Somewhere in December last year I received this message; “Hi, are you interested in a trip to Japan next year? Give me a call.”
It took me 3 seconds to call back.
So, fast-forward to a few months later, on February 14, I arrive in Tokyo for a new Japanese adventure. The invite came from the ‘Jetro Chiba’ project, and together with some guests from Germany we’re going to explore the region Chiba in the coming days. Never heard of Chiba? It’s a prefecture located in the Greater Tokyo Area. If you look at the map of Japan, it’s that peninsula on the right of Tokyo. And I will tell you why it’s worth a visit when you’re in Japan…
Chiba is a pretty big prefecture, and to explore this all in only three days, I’m facing a jam-packed program. But I have all confidence in the Japanese planning, I’m sure we will follow the schedule by the minute. They also seem to know exactly where my interests lay, since we kick off on Friday with a visit to the Supermarket Trade Show. And that means… tasting! This is our first introduction to Chiba’s regional products, like ‘peanut pork sausages’ (props to their logo design) or ham from a company named ‘pork love’ (which maybe sounds better in Japanese. But you know; happy pigs taste better!). They seem anyway to be very creative with peanuts and even developed an improved peanut, called the Qnut (because the Q comes after P in the alphabet, makes sense right?!). Also, it’s totally fine to drink sake (rice wine) at 10 am, since it’s only tasting. I did try all of them, obviously!
Happy and full, we’re heading on to a very cool cycling train named ‘B.B.Base’. Fully geared out in safety items (although the train isn’t even moving, but let’s stick to the protocol) we explore this perfect example of Japanese innovation and promotion of cycling tourism. The train runs along the coast of the Chiba prefecture and you can get on and off at multiple places to ride a tour. Ideal to escape the urban areas and ride in the countryside. The train has dressing rooms, a restaurant and a very easy and safe way to store your bike.
It’s Saturday and we’re traveling down south on the peninsula to Tateyama. But, of course, there are some interesting stops on our way. When in Japan, I really don’t mind almost every activity here contains food. It’s just all so delicious! But this place is something I’ve never seen before. We drive up to a really old farm somewhere in the middle of nowhere. It turns out to be 300 years old and it’s called ‘Jiroemu’. Run by an older (and sooo sweet) couple that have turned this family business into an organic farm/restaurant. The food is very traditional and seasonal. We had multiple courses with chicken, eggs, vegetables like Japanese radish, salted plum, spinach, cottage cheese and much more. The garniture but also the dining room, the traditional house and the beautiful garden is just as special as the food. It’s like time has stood still here! (I don’t think you will find it online but it’s just outside of Minamiboso and definitely worth the search!)
In the afternoon, we visited the Takabe Shrine. This temple is also known as ‘Minami Boso Lovers Spot’. It is Japan’s only shrine dedicated to the god of cuisine and cooking, and home of the “Knife Ceremony’.So, why ‘lovers spot’? Well, also in Japan women belief that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Makes all sense now right?
Sticking to the food-topic our next stop is 30 minutes of unlimited strawberry-picking. Filled up on these delicious and very sweet strawberries we arrived in Tateyama, on the very south tip of the peninsula. Tateyama will be the venue for the Olympic triathlon and open water swimming in 2020. We stay here in a sport hotel which is very suitable for cyclists and triathletes. We have dinner with some members of the local triathlon club. A good moment to exchange jerseys, bidons and more stuff with the local athletes.
The last day of this trip I can finally jump on the bike myself. The Chiba Nature Cycling tour is on the program! Imagen; two Germans, a Dutchie and over 100 Japanese cycling enthusiasts… A perfect mix of ingredients for many selfies, group photo’s, bows, smiles and a few words of English and Japanese. It is pretty obvious that we are very notable today, but I have also loads to see. Especially when it comes to cycling apparel and bikes. Japanese cyclists definitely love to invest in equipment, gear and gadgets. But I see also some beautiful old steel bikes. It’s a beautiful sunny day but there is still a fresh breeze. I’m about to take my legwarmers off, but I don’t want to show off. Especially since I’ve seen one participant wearing ski pants. Style highlight of today is definitely the rider who is wearing a teddy bear -helmet cover!
The tour itself is beautiful. A 100 km diverse course along the very southern point of the Chiba coast and more hilly inland. And not to forget, some good food stops along the way! A great way to wrap up this introduction to Chiba prefecture. Thanks to the Jetro Program for inviting me, I’m definitely enthusiastic about this region. Or should I say (pea)nuts about Chiba?!
Fortunately for me, there is loads more to come and other prefectures to see. Three more weeks left to explore Japan! From here I will continue my travels by bike. To be continued….