Sunday, February 5, 2012

Day Two in Nagasaki

Konichiwa! On our second day in Nagasaki, we had big plans for a birthday lunch. To make the most of the day, we walked through a covered shopping area, checked out the Chinese New Year decorations in the light of day, went to a famous shrine, and then had a famous shippoku lunch at Kagetsu, toured the gardens, and then headed back to the bus for a long bus ride home.

More fun new year's decorations!

Stained glass for my mom! A cultural gift from the dutch:

A nice covered shopping area decorated for the new year. Lots of western influence in the architecture.

We walked to Sofukuji Temple in Nagasaki through the covered shopping areas shown above. This temple is interesting because it actually survived the bombing in 1945. The shrines in this area were routinely inspected over the years to make sure people weren't secretly becoming Christian or any other sects of Buddhism. Japan thought it was very important to maintain the status quo.

Arrival at the shrine

Joe at the shrine

Approaching the first sun-dappled shrine
Japanese love their stairs

Beautifully painted lotus on the woodwork supporting the roof on one of the temples. 

Gorgeous shrine with Buddhist apostles along the sides. Some date back to the 1300s.

I really don't know enough about Buddhism to explain temples. They are quite amazing to see though.

These guys were terrifying.

This looked like a cemetery but was incredibly gorgeous with the sunlight and shadows.

This massive cauldron was cast to make porridge for the townspeople during a WWII famine. One of the monks would make porridge and dish it out until there was nothing left.
Unfortunately, I'm not very knowledgeable about Eastern spirituality, so I don't think I got the full experience. Sofukuji was beautiful to walk around, but I think I've had enough temples. To be fair, I also realized I'd had enough churches when we were living and traveling in Europe. 
The big moment had finally come: my shippoku birthday lunch at Kagetsu! This is how Fodor's describes Kagetsu: 

"This quiet hilltop retreat is Nagasaki's most prestigious restaurant. Dishes are served kaiseki (Kyoto-style multicourse meals) or shippoku, an elaborate course blending Asian and European elements. The interior wooden beams date to 1618, when Kagetsu was reputedly a high-class brothel. According to another local legend, Meiji Restoration leader Ryoma Sakamoto once took a chunk out of a wooden pillar with his sword during a brawl, leaving a still visible gash."

We had an entire tatami room to ourselves and had a grand tour of the restaurant, including visiting the room with the famous sword gash. Our waitress/hostess/new best friend didn't speak any English but encouraged us to take lots of pictures. I wouldn't want the pictures to languish on my hard drive forever, so please enjoy!

All pictures courtesy of my lovely and talented husband. Here I am opening the lid on my green tea as we began our marathon meal.

Our hostess took us on a tour of the historic restaurant. This room has the famous sword marks in a wooden beam! The table is set for diplomats.

Looking out a glass window, you can see another part of the restaurant, the gorgeous gardens, and a peek of our hostess' obi (belt).

A torii gate in the garden.

A view looking down

Me and Joe back in Lilliput

Gorgeous scroll work in the museum-like area of the restaurant

The famous wooden beam where Sakamoto left a gash. New goal: I want to be famous enough to accidentally ruin peoples' things and have them become famous for it.

A parody of Dutch and Portuguese traders with their wares.

Geisha tools of the trade

I saw a horse from this.

Women traditionally play this two-string guitar.

Another nice scroll. All these ancient frames sit on little cushions. Adorable.

The stairs were so steep!

We arrived back at our tatami room for a tapas-style meal.

Delicious! We didn't eat the dandelion.

Nagasaki is famous for their braised pork belly. I'm not a big fan of it or the green gelatin.

Pickled vegetables in delightful jars.

Adzuki beans in syrup

This was possibly my favorite course. We each had one little basket full of tiny pieces of vegetables and the baskets were edible!

Our hostess stayed in the hall almost the entire time. I know it's weird that Joe took a picture, but she was the most darling lady.

I changed my mind! This was my favorite! Egg + Mushroom bite or the tiny wedge of a grilled cheese sandwich with mushroom inside?

The carrots are cut into cherry blossom shapes and another vegetable (rolled kale?) acts as a branch. The only other thing I can identify is the brussel sprout.

More braised pork belly plus peppers! The peppers weren't spicy at all, but the pork belly was too fatty for my taste.

Soup and pickled vegetables to cleanse our palettes

Of course, mashed adzuki bean with a dumpling for dessert!

This lady was so incredibly sweet! I told her it was my birthday (it was! in Michigan) and she was nice enough to pose for a picture with me.

More tea and a custard dessert with a melon ball, two pieces of strawberry, and a mint leaf.

Leaving Kagetsu with my birthday date!

Immediately outside the restaurant
Japanese gardens are so beautiful!

Koi pond!

Torii gate

You should know something about me: I can't resist a good topiary.

You should know something else about me: I *know* stairs like these lead to secret gardens!

A white dragon! Oooh! This one is in the display case for some reason. I learned that dragons are considered very lucky and a sign of purity in Japanese culture, unlike how they are terrifying in my culture.

Thanks for joining me on my photography tour of Nagasaki! Thanks so much to everyone who sent me birthday greetings too! 

Looking forward to two more birthdays in Japan,


Thursday, February 2, 2012

My Birthday! - Day One in Nagasaki

We're finally calming down after lots of traveling in January. Over the weekend, we went to Nagasaki on an ITT (Information, Tours, and Travel) trip through the base. It was about a seven-hour trip by bus but they showed movies and I am pretty talented at falling asleep anywhere, anytime. 

One very unexpected highlight was that a lady sitting behind me recognized me from this blog! How thrilling! Hi, Melinda!

People unfamiliar with Japan's geography (me) might find it interesting that Japan is comprised of a few very large islands. We live on the biggest one - Honshu - and we were traveling south to Kyushu.

A mom and baby looking over the bridge to Kyushu at a rest stop.

Our Iwakuni bus and a hotel with a fun graphic behind it.
Our first stop on the trip was to see the Nagasaki Peace Park and Museum. As most people know from history class, America bombed both Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 with atomic bombs. This led to the end of the war with Japan, saving countless American lives, but these bombs devastated entire cities leaving almost no survivors at all. The stories we read in the Peace Museum were incredibly moving and brought many ethics debates into question. The most emotional artifact I saw was a clock that must have been in a basement because it had not caught on fire or simply melted from the heat of the blast. 

Image from this site
I think it symbolizes how time and life as Japanese knew it stopped and could never be the same again. There were other artifacts like a helmet with skull matter in it, melted glass bottles, Christian church remains, and more that were also horrifying to see and think about. 

Standing in the Peace Park with Peace Statue. The statue's right hand points to the threat of nuclear weapons while the extended left hand symbolizes eternal peace.

All in all, very informative, guilt-inducing, and not a great way to begin celebrating a birthday. 

So, the bus finally took us to our rooms at the Comfort Hotel Nagasaki. *Quick review: Tiny room with a hard bed and even tinier bathroom. Clean, comfortable, within walking distance to the train station even with luggage.*

We changed out of our bus clothes and got ready to hit the town for the Chinese New Year festival in Chinatown. Since I can't read Chinese, I told Joe it was for my birthday party. 

Much better! Chinatown is looking festive for my birthday!

Very pretty paper lanterns!

My favorite dude at the entrance to Chinatown
I love these lanterns!

We tried some steak on a stick, yum

Stacks of slightly sweetened pretzel-like treats
Possibly zero sugar in this steamed marble cake

Nice lanterns under the tent

Welcome to the year of the dragon!

Nice light display made of ramen spoons

Disgusting display of pig heads with candle sticks everywhere. Perhaps a sign of thanks for all the pork belly sandwiches being sold?
I love these lanterns!

Traditional dragon dance

A dragon dance in the festival square!

Festive panda: fun for kids, disconcerting for me and Joe.
A quick zoom around the square:
Tilt your head to see a lantern
Nagasaki has a rich history as the only port in Japan to allow foreigners to trade. British, Portuguese, and Dutch traders brought bits of culture over as you can see in the next video:

These acrobats were incredibly talented! I kept bracing myself every time this young man would throw a pot in the air.


I loved this Asian Jimmy Kimmel look-alike!

Jimmy Kimmel-san adds more nonsense to balance on top of:

"Oh, I'm just standing on my friend's head, wearing a leotard, doing the splits in the air, and balancing a pot on my head. What are you up to?"

 Putting your one-armed push-up to shame. 

We tried so many crazy Chinese foods (potstickers, pork belly, "bacon" sandwiches, and more) and saw so many great parts of Chinese culture on our trip to Chinatown in Nagasaki! It was very cold but braving the weather was worth it to see all the sights. 

When we got back to the hotel, Joe even surprised me with a bottle of Layer Cake Shiraz since I'm trying to stay away from sugars (even in birthday cakes!). This effort was made so much more special by the fact that you can't just go to a specialty shop for wine in Japan. He brought it all the way from his training exercise in North Carolina! What a sweetheart!