Monday, April 13, 2015

Over-friendly sushi

Further south, past the end of the bullet train line, pretty much as far south as you can get on the train, we stopped in the small town of Ibusuki for a couple of days.

Ibusuki has been described as the Hawaii of Japan. I'm not sure it needs one and I've never been to Hawaii but Ibusuki is laid back, volcanic, very lush and green and quite tropical so perhaps there are some similarities. We'd been wanting to see somewhere smaller, which it was, although the large number of rusting fixtures and overgrown buildings suggested it was a town that had seen better days.

Our hotel was only partly refurbished so some bits of it also had that kind of feeling - the room we booked turned out to be more of a prison cell with bad 60s decor and an ageing pink bathroom - we upgraded to a much nicer Japanese style room with tatami mats and futon beds - during the day, the room is occupied by a large, low coffee table with legless chairs - this is moved aside in the evening and futon beds (a thin mattress topped with sheets and duvet) are laid out.

Dgym walks to Chiringashima
We walked out to Chiringashima, a small island connected to the mainland at low tide by an 800m sandbar. The walk out to the start of the sandbar took at least an hour, and crossing was like wading through... well... damp sand. I kept falling behind Dgym - I can normally keep up but when each footstep is hindered by sand and you have to take more steps because you have shorter legs, it's inevitable and I think it's a great excuse. Our legs were pretty knackered by the time we got back to the shore and then it was another hour's walk back to town, by which point we had definitely earned some tasty 7/11 snacks.

Lake Unagi
I promised Dgym we'd take it easy the next day with a nice relaxing electric bike ride to a nearby lake. Of course there's only so much an electric bike can deal with and only so much you want it to deal with when you've rented it for four hours and want the battery to last long enough to help you when you really need it, so with many apologies to my husband's legs, I had to break my promise and we were pedalling quite hard at some points. We made it out to Lake Unagi and back and were able to see some beautiful Japanese countryside on the way - we passed farms where we saw cows and pigs, and saw several lizards on the cycle paths on our way out of town.

On our return I was straight onto the hotel shuttle bus up the road to the sand baths where I was given a yukata (Japanese robe) to wear and directed to one of several large sandpits where I lay down and a Japanese man shoveled black volcanic sand over me up to my neck.

The sand is warm, not too hot at first but it builds - you're only supposed to stay in for 10 minutes as it can cause burns if you stay in too long. It was a strange 10 minutes, the sand was kind of warm and comforting but also heavy and constricting, and I could feel my heartbeat in my hands and feet the whole time. Afterwards, there were showers to clean off the sand, and an onsen so you could soak away the stress of being immersed in hot sand, by immersing yourself in hot water. I felt pretty refreshed afterwards, but also very red and sweaty.

The food options in Ibusuki were a little limited - but on our first night we headed out to a place with good reviews, which turned out to serve sushi and some other dishes. We chose couple of sushi sets which weren't as good as the ones we had in Kumamoto, but more to the point one of the toppings freaked us out somewhat - shortly after we'd been served our sets, Dgym announced that he had seen his prawn move. I didn't believe him and pointed out that (a) it had no head and (b) perhaps it had been resting on another bit of food and had slipped down.

But he saw this happen a couple more times and demanded I watch it carefully. Sure enough, the tail eventually twitched, which made me feel slightly ill. Eating bugs or raw horse is one thing... stuff that's still moving or still alive, nooo way. I watched my own shrimp closely but it was definitely past the point of movement - though I did feel funny about eating it. Dgym left his alone, fair enough (although I think he was a bit rude - when food waves at you, it's polite to wave back).

We later learned that sweet shrimp often do this - they're taken from a tank in the restaurant and often beheaded just before serving - so some residual tail twitching is common, often a lot more violently than dgym's did. So no doubt that it's fresh... but still no thank you.

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