Sunday drive

We have recently taken possession of a second-hand car, thanks to a very nice friend of onii-san’s who works at a Toyota dealership. After one careful gentleman owner, the Platz – or Pratz, as the Japanese pronunciation would have it – came with new tyres, a new battery, an MOT, less than 30,000km on the clock, and some kind of special coating for the windscreen that supposedly disperses rainwater to the extent that you don’t need to use the wipers. When he found out that I was an addict, onii-san’s pal even threw in a couple of packets of Choco Pie for good measure, and the car is such a smooth ride that like proper grown ups, Mrs M and I have been going for Sunday drives.

One of these was to Ooarai, where that post-quake footage of a small boat caught in a very large whirlpool was shot. Admittedly, by the time the tsunami reached Ooarai it had shrunk somewhat from its twenty-nine-metre maximum, but as we drove along the sea front, several shops were still closed, their windows either boarded up or with chest-high mud marks on them. The furniture from other businesses and households had been left outside to dry in the sun, and at least one fishing boat was still stranded on the quayside, while the ferry terminal I once passed through on my way to Hokkaido looks as if it will be closed for some time to come.


As with a lot of tourist attractions these past few weeks, the entrance fee for Ooarai Marine Tower had been temporarily waived, and we shared the glass-fronted lift to the top with a local family.
‘There must have been people up here when the earthquake happened,’ said one of them.
‘Scary, isn’t it?’
‘The elevator would have stopped as well.’
‘Do you think there were people stuck in here the whole time?’
‘I don’t know. I guess they might’ve been able to use the stairs.’
‘I wouldn’t have wanted to watch the tsunami coming in, that’s for sure.’

At the bottom of the tower the regular flea market – which Mrs M and I first went to on one of our first dates nearly six years ago (never let it be said that I don’t know how to show a girl a good time) – was also making a comeback, and some of the more publicly spirited stallholders were donating their proceeds for the day to the earthquake appeal. While a fair proportion of the stuff on show was new, it was a novelty to be able to browse through boxes of old LPs, rusty garden tools and faded piles of clothes, as the demand for second-hand goods in Japan is nowhere near as healthy as it is in the UK, where I have long been a devotee of car boot sales, charity shops and the like.

The shopping mall next door, where we had eaten lunch with friends of Mrs M’s just a couple of months ago, was now completely deserted, its car park strewn with uprooted shrubs and its entrance blocked by a huge pile of fixtures, fittings and water-damaged goods (mostly clothing – rumour has it some opportunistic Chinese thieves ransacked the place for anything sell-able in the days after it was inundated).

A couple of blocks north, the Mentai Park had survived largely intact, mainly because its foundations are raised about four feet above ground level (see below – the bits of yellow gaffer tape show how high the water came). Mentaiko – marinated pollack roe – are one of those obscure seafood dishes only the Japanese could be obsessed with, and this place has every conceivable variation on the theme, from mentaiko on its own (it is manufactured in little sausages with a membrane-like casing), to deep fried mentaiko, mentaiko stuffed in sardines and mentaiko dumplings.


There’s even a mentaiko exhibition, from one corridor of which you can watch the adjoining mentaiko production line in action, although my favourite thing about the Mentai Park – apart perhaps from the free coffee, tea and tasters – is its theme song.

All sorts of foodstuffs here have theme songs: walk around a supermarket and you will come across at least one or two tape recorders playing upbeat pop tunes with lyrics about seaweed or hamburgers, and they are often voiced by children to give them that added touch of cuteness. The Mentai Park song is maddeningly catchy in a way that would make even Kylie suffer a bout of covetousness, so you’ll be glad to know that you can listen to it on the Kanéfuku website (Kanéfuku is the company that runs the Mentai Park – scroll to the bottom of the page and click on the mp3 player-type thing). Alternatively, you could become an employee of Kanéfuku, and be obliged to listen to it over and over and over again, all day long, every day of the week, 365 days a year. Or perhaps not.

But anyway, given that the lyrics are displayed on the aforementioned website, I couldn’t resist a spot of translating, so here they are in all their approximated English language glory:

Everyone loves them! Kanéfuku pollack roe!

They tingle on your tongue, Kanéfuku pollack roe, lively and full of zest
Tiny Kanéfuku pollack roe
Delicious Kanéfuku pollack roe

[Verse 1]

I love pollack roe
I’m eating them today
I always love pollack roe
I eat loads of them
Pollack roe with squid, pollack roe with chicken wings, pollack roe with pasta – delicious, aren’t they?
Like little bubbles popping in your mouth, you can hear them say, ‘Hello!’ [harmony vocals: ‘Let’s eat!’]
They tingle on your tongue, Kanéfuku pollack roe, lively and full of zest
Tiny Kanéfuku pollack roe
It’s almost time for dinner – pollack roe!

[Verse 2]

Everyone loves pollack roe
We eat them every day
We love pollack roe any time
They make a happy meal
Pollack roe with mackerel, pollack roe with pilchards – lots of ways to eat them, delicious, aren’t they?
They tingle on your tongue, Kanéfuku pollack roe, lively and full of zest
Gulp them down, Kanéfuku pollack roe
Let’s eat some more pollack roe

They tingle on your tongue, Kanéfuku pollack roe, lively and full of zest
Tiny Kanéfuku pollack roe
Pollack roe make a delicious meal
Delicious Kanéfuku pollack roe

And in the original Japanese:


ピリッと かねふく明太子 元気モリモリ
ビビット かねふく明太子
おいしい かねふく明太子

1.     ボクの大好きな 明太子
今日も たべるよ
いつも大好きな めんたいこ
いっぱい たべちゃうよ
イカめんたい 手弱めんたい パスタめんたい おいしいね
ぷちぷちと はじけてる お口の中から「こんにちはー!」(掛け声で「いただきまーす!」)
ピリッと かねふく明太子 元気モリモリ
ビビット かねふく明太子
もうすぐごはんだ めんたいこ!

2.     みんな大好きな めんたいこ
毎日 たべるよ
いつも大好きな めんたいこ
うれしい ごはんだ
サバめんたい いわしめんたい いろんな食べかた おいしいね
ぷちぷちと はじけてる お口の中から 「こんにちはー!」(「掛け声で「こんにちはー!」)
ピリッと かねふく明太子 ごはんモリモリ
ペロッと かねふく明太子 
まだまだ食べちゃお(う) めんたいこ

ピリッと かねふく明太子 元気モリモリ
ビビット かねふく明太子
おいしい ごはんだ めんたいこ
おいしい かねふく明太子

After a prawn burger lunch further up the coast at the Joyful Honda food court, we popped over the road to Hitachi Seaside Park, another tourist attraction that was opening its gates for free. While the amusements were still closed for repairs, the gardens were in full bloom, with daffodils in an English country garden setting, replete with gazeboes, trellises and wrought iron patio furniture, and tulips in a Dutch canal-side setting, replete with a windmill and a drawbridge. A middle-aged man was taking photographs of his poodle, which appeared to have modelled for him before, as it sat obediently in front of the more colourful flowerbeds while its master found the right framing and pressed the shutter. Some people were napping in the shade and others were eating packed lunches on blue tarpaulins on the grass, while their children dutifully took off their shoes before playing on a sort of landscaped climbing hillock which had been concreted over and painted bright yellow.

Further into the park, at the end of an avenue of trees, people appeared to be walking into the sky, as they climbed a zig-zagging path up a hillside covered with powder blue nemophila (aka baby blue eyes – or so it says in Wikipedia). Only the tips of the nemophila’s petals are blue, as the colour fades to white towards their centres, so it was only when you stood back that the colour matched perfectly with the sky’s blue near the horizon, and the whole effect was quite magical: almost hyper-real, or like a stage set from The Wizard of Oz.


When we talked to okah-san later that evening, she said that she had tried to cultivate nemophila at the allotment, but without success. They need quite a lot of attention, apparently, which makes what the gardeners at the Seaside Park have achieved all the more impressive

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