Sunday, November 05, 2006
Japan's Pacific Coast
A three hour train journey south took us to Shirahama, a beach town on the western Pacific coast. It is a popular resort destination in the summers, when it is the “proper time” to go to the beach. God forbid that anyone go to the beach in mid-October!!!! I would recommend this to any traveler- avoid the summertime crowds- we were probably 1 of about 10 tourists in the area, and basically could do whatever we wanted. No lines, no crowds, no annoying loudspeakers with crazy Japanese muzak! In a way, it was kind of creepy not to have a soul on the streets but with the amazing warm weather and clear waters, we weren’t complaining at all!
We walked along the coast, picking seashells, skipping rocks, and taking photos of all the weird flora and fauna. We watched the sun turn as red as the Japanese flag and then sink behind the Pacific. We stayed at a traditional minshuku (a kind of Japanese style B&B) where we wore yukatas and slept on futons on the floor. Despite our little Japanese vocabulary, we decided to chance it and go to a sushi restaurant- and we had one of those Japanese experiences where you the sushi chef just served you whatever he felt like: raw shrimp (ama ebi), fried prawn heads, raw squid (ika), raw clams, all kinds of fish eggs and roe (uni, ikura, kazunuko, obiko)…. It was a suspicious but delicious meal.
The next day we played in the sand, took naps, and had a picnic lunch on the beach, catered by the local grocery store. We had a large assortment of sushi, tempura, chirashi, fruit, and sweets.
Aftewards, we went on a long walk along the coast...and thus began one of the most magical walks I've ever taken...
The first place we found was an open-air onsen (rotenburo) in the rocks that tumbled down to the Pacific Ocean. It was Paul's first onsen experience- you have to go totally nude (men and women were separated by a bamboo wall) and you have to shower yourself off before you enter the sacred pools. The smell and steam of the sulphur was really strong, but it was a fantastic experience to sit in the steaming hot water with the waves of the Pacific crashing and splashing onto us only a few meters below us!!! Huge rocks protected us from any peepers although it didn't seem like anyone in the onsen seemed to shy to just bare it all.
After this, we walked a few kilometers farther and came across Senjo-jiki, a huge multi-tiered rock (named because it looks like a thousand tatami mats) created by the erosion of soft sandstone by raging waves. It was a very Star Wars like environment. It probably ranks up there among the top three most beautiful places I've ever been. The low sun turned the carved rocks a golden yellow and we watched the dark blue Pacific for awhile.
We had one more stop at Sandan-beki so we reluctantly continued on with our hike. Sandan-beki has 50 to 60-meter-high precipitous rock walls (not unlike the cliffs along Highway 1 in California). Although it was stunning, it didn't blow me away like Senjo-jiki did. There were chains and signs in Japanese warning against those who were contemplating suicide. We watched the sun get lower and lower and realized that we had to book it to make it back to the minshuku before it got too dark and too cold. We made it back just in time to see the sky turn a beautiful pink purple and then the stars came out one by one. This is one of the most romantic places I've ever been, and I'm so glad I got to share it with Paul!