Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Kyoto weekend, part 2

Our train back to Yokosuka left at 2:00 Sunday afternoon, so we got up early to walk around sans backpacks for a while. We found some much-needed espresso and breakfast at a Tully's Coffee, of all things, and then walked to the famous Nishiki Food Market.

I'd seen it listed just that way on a tourist map, and our museum buddies from the night before mentioned a famous and ancient family knife shop there. We finished breakfast before eight o'clock, and arrived at Nishiki around then to discover:...that it didn't open until 9:00. We walked all the way through the market, listening to the friendly morning greetings among shopkeepers and marveling at the care they gave their little corners of the market. We saw old women scrubbing drainage grates with stiff brooms, young men washing the concrete floors with soap and water, and everyone sprucing up the storefronts for a busy day of business.

Nine o'clock rolled around in due time, and we took in the sights of the market. The tamago (sweet omelette) stand was one of my favorites - I've only ever seen it served cold or at room temperature, but this was the fresh stuff, still steaming from the pan.I snagged a pic of the chefs, too:
We saw lots of fresh, cooked, and pickled produce too, including "monkey bananas," each about the size of their neighboring figs.
And yes, oh yes, there was fish, in various stages of life (or lack thereof). From still swimming in a tank,to swimming in a big plastic bag,
to lots of raw fish and some whole ones already roasted on a stick.
Let me assure you that we did not indulge in that particular snack.

Finally, we came to the knife shop: Aritsugu. An English language brochure informed us that this family has been making knives in Kyoto since the sixteenth century - the SIXTEENTH CENTURY, I mean. More than four hundred years of expertise go in to making dozens of kinds of Japanese knives, from highly specialized eel knives to excellent quality everyday santoku.

We fell in love with this place. And after long conversations with each other and an English-speaking clerk named Minami-san, trials of half a dozen different knives, and a ten minute walk to 7-11 for yen cash, we ended up with a real prize to commemorate our time in Japan. And here it is:It's a handmade sashimi knife with an eight inch blade, and if you look closely you can see the fresh engraving, closest to the tip of the blade - that's our name, Sullins, in katakana. The staff gave us a deal on this heirloom-quality knife, then sharpened it and showed us how to sharpen it at home. Minami-san threw in a furoshiki square and wrapped the whole thing beautifully for the ride back to the States. We're thrilled!

So, after that little adventure we had to rush back to the hotel to check out, and once that was done we were STARVING again. See yesterday's post - after walking around aimlessly for another hour or so we ended up right back at Kerala for an Indian feast. The train ride back to Yokosuka was uneventful, except for a crazy person on the local from Yokohama who kept telling me about his $400 shirt and the sexy girls who hang around the American Navy base...and the 200mph bullet train speed, of course.

Kyoto is a beautiful city, and I'm glad we went, even just for twenty-four hours. We'll never forget it.


Bethanyivy said...

What a beautiful keepsake. I can't wait to try it out : )

Melanie said...

Wow! How cool! Congrats on your new knife friend. What a perfect memory. Got any knife sharpening tips? We took a couple of our knives to a place in Seaside we found, but they did the quick electric thing and ground them down some. It did make them better than they were though. You were so sweet to look so hard to try to get them sharpened. I'm sure yours is super sharp!!!