Today was our last full day in Japan together.
Early in the day, we went back to Meiji Jingu to look around some more and do some more souvenir shopping. It so happens we picked a lucky day to go because the place was crawling with little kids dressed in kimonos. The first few pictures we took are blurry because they've of people on the move, but I think you still get the idea.
Giant tree at the shrine on which people hang their wishes:
Ai-chan's parents wanted to take us out for dinner our last night here, so today we took a train out to the small town of Kashiwa near where they live.
The restaurant they took us to was really amazing. Everything about this place was beautiful. We sat at a bar right in front of where the "master" (taisho) was preparing our food. It was really a kingly feast.
An unusual thing about this restaurant is that they serve raw chicken, sashimi-style. The chickens they use for this are literally raised in a clean room like they use at Intel. Ai-chan's parents assured us that this was a trusted place and they weren't kidding. Look at the dishes we were served:
Matsutake mushrooms sitting on the bar. The good ones like these are super expensive. Think hundreds of dollars per pound:
Shisamo. You eat these fish whole:
Homemade shiokara. Squid fermented in its own guts. Yummy:
Tuna cheek. This is prized in Japan as the best part of the fish:
Figs in a sweet miso sauce:
At one point during the meal, they cleared some space in front of me for a "surprise". They dimmed the lights and started singing happy birthday (it was the next day) and brought out the most amazing birthday cake I think I've ever seen. It was a sushi cake! The flowers around the plate were made from sashimi (fresh fish) and the happy birthday sign was their house-special tamago (baked, flavored egg thingies).
The cake itself was made from cooked rice and covered with amaebi (sweet shrimp sashimi). When we cut it open we realized that the taisho had actually made multiple layers like a birthday cake using seaweed and maguro (tuna). It was awesome.