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Inland Sea No. 7: Awashima

May 21, 2010

粟島 (あわしま) Awashima

Kagawa prefecture

Awashimataro-san prepares fish for the “irori”

This is one of the Moooo! Bar’s favorite islands in the Inland Sea. It has just 300 peopleor so but is a beautiful place in both the winter and summer times. There is a 33-shrine Kannon Pilgrimage, a beach that hardly gets any visitors, and extremely friendly locals who turn fishing buoys into island decorations by painting faces on them. These buoys can be seen all around the island, peeking out at you from behind bushes, standing in fields of flowers or sitting on the stone steps to the temple.

But perhaps the most unique feature of Awashima is a little minshuku called Awashima-taro, a play on the famous folktale “Urashima-taro.” The owner and his wife retired to Awashima from Osaka almost 20 years ago and eventually started up this minshuku

When we arrived on Awashima most recently, we were welcomed by the owner (affectionately called “Awashimataro-san) and his wife at their beach bar, which, is open by appointment only. After a welcome drink there and catching the sunset, we moved up to their 120-year-old country house-turned minshuku. Awashima-taro is one of the few places in Japan where you can experience sitting around a real irori, the old-style heating and cooking fixture of traditional Japanese farm houses. As the coals of the irori were being heated to cook our dinner, we each took turns bathing in the iwaburo stone bath. Relaxed after a hot bath and fitted into our yukata, we were ready to eat Japanese style around the irori. Or so we thought.

Dinner started with a bang as Awashimataro -san placed giant crabs onto the irori grill in front of us. To my surprise, the crabs started scurrying over to me screaming for help.

Wham! Awashimataro came down hard on one of the crabs with his tongs. “One minute on the grill, and they’ll be dead,” he assured us. Wham! He gave another escaping crab a blow on the shoulders.

If a crab even lifted his pincers, this prompted another wham. There’s nothing quite like fresh, abused seafood.

Wham! I expected the police to rap on the door any moment to ask what was going on. I feared the newspaper headlines: “Foreigners Implicated in Crab Murders.”

Once dead and turned orange on the grill, we dismembered the crabs and ingested their meat, then tossed their remains into a bucket.

Next came sashimi, where each of us received our own fish propped up on sticks so the body was arched with head and tail curled up at the ends, the way I imagine Olympian fish would jump from the high dive. Their sides had been neatly carved up into little slices for easy removal by chopsticks. Once all parts were removed and eaten, their skeletal remains were taken down and, head and all, placed on the grill to be charred and eaten as hone senbei. At least we were eating the evidence.

We continued on our path of destruction, attacking sazae (giant turban shells) that were quietly gurgling away on the grill as they cooked. With ice picks, we pierced their insides first, drawing them slowly out of their shells in a winding, circular motion.

When there was nothing left on the grill to decapitate, pierce or mutilate, we enjoyed drinking Japanese sake, chuhai, and some gin-inspired drinks which helped us forget our rather brutal table manners.

Before going to bed, when Awashimataro-san asked us what he could prepare us for breakfast in the morning, we all nearly shouted out at the top of our lungs in unison, “Vegetables!”

We were delighted to wake up to find nothing on the breakfast table jumping, gurgling or screaming for help. Instead we sat down to a peaceful breakfast of congenial vegetables and aromatic coffee.

Facts

You can only get to Awashima from Shikoku. Ferries leave from Takuma (Kagawa-ken) every hour or so and the ferry is only 15 mins.

Accommodation

Unfortunately, Awashimataro will only take reservations in Japanese. If you don’t speak Japanese, find a Japanese person to call for you: 0875-84-7285 (if international, drop the 0). Prices are 9,000 yen per person per night including two meals. The meals are not always crab, but usually include a lot of fish. Awashimataro-san catches most of it himself. Rooms are mostly futons, one room with beds. Western-style toilet. Do not show up unannounced or without reservations. When they have no reservations, they are usually out sailing.

If you don’t speak Japanese, we will be happy to make a reservation for you for free. Just email us at shiraishireservations at yahoo.com

Alternatively, The Moooo! Bar arranges boat trips to Awashima from Shiraishi Island. The warm irori in Awashimataro makes it a great island to visit during the shoulder seasons, when it is not warm enough for the beach. For trips to Awashima either from or to Shiraishi Island, email us at shiraishireservations at yahoo.com

Awashima always gets great reviews as it is something most tourists don’t get to experience.  Put Awashima and Awashimataro on your list of things to do in Japan before you die!

By Private boat

Private boats can dock at free berths in front of Le Port Awashima, just to the left as you enter the main port of Awashima. Public toilets at ferry terminal, about 100 meters away.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 24, 2010 12:08 pm

    Hi! I’m a Planet Japan podcast fan. I liked reading this post. Will surely come back for more!

  2. humorusguidetojapan permalink*
    May 24, 2010 12:14 pm

    Moos of appreciation Dominic!

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