In 2005 my mom, dad, and I went to Kansai together for about a week. Unfortunately, two days after we left Japan, our only camera was swiped by someone on the streets of Shanghai. My dad kept our camera hooked on his belt; when we were walking around one of the plazas at night, I asked for the camera so I could take pictures and poof! Gone. It was kind of a devastating moment–to have all your tangible memories vanish in an instant. The blatant truth of the saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words” becomes that much more obvious now, in retrospect, when I draw nearly a complete blank on my trip to Kansai 8 years ago. In contrast, the moment I see pictures from Kanto in 2004, immediately I remember. Pushing front of the crowded windows of Tokyo Government Center, past the yelling of Chinese tourists and the chitter chatter of Japanese school children, scrambling to see if I can get a view of Mt. Fuji and being utterly disappointed to see it covered in clouds. The sounds, the smells, the cold of the blasting A/C.
Mom and I were determined to relive Kansai once more–like it was our first time–in 2007. The itinerary had changed in two years; I was slightly disappointed that we were no longer going to the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge in Kobe (明石海峡大橋), which has the longest central span of any suspension bridge in the world. But change is good, as I found out later on the trip.
Day 1: We land in Narita, since that’s where all big international flights in Japan go. If I remember anything from my first trip to Kansai, it was the first night’s dinner. One of those meals you don’t need pictures to remember, but I’m glad that I was able to repeat it again on this trip. Sounds crazy, but I still remember what the restaurant looks like; mostly empty parking lot, corner of the street, 2nd floor. A large, wooden structure. We sat down in booths. The food was what made it unforgettable: Niratama-gayu にらたまがゆ). Just a guess at the name; I could be very much wrong.
All it was was rice porridge served in a hot, clay pot. There were some leeks, enoki, shiitake, shredded carrots, something like Japanese yu choy in the pot. Nothing more. Paired on the side were some crispy seaweed strips, scallions, and one egg. It was absolutely one of the most basic dishes, but it somehow managed to be a simmering bowl of intensely flavorful rice porridge. And once the egg is cracked in–done. gone. sold.
That’s really all you need to know about my first night back in Japan. If you’re interested in good accommodations around Tokyo, I highly recommend the Keio Plaza Hotel. I might be mistaken, but I believe our restaurant was close by; maybe a block or two down the street.