first came up a few years ago, and we talked idly about it a few times but never really came up with a plan or a schedule. Until the day a clever someone found us an amazing deal with a budget airline and it was too good an opportunity to miss.

In our first few days in Tokyo we marveled at everything.

We admired the lack of rubbish and the amount of greenery everywhere in very urban areas which we expected to be a concrete jungle.

P6050299 greenery

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We also admired the space-saving carparks.

P6050307 carpark

We walked past a whole lot of dried fish. There was a strong aroma.

P6050308 dried fish We picked out a few different districts to explore, some with more success than others. Shimokitazawa provided a very pleasant half day of wandering, taking photos and of course op/vintage shopping. (Sherwoods can't resist an op shop.) P6060354 flamingo P6060384 Shimo P6060389 P

Sunday, May 03, 2015

I think I'll retire this pattern now

L shawl This is my fourth and final Chadwick. I've actually loved making each one, and was delighted to make this for my aunt. But now, anyone else who likes it and wants one can knit it for themselves!

The first, I still love and wear a lot

The second was for Mum and I think she's worn hers a lot too.

The third was very similar to the second, because Mum's friend coveted hers - and I struck a good labour-exchange deal with Mum for the knitting of that one.

For this one I used some very long-stashed Knittery hand dyed merino-cashmere for the darker colour, and soft red baby wool for the contrast. I hope this doesn't go too fluffy. The dark red zarina which we initially picked out for this project ended up not offering enough contrast against the purplish stuff, it was too much towards maroon itself.

Shawl for L

Monday, March 30, 2015

Yoga on the grass, bats in the daytime, bluegrass antics

We started our Saturday with a yoga class - my first time ever.  I think these sessions have been part of the festival for years, but it took being with a friend who loves yoga to convince me to give it a go. I've done lots of stretching classes that draw on some yoga poses so it wasn't totally unfamiliar territory. I gather it was also a pretty easy class, which makes sense given the setting. We didn't have mats but it was quite nice just on the grass, under the huge Moreton Bay Figs.

Emma Swift singing, Robyn Hitchcock playing guitar and singing

Emma Swift and Robyn Hitchcock sang lots of sad songs together. Somewhat of an 'odd couple' on paper (British psych-folk meets young Americana).. and they sounded great. This year each show at 'Speakers Corner' during the daylight hours was punctuated by the sound of a large colony of bats having their sleep disrupted, right above the stage. I felt bad for them and hope they were able to recover their normal sleeping habits after the four days of the festival.

All four members of 'Gordie MacKeeman and his Rhythm Boys,' gathered close and playing drum, double bass, violin and guitar
Gordie MacKeeman and his Rhythm Boys, a bluegrass group from Prince Edward Island, Canada. (Most famous, at least to me, as the home of Anne of Green Gables). These guys were high energy bluegrass players - can't go far wrong there - plus Gordie had some sweet 'rubbery legs' dance moves. Overall they were super fun to photograph as well as to listen to. At the end of the show I came back from the dusty, stomping, dancing front part of the crowd to where my friends were further back - and found a certain someone asleep in her chair! I'm a pretty good sleeper, but still have no idea how that could happen.

Gordie MacKeeman plays violin holding it behind his back.

One thing I missed with the camera, possibly I was too busy gasping, was when the bass dramatically *broke* during the very entertaining 'two guys play one instrument' bit (I've seen this done occasionally before, not with a double bass, though it's an obvious contender, being kinda big.) SO, suddenly, the tailpiece just flew away and was dangling off the end of the strings. The other two hastily picked a new song to play, just on violin and guitar, while the two bass players hustled off to the side of the very small stage. And in a very short time they returned with the very same instrument apparently as good as new, and the band picked up more or less where they had left off with the previous piece - yes, with the two playing the bass together again.

Two musicians both playing the double bass at the same time

And then the bass was further abused for our amusement!

Gordie plays violin while standing on top of the double bass, tipped on its side and supported by the musician playing it.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Womadelaide 2015: it's not over til it's blogged!

It's nearly April, very nearly Easter and time for the National Folk Festival - but first, a bit of time to remember Womadelaide 2015, early March, and the tenth time I have been to this wonderful festival.
So, a few pictures from Friday night:
The photo shows Margaret Leng Tan kneeling at her toy piano and brandishing two children's toys (perhaps hammers or rattles), one with a smiley face on it.
Margaret Leng Tan is described as avant garde. The toy pianos were interesting enough, but I admit I didn't get very engaged in the show until the final five minutes or so, when she performed (with an amusing introduction) a super-short take on Wagner's Ring cycle.
Distant shot of Margaret Leng Tan on stage, kneeling with her back facing the audience, wearing a novelty horned helmet to play her short version of Wagner's Ring cycle.

The members of Fanfare Ciocarlia, most playing brass instruments, bathed in bright colourful stage light.

Fanfare Ciocarlia is a high-energy Romanian gypsy group. The blurb said though they tour the world regularly, they remain in high demand for weddings in their home town.  Definitely would make for a fun wedding party.

A closer shot of some of the members of Fanfare Ciocarlia while playing.

And finally, Mr Rufus Wainwright. One of those artists I have always intended to give some time to (Martha also) but it hadn't happened yet. I wasn't going to miss this opportunity for a live introduction, and I am so glad!

Rufus Wainwright singing and playing guitar
When he spoke, he was a little hyper, on edge, at first maybe a bit focused on the idea of 'world music' (and reading between the lines, questioning did he fit as part of that scene?) Then as soon as he stopped speaking and started playing and singing, he was so assured and confident. Such an interesting transformation to observe. Obviously a very experienced and assured performer.

I thoroughly enjoyed the show, which included his sister Lucy Wainwright Roche for a few songs (including Hallelujah). Not being familiar with his voice (I know, I know!) I was reminded early on of another Canadian singer, Ron Sexsmith; but also caught a bit of the Elton John thing as well.

Rufus Wainwright playing guitar and singing