Host: The Sakamoto Family
Location: Various locations in Chiba Prefecture
Duration: Day trip- March 4, 2012
Impressions of the Trip:
We spent a blustery Sunday last week on a road trip with our favorite neighbors, the Sakamotos. We set off in the early morning from Yokohama, driving first across Tokyo Bay through the Tokyo Bay Aqualine Tunnel, the world’s 4th longest underwater tunnel, connecting Kanagawa Prefecture and Chiba Prefecture. An artificial island called Umi Hotaru, “sea firefly”, doubles as a rest area across the bridge, and we took advantage of the vista point to catch some great views of Tokyo. On a clear day, Mt. Fuji is also clearly visible. At the rest area, there were a number of outdoor sculpture exhibits. Perhaps the most interesting was part of a drill blade used to cut the tunnel. As you can see from the picture above, it was huge!
After driving further into Chiba, we made two noteworthy stops before hitting an onsen. First, though, a few notes on Chiba agriculture. The prefecture has notable spots that are well known for producing high quality peanuts and watermelon, but the prefecture is better known as a bedroom community of Tokyo and home to Narita International Airport. Because our first attempt to uncover Chiba’s great mysteries and hidden gems was somewhat thwarted by the cold weather and the short trip, we plan to follow up with more from Chiba when we return at the end of June to run the Tomisato Watermelon Marathon, perhaps the only road race where participants are expected to stop midway to eat a watermelon before continuing.
Anyhow, one of our stops was at a pick-your-own flower farm, the first we have been to in Japan. This particular farm specialized in poppies and snapdragons, and consisted of several greenhouses cram-packed with fragrant flowers. Flower picking seems to be especially popular with kids below the age of ten, and we saw several young families walk out of the greenhouses with stunning bouquets. The poppy greenhouse looked like something out of Willy Wonka’s factory, with vibrantly colored flowers of all sizes and colors. Visitors were each given a scissors and instructions on how to cut each type of flower, and then were free to explore by themselves. Each flower cost between 80-100 yen, roughly a dollar and change, so it worked out to be a pretty good deal as well.
Our other stop was Banya, a well known spot for fresh seafood in southern Chiba’s Boso Peninsula region. Not your typical Japanese restaurant, Banya consisted of several diner-like buildings strewn across a dock in front of Tokyo Bay. While waiting for our table, we watched fishermen working on the dock and played with a tank full of live nameko, or sea cucumbers. Sakamotosan ordered a nameko appetizer to introduce us to nature’s most phlegmatic of meats, and while is wasn’t as horrid as it looked, It was hard not to feel a pang of regret after having seen the live cucumbers only moments earlier. Conversely, the Banya sushi, particularly the fatty tuna, was amazing.
As it happens, our trip happened just before the annual “awakening of the insects”,which happens every year on March 6. Japan’s insects, particularly its cicadas and mosquitos, are loud and energetic, but typically a summer phenomenon. Now that it is officially spring, these insects are once again done with hibernation and ready to rumble. Thus, the kanji for this trip is 啓蟄、the awakening of the insects.