“Mission Japan” accomplished, I should say. It was most inspiring. And it accentuated and corrected the visions and impressions that I had built up over the last thirty-five years.
The tour was maybe typical – but with a twist. Tokyo, of course, the unique place. Then, culture shock, Tanakawa, the quaint mountain town with the old spirit, Kanazawa, the seaport and trade center, buzzling but not so touristy. Kyoto, the pearl, the heritage treasure. Full with Japanese and other tourists but bursting with charm. Kinosaki, with very few foreigners, but every bed in town booked out completely between November and April. Loads of hot mineral springs, 7 public bathes and many private. The number 1 spa centre in Japan. Finally Nagoya – not one single tourist. Toyota city they call it because this is where the world’s biggest car manufacturer started in the weaving business and still has its headquarters. Great fun on a Sunday morning at the Nagoya Castle at a Japanese “Volksfest” with only local groups dancing and performing! And now back to Tokyo.
I wanted to see as many aspects as possible in the short time. Big city, traditional country, spa tourism and non-touristic everyday Japanese life…
I also achieved my three main goals. As always I did not buy any souvenirs (or presents, I am afraid), only “practical” things absolutely necessary for a decent life:
Number 1: a handmade Japanese knife. A “gyutu” – a chef’s knife. Like women they need a lot of care. Unlike women their blade has a sharp edge only on one side. This makes for a more perfect cut.
Number 2: some extra-special hand selected konbu (kelp/seaweed) that you can only dream of in Europe. To make soups (dashi) and (where the quality of the konbu is even more important) certain other dishes like tsukudani.
Number 3: what I call “the truffles of Japan”. At least what their price suggests. It took me research and talks to various vendors to get to the source of this marvellous delight that, again, I can only dream of in Europe. I attach a picture.
This is dried Bonito (a fish from the tuna family). In fact, it is smoked and air dried and hard as old wood. You “shave” off flakes – which are not only the basis for any good Japanese dashi soup – but also wonderful as a seasoning for many dishes. This beauty contains an awful lot of natural taste enhancer and is one of the big “umami” providers. The price of this “truffle” depends on the origin of the fish and the reputation of the “affineur”. Good stuff like the one on the photo catches prices of more than 1,200$ per kg.