Utsunomiya, vibrant, sensual and quite simply just rammed full of gyōza! Embedded between a number of swanky café’s and bars dotted around town you’ll find a number of gyōza joints offering up various adaptation’s of the Chinese dumpling. Legend has it that a number of Japanese soldiers during WWII obtained Chinese dumpling recipes whilst occupying Manchuria, upon returning home to Utsunomiya they set about putting these recipes into commercial effect, one thing lead to another and then all of a sudden there were all sorts of recipes flying about the city, a gyōza boom was born, of which now has essentially typecast Utsunomiya as the best place in Japan for gyōza! People flee from all corners of Japan to smash these regional delicacies into their faces. Oh, and the things they do to a gyōza in Utsunomiya, you can get your pork enshrouded goodness boiled, steamed, sautéed, fried or battered and served up with an assortment of dips such as soy sauce, chilli sauce, tomato sauce, curry sauce and miso. What if you don’t like Pork? Well then that’s just fine and dandy too, you can get your dumpling stuffed with beef, veg, cheese, nuts, liver, heart, you name it! And for those of you with a sweet tooth you’ll also be able to find a selection of dessert orientated gyōza, you might find such ingredients as ice cream, yoghurt, bean paste, fruit, chocolate and if you’re really feeling up to it, dick flavour. Oh, did I say dick flavour? I meant tea or coffee flavour. So, I think you’ll agree there’s quite the selection up for grabs. I personally opted for battered gyōza served with a sour curry sauce dip. Divine.
As evening etched into existence I went to meet Shintaro, he would be my first Japanese Couchsurfing host. Shintaro was 31 and doing one of those proper city office jobs that quite frankly I would just never understand, quite possibly because it had something to do with maths. I hate maths, its shit, just give me a cow to milk and then I’m happy enough. Moving on, he lived in a refurbished hotel, it looked raw and urban with exposed brickwork and ceiling joists, the building itself spanned across 5 floors of which he shared with 9 other tenants, both male and female, all of a similar age and all seemingly friends. They had a huge downstairs communal room, there was an onsen that had been converted into a snug, a couple of huge widescreen TV’s on the wall, a dining table like something off the set of Game of Thrones and a kitchen that Nigella herself would no doubt be quite happy to do a line or two off of whilst whipping up some blancmange.
In between meeting and greeting a stream of Shinataro’s housemates and friends of housemates and their friends of housemates who also had friends who probably somewhere also had housemates Shintaro cracked open a bottle of sake and a small group of us rattled our glasses together to a toast of ‘Kanpai.’ It seemed to me that these boys and girls were living the life, they had their careers, they had each other, they had their slice of inner city freedom, and as passing straggler I almost felt inclined to feel a little awkward and out of place. But I didn’t, I had sake, we all did, but we also had a common friend. We drained the sake whilst discussing the finer things in life, travel and…. well, travel. Our experiences, our adventures, days that seemed to have long passed, but memories that will never perish. It’s in the blood, talking about it only fuels the desire for wanderlust, it unites people, people of similar meaning and purpose, this was why I was allowed to be here doing what I was doing. It was refreshing to meet Shintaro and his housemates and as I left the next day for Nikko I felt like I had an edge, upon myself. My mind perhaps often seen as a void of obscurity even to myself felt more committed, more determined. I felt that this little project of mine was ripe for the taking and that I could probably pull it off, probably.