Matcha, Sushi, Fairy Floss and Echoes of Murasaki

Saturday morning we decided to have a bit of a lazy and slow start to the day, as we had arranged to go to Uji with Maki and Senki and Sen-chan had track and field club in the morning. It was a good reason to have some down time. We did a bunch of washing and had a leisurely breakfast and I started to feel the impending sense of dread about leaving Kyoto. I must say, it is not as bad as it used to be, as I have been returning regularly enough for it to feel a little more part of my life. Somewhat of a home away from home, with that familiarity, without the complacency.

Around 12pm we set off to the train to Uji, the very famous matcha growing area of Kyoto. It is a place we really love. It is in the hills, a little less urban, and it is so pretty. The last time we visited we had missed seeing Byodo-in, a very famous temple that graces one side of the Japanese 10 yen coin. The river is stunning and the streets leading to the temple are lined with shops and stalls selling traditional Japanese sweets and other delicious things, as well as matcha flavoured everything. Seriously, you can buy so many matcha flavoured things it is mind-blowing. We tasted some sweet sesame crackers along the way, white and black sesame and (of course) matcha flavoured sesame. They were so good. I purchased a bag and am now too scared to eat them, as I can’t get anymore. The perils of travel.

We were all quite hungry so we found a small cafe run by an old couple making soba and udon. The lady looked very old, but lively and cheerful. I ordered a tamago-don. Egg stew on rice. It was so yummy and everyone else’s curry, kitsune udon and zaru soba looked delicious also. These little family run restaurants are everywhere in Japan. Most look like they have not changed since the 1950’s and that is half of their charm. They serve excellent Japanese homestyle cooking, or washoku, and usually charge around $7-$9 for a meal. Many have been owned by generations of the same family, and quite often the owners look over 100 years old. (I’m sure they are not, but they are certainly very old and still active and working hard).

After lunch we strolled over to Byodo-in, which is now a temple. It was originally constructed as a rural villa in 998, but then was purchased by Fujiwara no Michinaga. Michinaga was a very powerful daimyo (lord) whose daughters and female relatives married generations of Emperors. It is said that the Fujiwara clan held the real power in the Heian Period of Japanese history. From my reading, I also deduce that Michinaga was under the impression that the Shining Prince Genji, a playboy and womanising member of the royal family, whom The Tales of Genji are written about, was based on him. His son, Fujiwara no Yorimichi converted the villa into a Buddhist temple in 1052.

The history and artefacts, over a thousand years old, and amazingly untouched by fire or other forms of destruction, were stunning and awe-inspiring. Looking upon something so old really makes you feel like a speck of moon dust in an enormous swirling mass of history. The gardens at Byodo-in are so old, and so beautiful. The wisteria is famous, and people come from all over Japan to see it flower. It was not in flower while we were there, however all the lotus were flowering and they were spectacular.

A soft serve to accompany a walk along the river, with Mya and Sen poking each other, chasing each other and laughing like they used to when they were little reminded Maki and I of when we had met. A lovely feeling of nostalgia and an appreciation of friendship for both ourselves and the girls. We then had a quick visit to Uji Shrine, the oldest shrine in Japan (which is in a pretty ordinary state of disrepair) we stopped by a shop that sold fairy floss. The kids decided on a melon flavoured one, that was sickly sweet and far bigger than my head. They devoured it, at a rate which made me feel positively ill, and we then decided to grab an early dinner from a sushi train restaurant we had been to before.

When in Japan, it is not unusual to have to queue for a table in a restaurant for up to an hour. They don’t get impatient and everyone just accepts that that is how it is. We sat and waited for about 45 minutes for a table, then had a pretty rapid dinner of sushi… which included chargrilled corn nigiri. What a brilliant idea for sushi… corn is one of my three favourite things to eat! Apart from catching the wrong train, but realising quickly, we made it home and sat around laughing and enjoying our time with Sen-chan.

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