This is a travel blog for desktop travelers and other ramblers who want to know the world just a little bit better.

Right now I am living in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala where I'll be settled for a while. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Shizuoka, Fo Shizzle

As far as mother-in-laws go, I can’t really complain. I haven’t seen her for 3 ½ years. She has been very nice and hospitable the entire visit, we get served lots of healthy Japanese food (probably too healthy - I lost 2 kilo (4.4 lbs)). We borrow her car with almost no left side of the road driving experience, and she and I cannot have more than a two sentence conversation without a translator which means no what-are-you-doing-with-your-life questions. Regardless, Mika and I are getting pretty antsy to travel.

The day finally arrives. And the first place we are heading is Shizuoka to visit friends. We have had one minor setback this trip. One of my ideas was to walk up Mt. Fuji. Unfortunately, Mt. Fuji tourist hiking season does not start until July 16th. Apparently it is still pretty cold up there, and we are not so inclined to try it ourselves. So that has been nixed from our itinerary. As a consolation prize our train to Shizuoka will pass by the famous mountain so we are excited about the Mt. Fuji vistas.
To save some money we decide to take the local train. I did not realize that it was such an ordeal. The trip took six hours, and we had to change trains three times. But time is one asset we possess and arrive eventually. Hideo is waiting to greet us at the station. His wife, Nao prepares a lovely dinner of assorted Japanese foods including a delicious tempura made with a special pink shrimp that is indigenous to Shizuoka.

When I was in Japan five years ago, Hideo and Nao were Tokyo-based textile artists. Things change. Most artists at some time have doubt about their career path. Two and half years ago Hideo decided to try the fixed-income life of a Japanese businessman in Shizuoka. This April - tired of long hours, stress, and entirely missing their young daughter's development - he quit. Now free from the Matrix, he is planning life’s next stage. Nao is still making art and has an exhibition in Tokyo next year.

The Igarashi Family
On Tuesday morning, Mika and I borrow their bicycles with the idea of riding to the beach. We are running a bit low on cash. I had planned to use my credit card throughout Japan, but they are not as prevalent as in the US. It is really hit-or-miss. For example, all big supermarkets take them, a lot of restaurants do not. We can use them for the train, but not the bus. Mika has the Yen equivalent of about US $140 in her purse and US $290 in the bank, but we are trying to save it for transportation and Tokyo. I have thirty-four cents.

Halfway through our 7 km (4 mile) journey we get really hungry and are passing many restaurants advertising amazing lunch deals, but it is doubtful they accept the magic plastic. Suddenly we spot a giant supermarket sign about ten blocks away. Saved! We make the plan to have a picnic lunch at the beach. Now famished, we buy two grilled squids, two potato pancakes, bread, snacks and a giant apple.

We arrive at the black sand beach. Except for some pigeons and three crows it is deserted. There is no swimming here and a lot of debris is on the sand. But having lived in landlocked Colorado it is always a pleasure to see the ocean. Near the ocean is a breakwater made of giant concrete tetra pods. It looks like we are on the set of Planet of the Apes. We have our picnic sitting on the tetra pods enjoying the ocean and mountain vistas. The clouds start getting very dark and ominous so we head back to the house.
This evening Mika and I plan to make dinner for our hosts. I make guacamole and Mika makes Vietnamese spring rolls. Good, non-Japanese, Asian restaurants are not so common in Japan. Mexican is almost non-existent except for a EL Paso hard shell taco package sold in supermarkets. This country is definitely not a melting pot.

The next day, Wednesday June 23, it is pouring rain outside, so we all hop in a taxi, unsuccessfully using umbrellas to protect our luggage. We pick up their daughter at school and go to the station. Mika and I are treated to a very good soba lunch, say goodbye to the Igarashi family and their great hospitality. We hop on the train towards Kamakura. The rain stops, but it is still too cloudy to see Mt. Fuji.

You'd be hard pressed to find a Japanese person that doesn't like soba.

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