It was an impromptu decision. A Japanese friend called a guest house and made a reservation for me, I hopped on the Keio line then, Chuo line en route to Tokyo station, I bought a Non-Reserved Shinkansen ticket grabbed a cold bento [lunch box] and was on my way to Izu. As I blasted my way down the coast munching on Dim Sum and fried rice on the Shinkansen [Bullet Train], I was thinking of how it never gets old taking this train. In America due to a transportation system mired in bureaucracy we have nothing even remotely close to a train that can match the cruising speeds of an airplane (there are moments riding Shinkansen where the train hits a strait away and the train operator rev’s up it’s speed exponentially, providing you with a temporary sensation of weightlessness), to intensify matters the world outside your window leans to a forward slant! You really get a sense of just how fast you are moving and It’s truly an awesome sensation!
I changed trains at Atami station switching to a local JR line that travels down the side of Izu’s Peninsula and would insert me directly into Shimoda. Shimoda is a hub station located close to the southernmost tip of Izu-Peninsula, as well as the sleepy beach town called Shirahama, which is where I would be staying for the weekend. As I made my way down the expanse of Izu-Peninsula, I took in the scenic vista of coastal Japan for the first time, the rounded and fertile green mountains favored the hills of Taiwan and, stretches of costal roads gave me the sensation of being back in San Pedro in L.A.I arrived at Shimoda station and grabbed a cab to Shirahama. My Japanese is decent but not enough to give directions to a cabbie so I called the owner of the guest house and let him and the cabbie communicate directly in Nihongo [Japanese]. We rounded winding cliffs over beautiful blue-green water en route to the beach then as the cab turned left, we reached a clearing and abrupt break in foliage long enough to be greeted with an awe inspiring spectacle of 6ft foot breakers and about four dozen surfers facing shore anticipating the perfect wave. “Shirahama beach desu” [This is Shirahama beach] the cabbie was telling me…”so-ka, sugei!” [I see, Awesome!] I responded. We pulled up to the guest house and as I parted way’s with the cabbie and paid the fair I was greeted by a lovely young Japanese woman, “sumimasen, chotto matte kudasai..” [ excuse me, one moment please] she said. A minute later a young Japanese man sporting board shorts and a heavy tan walked up to me asking “you made a reservation for the night?”, “Yes” I said. He then proceeded to show me around the beach house. As we toured the house intermittent drafts of sea breeze blew in threw the windows.
At length we settled my stay and I went to investigate the beach. It was as pristine and breath taking as Laguna Beach and you could almost fool yourself that you were in California until you spot a Tori gate.
When I came back to the house I was greeted by a middle aged bearded gentleman whom I would later find out was half Brazilian-half Japanese. I was subsequently greeted by his family and surfer friends, kid and dog included, together they made up a clan of Brazilian/Japanese Trans-Pacific surfers. Unbeknownst to me there has long been a culture exchange between Japan and South American countries like Brazil. Japanese began immigrating to Brazil in 1908 and to date Brazil sports the most heavily populated Japanese community outside of Japan at about 1.8 million people.
We communicated through a delicate dance of broken English/Japanese/Spanish and Portuguese. That night they invited me to cook and have dinner with them as they regaled me with wondrous stories about their adventures surfing the world: Goa, Fernando do Noronha, Bondi Beach, and Teahupo’o to name a few.
The dish we made was called Feijoada (fay-ZHWA-dah), a type of Brazilian black bean stew which features an intense base of meats including pork chitterlings, pork chops, pork trotters, sausage and a jerky-like dried beef steak. Almost every culture has developed a ‘kitchen sink’ style meal where you raid the fridge for whatever’s left over, [throw in everything but the kitchen sink] and craft a culinary champ. Feijoada is in a similar vein as old bread used for French Toast, day old rice used for Fried Rice, and the odds and ends used to make Okonomiyaki and boy was it good!
After a night of laughter and good food, I took a night stroll down the beach and through the neighborhood and again I got that vibe of being back in So Cal…..”Am I still in Japan?” I had to ask myself a few times.
Pre-Summer, the neighborhood of Shirahama is quite sedate which for me was a welcome change from cluttered Tokyo.
The next morning I headed back. On my way back to Tokyo I stopped at a fish eatery near Shimoda station, Izu is known for it’s fresh seafood after all and it would be a shame if I’d have left without sampling the local flavor. Char broiled Red Snapper drenched in a heavenly pool of tare (a Japanese marinade of soy sauce, brown sugar, mirin and sake) and with a side of Red Snapper sashimi, miso and rice.
After lunch I had about an hour to kill awaiting my train back to the city, did quick rundown of historical sites as well as exploring the Shiomoda neighborhood.
Much of Japan -U.S. History is tied to this town as it was where U.S. Commodore Matthew Perry landed in 1853 on the “Black Ship” named the USS Sesquahanna and in a show of strength demanded trade between the United States in Japan.