Archive for February, 2013

Leaving Kyoto, Arriving in Miyajima.

We woke up on this day to a few tweets and texts asking if we were alright as there had been a 7 point something aftershock in Tokyo. Not only did we not feel it (though at one point Luke rolled over in bed & I thought it was an earthquake) but that day we were moving even further away from Sendai as we were off to Miyajima Island.

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Not before scooting around the covered shopping streets of Kyoto and buying an AMAZING vintage 70’s silk kimono for £35. Japanese people generally consider 2nd hand things ‘vulgar’ (though I’m sure lots of younger generation Japanese people probably don’t). The mega bonus of this is that things like kimonos – which are often made for specific special events and sometimes never worn again, you can pick up in a 2nd hand store for a tiny fraction of what it would’ve cost originally. This one that I bought (and I spent a long time deciding which one to buy) is just so beautiful. It has a geometric line pattern, with a hidden pattern of butterflies that you can only see when the light shines on them in a certain way. The lining has an ombre dye at the edges and I think the entire thing is hand-stitched. It’s a proper work of art. And I got it for £30 and the Obi for £5. I know I’m not wearing it properly in the photo but I just wanted you to get an idea of it.

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Luke bought a bunch of chopsticks that look like colouring pencils and he was as pleased with that purchase as I was with my kimono. The markets of Japan are really a lot of fun. I like how they mix up food with clothes, electronics and everything. And there’s no haggling, praise be. I am too British for all that.

So, after that we headed to the station to catch another bullet train, this time all the way to Hiroshima.

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2 hours to travel 237 miles.

For lunch we picked up a bento box from the station. The Japanese equivalent of a baguette from Upper Crust or a Boots Meal Deal. It was quite excellent really. I would like to eat it right now.

Another train and a ferry to the island (all included on the JR Pass) got us to the port on Miyajima where it was raining more than it had done at any other time during the trip. It became apparent that I would have to call the ryokan we were staying in and get them to come pick us up. It’s a service they offer to all their guests, but if it had been a clear day I think we might’ve tried to walk it. With the rain hammering down there was no way we’d make it there in any decent state so I steeled myself to use the phone in the port. The numbers of all the hotels were handily on the board next to the phone. I prepared myself for my first phone conversation in Japanese. It went like this:

“konichiwa! watashi Nadia des”

“Nadia-san?”

“hai, hai!”

Then she said something which I assumed was about sending the car, and I said please and thank you about four times.

Amazingly, thanks to the incredible ability of humans to communicate even without really making sense, the little car arrived to take us and our luggage to Momiji-so ryokan in the heart of the national park. The roads are tiny & very windy & the driver didn’t care who knew it. Thankfully it was only a 5 minute drive otherwise I may have spewed my boxed lunch all over a national heritage site.

Staying here was our greatest expense of the whole trip. It cost something like £300 for one night, which included a traditional dinner & breakfast. The price is so high because there are very few places to stay on the island. It gets a lot of daytrippers, but to actually stay overnight you have a very limited choice and obviously this keeps prices up. There are some cheaper options, some friends of mine stayed last year in a place they said was about £90pppn but I can’t remember the details.

This ryokan is the real deal for a traditional Japanese inn experience. It is located in the actual park, has only 6 rooms & is run by a teeny old woman who is by turns totally adorable and completely terrifying.

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As soon as we arrived they carried our luggage to our room and she served us some frothy matcha tea and one of the local cakes in the shape of a maple leaf at the little table and chairs overlooking a river in the forest. It was so lovely. There was a koi pond on the other side of the room and you could hear the water running into it. It was almost like the most deluxe camping you could do. All the beauty of nature, all the comforts of being inside.

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Dinner was to be served at 6pm so we had a couple of hours and we decided to have a stroll around the park.

They gave us some umbrellas & looked delighted the whole time that we were there. Even in the sopping rain, the island is pure lovely.

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We walked through the park & saw a tree that looked like a nudey lady – what a bonus. We also came across the ropeway which was practically deserted, but that didn’t stop us having some photo based fun.

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DSCN0361 We got back to the ryokan. The room had a small bathroom including a bath that was like a barrel. There was also a ‘family bathroom’ which had a big bath, sento style. We had a lovely bath in the ‘family bathroom’ which for some reason amuses me. Then we changed into the yukata provided and made our way to the dining room for dinner.

Then! She struck! As we walked into the dining room the woman who runs the place ran up to me and began to undo my yukata. I was thinking “oh my god, I’ve really offended her in some way and now she is punishing me by exposing me naked to all the diners”. With her tiny hands she rapidly undid my belt (I had nothing on underneath, and was genuinely terrified she’d flash my bits to everyone), swapped the direction of my yukata (i.e. moved right over left to left over right) and skillfully tied me back up without showing even a hint of nipple. She then did the same to Luke, and hilariously had a struggle doing up his belt (because he’s a big bigger than your average Japanese guy and the belt was short). She managed it eventually and sat us down at our table.

Earlier, when she’d served us our welcome tea, she had asked ‘you eat everything?” (i.e. were we veggie or allergic), we said yes and she replied, “I make meal. Small, small, small. Verrrrrry healthy.”

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Well. It was small, small, small. But it was more like, small, small, small, small, small, small, small, small, small. Which in the end makes for big. This was easily one of the best meals I’ve ever had in my life.

Everything she served had amazing flavours and textures. The set up was similar to the meal we had in Hakone but each dish was just so much better.

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And she was like a real granny and made us eat everything on each dish, even what looked like flower  garnishes were all part of the meal.

One of the dishes was what she called “Hiroshima beef” and it was SO GOOD that I am making a weird guttural noise just remembering it.

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As the website says “Grand mather in our hotel makes dinner wholeheartedly. You will be surely satisfied.” (sic). 

We were surely satisfied. It was an incredible meal.

When we got back to our room, fit to bursting with small, small, small, very healthy, we found the staff had made up our futon beds for us. They were big and soft with lovely big duvets on top. We fell asleep with the sound of the water running into the koi pond.

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