Monday, November 19, 2007


After a couple of days of travel, only one thing would fit the bill after that amazing view of Mt. Fuji: A bath. We went to the local onsen where, as we soaked up some warmth in the outdoor rotemburo full of more of that awesome thermal spring water, Ken told me how each city was given about $1 million to spend on some sort of public works. Shibakawa decided to build this onsen. Well worth every penny.

The most fascinating part of this conversation is that it happened in broken Japanese, English, and even Portuguese. Where I couldn't understand a word in Japanese, and Ken didn't know it in English, he'd fill in with Portuguese. Luckily, it was close enough to Spanish that I could understand.

It's at times like this when I can really appreciate what a small world it is.

It's also the first time I saw Ken relax. For people who you would imagine to be slow, methodical, and precise, this monk moves in a blur - often in a hamfisted manner - rushing through just about everything. My mom said after 25 years, he's more Brazilian now than Japanese. I replied to her, "Well then, what does that make you?" We've been living in the States for over 25 years now, after all.

As soon as relaxation time was over, it was back to the rush. It was 6:20 when we left the onsen, we had dinner reservations for 6:30, and it was a 15 minute drive. We were whisked through pitch black, windy mountain roads to a small, traditional looking house seemingly in the middle of butt-ass nowhere.

We entered and immediately there was a cat theme. In the entryway, there was every permutation of the stereotypically Japanese "good luck" cat, including one dressed as a burglar. The door to the main room slid open and I was overcome by the scent of roasting fish... and the reason revealed itself in the middle of the room. There, in a small charcoal pit around which we were seated, three spits of whole fish were smoking over the coals.

We were each served a tray holding a variety of food. Rice infused with kibi (I have no idea what that is), some amazing tofu-type dealie, lightly pickled mackerel, pickled ferns, two types of fish, various plants from the mountains and the trees that I've never seen before in my life, and a crazy soft mushroom in its own consommé that was like heaven on earth. This was followed by platters of unusual tempura (okra, myoga, candied yam - you name it), and of course, the whole fish that had been roasting before us. We were instructed to eat the entire fish - called an ayu - head first, working our way to the end.

Normally I don't mind eating tiny fish in their entirety, but a regular-sized (eight inches or so) full fish? Head and all? I followed our host and my mom's lead and bit in.


The next bite was even better than the previous, which is why I guess we were told to eat from the head. Then I looked and noticed that the fish had not been gutted. I looked up at Mom and Ken and they kept going, so I shrugged and kept going myself Now normally I wouldn't recommend eating fish innards. They taste, umm, earthy at best. But I'll venture to say that these were the best fish guts I've ever had. In fact, by the time I got to the crispy little tail, I wanted to ask them to roast up some more.

We were soon joined by the chef and his wife - who had been serving us - a highly eccentric couple who run this restaurant serving up ages-old, nearly-lost cuisine one party at a time. The menu varies depending on what they get and what they feel like making. Had we come the next day, it would've been a hot pot of sukiyaki hung over the charcoal pit for all to share.

I would come back if they were only serving white rice and seaweed. The combination of quality, atmosphere, and excellent hosts made me wish we had something like this at home. Serving the perfect dinner to cap off what ended up being a nearly perfect day, it may well be my favorite restaurant at which I've ever eaten. It's called Konjaku. I don't know if it's in any guide book or any web site, but if you're ever in the Mt. Fuji area of Japan, find this place. Go there. You will love it.

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