Thursday, May 7, 2015

[eats] Sukiyaki Recipe

I obsess so much over sukiyaki that it only makes sense that I have a post on it.  Nami, the author of JustOneCookbook already has a lovely sukiyaki recipe.  I made some slight modifications, but she pretty much nails it on the head.  The recipe below is a combination of my experience at Obachan's house and Nami's from JustOneBookbook.


Sukiyaki is fun when you get a group of people together.  Just make sure everyone is seated within arms reach of the hotpot.  Use two burners and pots if you have a larger group! 

Ingredients:
Serves 6 really hungry people, or 8 mildly hungry people

Feel free to adjust the ingredients depending on your group's preference.  Just make sure you have a variety of mushrooms, cabbage, noodles, and onions.  You just can't go wrong with sukiyaki!  I'll often cut extra amounts of vegetables to use just in case the group is gobbling it all up.  Extras can be easily saved for another meal.  Frozen udon also comes in multiple packs, so if anyone is still hungry at the end you can throw in extra noodles.

Vegetables
3 packages Enoki Mushrooms
5-8 Shiitake Mushrooms, sliced into .5" pieces
1 package Maitake Mushrooms
1 package Hiratake (also known as oyster mushrooms)
1-2 Napa Cabbages, sliced into 1.5" pieces
1-2 Carrots, sliced in .25" rounds
1-2 packages of Frozen Udon Noodles
1-2 packages of Shirataki Noodlesj (brown or white, doesn't matter)
1-2 packages of Broiled Tofu, cubed in 1-2" pieces
1-2 bundles of Tokyo Negi (giant Japanese green onion), sliced
4 lbs. of Kobe Beef (or best thin sliced meat you are willing to buy, my rule of thumb is .6-.7 pounds per person)
1 dozen Cage Free, Organic, Pasture Eggs (typically from the farmer's market or reputable food store.  They cost around $9 for the entire dozen)

**A special note about the eggs**
American eggs are not as high quality and salmonella-free as the ones in Japan.  You need to buy eggs that are PASTURED (chickens are allowed to roam in a pasture freely).  Empowered Sustenance breaks this raw egg deal down perfectly.  Organic and cage free eggs do not equate to pastured eggs.  More information can also be found on SafeEggs.

Sukiyaki Sauce 
If you want to make your own, use Nami's recipe
Sukiyaki Tare (I like using the pre-made version, you should be able to search for "sukiyaki sauce" or "tare" in any Japanese grocery store)
2 Cups of Water on hand

Tools
Iwatani Butane Portable Stove
Extra butane gas canisters (they are MUCH cheaper at the grocery store... only $2 or so)
Tongs/Long Chopsticks

Recommended Japanese Grocery Stores 
Mitsuwa
Nijiya
Marukai

Directions:
  1. Wash and chop all of the vegetables/tofu as specified on ingredient list.
  2. Arrange ingredients on a plate so they are easily accessible next to the stove.  
  3. Rinse the shirataki noodles in a colandar under cold running water for 3 minutes to remove the strange "fishy" smell.
  4. Remember to place the frozen udon out on the table so you don't need to get up to retrieve it later on. 
  5. Open the beef packaging and arrange the meat on a plate if you wish (not necessary).
  6. Each place setting should have a bowl, high quality raw egg, and chopsticks.
  7. The portable stove should be set up in the center of the table within arm's reach for everyone.  Keep the sukiyaki tare, water cup, and tongs/long chopsticks right next to it. You may want to appoint a designated "cook" or two to be in charge of adding ingredients into the sukiyaki pot.
  8. Everyone should crack their raw egg into their bowls and beat to get the yolk thoroughly mixed.  This will be another part of your "sukiyaki sauce".
  9. Turn the heat on medium-high and place several pieces of beef in to get the pan started.  
  10. Once there is a bit of natural oil/fat on the pan (sometimes people add a spot of vegetable oil), you can add in large handfuls of vegetables, tofu, and shirataki noodles.
  11. Liberally squirt the sukiyaki sauce in and taste as you go.
  12. The vegetables will cook down and yield water, but you can add it a few small pours of water whenever the broth gets low.
  13. Grab small pieces of vegetables and meat for yourself, dip into your raw egg, and pop it in your mouth!  This might be hard for some to wrap their heads around, but the raw egg makes a huge difference.  Its amazing, you should really try it.
  14. Eat and encourage others to chow down once the ingredients are cooked.  This is a continuous process of eating and adding ingredients.  It's best not to overcook the meat, so leave an empty plate out for the cooked pieces.
  15. Once everyone's eating pace starts slowing down, the vegetables have dwindled, and the broth is strong and flavorful, add the frozen udon into the pot.
  16. Enjoy the intermingled flavors of the sukiyaki pot over a bowl of udon!     
So what is the verdict? Do you love sukiyaki as much as I do?                                                                                                                 


Monday, May 4, 2015

[travels] Nara and Osaka, Japan in the Winter

Blue-hued dreams are sure to follow after any night of Mermaid Coin Pushing Games.  Sarah and I left Kobe to meet up with her friend Mika from college at the Osaka station.  Mika and her husband chose a lovely restaurant that served an Asian fusion variety.  As usual, I was immediately drawn to the entree with the runny egg.  Needless to say, I was not disappointed.


Our next stop was Nara, a land famous for its abundance of friendly (and respectful) deer.  These deer are motivated by thin wafers you can buy from vendors for 250 yen.  If you have wafers in your possession, don't expect to have one second alone.  They will gently nudge you and tug at loose ends of clothing until you give them a piece.  Hold a wafer in front of them and they will bow humbly before you.  They run freely in the foregrounds of the Todai-ji temple, eagerly moving from one visitor to another.


Visiting the Todai-ji is a double whammy bonus.  You get to see the biggest buddha statue in Japan AND immerse yourself in herds of adorable deer.  What's more, this temple is wooden and simply breathtaking.  Do touch the enormous rough doors and soak in the entire experience.  Inside you will most certainly gawk at the looming statues that are impressively decorated with carved details.  Ah yes, and have I mentioned the curious rectangular cut out in one of the giant pillars?  People line up to take their chances at squeezing themselves through this hole.  Of course, I had to do this for myself.

After we left the temple, we were headed to Jun's Obachan's (grandmother) house in the suburbs of Osaka, off of the Fujidera station.  It was evening at this time, and people were abuzz with excitement for New Year’s, which was happening in just a few short hours.  As usual, we sought out noodles for dinner and this night's meal truly hit the spot.  I had soba noodles accompanied by a stewed pork broth that was rich and salty.  It was the perfect meal to round out 2014 and I felt complete knowing I had started my year in Japan and was ending it in the same place.  


The walk from the train station to Obachan's house is one of my favorite paths.  We passed through a small shopping arcade, tiny neighborhood eateries, mini shrines, and zig zagged through the quiet suburbs of Osaka.  Everything is immaculate, all is serene, and you can't help but wonder about the families that live behind the warmly lit window panes.  People in Japan take such pride in their homes and they hang special New Year's ornaments on their doors.  The occasional cat runs across the street, well-fed with round anime-like eyes.  We tumbled into Obachan's house and headed straight for the one heated room in the house.  I always sigh with relief when I put my feet under the heated table and blanket as my body defrosts from the cold walk.  We dozed off for a short while, then woke up to head to the temple to ring in the New Year.

Luckily, Obachan lives relatively close to a large shrine and the Fujidera Temple.  We decided to visit the shrine, which was still packed with people.  Sarah, Jun, and I took our spots in line and waited for our turn to walk in an infinite pattern through the straw loop.  We shuffled forward as we mixed within the crowd to light incense and pray at the front of the altar.  The smell of incense wove it's way deep within the fibers of my clothing.  Kind temple folk offered small cups of sake for warmth in preparation for the frigid walk home.  I fell into my warm futon surrounded by the smell of the temple in my hair, clothes, and on my skin.  


I woke up the next morning to the sound of Obachan scuttling back and forth through the hallway and kitchen.  She was preparing for our first meal of the year, which was a massive osechi.  Osechi's look like intricate bento boxes with many sections for tiny delicacies.  I've been told you are supposed to try and eat a piece from every section to represent good fortune for the new year.  The most popular item is the kuromame, which is a sweet black soy bean.  These are absolutely delicious... ours were even topped with gold flakes.  Obachan is really an ace grandma.  We sat around the heated table and ate with Jun's family until we were rendered into a food-coma zombie state.  I willed my stomach to grow larger to accommodate one of each piece, but it would go no further.  

We sat, talked, and rubbed our bulging bellies until things felt slightly less uncomfortable.  Sarah and I convinced Jun that we needed to head to an arcade to relive the amazing mermaid coin pushing game night.  Bundled up once more, we walked through the suburbs of Osaka in search of a game arcade that was nowhere to be found.  Our 20 minute walk quickly turned into 40 minutes, with several loops back to the same area.  There were only a handful of people out and about, and asking for directions was exceedingly difficult.  I was a few steps away from throwing a hissy fit, but we found the Sega arcade at last.  No mermaid game here, but we enjoyed burning our coins with a pushing game of another variety.  This one let you load up a handful of tokens and spin knobs to rapid fire them.

We left as the last of the sunlight was fading from the skies and tiny snowflakes fell from above.  My scarf was triple wrapped around my neck so only my eyes were exposed.  It was cold as hell on this New Year's day.  We sought refuge back in Obachan's warm living room and stretched out, recanting our story of getting lost for an hour to the arcade.  Jun's uncle found this to be quite amusing.  Our next meal was already underway-- heaps of vegetables were shuttled from the kitchen to the living room table.  I was giddy with anticipation for my favorite Japanese meal of all time... sukiyaki at Obachan's house. 



The sound of the sizzling meat is how sukiyaki starts off.  Then add the heaps of enoki, napa cabbage, the vegetable medley, and tare (see my recipe)  Break the beautiful raw egg into your bowl and swirl it around while keeping a close eye on the hot pot.  You wouldn't want your perfectly marbled Kobe beef to overcook now, do you?  I was so excited for Sarah to experience this meal... because it was the perfect way to celebrate New Year's.  Spectacular food and family in a warm home.  Eating that sukiyaki transports me to another dimension of umami heaven.  This is the part of Japan I cherish, and will always think about on the first day of a New Year.  



Next stop -- Tokyo




Saturday, April 11, 2015

[travels] Kyoto and Kobe, Japan in the Winter

I woke up smelling the scent of the tatami mats intermingled with the clean cotton of my futon.  My jet lag was gone and I had slept comfortably through the night.  I could already hear sounds of the shopkeepers opening up their stalls and setting up for the day's business in the shopping arcade below.  Today was going to be a busy day for Sarah and I.  We were planning on meeting up with my brother Jun, who was coming from Osaka.  Kyoto called out to us, just begging to be explored.



Day 3
The Kyoto Station puts every American airport to shame.  It's a modern colossal station spaceship, complete with it's own ramen floor, multiple shopping malls, vast ranges of dining, and meticulously clean, of course.  We purchased a Kyoto day bus and subway pass for 1200 yen, which would allow us to travel throughout the city to see every attraction that piqued our interests.  Sarah and I wandered through the station and settled down for breakfast in a cozy cafe.  Literally cozy-- they had baskets with a throw blankets underneath every chair.  I had a Kujo green onion and chicken sandwich, which was a regional special.  The kujo negi is a traditional Kyoto vegetable, known for its soft texture, slightly sweet, and mild flavor.

We made a sad attempt at trying to meet Jun at the platform as nice Japanese friends might do, but failed epically.  In hindsight, the enormous Kyoto station wasn't the best place for us to try this.  Nevertheless, we had our passes in hand and plotted our path to the ever-famous Kinkaku-ji, or the "Golden Pavillion".  You must know there is also the Ginkaku-ji, the "Silver Pavillion" that is nowhere near as impressive as it's golden counterpart.  With limited time in Kyoto, I would recommend the kinkaku-ji for it's stunning photo opportunities and uniqueness.  Brace yourself for hoards of people taking pictures as soon as you enter the property.  We asked a delightful elderly gentleman to take a picture of our little group.  He had never used an iphone before, and after our request, I came away with ten photo bursts of our feet, torsos, and our smiling faces.



Our next destination was Arashiyama Park on the northwest border of Kyoto.  We were lured by the promise of lovely bamboo forests, and especially the Iwatayama Monkey Park.  I am something of an animal-encounter-fanatic, and I never turn down the opportunity to get close to a wild mammal.  The Arashiyama area seemed to have a different vibe of it's own.  Restaurants and souvenir shops were lined along the Hozu River, packed with tourists looking for a place to rest or re-group.  We breezed through the Tenryu-ji temple to get to the bamboo forest on the outer border.  It wasn't necessary to go through the temple to get to the forest, but it was a nice walk that I highly recommend.  The bamboo forest walk itself was a short windy path surrounded by vibrant stalks shooting up into the sky.  This was a popular destination, so beware that it's exceedingly difficult to snap pictures without getting another person in it.

By this time, it was late afternoon and sunset was imminent.  A small panic started to build inside my stomach... we hadn't gone to the Iwatayama Monkey Park yet.  Our leisurely pace quickened to a determined stride, because we still had a bit of ground to cover.  We went over the Togetsukyo bridge onto the other side, and located the unassuming monkey park entrance ticket booth.  By this time, we were practically running.  The hike to the summit of monkeys was no joke, it was a grueling 30 minutes of steep switchback trails.  We were peeling off our scarves, coats, sweaters, and I sincerely broke a sweat along that hike.  There were a few encouraging facts along the way, but no monkey sightings unless you got to the very top.  It all happened very quickly-- we went from seeing no monkeys to many shrieking monkeys swiping snacks from each other and demanding treats from the humans.  I found a comfortable spot on the ground next to a fire the groundskeeper had outside to keep the monkeys warm.  It was an ideal spot, as I found myself within 3 feet of monkeys the entire time.  Particularly one, that I affectionately called Momo.




We stayed for as long as we could, but the light of day had diminished and we needed to make our way back down the mountain.  Sight-seeing was temporarily over, so the pursuit of ramen naturally transcended the agenda.  Jun's mom recommended a ramen-ya known for it's exceptionally clear, yet flavorful broth.  Ino-Ichi ramen was located several streets off the bustle of Gion on the lower level of a commercial building.  It only had a handful of small tables inside with a small bar, and a line had already begun building outside.  The wait was well worth it, and we got a seat at the bar with a full view into the kitchen.  I couldn't take my eyes off of the cook as he labored over the assembly of toppings, even using tiny tongs to gently place the Wagyu beef on the surface.  God, it was good.

Jun jokes that Japanese girls have expanded stomachs because they are constantly eating.  I believe this is a true condition, as I too gain a Japanese girl sized stomach by my third day in Japan.  There is always room to eat more delicious food.  We walked back into Gion to introduce Sarah to Tsujiri Honten, famous for it's green tea concoctions of sips and sweets.  Last year, Jun and I had to wait in line for an hour to get a table.  For some reason on this evening, the gates of heaven opened up and there was no wait.  We enjoyed two parfaits and basked in the warmth of the restaurant, letting moments of weariness seep in.  Gion is a wonderful place to buy souvenirs, and I made sure to pick up several boxes of tea from the tsujiri honten store on my way out.  I still enjoy my genmaicha tea on the occasional Saturday morning when my heart yearns for Japan.  The night was rounded out with a visit to the Jam Hostel Sake Bar, where I had stayed the previous year.  They had an impressive collection of curated Sake from each region of Japan, and the owner dutifully explained the origin of each drink.  I mulled over my yuzu sake and gave in to the beckoning of sleep.


Day 4

It was another beautiful morning in Kyoto.  The sound coming from the shopping arcade was already familiar to my ears.  We set out to explore new territory and temper the grumble of my Japanese girl stomach in the Nishiki Ichiba market.  This was not just an ordinary shopping arcade, this was a mecca of ingredients, supplies, and street food.  This was a place that made you wish you had eyes in the back of your head, just so you could take in all of the sights around you.  Come hungry with an open mind and you will not be disappointed.  Follow the local eating etiquette-- pull off to the side to snack, do not eat while walking.  Only misinformed foreigners do that.  I may or may not have been guilty of this act.

We got sidetracked for a moment by a large crowd outside of a pub and got reigned into watching a New Year's mochi pounding ritual.  Lucky Jun got to take part in it while I snapped an obscene amount of pictures.  Our next stop was Fushimi Inari, known to many foreigners as the "red gate shrine".  Photo opportunities are fantastic here (if you can get an angle without people).  Note the many guardian foxes here that don red scarves.  Most excellent.


Kyoto's natural well water is the ideal component for making the perfect tofu.  Tofu making requires lots of water, and Kyoto's soft water makes for creamy and smooth tofu.  Even if you aren't a tofu aficionado, you ought to try some there.  Sarah and I found a restaurant in the Kyoto station that served nothing but tofu, transformed in many ways.  There was a queue in front despite it being late in the afternoon, so I had a feeling this meal would be good.  The variety was remarkable-- silken tofu soups, yakitori-style skewers, and even green tea pudding.  I don't even think you can find this kind of restaurant any where in America... even if you did, the tofu quality would not match Kyoto's. Following this lovely meal, we ventured to our next destination, Kobe.

I have mixed feelings about Kobe.  It feels juxtaposed between times and cultures, not quite Japanese but you can't place a finger on it.  It's a hodge-podge kind of place-- strong Chinese influence, modern structures, and quite frankly, not a lot to do.  We explored around the Sannomiya area, which had "China Town" area, high rise buildings, and Harborland all within a reasonable walking distance.  I had visited a friend in Kobe last year and I felt that I had already seen almost everything the city had to offer.  Sarah and I got in late evening, so we went to China Town to see what delectable snacks awaited us.  Street food vendors called out to us, each one claiming their pork belly bun was better than the rest.  It felt like deja vu walking down this little street-- almost everyone was selling the same thing.  We had a few small items, but I was discontent with my meal.  Note: stick to Japanese food in Japan. 


As we wandered through the streets of Kobe, we made an important discovery.  Gudetama, a cranky runny cartoon egg, who became a beloved mascot for the duration of the trip. Our hostel was located near a giant arcade and pachinko building.  I've now realized that we must have stayed in a seedy area if we were surrounded by pachinko parlors.  Sarah and I ducked in to see what we could play.  We discovered the bowling alley on the top floor, and bought ourselves a frame in broken Japanese and lot of pantomiming.  The shoe distribution system was impressive... there was an entire wall broken into sections of shoe sizes.  We found our shoe sizes (did some conversion on google) and pressed a massive round button that deposited our shoes down a chute.  I was blown away by this bowling shoe vending machine. 
The next hour and half spent at this arcade ranks at the top of my fondest trip memories.  4 words: Mermaid Coin Pushing Game.  1500 yen at this arcade bought us two hefty baskets of game coins...and our choice of a cutesy anime character folder as a bonus.  I'd never had so many coins in my possession... it was sheer madness.  The mass felt like 7 pounds.  We were drawn into like moths to a light bulb by an enormous, brilliantly blue, shiny, noisy mermaid machine belting exciting phrases and high-pitched melodies.  Like a toddler tasting pop rocks for the first time, the experience was truly invigorating.  We plopped down on the bench and didn't move for the next hour and half until the coins were depleted.  Magical treasure chests opened up, rubber gems swirled around and dished out bonus coins.  Elderly locals came and went all around us like a time-lapse montage in a movie.  

I could have stayed on that bench pushing coins until the cows came home.  


Saturday, March 28, 2015

[travels] Tokyo and Hakone (Fuji San), Japan in the Winter

Mention the word Japan, and an indescribable giddiness comes over me.  Suddenly I am consumed by thoughts of wandering down curious alleyways, sniffing out my next bite to eat, and laughing wildly at the hilarious cartoon drawings displayed throughout the country.  Then, I dream of noodles.

There was a moment in time where I thought I wouldn't be going back to Japan after my December 2013 trip. But, the stars aligned and I made my way back to the country I adore.  My friend Sarah and I struck up a conversation on the plane ride with an energetic entrepreneuress, Avi.  She was going on a food pilgrimage in search of Japanese food unicorns to strengthen her taste repertoire and instill it back into her SF Food Tour business, Avital Tours.  It is evident, that Japan is a place of great food, from winding street markets, to traditional Kaiseki experiences at Ryokans (traditional hot bath and meal hospitality).  On this trip, I focused on trekking into uncharted territory on my food map.  Ah yes, and eating noodles every day.

Day 0 (Late Evening) 
I had made plans to meet with a local friend for dinner only a few hours after my flight touched down. We managed to check in and meet her near our hostel in Asakusa for our first meal.  Sarah and I were undoubtedly bleary eyed with the appetite of ravenous lions.  The past few months I had been propping Japanese food on a golden pedestal every time Sarah and I talked about the trip.  This was going to be the moment of truth. My friend Akira took us into a nondescript tower building to a popular izakaya with enclosed dining rooms.  Regretfully, I was too travel-dazed to snap a picture of this meal, but it consisted of an eclectic salad with slivers of fresh hamachi, and yakisoba.  I paired this meal with a strawberry flavored Suntory whisky highball.  It was odd, and I'll leave it at that.

 Day 1 
It was 5:30am and I had never felt more alive.  Sarah was sleeping peacefully in the bunk bed below and I was on Yelp searching for a spot to eat...immediately.  I ninja'd my way down the bunk bed ladder and began rummaging through my belongings in the darkness.  Luckily Sarah woke up and couldn't think of a better thing to do at that ungodly hour than to search for food with me.  That was true friendship.  We ducked into a 24 hour udon and soba restaurant and had healthy bowls of curry udon (me) and kitsune soba (her) in the back table near the kitchen opening. This is my favorite dining spot...free live cooking show.  Morning commuters and elderly locals efficiently ordered, slurped, and paid.  All was well in the world.

Sarah and I then headed over to the Tsukiji market to see if we could catch a glimpse inside of the real fish marketplace.  Being there again felt like I had never left Japan.  Every konbu stand and octopus tentacle looked friendly and familiar.  We wound our way into the market, weaving around the long lines of people waiting for bowls of ikura-uni dons, chirashi, and even ramen.  I fell into a dreamy state, stopping often to inhale deeply and smile knowingly at the patrons waiting in line.  As we continued to forage onward, I became entranced by tamagoyaki carefully being prepared, poured, and skillfully rolled with chopsticks, then popped on a stick.  It smelled sweet and savory, and I had to have one.

We stopped at the Namiyoke Inari Shrine.  This is easily my favorite shrine for its beautifully painted wooden dragon heads, location in Tsukiji, and its purpose of bringing bountiful catch upon the harbor.  Much to my delight, the gates to the marketplace were open and Sarah and I began gingerly walking in.  Energetic men wearing black galoshes zipped around us in their speedy vehicles, calling out to each other. They carried white Styrofoam boxes-- treasures of the fresh catch.  Unfortunately our time was cut short because we had to catch a train for Hakone.  We were able to squeeze in a visit to the enormous Sensoji temple and were granted promising omikujis (fortunes), which is always a good sign.

We rode with our JR Rail passes from Tokyo to the Odawara station.  From there, I highly recommend buying the Hakone Free Pass, which you can get for 4000 yen and will allow you to do a lot of fun activities in the area for 48 hours.  It is well worth it, even if you don't get to do everything the pass allows.  Most people need to hop on the bus from the Odawara station-- be warned, the road up the mountain is steep and windy (but at least the Hakone pass covers the fare).  Our ryokan was situated towards the mountain summit, and I started feeling nauseous 40 minutes into our 1+ hour ride.  But, as soon as I got off the bus and took a smell of the crisp mountain air, I felt invigorated.  Fuji-San stood prominently before us, silently plotting it's next volcanic eruption.  Simply magnificent.  Getting here was worth every penny, windy bus ride, and 5am wake-up.


Shortly after, we checked into Lodge Fujimien and continued to gape at Fuji-San, sincerely awestruck by it's massive presence.  This mini 24 hour trip was, is, and will always be about this beloved strata volcano.  We rode the ropeway to the Odakuwani stop and ate a perplexing snack of eggs and ice cream dyed black by the sulfur.  Curiously enough, nothing tasted like sulfur.  Steamy, stinky, sulfuric mist rose from the cracks of the mountain.  Black egg cartoons were prevalent everywhere, especially ones with muscular limbs.  That image made no sense, but that is also why I love Japan.

Sarah and I made our way back to the Lodge in time to don our robes and await the lovely kaiseki (traditional multi-course) meal before us.  I couldn't help but feel like a giant playing in a toddler's dollhouse as I lifted the tiny hand-painted vessels to reveal the mini courses inside.  Everything was meticulously crafted, arranged, and tasted unfamiliar but inviting.  It was like hugging someone else's grandma.  With full bellies, we struggled to stay awake through the dessert.  After a much needed nap, we visited the onsen, adjusted to the scorching water temperatures, and sighed with contentment.  There aren't many other moments that can top a day with mesmerizing sights, new experiences, and a warm place to rest.

Day 2

Another onsen visit and delightfully diverse breakfast buffet spread... these ryokans take no shortcuts around relaxation.  We used our Hakone Free Pass for a ferry ride across Lake Ashi and strolled through town plotting our next meal.  I stood outside on the ferry deck, listened to music, and took deep breaths of the fresh air.  This was an impossibly beautiful day.  The bus ride back down didn't seem so windy anymore, and we found ourselves transported back into the hustle and bustle of the Odawara station.  Two bowls of udon later, we were back on the train en route to Kyoto.

This particular Kyoto trip cannot be remembered without distinct feelings of fondness for our hostel, Oki's Inn.  It is run by the friendliest, most accommodating souls, and they even have cats.  We stayed in a tatami room on the second floor that overlooked a narrow shopping arcade.  It poured rain on this particular evening, so we borrowed umbrellas as we ventured out in search of dinner.  Which meant more noodles, and more specifically, ramen.  


And as all good meals go, this meal was followed by deep sleep.  Bonus points for cozy futons, the soft pitter-patter of rain, and cats chasing each other in the rafters.


Next stop -- Kyoto and Kobe