Raderstorf World Wide Adventure

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Okonomiyaki, Squatty Potties and Potty Slippers

Konnichiwa from Three Sisters Inn Main in Kyoto Japan, the sweet place we landed when we left the Krauth house in Tokyo. We have been in this beautiful and bustling city since Sunday exploring temples, shrines, gardens, a castle, restaurants and the mother load of sweetshops.

I sit here typing, fighting against a food induced coma, watching the boys clad in kimono (actually called a yukata-cotton kimono) robes playing poker (kimono poker). We discovered that our favorite kind of cuisine in Japan is Yaki-tori, especially the Okonomiyaki (a pancake made of cabbage, noodles, meat, egg and spices). We were fortunate enough to stumble upon the wonderful food experience our second night in Kyoto. We popped into a tiny sheik-looking place with the chefs cooking at the table. The menu was in Japanese which posed little problem for us, as we had been pointing and gesturing for twenty-four hours by this time. We watched the food being prepared, pointed and held one or two fingers up. Fortunately the words beer and vegetarian are widely known by all!

OUR 1st Full Day in Kyoto

Our 1st full day in Kyoto was truly wonderful. We awoke in our cozy Japanese style room– a 3 sectioned room suite layered with tatamis (new grass mats that really smelled like grass) and futons. Each section was divided by paper screens donning Japanese paintings. The bathroom was next door and the showers down stairs.

This might be the time for a small departure describing Japanese bathroom culture. First off the toilet is usually in a room by itself. It is customary to wear potty slippers while in the toilet area and only there. Well, it goes without saying that this takes some getting used to. While at the Inn, we kept exclaiming, “Ah, you have the potty slippers on,” always pointing and laughing at the perpetrator. Potty slippers are not to be confused with squatty potties – the toilets on the ground that are usually found in public restrooms. As a woman, you straddle the little toilet and whish. The hard part is keeping the whish in the potty. We have had a few laughs thinking of a little old grandma (of which there are many) sliding into the squatty potty after me. As the old adage goes, practice makes perfect.

Back to our first day, we enjoyed a communal continental breakfast with the other guests downstairs (I was the only one brave enough to show up in my yukata.) The breakfast consisted of a very thick slice of bread with butter and jam, orange juice and coffee, tea or hot chocolate. Max and I were pretty excited to share stories with other Americans. Once we left the Inn, we would be back to pointing and gesturing.

After getting our bearings and purchasing all day bus passes, we set off on foot to find the Colorado Coffee Café (a place we had seen the night before on our taxi ride from the train to the inn). I had secretly hoped to find a friend from home. Instead we discovered that ICC is a big chain and no one really cared that we were from Colorado. Language makes our experiences at times more challenging and at times more fun. We have decided that the Japanese people we have met are most friendly when they see someone in need. As I imagine in most cultures, people are most forgiving when you are willing to make a fool of yourself.

From there we hopped on the bus to Kiyomizu Temple. This was my most favorite place in all of Kyoto. We walked through the grandest and most picturesque mausoleum surrounded by hillsides bursting with red, orange and gold. As Ben astutely pointed out, “Canada move over because the Japanese maple is the most beautiful tree of the fall.” The temple area is spectacularly beautiful. We had a lunch of soba, udon and tofu next to the Sound of Feathers waterfall (some of the most holy water in Japan). A Japanese couple seated at the table next to ours made the tiniest peace cranes for each of the boys and then showed them some magic tricks. With hand gestures the man told us that his wife’s brother was from Texas and was now in Iraq (at least that is how we interpreted firing guns, saluting, and his words “you know Texas, boom).

After touring the grounds, we winded down the hillside past more sweetshops that you can imagine. There were machines that made little cakes, machines that made these ravioli-looking sweets with chocolate, plum or hazelnut inside, machines that made soya milk donuts, and we tried them all. I kept saying, “Look, we are the only ones eating and it was true. Thousands of people on the street and we were the only ones eating. You can take the American out of America, but you can’t take the America out of the American.

With the setting sun as our companion, we all enjoyed our picturesque walk back to the Inn. That evening we discovered our favorite food and took in a little of Kyoto’s nightlife.

(excerpt from Ben’s journal)

The Worst Show in the History of the World by Ben Raderstorf

Gion corner, Kyoto (a Geisha show with hardly any geishas)

I knew something was wrong when there were barely any people there for the closing show. It was all boring, but the worst was the Imperial court music, the so called “elegant music.” Even though it was horrible, it’s very easy to describe. A bunch of old guys playing the worst instruments I have ever heard. A copper pot, a wind instrument that sounded like a duck strangulation device, an old bagpipe with god knows what stuck inside of it, and various others that sounded like they were as far out of tune as possible. As if the music wasn’t bad enough, it was all accompanied by a conductor/dancer. He looked like a mutated goat with snot hanging out of his nose. To make things worse, he danced like a chicken. If I was the emperor, all six of them would be executed without a thought.