Monday, April 19, 2010

Hama-rikyu Garden

Another opportunity to head to Tokyo and experience a part of Japan's culture was offered to me, and of course I jumped at the chance. Ikebana International, Kamakura Chapter, had a program in Tokyo that sounded enticing ... a tour of a garden, a boat ride, a luncheon with a Geisha and a tour of an area of Tokyo I had still not had a chance to visit, Asakusa. No brainer ... I signed myself up.

Driving around the Tokyo area is always a risky endeavor ... especially if you're on a time frame. Sadly for our group, the bus hit bad traffic and our tour of Hama-rikyu Garden (in the pouring down rain) was a speedy one. But I am thankful our break away group hustled through the gardens and I was able to get off a few good pics and make a note that I'd love to come back and sit in the tea house and enjoy the view and the wisteria that was just beginning to bud. It's a beautiful contrast, the garden which dates back 300 years, with the sky scrapers surrounding the garden. From the garden you can board a sightseeing boat which takes you up the Sumida river to Asakusa. We arrived and were whisked off by our tour bus to the luncheon where we were entertained by a Geisha and a Kaiseki-Bento lunch at Kusatsu-tei.

Kaiseki has it's origins in the Zen Buddhist traditions and is a meal of courses consisting of a number of small dishes. I first learned about this culinary art form when I read "Untangling My Chopsticks," where they author spent a year in Kyoto learning about Tea Kaiseki. Most kaiseki restaurants are very expensive because each dish takes time and skill to prepare. It is a multi-course meal on par with western haute cuisine. This culinary art form balances taste, texture, appearance and the colors of the food. Dishes are beautifully arranged and garnished, many times with real leaves and flowers. I loved how when we arrived the tables were already lined with our kaiseki-bento boxes and as I opened them there is this "ahhh factor" - like opening a present.

While we were enjoying our delicious lunch, we were entertained by a Geisha. Geisha are traditional, female Japanese entertainers whose skills include performing various Japanese arts such as classical music and dance (not as many westerners think sophisticated call girls). She performed three traditional dances for us, spoke to us in fluent English (I was told that she spent 1st-5th grade in Bethesda, MD when her father was the chef for the Japanese Embassy), and then had us compete in some drinking games. For us, our drinks consisted of tea, but I can certainly see how these games would become quite animated with some sake. The first one was Konpira Fune Fune - a traditional Geisha drinking game. With our group the music started off slow and then would speed up with the contestants having to increase their speed to keep up with the rhythm of the music. It was great fun to watch. I found this video clip from YouTube so you can see the game:

The second game was Goshi Hiori (sp?) - I could not find any information on the web so I may have the incorrect spelling, but this is where 2 teams of 5 people compete against each other in a race to move small stones from one plate to another with a pair of chopsticks. One of my Japanese friends (who also happens to be one of my students) was sitting next to me and tried the first round to get me to go up and play the game - but still not confident of my chopstick skills I declined, saying maybe next year when I've had more practice. However, on the second round of the game Yuriko was much more insistent and I agreed, reluctantly, I was sure I would be the one to make our team lose. Do you remember a previous entry on how much the Japanese ladies love to play games? And even more to win? I did not want to be the reason our team lost. So flanking me with one Japanese lady in front (to give me a lead) and one behind (to catch up) I gave it my best shot - and shockingly I held my own (I think more than shocking me I surprised the heck out of my fellow team mates). Our team went on to win. It was great fun and all I could think of was I have to find these little stones for Mitchell - who uses his chopsticks at every opportunity and probably has the best chopstick skills in the Cleary household.

Sadly, I had to get back to Yokosuka and so my time in Asakusa on Nakamise-dori (the shopping street) was nothing more than a cut through on the way to the metro. But there were many cool little shops and like the garden above, I plan to come back.

Till next time, sayonara.

For more on Kaiseki go to:

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