Mountain Monks
(March 1 - March 21, 1999)

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Week #2 is finished and it was, once again, filled with some dining treats, so I'll start with a summary of where/what we ate.  Since Alan and Borhan were leaving on Friday, the eating decisions for the week were left up to them.

Monday and Wednesday we went to eat kushiyaki in the Belle Vie.  Seems like kushiyaki is a favorite of some the audit team. 

Tuesday we ate at the top of The Main in the New Otani.  Alan likes to eat Chinese food and I had received a note from Tom, a former colleague, who was here last year and he suggested we try that restaurant.  Most of last week was pretty lousy cold, rainy, nasty weather, so it was a good night to eat in.  The restaurant revolves and provides a good look at the city.  Unfortunately, the rainy weather did not allow a great view, but the Chinese buffet was great.  Not cheap for Chinese food at 6300 Yen, but a great selection and good tasting.

Thursday we went to eat at one of the Korean barbecue places in Akasaka.  Joining us was Wakizaka-san, so there were five of us.  We ordered up a few different combo meals and a la carte selections that included ox tongue, veggies, beef heart, chicken, short ribs, rice, and beef.  We sat at a table with two grills built in and cooked our own food.  The usual soft drinks, beer and sake were ordered and we had a great time. 

After dinner on Thursday, we finally got to a place Diane and I had been wanting to go to on the way back to the hotel, but we have been too full for dessert.  We went to the Galerie, a place that my friend Peter and I found back in 1993.  We used to stop there often for cappuccino and dessert, and what desserts they have there.  Not good for the waistline, but everything there tastes sooooo good.

Friday we went to a favorite Italian restaurant, Viva Pasta.  Alan and Borhan left for home on Friday, and Nick is back in Tokyo on his way back from Singapore.  He, Wakisaka-san, Diane and I went out for dinner.  Everyone agreed that the food was good and the portions were more than generous.

Saturday, Nick, Diane and I finally got to do sushi.  We went to the sushi bar in the Belle Vie building and pretty much gorged ourselves with lots of different selections of sushi.  After dinner, we took Nick to the Galerie for dessert and cappuccino (and tea for Diane, of course).

Sunday was shabushabu again as we start to revisit some favorites before we leave Japan next week.  Since Nick is leaving on Tuesday, we let him pick the place to eat and he suggested shabushabu.  So Nick, Diane and I went back to ShabuZen.  I know I can't get enough of this dining experience, so it was great choice.  Diane and I had planned to go there this week anyway.

Before Alan and Borhan left, I asked them to rank their top three dining experiences.  Alan and Borhan both agreed that monja was their favorite.  For Alan, kushiyaki ranked #2; for Borhan shabushabu ranked #2.  Both of them ranked Korean barbecue as their third favorite.  As for me, shabushabu has always given me the best memories, so that is my #1.  I'd have to go with monja for #2 because it isn't just eating, it is an experience.  Then I'd rank kushiyaki #3.  I asked Diane her favorites and they matched my three exactly. 

After such lousy weather all week, the weekend turned out to be beautiful.  On Saturday, Nick, Diane, and I went to find the Fukagawa Edo Museum.  We had no problem navigating the subway system to the right stop.  It got a bit interesting trying to find the museum, which is in the middle of a residential area.  We asked 3-4 people as we walked the streets and it was interesting trying to communicate mostly in sign language.  Nick used to live in Tokyo and some words were coming back to him  It was very helpful to have some basic words available.  We did finally find the museum, but decided to find a place to eat lunch first.  We ended up a few blocks away in a small restaurant that only had three small tables and a ledge with some stools.  It was empty, except for a lady behind the counter doing the cooking and a waitress sitting at a table reading a paper.  We ordered a bowl of broth and noodles, plus Nick had rice.  There is usually always something in these bowls of broth, such as meet, or prawn, or some type of egg fried in batter.  Tastes great and I love noodles.

So back to the museum we went.  The Edo Museum contains a reproduction of a 19th century riverside district of Edo, the original Tokyo.  This is a three story building that has replicas of the buildings that would have existed back then, such as a vegetable store, tenement house, boathouse tavern, warehouse, rice store, and stalls.  It even had a reproduction of a fire tower.

After we finished going through the museum, we walked in a different direction to find a subway line to take us to Shinjuku.  We wanted to find an Egyptian exhibit that was in town at the Isetan department store complex.  Again, we found it after walking around Shinjuku and asking different folks for directions.  It was difficult to find anyone who spoke English well enough to tell us exactly where it was.  We did find it and it was mobbed.  Turns out it is a very popular exhibit.  When we finished looking at the exhibit, we headed back to the hotel for some rest before going to dinner.

Sunday was a marvelous day.  It was sunny and warm enough for just a light sweater or flannel shirt.  Our first plans were to go to a town via shinkansen (bullet train) to find a restaurant that is know for its gyoza (filled dumplings).  However, we spotted something in a tourist paper that had some festivals listed and the Fire-Walking Ceremony by Mountain Monks (Yamabushi Hi-watari) sounded interesting.  So we changed our plans and headed out about an hour's train ride from Tokyo to Takaosan-guchi.  The ceremony was at the Kotsu Anzen Kitosho grounds near the Yakuoin Temple.  There was a procession of monks from the temple blowing on conch shells and chanting sutras that was starting just as we arrived at the train station.  So we hurried up to see and get photos and video. 

As I was videoing, I noticed this huge, I mean HUGE, crowd of people across the way surrounding a roped off area.  There were people all over the place, including way up on the hill overlooking this area.  Inside the area was a large, maybe 30 feet square, pile of greens neatly stacked on top of a wooden structure.  I took some video from ground level as best I could through the crowd and then decided that going up on the hill and using the zoom would be better.  Turned out that was the right thing to do.  I had a good view from up there of the entire area and the loudspeakers were loud enough to hear from up there.  There was a lot of ceremonial stuff going on, chanting and blowing the conch shells.  There was a guy who had an ax that was taller than he was, an archer shooting arrows into the pile of greens from several angles.  All done to chants.  Very interesting.  It seemed to me that the symbolism was that they were slaying evil spirits in the pile of greens.

Then, after all of this ceremonial stuff, they lit the pile.  Being fresh greens, there was nothing but smoke initially.  So much so that you could not see anything for a few minutes as the smoke covered the area.  Then the underlying wooden structure caught fire and it was a huge blaze.  On two sides of the square pile of greens were two stacks of thin wood with writing on them.  The stacks were at least 10 feet long and 3 feet high.  There must have been thousands of these pieces of wood.  Not sure what was on them.  The monks threw all of them into the fire.  After the fire was brought under control, some monks raked out some of the pile and then they walked through the hot coals in bare feet.  I thought it was over, but it wasn't.  The crowd was invited to do likewise and the line to walk through the hot coals was incredibly long.  NO, Nick, Diane and I did not walk through the coals.

After the ceremony was over, a tired threesome headed back to the train station for the ride back to Tokyo and walk to the hotel.  We rested up for a while and then headed off for our last meal of shabushabu.  All in all, a long great day.  Weekends like this are why I do this job and 'suffer' all of the traveling.  Ummm, if you didn't pick up on that, traveling doesn't actually cause me much suffering.  ;-)

Until next time.

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