Japan Part III: ‘Nana korobi, ya oki’ and the mother of all sucker punches!!

One of the best reasons for travelling to Japan is to experience their thriving and very vibrant food scene.  Food in Japan is a serious business and although the region is famous for dishes such as sushi, donburi, noodles and the staple rice, this enthusiastic culture has embraced cuisine with a passion.   The obsession the Japanese have with food is to be admired from the simplicity, their exquisite presentation to the very best of quality ingredients they use.

Within an hour of arriving at our hotel we were out an about and had scored a seat at a local gyoza bar which served these classic little dumplings up to perfection.  Accompanied with mugs of ice cold Sapporo, we could think of no better way to begin our first hours in Japan with our evening ending in an uber cool little cocktail bar.

It would be fair to say that seafood is a major part of the Japanese diet and where better to see, sample and appreciate the very freshest of seafood than the fish markets.  Tsukiji Markets are the largest seafood markets in the world and they are a favorite with locals and tourists alike.  Most of the foot traffic generated at these markets comes from the famous tuna auctions with more Atlantic Blue Fin and Giant Pacific tuna traded here than anywhere else in the world.

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If travelling to Japan, you really should experience these amazing, busy and very fast paced markets but do not expect the usual manners and genteel courteousness of the Japanese as you will get jostled, shoved and pushed about.  That my friends, is the nature of the beast!   You may also need a stout heart and an open mind at these markets as you will come in contact with still living creatures, their impending demise and you may even see floors puddled with watery blood.

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A tradition in Japan is that every part of the sea creature be appreciated and eaten which is a nod to the humble reminder of sustainability.   We loved the seafood on offer and we pretty much tried everything, as one should, with the exception of shark fin!

The outer markets are made up of hundreds of tiny cramped stalls and like circled wagons, they appear to surround the fish markets themselves.  Here you can buy anything from Japanese knives made of carbon forged steel, real wasabi (there is such a thing), beautiful ceramic bowls and pots, fresh fruit and veg, dried fish, wooden chopsticks and freshly cooked seafood.  And do take cash if possible as many of these little stalls do not accept credit cards.

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Now comfort food is one thing, but to eat the freshest of seafood prepared and cooked then served straight from the street vendor is just wonderful.  Sticky caramelised grilled eel, fresh oysters, urchin roe and scallops.   Just amazing!

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There are also many restaurants tucked up narrow alleys and laneways and here, you will very easily consume copious amounts of fresh sashimi.  And who doesn’t love their seafood fresh……….especially if it is straight from the water at 3am!

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We tried a myriad of things at the markets from the most delicate and beautifully presented sashimi to umi budo which are sea grapes, also known as green caviar.   These pretty little pearl like morsels are very salty and very moorish and they ‘pop’ in your mouth.  They are even better chased down with an ice cold Japanese beer.

Shirako, another delicacy,  is basically cod sperm and the word ‘shirako’ means tasting creamy.  For me, they would probably be best pan fried in lots of rich butter but I guess no amount of cooking will take away the small grimace some may have just had when reading about this lux food 🙂

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And do try Uri which are sea urchins.  Well, more to the point they are the gonads of the urchin which are scooped out and eaten raw.  Kinda’ creamy yet salty…..the jury is still out on this one for me.

Now the mother of all sucker punches will come from Sake which is the national drink of Japan.   This stuff is potent and for the uninitiated Sake drinker a word of warning: this unassuming liquid can harbour the absolute kick of a mule……….. and it also makes you perform uninhibited karaoke!

Sake is traditional, been made for centuries to a simple recipe using rice and it is really quite lovely.   It is drunk in Japan as one would drink wine in France but perhaps it is best enjoyed in small doses.

One evening, we were so very fortunate to be seated in a Sake bar between two Japanese couples.  Neither couple had ever met yet these gracious people welcomed us and spoilt us with acceptance and a truly wonderful evening.  The men found it an honor to select, order and serve the Sake and if your Sake is poured until it spills over then this is a token of admiration.  The overflowing Sake signifies abundance and gratitude.

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Tea is the other popular drink in Japan and the tea houses are just lovely.   As a coffee lover, I actually do believe there really should be more tea houses in the world.  Less Starbucks (please!!) and more tea houses…….and those dear little Japanese sweets.

The legendary Mt Fuji……….

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Photo courtesy Yamanashi Tourism Association…….

What can be said of this magnificent world heritage listed mountain. This still active volcano is one of Japans highest peaks and Mt Fuji is also considered a sacred and holy mountain.   It is an impressively captivating sight be the mountain snow-capped, cloud kissed or soul baringly natural as it was on the day we visited.  In the hours we were there, cloud followed by a gentle fog rolled in over Mt Fuji and the cloud presence soften the volcanic landscape yet this alluring mountain needed nothing more.

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Even the village at the base of Mt Fuji is an eclectic and interesting mix and there is plenty to experience for those who do not climb.

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A return trip to Japan is planned and when doing so, I intend to climb this notoriously fickle mountain.  Climbers perish each year in their pursuit of the summit of Mt Fuji but my great concern is the profound impact so many hikers take on this stunningly beautiful but fragile environment.  Be assured my foot-print will be light…………

There is much wisdom and beauty in the Japanese language and in particular their proverbs.  These sayings have a rich history of lessons, the eloquent expression of truth and superstition and some  enlighten with emotive inspiration.  The proverb in the title of this blog, nana korobi, ya oki,  relates to the encouragement of perseverance and it translates to fall down seven times, rise up eight.  Another proverb I love is a stake (or nail) that sticks out will be hammered in.   My reason of admiration is not with regards to having to bend to conformity but it is a gentle reminder for me to always be that stake.   Be unique, be individual and do not follow but most importantly – always stand up for what you believe in no matter how much they try to force you to concede.

Our time in Japan over though difficult, heartbreaking, beautiful and intoxicating all at the same time, we headed for Sydney…………xx

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Flying back into Australia over Sydney Harbour……….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A little yen for Japan…….

Japan.  The land of the rising sun and such a peaceful place of immense beauty……..

Japan has a rich history and a culture which has formed over thousands of years yet the traditional and a modern Japan fit so elegantly together.   This beautiful land has a tranquil air of mystery to it and it appears to be a place where you could find yourself as a respectful outsider looking in on such loveliness.

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The people of Japan are hardworking yet delightfully courteous.  They have odd little mannerisms, they are welcoming and at times a little quirky, they have a quiet sense of composed beauty and their genteel politeness is utterly charming.   It seems too that good manners are paramount and these manners are taught at a very young age.   It makes for sweet yet respectfully dear children and who doesn’t appreciate that.

Traditional to hipster, this is modern Japan…….

Throughout Japan, and due much in part to Shintoism and the adopted Buddhism, there are thousands of beautiful public shrines and temples which you can respectfully wander through.   It is a very peaceful experience and at one temple midweek, we were so fortunate to witness the beauty of a hushed Shinto wedding ceremony.

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Japan has a troubled war history and due in part to this, they have denounced all military aggression for which I salute them.  As most reader know, I struggle with war.  Those bitter, unbearable and horrific conflicts where no one ever wins!   Japan was decimated after WWII – see previous post of Pearl Harbour – yet somehow, it rose from atomic ash to become one of the biggest economies in the world and one of the most beautiful places on earth.

There is war between the ones who say there is a war and the ones who say there isn’t…………Leonard Cohen

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This is also the country of 6 million vending machines offering anything from ice cream, hamburgers, floral arrangements, hot ‘frozen dinners’, deep fried hot chips……how do they do it! to fresh eggs and hot coffee in a can.   Ubiquitously Japanese, your can of coffee will come out steaming hot and tasting of caffeine and your ice-cream will be frozen to perfection.  You can buy almost anything out of these machines including undies and they are incredibly convenient as they are situated everywhere.  I am in no doubt to the world having vending machine envy.

Somehow, I think one could very happily live in Japan, if only for a year, yet barely scratch the surface of this enchanting land.

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The rail system in Japan is brilliant.  It really is a great way to get around and in itself, it is a tourist attraction.  Think the ‘Mag-Lev High Speed Bullet Train’ which has a maximum operating speed of 320 km/h and which reached 603 km/h in testing.

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Image courtesy – indulgy.com

The commuter rail system is slick, fast and very clean.  It can be slightly complex to navigate at first, which is half the fun, but there is always someone willing to help you out.  In our case, an elderly gentleman helped navigated us through the underground network of tunnels and twist and turns to walk us right to our platform.  Not only was he delightful company for this brief encounter, but his gesture was also very kind.

And the trains are punctual!   I would recommend purchasing the unlimited rail card as train travel really is, apart from walking, one of the best way to get around.

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You will eat well in Japan and often only for a few yen at noodle bars or Yakitori’s.  And who doesn’t love a noodle bar.   We tended toward the smaller bars with their dark spaces and narrow benches which faced the kitchen to look upon the huge steaming pots of broth and noodles.   And do slurp your noodles as it will not only enhance their delicate flavor but in Japan, this is also the correct and most polite way to eat them.

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Another food tradition are the Bento boxes.  You can travel like a Ninja as these boxes were initially designed to eat whilst in a nomadic state.  It is quite an appealing way to eat although I suspect if travelling on the bullet train, you may not have much time to truly savor one.

Something quite lovely to try while in Japan are Rakugan.  These are sweets, not too sweet, that have been hand shaped into animals and flowers and objects of beauty.  Some of them really are works of art and I often found them just too lovely to eat.  Naturally, they come beautifully packaged – as is everything in Japan – and they are often served at traditional tea ceremonies.   The thing with the Japanese is that it is all about the aesthetically pleasing aspect of presentation.   The attention to detail, the precision and the art of giving with love and joy appear paramount from the presentation of a simple tiny Rakugan to the most expensive and elaborate of gifts.

‘The Princess and the Pee!’……. aka, my fascination with Japanese toilets!  What can I say.  The lav’s in Japan are everything I had heard and dreamed them to be.  Elaborate, modern, high tech, sophisticated, sensory, heated seats, melodic – they really do play music to camouflage any ‘noise’ – and they make for very happy travellers.  Give me a futon and a Japanese toilet and I’m a happy girl…….. 🙂

Japan Part II coming soon………..xx