March 6, 2014
Even though we are on the far side of the Pacific, some things are the same. Today we discovered that the Japanese have their own version of PCH or the Pacific Coast Highway. Reiko drove us along a considerable portion of it on the Izu Peninsula.
Our first destination through the mountainous interior of the peninsula was to reach Shimoda where the first US Consulate was established in 1856. The “opening” of Japan was initiated by Commodore Perry and his squadron of “Black Ships”. The hermit kingdom that had isolated itself from the rest of the world during much of the Tokugowa Shogunate was finally pried open by a peaceful demonstration of modern naval power. The Japanese then allowed the US Counsel, Townsend Harris to move into a Buddhist temple and negotiate a peaceful relationship.
Townsend Harris was an interesting choice. In the 1840’s he had established a public high school in New York City that would eventually become NYCC. He seemed to be very adept at dealing with the Japanese. The museum that was established in his name reflects the high esteem to which the Japanese hold him. Evidently he is responsible for the introduction of dairy cattle and the production of milk in Japan. There is a life size diorama of Townsend drinking a glass of milk. There are also the well-maintained graves for the five American sailors that died during the naval expeditions.
We then started to return up the coastal highway on our way back to Atami. The highway is carved out of hills like along our PCH for most of the way. Rarely does run along the rocky beach. We did manage to find one location where the surf was up. We passed by the local Surf Shop and found the boys looking for waves. There were only 2 foot swells while we were there but there were dozens of surfers waiting for something to ride. Japanese sand is the same as in Laguna and we located the perfect rock for my mother-in-law.
Had a nice lunch in a beach side restaurant and managed to find a few spots where we go some pictures. The traffic was the same as going through Laguna on a summer weekend. It was a cool and rainy Sunday but that did not affect the traffic that crawled along at 20 MPH between signals. We felt right at home.
Reiko is cooking dinner for us tonight so we stopped at a supermarket to buy supplies. It was an adventure. The shopping carts would never make it in Costco. The vegetables were great as were the endless selections of soy sauce and bean curd. I also love the fish and squid staring back at me. The sea cucumber did not end up in our shopping cart. I was very happy. There were non-Japanese wines. I resisted.
We drove a little further and stopped at a harbor side shopping mall. They had as many samples as Costco but those little fish and other things were not the same as the brownies and nachos at home. There was a shop called Melrose Place that sold stuff like Lemoncello. This does bring up the use of English in signage. Reiko says that it bothers older Japanese but the youth seem to embrace a cosmopolitan environment.
I need to reflect back on last night’s meal. We needed to do a hard core Sushi dinner. Reiko took us into some dark alley. We were the only customers while we were there. Our blond haired Sushi Chef put on a show and helped us eat sushi the Japanese way. It was great fun and it was delicious. Not a particle left behind. I also liked his Yamaha bike parked at the end of the counter.
Reiko also set us up in hotels with only Japanese patrons and signs. Peggy even uses the public hot spring baths. There is little traffic at 6 AM so that is the time of choice. Everyone is gracious and helpful. I still stand to shower and rinse before entering the bath. The tiny seats that the Japanese sit on to wash are predicated on Japanese rear ends. The hotel has seven rooms and is in a Japanese modernesque style Brian would appreciate. Plenty of concrete and glass. It was built as a corporate retreat and became a hotel after the real estate bubble of the nineties burst and Japanese businesses could not afford such luxuries. Too bad for them, good for us tourists although the only other patrons are natives and the signs are incomprehensible as are the room numbers. You operate on memory and logic although remember the Japanese read from right to left.
I do still struggle with real Japanese breakfasts where fried fish substitutes for bacon and sausage and rice for cereal. The Miso soup that is served with every breakfast and dinner should be renamed as mystery soup. It may look murky and salty on top but when you dive in you may find tiny clams, an oyster, or something not-classifiable. If you look at your serving tray as an omelette with tiny containers ready to be added to the eggs and forget that there are no eggs, breakfast is easier. It is always an adventure.
Tomorrow we head for Osaka.