What you'll find on Storybook Days

The Home page displays all my musings on life in Japan and a few other things (baseball and children's books are distinct possibilities). For highlights only: "A Day in the Life (edited)." "Tabemono (Food)" is exactly that. "Big in Japan" is my completely biased and oversimplified list of what is popular in Japan, and "Kimono Count" is a day-by-day record of the people I see in traditional dress. "Editor's Delight" catalogs the unintentionally amusing and apparently quite complicated world of Japanese-English translation. "Uncle Tucker" tracks our sightings of a certain cat following us around Japan.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Nikko: Day 1, Part II

Traditional Japanese Sleepover

After a day of slogging through Nikko, we needed to relax in a warm, dry kind of way.  Earlier in the day, we had checked into our hotel, which is a ryokan--a traditional style Japanese hotel that emphasizes an "old world" or "traditional" Japanese experience.  Though it sounds like a tourist trap for foreigners, ryokans are actually very popular with the people of Japan.  At check in, we had been greeted with a nice, hot cup of green tea.  I could not wait to see what else the ryokan had in store, and I was not disappointed.  Each room had the name of the guest on the outside:

Here is what about 5 hours of walking in the rain will do to your feet:

Only an eight-year-old boy would be so happy about this.
Our ryokan room was like a little apartment.  It had a small area just inside the door where you took off your shoes, because shoes are not allowed in the room.  You then stepped up into a hallway that had the bathroom and the all-important mini-bar.  At the end of the short hallway you entered the main room:  the tatami room.  It is where we would hang out and sleep.  It had a TV, a table and low chairs and a decorative alcove (behind the boys in the photo just below).  On the far side of the tatami room were shoji screens which partitioned off a small rectangular area with a love seat, a coffee table, a chair, and the closet.

As soon as we got to the room, we changed into our yukata, the traditional Japanese pajamas that are worn all over the ryokan (traditional hotel) by all guests.  People wear them to breakfast, dinner, the onsen (hot springs), etc.  So, when in Rome...

Snacks of hot tea, dango (a rice flour dessert), and rice cakes were waiting for us.

Hanging out--watching TV while our pants hang to dry.

Tall man, small couch

The photo looks austere, but trust me, after the day we had had, it was positively cozy.

Checking the baseball scores.  Really.  The Yomimuri Giants won.
I had thought that I would go running to the onsen.  But, once I was dry, I realized the last thing I wanted to do was to go back into the water, no matter how warm and relaxing.  But, I did take some time to read up on what to expect in a Japanese onsen.  You can read up, too: onsen.

Our dinner reservation was for 6:30, and each dining party had their own private room in the restaurant with tatami mat floors. 
This is the sight that greeted us when we arrived.  Frank has not had his legs cut off at the knees; he is standing in the foot well below the table.

IW takes in the scene..."what the heck is that?!"

This fella was there to hang out, too.  At first, I was afraid he was an associate of Uncle Tucker.
Turns out this is Tanuki, a Buddhist deity that (at this point) beckons patrons into restaurants and bars and entreats them to eat and drink and have a grand time, hence the bottle of sake.
Our lovely server tried admirably to explain the intricacies of the meal to us.  The only thing worse than my Japanese is her English.  Still, we managed to get by.  Needless to say, we did not go hungry.
 The meal was determined by the ryokan and was shabu shabu--you get to cook your own dinner in your own pot right at the table.  The boys were thrilled!  There was more food than we could possibly eat.  It just kept coming.

Yuba, a local specialty made from tofu skin.  It's a delicate flavor and texture.

AH tried another type of tofu while our dinners cooked on the table in front of us (which explains the smoke).

Assorted, bite-sized appetizers.  Tofu, egg, shrimp, seaweed, and some kind of root vegetable.

These were heavenly...little bite sized almond balls with an inside that was like a crab cake.  Served with lemon and pink salt.

This was a seafood soup with rice that we cooked at the table.  It was awesome!

The best way to get a kid to eat his dinner?  Let him make it himself at the table with two of his own fire pots!

Kanpai!  You didn't seriously think I forgot the sake, did you?

Outside of the restaurant
After a nice meal (and our fair share of sake--thanks, Tanuki) our spirits were buoyed, and we headed back up to our room:

Look what we found:
Our tatami room had been magically transformed into a bedroom...

which can only mean one thing:

Nothing like a little family sleepover after a long day of walking in the rain.  Little did we know what was in store for us on day two...

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