Kate (kate_nepveu) wrote,
Kate
kate_nepveu

Japan: Kyoto day 4 (Nijo Jinya, Nijo-jo, and a kaiseki dinner)

(Written Thursday night, posted Friday morning.)

A relatively short day for me, because I bailed on the afternoon.



We started the day with a tour of Nijo Jinya, which is a famous Tokugawa-era inn catering to vigilant daimyo (feudal lords): hidden guard posts from which guards could drop down on impudent visitors, secret staircases, trick cupboards, traps for the unwary . . . the works. (Ian Fleming reportedly said that he couldn't put it in a Bond novel because no-one would believe it.)

Oh, and it's also notable for the considerable thought that went into making it fire-resistant. Since Kyoto's significant buildings are mostly reconstructions of earlier versions that burned down, this is no small thing. (Though, as Chad points out, the tour was silent on whether any of the security features or fire safety measures were ever needed.)

(The family still lives in there, so requires reservations in Japanese a day in advance and self-supplied translators for non-Japanese-speakers. The hotel arranged this for us, and our translator was very nice and helpful.)

Then, since we were right there, we looked at Nijo-jo, the castle built by the first shoguns. One of the guidebooks had made mildly derogatory comments about its gardens, which I'd noted but doubted I could appreciate. To my surprise, I could--I couldn't for the life of me put my finger on the difference, but they definitely weren't as attractive or interesting as the gardens we saw yesterday.

The principal point of interest is Ninomaru Palace, specifically its wall paintings by members of the Kano School. These are, to my eye, a little ponderous and stiff. On the whole, I'm glad to have seen it, but I wouldn't have gone out of my way for it.

Then we took the subway to Pontocho, which is a pleasure district like the more famous Gion. We had a very good lunch presided over by a gregarious, slightly imperious older man who gave us very clear instructions on how to eat everything. (Including the seasoning for the rice, which was tiny fish, no longer than one of my finger joints, fried whole. You wouldn't think something that small would have identifiable eyes, but they did, and they were *looking* at me. I ate some anyway--they were very slightly salty and, well, fishy--because I'm trying to be brave and a good sport and try things (except for raw flesh, which I just don't want to eat), but I have a very squeamish aversion to food that looks back at me. I ended up passing on a side dish at dinner that looked like fried tadpoles, just because I'd maxed out my ability to cope at lunch.)

Then we wandered the rest of the way down the narrow street, looking at all the bars and restaurants along the canal, and hopped on the subway back to our hotel. Rather, I went to the hotel, and put my feet up as planned while reading up on Japanese history. Chad went across the street to the Kyoto National Museum, which he said had some interesting things but not much in the way of English labels.

Then we had a very fancy, *VERY* expensive dinner at a place called Hyotei, which apparently has been in business for 300 years, first as a tea house for pilgrims and then, starting in 1837, as a kaiseki restaurant. Kaiseki is a traditional cuisine style consisting of many small, elegantly-presented dishes. Kyoto is famous for it, with an emphasis on seasonal dishes.

As advertised, there were many small, elegantly-presented dishes. Since I don't really like Japanese food, I am not qualified to say whether it was good. For instance, I thought some of the dishes tasted like lemon menthol cough drops (which, damn it, is *still* in my mouth). Chad, who likes Japanese food, enjoyed it very much. And I did like the grilled sweet fish with tart sacue (to continue with the inappropriate comparisons, it reminded me of Sweet-Tarts candy, but that was fine) and dessert, which was some kind of clear sweet gel over fruit, plus a rice-based confectionary in the shape of a flower. (The fish had all its bones removed, just for us foreigners, and so we were told we could please eat all of it. Chad got a word of thanks from the server for doing so (well, except for the head); I didn't, because I also didn't feel able to cope with obvious internal organs. Chad said they were really bitter, so I felt better about my cowardice.)

Anyway. It was certainly very different and elegant, and I'm glad to have the experience. If you like Japanese food and have a lot of money to spare, I recommend it. But it is a little trying to be eating an entire meal, especially a very expensive meal, while not liking most of it.

ETA: Chad's full Flickr set for this day: http://www.flickr.com/photos/11070535@N08/sets/72157601964991736/

Tags: japan 2007, trips
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