Japan: Kyoto Obanzai Class, Kyoto Railway Museum and Tea Ceremony

Today saw us having quite a lie-in with us not needing to meet the group until 10am.  We took full advantage of the sleep and rolled out of bed grudgingly at 9am.  We made our way down to breakfast and as with other hotels, we had a buffet on offer.

For the first time since I have been in Japan, I opted for the western breakfast instead of the Japanese.  Mostly because I felt like a lighter breakfast of yogurt, fruit and then a mini-crossaint.  I also had a couple of cups of coffee.  Nick represented the team today though.  He had a western breakfast and THEN a Japanese breakfast.  I am so jealous and so fond of him and his eating habits.

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Meeting up with the group at 10am, Rika presented each of us with an all-day bus pass which allowed us on all buses in Kyoto for the whole day. She then marshalled us to the bus where we made our way to the Japanese Home Cooking (Obanzai) class.

Obanzai is a traditional home-style that originates in Kyoto.  It has two guiding principles and these are to always use fresh, in-season vegetables and to use all parts of the ingredients (minimising waste).

Obanzai is therefore a very practical, economical, nutritious AND eco-friendly way to cook meals.  Our hosts today were three lovely Japanese ladies.  They guided us through the dishes, these being dashi (broth stock – used in almost ALL the recipes we made today), miso soup, spinach salad with sesame dressing, teriyaki tofu and, my personal favorite that I was chuffed to learn, rolled omelette.  We also received a small cooking book from this class which we can take home to replicate the recipes we made and to try other recipes in the booklet.

With these recipes under our belt, I am sure we can treat our families at home to a tasty traditional Japanese meal.

The ladies were very sweet.  The lead demonstrator must have been fairly advanced in years as her hands shook quite noticably when handling any of the slightly heavier implements.  Her advise to all of us was to eat sesame every day because it “will keep you young!” – sage advice and I will try to follow it! At some point, Rika must have mentioned that Nick and I were there on our honeymoon as the ladies all applauded us and as we were leaving they said “Thank you for choosing Japan for your honeymoon” which, of course, made me melt inside.

After this class, Nick navigated Julie, Liz and I for a coffee.  The place he took us to was a very hipster joint called Karasu Coffee Japan.  They served a very passable cup and we all enjoyed it immensely.

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After this, Nick and I went to the Kyoto Railway Museum where my dad, Nick’s dad and my nephew Sol would all have gone mad together.  There was an astounding array of trains and train related historical curio on display, some of which were interactive.  But the absolute most amazing thing there was a scale represenation of the train network in Japan which showed the schedule of the trains of a full day in 15 minutes.  It was quite cool stuff!

Following the museum experience, Nick and I met up with Julie and LIz again to go to a tea ceremony performed at Tea Ceremony Camellia. For me, this was something I was keenly interested in and before the demonstation, our lovely demonstrator Ayaka explained how the essence of the Japanese tea ceremony is reflected in its 4 main principles: wa harmony (with other people and with nature), kei respect (of others), sei purity (of the mind and the senses) and jaku tranquility (peace of mind and appreciation of nature’s abundance).

The demonstation itself took 10 minutes but Ayaka explained that for a proper formal ceremony, it would take approximately 4 hours.  Ayaka also told us that she had been studying the tea ceremony for 10 years, but that it took 15 years minumum to become a tea master. We were then allowed to make tea for ourselves but of course, without the ritual and grace Ayaka showed us. The tea ceremony is traditionally precluded by the eating of a sweet as the tea itself is quite bitter.  Ayaka served for us a sweet called kohaku which was an agar jelly with a fine thread of yuzu (citrus) running through the centre.  The sweet itself was hard until you took a bite of it and you found that despite the hard shell, the sweet inside was a soft jelly.  The sweet was made from agar (extracted from seaweed) and it was delicately delicious.

Ayaka finished the demonstation by telling us about the concept of ichi-go ichi-e. Ichi-go ichi-e is a Japanese idiom that describes the cultural concept of treasuring meetings with people. The term is often translated as “for this time only,” “never again,” or “one chance in a lifetime.”  I found this very soothing and touching as a concept.  We will never again sit down in the same place, with the same people, enjoying the same tea.  So I hope that I remember this experience forever.

I enjoyed the kohaku so much that Nick and I set out to the shop that Camellia purchased their kohaku from, Eirakuya.  We did manage to find some and we plan to bring this home with us so that we can perform our own tea ceremonies at home.

Finally, after all this, we separated from the group to seek our own dinner together.  We ended up at a popular gyoza place called Chao-chao.  We did have to line up for a while but as they allowed people to purchase beer and drink it in line, Nick was happy enough and there was a handy vending machine nearby for me to get a soft drink.  Once in the place, we took up the set menu of a drink (Nick got another beer, I got plum wine) a serve of gyoza, chicken wings, and a choice of sides. I chose a chinese cabbage dish, Nick got pickled cucumbers. The whole meal was delicious and we also got decidedly untraditional dessert of chocolate gyoza with a scoop of icecream to share.

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All in all, it was a fabulous day today and I am happy with what we managed to get up to.

Tomorrow, our final day with the tour group and a visit to a tea plantation in Kyoto.

 

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