Fujikawaguchiko and Oshino, Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan
January 31 – February 1, 2017
Ninja called. I came.
Seriously, what could top my first snow experience and first ski lesson in Yamanashi? Practically none, but other treats this prefecture near Tokyo could offer were more than charming. That turned out to be food so oishi and some ninja moves so out of the blue.
After a full day of playing in the snow, my guy squad took me to a rejuvenating, if a wee bit awkward, onsen bath and a filling dinner. The restaurant they had originally chosen was closed that evening. The second choice, Robata-ryori Sanrokuen, was the perfect one after all. It was known for Japanese barbecue or “fireside cuisine” and for offering an all-around Japanese experience. We sat agura-style (cross-legged) on the floor around the BBQ pit as we had kushiyaki (skewered and grilled food) composed of corn, veggies, fish, and meat – dipped in an array of sauce choices. The heat emanating from red-hot coals thawed my freezing fingers.
The building itself – façade and interiors, in parts blackened by BBQ smoke – was a tourist attraction. About 150 years old, it was a folk house transplanted from Gifu Prefecture, which I took as a sign of my next destination in the future. The owner was a chatty chap, explaining the history of the house as much as the food. We capped the BBQ meal with a taste of Yamanashi – its very own traditional dish called hoto, a big bowl of chewy udon noodles in miso soup. It sent us out to the cold winter night sufficiently warmed and stuffed.
The next day I was back in Yamanashi, this time with my girl squad. Donna booked a day trip to Mt. Fuji with JTB Sunrise Tours that specialized in day trips around Tokyo. Mt. Fuji may have been the highlight, but the succeeding stops could hold their own. Lunch break was a cultural experience at Setsugetsufuuka Restaurant.
The buffet spread, pre-ordered by the tour company, had food selection that was tastefully chosen, although none was extraordinary. The main course was soba with some salad and meat thrown in. An eye-catching table centerpiece was a salad of Mt. Fuji’s fresh produce in a flower-shaped bowl heated on a small burner. Such was Japanese-style buffet, still minimalist, not the gluttonous servings we had been used to.
Interestingly, the restaurant was part of Oshino Shinobi Village, aka ninja village. Walking down the maze-like hallway to the restaurant was proof of it. Lest we missed the theme, a ninja mannequin in red stood guard by the entrance. A marker identified it as belonging to Fuma Ninja, reportedly a notorious clan that was a tad unscrupulous. Their mannequin versions looked kawaii and fine-featured in this village though. Some almost totally wrapped in black ninja garb peeked out of ceiling beams and sliding walls. Read: ninja moves.
The cutest ninja move was the surprise appearance of a girl in black, brandishing a menacing ninjato sword. No worries, this ninja smiled sweetly and gamely posed with tourists queueing for a selfie with her. Before I could unravel her secret identity, she disappeared furtively as she had come. Indeed, she could pull a mean ninja move.
The sunny day, though freezing, compelled us to explore the gardens after our meal. With the majestic Mt. Fuji in the backdrop, everywhere you looked was a postcard-come-to-life. It seemed the foliage, the pond, the stream, the bridges, the torii, even the light blanket of snow had already been composed for a photo. All I had to do was take the shot. The scene conveyed a certain desolation, however, as it was the dead of winter.
I didn’t care for the last stop: a tourist shopping trap at nearby Gotemba Premium Outlets. I whiled away the time – two hours of it – people watching at a restaurant. My girl squad was lost in the complex of shops. Lost being the operative word, at least for (Gone Girl) Donna. Come call back time, she was a no-show. Repeated paging and frantic looking yielded no Donna sighting. The Japanese guide had already allowed us a five-minute delay (criminal to the ever-punctual Japanese!), but no more. I decided to get off the bus, so did Melissa after some discussion. All for one, one for all. A calm and collected Donna eventually showed, citing misunderstanding about the call back time. We laughed it off and caught a regular bus back to Tokyo later in the evening.
That was one ninja move we would not soon forget!