Monday, November 20, 2017

The Osaka Museum of History can turn a museo-phobe into a museophile!

Beautiful and creative exhibits are the order of the day 

As far as I'm concerned, this history museum's exhibit designers
have created veritable works of art that are interesting to boot!

The attention to detail for even 1/20th scale 
miniature models is truly something to behold

Ever since I was a kid, I've loved visiting (good) museums.  So it's actually rather ironic that neither of my parents are keen museum goers, with my mother deciding against venturing into a museum despite just being a few meters away from its entrance on more than one occasion -- and even opting to have a nap outside of one while I spent a couple of hours checking out its exhibits

Imagine my surprise, then, when, upon asking her to name the top five attractions we had visited on our most recent Japan trip together, she actually put two museological establishments on her list; with one of them being the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum (which I told her was a "must visit" when we went to the first city ever to have an atom bomb dropped onto it) and the other being the Osaka Museum of History (which, if truth be told, I only decided to go to on this visit after it rained heavily for much of the final full day of the trip)!

Housed in a modern, multi-storey building whose upper floors offer up birds'-eye views of Osaka Castle (located just across the street), the Osaka Museum of History's exhibits cover the period in Osaka's history that predates the establishment of a permanent imperial capital at Nara (710-794), when the Naniwa Palace was the residence of choice of the reigning Emperor (and before Osaka came to be known by that particular name), all the way to the 20th century.  

While there are artifacts on display from those ancient as well as later times, it became apparent early on during our tour of the museum that this institution has seen fit to augment their exhibition with very detailed dioramas, colorful, large-scale reconstructions and atmospheric audio to help history come so much more alive.  As an example: a good part of "The Ancient Period Floor" of the museum is taken up by a partial reconstruction of the Daigokuden (Main Hall) of the Naniwa Palace, complete with multiple vermillion-painted pillars 70 centimeter in diameter and life-size mannequins, all of them with distinct faces and dressed in elaborate period court attire.  

And on the "Modern and Contemporary Period Floor", there are reconstructions of Late Taisho and Early Show Period homes, shops (ranging from a humble grocer to a store selling fashionable clothes) and the advertisement-festooned facade of a grand kabuki theater that are really impressive in terms of their detail.  Nonetheless, it's the floor covering the Middle Ages and Early Modern Period whose exhibits I found enchanting and even downright amazing; with scale models and dioramas that I look upon as works of art in their own right but actually also communicate so much about life then in that which was dubbed "the Water City".    

As if all that weren't already impressive enough, each of the museum's floors containing permanent exhibitions have audio-visual sections, many of them cleverly worked into dioramas and interactive displays.  Still, it is highly recommended that visitors rent the audio sets available near the entrance to the museum as they really do provide a lot of supplemental information that's actually really interesting and often makes one appreciate further some of the little but cool (and even humorous!) touches that the exhibit designers have added to many of their immaculately crafted displays.

All told, my mother and I ended up spending over three hours at the Osaka Museum of History.  And I can't think of a higher tribute for this commendable museological establishment than to state in no uncertain terms that both this avowed museophile and her supposedly museo-phobe mother both enjoyed our visit to it tremendously! ;b

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Delights in store for Funatomo at Funassyiland Osaka!

Funassyi mania at Funassyiland Osaka!

Your eyes do not deceive you -- the Funassyiland Osaka 
stock included Funassyi butt-shaped handbags... ;D

And yes, there's a post box at the store which 
can be used to send the Pear postcards and such :)

After visiting Todaiji -- and running the Nara deer gauntlet -- earlier in the day, I decided to pay a pilgrimage to the temple of kawaii that is Funassyiland Osaka Umeda (henceforth referred to as Funassyiland Osaka for short!).  Located within a Kiddy Land (like the Tokyo Funassyiland that was the first of the Funassyilands that I visited), it's the smallest of the three Funassyilands I've been to thus far (with the flagship Funassyiland in Funassyi's hometown of Funabashi being expectedly the largest of the lot).   

Still, it wasn't as though there was a dearth of merchandise at Funassyiland Osaka to catch the eye of this Funatomo (fan of Funassyi).  And, in fact, I ended up not only needing to wander the aisles for several minutes to take it all in but also deciding that more than one visit was required for me to narrow down what I wanted to purchase at the store cum shrine to the Pear (Fairy) with "fun" and "ass" in its name!

Even before I set foot in Funassyiland Osaka though, I knew that I absolutely wanted a 2018 desktop calendar since the 2017 desktop calendar has consistently brought smiles to my face since the beginning of the year and viewings of the "making of" videos for the 2018 desktop calendar have got me cackling with laughter at the Pear's imaginative attempts to impersonate historic personalities as diverse as Murasaki Shikibu (the Heian period author of The Tale of Genji), Commodore Matthew Perry and Ludwig von Beethoven!  So it was with much relief as well as happiness that I found that the 2018 calendars were already on sale on my visit.

Of course, the 2018 desktop calendar was far from the only Funassyi item I came away from my visits to Funassyiland Osaka with.  And, actually, Funassyiland Osaka wasn't the only place where I came by items bearing the Pear's visage; with their also being some available at the very cool Tokyu Hands (think Funassyi-themed stationery such as pens and file folders, and also gachapon putitto) and various souvenir shops, including over on Miyajima and in Hiroshima (in the form of Funassyi-themed key chains, charms and handkerchiefs)! 

Still, for dedicated Funatomo, the fact of the matter is that it's well nigh unthinkable to not visit a Funassyiland if you're in a city with one of those stores.  Because, if nothing else, you definitely have proof when you're in one of them that there are plenty of other people around who share your passion for the hyper-energetic Pear with a big heart along with jumping ability! :)   

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Oh dear re the deer of (and deer mania at) Nara!

The official mascot of Nara, 
Sento-kun... and Puppet Ponyo ;D

Graphic warning sign in deer-infested Nara Park

 A deceptively serene landscape photograph, 
considering that there's a deer in it... ;S

As vivid as my memories of visiting Todaiji were my encountering the deer at Nara Park when I visited the ancient city of Nara back in the fall of 1982.  Back then, I was innocent enough to buy some of those deer crackers sold by vendors; whereupon I got damn near assaulted by a bunch of persistent deer -- none of whom I recall having had the manners to bow to me the way that the deer of Nara are famously able to do.

Expecting to come across though soon after arriving in the city, the way that I had quickly and easily encountered deer seconds after getting out of the ferry terminal at Miyajima, I was initially disappointed that the only "deer" spottings I made were of such as a statue of Sento-kun (the antlered mascot of Nara that Last Week Tonight host John Oliver famously described as looking like the result of "Andre Agassi f**king a reindeer!) at the train station, deer sculptures that were part of an outdoor art exhibition and a deer-themed Daruma doll in a shop window.  

But while the deer in Nara do seem to be restricted to a more specific area than over on Miyajima, it's also true enough that once my mother and I got near to Nara Park, we saw a far greater density of deer there than we saw on Miyajima as a whole. 

In addition, it really was noticeably the case that the deer at Nara look generally bigger as well as older than the bulk of those that we caught sight of in Miyajima -- and also were far more aggressive in their pursuit of things edible.  In particular, I pity those tourists fooled into buying deer crackers because once the deer discovered that someone was in possession of those, they'd surround the hapless human and effectively hound them into giving those precious edible discs up!

Put another way: hearing individuals screaming while running away from a gaggle of deer is a very common thing in Nara Park and its environs (including the outer sections of Todaiji)!  Even more embarassing must be what those folks tasked with cleaning up a not insubstantial amount of deer poop daily have to do in full view of other people (along with the supposedly divine deer)!

And yes, those deer will go after folks who are not in possession of deer crackers too.  As an example, while standing around waiting for my mother (who had wandered off to another section of Todaiji) at one point, I felt someone nudging me, only to discover upon turning and looking that it was -- but of course -- a deer rather than a fellow human doing so.  And it was only after scurrying about in a wide circle that I managed to get that deer away from me -- or, rather, get it to decide that someone else was an easier "mark" than me! ;S

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Daibutsuden and more at Nara's Todaiji (Photo-essay)

On my very first visit to Japan back in 1982, I spent a few hours in the ancient city of Nara.  If my memory serves me right, the only temple my party visited there was Todaiji and the only part of the very large Buddhist temple that we were in was its very big Daibutsuden (Great Buddha Hall) which actually is the largest wooden structure in the world.

Considering that Nara is home to a number of other historic monuments which are along the UNESCO World Heritage list along with Todaiji, I perhaps should have checked some of them out on my second visit to that which was the capital of Japan from 710 to 784.  Instead, this time with my mother in tow, I couldn't resist returning to Todaiji -- though, in mitigation, I also did explore more sections of this great temple complex on this second visit than the earlier one, including ones which are far less crowded and way more peaceful than the Daibutsuden...    

The largest wooden structure in the world is one very large building...
... and the 15 meter tall gilt bronze Buddha housed within 
the Daibutsuden is the largest of its kind in the world

but opted against trying to accomplish the same feat in 2017! :)
Upon going up these stone steps, you'll feel like you're in
another world rather than just another part of Todaiji
The area around the temple's Nigatsudo is vastly less crowded
and substantially more peaceful than that around the Daibutsuden
Puppet Ponyo near the top of the steps to the Nigatsudo :)
 Click on the above photo for clear evidence that there's so much 
more to Todaiji than just the Daibutsuden, however great it is
And my favorite part of Todaiji might actually be the inside of
the Hokkedo or Sangatsudo (where photography is not allowed)!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Admiring Okayama's Korakuen in rain and sunshine

It was raining early on during my mother's 
and my visit to Okayama's Korakuen
Happily though, the rain stopped and blue sky appeared 
while we were still at this charming stroll garden
And we were also there when clouds, sun and water
combined to create magical scenes like this :)
The afternon that I went to Shukkeian, it was on my own as my mother was tired out from her exertions earlier that day and had retired to our hotel in Hiroshima to rest before venturing out in the evening for dinner at Sushi Tei.  Afterwards, when I showed her the photos I had taken at that restored stroll garden, she had expressed her regret that she hadn't gone there with me.

Still, rather than take my mother to Shukkeian, I decided to take her to a larger and justifiably more famous garden -- one considered to be among the Three Great Gardens of Japan (along with Kanazawa's Kenroku-en and Mito's Kairakuen).  As a matter of fact, when I visited Okayama's Korakuen a few years back, I actually had told myself that it'd be a good place to bring her on one of our Japan trips.
Consequently, I didn't let a little bit of rain stand in my way of doing so.  And a good thing too since, like Takamatsu's Ritsurin Koen, whatever precipitation that fell during a visit to it didn't detract all that much from one's being able to admire the beauty on view in that expansive, ingeniously-designed and well-maintained garden.  Also, as it turned out, it stopped raining midway through our Korakuen visit.  Not only that but the clouds parted sufficiently to reveal patches of sparkling blue sky for part of our visit and then also combined with the sun to produce magical scenes that truly were a sight to behold!
Commissioned in 1687 by a daimyo, Korakuen was completed only in 1700 and made regularly accessible to the public from 1884.  Like Shukkeian, it was damaged by bombing during the Second World War but beautifully restored after peace was declared; in the case of Korakuen, thanks in no small part to extensive and detailed records of the original designs having been passed down from generation to generation over centuries. 

Sunday, November 12, 2017

A meal at Takotsubo made memorable by the company as well as food!

It became quickly apparent upon sitting at the counter of Takotsubo
that our meal there would be far from average... 
We're talking, after all, of a place whose tsukemono moriawase
(assorted pickles) side dish looks like a work of art!
 More than enough in front of me 
to make me very happy :)
All too soon, it was time to say farewell to Hiroshima, a city whose fantastic food makes it so that I definitely want to go back there before too long.  Before heading east on the shinkansen though, my mother and I made time and room for lunch at Takotsubo, a one Michelin star restaurant which I got to know about thanks to Paul's Travel Pics.

All the information I had read about Takotsubo had led me to believe that it only opened for lunch at 12noon.  But on the day that my mother and I went there, the restaurant looked open for business at around 11.30am and already had a few clients installed at its counter when I finally perked up the courage to go in there at 11.45am.
Probably we had arrived so early, there was room in the 13-seat restaurant for my mother and myself.  Having set my heart on the koiwashi (sardines) sashimi set lunch that Paul had raved about, I was disappointed to find that -- like with the oysters -- I had arrived too early in the year for them.  (It didn't help that the early part of this October had been unseasonably hot; something that also may have accounted for a surprising number of area residents looking quite a bit more tanned or darker skinned than I expect of Japanese folks who are neither natives of Okinawa nor Kyushu!)
Happily though, my second choice option of uni meshi (cooked sea urchin rice) was available -- and, from what I gathered when glancing at what other diners were eating, a very popular option along with anago meshi (which I will forever associate with Ueno!).  More than incidentally, one reason why I was happy about this was because Takotsubo doesn't have an English menu and its staff don't seem to know any English (which is why it also was a good thing that I know enough Japanese to at least order specific dishes and such as glasses of draft beer!).
Thanks to Paul's blog post, I had a pretty good idea of what to expect in terms of the food I'd be having at this restaurant which has been in operation since 1927.  Suffice to state here that everything was stellar, from the flavorful yasai-no-nimono (slow-simmered vegetables and tofu) we were served first all the way to the colorful and wonderfully crunchy tsukemono moriawase (assorted pickles) side dish, the umami-rich miso soup (with clams) and the piece de resistance that was the seaweed topped uni-meshi.         

Adding to the overall experience were the restaurant customers we found ourselves seated in between.  To my left was a middle-aged man who had a bunch of toys (including miniature rubber duckies and Fuchico Puttito) that he posed next to his food and then took photos of (and yes, I couldn't resist showing him Puppet Ponyo though I did not take any photos of her at Takotsubo)!  Meanwhile, to my mother's right sat two matronly women who, after overhearing our conversation and realizing that we were not Japanese, started chatting to us in English, telling us, among other things that they reckoned this was the "number one" restaurant in Hiroshima!
Incidentally, my mother remarked later that she noticed that those two women -- and the young man seated to their right -- had been drinking tea rather than beer with their meal.  After a few days in Japan, she was realizing how unusual this actually is since women as well as men really do seem to love their tipple in the land of sake -- and especially beer, it seems (rather than nihonshu, actually)! ;b   

Friday, November 10, 2017

Two Buddhist temples and a Shinto shrine in Onomichi with charm to spare!

Tenneji's Pagoda is hard to miss despite it now being 
just 3 storeys high rather than the 5 it originally was
This shot of Ushitora Jinja late in the day got 
a friend of mine thinking of Spirited Away ;b
For my part, nearby Myosenji felt 
even more magical to me! :)

There is an official walking route through Onomichi known as The Temple Walk that takes visitors to all 25 of the temple-filled port town's temples.  As someone who suffered from temple fatigue midway through her visit to Kyoto, I wasn't about to go along that path.  So I had only planned on visiting Onomichi's most famous temple, Senkoji.  But I ended up passing (near) by a couple of other Buddhist temples and one Shinto shrine on my way down from Mount Senkoji which looked interesting enough for me to want to spend a few minutes checking out.
First up was a three-storey wooden pagoda in the center of a graveyard which turned out to be part of Tenneji, a Buddhist temple whose main hall and compound was further downhill.  There was a deserted feeling to the place but even while there was no one I could talk to or get an information leaflet from, I discovered a helpful device in its grounds which dispensed audio information about the place in Japanese, English, Korean and Mandarin (which, more than incidentally, I'd have appreciated coming across at the more celebrated Sensoji!).
Next up was Ushitora Jinja, a Shinto shrine located close to the lower station of the Mt. Senkoji Ropeway and protected from the danger of a passenger cabin or such falling onto it by large netting having been set up over the section of its compound which were directly under the path of the ropeway!  Unlike Buddhist temples, it doesn't seem to have a closing time and its grounds seem to be one that students and workmen happily cut through on their way home or such.  
All in all, I found it quite amusing that while it seemed to have an air of mystery for foreigners, this over 1,100-year-old shrine seemed like an everyday, even if favored, spot for the locals.  And it really did add to its charm for me that when I visited Ushitora Jinja, I found myself passing through a stone torii with two matrons sitting on each side of it and happily chatting (gossiping?) away!
Similarly, I loved that when I was in the grounds of nearby Myosenji, I not only spotted a beautiful striped cat but also a little hut that I can easily believe was that cat's abode.  Something that I also appreciated is that its colorful main hall was still accessible and that there was a worshipper in there so focused on doing her business that I honestly don't think she noticed or realized that, for a few moments, there was someone else in that space besides her!
In retrospect, I do regret a bit that I hadn't actually gone out of my way to check out a few more of Onomichi's temples.  Among other things, I appreciate that, in contrast to many of those at, say, Kyoto and Kamakura (even the less famous ones), none of them charged admission fees.  This not only speaks to the cheapskate part of me but, in all honesty, it also is a clear indicator that they are much less tourist attractions and more actual places of worship still; which, ironically, makes them more appealing for and to this not particularly religious traveller!       

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Onomichi's Mt Senkoji, including its ropeway and eponymous temple (Photo-essay)

When reading up about Tomonoura and Onomichi before my most recent Japan trip, they both sounded so similar; what with their both being historic port settlements by the Seto Inland Sea, located in Hiroshima Prefecture, having hilly sections, and possessing lots of temples as well as important film associations (with Onomichi's including the fact of the family in focus in Yazujiro Ozu's Tokyo Story actually originally hailing from the smaller city).

Unable to decide which one I wanted to visit more, I decided to visit both of them -- as it turned out, did so on the same day!  And upon doing so, the differences between them became very clear in mind: with Tomonoura feeling much more of a village while Onomichi is noticeably larger and better connected (including in terms of having not just one but two train stations -- one of which the shinkansen stops at), even while also having an "old-timey" feeling of its own too... ;b

My mother and I took the Mt Senkoji Ropeway (or cable car, 
as much of the rest of the world would refer to it) up Mount Senkoji
Awesome views unfolded before us on the ride up
 Atop Mt Senkoji is an observation platform which 
yields views of the city like this :b

Having made the decision to walk down from the top of the hill,
I came across what looked like a cross between flora and fauna!

Within the grounds of Senkoji are many statues and figurines, including 
of animal representatives of what I had hitherto thought of as the Chinese 
zodiac but now realize is a Buddhist one also utilized by the Japanese 
A super large chain of prayer beads like another I had seen
the previous day at Miyajima's Daishoin
On a gray day, vermilion paint and Puppet Ponyo
add appreciated color to the scene ;)
And ditto re these flowers whose name I don't know but whose
lovely fragrance I caught whiffs of many times on this trip :)

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

A tai-rrific lunch at Tomonoura's Chitose restaurant :)

My mother opted for a bowl of noodles and fish head!

The banner at the front of the restaurant is what alerted me
to its being a tai (red sea bream) specialist :b

As I've come to learn over the course of hiking in Hong Kong, there's nothing like a walk and fresh air to get one feeling super hungry.  And even if our exploration of Tomonoura was on the leisurely side, the fact of our doing it on foot made it so that soon after getting into the quiet seaside town, my mother and I were thinking that it was time to break for lunch: at which point we got to feeling that Tomonoura may be on the overly sleepy side as there didn't seem to be (m)any restaurants in town that were open for lunch!   

So it was with no small amount of relief when I caught sight of a banner with a red fish emblazoned on it signalling the existence of an eatery specializing in dishes featuring the red fish found in the waters off Tomonoura that was actually open for business.  And dishes featuring tai (red sea bream) were what my mother and I ordered at Chitose; not only because we figured that they'd be good but also because it seemed that virtually every dish on the restaurant menu figured that local fish!    

Having ordered the tai (red sea bream) teishoku (set) lunch, I figured that my order's main dish would feature tai.  While that was indeed the case, tai also was a component in pretty much every other dish on my tray; be it sashimi, tempura, soup or salad!  All told, I ended up having tai six ways -- and in all honesty, they all tasted pretty terrific.

Meanwhile, my mother received a shock when her lunch order was delivered to the table.  It wasn't that the only part of the tai she had been given was the head nor even that it came complete with one bulging eye (since, strictly speaking, the dish in question contained "just" half a fish head), since she had specifically ordered a fish head and somen noodle dish.  Rather, it was that the bowl her order came in was so very large and full!

As it so happens, after dining at Chitose, we did end up spotting a few other eateries in town that were open for lunch.  Nonetheless, I'm pretty glad that we saw Chitose first and ended up eating there.  For one thing, it's not every day (or everywhere) that one comes across a tai specialist eatery.  For another, lunch there really was generously portioned, competitively priced and properly delicious! :) 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Tomonoura's Fukuzenji and the much-lauded view to be had from its Taichoro

From Fukuzenji, you can get what an 18th century Korean envoy 
pronounced to be the greatest view in Japan!

So what do you reckon about said view? ;b

From Fukuzenji, I may have spotted (the inspiration for) 

While hiking in Hong Kong, I've come to learn of the existence of a number of coastal settlements (such as Lai Chi Wo and Sham Chung) that had their heyday when being situated to water routes were prized rather than a location near a main road or MTR station.  Though nowhere as forlorn feeling or even outright abandoned like some of these Hong Kong coastal locales, the Japanese seaside town of Tomonoura is another of those settlements which has been largely left by the wayside of modern progress.

At the same time, even a short visit to the Seto Inland Sea-side town whose biggest claim to contemporary fame comes by way of its being Ponyo's hometown will get one realizing that there was a time in history when it was far more important than it is now.  For one thing, Tomonoura really does have more than its fair share of historic structures, including centuries-old temples such as Fukuzenji, at the foot of whose hill can be found a stone marker bearing a tanka inscription by Otomo no Tabito, Governor-General of Dazaifu for a few years of the 8th century.

Founded a couple of centuries later, Fukuzenji is too new to have been visited by that 8th century dignitary.  However, this temple went on to host a number of Korean diplomatic missions to Japan during the Edo period; with its Taichoro being used as a guest hall and accomodation on a number of occasions by Joseon Dynasty emissaries on their journeys between their homeland and Edo.

Perhaps clouded by sentiment, a member of the 1711 Korean mission to Edo was moved to proclaim the view from the tatami reception room of Fukuzenji's Taichoro as the greatest in Japan (or, as I've also seen it translated, the most scenic in the East)!  While I have to say that I've seen more beautiful views of even the Seto Inland Sea alone (never mind elsewhere in Japan, etc.) from, say, Kojima's Washu-zan, I am grateful that the proclamation has gone on the record and effectively helped preserve the view in question, which visitors to Fukuzenji can enjoy to this day.

And enjoy that view both my mother and I certainly did -- along with the lovely breeze that blew in from the sea through the open windows into the temple and the wonderfully peaceful, restful feel of the place as a whole.  Making the overall experience even more hypnotic and pleasant was our being able to watch large ships sailing by in the distance, a picturesque ferry plying its route between Tomonoura and the nearby island of Sensuijima, and seagulls and other birds flying about in the sky.

On a visit to Okinawa a few years back, the two friends I was there with and I spent a pleasant few hours one evening kicking back and enjoying the sea views from our hotel room balcony.  And I can easily imagine getting much out of doing something similar if I were booked for a night in a Tomonoura hotel room with a similar balcony like that in Okinawa and view with what's to be had at Fukuzenji's Taichoro. :)     

Monday, November 6, 2017

Inspired by Ponyo to visit the historic fishing village and port town of Tomonoura (Photo-essay)

The first few days of my most recent Japan trip were unseasonably hot and humid.  On the morning that my mother and I travelled to Tomonoura (first by shinkansen from Hiroshima to Fukuyama, then by bus from there) though, we found the weather to have altered quite a bit overnight -- with the temperature and humidity levels going down quite a bit and bringing about physical conditions that  actually were far more pleasant than the gray visuals of the photos taken that day may indicate.

A historic fishing village and port town that's home to more than its fair share of Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, Tomonoura can feel on the sleepy as well as quiet side these days.  As it so happens however, it's also achieved cinematic fame this century as one of the locations for The Wolverine (2013) and -- much more importantly to me -- the inspiration for the port town in Hayao Miyazaki's Ponyo On the Cliff by the Sea (2008)

Travelling as I do with a certain Puppet Ponyo, I figured I had to spend some time in what could be looked upon as Ponyo's hometown when I was visiting the part of Japan where it's located.  And after doing so, I have to thank Ponyo (and Hayao Miyazaki) for having let me come to know about Tomonoura's existence -- because it really is a charming little place which does seem to be very much off the beaten tourist track (still) despite its not inconsequential historical as well as cinematic significance!  
Even before we got off the bus, we could see -- and smell! -- 
the sea which still gives quite a few residents their livelihood :)
Plying the nearby waters were ships that instantly brought to mind
Sosuke's father's fishing vessel in Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea

Truly, the views when looking out to sea were so mesmerizing 
that it was very hard to tear one's eyes away from them

The antics of Puppet Ponyo did help some though... ;)

One look at Tomonoura harbour and it's easy to see
how its very sight can inspire filmmakers...

Puppet Ponyo helps give a good idea of the size of the 
tallest stone lighthouse in Japan, not just Tomonoura

Don't streets like these look so inviting to wander along
as well as downright quaint and photogenic?

And when wandering along some of Tomonoura's streets and lanes, 
we discovered that Puppet Ponyo had sisters in the town! :)

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Tuna carving and great value sushi at Hiroshima's Sushi Tei

It's not often that you get to see 
a whole bluefin tuna getting carved up...
...but that's exactly what happened at the branch of Sushi Tei 
where my mother and I had dinner while in Hiroshima!
Check out the different gradations of toro (fatty tuna) along with
 akami (red meat) visible on this section of maguro (tuna)!
On the same day that my mother and I breakfasted at Jukeiso and had a grilled oyster lunch at Kakiya (and visited Daishoin and made multiple deer spottings in between those two meals), we headed back to Hiroshima from Miyajima via the same combination of ferry and train that had taken us in the opposite direction a day earlier.  Hankering for sushi for dinner, we headed over to the branch of Sushi Tei -- which I've been given to understand is a reputable Hiroshima chain of sushi-ya -- located just a few minutes' walk away from Hiroshima train station and our hotel (which I had picked for its location close to the train station).
I must admit to getting pretty excited when I saw the very reasonable prices on the menu and pretty ecstatic to discover that the food (and house nihonshu) was of a more than acceptable quality.  Indeed, so enjoyable was our meal at Sushi Tei that my mother and I ended up deciding to eat there two nights in a row -- and imagine our delight upon walking into the sushi-ya on the second evening and not only being recognized and greeted enthusiastically by various members of the restaurant staff but to find an actual bluefin tuna carving about to take place!
While I have seen sections of tuna being cut up on visits to Tokyo's Tsukiji market, I've never seen a whole large tuna being effectively dismantled before, and by a trained -- and obviously very skilled -- sushi chef to boot.  Among the things I've long been in awe of when watching well-trained as well as thoroughly experienced sushi chefs at work is how they can make cutting up substantial chunks of fish look like they're slicing through soft butter or even cream.  And this was the case with the chefs I saw at work on the tuna at Sushi Tei, with thick flesh being so smoothly sliced up (rather than sawed through the way one could just imagine of lesser skilled cooks) that the whole process actually looked far more artistic than brutal!
I also appreciated that after the tuna was cut, the restaurant's customers were shown a section of the fish where one could clearly see the different grades of tuna, from akami (red meat) on the outside to the different levels of toro (fatty tuna) at the center.  And lest there be any doubt: at Sushi Tei, one can order four -- actually, maybe even five -- grades of maguro (tuna).  In addition, this sushi-ya also offers more than one grade of a number of other fish (including salmon and yellowtail) to choose from.  And yes, this is something one can expect almost as a matter of course at specialist sushi restaurants in Japan.       

Despite having thoroughly indulged myself in the food and drink departments, the total bill for my mother's and my dinner each night was in just the 7,000 Yen (~HK$479 or US$61) range.  While this doesn't qualify as budget fare, trust me when I state that it's a bargain for good sushi -- something was hammered earlier this week when I went for my first sushi meal in Hong Kong post returning from Japan and that set lunch (combined with 230ml of sake) turned out to be more expensive than sushi dinner for two people (and at least 300ml of sake for one person) at Hiroshima's Sushi Tei! ;(