Here's another update on where I've been so far in Japan. One day last month, Takeshi, his dad, and I up and went to visit some places out of the blue. His dad got the urge to seek out and try a speciality desert from area of Ise. I wasn't really sure what it was, but I was all for going somewhere new. The drive there took close to about 2 hours.
There were reports of rain all over the area, so I hoped we wouldn't be hitting any of it, especially since we would most definitely be walking around outside for most of the day. So we hit the road fairly early in the morning, almost as soon as we woke up at 8am. We stopped at 1 or 2 rest stops along the highway. Tousan had to use the facilities but he always seems to park the farthest away from the restrooms, at those kinds of places. He could always save himself a huge walk.
Tousan usually has Takeshi share the driving if we go anywhere farther away, and I am very relieved in that way. His dad is not good with longer driving trips. He can't even stay awake the whole time, even if the trip is 2 hours long. Fat chance he wouldn't crash into something while nodding off. I know Takeshi is not that bad. If I could share the driving too, I would.
We reached the Ise area, and more specifically, the town which served the special desert. This small town ran alongside a big river, with the dark green mountains in the background. In the center of this town was a (sorry to put like this but,) touristy section. In this section the buildings still retained the architecture of feudal times. All of the moldings, wood, and rice paper construction had been taken of very well throughout the ages. It was a tanglement of narrow passages and alleyways leading to multiple directions, small shops selling their wares, and beautifully trimmed and treated plant-life. And it was packed with people, that day.
It had just rained in the area so it was quiet humid out, with giant puddles everywhere, and the mountains were threaded with streams of fog and steam, because the sunshine had become extremely bright after the rain showers. We walked around to all of the stores. We saw tons of the usual gift food being sold to visitors: mochi and manju molded into every type of shape, in some case, small bunnies and frogs, an endless variety of crackers, giant and small, spicy, sweet, powdered with matcha, lots of dried fish, octopus jerky, squid, bonito flakes (yum), and canned, regional seafood including clams and oysters. All of these places, like the usual tourist gift shop, had tons of samples to try, and we're always sure to do just that. I swear, I've seen mochi of every color so far. You can do a lot with mochi, it seems. Certain other gift shops had no food to speak of, but the usual wall of phone charms, ceramics, masks, and children toys. 98% of it, you can be sure, would do nothing but collect dust in your house after about a week of having it. Certain game booths were also set up here and there, with old-fashioned games, such as shooting little boxes with a small rifle, and also sometimes a small slingshot.
At a couple places in the town were large, very wide walkways, paved with white stone. Small shops flanked us on each side and above us was a sun cover which I've seen most households use sometimes. At people's house though, they take the huge piece of threaded bamboo sticks outside and lean it up against the window at an angle to help block the sun in the summer. Here, several pieces of these sheets where laid flat across larger bamboo shoots. It made for a really cool photo and environment, I thought.
Finally we found the building where they were dishing out the Ise area, speciality desert. And it was a special summer desert at that. This small building was packed, packed, packed with people holding numbers, waiting for their bowl of the stuff and rightly so. This desert (whose name I can't remember...) was comprised of a huge pile of match-flavored shaved ice. In the center of the pile was a big scoop of red bean paste and a couple small balls of mochi. I can say that it was the perfect treat to have in such gross humidity. Very very good stuff.
We left the building very satisfied and with another burst of energy, we walked on through the town. We came to the main street of the town; a huge walkway paved with large grey stone, flanked on both sides by a variety food places, gift shops, and other attractions. One place we wandered into was the establishment of a woodworker. A thin, balding man and set out his woodworking art around the small store, and he sat on a raised platform at the back of the room with his small work area.
Another cool little establishment along this huge street was a small cramped shop where they sold nothing but packed and dried fish and seafood. The most unique thing about it though, was that all along the walls of the store they had hung actual, whole dried fish. And these were not small - fish. At the very front of the store they had hung a huge dried out shark. At the back end of the store we could see an even bigger, more giant dried fish - it seemed to be some type of blowfish/flat fish. It was eerie with all the pigment gone from it, it was ghostly white and its small spiky teeth jutting forward. Of course, these giant fish were a lot thinner than I'm sure they were in life, but, they were still very big.
Well, after a while we finally left that town in Ise and hit the road again. This time, I'm sure if we ended up where we did because it was intentional or not. We did get lost on the way home from Ise, which led us to be in Tobe. Tobe is well known for it's seafood but more importantly for the quality of the pearls which come from that region. I hear pearls from Toba sell for quite a lot. I believe the pearl/jewelry company Mikimoto features pearls from Toba. While traveling through Toba, Tousan decided to take a road up into the mountains. We stopped at a pay booth and then sped through. He said that there was a nice spot somewhere up there that would give us a good look at the surrounding scenery. We climbed and climbed for about 20 minutes before finally reaching our destination.
It was crystal clear up there among the rolling mountains. The rain clouds had been pushed back and the cool mountain wind was strong. We felt very refreshed and almost liberated from the stinking humidity we become used to below. The mountains in Japan are so green, they're almost emerald in color, bushy in texture. We stopped at a small gift shop (I guess for this particular sight-seeing spot) and climbed a large set of stairs outside, right next to it. It went behind the building and led to a high point. From there, we were so high up that we could see ocean and the other groupings of smaller islands of that part of Japan, in Toba. Being able to see where the land stops and leads into the vast, never-ending blue of the ocean, really brings home the fact that you are on an island, not a continent. I was thinking in awe, "Wow. It just - stops there. That's it!" Overall it was beautiful up there, and it almost felt like another world. I didn't want to leave.