This past week in Japan, I experienced what it was like to live in the bowels of the sun. Every day brought searing heat, and instead of participating in my preferred summer activity (worshipping at the altar of the air-conditioner), I was outside.
And not just outside, but tromping up endless stairs, because for some reason all the best temples are on top of uncomfortably steep hillsides.
But with a little bit of balance (i.e., ice-cream breaks) we managed to spend a lot of time outside and just got used to it.
Which was handy, because one of the best nights we had was outside, at an all-you-can-eat, all-you-can-drink beergarden in Kyoto.
From June to September, department stores and hotels transform their rooftops into friendly neighborhood barbecues. For a flat fee, you can visit the buffet and bar as often as you’d like within a designated time frame.
We chose the top of the Takashimaya department store in Kyoto based on two factors:
1. It was easily walkable from our guesthouse in Gion.
2. Unlike many other beer gardens, this one didn’t have a two hour time limit. It was a free-for-all from 5:30 until 10:00.
First, the painful part – paying. It came to 6,700 yen (roughly $80); 3,500 for Jared and 3,200 for me. It seems standard that women pay less at these things. Bonus.
We got a perforated food and drink ticket and passed gleefully through the gates. (OK, I was providing most of the glee. Jared had a subtle aura of masculine happiness about him.)
In exchange for the food ticket, each person receives one plate, one bowl, and a set of wooden chopsticks. Then you can cut loose at the buffet.
I don’t know that the food was ‘traditionally’ Japanese, but it was fairly typical of a buffet. Lots of obscure fried items, which we chose at random. Rice, noodles, fruit, salad, and edamame supplied the healthy portion of the meal, so everything cancelled out in the end.
One drink ticket got you a beer mug and a choice of Asahi super dry or Asahi dark, courtesy of the sponsor – Asahi. The enthusiastic bartenders give you a fresh glass every time, so you’re free to sample all two options.
The place filled up within an hour. Families, college students, girls in kimono, middle-aged women laden with shopping bags, rowdy young men – it seemed like all of Kyoto was here.
A group of three students at the tale next to us struck up a conversation, curious about where we were from. The girl was studying French, while the boys had chosen English and Portugese.
This fascinated me, especially when the Portugese major excitedly announced that he was headed to Boston in six days for a three-week home stay. I’m still not clear on the connection between Portugese and Boston, but I assume that got lost in translation.
The students also clued us in to the other drink line – the one that I assumed was for soft drink lovers.
“No, no,” Marina said. “Cocktails!”
Jared and I made the most of the last half an hour by experimenting with different flavors, some of which were good (green apple) and some of which were not (unidentifiable red).
We strolled home at ten, full and giggly, with three new facebook friends and a very distinct feeling that we were on vacation. Because even when you’re vacationing in the bowels of the sun, a cold beer always goes down a treat.