Sunday, April 25, 2010

April 24: Tokyo – Tokoname

April 24: Tokyo – Tokoname

Looking at the Tokoname clouds
blue in the ice-wind

Namae wa Ralph desu

My name is Ralph-san

Pics are out and about in Tokoname, Steve, Ralph and Ki-san (two of us in do-rags made by the other), and toilet at hotel, complete with instructions on a sign in the bassu-roomu.

Today is the start of an overnight. We checkout, leaving our big suitcases, and negotiate the local JR line metro to the Tokyo Station, and find our high speed train to Nagoya. It is Saturday morning, not easy to tell from the crowds, it is mobbed.

In Nagoya we meet Steve. We have about 20 minutes to make our connection to a local train. Steve knows of a great sweet mochi shop in the station, we leave DB with the bags and head off at a sprint. Imagine standing at a giant intersection with immense numbers of pedestrians awaiting the scramble crossing signal, and then the light turns to "walk" and everyone charges every which way. That’s what we are sprinting through. Find the mochi shop, nobody else in line (something that in retrospect makes no sense), buy three flavors (choc banana for DB), the salesperson (a young woman, of course) tells Steve we need to wait a half hour to eat them, they’re frozen, and sprint back. $5.

For this train, DB and I have a voucher, which the person at the entry gate stamps rather than issuing us small tickets to go through the turnstile. We agree to go one stop further than our destination to the new international Nagoya airport, about 30 minutes from downtown. It’s around 1pm, so first we have lunch at a soba place where the guy makes the noodles in a window in the front of the restaurant. We get the 100% soba noodles, Steve explains that this is rare, most soba noodles are sold as 80-20, mixed with wheat flour to hold the noodles together better.

The noodles come in a little basket and you transfer them to the broth yourself. Steve has ordered yam as a side dish to put in the broth. It is something that is best described as mucous (nothing like the yams we know, that’s for sure), and much better when mixed in the soup than separate. A great treat, above and beyond airport food! Total for three, $50.

I have to remind Steve and DB we have the mochi awaiting us, so we stop and all agree we are having a heavenly dessert. Now, I say out loud, was there some reason we only bought three? Good news: we are going back through Nagoya station with unreserved train tix, I see a sprint to the mochi in my near future.

In the airport is a large installation of porcelain tiles, with etching and some variation, very handsome and comparable to the Hung Liu glass cranes in Oakland airport, worth a detour (with soba lunch, a mandatory stop). We find out people come from Nagoya just to shop and eat in the new airport.

Now back to Tokoname,

Tokoname has a small section of town that has been restored from the larger factories and kilns where sewer pipes and kitsch pottery were made. Now only pottery is made, some it low-end and some of it quite contemporary. Steve has a friend here, a guy who helped restore the town, Ki-san, and he is a serial-designer: he ran a big business and has now pared back to doing his own paintings (Basquiat-like), sculptures, designing noodle restaurants, building furniture, helping his wife run a bakery. This is cutting back, the guy must never sleep.

We try a few of the pastries from the bakery and stock up on dried items (Liz, like those things we ordered from Door County, scorpa) for the trip home (if they survive that long).

Walk the town, lots of sewer pipe used as buttressing to prevent slides. We are thinking about the work we saw in Phoenix a few years ago where a clay sewer pipe manufacturer invited ceramicists and other artists to create work on 8 foot pipes and fired them in the industrial kilns. Almost bought one in Phoenix, until we realized that installing one meant the last 50 feet required a crane and crew for a day.

Dinner is a party hosted by Ki-san: there are twelve of us, 9 men and three women (including DB, we are the only couple, all others came without spouses). We each chip in $20 to defray costs. The designer’s wife does all the cooking and serving. She never joins the party!

Much drinking, including some potato vodka that is served either straight or in a tea cup with hot water. I try it both ways, plus drink beer. DB goes for the sake. The food is a series of small courses: sushi rice mixed with veggies, large black beans that you eat one at a time, edamame, inari, grilled octopus, smoked cheese, a few slices of great onion bread, and more.

The main course is Nabe. This is a hot pot, where a broth is poured into a wok, and then items are all set in before the broth is heated. In this case, we are having oysters, cabbage, tofu two ways, and then after most of these are eaten, noodles are added (no plain rice with this course).

The guests include two guys from the local chamber of commerce, an insurance agent (with a four-leaf clover on his card), a mochi store owner (that also invests in the China stock market and is in a group running tomato-based product stores in Tokyo), and a guy with three cards, one of which says he is a soccer coach. Steve translates all night long. The mochi store guy has a mah jongg trinket on his cell phone so there is much discussion of “you play?” and the difference between Japanese style and SF Chinatown style (which we play).

We have brought wine and chocolates and a bottle of sake, the chocolates are opened near the end of the party. Gifts given to us: a set of postcards done by Ki-san and a bag of stuff from the bakery, priceless!

We are spending the night in a hotel near the train station. The beds rival India for complete and total firmness. We sleep with the window open so we can hear the trains, helping ease our return to E-ville. The bathroom rivals those on cruise ships (what do I know about cruise ship bathrooms?), where the faucet from the sink can be rotated to fill the bathtub and you can shave by leaning over a bit from the shower to be over the sink.

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