Udon with the Fox Goddess

On Thursday we took the JR Nara line two stops to Inari Station, which is just outside the Fushimi Inari shrine. Or as Iris calls it, the Fox Goddess Temple, which is sort of wrong but close enough. As [this web page](http://www.onmarkproductions.com/html/fox-inari-university-of-wiscon.htm) puts it:

> Usually when one refers to Inari the two general images are of an old man sitting on a pile of rice with two foxes beside him, or of a beautiful fox-woman.

Temples are Buddhist, and this is a Shinto shrine–although the two religions are totally mixed together in Japan. Anyway, whether you’re interested in religious iconography or not, there are two excellent reasons to visit this shrine.

**Torii.** Torii are red wooden gates. You’ve seen them before in pictures of Japan. The Fushimi Inari shrine has over 10,000 of them. Here is the famous picture that everyone takes:

Fushimi Inari-Taisha

The story I have been told is that Inari is the goddess of rice and therefore prosperity, so if you want your business to prosper, you donate a wooden gate to the Fushimi shrine. If [Spilled Milk](http://www.spilledmilkpodcast.com/) ever hits it big, we are totally donating a torii. You can hike for miles on Inariyama, the hill where the shrine is perched, and hardly ever emerge from under a tunnel of torii.

Eventually I started to get burned out and told Iris I was ready to head back. Iris would have none of it. I was getting hungry. We pressed on. Finally we came to the second reason to visit the Fushimi shrine.

**Udon shacks.** In Japanese folklore, foxes love to eat _aburaage,_ fried tofu, which is in turn frequently served in a bowl of udon. Iris and I shared a big bowl of the stuff for our morning snack. Look, if there are two things I have no interest in, they are religion and hiking. But Iris sums up our feelings about this place as follows:

Tori love

You can buy souvenir torii in many sizes at the gift shop. We did not.

We hopped back on the train and continued a few more stops to Uji. I wanted to go to Uji because I wanted to visit Tsuen tea. Tsuen is the oldest tea shop in Japan. It’s been operating at the end of the Uji bridge since 1160. That is a while. I expected Uji to look exactly like this picture from Tsuen’s web site:

It’s actually just a suburban town, but one unusually devoted to tea. To find Tsuen, we stopped in at the tourist office, where they gave us a map entirely in Japanese and seemed very surprised that we were in Uji–not in an annoyed way, more like how I would briefly make a face to indicate, “You live in Tokyo, and you came to _Seattle_ on vacation?”

We found Tsuen, which is just a tea shop. They gave us free samples of gyokuro, which is the highest grade of Japanese tea. Iris took her cup politely and then passed it off to me. I bought some random tea, and I think the guy who helped me was [the 24th generation owner of the shop](http://www.tsuentea.com/english24th.html). He looked kind of like me.

Uji is very pretty:

Uji Bridge

We walked across the bridge and laughed, because there’s a coffee shop on the other side. We tried to find a good place for lunch, maybe some gyoza, but every restaurant seemed to be showcasing food made with tea. So we shared a pork cutlet bento box from the Circle K, where we also discovered Dino Bars, a chocolate bar with white chocolate dinosaur bones and other skeletal images impressed into the top. Good stuff. We brought home half a dozen.

Uji was the low point of the trip for Iris. We got lost, got tea, and got a mediocre convenience store lunch. That’s as far wrong as we ever went in Japan. If you mention Uji to her, however, she will say “grrr,” like a fox goddess.

We caught our shinkansen back to Tokyo and had a late dinner at Yoshinoya, the beef bowl chain, near our hotel. I’d been to Yoshinoya in California, but the original is much better. We sat at the counter and each ordered a bowl of fatty meat, onions, and rice. Iris ate all her meat and asked if she could have more. I mustered enough to Japanese to ask if we could pay for _motto gyuniku,_ and the waitress showed me that there’s actually a section on the menu for more meat. Iris was thrilled.

Meanwhile, I put a bit of pickled ginger into my bowl and wondered whether I might be overdoing it. Then I looked around and saw that everyone else was shoveling a big mound of the stuff on before digging in.

6 thoughts on “Udon with the Fox Goddess

  1. Ginny A

    I love hearing about all the stuff you ate and things you saw and did with Iris in Japan!!! I kept wondering if you were there this year. I’ll keep reading!

  2. nomitai

    That tunnel of torii at Fushimi-Inari Taisha is amazing – I never did reach the end of it. And I also love the view from the Uji Bridge. Did you try the Uji Kinton – shaved ice with flavored syrup, boiled sweet red beans, and green tea ice cream? It may have been too early in the season for it to be available when you went. It sounds meh, but it’s actually really delicious.

  3. Anita / Married ...with dinner

    I had breakfast at the Yoshinoya in Tsukiji fish market on our trip to Japan. I’d bravely eaten 5 am sushi the previous day, but just couldn’t bear the thought of more raw fish before sunrise.

    The Yoshinoyas that are left in California are pretty uniformly awful, which is sad. It was never great food, but it was at least tasty and decent. I used to love going there with my dad in the 90s.

  4. Fabian

    Really nice to hear about the Japan trip, I’m going there myself for the first time this summer :)
    Did you learn alot of Japanese before going (I saw it mentioned briefly here)? I’m thinking of learning a little written japanese, so I can (partially) read menus at least.

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