IZU PENINSULA, JAPAN – December 2007

Brisbane Airport be Damned

In keeping with tradition, I am compelled to commence my narrative with tales of travelling tribulations.

Should you ever be tempted to fly overseas via Brisbane, our strong recommendation is to seek out that temptation, hunt it down and quietly kill it before the temptation manifests itself in the form of formal travel documentation. Huckleberry B and I have been to some pretty dismal airports in recent times – Naples springs to mind as being particularly chaotic – but Brisbane ranks as the worst airport we have ever been subjected to.

Because we were using our frequent flyer points, we had to travel from Sydney to Brisbane on a domestic Qantas flight, which meant having to disembark at the domestic terminal at Brisbane, catch the sporadic – albeit exotically named – “airtrain” to the international terminal, before lining up for what seemed like hours to check-in for our JAL flight to Tokyo.

Mind you, if the wait to check-in seemed like hours than tour time waiting to go through customs passed like days!

I don’t know who designed the customs procedures at Brisbane airport, but whoever he was, he must be an idiot. Imagine two queues of initially excited – but increasingly anxious travellers – approaching from different directions. Each line reaches an escalator which delivers the would-be traveller downward to a cesspool, which resembles a seething, swirling mass of humanity.

We must have been meandering along that queue to the customs counter for close to an hour, passing the same listless, bored and increasingly anxious faces every ten minutes or so as we looped one way and then the next.

By the time we reached the customs officer – who briefly scanned our passports, with glazed over eyes, before throwing them back to us – our plane was overdue to leave. If it were not for the fact that there were other Tokyo-bound passengers behind us in the queue, we would have suffered the humiliation of being personally named over the PA system whilst being politely encouraged to get our asses into gear.

When we finally reached our seats it was with some relief.

You will be pleased to know, however, that our luggage was treated more humanely than we were. Our bags were checked through from Sydney to Tokyo and were quietly resting – probably with a chocolate biscuit, a cup of tea and a good book – whilst we endured the cattle muster otherwise known as Brisbane International Airport.

Unryu

Following the abomination of Brisbane, we have to applaud the Japanese train system, which is exceptional. To get to Kawazu, we had to change trains twice. However, each train was right on time and we arrived at our destination refreshed and cheerful.

Kawazu is situated on the south east coast of the Izu Penisula, which hangs, like a tear drop, south of Tokyo.

Our ryokan, Unryu, lay fifteen minutes inland, nestled amongst some steep wooden hills.

Those who have been here will know that there is much about Japan which is unattractive and not so pleasing on the eye. Tokyo, for example, is a mass of ugly, concrete structures with very little evidence of any thought having been given either to town planning or aesthetics. The other towns and cities I have seen in Japan are similarly blighted, including renowned Kyoto.

Where the Japanese excel, however, is in creating little pockets of extreme beauty and tranquil serenity.

Unryu proved to be such a place.

The centrepiece of Unryu is a beautiful ornamental garden which surrounds a pond within which a family of koi frolic and play. The garden is divided into a number of sections and each “room” is dominated by a fountain. At night, fairy lights flicker and dance amongst the foliage.

The other feature of Unryu is the bath houses, which are serviced by the local hot springs. We were told that there were two gender specific bath houses available, however, we did not venture there, preferring to utlise the “family” bath house.

Immersing oneself in the steaming water is exquisitely painful. One minute we were shivering in the chill winter air, the next our flesh was tingling as our blood quietly simmered in the hot water. The water was so hot that when we left the bath and walked in the open air again, we no longer felt the cold and our skin boasted a healthy pinkish hue.

Food, Glorious Food

Other than the hot spring baths, Huck B and I came to Unryu for the food…and we were not disappointed.

We enjoyed a full Japanese meal on each of the three nights we stayed, which commenced with a beautifully presented serving of sashimi and ended with boiled rice, miso soup and some fruit. In between, we ate some mouthwateringly delicious Japanese fare which included – on different nights – sukiyaki, various seafood dishes and a collection of crustaceans cooked over some hot river stones.

Each course was delivered by our chamber-maid, Keiko, and her side-kick, Minako. We developed a softspot for Keiko, in her particular. Although she would deny it – with a multitude of heart-felt apologies – her English was actually pretty good and she certainly understood what we were saying to her, even if she occasionally had to struggle to remember the odd word or phrase when replying.

Each morning – after a night spent sleeping on the floor – we were greeted by a full Japanese breakfast which included some raw fish, some grilled fish, some pickled vegetables, miso soup and rice.

We found lunch to be an unnecessary indulgence!

The Fairytale Lunch

Although lunch may have been an unnecessary indulgence, that is not necessarily to say that we did not indulge!

On our first day at Unryu, Huckleberry and I went for a walk around the local area, which featured a shallow mountain steam punctuated by seven picturesque waterfalls. Sparkling fresh water flowed from some unknown source above us, paused in swollen pools before cascading down each waterfall and splashing loudly on the rocks below.

We walked along a footpath which had been constructed, through the forest, occasionally crossing the stream on well-constructed suspension bridges.

After a time, we came across a sign which indicated that a restaurant lay at the end of a path which diverted from the well-worn track along the river. Given that it would be some time until dinner – albeit only a short time since our bountiful breakfast – B and I decided to have some lunch, so we climbed the steep, rocky steps which had been cut into the hillside and followed the path into the woods…

Before long we came across a small house amongst the pine trees. It was a ramshackle construction with smoke billowing from a small chimney. Once at the front door, we were welcomed by a small man with a toothy grin, before we were ushered down a cluttered hall, up a ladder and into the attic of the building!

Entering the attic, we were met by some workers who had just finished their meals. They gathered their tools, climbed down the ladder and marched back into the woods – whistling as they went – to resume their work.

Meanwhile we were directed to a small table in the corner…

Given the circumstances, I would not have been surprised if, peering through the attic window, we should have spied a girl with a little red riding hood skipping down the path or if an elderly woman had entered the room and offered us some gingerbread to eat from her house.

Sadly none of these enchanted events transpired. However, we did enjoy the cold soba noodles and malt beer which were on offer…

Moonriver

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s