Tara in Iwakuni and Sanzoku (Chicken Shack)

Tara in downtown Iwakuni. The arched sidewalk roofs mimic the arches of the famous Kintai Bridge.

On Sunday my T was still dealing with jet lag and reluctant to get out into the heat again. We made easy plans to go shopping in downtown Iwakuni and then to watch movies (Best of Monty Python’s Flying Circus) and have some mother-daughter bonding time.

Again, we enjoyed finding grocery stores to wander through, in order to cool off. The first one we found was very small and the attendants all female and very sweet. Tara spotted some grapefruit-sized watermelons she wanted to come back for on our return trip. The next grocery store was huge (they are often multi-story in Japan), refreshingly cool and very LOUD! At strategic locations all over the store, mini-stereos played recordings of people shouting advertisements and pleas to buy the product. There were little videos playing as well. Though we seemed to be nearly the only shoppers in the store, there was a cacophony of voices rising around us. What a crazy environment! We had been searching for baking powder for two days, and did not find any here, but we did pick up some powdered sugar. It’s fun to pick up regular ingredients at a Japanese market. Also risky – since I can’t read a dang thing on any of the labels.

Our destination was the 100-yen store, like a dollar store. Miss T had a blast, and we left with heaps of gifts for her friends back home. Next we went to the bakery, where I recoiled at most of it. Bakeries here tend to stuff nearly every piece of bread with some kind of goo filling. Sweet goo or hot dogs baked into most of the breads. Bleh. I  found a roll with no filling, and was happy. Then we stopped in a clothing store where Tara chose a darling miniskirt from the racks. She cracks me up: when no friends are around, she wears skirts. When she’s with her pals? Jeans only.

Fans, fans, and more fans at the 100 yen store.
I bought one of each, but don’t know what they say!

The rest of the week she hung out in the library most of the time. Iwakuni has an awesome library for such a tiny base. I had to work every day, and base security didn’t want her leaving and returning to base without me to accompany her, so she opted for a combination of facebook in the air conditioned room and lounging with books in the air conditioned library.

Do you think Tommy Lee knows he is selling Japanese canned coffee?
Tommy Lee Jones is the face of BOSS brand vending machine coffee

Friday we finally got to shake things up a little. There was an MCCS picnic we attended, and Friday night we went to Sanzoku. It was Tony’s idea, and he brought Andre and Phil, who was visiting from Sasebo. Tara and I rode with Bonnie, her daughter and a friend. For some reason, everyone calls this place the Chicken Shack. Before we left, Tony explained mysteriously that “It’s not a shack at all, and it’s not just about the chicken.” He was absolutely right, but it didn’t give me a sense of what I was in for.

Festive atmosphere of Sanzoku
Glimpses of other people dining, in amongst the trees.

It is a complex of restaurants, apparently all owned by the same company, perhaps serving the same food, with seating scattered up into a small and narrow creek canyon. In addition to places to eat, there are booths with a thousand things for sale, lining paths that link the eating places. It’s all beneath trees, surrounding a lovely creek and a few ponds and waterfalls, so the setting is just wonderful.

Seated shoeless on tatami mats, waiting for our food.
My meal, and Tara’s thumbs-up
Tara’s breaded, deep-fried chicken
Statue in pond, near our table

But at night! We got there just as it was growing dark and the place became magical, with paper lanterns everywhere, even formed into a gigantic pyramid into the sky. Lights strung through trees, music on the air, cicadas whirring, frogs chirping, and people’s voices murmuring and humming and tittering out of sight in the forest.

We chose large

We kicked off our shoes and sat on pillows at traditional low tables, and used Tony’s and Andre’s skills to order. Soon our table was piled with food, and we ate very well. I had the teriyaki chicken on a stick (excellent!), gyoza (dumplings), and the giant musubi (rice ball wrapped in seaweed). The rice ball was in the common triangle shape one finds here, and each corner is stuffed with a different filling: salmon, salted seaweed, and pickled plum. Andre and I ordered beers and the waitress asked “Small or large?” Silly question.

Tara tries drumming while Phil looks on
The atmosphere is just as wonderful for the indoor seating.
Tara, Tony, and Andre browse the wares

After we ate, the girls browsed the shops and bought ice cream. Phil and I went exploring on the trails all the way to the end. We found several little shrines and spirit houses, waterfalls, and unexpected surprises, like a performance stage way at the back, with cardboard cut-out characters on it. I found a row of the most vending machines in one spot I’ve seen to date. (Vending machines are a staple ingredient to life here, to the point where I’ve come to expect to find one within 40 feet of me no matter where I am. I never pack drinks when I travel anymore. Never.)

More seating areas tucked away in the trees.
Waterfall cools this hidden path behind the busier sections.
Me on a stone bridge over the creek that runs through Sanzoku


We finally climbed back into the cars and wound back through the narrow green canyons and tunnels of Yamaguchi Prefecture, and home to Iwakuni.

My daughter. Samurai Warrior.

9 thoughts on “Tara in Iwakuni and Sanzoku (Chicken Shack)

    1. I love those rice balls, and can find them at any convenience store. I wish I could read the packaging though. While I like the plum and the fish and even the seaweed wrap, I don’t care for the flavouring of the seaweed inside. I keep grabbing those by accident, ha ha. But yes, the one at Sanzoku was the best I’ve had.

  1. Oh my I love the idea of waterfalls. I can imagine the variety. The last picture of Tara is fantastic, looks as though she is trying very hard not to smile let alone look devilishly serious.

  2. Sanzoku is colossal in every way. Thank you for sharing Crystal.

    I lived in Iwakuni for four years, on and off and Sanzoku is where I took family and coworkers if I wanted to give them a dining experience they’ll not soon forget!

    The atmosphere in the hills around Sanzoku is magical and dining on that hillside has been a Japanese tradition for hundreds of years.

    As you well know Japanese tourists flock to Iwakuni each year to honor the castle that sits high above the region and looks down on that lovely, ancient, arched bridge.

    I have celebrated four Cherry Blossom Festivals on the grounds below the bridge in the years I lived there. Our families would make a nice picnic area and sit in the chilly noonday sun drinking hot saki with hundreds of other families.

    Watching the Japanese fisherman out in their boats, docked just below the bridge, using birds with collars and leashes to catch fish is good fun and remarkable.

    One year I bought a parasol in a tiny shop by the bridge. Handmade from wood and paper, the craftsmanship was superior in that all the pieces fit perfectly and could have been made with a pocketknife.

    When the parasol was opened, the faded red-paper-umbrella rippled open along its well worn creases and locked in place by a small metal clasp made from bent coat hanger.

    I thought it was perfect. I bought it used because I thought it was one of a kind until Maeda, my mother-in-law, showed me her parasol.

    Hers was older than mine, by far. She received it as a little girl and it survived the bombing of Hiroshima because she took it with her, along with an overnight bag and began walking away until her family reached a small fishing village just south of Iwakuni called Yu.

    I was sitting in her home as always and we were sharing tea when I told her about my wooden parasol. She and I spoke using a very simple dialogue of broken english and japanese and I was always able to make my myself understood using my sketch pad when suddenly her eyes lit up!

    She brought out the parasol and I marveled at it because it looked exactly like my own, only hers was purple. Faded and well used. She said it was a an old gift but she didn’t know any better and kept it all these years.

    When we finished our tea and I was to head back home on my bicycle, I was putting on my rain gear and shoes when she appeared with the parasol wrapped in paper. I was stunned.

    She gave it up so easily. I tried to refuse in the only way an American can in that situation and only now, as I write this to you, I realize she found in me someone who could appreciate it and would take good care of it.

    After twenty-five years, a divorce, and countless moves around the world, I have managed to hang on to both of these parasols. I appreciate fine things and in all the years and the many places I have lived in my sixty-years, nothing captured my imagination like the artisans of Iwakuni Japan.

    Living in Japan changed my life forever. I adopted so many of their customs and courtesies that my children were raised with many of the Japanese values; education, athleticism, ceremony etc., and I am so relieved to think my girls turned out so well-adjusted and independent.

    Thank you for allowing me to share.

    1. What wonderful memories you have, and I am very grateful you shared your stories here. Please take a look at all my Japanese posts if you like. I was only in Japan for just less than 5 months (May-October 2012), and traveled between Iwakuni, Misawa, and Sasebo. I loved hearing about your two parasols, and it’s so easy to tell that they both mean a lot to you. I found myself so often on the receiving end of gifts from Japanese, and I was rarely prepared to appropriately gift the Japanese I met last summer. But I tried! I sat next to an elderly Japanese couple on the shinkansen once, who asked me where I had traveled in Japan. When I mentioned Sanzoku, they both frowned and shook their heads. I don’t know what their reaction meant, but guessed they thought of it as a tourist trap – which it is! For Japanese and for foreigners. But I still loved it.

      1. Thank you for sharing such wonderful trip. It has been 22 years since I left Iwakuni. 1 st Maw at MCAS Iwakuni was my first duty station. I still talk about the ” chicken shack” as we called it also. I was laughing when I read that. Lots of memori. I have no pictures from the time,just what’s in my mind. Almost all your pictures posted have been taken where I have walked, in particular the shopping areas and restaurant. Good luck and blessings.

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