A Traditional Time for Jordyn in Japan: Kusatsu Onsen, Mt. Asama and Fukuoka

My beautiful girlfriend, Jordyn, traveled to Japan for work last month, and since she speaks fluent Japanese, she was able to get deep into the local history and experience some authentic traditions. This one is in Fukuoka, where Jordan visited the beach with pine trees, blue skies and clear water with mountains in the distance.

 

Next, she arrived in the ryokan, a hot spring fed by the local volcanic springs. You can see how clean and amazing the mineral water appears. The old ladies are stirring the water to ensure an even temperature throughout the bath. At the bottom is the day and night view of the little town, Kusatsu Onsen. It’s a twelve hundred year old bathhouse located right in the middle of Japan, west of Tokyo.

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20150831_165213Near the hot springs, lies a picturesque mountain that belies the murmuring belly of a volcano that most recently exploded in 2006. You can barely see the drizzles of smoke escaping the volcanic mouth. The little red monster, Oni, is believed to have created the volcano. There are two cute pictures of Japanese daily life in the nearby town.

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20150831_202646Fukuoka is known as one of the best places for eating in Japan. Here is a very popular ramen noodle shop near Fukuoka Tower, Senda Honteng, with a long line of hungry customers.

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There is also a viewing tower from Fukuoka Tower with cool 3-D floor art.

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Japan loves presentation of food.

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Night arrives in Hita, Kyushu island, with beautiful reflections.

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Kyoto Walkabout

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After visiting the Kinkaku-ji golden temple, which was surprisingly underwhelming, we took to the streets to explore and found an awesome Zen garden. Kyoto, like the rest of Japan is immaculately clean making for a pleasant stroll. The Zen garden was full of functional beauty. It was a peaceful place with an enchanting pine aroma and the sound of running water surrounds.

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The walk continues…

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I found these amazing temples and a cute street with a cute family where a cute girl was walking a cute dog. Walking remains my favorite way to explore a new city.

These were some of the stones we walked on, and a bad English sign making me wonder if they just mean “Don’t pee on the seat.”

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Japanese Ryokan

Weary travelers (who have plenty of money) can find an amazing experience at the classic Japanese inn, a.k.a.–Ryokan. It’s a combination of restaurant, sauna and community center. We checked in, stocked up on sake at the local 7-11, took a quick dip in the volcanic heated spring water pool and put on our robes for dinner.

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The dinner was quite an experience, served with the classic Japanese focus on presentation creating a mindset for better taste. The food was varied, delicately flavored and filling.

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I really liked the green tea.

 

After a post dinner soak and a schvitz in the sauna, it was time to get comfortable. There were several fluffy blankets and soft pads to make a bed on the clean floor. We used all six of the pads and blankets to make a marshmallow bed.

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The next morning was a big buffet breakfast complete with sticky fermented soy beans, fish and vegetables. It’s not the soggy eggs and limp bacon on most buffet menus. It was an expensive night, but such a full course of Japanese culture.

We were in the middle of nowhere and near a big lake on a quiet moonlit night.

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Great Ramen in Japan

This bowl of seemingly simple noodles was extraordinary. It looked like every other restaurant on the street, but what a dish! The pork was so soft and tasty, the noodles al dente, and plenty of green onion. I was so happy eating this.

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So great, look at the sesame seeds and bubbles of tastiness floating there.

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The left dish was egg wrapped around rice and drowned in a gelatinous goop (tastes better than my accurate description). The right dish was a pretty good ramen soup, but not nearly as good as that first one.

People in Osaka

The streets of Japan are eerily clean, almost as if it was cleaned for a obsessive recluse who they were trying to lure outside. There are bicycles putzing along, freshly washed Toyota’s, Honda’s and Mazda’s gleaming down the road and plenty of street food vendors. It has mountains visible from all angles. And, just like any big city, surprises around every corner.

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Look at that street! Good lines, no trash, no illegal parking, well done Japan.

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Look at that cat! So fluffy and cute, he ran away before we could touch him.

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Look at those cheeks! Mom is so happy and proud of her munchkins.

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These guys were rail-thin, and looked at their phones as they crossed the street.

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Bikes and buildings everywhere.

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Takoyaki–octopus fried with flour. I kept saying, “I’ll try it later, I’ll try it later.” And then I never tried it.

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I taught Jordyn how to make a fist and she punched me very hard and accurately. Something about a boxing gym makes people want to fight.

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The old guy bought us some sushi on the street and so we followed him back to his bar where we met his crazy wife who talked constantly and laughed loudly like a Japanese Fran Drescher. We drank several bottles of sake here.

I was impressed with the friendliness of the Japanese people. They didn’t bow as much as I thought they would, but they emphatically say “Hai” whenever you ask a question imparting such a sense of importance of your question, “Where is the bus stop?”

Osaka Castle

Back during the time when the Japanese were tormenting the Korean peninsula in the late 16th century, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the king of Japan, began construction on his massive castle. The base stones are enormous, the gilded perch is beautiful, the symmetry is calming and it gives off such a Japanese flavor of strength and sensibility. It’s both utilitarian and stylish. They had little 3D movies telling the story of the king and his people. Unfortunately, Japan was both at war with its neighbors as well as itself. So, the new shogun, Tokugawa, routed Hideyoshi and thereby took over the region. Tokugawa, in his new role as leader, built the almost identical structure of Nagoya Castle (about 60 miles from Osaka) probably to prove he could build better than his predecessor.

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Osaka Castle

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The Japanese know gardens.

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I can’t read the inscription, so maybe it was KIng Hideyoshi?

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Love the grey stone and grey sky.

First Food in Osaka

We pulled into Osaka rattled after a bumpy, thumpy flight over the South China Sea from Kuala Lumpur. Luckily, we booked a lovely place called Hotel Monterey which was connected to the subway. It was late, and Japanese go to bed early, so we rushed into the nearest tiny restaurant. The old businessmen were sitting and smoking beside crumpled napkins and the ruins of dinner. We ordered big. Everything was delicious and VERY different from the saucy SE Asia noodles and rice and much less spicy than Korean noodles and rice. It was just a small place so there was minimal attention paid to appearance, and more to the taste.

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Pork ribs, sweet BBQ flavor.

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Standard fried dumplings.

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Shrimp with beady eyes and spindly legs.

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We put some salty black sauce all over this dish. It was potato and veg mix inside.

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Some fresh bean sprouts in a delicate sauce.

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Pop an egg over anything for some added solidity.

This was such a great introduction to Japanese style food. All of these dishes could have been eaten even by the pickiest little eater.

We saw a little street food with Takoyaki- chopped octopus and veg cooked in those little ball molds.

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