The dish that arrived on our table was met with confused feelings of fascination and disgust. Dressed in our yukata, sitting cross-legged under the low Japanese table, we’d enjoyed round after round of incredible food – thin, oily slices of beef that sizzled on a tabletop grill and melted in our mouths; chilled tofu with vegetables and pickles; grilled fish and crispy chicken karaage.
But when the abalone arrived, we watched aghast at its preparation. A humungous sea snail in a half-shell the size of my entire hand was placed on a small grill, whilst a fiery hot barbeque bead flamed below. With horror, we watched as we realised that this mollusc was being cooked alive, fixed to the shell but writhing, squirming and trying to save itself. It jerked and curled with surprising force as bubbles formed along its edges, and the meat began to change colour. In five minutes, the creature was dead and still, and it was time to try this delicacy. We weren’t thrilled to eat it after the show we had just witnessed, but we couldn’t pass up the chance (and I must admit, it was quite tasty).
Izu was our last stop before heading back to Tokyo, the end of our trip. Izu was a small town on a peninsula to the south of Tokyo, and our accommodation in a ryokan was a wedding gift from a friend in Sydney. We were enjoying all the comforts of the traditional Japanese inn; the huge feast, a bare room with tatami mats and futons, a relaxing onsen with a steamy inside area, and a wonderful outdoor winter-time hot spring.
We were going to miss Japan – smiling for purikura photos and ordering vending machine coffees, feeling the cold of the winter through the floorboards under our feet as we explored cavernous temples, ringing bells to keep bears away on rainy mountain hikes, munching on takoyaki as our shinkansen zoomed across the countryside. But it wouldn’t be for long, as we were already full of ideas for our inevitable return trip!