Tour Day Five! sake, strawberries, and Soma City

Tour Day Five! sake, strawberries, and Soma City
Tour Day Five! sake, strawberries, and Soma City

For the final full day of the tour, we whirled south along the coast to Tokyo, stopping at a fishery, farm, brewery, and bay. The day commenced at the Matsukawaura Fishing Port of Soma City, a zone completely leveled by the 2011 tsunami. Triggered by an underwater earthquake, massive waves swept away the dockyard warehouses and an entire village. Hundreds perished, but the city has since rebuilt, bent on a renaissance. Solar panels now occupy the flood plain, while rows of new houses overlook the sea from the hillside.

Our hosts detailed the safety measures undertaken in the wake of the disaster, levying standards of food safety orders of magnitude more exacting than the international regulations. Likewise, the local seaweed harvesters sift their crop by hand before packaging it for consumption.

We received this devotion to detail with some reassurance, as our magnificant midday meal showcased the infamous fugu, or puffer fish sashimi: a dish sliced from amidst pockets of neurotoxins. Improperly prepared, it may kill its diners in seconds.

Everyone walked out alive, I’m happy to report — perhaps dazed, but only with the abundance of delicacies.

Strawberry season dawns in February for Japan. We plunged into the greenhouses, equipped with dessert trays and instructions to tug up, not down — then devoured as many berries as our stomachs could hold in the too-short stretch allotted for our gathering.

I munched a delicately shaded berry, cultivated to taste of peaches. The others I dipped in sweetened condensed cream, sounding out their names in hiragana. Each sweet burst savored of sunlight. Though it felt churlish to choose only one, I settled on Berry Pop Suzu for my favorite. Then at the souvenir shop, we pored over strawberry liqueurs, strawberry syrups, strawberry bath salts, and many more besides.

Housed alongside the Asaka Distillery, Sasanokawa Brewery boasts the highest number of Gold Prizes in Japan for its sake concoctions. We ventured into its storehouses of barrels and brewing machines, where the true art lies in the judgment of the sake master himself. As conditions subtly shift from day to day, varying with the weather and countless other factors, he discerns what subtle adjustments to perform to perfect their liquid treasure.

We sipped from a selection of three sakes and three whiskies, which served to confirm my preference for single malt. I’d have to say their gold-awarded sake wasn’t half-bad either.

A final train delivered us again to the big city: the soaring skyline and brilliant lights of late-night Tokyo. The floating restaurant Yakatabune Nakakin farewelled us in style, with a sumptuous dinner aboard a riverboat. We cruised from Shinagawa to the Rainbow Bridge of seaside Odaiba, feasting on all Japan’s classics: the sushi boat, sizzling tempura, nabe hot pot –and karaoke!

At every stop, our guides had presented each artisan, farmer, chef, restaurant owner, and guide with wrapped gifts to signal our gratitude for their hospitality. Now it was time to honor the team who had navigated a dozen different destinations in six days, without missing one connection or losing a single piece of luggage. We hailed their skill and kindness, thanking them for our magical introduction to Japan’s culinary wonders.

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