Saturday, October 16, 2010
The first stop in my Osaka highlight itinerary was the Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine. I wanted to pack as much as possible in one day since I was pressed for time. So I decided that the best thing to do was to hit the places that were close together in order to have a productive sightseeing day in Osaka. Getting to the Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine took several train transfers. From Shin Osaka Station, I took the JR train using my JR rail pass to Osaka Station then I transfered to the JR loop line to Shin Immamiya where I made another transfer through a private train line for Y200 to Sumiyoshi Station. From there it was a 5 minute walk to the shrine.
Sumiyoshi Taisha is an early 3rd century shrine commissioned by an empress during that era to wish sea faring voyagers to Korea a safe travel. It is dedicated to Shinto deities associated with the sea. Some of the buildings are faithful replicas of the original which predates Chinese Shinto Architectural influence. Some of the buildings go back to 1810, having escaped WWII bombings.
As you approach the shrine, the first thing that comes to sight is the stone Tori Gate that leads to a curved, red bridge. At first glance, the bridge appears to be a smooth curve line that leads to the other side of the lake. However as I approached to climb it, I saw that it was actually a hundred tiny little stair-like steps. They were so narrow, each step could only accommodate half of my foot. So I had to climb it sidewise.
A beautiful view of the pond can be seen from the middle of the bridge, where many local watercolorists can be seen painting the peaceful scenery around.
Upon reaching the other side, there was a purification well where most worshipers wash their hands and mouth before proceeding into the shrine to offer their prayers.
To the left of the entrance were prayers, messages and notes written on wood and aligned to grace the walls of the shrine. Upon entering the main shrine area, there were some interestingly-dressed gentlemen. I believe they were preparing for some kind of show for that evening. There were also traditionally dressed souvenir sales clerks seated, selling little trinkets in a shop near the exit, past the pond and the red bridge.
During my recent trip to Japan, I decided beforehand to have at least one great dinner in a nice restaurant, to eat either authentic Japanese Sushi or dine in a real Japanese Shabu Shabu restaurant. When I was in Tokyo, a really nice Japanese girl named Yuka (whom I met on a previous excursion in Miyajima Island) offered to show me around town, and arranged for a Japanese Shabu Shabu dinner for us in Shibuya. I was looking forward to it since it was on my list of things to do. I didn't think it was any different than the ones I'm used to eating in the Phiippines or the US. However the process and method of eating it was indeed different than the one I was used to. The word "Shabu" signifies the motion of swimming. I thought this was a very interesting and valuable information. Yuka showed me how it was done properly. And she taught me the fine art of eating Shabu Shabu.
Step 1. Have some really good Cold Sake.
Step 2. Start the course with some chilled appetizer.
Step 3. Continue with a Japanese Salad while the broth is being heated and thickened.
Step 4. Once the broth has been seasoned and thickened by some gelatin-like substance, the meat is next. Yuka told me to make the meat "swim" in the broth and it must be immediately eaten. It is followed by cooking and eating the vegetables.
Step 5. The rice is served toward the end of the meal. Where a rice porridge is made from all the flavors and essences left by the meat and vegetables previously cooked in the broth. A fresh egg and some spices are then added to complete and thicken the porridge.
Step 6. Green Tea and Dessert concludes the dinner. In our case, we were served some green tea ice cream.
You might wonder, "What's the big deal? It sounds and looks the same, anyway." Well...you're absolutely right! Except for the process. In the Philippines and some Shabu-Shabu restaurants I've been to in the US, they serve everything at the same time. No appetizer, no dessert and no rice porridge. The art of eating Shabu Shabu comes alive in the way you cook the meat and other ingredients. As I mentioned earlier, Shabu means the motion of "swimming." In this case, Once the meat is clamped between your chopsticks, you then make your meat "swim" in the broth. And then immediately eat it while the flavors are still fresh. Compared to the ones I've had before, the vegetables and meat are cooked at the same time, to be served in a small bowl then eaten alongside the rice. Another stark difference between authentic Japanese Shabu Shabu and commercial Shabu Shabu? Japanese Shabu Shabu is not eaten as a soup. But rather as a main course. While commercial Shabu Shabu is eaten as a soup and entree to accompany rice. Another major difference between the two is the way the rice is prepared and eaten. As I mentioned earlier, in Japan, they serve the rice toward the end of the course to make a porridge, served in a bowl with spring onions and other condiments before being eaten. Where as in commercial Shabu Shabu, it is eaten as an entree. I thought I'd share this somewhat redundant dining experience to those like me who love to eat and travel.