Day-trip from Tokyo: Odawara castle

Day-trip from Tokyo: Odawara castle

[[Featured image: The Tora (tiger) sign of the Odawara castle.]
[[Image Gallery follows]

It’s been a week now that a university friend is visiting me in Tokyo. He couldn’t have picked a worse time possible. The start of the year comes bearing fruits: progress reports, presentations, assignments, and so on. Nevertheless, I have to be a good host and entertain my valued visitor, haven’t I? So, one of events that we schedule was a visit the the Odawara castle in Kanagawa, combined with a short visit to Hakone.

Odawara used to be a powerful city, home of the Houjou clan, that controlled a large part of the Kanto area. The castle was thought to be impenetrable. Then the feudal lords started fighting among each other and hell broke loose. At the battle for the siege of Odawara (which at that time had a coat of arms similar to the Legend of Zelda logo), Odawara castle was sieged by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. For some obscure reason, the soldiers from the disbanded odawara army continued to fight under different clans, while disclosing the castles defense techniques to their new generals, even though the castle did fall to the enemy [because the defense was THAT cool, huh]. Apart from the castle, the main attractions in the vicinity include the seashore and the onsen (hot springs) in Yugawara.

As soon as we got off at the train station (super easy to get there with JR) we realized that we were hungry. Abiding by the rule ‘no money, no honey’ , we bought cheap sushi bentos and headed straight to the castle, only to stop and eat them outside the main gate. Suddenly, a young lady with a cute child comes talk to us first in English and after judging our ability, in Japanese. I was quite surprised to come across that level of good English (not common for Japanese people) and judging by my prior experience of enthusiastic people of all ages that want to introduce every nook and cranny of Japanese culture and customs to foreigners, we started a long conversation. She offered to show us the castle, and then a small Buddhist temple that had a valuable but unknown statue of Buddha and also teach us some kind of ritual writing. Normally, my head should have started flashing and ding-donging at the first 5 minutes, but my trust in Japanese people must have disarmed the proselytism alarm. We suggested going first to the Buddha and then to the castle, so that we have more time for the later. As we were walking, phrases like ‘The only true god is Buddha and that specific prayer’ and ‘we have so many wars in the world because of all the false religions’ started to appear, managing to re-arm the alarm, and eventually make me excuse myself tactfully. Conclusion: Don’t trust young English-speaking ladies with cute children, they only want to save your soul.

Soon after, we were heading once again towards the castle. This time, we managed to get inside without distractions. It is not as huge and imposing as the medieval castles of the West, but it had a certain charm. White and plain, it looked pretty under the blue sky. We bought a 800yen joint ticket for the castle, the museum and the samurai museum. The exhibits were not so impressive. The important part for me was the castle architecture itself and the wonderful view of both the sea and the Hakone mountainous area, which made clear in mind why that clan had such a power in their hands. However, at that exact moment, I also noticed the smoke of a forest fire on the mountain side and the fire-brigade moving hastily to the rescue. I heard no news about anything serious, and we visited Hakone soon afterwards, so I guess it was not a matter of concern after all. Regarding Hakone, we followed the obvious and usual approach: First visit lake Ashinoko to get a perfect view of Fuji and the red torii gate, and then go to Hakoneyumoto to enjoy onsen. We visited Izumi (和泉) onsen [~1300yen per person], but I consider the onsen at Yoshiike (吉池旅館) hotel [~2000yen per person] a wonderful choice (too many ladies with kimonos in the lounge – I was feeling too dirty and lowly at that point, I wanted to avoid any fanciness). The evening ended with dinner at a restaurant close-by, with tonkatsu and salmon dishes, although when asked for ramen, the onsen receptionist recommended Nisshintei (ハイカラ中華 日清亭).


Fun Japanese history facts:

  • The 3 big unifiers of Japan are Nobunaga, Hideyoshi and Ieyasu. There is a phrase  that describes the relationships among each-other:  “織田がつき 羽柴がこねし 天下餅 座りしままに 食うは徳川 – Nobunaga pounds the national rice cake, Hideyoshi kneads it, and in the end Ieyasu sits down and eats it.”

  • Hideyoshi was a nameless peasant that turned to one of Nobunaga’s top generals. But when he rose into power he passed a law that banned class mobility. The samurai right became permanent and heritable.

  • Ieyasu grew up as hostage of Nobunaga’s Oda clan, but despite their rivalry, eventually they became strong allies.

  • Nobunaga had a younger sister. The sister had 3 daughters. One, Chacha, married Hideyoshi. One, O-Hatsu, married Kyogoku Takatsugu (another warlord). One, O-go, married Hidetada, Ieyasu’s son and Tokugawa shogunate heir. But Chacha and O-go’s children, Hideyori and Senhime, married each other. Even in hardships, Nobunaga’s bloodline remained strong and continued to flow quietly underground towards high power concentration.

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Japanese foodporn (part 3) with goodies: What to eat/drink in Okinawa + Random 100yen shop beauty products

Japanese foodporn (part 3) with goodies: What to eat/drink in Okinawa + Random 100yen shop beauty products

Pretty much only one thing happened during the past days: rain. So it was a great opportunity for me to start experimenting with Japanese cooking. The results were satisfying, so I’ll try to keep up the pace and try to get better! The recipes that weren’t improvised, were successful thanks to japanesecooking101. Pro tip: Be extremely careful when you buy the ingredients; the contents may look the same, the kanji may look the same, BUT it’s highly possible that it’s NOT the same.

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Avocado-Chicken with Korean noodles

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Japanese satsuma sweet potato a la amani (basically boiled in sugar syrup) [recipe here]

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An awful lot of ingredients here – I mixed up too many things together, but at least it was eatable; salmon flakes, avocado, bean sprouts, fermented bamboo shoots (menma), red ginger (紅ショウガ), some king of transparent noodles made of kudzu starch (くずきり) which I accidentally bought instead of bean threads (春雨) – I wanted to make this cooling salad .

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Trying to make gyoza. I made it using a filling with minced pork meat, cabbage, green onion etc. The folding is tricky at the beginning, but ‘practice makes perfect’. In the background: Vietnamese ‘Nem’ cooked by my roommate, and an episode of ‘Rick and Morty’. I had to spend my time resourcefully, considering I was making gyoza, tsukune and greek meatballs all at once.

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Special Halloween KitKat with caramel pudding flavor: The individual packages came with cute little messages like ‘thank you!’, ‘sorry’, ‘you can do it’, ‘good job’, ‘of course’ & ‘friends’

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Special edition Milk Tea with Princess Ariel and her sisters, from Disney’s ‘Little Mermaid’

PLUS: What to eat in okinawa

  • サーターアンダギー(saataa andagii): something like doughnut, with brown sugar coating
  • 紅イモ(beni imo) tarts/soft cream/kitkat/everything: purple yam flavour
  • タコライス(tako rice): doesn’t have any actual taco(octopus) and comes in a lot of variations with avocado, tomato , etc
  • ソーキそば(sokisoba): soba served containing giant lumps of meat
  • ゴーヤチャンプルー(goya champuru): omelette style dish with the okinawan cucumber(goya), tofu, pork etc
  • Orion beer: the local beer, they advertise it everywhere, and comes in 3-4 variations
  • さんぴん茶: jasmine tea, but it’s supposed to be a special okinawan blend that offers longelivity
  • シークワーサー・パッションフルーツ・マンゴ・グアバ お酒 (flat lemon/passion fruit/mango/guava drinks):local alcoholic cocktail canned drinks with tropical fruit flavours
  • 泡盛(awamori): the local alcoholic drink (around 25%), resembling shochu in terms of production, as it is a product of distillation

EXTRA SECTION: Cosmetics

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Silicon covers for relaxing and hydrating the feet

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Concentrated facial masks; I saw them for a first time, and tried to infuse one with the Kose ‘Sekkisei herbal gel’, with satisfying results

Thoughts on climbing Mt. Fuji (富士登山)

Thoughts on climbing Mt. Fuji (富士登山)

Hey there! How was your summer vacation? Mine was quite floppy, as it was inconveniently interrupted by my entrance exams (check out anxiety lair post).

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Nevertheless, end of August is a relatively good time to visit Mt. Fuji. Considering that the main paths are open to the public only ~2months in the summer, it’s a shame not to arrange a plan to visit. As a matter of fact, it turns out that climbing to Mt. Fuji summit is some kind of pilgrimage, sought after both by Japanese people and foreign tourists. Almost half of the climbing crowd was short term staying foreigners, some of them awfully under-prepared for the weather conditions and the mountainous/volcanic ground. On the other hand, I met a lot of old Japanese people who are recurring visitors every summer for an impressive number of years.

So, the big question is, how was it? I’ll be honest, not bad – but not as good as I expected. The natural beauty was breathtaking, the sunset and sunrise sky colors, the red and black volcanic dirt, the clouds riding on the mountain slopes.. but the experience as a whole left me unsatisfied. Surprisingly, I can pinpoint the reason why quite clearly: too many people up there. Having a huge crowd is good for events like parties and concerts and parades, but for nature appreciation? Ehm, not so much, to say the least. Fuji is imposing and inspiring, but not unmatched in terms of natural beauty. Add up the huge, noisy, smelly, annoying crowd, and there you have it; a magnificently unique experience for all the wrong reasons.

Time for tips: Going there on the weekend may have contributed a lot to my not-so-good experience, so I strongly suggest weekdays at the beginning or end of the visiting seasons to anyone who is interested in getting there. Don’t worry too much about food; the higher you climb, the higher the cup noodles price climbs, but the overall provision prices are not prohibitive to buy. Bring an awful lot of warm and waterproof clothes. If you go for the sunrise, it means you’ll climb during nighttime. When you are moving, everything is fine, but when you decide to sit and rest, the low temperature hits you – HARD. Patches like kairo (カイロ) can keep you warm, and usually you can by at the huts, if need be. Extra socks, so that you can change your sweaty wet ones and spare your feet of some chilliness, is a wise idea. Headlight: useful. Hiking sticks: necessary for going down – the ground is slippery and knee-hurting. Oxygen can: did nothing for me. As a 2 decades long Japanese path guide told me: ‘Don’t hurry to get up, walk slowly with a steady pace, don’t take a break, just move with small steps and always choose small inclination slopes instead of stair steps. Stretch your legs and body minimally, and you’ll be surprised when you see that you arrived to the summit before all the rushed youngsters.” That being said, a path guide is absolutely not necessary. The mountain paths are properly signed, and just following the crowd will suffice. There are not many places to go on a bald mountain side.  When you see big organized groups about to set out, set out before them, some parts of the path are narrow, and the last thing you want is to be trapped in one of them. Be prepared for a lingering smell of human byproducts near the toilets – you can’t expect a pine tree fragrance when you have a toilet in the middle of nowhere with nothing but lava rocks around you. Also, by witnessing both sunset and sunrise, I recommend going for the sunset. The reddish colors are stunning, more impressive than the sunrise orange ones, and the hike will all-in-all be easier. Climbing from the easily accessible Yoshida trail is of moderate difficulty, so even inexperienced, hiking first-timers will be just fine, with only some leg discomfort in the following days. Think about the ~70yo Japanese security guards, climbing up and down around 3 a.m., controlling the crowd flow at 3.400m by lively yelling ‘5 minutes more to the top, guys, 10 if you do it slowly, move on move on, you can do it!’ . If the super genki ojiisans can do that without breaking a sweat, you can at least reach the top, right?

Now, now, enjoy some representative shots!
 (Photo credits also go to Yili-san and Dara-san)

Drink-related random rants

Drink-related random rants

The past weeks were so full of trips and outings, that I feel like staying in for a week is the best way to go, which is pretty strange, because if you know me, you also know that I NEVER do that! Anyway, baito is fun, meeting new people is fun, drinking with new people from the baito is even better. Here follows a petite introduction to some random drinks etc that I came across last week and attracted my attention.

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Lab party with random japanese and finnish drinks. I tried to google translate the contents of jaloviina, but the only thing I got was “jumbo jumbo jumbo jumbo jumbo”.

 

How NOT to make toast bread. Attempt #1: put ham and cheese, text for a while and you get this magnificent colourful result. Attempt #2: re-do by putting nothing on top, and get a DIY world’s blackest black easily at home.

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Frula pear soda. It took me a while to figure out how to de-attach the ball on the cap. This thing needs strength!  But the drink was all about the looks after all, nothing special regarding the content.

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Precure donuts from Mr. Donut. Comes with marshmallow ears and smarties-style eyes and cheeks. The strawberry flavour of the topping hits your nostrils right away!

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New Zealand red IPA beer. I adooored the smell, it was perfect for a cool summer evening. And the taste was also full of fruit flavors. Highly Recommended! (Also, I don’t know if it was intended but the name sounds like “Little  -grim- ripper” to me)

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How to properly drink nihonshuu. 1) Put a shot glass inside a square box. 2) Fill the shot glass with sake, let it overflow until it fills the box to the brim as well. 3) Drink from the shot glass and then drink from the box as well. 4) Triple quantity in one go, that’s the way to go!

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The best flavoured filter coffee around here, for the time being. This one is “vanilla macadamia”, but I think i liked “hazelnut” more. Hawaiian dancing coffee beans – hooray!

 

Sweet-related random rants

Sweet-related random rants

Today I tried karumeyaki (かるめ焼き) randomly for the first time. Gosh, I should have filmed my reaction at the first bite! As soon as I saw the fluffy outside, the foam-like texture full of cracks was reminiscent of hazelnut or semolina cookies that bakeries in Greece usually make.

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But when I tasted it… SOoooooo sweet! And then I realised ‘Hey, that’s pure sugar’ . And that was indeed, as this wonderful video kindly explains:

I bought it along with a pack of Kokutou Karintou (黒糖かりんとう), from an amazing store in Yokohama called 銀の杵 横浜中山店. I’ve been there more than once, the couple who owns the place are adorable, plus the ojiisan speaks perfect English.

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kokutou karintou (sugary sugar sticks)

Next stop: 100yen shop. It had olive oil shampoo made in Greece. Obviously, I was intrigued about who the hell exports this stuff here, so I checked the label in the back. Ingredients, usage, blah blah – Ah here it is , production location – where now?  >>>>>> Only a plain useless ギリシャ(Greece). I bet you , it’s fake af, Japanese (olive?) oil baptized as Greek to attract customers!

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olive oil products – fake or not ?

You probably already know that karaoke places are everywhere. Karaoke + live music? Hmmm, maybe it will be cool. But what about awfully designed posters of people with fancy 80s colourful suits, that look exactly like greek summer panigiria posters? Yeah, come to wagamama, it has the proper vintage vibe. Though people gave me strange gazes while I was taking the pictures. Maybe it’s a creepy place? Strictly for locals? I will never know …

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Old school, neighbourhood karaoke

Finally, as I was returning to the station, that weird Japanese way to promote political parties made it’s appearance. I have no idea what they were saying, even though I am an intermediate Japanese user, but they kept waving with their white gloves and sure seemed happy and confident. However, no one seemed to pay even the slightest attention to them, one could argue that this kind of promotion is completely worthless.

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Political promotion in Nakayama, Yokohama

PS. (From my visit in Hase-dera temple in Kamakura last week) :

What age NOT to have during 2017. Left for boys, right for girls. Red colour indicates absoulute-super-ultra-mega-dangerous age. As for black colour, ehm, there is a slight chance of surviving. In any case, a generous monetary offer to the temple will cast out all bad luck, for sure (#screw_them19yo). As you can easily notice, there is no bad luck for women after their forties. That makes sense considering that if you ever ask a woman how old she is, paradoxically the maximum age is 38.

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Table containing dangerous ages for the year 2017 (Hase dara)

日本の変なこと

日本の変なこと

Featured Image: It’s super strange to see a map where the center of the world is not Europe, but I guess – it is what it is ..

Hello there !

I’d like to share some strange/paradox things I came across in Japan recently. Nothing too fancy, just enough to make you smile a bit (I hope!)

I think the basic point of considering something funny is the use of English. Correct grammar, correct spelling, but the meaning is chotto…. Not quite as a normal person would have expresses oneself.

Japanese foodporn (Part 2) [aaaand a little bit of Yotsuba~~~]

Japanese foodporn (Part 2) [aaaand a little bit of Yotsuba~~~]

Featured Image: Night sea in Kamakura, the foam on top of the waves was glowing with an awesome electric blue hue. No camera could capture that view.

You know, my main goal since I came here, is to try every silly food that exists. It’s the country of infinite possibilities! Also, after a quick experimentation session I decided that (apart from maccha that will always have a special space in my heart and stomach) my favourite flavour is kurogoma(黒ゴマ - black sesame). Subsequently, I started using kurogoma oil in pretty much every dish I cook at home.

Also, I tried to cook a traditional Greek dish with green beans the other day, you know? Ah, didn’t work out well. The beans that I bought at the supermarket had the correct colour, correct shape, correct texture – but they were not the normal green beans! It was soy beans, the ones that Japanese grill and eat while drinking alcohol. You cannot eat the outside part, so my whole dish was ruined, it was a disaster. Meh, they do say that ‘as long as you live, you learn’.

Finally, let’s hear what Yotsuba (from Yotsubato!) has to say about Taiyaki.

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I personally conclude that the only reason the taiyaki shop went bankrupt was because of bad management – Taiyaki is soooooo much better than pudding.

What about this week’s stuck song?
Hydrogen Sea – Beating Heart (Always thankful to Suicide Sheep for the music he introduces us to)