Posts Tagged Izu
Today we went to beautiful Izu Peninsula to visit family. Both sides of the Penpal’s family have roots in Izu, and there are still numerous uncles, aunts, and cousins who live in the area.
Izu is one of my favourite parts of Japan. The entire Peninsula is filled with small towns, mountains, and natural hot springs. The few flat areas are home to rice paddies and strawberry farms. It’s about as close to “rural” as you can get near Numazu.
The Penpal’s father has a large family, and most of his siblings are in the 70-90 year old demographic. An energetic 3 year old looks even more energetic in a room where the average age is 80. While the family visited, I did my best to entertain TD with Lego, an ancient electric organ, and the small, friendly dog who was happy to go for endless walks around the house.
There were two interesting things I noticed during our visit:
- The Penpal’s father is the youngest of 12 children. At home he is absolutely the king of the castle. When he is around his siblings, some of which are almost 20 year older than him, he almost fades into the background. It’s an interesting things to see, and I’m not sure if this is unique to his family, all traditional Japanese families, or just large families in general.
- In Canada everyone says that Tiny Dog looks like his mother, pointing out some of his more Asian features. In Japan everyone says he looks like me, pointing out his many non-Asian features. It’s interesting how different things stand out to different people.
I’m happy we got a chance to visit so much of the family while on our vacation. It was a cool experience to introduce them to the overseas branch of their family.
My parents, The Penpal, and her parents were all spending a night at a ryokan in Izu. One of the big attractions for a ryokan is a giant, beautifully landscaped onsen (hot spring). After an amazing dinner, my parents were excited for their first onsen experience.
We returned to our rooms and changed into the yukatas that were provided. A yukata works like a standard bathrobe, but it’s less casual. I had worn a yukata before, my mom figured hers out without any issues, but my dad couldn’t quite get the hang of things. His yukata kept coming open and exposing his chest.
The Penpal and her family, now wearing their yukatas, came into our room to have tea and talk about the hot springs. They all sat on one side of the table, sitting with legs carefully folded, yukatas perfectly fastened, looking very dignified. My dad was not quite able to get comfortable on the floor cushions, and his yukata kept opening. He was inadvertently rocking a greasy, 70’s disco guy look. My mom and I couldn’t stop laughing, especially with the Penpal’s family looking so proper on the other side of the table.
Onsens are segregated by sex – the plan was for the women and the men to separate and enjoy a nice soak in incredibly hot water. During our discussion we learned that my mom was developing an allergic reaction to the fish she ate at dinner, The Penpal had fallen to the communists, and The Penpal’s mother didn’t want to go by herself. The women decided to hang out in the room.
The men were still good to go, and as we gathered our towels my dad asked when he should put on his bathing suit. Apparently he thought I was joking when I told him that no clothing was allowed in the onsen. When he realized I was serious, he decided to have another beer before we left.
In Japan, going to the onsen with family is a normal part of the culture. As a Canadian, I can’t think of too many things I’d like to do less than getting naked with my father and future father in law. I had another beer too.
The Penpal made sure to carefully explain the procedure for using the onsen in English in case I had translation problems with her father. It seemed simple enough: get naked, wash carefully with the shower, rinse off all soap, get into the water. We got into the change room, and after one more assurance that we really did have to remove ALL clothes, we all sat down on the little buckets in front of the shower station and proceeded to clean up for our bath. After a few minutes of showering, scrubbing, and doing our best to make sure we weren’t going to get yelled at by anyone, we got up and walked to the onsen.
To say the water was “hot” would be doing a disservice to the word hot. I now understand how it feels to be soup.
The Penpal’s father, used to sitting in incredibly hot water, easily adjusted to the temperature. My dad and I quickly turned lobster red, and there was a point I thought one (or both) of us would have a heart attack. After getting used to being slowly cooked, we actually enjoyed the experience. The onsen was beautiful and relaxing.
I probably lasted less than 10 minutes, apologizing to my dad for leaving him without a translator. He stayed in for a few more minutes before getting out. The Penpal’s father stayed a few minutes beyond that, but I’m sure he could have been in there for at least another half hour, seemingly impervious to the heat.
Overall it was an interesting experience, and I had a fantastic sleep afterwards. If you can stand the heat, a nice soak in the onsen would be a great way to end a day.
Today was the start of two days of family togetherness in Izu. The Penpal and her family were taking my parents and I to a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) in Izu Peninsula.
I met my family at the hotel, and we were picked up in our two car convoy by The Penpal’s parents. Once again the men were in my future father in-law’s car with me translating, and the women were in The Penpal’s car with her translating. Their car was smaller but had a much better translator.
We hit a few sightseeing spots in Izu to show off the beauty of the mountainous peninsula before heading to our destination – Yado Ryokan Hanabusa in Izu Nagaoka. The “yado” is for pottery – one of the features of our inn was traditional pottery lessons; we’re doing that tomorrow.
The landscaping around Hanabusa was beautiful, with cherry blossoms, rocks, and those beautifully crooked old trees that seem to be everywhere in Japan.
Each family got their own room complete with sliding wooden doors, tatami floors, low tables and cushions, and a fantastic view of mountains and trees out the window. My parents enjoyed the traditional decor, but were also happy that the room came with a modern, non-threatening bathroom.
After unloading our luggage, we went to the dining room for one of the most amazing dining experiences of my life. The food was kaiseki ryori, which involved a lot of fancy, small dishes that looked more like art than food. We weren’t really sure what we were eating most of the time, but everything was delicious. My mom specifically asked about a soup containing tender, flavourful white fish. The Penpal informed her that she was enjoying fugu, the poisonous blowfish that was made famous by Homer Simpson.
The only food that wasn’t to everyone’s liking was uni, raw sea urchin. Uni is one of those foods that people either love or hate, with no middle ground. My dad bravely took half of a bite into the meat that had the same colour and texture as something you might cough up when you have a bad cold, said “no way”, and offered the rest to me. I ate it, and then got to eat almost everyone else’s uni as well, which was fine by me.
Other than the uni, everybody loved all the food they ate. We moved from the dining room to the lobby to chat for a bit. There was a piano in the lobby, so we all convinced The Penpal to play a song for us. She played Moonlight Sonata beautifully which attracted a small crowd of other guests. After a few songs she tried to leave the piano, but the guests and hotel staff wouldn’t let her until she had played some more. Yes, my future wife is awesome!
We could have ended the day at this point and considered it a success, but we still hadn’t tried Hanabusa’s onsen yet. My dad didn’t yet understand what I was getting him into…
We woke up in Ryokan Ooya to a massive breakfast. I think if I spent a week here, I would gain a lot of weight. We watched the news in the morning and heard that a huge typhoon was heading in our direction. Fortunately the weather held out for the day.
We checked out of the ryokan and went to an old gold mine which has turned into a museum. The mine is over 400 years old. Visitors can walk through and see the working conditions, complete with signs and models of workers in period clothing. The work looked hot and dangerous. I don’t think I would have liked working there.
After the gold mine, we went to Koibito Misaki (lover’s cape), a beautiful sightseeing spot on the west cost of Izu peninsula. The view was spectacular. To the we could look across Suruga Bay towards Shizuoka city. To the east were the green, tree covered mountains of Izu. Koibito Misaki is a popular tourist spot for Japanese people, but foreigners rarely visit. I think I was the only gaijin in the area today.
One of the highlights is the large “Love Call Bell”, which is a large metal bell with a rope attached. If a young couple rings the bell, their love will last a long time. We rang the bell, and time will tell if it worked.
On the way back to Numazu, we took the most windy, dangerous, crazy road that I have ever seen. At times the road ware barely wide enough for two cars. Other times the road suddenly went into endless S-curves up and down the side of a mountain. It was both fun and scary at the same time. I would recommend this road on a motorcycle, but never on a car.
Our weekend together was a lot of fun, and it was a great break from work. Japan is full of natural beauty, but you have to get away from the big cities to find it.
(2014 Update) Apparently there is a waterfall in Fujinomiya that has the opposite effect of the Love Call Bell. We didn’t go there.
Today was the second day of my two day Izu vacation with The Penpal. The main activity of the day was a pottery school. It was well hidden in a residential area built on the side of a hill. The school taught the traditional Japanese way to make pottery. It was really out of the way, and everything was in Japanese which didn’t make it a very common tourist spot for foreigners. Based on the reaction of the staff, I was likely the first non Japanese person they had ever taught.
The Penpal and I decided we would make simple cups. We paid for 1kg of clay and sat down in a room full of other students to await instructions. The pottery instructor came out and started the explanation. He started slowly and then stopped to wait for The Penpal to translate for me. I told her in English that she should just translate everything at the end to avoid holding up the lesson. She passed along the message and then the instructor went full speed ahead for the next 15 minutes. I could only understand about every 5th or 6th word, so I tried my best to remember what he was doing with the clay.
By the end I had a general idea of what I needed to do, so I decided to have a little fun with the instructor. Until this point I had not said a single word of Japanese to anyone. I put up my hand and said:
Me: Sumimasen (Excuse me)
Instructor: Hai (Yes)
Me: Moo ichido itte kudasai. (Please repeat it one more time)
Instructor: (which part)
Me: Zenbu kudasai. (Everything please)
Thinking I was serious, he looked shocked that he would have to give the entire presentation again. At this point I started laughing and told him that I was just joking. This got a good reaction from the rest of the students, and they all took turns coming over to say hi and to lie about how good my pottery wasn’t. I was especially popular with the middle aged ladies. A little of a foreign language and a smile goes a long way to make friends.
When we left I got a lot of bows and sayonaras from the students and staff. The Penpal was largely ignored by everyone else, which was a little sad. We drove back to Mishima station and said goodbye and I was on my way home.
One the train ride home, a little old man started talking to me in excellent English. He asked me for my business card (I didn’t have one) and said that next time I came to Izu, would I please stay at his hotel and help him practice English. In exchange he would serve me traditional Japanese food. The other people around us on the train all seemed to be interested and or amused by this conversation. I love Izu!
Today I woke up extra early to start a 2 day vacation to Izu with The Penpal. I took the Odakyu line to Odawara, switched to the Tokaido line, and met The Penpal at Mishima station. We got into her tiny car and headed off to the curvy mountainous roads of Izu peninsula. Small cars and mountain roads are not friends.
Our first stop was the Cycle Sports Centre in central Izu, which is a bicycle theme park located in the middle of the mountains. There were a number of attractions and activities, but we came for the 5km bicycle circuit. We picked out bicycles and helmets, and then the nice attendant gave instructions on the brake handles. In Japan, the right brake handle operates the front wheel brake. This important piece of knowledge saved me flying over the handlebars.
The course started out with a really fun curvy downhill section. Unfortunately what followed was a miserable steep uphill section that just about killed us both. After about 3km I realized that I was terribly out of shape. We survived the rest of the course and spent a good amount of time recovering in the resting area inside.
Later we went to Ito, which is a city built on the side of the hills next to the ocean. We actually saw palm trees! There was a beautiful beach with people surfing. I couldn’t believe how different Izu was from the greater Tokyo area. It was like I had entered a different country. We ate dinner at an Italian restaurant near the beach, and then went to our hotel for the evening.
We stayed at a small hotel owned and operated by one of The Penpal’s friends. The main attraction of the hotel was a beautiful private outdoor bath. Guests could reserve the outdoor bath for 30 minute blocks. The Penpal and I enjoyed sitting in neck deep hot water looking at the Izu scenery. It was a fantastic day!
Today I went to Izu with The Penpal. Izu is a mountainous peninsula that runs south from Numazu into the ocean. There are small towns through the central areas and along the eastern coast. Izu is a famous area for hot springs, Ryokans (traditional Japanese Inns), and vacation spots that cater mostly to Japanese people. Due to some terrible weather, most of the plans that The Penpal made fell through, but I still enjoyed riding around and seeing the sights. Riding in a tiny car on winding mountain roads after a big rain storm is quite the adventure, especially when you still haven’t adjusted to driving on the left side of the road.
Other than the scenery, one of my personal highlights was eating grilled eel on rice served with pickles and miso soup. Eel is seriously delicious.