Sunday, March 4, 2012

lunch in iga

Today Vinnie took me to Iga which is a city that is made up of several small villages and towns that got merged together, the biggest being Ueno. Iga is known for being the location of Iga-ryu, an historical school of ninjutsu, one of the two well-known ninja schools in Japan. Besides being the site of a well known ninja school, Iga was also the birthplace of Matsuo Basho, credited with popularizing hokku or modern day haiku, and Hanzo Hattori, a ninja clan leader.

Trains in Japan are really efficient and really expensive. It also gets confusing because there are a lot of private train lines in addition to the government's JR line. Around Mie Prefecture the dominant and most accessible train line is the Kintetsu. All stations have their names written in English and most of them have train maps and time tables in English also. However the further you get from the city the less that is true. In most cases I just stayed awake to make sure I didn't pass my station accidentally. Despite the fact that using the train system in Japan is pretty easy it would be nicer if train station names were more prominent throughout the platform. A lot of the times when I was stopped at a station I wouldn't be able to see the station name which made it pretty difficult to know where I was. Still I love using the train system here because you can pretty much get anywhere you need to go as long as you don't care about the price... So the fare for the trains is based on distance and how much time it takes is irrelevant. For example the Kintetsu line has the Rapid Express, Express, Local and there are also some that have Semi-Express, etc etc. However taking the Rapid Express, which is faster because it only stops at certain stations, costs the same as the Local which stops at every station. The only thing that costs extra is the Limited Express where you have to pay the basic fare for the distance traveled and an additional fee for the seat reservation. I believe this applies to every train company in Japan. Anyways since I was a newbie in Japan and didn't understand how the trains worked yet I just followed Vinnie blindly around as she brought us to Iga. No worries all the important transportation information will be listed below for reference. Just make sure you get off at Uenoshi Station because Ueno Park is nearby and most of the tourist destinations are located in that park.

The Iga Railway is the train that connects the Kintetsu and JR lines, it is also the train we needed to take to get to the Uenoshi Station. The Iga Railway is cool in that it has Ninja trains which we unfortunately didn't end up on but happened to pass them on our way to our destination.

At the train stations you could start seeing the ninja theme with a whole bunch of stuffed ninja dolls positioned all over the place. I didn't even notice some of them until people started taking pictures. Hint: look up!

look closely at the ninja's hands. lol
So right after we arrived we went to grab lunch because Vinnie knew there wasn't anywhere to eat up at Ueno Park and we were already super hungry. It was raining hardcore at this point and from what I could see most things were closed. We ended up at this covered outdoor shopping arcade but everything was closed except for a handful of restaurants and cafes. We decided to eat at this cute little restaurant, Kyuan, because I was tired of walking and because it just seemed so Japanese.

As people know I try to be pretty detailed with my blog, listing addresses and information about places if I can. Well in Japan it was pretty impossible to find any information on the restaurants. All the addresses and such are only in Japanese and most cities don't even have street signs. I would walk around pointing to signs that I would assume were street signs just to have Vinnie tell me it wasn't. So apparently street signs are scarce and any that do exist are only in Japanese. I now see how English friendly Taiwan really is, from all the English street signs to information. As Vinnie says Japan does a lot to attract tourists to their country but aren't very helpful after they've landed. I'll see how true that is in the coming weeks.

So yesterday, March 3rd was the Hina Matsuri, the Doll Festival or Girls' Day. This is the day for families to pray that the girls in the family will grow up healthy. This festival is also used to ward off evil spirits from the girls. A platform is set up to display a set of ornamental dolls. Dolls were believed to contain the power to possess bad spirits. Immediately after the festival, the doll display is taken down because superstition states that leaving the dolls up pass March 4th will result in a late marriage for the daughters. I'm talking about Hina Matsuri because at the restaurant pictured above they had a special meal for Hina Matsuri that was still going on. I ordered the Ohinasan Udon, Princess Udon for 850 yen.

My udon had clams and fish cakes that came in the form of flowers. Clams are generally eaten during the Hina Matsuri because clams symbolize a united and peaceful couple due to the fact that clam shells fit perfectly together and no pair but the original pair can do so. The bowl next to my udon contains chirashizushi, scattered sushi. I didn't like the chirashizushi since it was just a bowl of sushi rice with some garnishes on top. My udon was good with a seaweedy taste to the broth. Although I thought Vinnie's beef curry udon looked way better...

The Details
From Tsu Shimmachi we caught the Kintetsu Nagoya Line to Ise Nakagawa Station and then transferred to the Kintetsu Osaka Line to Iga Kambe. Since all these trains were part of the Kintetsu Company you can buy one ticket and just transfer however you want to reach your destination. Cost = 670 yen. Then from Iga Kambe you need to catch the Iga Railway to Uenoshi Station which will cost 350 yen. Round trip transportation costs = 2040 yen.

You can access Iga via the JR line by taking the train to Iga-Ueno Station. However the Iga Railway that goes to Uenoshi Station only comes once every hour and is poorly designed to hook up with arriving JR trains. The Iga Kambe Station served by Kintetsu gets more frequent service by the Iga Railway and is synced with arriving and departing Kintetsu trains. 

Kyuan Restaurant
website:  (japanese only)

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