Japan’s Countryside, Ichinomiya
Ichinomiya, Chiba is a quiet, rural country town along the coast of Japan with plenty of rice paddies, a scarce amount of restaurants and nearly zero English translations. Our Airbnb was in walkable distance of a convenience store, a supermarket, and the train station but not much beyond that.
Luckily, the Ichinomiya Town Hall lets you borrow bicycles for free so we were able to explore further! Bonus: the bikes are half motorized, half pedal-powered.
A Slow Lifestyle
Most of the time, the area felt like a ghost town. There’s plenty of storefronts but they seem to ALWAYS be closed. We walk by morning, day and night and majority of the shops have their doors locked shut with lights off and a barrier pulled down over the entrance. At any given time, probably only one third of the storefronts you walk by will actually be open here. It’s super strange.
Ichinomiya is apparently the biggest surf hub of Japan, regardless of how rural it is. There’s more surf shops here than in Santa Cruz and a lot of them are fused with cafes. Often “coffee” is the only English word on a sign/menu.
Hunt for Mochi
This bakery/delicatessen (below) was a few blocks down from our Airbnb, and we were on the hunt for mochi ice cream balls. We hadn’t found them in the supermarket, so we had high hopes a specialty store like this would carry them. We found the only refrigerated cabinet and inside there they were! Fluffy dough balls covered in flour, presumably with ice cream inside. We tried to ask the cashier what’s inside just to double check and he said “Traditional. Vegetables… Beans.” But because we wanted the ice cream balls so badly, we brushed it aside as broken English. Beans? That’d be weird. Low and behold, we bite inside and what I was expecting to be a green tea flavored ice cream was indeed refried beans.
In Ichinmomiya, 99% of the menus are (obviously) only in Japanese with no English. We usually have to rely on the restaurant staff to translate one or two key words (i.e. pork, rice or noodles) to determine what to order. If you’re lucky, the menu will have pictures!
Where’s All The Sushi?
Interestingly, we’ve found sushi much more difficult to come by than we had expected. We both imagined sushi bars lining the streets- similar to taquerias covering California. We asked our Airbnb host for a sushi recommendation nearby and he could only name one spot that was a couple miles away. Every time we would walk into a restaurant (having no idea what they serve since we can’t read the menu) and ask “Sushi?” we would get denied. I don’t know if it’s a Western myth or maybe the Chiba area just isn’t keen on sushi… Regardless, we ended up finding one sushi restaurant a handful of miles away while on bikes. Unlike sushi, the Japanese vending machines are just as common as you’ve probably heard. They’re everywhere, like five per street.
In just a couple of hours, we’re off to Tokyo! Although it’s been fun to explore the local, authentic side of Japan, I’m so excited to plunge into the fast-paced, neon craziness of Tokyo. Ten nights in the biggest city of the world will be the grand finale of our 20 weeks abroad. Many, many, many more photos to come!