I caught word that my Xue, my Toronto pen pal, would be visiting our area in Tottori Prefecture for an extended stay, so my wife and I agreed to meet and show her around. She wanted to spend part of her time in guest houses. After a bit of searching, we checked her into Daisen Backpackers, a guest house in a pensioner’s village near Mount Daisen. Once she had settled in, we asked the owners for any dinner suggestions. They mentioned a sushi place nearby, one that they recommended to all their guests. Xue, our guest, said anything was fine. A quick thank you to the proprietors, and off we drove into the night, in search of Tamura sushi restaurant—supposedly the best around.
Like many other things in Japan, I am no great authority on sushi. I ate plenty during my many trips to Tokyo, however, and had at least developed a basic sense beyond that of the average visitor. Or so I kept telling myself as we rolled through the moonless dark. Usually I was the low foreigner on the cultural awareness totem pole; almost every other non-Japanese person I met living in the area could speak fluent Japanese and knew things inside-out. This was my big chance to be second-lowest. I couldn’t blow it by appearing sushi-illiterate in front of our sophisticated, globe-hopping Canadian visitor.
After several failed passes at finding the road, my wife picked one on a hunch, and jackpot—the Popura convenience store the Daisen Backpackers owners had told us to look for. Tamura would be next to it, they said. I scanned the dark parking lot for a moment before realizing the sushi shop was actually adjoined to the Popura, an unbelievably narrow space, perhaps even by Japanese standards.
We entered to see it was even narrower than expected inside; I couldn’t pass by the seated customers to get to the empty stools beyond them (six stools total, I believe). Not wanting to interrupt the other patrons’ dinner, I attempted to squeeze past them. Yet I somehow misjudged in the dark and shoulder-checked a larger patron seated at the counter, practically jarring him from his stool with the impact. I apologized repeatedly and sat in silence for a moment as I shook off the burning sensation in my cheeks (I breathed a secret sigh of relief when he finished his meal and exited shortly after).
The owner, Tamura-san, a small, youngish man with a constant half-smile, tended the shop alone; there was no room behind the counter for anyone else, even if he wanted help. After serving us tea and cool towels, he prepared three dinner sets of nigirizushi and sashimi, working in contemplative silence as he sliced the fish and expertly formed each piece. As he placed each fresh piece of sushi on the thick wooden blocks in front of us, my thoughts of appearing culturally literate dissolved into quivering, drooling anticipation.
I had expected to field questions from Xue about what we were eating; I had expected to provide information throughout dinner on presentation, etiquette, etc. I had even studied up on terminology and history. In reality, however, we spoke nary a word during the entire dinner, save “oishii”… I never pretended to know what I was eating, never even paused to ask. One cold, firm piece of ocean-fresh fish after the next, each sitting a top short-grain rice perfectly shaped and seasoned arrived on the block. One after the next, I mowed them down, felt the explosion of flavors subtle and strong dancing in my mouth as I devoured each piece, welcomed the sweet burn of the wasabi, the tartness of the gari. Tamura-san even offered a free piece as service to each of us.
Whatever I thought I knew about sushi was smashed that evening into a million glittering bits of nothing by the freshest, most delicious set I had ever laid eyes on. We paid and gave Tamura-san a heartfelt thanks for the spectacular meal. Upon exiting, I marveled at the literal hole-in-the-wall I never would have heard of under different circumstances. How many more hidden wonders like this could there be in Daisen?
Out in the parking lot, the Popura store’s sign was dim—possibly the only convenience store in Japan to close before 10, I thought to myself. In the car, Xue declared it was the greatest meal she had eaten in Japan. Before that, she explained, she never even liked fish. After sushi at Tamura, however, she had become a loyal convert. Had it never been that fresh? That well-prepared with the perfect balance and ratio of ingredients? I had no answers. Driving back into the night toward the guesthouse, I wondered about all those other secret holes in the wall scattered across the countryside, known only to salty locals and souls lucky enough to stumble across them by the forces of synchronicity. I determined to return as soon as possible… and embark on a quest to expose more of Daisen’s buried treasures like Tamura to the world.
|Address||1042 Kugo, Houki-cho, Saihaku-gun, Tottori|
|Phone||0859-39-8585 (Only Japanese speakers are available.)|
|Station||JR Kishimoto Station|
|Access||5min drive (1849m) from JR Kishimoto Station|