SHIZUOKA

OCTOBER 10th 2019

Our final destination in Japan was Shizuoka which is 143km from Tokyo and is on the coast.  It is well known for scenic views of Mt Fuji and for it’s green tea production. Our journey from Osaka took two and a half hours and we found our hotel was next to the station, and in the city centre as well.  We had two nights booked and the rugby game was against Georgia.  Unfortunately a typhoon warning was out once we arrived and it soon became obvious that there would be no transport anywhere for the next few days.

Undeterred we walked into the city and explored the area and especially the tea shops where I bought a packet of powdered green tea which is a speciality of the region..  The other speciality is fish and so we took advantage of the fact that trains were still running and jumped on a local train to the fish market at the port.  Here we found a wonderful market with little cafes and restaurants serving all day.

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Everywhere we have been in Japan the market has beautiful fish roe and it is plentiful and really delicious.

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Oysters are also a speciality here and they are really huge – of course Eva had to try!

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We found a little cafe and had a sashimi lunch which was delicious. We were highly amused with the signage…

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More delicious food awaited us that night as we found a very typical restaurant in the town where there were no foreigners, no English and only one other woman inside!  It seems Japanese men call in to restaurants for a meal after work and before they go home. This place was no different, the men all in business attire and carrying briefcases and most smoking heavily!  However, the sashimi there was excellent.

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The day of the match dawned windy and wet – clearly the typhoon was on track but nothing was cancelled.  Although we had tickets for the game, we opted to watch the game from a bar close to the hotel and with other patrons – both Japanese and European – mostly barracking for Australia.  A tasty meal at the bar with new friends created a very convivial atmosphere. Seems we made the right decision as the rain increased and it was uncomfortable for those at the stadium which wasn’t under cover.

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All our future travel plans had to be cancelled and revised as no one was going anywhere the following day.  All trains, buses and road transport were cancelled and everything was closed, fortunately the restaurants at the hotel were serving food so unlike some, we didn’t have to worry about stocking up with dried noodles and anything else the corner shop had in stock! We had an extra two nights in the hotel, frantically trying to find accommodation in Tokyo and a flight out – to anywhere!  Eventually we found a room in a small hotel at Hanaeda airport and managed to get a flight to Hong Kong so we could hook up with our original return plans.  Another night and day in Hong Kong was organised and sadly our plans to go to Macau and drive across the new bridge had to be abandoned. The typhoon didn’t impact on us in Shizuoka apart from wind and rain but it was quite devastating in other areas closer to Tokyo.

A final lunch in Tokyo at the station and a meal at Hanaeda brought the end to our fantastic five weeks in Japan – we love the country, the people, the culture and the food.  We will definitely return.

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KANAZAWA – LITTLE KYOTO

I had heard that Kanazawa, located between the western mountain ranges of Honshu and the Sea of Japan, was often referred to as Little Kyoto. I was not disappointed. This is the most charming place and one which I sincerely hope we will visit again.

A Castle town with beautiful gardens, narrow streets, traditional precincts and some intriguing samurai houses, it is easy to walk around and explore several parts of the city in one day.

We stayed in a typical Japanese dwelling in a cute neighbourhood within walking distance of the station.

Familiarising ourselves with the area, we walked first to the Omicho Market which sells everything from fish to clothing.

A short stroll further on and we found the magnificent Kanazawa Castle with its magnificent Kenrokuen Gardens. The gardens have been Heritage listed and are a place of serenity with winding streams, lakes, ponds and landscaping.

Moss was everywhere and many of the trees were centuries old.

Another quaint area is Higashi-Chaya-Gai which is an old area along the river where there are old samurai houses and narrow streets, lots of tiny restaurants and craft shops. We saw some Kimono clad ladies walking slowly along the street and immediately imagined ourselves back in time.

We saw a few ladies wearing kimono and one totally fascinated me and I wondered about the comfort of this type of dress – particularly on a bus one day when one lady was unable to lean back in her seat due to the obi behind!

It is the simple things that make a place memorable – and we will always remember Kanazawa with affection and hope to return one day in not too distant future.

SAPPORO – JAPAN’S NORTHERN CITY

Four days in Sapporo is not nearly enough! The city has a lovely feel to it – unhurried, clean and very friendly. It is easy to walk around and the public transport is very frequent, efficient and cheap. We didn’t get into the mountains but did visit the pretty little town of Otaru.

The local train to the port city runs several times an hour and the journey takes about 40 minutes. Otaru flourished from the Meiji to the Trisha Era and was known as “the entrance of the North”. It is a fun place to walk around and our first encounter was with the fish market, situated next to the station.

This is a popular place for the locals as well as visitors and the variety of seafood on offer is staggering. We found a little restaurant behind one of the stalls and had a wonderful lunch of sashimi and rice with roe – the roe is plentiful and is sold in jars and buckets!

The Otaru Canal is a beautiful attraction and is reminiscent of days gone by. Old warehouses line the canal and are now shops and restaurants. There are other lovely historical buildings nearby which have been preserved and are also banks and offices.

That night, back in Sapporo, we went to Odori Park where the Autumn Festival was in full swing with food and drink stalls and tents in abundance. We wandered through the Park and ate the biggest scallops we have ever seen

Plus other delicacies and ramen noodles – which is a speciality of Sapporo.

The Hokkaido Historic Village is an open air museum of relocated and restored buildings that represent the history of Hokkaido from 1868 to the 1920’s. We reached it by local train from Sapporo and on entering took a short ride around the village in a horse drawn tram. In all there are 52 buildings representing the Town, a Fishing Village, Farm Village and a Mountain Village. Each building shows the lifestyle of the people of that era.

It was easy to imagine life in those days – and wonderful to see local schoolchildren enjoying an excursion to learn about the history of their region.

FROM OYSTERS TO VINEYARDS

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Another long, straight road awaited us for the next leg of the road trip – this time to finish with the Oyster Trail and get on to the vineyards.  A nice combination – oysters and wine!

Last stop on the Oyster road is Cowell – a pretty little town on the eastern side of the Eyre Peninsula and situated on Franklin Harbour. The waters are sheltered and are very popular for fishing – and oysters.  We found a shack close to the jetty which supplies oysters to various outlets in the town.  On entering we found the proprietor busy shucking the oysters which had just come in from the bay – so without further ado we purchased a couple of dozen and together with fresh lemons and in a cardboard box, we found a table in the park and indulged for lunch!  The verdict?  Excellent!

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Our overnight stop on the way to the Clare Vallety Vineyards was the port town of Whyalla.  Named Hummock Hill in 1802 by Matthew Flinders, the town’s name officially changed to Whyalla in 1902 which is an Aboriginal name possibly meaning “water place”.  The steel industry here is over 100 years old but fishing is also of primary appeal. We were there just before sunset and went up to Hummocks Hill – a local lookout – to witness the change of colours.

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The next day the road was clear and, for a lot of the way, was backed by the beautiful Flinders Ranges.

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We drove through many little towns and villages but the one which captured us was Crystal Brook.  This quiet rural service centre is in the heart of South Australia’s most productive sheep and wheat country and has retained its charming historical links.

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Beautiful shady peppercorn trees line the main street and there are several art pieces in iron, reminders of the part the camels played in this part of the country in the early years.

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The Clare Valley is one of Australia’s oldest wine regions where there are heritage towns, boutique wineries, galleries and beautiful scenery.  We had booked lunch at the Skillogallee Winery where we had been before.  The vineyards here are resting – grapes picked and wine made but the vineyards still looked beautiful.

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The road to the boutique winery is shady and winding at the end of which is the restaurant which seats both indoors as well as in the garden.

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The menu features local produce with wine suggestions matched with each dish. Unable to resist the sashimi, I had, yet again, fabulous South Australian Kingfish and tuna served in a very artistic way.

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Then came the wine tasting and purchasing – thank goodness we had a large car !

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Staying in a little apartment in the centre of the town, we were perfectly placed for a choice of restaurants in the evening.  And that is what you do in these regions – eat great food and drink fabulous wine!

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THE OYSTER TRAIL AND PORT LINCOLN

Ceduna is the first major town at the end of the Nullarbor and its pristine waters produce excellent oysters and other quality seafood. It is also the start of the Oyster Drive which goes south to Port Lincoln and up the coast to Cowell.  We endeavoured to taste the oysters – which all taste very different – at each place!

First stop was Thevenard -four kilometres from Ceduna – where we found a little shack shucking fresh oysters for $12 dozen – so with a couple of dozen in the car we headed for a spot by the ocean to indulge.  They were good – very good!

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Next it was off to Smoky Bay, a small settlement where the oysters are also excellent but of a different taste altogether.

Streaky Bay was our overnight stop and here we witnessed one of the most beautiful, calm sunsets we have seen yet.  We walked along the jetty whee the locals were trying their luck fishing and the pelicans were ever hopeful!

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As the sun set and the shadows deepened the reflections became more dramatic.

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Of course, more oysters were on the menu along with King George Whiting and Blue Swimmer Crab.

Next morning more beautiful coastal scenery awaited us at Sceale Bay which is a tiny community and is known for fishing and holiday recreations. The permanent population is 40 and that can triple in holiday periods;

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Coffin Bay is renowned for oysters and on the drive to our favourite restaurant there – 1802 Restaurant – we came across Murphy’s Haystacks which just appears out of nowhere on the landscape.  This 1500 million year old geological wonder is one of the most visited locations on the Eyre Peninsula and is actually on private property.  The unique form of pillars and boulders dates back 100,000 years and are ancient wind worn inselbergs.

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They were buried by calcareous dunes about 30,000 years ago and subsequent erosion has revealed the pink granite forms standing on the hilltop today.

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The local legend is that coach driver Charlie Mudge named Murphy’s Haystacks following a remark by a Scottish agricultural advisor who saw the landmark in the distance whilst travelling on the mail coach.  Shimmering like haystacks in the hot afternoon sun, he was very impressed with the sight and remarked “that man must harrow, look at all the hay he has saved!”

At Venus Bay we went to the Needle Eye Lookout for amazing views of towering rugged cliffs and beautiful beaches as well as pounding, rolling surf.

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Here we spotted a pod of dolphins frolicking and playing in the surf.  An artist has carved his work on the granite rocks at the top of the cliff reminding everyone that this is tuna fishing territory.

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More oysters awaited at Coffin Bay – and I have to admit that these are my favourite.  Not too large and salty, they are delicious and can be prepared in a variety of ways.

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Followed by raw tuna Asian style

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This place is an absolute must for anyone travelling along the Eyre Peninsula.  The town is sleepy but swells in holiday periods.  Lots of pelicans keep you company!

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Port Lincoln was our final stop for the day.  This is a seafood lovers paradise with, it is said, the cleanest, freshest and most sought after seafood in the world.  Prized for its superb quality in sushi and sashimi, the majority of the southern bluefin tuna is exported to Japan with some available locally.  We decided to take a boat trip in Boston Bay to view the tuna and kingfish farms – now a multi million dollar business for the town.  The Marina is busy with fishing boats coming and going, some to catch sardines to feed the tuna in the farms, others to catch prawns and other fish.

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The farms are situated in the bay and the tuna are grown there before being caught and exported once they reach the required size.

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Seabirds know when it is feeding time!

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Mussels are also grown out here and are serviced daily by the fishermen.

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We took a little detour to an island where there is an enormous number of seabirds living alongside seals lots of seals many of which were having a roll about in the water.

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Finally we got to taste different sashimi – and shown the correct way to eat it!

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Lunch consisted of…..you guessed it – Sashimi!

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Our oyster experience was not yet finished – more was to come tomorrow!