Friday, August 03, 2007


OK, let’s start with a pop quiz.

How much for a bunch of grapes? £3? £5 for really nice ones. Wrong. In fact, in Japan, as wrong as wrong gets. Let’s try £30 shall we? And, that is for a very small bunch of grapes at that.

Ah, the joys of Japanese department stores.

And, indeed, the joys of travelling in Japan.

Another arduous journey (including the stop that allowed me to spot said grapes) this time from Hakone to Takyama, a small city that is renowned for its preservation of a neighbourhood of 17th Century houses and its morning markets

As in Nikko and Hakone, we were staying in a traditional inn, but this time perhaps the nicest of the whole trip and the most set in its ways, requiring slippers to be worn at all times and for us to ponce around in our robes for a good part of our stay. You love it you know you do.

For all that, it was comfortable with delightful rooms and a well appointed bathing area which I made full use of despite my fellow male travellers complaining of getting a full view of “ the last chicken in the shop”

The town itself was rather pretty and Ye Olde Worldy streets definitely worth a visit, particularly for the Sake breweries we made certain to visit.

As the picture shows, I may well have bonded with a 10,000 litre vat of the good stuff.

But, that is not why I shall remember Takayama until the end of my days.

The first reason is that, included in our trip were two Keiseki style meals prepared at our inn by one of the best regarded chefs in the region. Formal dress was obligatory ( where, of course, our guide looked great and we looked like the cast of The Rocky Horror Picture Show) and we were served myriad courses of small portions representing the very best ingredients of the region from their hand harvested mountain vegetables and herbs, to locally caught river fish to more of that exquisite Yuba.

Best of all, however, was the second reason I shall always remember Takayama, Hida Beef.

We all know Kobe beef, but few people outside Japan are aware of its cousin, Hida. From the same breed, Wagyu as Kobe, it is regarded by many as its superior because of the marbling of fat. I can’t claim enough expertise to make a true comparison, but, when cooked slowly over a tea candle with a small amount of broth and a few local vegetables it is a taste I shall carry with me for a long time.

More so because I had the good fortune to bump into the wealthy local butcher in a bar the evening of our arrival and he invited me to come and take some pictures of his shop. Now, this was no ordinary butcher’s shop. This was serious stuff with the head cutter in action slicing the local delicacy as if it were the finest sashimi.

The third and fourth reasons I shall remember Takayama involve a small izakaya in a small alley way near out ryokan.

I am, as you may realise by now, fairly happy to walk into any bar, even if I don’t know the system, and try and figure it out. So it was here. On our first night, oafter our Keiseki meal, I was still pretty famished and persuaded most of the group to come with me on a bar crawl. After a couple of non descript places with non descript food, we wandered into our last bar of the evening and I spied THIS

Ok, look at the picture for a while and then, when you have settled down, come back to me.

Calm now? Good.

Well. It was every bit as good as it looks. In fact, I can say hand on fatty heart, it was the some of the best belly pork I have ever tasted. So good that I persuaded my less enthusiastic chums to try some. They did and they agreed. Man, it was good. Fatty, crispy, sweet, sour, chewy, tender. It was God in pork form and it was mine.

So good, in fact, that the next day, I persuaded Drew to meet me for a pre Kesieki drink and a plate of porky goodness. Even better we complimented it with a few pieces of equally stunning fried chicken.

I love this country.

I was so happy that, as the last picture shows, I even let them persuade me to go bowling. I totally deny the fact that I may have suggested the idea and had a screaming hissy fit until they all agreed to come.

But, don’tcha just love the shoes?

1 comment:

SamanthaF said...

Simon, that is a seriously funky robe. Gavin Baxter would be proud.