More deliciousness and what the hell is pachinko?

Takayama Travel Blog

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We awaken on our futon beds in our tatami room still full from last night's bacchanaelian feast to find.... a six course breakfast waiting for us.  This morning's fare was equally delicious, and I have to say- I've never tasted better grapes in my entire life.  They just kind of explode in your mouth tasting like a dab of grape jelly.  Incredible.  There are also these things- we think that they are called mochis- they're this strange kind of rice paste ball thing stuffed with yumminess.  Hmm... maybe a little more specific.  Jeff describes the them as having the texture of uncooked biscuits, kind of gummy like.  Mochis come in many different flavors, we have had green tea, cherry blossom, white chocolate, red bean paste and then the ones at the hotel which have green outsides but white middles... who knows?  But quite good.

After our ridiculous breakfast, we set out to explore the town.  Takayama- or Hida Takayama as it is called is basically a preserved town for the Edo-period (17th and 18th centuries- I think...) so there are lots of old houses and preserved parts of the city which has basically turned into a Japanese tourist trap!  We at least thought we were in a legit tourist trap, not a fake one set up for westerners, so we gave ourselves a small pat on the back, but nevertheless souvenir shop after souvenir shop after souvenir shop, all very overpriced and garish.  Jeff and I tried to avoid these places like the plague, so we quickly hurried out of the city center and went wandering around the outskirts. 

We found a slightly creepy/slightly cool Japanese puppet museum and we saw, you guessed it- a slightly creepy/slightly cool puppet demonstration.  We'll leave it at that.  We kept wandering, into the forest and saw a shrine, past a grave-yard (it didn't seem as eery as it does now that I'm writing it- puppets, forest, graveyard... it sounds like the beginning of a horror movie).  Then we walked back towards our hostel to find a place for a quick small bite of lunch, as we knew we had a 12 course meal awaiting us.  We walked into a Japanese curry bar, and after a couple of minutes translating the menu we managed to order.  Yeah Jeff- his Japanese has served us well!!!  As it was definitely a local joint and two young white kids were about as expected as aliens, the other diners and the owner/cook were trying to figure out why and how we had walked into that restaurant.  After some botched attempts- Jeff later realized he said that I, his mistress was his house-person (which definitely elicited some strange and disapproving looks) he managed to get out that I was his wife, we had been married for 3 weeks and this was our honeymoon.  Jackpot. 

I counsel anyone to say that they are on their honeymoon in Japan, especially in rural Japan, because this elicits near hysteria in the Japanese people.  We have already blogged about the downpour of gifts that the Japan Air hostesses materialized for us on the plane, we've gotten discounts, free desserts, you name it.  Once we said the magic words in this restaurant, the hostess mysteriously disappeared and 5 minutes later reappeared with a wrapped present of a japanese bowl.  Really?  Man- they love their honeymooners here!  After deep bows, arigato gozaimases and bowl in hand we headed out and past a ceramics store.  Jeff and I have noticed that we have a weekness for Japanese ceramics- sake sets, bowls you name it, if it looks Japanese we want it.

The item that caught our eye (other than a couple of the unmentionables that we bought for gifts!) was an incredible tea set.  I mean, wow- it was hand-made ceramic, with a greenish glaze to it.  The tea cups had inner and outer cups which makes holding the cups easier (Japanese people must have burned off the feeling in their finger tips, because tea cups here are scalding hot!) and gold hand-painting.  They have cherry blossoms carved into them- in a word amazing, and 21000 yen (about 210 dollars)  Yikes, too much.  Let's try the honeymoon word!  Woohoo!!! He gives us the tea set for 10000 yen!!!  It's times like these where getting married doesn't seem so lame after all!!!

With precious cargo in tow we return to our hotel for amazing dinner number two.  This dinner was my favorite because it had the most amazing tempura I've ever tasted.  So light and fluffy, not overdone like it is in the states!!  We also had two courses of hida beef tartar.  One was beef sashimi and the other was more of a French style, ground up beef with pickles and onions in it.  Incredible!!  We had another whole fish, head and everything again today.  That seems to be a going trend around here, personally I don't like to see the teeth of what I'm about to eat.  Yikes.  On a whole, I think I've reached my fill of baked fish, cured fish, pickled fish, dried fish etc.  Except raw fish, I could eat much more of that.

Speaking of sushi, Jeff is utterly pleased with himself that he has now learned to master the tricky art of rolling nori (seaweed).  We get sheets of nori for breakfast and some rice and he makes his own maki (sushi roll).  I forsee many trips to Asian market when we get back for some do-it-yourself dinners on the massive Japanese ceramic collection we've amassed.  2 shipments to the states and counting!

Since we did not want to sleep on that full of a stomach, we decided to hit up the pachinko place that is a block from our hotel.  Pachinko is a bizarre alternate reality that only exists in Japan that looks as if a manga comic book threw up all over the most obnoxious Las Vegas casino.  Think blaring Japanese pop jingles eminating from thousands of what look like slot machines creating a roar of noise, flashing neon lines in the most bizarre of colors and Japanese anime movies playing from the screens of each of the slot machines.  Add to this crowds of zombie like Japanese people- all chain smoking turning a nob to shoot silver balls through a maze of pins inside their slot machines, hopping that the silver ball will fall in a small hole at the bottom of the screen.  After watching a couple of people go at it, and still having no clue how it worked, Kelsey went and asked an attendant while Jeff was in the bathroom.  After waving at the entire room and saying in Japanese- I don't understand, the attendant directed me to a slot machine, showed me where to put in my 1000 ($10) bill and held my hand as I turned the knob.  OK- balls were shooting up pin-ball style and then falling down, hitting pins and avoiding the prize hole.  But then! Yeah- one pin bounces around and falls into the hole.  What now?  I'm supposed to slap a button, ok done.  The anime video screen is talking to me, now spinning like a slot machine, it stops, and there isn't a match.  I'm supposed to continue.  All that for nothing?  That's kind of lame.  Again, I get another chance at a bonus, again nothing. Bonus- nothing. Bonus- nothing. Bonus- nothing.  And before Jeff had even come back from the bathroom all of my little silver balls, all 10 dollars worth had been sucked up by the machine.  I tried to explain, but Jeff looked incredulously at the people around us who had literally buckets worth of ball stacked up behind them, that they had attendants slide around on the floor after them when they wanted to change machines.  There had to be a catch.  We surrepticiously spy on a particular pachinko Zombie who has amassed 5 buckets worth of balls.  Here's an expert.  Alright- spin the knob.  Ball goes in hole.  Try for bonus.  The slot machine comes up with matches- a little tray comes out and balls start flying out of the machine.  That doesn't look so hard....

Jeff puts another 1000 yen in a new machine.  We have decided that the machines have face recognition devices in them, so that any Japanese player immediately hits the jackpot, and thus becomes addicted to pachinko and morphs into the previously mentioned chain-smoking zombie.  When a foreigner sits down however, the machines computer secretly laughs and tries to compete with other machines at how fast it can take money away without giving us a single ball!  It took Jeff slightly longer to lose all of the money, just because he was not holding the knob and shooting balls at a steady rate like I was told to.  But slowly and surely, as Jeff sent each individual ball up into the machine, and played each bonus, he lost and lost and lost and lost until, overcome by the noise, by the smoke, by the squeeking barely clothed anime babes bouncing on one screen and the samaurais slashing through the next one, we got up and tail between our legs, we left this pachinko hell, never to return. 

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Takayama Hostels review
Unbelievable food!
I've got to give credit when credit is due- He's a great writ… read entire review
photo by: Eric