There is nowhere in the world like Japan. The delicious culinary surprises, astounding natural beauty, and lasting traditional culture made each day of my trip thrilling, but the people are what truly define Japan and what will bring me back.
This is no ordinary watermelon. This is a symbol of the creative energy and brilliance that goes into every detail of life in Japan. Much more than a cute and unusual tasty treat, they are actually grown out of necessity. Over a decade ago Japanese farmers from the southern town of Zentsuji began to cultivate square watermelons by growing them in a glass box due to the lack of space in Japan. By growing them in a square shape, the melons are much easier to stack and ship, resulting in a more efficient transport. But more than a savvy solution to a space issue, the fruit embodies the thought, dedication, and attention that the Japanese put into everything, including their visitors. I couldn’t have asked for more gracious hosts, typified by my first purchase – a watermelon, hand wrapped and tied with a decorative bow! Only in Japan.
Memoirs of a Geisha…Dinner
Next stop: Kanazawa, a quaint city on the seat of the Sea of Japan and bordered by the Japanese Alps. But it wasn’t my day of exploring the region’s stunning natural sites that will stick with me the most, the real highlight for me was my dinner experience that evening. After meeting the Mayor of Kanazawa, we were whisked away into a private dining room overlooking a beautiful little garden. An incredible kaiseki dinner followed, which was only slightly overshadowed by the two beautiful Geishas that accompanied us for the entire meal. Literally translated as “arts person”, they are women trained in traditional Japanese arts of the highest regard. A true Geisha lives by her art at every moment, not just when entertaining. Between a seemingly endless assortment of delicious food, sake, and traditional Japanese tunes, applauds of “kompaii!” (cheers!) filled the air making for an unforgettable evening and another of many instances I was blown away by the graciousness and hospitality of the people.
Love me Tender
Sundays in Tokyo are the perfect time to wander through its many neighborhoods and dig a little deeper into what makes this city such a complex and fascinating place. I quickly learned that just as New Yorkers are drawn to Central Park for a leisurely stroll and people watching, Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park offers a similar haven for the Japanese. The expansive open spaces surrounded by towering skyscrapers reminded me of home, but even living in New York did not prepare me for the “Dancing Elvis” phenomenon I encountered. These guys (and girls!) put on their Sunday best, gather in the park with a boombox and some beers and dance the day away. With rockabilly music playing at full blast, they worked the crowd with their dance moves, showing the world that Tokyoites know how to have a good time.
Onsen Tamago: An Unexpected Delicacy
There are always a few moments when traveling when the comforts of home come a-calling. Breakfast, for me, is one of the hardest things to adjust to and for this reason a western breakfast is standard fare; specifically for me it’s bagel, lox and cream cheese. So when in Rome (or rather Japan), a traditional breakfast might seem a bit off-putting. But, if I may offer a little bit of advice: dive right in and you will be pleasantly surprised! This particular breakfast was served at the Araya Totoan Ryokan in Yamashiro and consisted of a lavish spread of simple but thoughtful small dishes. Pickled vegetables, rice, miso soup, broiled fish and the standout – a perfectly cooked soft boiled egg. This was no standard egg though; rich and delicate in the best way possible, it was easily the best egg I have ever had (quite a badge considering my love of all things food). After inquiring if it were possible to order this at every meal (half-jokingly), I learned my new culinary obsession was an onsen tamago which directly translates to “hot spring egg”. Select eggs are cooked in baskets submerged in the constant temperatures of the Japanese hot springs the area is so famous for. My poppy seed bagel cravings were history.
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– Aaron Levitt