A perfect little day trip out of Tokyo, we chose to visit a centuries old castle just an hour’s journey from the capital at Odawara.
Odawara is a gorgeous little place on the coast with a spectacular castle.
And we happened to be there on a special day, a Matsuri or festival day, where portable shrines, mikoshi were taken around town by each of the local shinto communities with plenty of singing and chanting as each of the local businesses are blessed individually. We were lucky to see such a lovely, positive and uniquely inspiring and authentic occasion.
The castle itself was a perfect picture of what you’d expect of old Japan. Pagoda-esque roofs, mesmerising old coats of armour and best of all, the opportunity for Japanese families to dress in traditional costume of the time. I just loved watching the kids dancing with excitement as their parents came marching out dressed as samurai and their wives…
We wandered around the castle and grounds, through the Golden Week markets, listening to the live school band playing with the sunlight beating down. A bit peckish, we tried something we’d not yet tried at the market, small grilled mochi on skewers, each with a different coating; one with sweetened soy glaze, one with red bean paste and one with honey and sesame powder. Mochi are literally the perfect snack, they fill you up and make you feel energised and taste fantastic.
For lunch we headed down out of the castle grounds across the moat and had just crossed the road when we found a simple and authentic soba restaurant.
After only 5 mins we were served with the town’s specialty, squid ink fishcakes; rich and full of fishy goodness. Then came the soba itself, I had a large warming bowl of it submerged in strong bonito broth, covered with minced daikon (radish), bonito flakes and topped with a magnificent giant prawn tempura.
The soba were beautifully handmade and had perfect texture, the soup was strong and fishy, not for the fainthearted, but rich and warming. The tempura prawn was gigantic and surprisingly light. This dish was a testament to the attention to detail here, the mastery of something simple but perfect in it’s simplicity.
The rest of the day was spent exploring Odawara’s port and fish markets. We wandered into various shops selling all kinds of unusual fish produce, from fishcakes to dried fish crisps to the strangest of all, mini fish icecream.
We tried most things, some of them fantastic and interesting like the variety of fish crisps or shredded dried squid. Some required a more daring approach such as sea urchin and pickled preserved squid.
On our return to Tokyo in the afternoon, we went off to the trendy Shimo-Kitazawa area to check out the area where my friend was working. In London terms, Shimo-Kitazawa is a kind of mix between Camden and Shoreditch with a lot of fun tat shops alongside some trendier vintage places.
Our dinner was a trendy rooftop affair at Ichi Nen (which means ‘one year’). We were then treated, in usual izakaya style to a series of fabulous plates of absolutely delicious food. My standout dish was the unbelievable tuna cheek which I could’ve sworn was beef, before I noted the unfamiliar bone structure. The taste was rich, irony and totally meaty – supercharged fish!
Another fantastic day in Japan.