The ferry floated across the smooth waters between Takaneshima Island and Ikuchijima, glided in and kissed the wharf at Setoda Port.
For a popular tourist destination, 5.30pm on a Saturday afternoon in June was eerily quiet, with only two passengers in addition to us getting off, and only a handful waiting to get on. A few father and son anglers trying their luck on the piers , and a few couples strolling along the picturesque port side.
We had about 2 hours to fill before the next and last ferry back to Mihara. After more than a week together we had mastered the look of serious and interested visitors while masking complete confusion as to where we were, what we were here for, and where we were heading.
Taking heed of the quick advice given at the Visitor Centre at Onomichi, and reference to the map displayed nearby, we headed off to the shiomachi shopping street. Well, at least I thought we were heading in the origin direction, given the map was in Japanese and none of our group had progressed past Stage 1 kon-ban-wa.
It was easy to see that Setoda is a beautiful port village. Wandering along to shiomachi street past narrow lane ways, old houses, tiny gardens. No vehicle traffic, a pedestrian here. The late afternoon light and thick cloud cover hung like a blanket over the place.
Thoughts soon moved to finding a place to eat. True, nothing seemed to be open, but that also reflected the fact there seemed to be no stores, izakaya or restaurants to be open. Passing by a small shop, Chris got us a bag of citrus fruit. Not sure of the exact type or even their laxative rating, we polished off about a kilo of them in the stroll along the street.
Finally spying an eating house with a few guys in it, we wandered in. The smiling owner welcomed us, and the biru was soon in hand. Task one completed as we sipped on very large jars of Sapporo’s.
A greater challenge confronted. What was on the menu, and how to order? That was until Chris sidled up the the guys in the booth along the way. Using his best charades skills, including what we observed as the impression of a cow, then a pig, a bit of tummy rubbing as well. Lots of laughing, but no closer to really knowing what was on offer.
Who cares anyway, we are here to experience the real Japan, and what better way than to do as the locals do. Pointing to our new friends mini-griller, and showing four fingers, our order was made. “Same as them” was our message.
As we learned later, we were in a yakiniku restaurant, where slices of meat are cooked on a table griddle, with lots of cabbage in our case, with the meat then dipped in tare sauce.
Absolutely delicious, and a relaxed, social way of eating. Too bad we lacked the capacity to sit with our legs tucked up, so we did look a motley bunch sprawled out every which way, including a leg or two into the corridor.
Leaving the yakiniku place we roamed the back lane ways heading back to the port. Again not till a few days later did we learn that the wooden homes we passed by were hundreds of years old. A few were under renovation and we were able to look closely at the craftsmanship used to fashion roofing, tiles and walls.
Back to the port and a last few minutes to soak up the quiet. Another Japan place that screams come back and spend more time here.
With a crowd of 5 other passengers, we chugged back to Mihara this time on a much older ferry. Taking in the diesel fumes is so much more tolerable with us all tired, happy, sated and hydrated.