Nicoletta Goes to Japan (part 2), or, how my dreams came true and one day I found myself in Japan.
Song of the day: You Make My Dreams - Hall & Oates.
If you read Part 1 of the "Nicoletta Goes to Japan" saga, you know that I recently returned from an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime trip to Japan, where I appeared on the TV show ‘Who Wants to Come to Japan‘. In part 2, I am in Japan and my exciting adventures are just starting. The itinerary was kept a secret by the producers, so every stop and experience was a surprise and an adventure. Follow along...
After 2 flights (Edmonton-Vancouver, Vancouver-Tokyo) and 16 hours time difference, the crew picked me up at the airport in the late evening. I got to meet the director, an assistant, and the translator, the adorable Erika. They started filming right away, talking, asking me questions, but at that point, I did not even know what day it was, who I was, and what language my mind was processing everything: my native Italian, my adopted English, or the Japanese. I needed some rest, but it seemed, not yet. They told me we were headed to Shizuoka Prefecture that same night and we were going to take the Shinkansen or bullet train.
So long, Tokyo, I only saw your airport and I am already leaving (but I'll be back!). First stop, inside the airport, to rent a pocket wi-fi (a must go when you travel to Japan!), and to buy a snack at a convenience store since I had not eaten much during the trip. I opted for an onigiri. Known as “rice balls” in English, onigiri are indeed cute triangular bundles of rice that can be filled, sprinkled with all sorts of goodies, or wrapped in a sheet of seaweed (nori). I chose one with a salmon filling, simple, yet so delicious because the salty flavor of the salmon matches so well with the plain white rice. I ate it on the train (which, by the way, deserve its name "bullet train"), in the 1-hour ride from Tokyo to Shizuoka, while I was in and out of consciousness, lol.
Shizuoka is located on the Pacific coast, between Tokyo and Osaka. It is known for its tea leaves that make an excellent green tea (which I bought) and scenic views of Mount Fuji (which unfortunately I did not see). Shizuoka Prefecture is sometimes referred to as Japan's riviera, and in fact, it was beautiful, sunny and incredibly warm while I was there. Such a difference from the winter I had just left in Canada.
When we arrived in Shizuoka it was night. After a short taxi drive to the hotel to leave the luggage, they decided for a quick walk to find someplace to eat. I would have rather crawled into bed, but I was sport and plugged along trying to keep my eyes open and participate in the conversation, mostly about plans for the day after and curiosity about life in Canada and Italy.
Last effort of the night, a picture of the view from my window before I crashed in bed. Lights out.
The reason we were in Shizuoka was that I had requested to experience a traditional Dorayaki making, like in the old times, from scratch, and the producer had found one in Shizuoka. There, a dainty Dorayaki shop was owned by husband and wife and the chef had been making traditional anko and Dorayaki every day fresh for many many years. People line up to buy his Dorayaki, they are so good! They watch him masterly make the perfectly round cakes, 15 at a time, then fill them with a beautifully smooth and rich bean paste, while his wife takes care of packaging and handling it to customers.
The awesome part of the trip was for me to meet Mr. Kawachiya. I was lucky to be able to watch him prepare the Dorayaki batter with 25 XL eggs that he whisks 1000 times, 3 Kg cake flour, and other ingredients that I did not know were in the batter. I witnessed the amount of time and dedication he puts in the anko making (red bean paste), using every day 12.5 Kg of azuki beans from Hokkaido, 14 Kg of sugar, and more "stuff" that make his anko so delicious. I learned that it's better not to soak the beans, or the skin would get too soft and break; and when the anko is ready and poured in big containers, you cannot move the anko before it is fully set or it will never set properly.
That day that will stay with me forever, I got to "help" him in the kitchen, take notes, ask and answer questions. And, what an honor, I got to taste his amazingly soft Dorayaki, and later use his seasoned copper griddle to make my Dorayaki, all the while being filmed. Stressful job, being on camera, lol.
Making Dorayaki in Japan was incredible. Something I had not even dared to dream about. The Kawachiya family was so kind and generous with their time, they shared their food with me, their stories and family pictures, and I was also gifted some specific tools to help me make Dorayaki at home. I can’t wait to take what I’ve learned and pass it along. I’ll be making some changes and writing a new post on Dorayaki in the near future.
Even 'actors' have a break!
The filming day schedule was strict, but I did get some breaks. With my awesome companion, the translator Erika, I went on a stroll through the city, passing a tiny farmers market (always on my list when abroad), a bakery, charming little stores, and doing some shopping.
Shizuoka Sengen Shrine
The day was sunny and beautiful. Just a short walk from Kawachiya shop, following a pretty small shopping street, there is the beautiful Shizuoka Sengen Shrine. There’s also a pond with huge koi fish swimming lazily, and a nice park on the shrine grounds. Erika and I went there, on another break, the next day. Quite serene and relaxing, you leave the hustle of the city behind. Near the entrance, there are fountains whose water is used for purification. You are supposed to clean your hands and mouth before approaching the main hall and so I did. Also, like many Shrine visitors before me, I bought an Ema, a wooden wishing plaque, where I wrote my wishes and then left it hanging at the shrine.
Thank you, Erika, for capturing those moments with a photograph. A treasured reminder that I -for real- have been to Japan.
The next day we were going back to Tokyo to start another adventure.
Stay tuned for part 3!