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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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 🙂
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.
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……….
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.
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.
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
Flying back into Australia over Sydney Harbour……….