The Great Shimanami Kaido Bikecamping Adventure – Day 2

Well, dollars short and days late, here’s the next instalment of the tale.

Before doing any storytelling, I’m going to digress for a bit and break down exactly how heavy my stuff was.  Let’s start with the bicycle itself.  It’s a Made in China steel frame bicycle with huge oversize tubes whose only purpose is to mimic the large tubes of light, carbon framed road bikes that usually weigh less than 10 kilos.  When you make the same size frame in cheap steel and add on fenders, baskets and the cheapest brand-named accoutrements you think will entice people to buy the bicycle (Shimano RevoShifters and Shimano derailleur/gearset, in my case), you end up with a bicycle weighing somewhere between 18 and 20 kg.  I have to say “somewhere between” because the scale seemed at risk of breaking when I weighed it, so I can’t be too sure…

WP_20160103_21_09_13_Pro__highres.jpgTOP ONE – SHOES, BIKES, WHATEVER YOU WANT, FROM CHINA.  Bike logo reads “Find your soul.” Well, that didn’t work.

Now let’s add up the luggage!

  • Bivy tent – 1.5 kg
  • Sleeping bag – 1.65 kg
  • Fleece blanket and sleeping mat – 1.41 kg
  • Tools/tube etc. – 1.4 kg
  • 20L capacity backpack with hydration pack – 4.7 kg
  • Grand Total – 10.66 kg

Yeah…that’s nearly 30 kg…over half my body weight…if I were to do this again on the same 18 kg beast, I would take only one thing – a credit card in my back pocket.  I understand why “credit card touring” is a phrase.  Anybody riding a 6 gear human-powered locomotive should definitely choose this option when travelling more than 30 km.

But let’s get back to the story.  Hitting the trail that morning meant first pushing those 30 kg up the steep spiral road and ramp to get back onto the bridge.  I had to take a rest on the way up.  By “take a rest” I mean I parked the bike beside the road and went for a very short hike in order to catch a glimpse of one of the fastest currents in Japan,  called “ship-breaker.”  Here’s a photo of the strait off in the distance…

WP_20151229_09_21_40_Pro.jpgFUNAORISETO (ship-breaking current), HAKATAJIMA

Eventually I did get back up onto the bridge.  My muscles were nowhere near recovery – they were busy trying to transition from jelly stage to the full-on ache.  They never got the chance.  I had ‘em warmed up and feeling good in a jiffy, cruising along down the ramp to Oshima.  I knew my legs were shot, but hey, I thought, there are a ton of cafes along the road on Oshima.  I’m gonna stop for a leisurely coffee about halfway through the island, and then it’s just one more bridge before I reach Imabari on Shikoku.  Now, here’s a free Japanese lesson for you.  大島 These two kanji mean “big” and “island.”  I knew that before of course, but I’ve only driven across this island.  When you drive the Shimanami Kaido, you essentially skim over top the highest points of each island.  When you ride the Shimanami Kaido, you only use the same portions of the route as the automobile traffic on the bridges.  Bicycles leave the nice, straight, level highway to ride along the local roads before climbing the ramp and rejoining the bridges on the other end of each island.

On I rode.  I don’t know how many cafés I spotted, closed signs gleaming in the sunlight as I rolled on by, but by the time the slope began, I was more than ready for a stop.  Just a little further, I told myself, and there’s sure to be an open café.

But no…it turns out that Big Island probably also meant Big Vertically High Gigantic Never-ending Slope Island in its original form.  I’ll have to ask around.  I nearly died on Oshima, and that’s no exaggeration.  On the way up, I had no choice but to park the bike beside the road a couple of times and sit down for a break so my legs, lungs, and circulatory system could recover a bit.  Now let’s talk about the mental game.  Imagine you’re on a bicycle.  You pass a throng of high-school aged boys wearing big hiking packs (3/4 empty, but still…) who seem to be hiking at least a portion of the Shimanami.  Good for them, you think.  I wonder how long it will take them to reach Imabari.  On you go….and then you began to sense your heart giving out, so you stop for a rest.  And the throng of young’uns goes by you and your bicycle.  On foot.

As it turned out, the physical and mental struggle up the hill was a mere foreshadowing of my imminent demise.  I reached the crest of the hill in a sort of grim, I-have-conquered-the-mountain-but-must-yet-descend-alive state of mind.  I soon discovered how important this cautious, mindful attitude was.  Down I cruised, the occasional vehicle passing me.  If the cars were going 70 km/h than I would have been going about 50km.  I’ve measured myself at 60 kms/hr on a bicycle before (not this one!!) and this was getting close.  A concrete curb separated the shared foot and bicycle path from the road.  I stayed on the road, knowing the danger of attempting to ride down the footpath with a throng of backpacking kids ahead of me.  Soon I caught up to them, a herd of tired sleepy pheromonal boys running down the steep hill in a mob, almost tripping over their own feet.  Imagine recently tranquilized elephants attempting to stampede.  No, I’m not exaggerating.  My speed increased.  The traffic increased.  Stopping was impossible.  Managing my brakes without glazing them over (if you heat them up too much the rubber hardens and renders them useless ) became my priority.  Suddenly there was a bumper-to-bumper line of trucks and buses and the odd car, locking me and my 30 kg bike into the small space along that pretty blue line and concrete curb.  And then about 5 of the dopey stumbling morons hopped off of the sidewalk and blocked my path.

It was awfully close.  My blazing white and orange and reflective-stickered-garbage-bag get-up was shooting down the steep slope like a cyclist express train to hell, my neon-yellow mini-gloved left hand hitting the bell trigger as often as I could while trying to keep the brake lever at a moderate level so as to not rip the brake pad out of its cheap holder or ruin my steering while trucks flew past about 20 cm from my right shoulder.  I didn’t have enough time to think of something to yell besides the expletives on the tip of my tongue, yet somehow I managed to not yell those, which in hindsight was quite a massive failure on my part.  I’m sure it would have given me much more time.  We had about a 1 second cushion, if that.  I nearly got one boy’s back with my handlebar.  Boys jumping, tires skidding, the last one barely got his dopey arse out of my way and I let go of the brakes to just let that abused bike coast all the way to the stop sign, however many kilometres ahead.  It was either that, or stop and have a serious altercation/freak out with/at a bunch of strangers who in all fairness were probably more exhausted than I was BUT JUST ABOUT KILLED US ALL! This is the sort of thing you figure no one is stupid enough to do, until you see it, and you want to stop and lock the perpetrators up with accident videos and knowledge tests until they’re qualified to walk in public again.  OMG. m_O_m  OMG.  Definitely my closest call in Japan.  Or anywhere…I remember hoping my helmet wouldn’t work so I wouldn’t be paralyzed for the rest of my life…LOL.  Seems funny now.  Kind of.

Oh, and there were still no open cafes.  At that point I figured I’d just been handed another chance at life, so I’d better just keep soldiering on.  After all, there was only one more bridge between me and Imabari…and then I reached the bottom of that bridge, and this is what I saw:

WP_20151229_10_40_05_Pro.jpgYES, THE BRIDGE IS SKY-HIGH AND ENDLESS, BUT WHAT’S A BIT MORE SUFFERING AFTER A NEAR-DEATH EXPERIENCE?WP_20151229_10_44_15_Pro__highres.jpg

The ramp up to the bridge is pretty long and therefore gradual, thankfully, and it really shouldn’t have been too hard, but anyone that’s ever had a terrifying experience will know the physical effect that the adrenalin rush has on you – after it’s done, your body crashes – luckily, only metaphorically.  I met a bunch of Filipinos at the entrance to the bridge.  They stayed at the rest stop and I said goodbye and headed off.  They passed me about five minutes later, on their mama-charis, and I didn’t care one whit.  I didn’t die today.  Whatever. 

The “one last bridge” I referred to above is actually a series of joined suspension bridges called the Kurushima Kaikyo Bridge, which just so happens to be the world’s longest suspension bridge structure.  *maniacal laughter*

Roughly half way along the series is an island called “Horse Island” (Umashima).  Way back when, somebody with too much money and too little brainpower thought raising warhorses on a tiny rocky outcrop was a brilliant idea…obviously, that failed, but the name stuck.  LOL.  I love Japan.  Anyway… people still live on the island, so for scooter and bicycle access (no car access from the bridge) there is actually an ELEVATOR down to the island.  Yes, an elevator.  You take your bike in with you, press down, waaay down, and poof, you’re no longer on a high, cold, windy bridge – you’re on a magical island where it’s warm and sunny!  The Kurushima Strait is also one of Japan’s fast currents, but at this point, do you think I cared?  No.  But there’s picture below.  And so I had a picnic, and then I laid back and had myself a little nap.  I don’t know how long I was there, but you may recall a herd of dopey boys walking along…

WP_20151229_12_19_01_Pro.jpgKURUSHIMA STRAIT

Back up the elevator I went, and rode along the bridge until the shipyard cranes of Imabari loomed up before me.  The descending ramp and the shipyard backdrop is spectacular, to put it mildly.  Anyway, I was taking it slowly and carefully going down the ramp, which was quite busy with foot and bicycle traffic and even a couple with a baby stroller, but of course everyone following the rules of the road…

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Until whom should I see again, but the herd of boys.  Which is fine.  I’d calmed down by this point.  But the complete morons did it AGAIN.  The ramp is about 2 metres wide.  The edges are shoulder high concrete.  And they bunched up and blocked the entire ramp.  Well, I let one expletive out earlier in the day when I nearly died.  I wasn’t going to let this inanity get to me now.  Instead I rang that bell like it was dinnertime and death-glared them on the way by.  Yeah, I’ll show them.  Ding-ding-stare.  LOL.  Should have stopped, cuffed them all on the head and demanded forehead-touching-ground apologies and maybe a case of beer and some firstborn children or something.  But I’m a softie.

Now, my original plan was to spend the afternoon at Imabari onsens and retire to a campground later in the day…but all I could think about was sleeping and getting to Matsuyama.  So I found the campground, pitched my tent, and waited for the sun to set before collapsing.  I should mention that the campground felt quite a bit farther away from the Shimanami Kaido than it looked on the map, and there were absolutely no restaurants or convenience stores nearby, and I ate peanuts and jerky for supper when all I wanted was some proper food…but hey, I wasn’t dead.  Yet.  You gotta look on the bright side.

WP_20151229_14_25_25_Pro.jpgHEY, IT’S THE BRIGHT SIDE!  ROCKS THAT LOOK LIKE WHALES, WOW!

Day 3.  Coming sometime in the near or not-so-near future.

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Only in Japan

So I popped into a Lawson’s convenience store on my way to the ferry on Thursday, and bought a couple of onigiri (rice balls with fillings inside) and a bottle of orange juice. This was what I planned on cramming my face with after I’d finished working on the other island and had five minutes of time on the return ferry to eat during. I paid and was about to rush out the door (to catch the ferry!) when the teller instructed me to wait. She added the single word “Now.” Well, yes ma’am! She grabbed a draw box and told me to pull out a paper – What do you know, I won a drink! How exciting! But after she ran to the cooler, she put this in my hands. Green Coke. What??? Okay, only the label is green, but still…
 

 

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Turns out that “CocaCola Life” is sweetened with Stevia, and apparently has less calories than the regular Coke. It tastes okay but the flavour is dangerously close to Pepsi, and if you know me at all you’ll remember how fond I am of that… I honestly preferred the Coke of the 90’s with it’s carcinogenic caramel flavouring. Ha.

So I was at the supermarket going through the bargain bin and spotted pizza. SCORE! Except when I was eating the next day, I bit into an egg. An egg in the middle of the pizza slice, with a tiny bit of bacon perched on top. On closer inspection, I saw that the pizza was labelled as “Gratin Carbonara Pizza”. I’m not sure those things should be altogether, but I recently picked up another slice of it from the bargain bin (apparently everyone else isn’t sure about it either) in the thoughts that it will make a great all-in-one breakfast to go.
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And here we have “rice flour tornadoes/twisters” They are supposed to be served as light snacks with beer (or whatever). Basically the Japanese version of salty(ish) munchies, except they’re ultra-light and made with white rice flour so there is virtually no food value to them all. But they’re good and a great alternative to popcorn!
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I’m pretty sure these things are “only in Japan” but what do you think? Have you seen them elsewhere?

Of Oranges and Hassakus*

A specific type of orange was developed here in Innoshima – the hassaku.  It is generally larger than a navel orange and has a bitter initial taste that I would describe as a cross between an orange and a grapefruit, with the inner fruit tasting mildly sweet.  I love them.  They are now my favourite fruit and I wish I had access to them before!  Below is a picture of a bag of hassakus, with two natsumikans (summer oranges) in front of them.  Natsumikans are HUGE, like a large grapefruit.  They have a very thick rind and pale orange, nearly yellow flesh.  The bananas are for size reference…

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After falling in love with hassakus and later on being able to afford bread as a splurge, I decided that a major splurge was in order – marmalade. Not just any marmalade would do – I had seen miniscule jars of hassaku marmalade and got it into my pretty little head (okay, debatable adjectives) that I was going to find a decent size jar of hassaku marmalade. So I did…and it cost me the equivalent of about $10 Canadian…Ouch.
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It was really good, but I being the strange person that I am prefer a more bitter marmalade. So although my love affair with fresh hassakus remains extremely passionate, it does not extend to the jammy side of things.
 

 
How ironic it was then, this morning, when an extremely kind older lady presented me with a jar of homemade marmalade! If that’s not a spectacular thing to happen right at the start of one’s day, I don’t know what is.

 
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 I can’t tell you how it compares to my hassaku marmalade, because I won’t open it until the other jar is nearly finished. Fridge space is limited in my little apartment size fridge and I won’t sacrifice it for the sake of a marmalade review!

 

*N.B. This is in reference to the phrase “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry” from Robert Burns’ actual phrase “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men/Gang aft agley,”  The point being that to me, oranges are mere mice compared to hassakus (The joke being that my best-laid scheme to produce a pun based on that line went completely awry by the necessity of explaining it…).

Food day. 食べ物曜日 Part 3 – Yakushima Specials

Soooo…I spent some time in Yakushima.  It was a completely magnificent experience, and so the fact that I’m simply posting about food feels very superficial and degrading to what it means to me personally – but I’m going to do it anyway.

I spent one full day with a lovely woman, Yoko, and her young son – we decided to drive around the circumference of the island and stop wherever we wanted to on our way.  After a few small errands and a sightseeing stop at Torohki-no-taki, a beautiful waterfall which drops directly into the ocean (which is a rare type of waterfall, if you didn’t know), we stopped at the Yakushima Botanical Park.

Well…I’ll have to talk about the plants another time…but for one thing, it was my first first time seeing hedges of aloe plants.  My eyes nearly popped out of my head, coming from the cold Canadian clime as I do.  After our tour through the park, we went back into the entrance and looked over the various souvenirs in the shop.  Yoko pointed out the aloe and asked if I wanted to try some.  I didn’t understand her.  That was happening constantly throughout Yakushima, but the locals there, especially Yoko, gave me a fantastic crash course in Japanese and were shockingly patient and kind.  It was really heartwarming and surprising, given everything I’d read about the wide berth Japanese give to tourists and also observing some culture clashes firsthand between Western tourists and local businesspeople/officials/bus drivers.  Screw normality – it’s great to be different, even if you have to wait a long time between payouts.

Anyway, I turned around from investigating some shellfish whistles (Yoko’s son kindly gave me a demonstration of their sound and volume!) to see Yoko with a couple of plates in hand, with strange, nearly translucent chunks of (food?) and toothpicks on them…

 

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We sat down and enjoyed the delicacy. It had the resistance of a pomegranate sarcotesta (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarcotesta) – minus the seed of course – with an extremely subtle flavour similar to the scent of fresh morning dew. It was served with a drop of mild soy sauce which set it off nicely. Can you guess what it was?
Yes, it was aloe. They were selling aloe leaves in the shop which were about two feet long and 2 inches in diameter at the base.

A different day, I went to a barbeque in the back of a nearby izakaya with Yoko and her son. The family that runs the restaurant had invited us both over, after Yoko and I met there and managed to have an extended conversation covering everything from the 2011 tsunami and Fukushima disaster to stripping nude with strangers in a mixed gender open-air sea-side onsen. Somewhere between those two variables, we were also conversing with the husband and wife as they went about their business and waited for us to leave or new customers to come in…
Have you tried sake? He asked. Sure, I’ve tried sake. Have you tried shochu? What? I was a bit tired, I had heard of shochu before. He pulled this from beneath the bar:
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He took out two gigantic clear beer steins and gave Yoko and I each one on the house despite her protests and my deer-in-the-headlights shock. For a minute I thought he’d filled the whole thing up with shochu…but no, he’d mixed us each a chuuhai – a shochu highball. I took a sip, and another. This was the purest tasting drink I have ever tasted. I am not exaggerating. While I hiked in Yakushima I stopped at mountain streams and drank the water from them – the water was incredibly delicious – if not the best than certainly very close to the best spring water I’ve ever tasted. This chuuhai put the water to shame. My only way to explain its taste to you is that as I drank it, I thought of this scene from Revelation 22:1: “And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.” – Webster’s Bible. You can call me sacrilegious if you want to, but until you’ve tasted this you really have no moral right to. Water that cleanses the soul, heals physical and spiritual damage, and imparts eternal life should taste like this.
He explained that this kind of shochu is made entirely of local Yakushima ingredients – the water, sweet potatoes, EVERYTHING – and other “Yakushima shochu” brands contain imported ingredients and are inferior.
So there you are. You heard it from me first – the fountain of youth is on Yakushima. Get it while you can 😉

P.S. There are various kinds of shochu – this particular type is imo shochu (sweet potato whiskey). If you’re really curious you can read about shochu varieties here: http://www.nymtc.com/Shochu/Wholesale-Shochu-List-by-Categories.html#.U5QZ6PmSzeY

Sick in Japan

It started last week, with 2 consecutive days of “mountain” climbing (large hill climbing).  I was pretty worn out and had a bit of a sore throat when I returned to work Tuesday…

Now I know all about how important it is to conserve your voice and not to overstress it when it is showing signs of strain – but knowing and doing are two different things.  I worked at a preschool that day, singing and yelling, and then taught more classes afterward.  By the end of the night I had a very hoarse voice.  I was doing my best Fran Drescher impression and these poor Japanese students didn’t even know it, because they haven’t been subjected to Fran Drescher movies.  Maybe I’ll recommend the Beautician and the Beast to them sometime, to further their exposure to the delights of Western civilization. 

Wednesday my voice was terrible, but I could still force out wheezy voice-like sounds between the odd squeak of a word lost in mid-air.  My last class was a group of four girls who finally awoke from their cram-school-induced stupor just in time to excitedly spill tea all over and share some very interesting stories with me.  You know, it takes a lot of talking and positive reinforcement to wake someone from a stupor.  Thursday morning I’d lost my voice completely and had a terrible cold.  There was only a wheeze – no words.  I had to take two full days off. 

A kind soul brought me my first bowl of okayu (translates as “rice porridge” but it was more like a delicious soupy rice with vegetables and egg cooked in with it), Povidone throat gargle, and three packets full of magical yellow powder…was it a rub?  Was I supposed to drink it?  Was it sacred goat urine?  (private joke there)  I guessed I was supposed to drink it and mixed it into a cup of hot water…but there was no smell!  My nose was plugged but shouldn’t something that yellow smell like lemon, or honey, or anything edible?  I quickly loaded up Google, and to my relief discovered that this concoction was not only a drink, it was chock full of vitamins and a bit of cold medicine (similar to the kind I had to leave behind in Canada because of Japan’s ridiculously stringent import rules, even though I already had a year’s supply of cold tablets…and yes I am a little bitter about it!)  Anyway, I drank the stuff.  It tasted disgusting – possibly how a super-concentrated grapefruit peel tea might taste.  But it sure worked.  I was slowly regaining my voice and by Saturday night I taught 3 classes, but still with a terrible voice.  After having Sunday and Monday off, my normal voice returned!  Hooray!  Despite that, the cold lingered.  I was still tired and had sinus headaches, making classes difficult simply because it’s hard to concentrate when you’re miserable. 

Povidone iodine throat gargle solution and Paburon Gold-A packets

Povidone iodine throat gargle solution and Paburon Gold-A packets

As I was leaving a preschool, a bunch of tiny little boys I had taught ran after me to the gate.  Their bright yellow caps bobbed up and down like bouncy balls as they yelled “Sensei!  Eigo no sensei!  Tanoshikatta!!! Tanoshikatta!!” (Teacher!  English teacher!  I had fun/it was fun!)  Well, the rest of the evening I had a nasty headache and kinda wanted to die, but that was really sweet and made my day.  It was a memory to hang on to (especially for other days which I’m sure are coming when they’re bored out of their minds and want to get rid of me ASAP).

From now on, I’m going to be very paranoid about voice strain.  I never, never want to lose my voice like that again.  The only thing scarier than sounding like Fran Drescher is having no voice at all.

Food day. 食べ物曜日 Part 2

Okay, let’s talk about food again!  I’m on a really tight budget at the moment, so after a brief recap of my current food rations, I’m going to travel back in time to the days when I had money to spend on great food that other people cooked for me!  Can you hear the TARDIS coming?  Wait for it…

Yesterday I made myself a nice curry – it was delicious, filling and really hit the spot.  What kind of curry, you ask?   Tofu curry – one 63 yen carton of tofu, part of a package of frozen vegetables, and one block of Japanese “Golden Curry” – altogether it probably cost about 200 yen ($2 or so).  I cooked it up into a simmering mess of greasy, barely-spicy orange soup, which I poured over my mixed brown and white rice and stirred until I had a decidedly un-Japanese-looking dish.  It was so good that I ate it for a snack after work last night, and for lunch and supper today.  Sometimes I love Japanese curry.  The rest of the time, I don’t even want to see the box in my pantry, let alone think about eating it.

Off we go, back in time, to March 16th, 2014!!!  Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh…

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This was the traditional Japanese breakfast served at the hostel I stayed at in Takachiho.  I am of the opinion that the food they served here was the penultimate introduction to homemade Japanese food and so I feel really lucky – not only that I stumbled across this hostel but also that I decided to order meals too!  What a great score!!  I should note that not every breakfast was fancy like this – the rest of the breakfasts were rice, miso soup, and various little side dishes.  My favourite Japanese side dish to date is “goma konbu tsukudani” (ごま昆布佃煮- seaweed simmered in soy sauce, sugar, sake and mirin until it reaches caramel-like perfection, then sprinkled with sesame seeds).  It’s actually a topping for white rice, and can be used as a filling in onigiri.  I really, really, really love it, and plan to try making a homemade batch of it as soon as I have enough leftover kombu (+ time + motivation).  As for other side dishes, I really enjoyed sunamono (cucumber and wakame salad marinated in rice vinegar etc.) and I specifically disliked natto – a fermenting soybean dish which smells and looks like rotting beans.  “They” say that homemade natto is better than store-bought, and also that if you hold your nose while eating it, it tastes good.  Even the Japanese either love it or hate it.  So “they” say.  I have yet to attempt it again…I’ve tried it twice so far and while I did swallow, it was an ordeal to get it down. :/  I’m sorry Japan, I don’t think I can do the nattoral thing. (See what I did there?)  One supper at this hostel was my first shabu-shabu (a small hot-pot is brought to you along with raw meat and vegetables, which you dip into the boiling/hot water, then take out, dip in sauce, and eat).  Yes, it was delicious!

So we’ve covered the natto…let’s move on to something without the stench of controversy.

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Here’s what was served for breakfast at another hostel, on Yakushima.  This hostel didn’t cook the meals, but ordered the bentos ahead of time.  I have no idea who cooked the food, how, or when, but it showed up at the hostel in time to be served and eaten.  All the food tasted okay, but it was nothing to rave about in comparison to the spectacular flavours I enjoyed in Takachiho.  I must admit though, the lunch bento tasted really, really good after summiting Tachudake…but that’s another story.  Note that the coffee was a gift from a very kind French WWOOFer who was staying at the hostel at the same time.  Merci beaucoup!

Next time, read about some very special food and beverages I enjoyed while on Yakushima.

Food day. 食べ物曜日 Part 1

Today’s post will be all about food – because I spent a lot of time looking at it, thinking about it, remembering it, cooking it, and eating it today (and yesterday…)  This is what I ate for a late lunch, at a tiny okonomiyaki shop in Onomichi:  Image

This is Hiroshima okonomiyaki.  You may notice that there is a layer of noodles on top.  Hiroshima okonomiyaki is cooked with the ingredients in layers, as opposed to Kansai okonomiyaki (which Wikipedia claims is the predominant version of the dish – and I ate it Kansai style in Canada so let’s assume Wiki is right about that), which has the ingredients all mixed together.  My dish was a layer of batter, then cabbage, seafood (miscellaneous – I definitely ate some squid and shrimp but who knows about the rest…), soba noodles (I could choose from either soba (this kind) or udon noodles), then an egg on top (fried) and a bunch of sauce.  It was stupendously good and very filling.  Can you guess how much it was?  500 yen.  (About five bucks.)  Mmmmm.  Tastes even better at that price.

Later in the evening, I deciphered the kanji on what I guessed was a slow cooker, and proceeded to make myself a batch of tapioca pudding with the last bit of tapioca pearls scavenged from a friend who happened to have some laying around in her cupboard.  I suspect she was sick of me asking everyone I met if they knew where I could find tapioca, looking through every corner of every grocery store for it, etc etc.  Homemade tapioca pudding is a wonderful thing, and as it was a rainy day today, I could pretend that I actually needed some warm, just-like-at-home comfort food.  In reality, I’ve just been on a bit of a foodie kick lately.  The poverty diet of rice and ramen grew old quickly and the last two days were a great break from that.

Yesterday, a group of friends had a potluck (maybe there’s a Japanese term for that, but I don’t know it) and in addition to takoyaki, tonkatsu, salads, curry, rice, fruit, cake, sweet potato fries (hardened, candied yam fries coated in doughnut glazing), and bottled drinks, some brought omiyage from their Golden Week excursions.  Food omiyage.  Mmmmm.  My kind hosts sent me home with leftovers:

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If you ever get to Hakata (Fukuoka), get yourself some Hakata Torimon.  The writing on the package is not far off:  “It is what gives a peaceful and pleasant mind to the human race.”

There will be more Food Day posts to come, believe me.