Wow! A sunny day in Tokyo after several days of rain! Why, one would think we're into the rainy season already. Wait, maybe we are!
Taking advantage of the great weather Madam Wife and I headed for the hills to the west of Tokyo for a drive through the foothills of the Southern Alps. It always amazes me (even after all these years in Japan, but I'm easily amazed sometimes) just how soon we can be out of the concrete mountains of Tokyo and into the lush green of the Japan countryside. With light traffic on the Chuo Expressway we were out of the city & driving through the valleys and low mountains of the Akiyama area in just a bit over an hour.
Heading west we exited the Chuo at Sagamiko and wound up the narrow road to the Y in the road that leads to Doshimura on the left fork and Akiyama on the right. Several dozen bicyclists were also taking advantage of the 30 degree (celsius/ about 86 F) weather for their Sunday exercise ride. That's gotta be tough pedaling up those hills, even with 21 gears, but the ride on the down side must be pretty exhilarating!
With all the rain we've had lately driving through this region makes one feel like you are wrapped in a cushion of green. The mountains are covered with several shades of green. Open up your mental paintbox and just imagine lush shades of plain green on those deciduous trees, blended in with the yellow-green of the swaying mini forests of bamboo, surrounded by the darker green of the fir trees. Are you getting a good mental picture? Okay, now use your brush to feather in some brownish green moss growing on the stones and stone fences and the occasional reddish-purple splash of a momiji (Japanese maple).
We spotted a day use onsen (hot spa) in Akiyama and we stopped to have a look around and a short hike down by the river that runs next to the onsen. No hot spa today, but it's one to remember for a future jaunt if we hike in the area.
Heading on down the road seeking food to match the scenery we spotted a well worn sign that said Tenjin (Heavenly Gods) hand made udon (noodles) was a short 500 meters off on a side road.
At first glance we wondered if this place was really still in operation. The well weathered boards made us think it was an old abandoned building. But, the noren (curtain) hanging at the door assured us that Tenjin was open and serving lunch. In case you didn't know, the purpose of these noren is to show that a shop is open for business. Sure beats the old "open" or "closed" sign, doesn't it?
Entering we found a little gnome of a fellow, who looks like he's been there just about as long as the building, busily at work in the small kitchen making, cooking, and serving what turned out to be excellent udon.
The interior was a real surprise. It looks like it was just built a short time ago with fresh log walls and some of the biggest log tables and some very hard (you won't dawdle for hours here!) log seats.
I decided to go with the "niku tsuke" or meat and noodles. Another surprise was in store for me. When we asked Chef Tenjin what sort of meat he uses he replied, 'baniku." Now "ba" means horse, and "niku" means meat - so - obviously, horse meat! A first for me even after nearly 19 years in Japan. Actually, it tastes a lot like very lean beef and was extremely tender and tasty!
So, if you're out & about, and driving along highway #35 about 45 minutes from Akiyama, have a sharp eye on the lookout for Tenjin & try a bit of heavenly horse for yourself!
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