DAY 7 (2/7): A SEAFOOD PARADISE – OMICHO MARKET (近江町市場), Kanazawa (金沢), Ishikawa Prefecture (石川県), Japan, 2018.05.31
Since the old days in the Edo Period, the Omicho Market (近江町市場) has been the biggest market in Kanazawa (金沢) for over 280 years. With 170 shops, Omicho Market is very popular among both the locals and tourists. Anyone who is interested to get a taste of the fresh seafood from the Sea of Japan will never be disappointed with the market. Depending on the season, Omicho Market is always a seafood paradise: snow crabs, shrimps, oysters, squids, sea urchins, and all kinds of fish from the Sea of Japan near Ishikawa Prefecture (石川県), with Noto beef (能登牛) and Kaga vegetables (加賀野菜) from the region as delightful bonus. In fact, the Sea of Japan just off the Ishikawa Prefecture is where the warm Tsushima current and the cold Liman current intersect, resulted in an abundance of nutrients and large concentrations of fishing ground for a diversity of fish and shellfish. Being the largest market in the capital city of Ishikawa Prefecture, it is obvious why Omicho Market is one of the best places to sample seafood in Japan. Most tourists will either sample fresh seafood or seafood snacks from the market stall directly, or walk into (often after certain amount of queuing time) one of the small seafood eateries near the market entrances or on the 2nd floor. After dropping off our backpacks at Pacific Hotel, we quickly walked over to the market for a short stroll. It soon turned out such a stroll in the market would happen at least twice per day during our stay in Kanazawa.
Spanning across several covered lanes, Omicho Market is one of the largest markets in Japan.
Noto beef (能登牛) refers to the high qualify strain of Japanese black cattle with their longest and final breeding process held in Ishikawa Prefecture. Every year, there is only about 700 cattle shipped, making this rare wagyu beef almost exclusive to the region.
Many shops in the market specialize in regional fruits, produces or snacks.
Traditional Japanese sweets are also available in a number of shops, including this one that sell traditional sweet rice cakes made with sticky rice and red bean paste.
Thought of course the main draw for visitors to the Omicho is always the seafood.
For seafood, a winter visit would have an advantage with snow crab season.
Oysters from the region are also popular among tourists.
Outside of winter, crabs from the Ishikawa Prefecture are still available.
The crabs are sold in a range of prices depending on size.
Crustaceans remain the most eye-catching items in the market.
Without tasting them, even looking at the crabs was a feast for our eyes.
At last we couldn’t resist but ordered some oysters and a prawn.
Both the local oysters and prawns were super fresh and sweet.
Before taking a bus a few blocks south of Omicho Market where the city’s main tourist attractions could be found, we stopped by Curio Espresso and Vintage Design Cafe for a quick lunch.
With fantastic reviews on the Internet, our coffee didn’t disappoint us.
The hummus, bread and soup were also more than satisfying.
After a leisure stroll in the picturesque Ogimachi (荻町), at around 11am we crossed the suspension Deai Bridge (であい橋)over to the main parking lot / Open-air Museum Gasshozukuri Minkaen (合掌造り民家園). The rain was quite heavy and instead of visiting the open air museum, we opted for a lunch break at Soba Wakimoto (蕎麦脇本), a lovely soba restaurant housed in a traditional gassho-zukuri building. The lunch was a delicious soba noodle soup and a mini bowl of Hida beef rice. After lunch we crossed the bridge back to Ogimachi, and paid a visit to the Myozen-ji temple complex. The visit included seeing two gassho-zukuri buildings, the Kuri (former residence of the monks) and the worship hall. Before leaving Shirakawa-go, we headed up to Shiroyama Observatory Deck (城山天守閣展望台) for the spectacular birdeye’s view of the village and the surrounding mountains. At around 1:40pm, we headed back to the bus station, picked up our backpacks, and boarded a “world heritage bus” heading to Ainokura (相倉) of Gokayama (五箇山), where we would stay the night in a 300-year-old gassho-zukuri house.
On the other side of Deai Bridge (であい橋), the tour bus parking lot and the Open-air Museum Shirakawa-go or Gasshozukuri Minkaen (合掌造り民家園) didn’t look busy at all.
For tourists who arrive by tour buses, Ponte Deai (であい橋) would be their point of arrival into Ogimachi.
Just a stone throw away from the tour bus parking lot, we arrived at Soba Wakimoto (蕎麦脇本). We decided to go for a bowl of soba and a cup of hot tea.
Two “raccoons” welcomed us at the front lawn of the soba restaurant.
It was 11am, and we were the first to sit down in the dining hall of Soba Wakimoto.
We ordered two soba sets. Both came with a seafood soba, and a bowl of Hida beef rice. The meal was fantastic and gave us an opportunity to dry up our jackets.
After lunch, we headed back to Ogimachi. Outside of a tourist restaurant, a sarubobo (さるぼぼ) doll offered visitors a photo opportunity with this amulet of Takayama. The faceless doll was a traditional gift made by grandmothers for their grandchildren as lucky charm.
Back in Ogimachi, we passed by Myozen-ji Temple again and decided to paid a visit. Built mainly in the early 1800s, Myozen-ji Temple presents a rare surviving example of gassho-zukuri temple architecture.
In the Myozen-ji Temple, we could visit the Bell or Shoro Gate, the Kuri, and the main worship hall. All three structures were constructed with the unique thatched roof of the gassho-zukuri style. These temple structures were built in the early 1800s.
The Kuri of Myozen-ji Temple is one of the largest building in the village. Our tour of the temple complex began from here.
The spacious attic of the Kuri building had been converted into a two storey museum. Back in the old days, attics of many gassho-zukuri houses were used to make washi paper and raise silkworm.
Outside the Kuri, the gassho-zukuri houses and reflective rice paddies offered us a glimpse into the fading rural lifestyle of Japan.
The upper levels of the Kuri building allowed us a closer look at the straw eaves of the thatched roof.
From the Kuri, a zigzag corridor led us to the main worship hall of Myozen-ji Temple, where the interior was decorated with a series of paintings depicting the Mount Fuji.
On the ground level of the Kuri, we arrived at a beautiful fire hearth where visitors gathered around to smell the burning natural wood.
Before leaving Shirakawa-go, we walked up the hill near the bus station to Shiroyama Observatory Deck (城山天守閣展望台).
The Shiroyama Observatory Deck (城山天守閣展望台) offers the iconic postcard view of Shirakawa-go’s Ogimachi.
Despite the rain, the village of gassho-zukuri houses looked spectacular with the lush green surroundings.
Although most tourists prefer to visit Shirakawa-go in the snowy winter when the gassho-zukuri houses were lit up by flood lights at specific weekends, we didn’t mind to visit in late spring to see the village with its reflective rice paddies and lush green surroundings.
It was touristy, yet the scenery of Shirakawa-go and its traditional gassho-zukuri houses made the visit to this UNESCO World Heritage site more than worthwhile for us.
Due to the fact that this world-largest fish market is running out of space for future development, and that the site of the existing Inner Wholesale Market is sitting on prime real estate land, the Tsukiji Inner Market or Jonai Shijo (築地中央卸売市場) is scheduled to be relocated to Toyosu (豊洲) in this October. Handling over 2000 tons of seafood per day and employed over 60,000 staff, relocating the Tsukiji Inner Market is no small feat. Not catered for public visitors and tourists, the wholesale area is not an ideal place to wander around. No tourists are allowed before 11am according to the rules, and there is a limited number of quota for watching the famous tuna auction before dawn. Outside of the wholesale area, a few small lanes of restaurants are extremely popular with tourists. There are about two dozens of small sushi restaurants serving fresh fish just a stone throw away from the wholesale area. No wonder the most popular restaurants such as Sushi Dai (寿司大) and Daiwa Sushi (大和寿司) are infamously known for the long queues, with some bloggers mentioning in the range of one to three hours of wait.
This time, we didn’t enter the wholesale area of the Inner Market. We didn’t want to stand in the way of the busy staff.
We walked to the lanes of eateries and sushi bars to hunt for a place for breakfast.
Japanese grilled omelette or tamagoyaki (玉子焼き) could also be found in the Inner Market area.
In 2014, we came to the Inner Market in early morning and had a bowl of chirashi for breakfast.
Other than chirashi and sushi, there were also other options such as curry and tempura.
The line for Sushi Dai went all the way to the other side of the building out onto the adjacent lane. It seemed like a two hour wait at least.
This time, we picked Daiwa Sushi (大和寿司). Daiwa Sushi occupies two stores so we thought the queue wouldn’t be too long. We wouldn’t mind queuing for a while to have a chance to taste the fresh nigirizushi or hand pressed sushi (握り寿司) from Tsukiji Market.
At the door of Daiwa Sushi, a staff was responsible to monitor the queue and direct the entering customers when seats became available in the restaurant.
Through the window, we could see a senior itamae (chef) and his apprentices busy preparing nigirizushi for customers.
We ended up queuing for a little over an hour before finding ourselves sitting at the bar seats of Daiwa Sushi.
The interior was down to earth. We sat by the corner right by a photo depicting the catch of a huge tuna.
There was only one nigirizushi (握り寿司) set option to order. Nothing fancy about the sushi, but the freshness of the fish and the vibrant market atmosphere made all the wait worthwhile.
After the sushi breakfast, we hopped to Aiyo Cafe next door for a cup of coffee.
The interior of Aiyo revealed a strong vintage atmosphere.
The entire shop seemed frozen in time since mid 20th century.
The staff were very friendly and spoke some English.
We had a good time exchange a few words with them while taking a short coffee break. After all, we were a little sleepy after the red-eye flight.
At another lane there were restaurants that offered Western cuisine. We thought of trying but were too full after the sushi breakfast.
We walked by an interesting sliding door panel leaning against a low wall outside the row of restaurants that offered Western food. Was the move to Toyosu already underway for some restaurant owners we did not know.
Judging from the mini figure that actually moved continuously as if devouring a bowl of delicious noodles, the door might belong to a ramen restaurant. After the sushi and coffee, we decided to move on to Roppongi for a dose of design culture.
After Ebisu, our next stop was Higashi-yama Restaurant in Nakameguro (中目黒). In a quiet residential street in Higashi-yama 15 minutes walk from Nakameguro Station, Higashi-yama Restaurant was well hidden from the street. We came across this restaurant from our online research. We were attracted by the minimalist food presentation and the atmospheric interior setting. We reserved a table for lunch through their website two weeks prior to our departure. After the traditional Kaiseki experience at Ueno Park the day before, we were hoping that Higashi-yama would offer us a contemporary interpretation of Japanese cuisine. “A detached house located in Higashi-yama, Meguro-ku, Tokyo, away from the clamor of the city, and be a place where people meet and discuss what matters most to them, a place where new communication is born.” According to the description on their website, the story of this tranquil spot in Tokyo’s Higashi-yama where people come and chat and enjoy modern Japanese food all began in 1998. Our experience of Higashi-yama began at a narrow stairway off the street.
A flight of steps led us away from a residential street up to a hidden courtyard.
Well hidden from the street, the entrance courtyard offers a serene buffer between the street and the restaurant. The courtyard served well to decant our souls of hastiness and calm down our hearts (as we were almost late for the booking).
The interior of the restaurant is simple and unpretentious, with traditional Japanese dark timber millwork in a bright and simple setting.
A tall shelf displaying wine and sake anchors one corner of the interior.
Wood is such an important material in Japanese culture, from table, chopsticks to chopstick holders.
The appetizer consisted of eight ingredients fresh to the season.
Both the taste and the beautiful presentation of the food matched with the overall ambience of the restaurant.
One of the main dish we ordered was the grilled snapper.
The other main we chose was the tempura seasonal ingredients.
After the tasty appetizers and main dishes, we were led by the staff downstairs via a beautiful and modern stair.
The water feature by the stairwell seems like a contemporary interpretation of a chōzubachi water basin in front of a zen tea house.
We were led to a comfortable sitting area for dessert.
Mocha pudding and mango ice-cream came went well with hot Japanese tea.
An interesting copper sculpture was mounted on the wall over our head.
Opposite to our sitting area, a staff was preparing tea and chatting with another customer by a high counter.
After dessert, we paid the bill and were led to exit the building through a copper door directly back to the street. Overall, Higashi-yama Restaurant offered us a fine experience, with good food to satisfy our taste-buds and a zen and minimalist environment to sooth our souls.
Everyone who has visited Tokyo would probably admit that he/she was spoiled by the abundance of dining options while staying in the Japanese capital. For us, it was actually quite challenging to pin down a place to eat near our hotel in Shibuya, because there were simply too many options (6,866 restaurants in Shibuya alone listed on the tourist website Tripadvisor). We began our trip research about two weeks prior departure. We checked guidebooks, searched travel websites and read online blogs, and came up with a short list of places to visit and eat. The name Kaikaya By The Sea (開花屋), a popular seafood restaurant at Shibuya, came up multiple times during our research. Tempted by their highly recommended seafood, we made a table reservation at Kaikaya for our first evening. After our visit to Ueno and St Mary’s Cathedral, we made it back to Shibuya right on time to Kaikaya By The Sea at 18:30.
Kaikaya By The Sea is located west of Central Shibuya, in a small street west of the shopping centre of Shibuya Mark City. The “fishy” mural under the shop awning introduces a sense of seaside relaxation to the small urban alleyway of Shibuya.
The restaurant vestibule is decorated with lots of visitor photos.
The setting was causal and relax with interesting sea and food related decorations throughout the interior.
The door handle reminded me of a bowl of seafood soup.
From his years of surfing, the owner of Kaikaya By The Sea maintains close connections with fishermen working by the sea. Fish is brought in fresh directly from Sagami Bay (相模湾).
The menu at Kaikaya is quite creative and diverse, from local Japanese sashimi to fusion seafood dishes, and so as the visitors from local customers to foreign tourists.
Kaikaya By The Sea is cozy and full of personal touches of the owner.
An English leaflet introduces a few of their feature dishes. We ended up trying the Tuna Spareribs recommended by the staff.
Our first dish was a plate of very fresh assorted sashimi.
The second dish was broiled live tiger prawns prepared in Hong Kong style. Again, freshness was the key and we could clearly taste the sweetness of the prawn meat.
Then came the in-house specialty tuna spareribs. They are actually baked marinaded tuna jaw. The dish was quite a pleasant surprise to us as we didn’t know what to expect.
Six pieces of fatty tuna (maguro toro) sushi, pickled ginger and fresh wasabi root. A leaf shaped grinder was given for us to DIY the wasabi paste. The toro was so soft as if melted right after we put it into our mouth.
Fresh octopus with rock salt and fresh lemon allowed us to taste the freshness and tenderness of the octopus.
Despite we had already eaten a lot, we couldn’t resist and asked for the dessert menu.
Outside the kitchen of Kaikaya By The Sea.
It was already dark by the time we finished our delicious seafood dinner.
We took a causal stroll in the area and found our way back to Central Shibuya.
We then walked through the shopping centre of Shibuya Mark City and Shibuya Hikarie to return to our hotel and called it a day.
South of Sai Kung and east of Tseung Kwan O, the lush green Clear Water Bay Peninsula (清水灣半島) separates Junk Bay (將軍澳) and Port Shelter (牛尾海). With its natural and relaxed setting, uncounted opportunities for outdoor activities, and a number of low dense residential neighborhoods, Clear Water Bay (清水灣) is popular among expats and anyone who loves nature. Clear Water Bay (清水灣)‘s two beaches, High Junk Peak (釣魚翁) country trail, the cove of Po Toi O, sleepy villages and the surrounding turquoise water make it a great alternative for outdoor adventures to the more popular Sai Kung. With just a bus ride away from Kowloon, Clear Water Bay offers the opportunity for a quick dose of nature for Hong Kong’s city dwellers. It was rather late by the time I get off the bus at the second beach of Clear Water Bay. I chose to enter the High Junk Peak country trail at Ha Shan Tuk (蝦山篤) and do a short hike to the fishing village of Po Toi O (布袋澳).
I entered Clear Water Bay’s High Junk Peak Country Trail at the Tai O Mun Road (大坳門路) entrance. The Chinese name of High Junk Peak is 釣魚翁, which means “Fisherman” or a Common Kingfisher (釣魚翁鳥). In reference to the Kingfisher bird, a sculpture is erected at the trail entrance.
On the slope of Ha Shan Tuk (蝦山篤), a visitor was having fun with his remote controlled mini-plane against the scenic backdrop of Clear Water Bay.
To the west of Ha Shan Tuk (蝦山篤) is South East New Territories Landfill (新界東南堆填區) and the new residential developments at Lohas Park (日出康城) and Tseung Kwan O (將軍澳). Completed in 1993, the South East New Territories Landfill is pretty much filled up. Waste disposal and running out of landfills is one of the city’s toughest and most urgent issues needed to resolve.
Looking east, the view opened up to Clear Water Bay Club and Steep Island beyond.
Atop the hill above Po Toi O lies the golf course of Clear Water Bay Country Club.
Eastwards beyond Clear Water Bay stand a number of islands close to the shore. Beyond that is the vast open sea until Taiwan.
Because of There are many fish farms in the area.
In a distance, the mighty High Junk Peak (釣魚翁) stands proudly over Clear Water Bay. It is one of the three treacherous Peaks (the others are Sai Kung’s Sharp Peak (蚺蛇尖) and Tuen Mun’s Castle Peak (青山). It is also considered to be one of the three sharp peaks of Sai Kung, with the other two being Sharp Peak (蚺蛇尖) and Tai Yue Ngam Teng (睇魚岩頂).
From above, the tranquil Po Toi O (布袋澳) is a lovely fishing village. Referring to its physical appearance, Po Toi O’s name literally means a fabric sack.
The fish farms and the village of Po Toi O (布袋澳) look neat below the Clear Water Bay Country Club.
Founded in 1266 by Lam Tao Yi (林道義), the Tin Hau Temple in Joss House Bay (佛堂門天后古廟) is Hong Kong’s oldest Tin Hau temple.
Fish farms are still in operations at Po Toi O, a popular village for seafood meals.
The village of Po Toi O is one of the places in Hong Kong where a laid back atmosphere dominates.
In Po Toi O, two heritage buildings stand out from the rest: the Hung Shing Temple (1663) and Kung So (公所) in 1740.
There are two seafood restaurants in Po Toi O.
The village homes at Po Toi O are simple houses made of bamboos, timber, and metal sheets.
At the village exit, a large neon sign of “Seafood Island Restaurant” is erected near the minibus station.
Hong Kong has over 200 outlying islands, and only a handful are inhabited. North of Sai Kung Peninsula (西貢), at the intersection of Mirs Bay (大鵬灣) and Long Harbour (大灘海), the small Grass Island or Tap Mun (塔門) lies across the South Channel from Ko Lau Wan (高流灣) Village in northeast Sai Kung. At its peak, about 2000 inhabitants lived on the Grass Island. They were mainly farmers or fishermen. Today, only about 100 residents stay on the Grass Island, mainly as shopper or restaurant keepers to serve the influx of tourists during weekends and holiday, when the island would turn into a large camp ground for leisure seekers from all around the city. Simple seafood eateries, a ferry pier, a Tin Hau Temple, an abandoned school, unique rock formations, old village homes, and a few stores catered for weekend tourists, Grass Island is a getaway destination for anyone who is willing to venture this far out from the city.
From Wong Shek Pier in Sai Kung, we took a local ferry out to the Long Harbour (赤徑海) heading towards Grass Island.
Other than a newer cluster of buildings built in 1964 with a charity aid from New Zealand, most village homes on the Grass Island are located near the pier.
Near the pier, we stopped by a simple eatery for lunch. The local squid is really fresh and delicious.
Sea urchin fried rice is a popular dish in many fishing villages in Hong Kong.
We also ordered the fresh catch-of-the-day: two small sea bream caught in the morning.
A few dragon boats were lying around a small waterfront area.
During Tuen Ng Festival, there would be a dragon boat race at the Grass Island.
A small trail off the main street of the Grass Island led us to a popular open area above the eastern shore of the island. The space is crowded with camping tents, kite-playing visitors and feral cattle.
The sloped open lawn seemed had endured heavy foot traffic throughout the years. The silhouette of the iconic Sharp Peak on the Sai Kung mainland provided the best backdrop for Grass Island. In a clear day, the water should have been blue and Sharp Peak lush green.
From the hilltop overlooking the open lawn, we followed a off the beaten trail that winded through dense woods for half an hour and eventually arrived at the rocky beach of Che Wan (車灣). This was probably the most difficult hike on the island. Our aim was to seek for a seaside rock called the Dragon’s Neck (龍頸筋).
The Dragon’s Neck (龍頸筋) is one of Grass Island most famous natural feature. It is frequented by hikers as well as visitors who come for fishing.
Back to the top of the lawn, we followed another footpath down the east coast of the island. Along the path, some visitors set up tents and picnic areas, some went for fishing at the rock beaches, some braved the cliffs for rock climbing, some continued to fly their kites on the windy slopes. The Grass Island is truly a small leisure paradise for all.
Another well known rock feature was the Lui’s Stacking Rocks (呂字疊石). Two similar stone cubes, one sitting on top of the other, resemble the Chinese character of the surname “Lui”.
Looking at the Lui’s Stacking Rocks (呂字疊石) from afar, it was hard to imagine how the stacking rocks were formed in the first place.
The entire day was cool and grey while we were on the Grass Island. The wind was a little strong, and so as the waves.
Ko Lau Wan(高流灣) at Sai Kung Peninsula seemed pretty close from the southern tip of the Grass Island. The sea was a little rough in between, in the 400m wide channel of Tap Mun Mouth (塔門口).
The utilitarian New Village of Tap Mun was erected in 1964 by a charity from New Zealand. The houses are still occupied today.
After the New Village, we were getting close to the pier again.
We could see the incoming ferry while on our way walking to the pier.
As we boarded the ferry, the sea and the fish farming areas seemed calm and relaxing.
After half a day on the small and remote Grass Island, it was time for us to return to Wong Shek Ferry Pier in Sai Kung.