It’s been a long time since the last post, I know. Sorry! I’ve been pretty busy with my first couple of weeks and getting settled in. I was staying in a short-stay apartment for a week before having to move into my real one, so everything’s been a bit chaotic. I’ve unpacked everything now, and I’m just about starting to cook for myself rather than eat out. I have to be honest, cooking for myself here still means relatively instant meals, but I bought some raw ingredients for a genuine attempt at cooking in the not-too-distant future… maybe the weekend.
Wow, what a great city! I’m glad it’s as amazing as I thought it was when I visited. I didn’t have tourist-vision! Something about it really ticks for me. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but catching a glimpse of the castle every day on my way to work, the relative lack of foreigners, managing to be a city and in the countryside at the same time, being on the Shinkansen line for easy transport, having decent shopping centres as well as quirky backstreets, and people who let you struggle with Japanese rather than speaking in English immediately are just some of the things that I love about it. There’s also a brand-new cinema and shopping centre, a Muji, an entire shop of gatcha-machines (more on that later), pachinko parlours, nerdy internet cafés, a number of cat cafés, and apparently, though I’m yet to find it, an owl café! There are also café staples of any Japanese city, such as Maid cafés and a Hello Kitty-themed café.
Outside of the main area, the streets and houses become more traditional, with entire rows of old houses. It begins to feel like rural Japan, which is a rather beautiful thing. Just watch any anime with scenes in the countryside and you’ll understand what I mean. Lots of Ghibli films, including Princess Mononoke, The Wind Rises and Kiki’s Delivery Service, and also the recent CoMix Wave film, Kimi no na wa., do a great job of showing off the beauty of rural Japanese towns. Certain parts of the Fate and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood series will also give you an idea. If you want a full list of my anime recommendations, check out the section here! The one downside to this is that street-lighting is apparently not a thing, albeit not really an actual problem.
There are some pretty great restaurants, as well as the very best fast food ever. Matsuya is a fast-food-favourite of mine, serving Japanese curry and Gyuudon (beef on rice), as well as CoCo Ichi, a slightly more upmarket curry chain. Unfortunately closing before I finish work, there’s a great place called Koba & More. Anyone visiting Himeji who likes ramen and jazz, or anywhere with a chill atmosphere, absolutely MUST go here. Koba is also a super nice guy, and he’s also the real deal when it comes to soups. I’ll keep it short for now because I’ll probably write a whole post on this place later.
Menme is a popular udon restaurant among foreigners visiting the castle. I’ve only been once, so I can’t really say much about it, but I wasn’t that impressed. It’s really cheap though, and they have an interesting array of toppings; I’ll have to try a few more things on the menu. Relatively cheap yakitori desires can be sated by Torikizoku, but definitely take a friend – yakitori and yakiniku just aren’t the same when you’re alone! I haven’t found a good Tonkatsu place yet which is slightly disappointing, but I haven’t looked that hard yet.
Finally, I wanted to document my experiences at a Japanese-language, Korean-food restaurant. I was quite excited to visit Bibim’ because I’d seen it in Osaka but only on my last day. When I found out there was one in Himeji, I was pretty pleased. At about 8pm, I wandered over to the place and it was fairly quiet – I suppose this wasn’t entirely surprising on a week night. In an adventurous mood, I picked some things off the menu; a dinner set, and a cup of makkoli. This is where my problems started. Please bear in mind that I had no internet access during this ordeal.
First of all, the woman started asking me complex questions about my choice of makkoli. ‘Hot? Cold? Which type?’ I had no answers, and frankly she was speaking so quickly I barely took any of it in. Eventually we managed some form of communication and everything was right again. Not for long. The side order of the set meal soon came – kimchi, pasta salad and bean-sprouts in sesame oil – along with a miscellaneous, unexplained kettle. I seriously had no idea what it was for. No explanation, nothing. I picked at the sides nervously, wondering if I was meant to wait for the main course or not. About 10 minutes later, I decided that I definitely wasn’t meant to wait and attacked them ferociously. I was pretty hungry by this point so the doubt could no longer stop me eating!
Finally, the rest of the food came; a huge tray of Korean-style ramen and a pan of rice. Also a square packet of reconstituted cheese like the stuff usually used in cheeseburgers. In case you didn’t think this set-up was ridiculous enough already, IT HAD ITS OWN PLATE. I hope I was meant to plonk this cheese straight in the ramen, because in a moment of rare boldness, that’s exactly what I did. As she placed my tray down, I asked her in a slightly worried voice if the kettle was hot water. I figured if she told me it was tea, I was just meant to drink it. (For those of you who already knew what the aforementioned kettle was for, no spoilers!) Obviously realising my complete Korean-food ineptitude, not to mention ignorance, she served the majority of my rice for me before picking up the kettle and pouring the hot liquid into the sizzling rice pan. I later found out it was tea. After this, she started scraping the spare bits of rice off the sides of the pan with the spoon. I was now thoroughly mystified and somewhat entranced by the strange ritual. She briefly explained something, but I wasn’t remotely ready to listen and so I was still at a complete loss. Was I meant to eat the rice goo? Was it there for some kind of weird traditional reason? Was it to wash your hands in? I ate the majority of my meal, peering round at the other diners, hoping someone else near me would be ordering the same thing. They didn’t. I finished everything else on my tray, and stared at the rice pan as if it was going to reveal its secrets to me like some kind of magic stone. Eventually, I took a gamble. I was pretty sure I was meant to eat it. I waited until none of the staff were looking at me and gobbled it down. Worst case scenario, they’d laugh that I’d eaten the hand-washing water AFTER I’d left.
When I got home, I googled it immediately. Turns out I got lucky this time and you are, in fact, meant to eat the rice porridge. I can’t say it tasted amazing on its own, but at least I didn’t completely embarrass myself.
Small heads up to anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation. Eat the damn rice porridge.
Top photo: Himeji City from the Castle