"" Writer's Wanderings

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Our Little Tokyo House

The alley that led to our little house.
Arriving at the Ishigaki airport a bit early for our flight back to Tokyo, we settled into a few tables and spent some time with devices catching up on social media as well as playing games. Starbucks is a popular place in Japan as it is most anywhere and some of our group took advantage of its availability including one very interesting raspberry flavored Halloween drink.

Our flight to Tokyo was uneventful but after our landing the weather became cloudy threatening rain. We opted to take a couple of taxis to our Airbnb from the airport. It was quite a ride in my taxi. We seemed to go a long way in one direction and then it appeared we were making a left turn. The left turn became a u-turn which went across three lanes of traffic with our taxi beeping it's horn and waving to those who were forced to let him in. When I told our son later, he laughed and said, "Welcome to Tokyo."

Our taxi caught up with the other taxi on a very narrow road of apartment buildings and small houses that had little or no space between them. We unloaded our luggage and wandered down an alley barely wide enough for two people abreast. We stopped at the corner of another alley and our son tried the lock box that was attached to a pipe on the outside of the house. When it opened, we knew we were at the right place.

Stove top and fish grill/oven
We entered, removed our shoes and tried to fit our luggage inside the tiny kitchen which barely held the seven of us. Quickly we determined Bob and I would take the bedroom on the first floor off the kitchen and our youngest granddaughter would sleep on the futon in our room. The rest of our group made their way upstairs to where there was a little larger room with places to sleep. I never made it up the stairs so I can't say what it was like but since there was an outside balcony (we would discover the washing machine was out there) there couldn't have been much space for the four of them.

The kitchen table wasn't much bigger than 4X3 and had two chairs and two stools. In a little alcove there was a television which I don't believe we ever turned on. Perhaps some of the pictures tell how small this little house was. It's typical, especially in Tokyo since there is such a great population and little space for living unless you are wealthy enough to afford larger accommodations.

A little stove top sat above a small grill/oven that is usually used for cooking fish. Little if any baking is done at home. I've never seen ovens like we are used to in our kitchens. There was a small under-counter refrigerator. The bathroom was the usual Japanese style with a small room for the tub and shower. The shower is used primarily to get clean before using the tub. The toilet (toto seat included) was in a separate room but still connected to the shower room by a small area that could be closed off for privacy if you were showering. The sink was across the little foyer from the bath/toilet area and al of it just inside the entrance from the outside.

After we were settled we went to a restaurant we had been to once before. It's one of the kids favorite. The restaurant is near the area where they used to live in Tokyo before they moved to Sapporo. I believe what they feature is called Kushikatsu. Basically it's meat and vegetables on a stick dipped in flour, egg and panko and deep fried. They have fun with the kids. If the kids can win the paper, rock, scissors game they get their soft drink for free. There is also a self serve ice cream machine in the back corner of the very tiny restaurant that is on the second floor of the building it's in.

My oldest granddaughter does not like mushrooms (and she's half Japanese!) but she knows I do. She offered to order a stick of mushrooms for me. I eagerly agreed. When it came I noticed I was being watched but went ahead and took a bite anyway. It was extremely sweet but the texture almost seemed like a large mushroom. When she asked how I liked it, I commented that I never had a mushroom that tasted like chocolate.

Laughter erupted from all the kids. "She always does that to people," said our grandson. "It's a deep fried Oreo cookie!"

I laughed too and finished the Oreo. It was very good.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Ishigaki to Taketomi Island

After breakfast this day, we packed our gear which included bathing suits and a couple of towels into our backpack and we all got in the van to go to the ferry dock in Ishigaki to take the ferry across to Taketomi Island. 

The island is about a fifteen minute ferry trip from Ishigaki and is the site of a beautifully preserved traditional village of Okinawan houses surrounded by stone (or coral) walls and with sandy streets. There are no rental cars on the island and those visiting get around by walking, taking a shuttle bus or renting bikes. There are several beaches on the island and it is a part of the Iriomote National Park. 

When we arrived we were offered a ride into the town on the shuttle bus but we opted to walk since it was such a short distance and it was a beautiful day. Everyone was excited about renting bikes for the day to explore the tiny island. I think my heart skipped a beat. I hadn't been on anything more than an exercise bike in physical therapy after my knee replacement and let's face it, it had been years before even that when I'd last ridden a bike. I was a little worried.

Our daughter-in-law assured both Bob and I that we could get electric bikes but when we got there only one was left. Somehow she managed to make sure that I at least got that one. (She takes good care of me.) I have to say, the electric bike was quite an experience. The first time I took off on it, I thought it had a mind of its own and after one minor scrape with a wall, I began to enjoy myself.

Our first stop was a unique beach, Kaiji. It is famous for the stars in the sand that you can find there. Lots of people were sitting in the sand and sifting through it. The little stars are actually the skeletal remains of tiny sea creatures--I'm guessing starfish. The star sand is called hoshizuna and is said to bring happiness. The stars are so tiny that I had trouble finding them. The kids didn't though. They purchases a small vial that they could put their finds in and seal. (There were also a few tables set up for souvenirs and vials of stars that you could purchase.) We managed to garner a seat on a bench and watched the fun. Did I mention that it was a beautiful day?

Once we were done scavenging, we hopped back on our bikes and headed for the next beach. The Kondoi Beach is a long stretch of sand with beautiful blue waters. When the tide is low, there is a sand island that appears on one end and once the kids were into their suits, they were off to play on the sand island. This beach had tables and benches and was a great place to have lunch. Our son decided to venture out and find us some sandwiches. I think he just wanted to try out my electric bike.

Unfortunately since it was some sort of holiday, many of the places he found were closed. He did manage to come back with a bunch of snacks though and we  filled up on those before taking off again on our bikes. 

Bob had a great deal of trouble getting up a hill we encountered on our way back into town and discovered to our dismay that he had a flat tire. Our DIL volunteered to stay with the bike until the rental place brought another one. We made it back to the rental place and I let everyone have a try at the electric bike. I especially wanted Bob to try it. I thought that if he liked it we might consider a bike trip if an excursion in the future offered electric bikes. We'll keep that as a possibility.

Our DIL joined us shortly after everyone was done trying out the bike and we let her take her turn before we turned them in and walked back to the ferry dock. We had a short wait in line for our return trip as most everyone was ending their day as well on the island and I believe they were running a couple of extra ferries.

Our dinner later that evening was at another traditional restaurant that had a dinner table on a tatami mat. Once again I was offered a short chair to make it easier for me to sit and be able to get up again. 

Once back at the house, we started reorganizing our suitcases so we would be ready to fly back to Tokyo the next day. Of course our flight wouldn't be until the afternoon so we would have time, if we got up early, to finally get to have our fresh tofu breakfast that I told you about in an earlier post. 

Monday, November 18, 2019

Beach TIme in Ishigaki and Japanese BBQ

Much like other places we have visited that have resorts and hotels on the beach, Ishigaki's offered day passes--sort of. We went to Fusaki Beach Resort and were able to rent from the hotel a couple of lounge chairs on the beach and beach towels as well as the use of the changing/shower area. We drew the line when they wanted $50/each to swim in the pool.

After a quick change into our swim suits, we were on the beach and enjoying the sun and surf. The kids were thrilled with a place to be able to get in the water and dig in the sand. The beach in front of our Airbnb wasn't conducive to swimming.

It didn't take long before they were terrorizing every hermit crab they could find and there were lots to be found. I have never seen a place with so many hermit crabs.

Bob and I walked the beach to where there was a pier from which several families were fishing. We were shown with pride some of the catches of the day.

Around four o'clock the sky started clouding over a bit again. The water sports crew began pulling in all the equipment just about the time our kids talked their dad into a banana boat ride. He still owes them one.

Back at the house, we readied for dinner and spent some time watching the sunset.

Dinner was at Yamamoto Restaurant. Again it was a bit traditional with removing your shoes but the tatami platform was built up so that you could sit with your legs beneath the table almost like being in chair or on a stool even though you were sitting on a mat.

This was classic yakiniku (Japanaese BBQ). Hot grills were brought to the tables and placed in the middle. Our kids ordered for us which is always an adventure. Sometimes I think they want to see just how far they can stretch Grandma and Grandpa's palate. The specialty was Ishigaki beef sliced very thin and lightly grilled before us by, who else, our grandkids.

At one point the girls got the flames going a bit too much and one of the servers came and helped calm it down before we set the restaurant on fire. It was all great fun and tasted good. I'm not sure of what all we ate and I think I don't want to know what some of it was. Sometimes that's best.

We spent the rest of the evening at the house playing Uno at Grandpa's request.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Kabira Bay, Ishigaki, Japan

Kabira Bay is located on the north coast of Ishigaki Island. The bay is protected by a small island that blocks the bay from the open ocean. It is a place where they culture pearls and therefore there is no swimming allowed in the water. They do however allow for glass bottom boats.

After our soba noodle breakfast, we drove a little ways up the road to where we could park to arrange our glass bottom boat trip. This end of the little town was a bit more touristy with souvenir shops and small food booths. The entrance to the parking lot was automated. We had to sit and wait a couple of minutes for a car to exit so that it would let us in to park. It must keep count of the number of cars so that there is a parking space available before you can enter.

After we purchased our boat tickets, we went down on the beach for a bit to explore. There were about a half dozen different sized boats pulled up to shore--several different operators. We didn't have to wait long and we were invited to board one of the smaller boats. Now I've been on several glass bottom boat trips and usually they are a little disappointing since we are divers and know what the marine life looks like when we dive. This was a whole different experience.

Blue Staghorn Coral
The bottom of the boat was very clear and you could distinctly see the fish and coral which were spectacular. Our very skilled boat operator took us over several different types of coral and seaweed. All of it was very colorful. I was amazed and delighted. We spent about a half hour covering what seemed like a large area of the bay but I'm sure there was a big section we never covered where the pearls are grown.

Giant clams
Besides the colorful seaweed and corals, I was amazed at the large field of giant clams we passed over. They weren't as large as the ones we've seen in Papua New Guinea while diving but they were fascinating. So many.

After our boat ride, we walked around the area a bit and of course the kids spied a Blue Seal ice cream stand. While everyone got dips of their favorites, I went into the cafe and got a coffee to go. The girl at the counter spoke very good English. She said she had worked in a resort for a time and so learned English very well.

We took our time driving back to our beach house. It was threatening rain again but we passed by some really pretty areas and interesting hotel/resort complexes, one of which we would return to for beach time.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Fresh Tofu Breakfast, Ishigaki, Japan

Our morning began with a beautiful rainbow promising a good day ahead. Once everyone was up and dressed, we headed out to a restaurant on our list of things to try. It was definitely off the beaten track. We had to go down a gravel/dirt road to get to it and it was in the middle of farmland.

The restaurant, Tofu Higa, specialized in fresh tofu. It is actually a tofu factory that specializes in Okinawan Yushi-tofu. It is processed fresh right there and is a fluffy version of tofu unlike the hard packed cubes you see in the grocery. Behind the building are fields of soy.

They make the tofu fresh each day and the restaurant serves meals until the tofu runs out. There are recipes online for making Yushi-tofu which is basically just the tofu being scooped out of the water after it has coagulated instead of being packed tightly into a container. Tofu is made from soy beans ground and cooked in water. An ingredient called nigari is added that makes it coagulate into curds. The nigari is a magnesium chloride extract from sea salt. The curds are scooped out and the remaining liquid is strained to produce soy milk.
Tofu kitchen

We arrived to find a long line of people waiting to get into the restaurant area which consisted of a covered patio (although one review said there is also an indoor area where you can dine). Our daughter-in-law checked and found out that they would probably run out of tofu before we could get in so we opted for plan B--find a restaurant near Kabira Bay which is where we wanted to spend the day.

Tofu breakfast
When we did return the next morning much earlier, we still waited a bit but we enjoyed a breakfast of tofu, rice, an egg omelet accompanied by a couple of slices of pickled radish and a glass of warm soy milk. There were several condiments including miso, a local pepper, hot sauce and a few other things I didn't recognize entirely. The tofu was soft but had little taste aside from the condiments you added. I liked the texture better than the pressed tofu that you usually see. It was a very filling breakfast.

But I digress. Once we realized we weren't going to eat at Tofu Higa, we got back in the van and drove toward Kabira Bay. There was a restaurant nearby that featured the Ishigaki soba noodles that I had read about. On mainland Japan soba noodles are usually made from buckwheat. On Ishigaki, they make their noodles with flour. They are a little more chewy.
Soba noodle breakfast

So, our breakfast turned out to be soba noodles in broth with several chunks of tender tasty pork belly on top of it. I wouldn't have thought to have it for breakfast but it tasted really good. The restaurant was also on the shoreline near the bay and it was a very pretty setting. I couldn't imagine how Kabira Bay could be any nicer.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...