Because of the hotels being really difficult to book, we couldn’t stay in nowhere-land-Saga for 3 nights. Only two. So we had to find a hotel for our last night. We, unfortunately, could only find a ridiculously posh resort too far out of the way and far too expensive. This was really the only downside of the trip – if we did it again, I think I would have just not booked ahead and just found a hotel wherever we could. Anything would have been better than the ridiculously expensive one. But, hey, the money is spent. We went from a buisnessman’s in-n-out hotel, to a posh wedding resort with spas.
We woke up in Saga and planned to drop off our bags in our next hotel in Karatsu. Karatsu, come to find out, is relatively rural and the only train going there was a “one man yellow diesel train” Just one car – a commuter train that stopped at every town.
It was one of the most beautiful train rides we’ve ever been on. Fall is changing the colors of the rice fields, so the ground was a vibrant yellow and green. Then because it’s rural, there were no apartments, but traditional houses which made it more beautiful.
It reminded us a lot of the Black Forest and the Karlsruhe area, as well as Rico, Colorado. It was the same rural-ish, pretty, mountainous, valley areas. But, of course, Asian.
Finally we arrived in Karatsu. What’s in Karasu…? Nothing. There is a major festival every November that puts it on the map and then it slips comfortably back into obscurity. That doesn’t stop it from selling pictures, replicas, posters, banners and tshirts of the festival. Even in the 11 months of off-time, these items are still for sale.
Karatsu also has a castle.
We walked about 2 miles through the very sleepy town until we made it to the little off-shore island that was almost nothing but three resorts, one restaurant, and 240 Hectares of pine forest. Who knew?
We finally made it, dropped our bags off then went out exploring.
We had entered Japan with a small list of things to try and okonomiyaki was one of them. It looked like a delectible pancake omlette thing with veggies and sauces. The only restaurant in the area happened to specialize in that so we instantly gave it a try.
First of all, it was 10 in the morning and the doors had just opened. Secondly, we were in a very off-beat part of a part of Japan that was already a little rural to begin with. So it was pretty awkward when we walked in. No one spoke English, if they did, they chose not to do so.
We ordered two kinds, “Fukuoka Style” (had corn) and “Hiroshima Style” which involved ramen noodles some how. The waiter was distressed by our willingness to cook it at our table. After all the table was a giant griddle, and that was what you were supposed to do. But he figured, with our ignorance, someone else should cook it. Okonomiyaki literally means “what you want” or “as you like it.” So I don’t really see how we could mess it up.
The first pancake was easy to cook, we just stirred it up and poured it. After a couple flips and decorative sauces, we were good to go. The “Hiroshima Style” one involved pancake batter, 1 raw egg, noodles, toppings, an additional sauce, a spice shaker, and a bowl of unidentified matter. The waiter was really stressed about making sure we knew how to do it in the right order. We even had a laminated card showing us the right order. So we of course proceeded to mess it all up.
Again, it’s an as-you-like-it pancake. So we were happy with the things being all out of order. That didn’t stop a waitress we had never seen from coming over, literally “tsk-tsk”ing us and then getting all new ingredients to make a “real” pancake. It didn’t matter if we had already made ours, she was going to do it again, and do it right. So we happily chomped on the out of order “wrong” ones while she made an all new one. Not her in her job description at all.
Success (just kidding)
Afterwards we walked two miles back into town, realized there’s nothing to do. Walked around some more. Then went back to the hotel. One of Chris’ students had recommended trying an “octopus ball” saying it was “the only good food” she had eaten in all of Japan. So when we finally spotted something that fit the description of an octopus ball, he bought it and tried it.
Nope. Looks neat but they cooked it like idiots and it was completely raw in the middle (not the octopus, the dough). Oh well. Figures the only bad food we had in Japan was the one that was recommended.
We walked all the way back to the hotel, finally checked in, then had some wine on the beach next to the pine forest.
The pine forest was amazing. It was planted 360 years ago to help block the wind. It’s almost silent inside when you walk around, also very dark. Then you pop out on the beach.
The beach was filled with debris and trash. Japan is super clean, so this was a huge surprise. But it probably washes away before anyone can clean it up.
On our walk along the beach we saw all sorts of crazy things including baskets, a plastic drill box, a Louis Vuitton Nike shoe, and a dead something that had washed up. Ehhh. We went back into the more beautiful and peaceful pine forest.
The only restaurant in the area was as-you-like-it-but-you-did-it-wrong pancakes. We couldn’t really show our faces there again. So we went to the convenience store and made our own fun, er, dinner. We had the worlds best instant ramen, designed to replicate the Fukuoka ramen (with the bone broth). Inside the packet was a piece of dehydrated meat, real live broth and animal fat (wow!), dehydrated green onions and veggies, flavor and a little decorative edible flower.
Certainly the best instant ramen in the world.