Woke up again to construction. We’ve had some problem with noise almost every morning: roosters, construction, what will be next…! Laid in bed and showered and packed up.
It was raining so I got a chance to test out my little bright red Eagle Creek travel umbrella, which worked great for the short walk to the station. It’s so compact, I had almost forgotten I was carrying it. We stopped at a coffee shop on the way, Shimaji Coffee Roasters, which had just opened. So many coffee places here don’t open until 11 or 12. I don’t think there’s the same morning coffee culture here, although maybe it’s starting to expand, with all the modern coffee shops I’ve seen that would be at home in Bushwick or Fishtown. Shimaji only uses light roast beans, which I love, and I had a delicious drip coffee from Colombia.
We walked in the rain across the river and down into the useful underground passageway to the station, which seem to be conveniently located wherever and whenever you’re in need of one. Jake stopped at the massive Bic Camera store, which has everything you can possibly imagine, both electronics and otherwise, and some things you can’t. He needed an adapter because the one he bought two days ago was the wrong one and didn’t fit his charger. We were tight on time but we stopped in the station’s food court. I was overwhelmed by all the options but in the interest of time I settled on cooked salmon, two different plates of salmon sushi that were beautifully laid out, and two onigiri that looked more artisanal than usual. I even got weird and chose one that had shrimp tempura instead of salmon.
We got off at the next stop, Shin-Yamaguchi, and had some time to kill, so we scheduled some more train tickets and got some cash from the 7 Eleven because there might not be one in Tsuwano. We walked around the station and then to the JR platform, where we boarded the 2-car train to Tsuwano. We had assigned seats, and there was plenty of legroom and big windows. Soon we were speeding through the countryside. Some of the views were breathtaking, as we passed fog-covered hills and farmland. We arrived in Tsuwano, a town of less than 10,000 where Emma is living and teaching for the year.
We were met at the train station by the owner of the ryokan (the traditional Japanese inn, kind of like a Japanese B&B), who walked us the few steps to the hotel. We were shown our room, which was a spacious traditional Japanese tatami room. We had tea and water and scheduled breakfast. The owner asked whether we wanted to eat at 7:30 or 8am. I asked if we could do a little later, but it didn’t compute, and we settled on 8. The Japanese eat breakfast early, I think. I’m excited to see what the breakfast is. I think it’ll be soup and rice and fish.
We left the ryokan and walked around the town. Emma had really undersold it. Tsuwano is the cutest town, and not tiny. There are really only a couple of main streets, but they’re picturesque, with koi fish (the biggest I’ve ever seen, they’re definitely overfed) swimming along little streams next to the roads. The streets are lined with shops, and mountains loom on both sides. Today, they were shrouded in fog.
I’ve learned that places are not necessarily open when they’re supposed to be, as we found the udon place we wanted to have lunch at closed, as well as a place that was supposed to have a good set menu with local food. We found udon at a kind of touristy but fine place near the station, as we really just needed a bite. Tsuwano is a well-to-do town stemming from hundreds of years ago when samurai lived here, and it is apparent. Sweet ships are found all over town, selling the town’s signature genki-maki, or little wrapped pastries filled with red-bean paste. There are three sake breweries, which we didn’t get to before closing but will check out tomorrow. A lot of tourists come, mostly just for the day, although there are a number of hotels and ryokans in the charming, pretty small downtown.
We met Emma and walked less than 5 minutes to her house, which has tatami flooring and is pretty sparse, but homey. She drove us around the town for a quick tour, and we stopped at the supermarket, which was super interesting (ha). We tried to get wasabi ice cream (apparently Tsuwano is known for its wasabi, and its rice and sake and other things), but the place was closed, so we’ll go back. We walked around Tonomachi, the main street and central area with lots of shops and restaurants and the koi fish.
We hung out on Emma’s floor and then went to dinner at Aoki Sushi (we got dinner with Emma and Michael, the other JET (English teacher) in Tsuwano, who’s from San Diego and was very friendly and interesting. He’s lived here over a year and had a lot of insights), where I had a wonderful sashimi set, with a side of rice. The sashimi was delicious and affordable and fresh, and to top it off, I had sake. I discovered, to my delight, that it was a local sake, brewed by one of the local sake breweries, and it was absolutely delicious. I like most sake (especially on the drier side), but most sake just tastes like rice wine to me, good but pretty basic and similar. This sake was flavorful and complex, and I loved it. It gave me even more enjoyment because it was local. Like drinking really great local craft beer.
After dinner, we went to the only conbini in town, Lawson, where I got sake ice cream (which was really just a mild ice cream that very vaguely had a hint of sake) and another sake, also from Tsuwano, which turned out to be just as good as the first. I’m going to try to get to the breweries tomorrow to sample and maybe buy some more. Emma and Jake and I watched an episode of TV and hung out, and then Jake and I came back and caught up on some things and went to bed on the earlier side, as we needed to be up early.
Happy to be drinking locally-brewed alcohol,