Japan: Day Two
I mixed my lightly poached egg into my rice, the yolk creating a thick sauce, and carefully assembled bites by stuffing seaweed with the rice mixture, pickled lotus root, daikon, squab and red bean.
With some free time to myself, I threw on my jacket and went for a run along the harbour front. Fishermen were casting their lines, cyclists were starting their day, young kids in uniform were taking their bicycles on the ferry to the other island, and preparations for the festival were being made.
The more I get a feel for this city the more I love it. It is calm, the people are warm and polite, and it truly is beautiful under the sunlight.
It seems there are many young families here, with hip moms and dads, and a lot of young businesses with local crafts to sell.
Soon it was time to go to the Betcha festival. We gathered in a grass park and were given traditional blue jackets that would give us permission to get up close to the action.
This festival is said to have originated in an attempt to ward off the plague during the Edo Era. Dancing to the beat of music played on drums and bells, young men wearing scary costumes run through the streets, chasing the children and hitting them on the head or body with bamboo whisks. This is meant to keep them to safe from illness for the coming year.
At first it was totally bizarre to see. Parents with big smiles would thrust their children towards the "monsters" so they could get a smack. The kids would cry while the moms and dads look elated. But once you got used to it it seemed totally normal. I was even hit in the head a few times and am looking forward to a healthy year ahead!
After the festival we were given prepared bento boxes and some free time to enjoy the rest of the festival.
I have had an obsession with bento boxes since I was younger. This lunch was no exception. It was just as beautiful to look at as it was pleasurable to eat!
With free time on my hands, I did what I do best - get lost and find delicious things.
I started with a ginger tea soda from a little hipster cafe with locally roasted coffee and crafts.
For the next couple of hours I wandered through the main shopping area which was full of food stands, families and games for kids.
I also snuck through the smaller streets which reminded me of Venice. You could spend hours getting lost here. The narrow streets are full of sweet apartments, restaurants and cafes with very little signage, cyclers and motorists zooming past.
Eventually it was time to meet our group. After we checked out a local souvenir shop - my team apéro went on a quick mission to grab a glass of wine before dinner.
We found the perfect little hideaway in Cafe Guesthouse, a small school themed cafe with a dorm-like guesthouse upstairs.
When we were told our time was up, we hurried down the street to a small soba noodle restaurant, where we were seated in shifts for dinner, keeping warm with small cups of sake.
Since I couldn't eat the noodles (damn you gluten), one of our leaders gave me some photos so I could pretend.
Luckily the kind owners created a special meal for me. It was some kind of rice, egg and ham custard. Very simple and comforting.
The restaurant also had a photography theme to it (they love themes here) and the owner took many photos during our meal.
We left warmed by the food and the sake, giggling as we walked back to our hotel through the covered shopping street.
I am equally charmed by Onomichi and this group of travellers. I love how we come from all ends of the world, but have been brought together by our shared passions and talents. I feel very lucky to be a part of it.
As we walked I was asked if I was nervous about our cycling day today. I answered "Yes, but I'm also strangely calm. I feel like no matter what happens it will make a great story." I guess you'll find out tomorrow. Wish me luck.