Monday, December 13, 2010

What's on Mee Mind?

OK, so I couldn't help myself. It is day one back in Japan but after 22 trips you would think I might have outgrown sniggering at the unusual and often comical use of English words  - but no. What is actually on my mind? Kyo-yasai (Kyoto Vegetables), Wagashi (Japanese confectionery) and my home for the next few months - Kyoto. Here she is - the view from my balcony - it was a rather dark and chilly morning but the sun started to peek through the clouds over Higashiyama, the Eastern Mountain range about 9am. Manganji, a quiet temple frequented by Kyoto's infamous large black crows is like a friendly neighbour watching over me protectively and I am happy to make his acquaintance again. (yes, it is a he, I am sure of it) 
 The late red autumn leaves still boldly dot the scenery but the now gold Ginko are preparing for landing.

After breakfast with a friend I took myself for a long walk to re-acclimatise. It feels incredibly surreal - I have been back in Australia for 8 months but it seems like I was just here yesterday. Everything is familiar and comfortable. Possibly more home than home.  I love my little pocket of Kyoto - there is something in the air here that makes me float. It is beautiful, friendly, quirky and zen-like - even if the monks zip around on mopeds...
I head over the Kamogawa (literally duck river) into the city to gather some provisions. The sun has burnt off most of  the cloud cover and people are making the most of the weather before it grows cold over the next few weeks. 
I remembered the "ecofarm" market in the "Zest" underground arcades from this time last year and hoped to find it still operating - I was not disappointed. And am happy to note that the err, delightful? if slightly irrelevant Christmas decorations also remain.  And there's nothing tacky about these umbrellas.... sorry did someone say irrelevant?  I just had to share.
Veggies, rice, pickles, eggs and some prepared items from local farmers fill a small underground courtyard providing a handful of Kyoto-ites ( including me!) with super fresh organic produce. Personal photos accompany each item  - leaving no doubt that the farm folk stand proudly by their product! Ebi-imo ( prawn potato - for its curved shape and stripy appearance), Nanohana ( the buddish tips of rape/canola), Daikon in hot pink and purple, Kyoto's famous red carrots, tiny Kyuuri ( cucumbers), feathery Mizuna, large immaculate shiitake and Kaiware ( daikon sprouts) all went in the basket with some eggs with the sunniest yolks you will ever see. 

Returning home along Nijo dori I stumbled across a small store selling Wagashi so naturally purchased a few essentials including some intricately decorated sweet peanut senbei ( rice crackers), Kuri manju (a type of crumbly sweet containing a thick chestnut paste ) and yomogi mochi (the green outside layer is made with glutinous rice and both coloured and mildly flavoured with mugwort - in the centre is anko ( sweet azuki bean paste). The pretty jellies have a modern edge as does the curious pumpkin sweet which turns out to be a small Japanafied version of pumpkin pie - basically a puff pastry pocket filled with pumpkin puree.

I throw together a quick dinner including a few small squares of local wagyu with stir fried shiitake and lotus root and a petit salad of mizuna and sweet kyuri ( Japanese cucumbers - the best cucumbers in the world in my opinion) with goma (sesame) dressing - but not before I gaze once more at the view, this time awash with sunlight,  to remind myself how lucky I am to be here.  Apparently it will dark ol' rainy day tomorrow. Perfectly timed for my morning shiatsu and afternoon gallery view the exhibition of my friend Myong Hee's artwork. 

In my happy place. And yes, I look so natural here (perhaps a little constipated?) bathed in sunlight while I pretend not to take my own photo... 


  1. Hello there! Glad to hear you have arrived safely. Looking forward for more sights and sounds of Kyoto :)

  2. Love you Jane! Thank you for that trip around your 'hood.

  3. Thanks guys - plenty more sights and sounds to come - but shame we don't have smellavision!! now THAT would be cool! scratch and sniff files?
    Hope all is well in Sydney town. xxx

  4. I admire you Jane for being able to live in another country not just as a tourist. You really get to see a whole new world that way. One day I'll
    visit Japan. Kyoto looks so calm compared
    to Tokyo. Is it? BTW great to put a face to
    the blog!

  5. Hey Trissa, lovely to hear from you. Yes, Kyoto is far more calm than frantic paced Tokyo. I do enjoy Tokyo - I like to describe it as New York City on crack. It is very high energy and everything you would expect from a big city plus more but I don't think I could live there now- I did, for a short stint, when I was 20 and young enough to love all the things the busiest city in the world can bring. But now it is the zen of low-rise, temple dense, elegant Kyoto that rings my bell. There is still great shopping and dining etc but there are so many more quiet pockets for contemplation - much easier to relax and process here. If someone was visiting Japan for the first time I would tell them to head straight to Kyoto for a good taste of the real Japan without going into the sticks or a city where your brain can feel fried in seconds, in a good way, but fried nonetheless. There is a lovely balance in Kyoto - which is why I decided to spend an extended amount of time here writing when I was trying to regain some balance of my own. This trip is an extension of the 4 months I did starting last December - can't get enough of the place ( and need to finish the book of course - bit of a priority really...) speak soon

  6. Thanks for the tour, sounding muy chillaxd. I LOVE the photos, especially the yomogi mochi - I can almost taste it....mmmmm!
    By the way 'our' shiso plant survives another day!

  7. Nessie!! so nice to see you here! I will get some more info on best conditions for shiso. All good this end - Kobe last couple of days, Hiroshima today and Osaka tomorrow until 22nd. Can we skype with the kidlets after that?? love to you, "our hubby" and the bubbas till then. xxx