I have to say that I was driven by the potential of freebies. I had never been to a shopping centre opening before so what better way but to cut my teeth and start small on an opening of a little shopping complex at the Numazu Fish markets called the Numazu Minato Shinsenkan.
It was the weather that set the mood for the day; pushy gusts of cold ambushing my wife and me on our bikes as we made our way to the fish market port. The static in the air charged the mind and triggered every kid in the vicinity to foam at the mouth and send their parents to an early grave.
Our arrival at the port was greeted by a group of Lucha Libre’s, Mexican wrestlers, plugging in guitars and keyboards and setting up drums. Of course, I didn’t immediately get their connection to the opening of the shopping centre until my wife pointed out that one of the masked men was wearing a mask that could be a loose depiction of Himono, a type of dried fish. Mind you, he could have also been wearing a giant squid on his head with two holes cut into it so he could see out.
It was around ten-thirty in the morning and the centre was starting to fill. We made our way into the shopping centre. The centre extended out in a straight line for about 100 meters. On either side of the main walk way ran café’s, restaurants, grocers, fish mongers (of course) and food stores featuring Numazu’s regional specialties. I could see all this easily from the entryway because of my six foot four height and the four foot nothing swarm of hunched over grannies filling up the walkway with wisps of grey and black.
My wife charged on into the foray as I hesitated. I have experienced the sheer power of Japanese grannies in the past. Most of these interactions have been during grocery shopping. They are surprisingly nimble and their short stature puts them under my radar as they squeeze their way in front in the check out. If I do however, manage to catch them before they push in, they resort to using their sharp deadly elbows that dig holes into my ribs startling me enough for them to get in front. All the while they tactfully act like sweet little grannies in complete ignorance to the cracked ribs they have just given me. These are the modern day ninja and their name is obaasan. Fear them.
Now I stood before a plague of obaasan’s, jostling each other for potential freebies and the best deals of the day. Was I stupid enough enter this frightening mass of predators? For you, dear reader, yes. No more than a few paces into the crowd I took and elbow to the ribs as I was jostled about from stall to stall making sure that every obaasan had a shot at me, all the while my wife danced and dodged the crowd. An ice cold chill ran down my spine as realization dawned, some day my wife will be an obaasan with frightening abilities.
As my ribs numbed to the jabs, I started to appreciate what was on offer in this shopping mall. The mall was a display of all the delicacies and local produce of Numazu. Each stall specialized in something. One store I was propelled towards sold a selection of dried seafood goods all packaged and ready to be sent on their way as gifts. Next to each type of packaging was little sample taster jars. I tried a number of dried seaweed and was surprised with their delicate nuances of flavour. In another jar was tiny little fragments of dried fish which exploded with sardine and soy flavours under each crunch.
Further around the store I was greeted by a grinning obaasan, a sales woman this time, with an open jar shoved under my nose. It seems to be an universal phenomenon I have noticed during my travels. If you are in a foreign country and the locals can see you are a tourist, then expect their most foul tasting delicacy to be thrust into your face as a challenge. There is no way for you to really win in this predicament. The local has all the cards. If you decline the offering, then you have insulted their culture and they have won. If you taste the offering and spit it out, vomit or even show a hint of displeasure then you have insulted their culture, but at least you tried. The last option is the best for your ego but this time your stomach looses. This is what I have chosen to employ in these situations. It is simple; take the ‘food’ offering eat it while showing absolute delight and then help yourself to more. You have just earned cultural brownie points (of which you may need to eat said brownie as soon as you are out of site to take away the horrid taste) and possibly a new friend.
So without looking at the contents, and putting on a big smile, I took the food from the jar and chomped away, and away…and away, at the very crunchy, dried baby crabs covered in sesame seeds and tasting exactly the same way that aquarium fish food smelt when scattered over vomit. It took everything I had to reach in the jar for another, but I did, and that wiped the grin of the obaasan’s face. It seemed like she told the rest of her kind because I noticed far less jabs in the ribs for the remainder of my time in the shopping centre.
Traveling up the main aisle I came across a stall that specialized in wasabi, the sinus blasting florescent green mustard most commonly found as an accompaniment to sushi or sashimi. The Izu Peninsula is famous for growing top quality wasabi．This little shop was displaying more that its common paste form you see chugging on you local sushi train. Wasabi rice and prawn crackers were a spicy treat. Though, my favorite wasabi product was the oil. The oil was light on the palate and ended refreshingly well, in a similar way that a good quality extra virgin olive oil leaves your mouth clean and ready for more tastes.
Yet further along the shopping centre there was an interesting fish monger with squirming octopus, crab and crayfish. Each fish eye was brilliantly clear with freshness. Even the giant tuna head sitting on totem display for customers to appreciate looked a little curious as to where the remainder of its body went.
On the port facing side of the market ran half a dozen restaurants, taking advantage of the view of the port with its dramatic View-O tsunami gate in the distance.. A seafood broth was the purvey of one restaurant, while another offered sashimi. One café that caught my eye had cozy little spaces for couples to look out over port or even sit outside on a calmer day (it looks like my old gripe about the lack of balcony dining is going by the wayside). The restaurant’s accessibility to such fresh produce will tempt me back there for a tasting very soon
Finally to top off my tour of the Numazu Minato Shinsenkan, I was greeted by cheeky little characters wearing masks with the funniest expressions I have ever seen. Exaggerated smirks and grins beamed from their masks. Accompanying pelvic trusts and playful trickery heightened their display. Were these the dirty old men sent to frighten the obaasan’s out of the centre before they tore it apart? I never quite figured out the story behind the masked frivolity. But I certainly enjoyed it.
All in all, the opening at the Numazu Minato Shinsenkan was a great way to waste a couple of hours until lunch. While the shopping centre is unashamedly focused on the Japanese tourist market, it was really a great way to see what seasonal food offerings there are in the Numazu local area. Not to mention, the really great dining on the boardwalk running along the centre.
The Numazu Kaijinsai and Numazu Port Festival is going to be a big event for the Numazu Port area and is happening on the 23 May 2009. So take a trip down to explore, get festive, get cultured and wear your stretchy pants, the food is great.
For more information check out the Numazu City Hall, April Newsletter, here.