i (heart) S-ko part II

So do you all remember S-ko? She’s the fabulous person that I met through Okayama’s International Centre who took time off work to take me to that really old school that was all lit up at night (you can scroll down if you need a refresher). Anyway, she was SO fabulous that she really wanted to organize another trip before Chaz and I left the country. We were seriously running out of time, so we weren’t sure if it was smart to go or not but, we decided to live it up and go on a day trip with her to Kagawa Prefecture the day before we had to move out of Chaz’s apartment in Okayama. And I’m sure glad we did, because it was a total blast!

We took the train there and it was a pretty exciting trip because we got to go on the Seto Ohashi Bridge, which is the longest bridge in Japan, measuring 9.4 km. I had really wanted to cross this bridge before, just for fun, but considering the roundtrip toll to cross by car is about $90, I kind of gave up on that dream, so it was nice to be able to go via train. Here are some pictures Chaz took from the train…I’d say he did pretty well, considering how fast these trains move!

S-ko’s friend and his young son came to pick us up at the station and we immediately went for Udon (because Kagawa Prefecture is famous for Udon…we ate obscene amounts of Udon that day, but I, for one, regret nothing!). We went to this tiny little restaurant where they gave us cold Udon noodles that we warmed ourselves in hot water. Then we added a bit of broth and we were golden…dear, sweet Udon...so simple yet so delicious!

Next we went to Ritsurin Kouen Park, which was this insanely huge garden with lots of ponds and pavilions…it was out of control big. Seriously. I think we spent at least an hour and a half there and didn’t even take it all in…although we spent quite a lot of time watching the koi swim because S-ko’s friend’s son just couldn’t get enough—he would cry when we tried to get him to leave, it was pretty funny. Anyway, the garden was just totally amazing…the mountains in the background we just the perfect finishing touch…what can I say, it was just spectacular! If you’re into amazing gardens, Japan is definitely the place for you!

This is, by far, my favourite picture from this particular garden. Isn't it glorious? Nice work Chaz!!!

If he could have had it his way, he would have just stood there and fed the fish all day...

The koi at this garden were the biggest and most aggressive I’ve ever seen (and there were so many!)...they seemed to have no problem coming out of the water if it meant they would have an advantage over the other fish at securing some food. It was madness!

We stopped for some tea in this pavilion. It was so wonderful to sip tea and take in the incredible view.

Could I look any more uncomfortable? No, no I could not.
My poor knees didn't really approve of all the kneeling and whatnot.
Check out the view from the tea room:

Here’s another shot of where we stopped for tea…

And some more fabulousness (I realize that I got a little carried away with posting pictures here...sorry everyone...looking at these pictures again got me all excited about Japan).

We realized that the garden was eating our entire day with its fabulousness, so we hurried off to eat more Udon for lunch. S-ko’s friend told us he was going to take us to an extra special Udon place this time—one that was famous for being so delicious. I was pretty pumped, because the Udon we had had for second breakfast was pretty good, so I was excited to try the extra famous Udon. Call me crazy, but considering this place was supposed to be famous, I was expecting something, well, um, kind of nice, I guess. I certainly didn’t expect to be stopping to eat Udon that was being sold from a car garage-come-kitchen, but that’s exactly what we did (and it wasn’t a nice car garage-come-kitchen either, I won’t lie). Oh Japan, you never cease to entertain even me!! So, yeah, basically these people bought an old, run-down garage, put some kitchen equipment in the back, bought a couple chairs and tables, and started selling Udon (not all day though. Nope, this place was only open from 11am-12:30pm, and 3:30-5pm or something ridiculous like that…I actually think that’s what made it so special…you had to try really hard to catch them when they were actually open). Anyway, what made this place so fun was that they just had all of this food out (like fish, eggs, tempura everything, etc.) and you just grabbed what you felt like putting in your Udon soup and then just tossed your money into a bucket (it was so mom-and-pop, I loved every second of it!). I enjoyed that lunch for all of us was, like, 200 yen or something silly like that (which is about $2)…we spent way more on drinks from the nearby vending machine, that’s for sure!
After that we drove out to Kompire Shrine, which, according to the little sheet S-ko gave me, is one of the oldest and most popular shrines in Japan. At first I enjoyed that this shrine made you work to see it…if you wanted to get a glimpse of it you had to join the masses in climbing exactly 785 steps to get to the top. After stair, oh, I dunno, 500, the whole working to see the shrine thing was getting a little old. Also, once we finally got to the top, I was a little disappointed. I mean, I wanted to be really excited about it, but, well, it looked like pretty much every other shrine/temple I’d already seen...oh well, the view was fabulous. And, in retrospect, I guess it’s a good thing that I didn’t find the shrine super crazy exciting, because after being at the top for about 2 seconds, S-ko informed us that, because we had taken so long to do everything else, we were running a little late and needed to be down at the bottom of the shrine in 15 minutes or we would be late for our next appointment.
Here we are, S-ko and I, walking sticks in hand, getting ready to tackle the stairs up to the shrine.


This horse was, like, I dunno, 5000 years old (ok, so maybe more like 30, but for a horse that’s pretty old, don’t you think?) and once a year they make him walk up all the steps to the shrine during this big celebration. Cruel and unusual punishment? I think so.
And, here it is...it's the moment you've all been waiting for...it's THE SHRINE!!!
...and the view...

So we hurried down all 785 steps and made it just in time to start our lesson at KOTOHIRA UDON NOODLE SCHOOL!!!! While everything else was great, this was totally the best part of the day!

First we got some towels to wash our hands (they love those in Japan, you get them everywhere…I actually kind of miss them now that I’m in Canada…I always feel like I’m running around with dirty hands). Next they handed out blocks of Udon dough (is it dough? It’s dough now, I suppose) and we took out our little rolling pins and rolled away. Then we folded our newly flattened and rolled out Udon dough to facilitate the process of cutting it into noodles. Then we put it in our bowls, very proud of our accomplishments. It was pretty fun, but, little did we know, it was only the beginning of our Udon school adventures!!

S-ko and I getting all clean (so fresh and so clean clean, if you will) so we can make some Udon.
Don't I look jolly? It's the Udon, it does that to you!

Chaz was so excited to eat some more Udon that he was thisclose to eating his chunk of raw Udon dough. Thank goodness I was able to stop him in time!!

Now it was our turn to actually make the Udon dough! Giddy up! First they gave us a little Udon lesson and explained to us that you could make different styles of Udon by changing up the salt:water:flour ratio (this was all in Japanese, so I really didn’t catch very much, but Chaz seemed to understand). Then they started handing out the ingredients so that we could get started on our dough. We appointed Chaz as our go-to dough man, so he was in charge of mixing the flour and salt water with his hands. After it was decently well mixed, we put the dough into a bag, and a person from each group was asked to bring their bag to the front of the classroom. When everyone was at the front they made them take their shoes off and then they put on some music and made everyone dance on their bags of Udon dough. So was so great…everyone was dancing and clapping, and they even handed out these wands for people to shake around…it was GOLD! I got a picture of my favourite guy (the one in the blue shirt)…he was letting loose like nobody’s business!

Have you ever seen anyone so happy??
Is my boyfriend the cutest, or is my boyfriend the cutest?!
As previously mentioned, this guy ruled me. Most of the other people were so reserved, but Blue Shirt here was living it up!
After, like, 9 clips of different songs, our dough was done being danced on, and the class was over. At this point, you could either put the noodles you made earlier in a bag to take them home with you, or you could go upstairs and cook and eat your Udon right away. Because we figured you can never, ever eat too much Udon in one day, we decided to go upstairs and chow down (yeah, that’s right, we had Udon three times in one day!).

Here we are with our Udon. We came away with our bellies full of fresh Udon noodle soup, some freshly made Udon dough to prepare at home, a wall hanging with Udon recipes, a rolling pin, and a commemorative tote. Not bad!
The other people at our table, who were much too excited to pose for this picture, if you ask me!
We were the only people who decided to go eat our Udon right away, which was kind of nice, because it was nice and quiet. When we got upstairs there was a big pot of water, tea, and all the fixings for the soup. It was a nice way to end the day--chatting, cooking, and eating freshly made Udon!

So, yeah, that was pretty much our trip to Kagawa Prefecture. I would highly recommend this little day trip to anyone! Give it up for S-ko for organizing it for us!!! YAY S-KO!!!!

Here are a few extra pictures from the trip...

Chaz and I posing with the train. People do this all the time in Japan, so, of course, we had to too!

The train station, all Christmas-ed out.


more Himeji madness (read: Himeji Central Park Part II)...

This guy joined us when we first entered the driving safari part of the zoo and stuck with us for the rest of the day.

A crazy coon-bear thing…so fuzzy and wonderful...

This guy is totally possessed…I mean, look at him!!

It was pretty fun to watch this guy dip his cupped paw into the water dish in the cage and drink from it over and over again.

The elephants were pretty great…they would stick their trunks out to the fence and you could just drop food right into it. It was strangely entertaining.
I don’t think these rhinos were real. They had to be stuffed—they didn’t move an inch the entire time we were at the zoo! I mean, really, who can just stand like that all day without moving?

I enjoy how cute this little guy was. I also enjoy the one on the right with his mouth full because he reminds me of Chompy, the deer from Miyajima (see http://charules.blogspot.com/2005/11/chompy-chomperson.html to read more about our good friend Chompy…I’ll post about Miyajima sometime soon, I hope!).