As a keen cook and baker, one thing I love to do when I visit an overseas country is learn something about their food so I can replicate it when I return home. Living in Japan has been a great opportunity to take this tradition to another level with access to so many interesting local ingredients.
A Japanese work colleague at the school my fiancé and I teach at invited us one weekend to come to her house for a cooking lesson and to do some sightseeing along with another teacher. She lives in Onishi, a suburb near the beach. Her traditional Japanese house and garden were beautiful, and the fresh sea breeze made it feel like we were far away from Imabari.
It was so helpful to have someone show us what ingredients came in which bottles; one of the most challenging parts of living in a foreign country is trying to buy food at the supermarket when you cannot read any labels! By taking notes and photos we felt much better equipped to get what we needed.
I was particularly happy to have an herb I had seen everywhere and eaten many times in tempura as shiso, a variety of perilla leaves and part of the mint family. Ideal for frying, our friend showed us how to wrap it around a chunk of marinated meat before popping it into some hot oil to make delicious karaage chicken.
Next up was the famous stew dish nikujaga, which translates to meat and potatoes and is one of the ultimate comfort foods in Japan. Included in the stew was konnyaku shirataki, an ingredient I had only seen here in Japan. They look like jelly noodles and are very nutritious; since being shown how to cook them properly I now use them a lot in everyday cooking.
It was so meaningful to have someone cook for us; our work colleague has children around our age and is so kind, it felt like having our mum look after us, something you never get too old for especially when you are far from home.
Once we had finished cooking we packed everything up and walked to the nearby beach for a picnic. One of the good things about living in this part of Japan is that the ocean is very calm because it is part of the Seto Inland Sea. This means it’s not good for surfing but makes for peaceful swimming spots. Kamoike Beach in particular is very picturesque, and despite it being the weekend, given the Japanese tendency to avoid the sun we had the place to ourselves. There are a number of tables including some with shade where you can enjoy the view while you feast.
After our picnic lunch we opted to walk through the forest up to the observatory to get a view of the coast. It was a short walk but quite steep with a lot of stairs. There is a concrete platform at the top of the hill surrounded by forest that offers a 360-degree view.
The small islands and the white sandy beaches make the view a real treat, and as in most elevated areas in Imabari you can also see the Shimanami Kaido bridges.
Seeing how impressed we were with the view and the beach, our lovely friend offered to drive us around Onishi to some other scenic spots. This included Tamagawa Dam Park which is next to Tamagawa Lake. As with all the parks I have seen in Japan it was well maintained and nicely designed. There was a shady hike up to a cemetery on the hill where there was another great view over the city and of the coastline. On the walk we once again saw many of my favorite trees which make walking in Japan such a pleasure, the momiji tree. I’m looking forward to autumn when the leaves will change to many different colors.
By the time we got dropped back at our apartment we felt like we had been on a mini holiday. It can be isolating not having a vehicle so we feel very lucky to have met such generous locals who are willing to show us around this area of Japan that has so much to offer.