I am chasing a mountain. A legend. A symbol… The Fuji hovers like a myth behind a veil of mist and cloud. Alive while dormant, assertive and yet faint, revealing itself then dissipating into the background as the sun runs its course. Never have I seen a landscape as transformative as this, and never has a landscape so closely mirror the culture that inhabits it. If you were never here, it does look like this, feel like this and taste like this. A black pine. A bowl. A state of mind. Everything. Unmistakably Japan. But this isn’t Tokyo. Only two hours away and arguably more, this is the Izu Peninsula.
I confess that I’ve had my struggles about Japanese culture on the beautiful and the ugly, both inarguably a product of each other and grown co-dependent like conjoined twins. It explains my active avoidance to visit for the past years, and it wasn’t that something changed my mind this time. To put it with all frankness, welcome, you have just stumbled into my dad’s forty-some-people annual getaway GOLF TOUR on the Izu Peninsula! Famed for its cherry blossoms, hot springs and… well very magnificent and boring golf courses… yay. We stayed where the tour stayed and ate what the tour ate… every stop we made were followed by another bus-load of delighted seniors whom I suspect have all gone through World War II. If you are a fanatic for golf and mediocre foods, you’ve just hit the sweet spot… except that I’m not going to mention any golf course… But annoyingly as it turns out that even in the absence of great food (or any traveling freedom really), Japan still has much to offer. Shit, they are that good.
Aside from the entire-trip-long of unrealistic beauty, there is a few highlights worth mentioning. We stopped by a breathtaking small town oriented around a Buddhist temple, named Shuzenji, allegedly one of the most high-end destination for hot spring resorts as well. The town speaks tranquilizing harmony with whispering bamboo garden and a river running through it as pure as Evian water. Ooooh IF ONLY I COULD describe it to you in words guys… because my camera was highjacked by the tour bus, having a nice little nap somewhere on a picturesque parking lot… and all I got for you is this BEAUTIFUL pine tree sitting timelessly inside the temple, taken on my dying iPhone. Isn’t it nice?
A dome-shaped volcano as bald and barren as a giant rock. But if you take the short lift to the top, you’ll find yourself standing by the edge of a volcanic crater. You could walk fenceless-ly along the 2-kilometer-in-total rim of the crater with steep slopes on both side, looking over the arial view of the terrain on your right, and… a shooting range sitting on the bottom and center of the crater on your left. Why? I’ve got no effing idea but it’s pretty insane. Say, if height is not your thing, there’s pretty cherry blossoms at the bottom to enjoy BUT only in spring times (or more like the couple weeks between the end of March and early April)….
I have a thing for waterfalls. Even the bad ones are pretty and this one ain’t bad at all. The Joren Fall is one of the top destinations in Izu Peninsula, evidently in the multiple senior-filled buses that followed us into the parking lot. I would take any chance to be surrounded by the calming sound of a waterfall and impossibly clear streams of river anytime, let alone a place abundant with fresh wasabi farms (if you don’t already know what fresh wasabi looks like, OR THAT the kind you’ve had most likely wasn’t even “real” let alone fresh), and a small fish called ayu that’s grilled in traditional Japanese-style.
The only food we had worth mentioning is a restaurant named (bizarrely) Izu Beer, but forget the beer, you go there for the dizzying array of raw sashimi on rice. After all, this is a semi-island famed for its seafoods. Seriously though, this is candy-land for us. No, really. We overdid it because it isn’t something you can just walk into anytime anywhere. The one easiest to locate is perhaps inside a local port/mall called Marine Town. But I find that the actual restaurant located on a street I cannot name, is the much better choice. You can check out their website for another location.
At last, a little reality of what the Fuji mountain looked like 99% of time when we were there, which is to say, barely there. Trying to get all “sexy” on me I see. But I’m glad I caught it completely naked and full-frontal which was some kind of magical (there! the first picture!… well that’s as naked as it gets) on the last day morning (HA!). But really, if there is nothing else about the Izu Peninsula that I fail to do justice for, EVEN IF. That’s a damn fine looking mountain that everyone should see once in their lifetime. Japan. You good you.
FISHLETS RICE BOWL:
I decided to include a baby-fishlet rice bowl recipe which isn’t what I normally do with travel posts but what the hell. It’s just tiny but exotic enough to be sneaked into a
lacking storyline. So what the heck is “fishlet”, a word that I made up to describe baby fish, a common ingredient you can often see in Asian cooking and sold by fishmongers in Chinatown. But recently there’s been a dispute about the sustainability of harvesting large quantities of baby fishes from the ocean, damaging the populations of many different species and thus governments have imposed regulations on such industry in recent years. So if this is your thing, make sure you shop from a sustainable source and enjoy in moderation.
- 100 g of fishlets (usually come frozen)
- 5 pieces of ginger
- Fine sea salt to season
- 1 tsp of mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine)
- 6 g of Japanese/Korean seaweed (Korean seaweed has the aroma of sesame oil which I like)
- 1/2 tsp of wasabi powder (more if you prefer)
- 2 bowls of steamed rice, preferably short-grain
Defrost (if need be) and rinse the fishlet under water. Bring a large pot of water with 5 pieces of ginger to boil. Turn off the heat and add the fishlet, gently stir to loosen up any clusters and let it sit for 2 min. The residual heat of the water is enough to cook them through.
Once cooked, drain it and discard the gingers. Mix with enough fine sea salt to season and 1 tsp of mirin. Spread the seasoned fishlet evenly over a sheet-pan to dry. This may sound bizarre but I really recommend blowing it gently with a hair-dryer. It speeds up the process dramatically. Do this until there’s no excess water on the sheet-pan and every single fishlet separates easily but still remains moist.
Grind together the seaweed and wasabi powder until finely broken up.
Spread the fishlet over warm steamed rice and top with the wasabi seaweed. One of the healthiest thing I’ve made recently.