Sunday, May 4, 2014

Japan Day 4: Toba and back to Tokyo

The next morning we headed out of the huge Kyoto train station toward our next destination: Toba. We had a little trouble finding which train to take but finally found our way. Unfortunately, it was not on the JR line (for which we had passes) so we had to fork over a bit more cash than we would have liked. But we were happy we figured it out in time to catch the next train. We grabbed a few donuts from MisterDonut (Mistu donu as they call it --makes me laugh to say it for some reason) and hopped the train for a couple hour ride to the seaside town where the cultured pearl was "born."

Kyoto station
Abe had been wanting to visit the Mikimoto pearl farm where the cultured pearl was first developed. This was an important stop for him as his great grandfather Matthew Cowley had visited the farm on a trip to Japan over 50 years ago. It was a great opportunity to get to walk where Abe's hero walked.

And I being a lover of pearls, was excited to see how they are made and maybe find a souvenir or two.

Mikimoto and Abraham

My first (and only?) time seeing the ocean in Japan
There is a small fee to enter the grounds which is on a small island in the bay. The museum is surrounded by beautiful grounds to explore.

I didn't know abalones could make pearls, too!
 There is a museum that shows the history of the cultured pearl. I have to say I knew next to nothing about how pearls are made and it was fascinating to see. It took Mr. Mikimoto years and years and years of hard work, determination, and financial investment before he was able to produce a cultured pearl. It took even longer to develop the beautiful round pearls we expect today. It was actually pretty inspirational to see his hardwork and determination pay off despite so many roadblocks.

We were also interested to learn that fresh water oysters from the Mississippi river are used in the pearl making process! Evidently, for each pearl a small bead is made from the shell of these oysters (from our home!), surgically placed into a special part of the oyster which allows it to form the pearl over the top of the bead, and then the oysters are taken to the ocean to grow for years before finally being retrieved. Evidently very few oysters survive the surgery and the environmental hazards of being an oyster, and even fewer make pearls that are even worth selling. I felt a little less upset with how expensive pearls are now knowing how difficult they remain to harvest, despite the technology.

We stopped for lunch in their little cafe. We were pretty hungry by then. I think we had some tempura, soba noodles, an I honestly don't remember what I am eating in this picture.

They do demonstrations with women divers collecting the oysters. They do it the same way they have been doing it since the beginning. The day was cold enough I was very happy for my jacket and the water was chilly (~50 degrees F). I can't imagine doing this every day on the hour, and without a wetsuit. Brrr!

They get dropped off by the boat

Diving in!

Diving down

Got one!
I had really hoped to find a pearl necklace or at least some earrings to take home as a souvenir from our trip. Mine were stolen last fall when our house was burglarized so I thought it would be the perfect time to replace them. It was fun to look in their store at all of the beautiful jewelry and creations made of pearls. Unfortunately, the pearls there were quite expensive so we'll have to keep looking.

We left late afternoon to catch another couple hour train ride back to Tokyo. When we finally arrived at the station in Shinjuku, we were starving again. We walked around the busy streets until we decided upon an almost midnight ramen stop. I was so excited to finally get to try this staple of Japanese food made like it was supposed to be made, instead of from the hard brick packages I associate it with at home.

A match made in heaven! I was not disappointed. With my limited ramen experience, I learned you can choose either salt, soy, or miso broth (some of my favorite flavors). I chose the miso and Abe tried the soy. I enjoyed both.

The Japanese in the shop were able to finish their steaming hot bowls in minutes. It took us quite a bit longer. I have a lot more practicing to do before I become an expert ramen slurper like the natives, a task I will happily work on. I find I have been craving ramen since that night almost a month ago. 

After filling our bellies with warm soup, we made our final (subway) train ride back to our Shinjuku stop and walked past the curry house, CoCoCurry. I think we were remembering our hunger from a long day of traveling and also feeling like our time in Japan was ticking down with so much more food to try, so we stopped for a even later dinner of Hayashi rice. Abe was the one that mostly partook but I was happy to help him out.

By then we were tired. And still wearing the same clothes. Poor Abe wouldn't receive his bag until we were back in our apartment in Tokyo and I had mispacked for our small trip to Kyoto. It was a bit of a relief to know we would be staying in the same place for the rest of our trip and hopefully be able to wear some fresh clothes soon!

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