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Kurashiki and Ryokan

After Miyajima, it was off to Hiroshima to catch the shikansen (bullet train) and head up to Kurashiki, a small town just south of Okayama. Most travelers running through Japan skip these little towns, which is unfortunate because they show a glimpse of an older Japan, away from the rush rush of cities like Tokyo or Osaka. It is more relaxed here, still with a focus on quality and process.

Kurashiki, and the region in general is known for its handmade Bizan pottery and there is no shortage of pottery shops selling one of a kind cups, bowls, mugs, etc that all have their own features and deformities. All pieces have a unique burnt orange glaze that symbolizes that this is not the machine made stuff generally found throughout the world.

We walked the canal in the center of town, wandering through different shops. I was looking for a coffee mug to keep and remind me of the place but I just couldn’t develop a taste for the material itself, with its rough glaze. Instead, we parked ourselves outside a shop and purchased a local microbrew and alternated between admiring all the handmade and hand-wrapped desserts for sale and people watching.

Kurashiki Kolsch

Kurashiki Kolsch

Tea

Tea

Dessert

Dessert

We walked through the free fine art museum, which instead of having actual art, had pictures of famous pieces (a bit stange but I guess what can you do if you want to expose your residents to art and can’t afford it?). The structure itself was more interesting to us – an old and very large brick built textile factory.

When 4pm came around, it was time to check into the Ryokan Yado no Higamachi and start our relaxing stay.

Ryokans are traditional inns that started during the Edo Period (1603-1868). At this time, the Shogun, or national authority) required that all daimyo (basically feudal lords that reported to the Shogun) alternate between living in their home province and Tokyo every year. In this way, the daimyo could never become too powerful, building up local connections and power as they literally had to move their entire family and staff  from one place to the other, a process that could take several weeks.

The Edo Period brought 250 years of stability to Japan and only ended when the U.S. (there we are again!) threatened the government with attack if they would not trade with us. At that time Japan was a closed society, not allowing anybody in or out, and thus the reason it is as homogenized as it is.

To me, Japanese history is as fascinating as history gets. If you are ever in Tokyo, visit the Edo-Tokyo museum for a free, privately guided tour in English from a volunteer. It is one of my favorite travel experiences…

Because of travel of the daimyo, a need for elegant places to stay along the way that would cater to their creature comforts – relaxation, a good meal, plenty of sake, etc., sprang up. Ryokan were created by residents of the towns along the way to Tokyo to handle the traffic and have remained and expanded to today and act as a sort of spa for mostly Japanese guests, who come from the big city to get away from it all.

Traditional ryokans are usually pretty small, just handling 10-20 guests a night and pride themselves on their service and meals, which can be very elaborate. They also generally have access to at least a bath (not what you’re thinking) or onsen – a hot spring (those ours did not).

Upon check-in, we were taken to our room in the house and served some green tea, snacks and water. They asked what time we would like to be served dinner. There was a little tv in the room and we watched a bit of Japanese television, which is always entertaining (because it is in Japanese and includes lots of little hot pitched special effect noises) and informative. There are always shows on cooking or crafts with of course, a very specific focus on doing some perfectly. After that, we took a short nap.

I cant remember but it would not surprise me if this show was about how to slice bread - perfectly

I can't remember but it would not surprise me if this show was about how to slice bread - perfectly

Kelly would sleep all day if I would let her but I did not want to miss an opportunity to use the bath so I made her get up (NOT a fun time – it requires a lot of bargaining) and we went down to use the traditional bath.

The way the bath works (sorry, no pictures!) is that you wash off first by getting naked, sitting on a stool and using a bucket of water and soap to lather and rinse. After you are all clean and soap free, you get into the bath, which is filled with hot water (maybe 106-108 degrees?) to relax, staying as long as you want or as long as you can take the heat.

After the bath, I was lucky enough to cut myself twice while shaving with their little plastic razor, determined to use all the free goodies, and we put on our yukata and want back to prepare for dinner.

A little tea before dinner

A little tea before dinner

At 6:30pm exactly, a knock on the door and we were lead to our own private dining room, overlooking the still lit backyard garden. It was noticed that my yukata was on backwards (right side over left instead of left side over right) and the owner politely helped me fix that.

Dinner Time!

Dinner Time!

What proceeded was almost an endless barrage of small food we had never eaten before or maybe even seen before. Representative of the area and showing off the skills of the chef, the dinner is one of the main reasons to come to a ryokan. You just don’t find this stuff at other restaurants. With sake and beer in hand, we went to work…

1st Plate

1st Plate - uhm, various stuff?

2nd Course - Soup with...

2nd Course - Soup with...

This soup was very good and those little strands in the middle. Well, I don’t know what they are. They almost look like, but don’t taste like, rosemary encapsulated in a liquidy gel like substance. Check out one up close.

?

?

Kelly really likes it!

Kelly really likes it!

Sashimi!

Sashimi!

More fish

More fish

Tempura!

Tempura!

Pyshadelic Shrimp not included

Psychedelic Shrimp not includedStuffed Tempura

Fish...Squid...

Fish...Squid...

A whale of a chopstick stand and toothpick holder...

A whale of a chopstick stand and toothpick holder...

Soup served and some dessert to the side...

Soup served and some dessert to the side...

Soup

Soup

Our hosts for the evening...

Our hosts for the evening...

Dessert

Dessert

It is not only the food, but how it is presented. Each dish is served in an appropriate container...This is the soup with its ceramic base and wooden top to keep it warm.

It is not only the food, but how it is presented. Each dish is served in an appropriate container...This is the soup with its ceramic base and wooden top to keep it warm.

Before going to bed, they ask what time you would like breakfast. At this point it is hard to think about more food but we agreed upon 8:30am (check out is at 10).

Kelly was really full and when breakfast was served the next morning in yet a different room, she couldn’t eat much but did not want to make the cook feel bad so she nibbled on lots of her meal. I, on the other hand, had no problem eating almost everything in sight…

Breakfast!

Breakfast!

Is that enough for you? Oh wait, thats not even all of it...

Is that enough for you? Oh wait, that's not even all of it...

Can you eat fish, clams and other seafood for breakfast?

Can you eat fish, clams and other seafood for breakfast?

One last look at the garden before we leave…

A last goodbye...

A last goodbye...

Walking towards the train station. This is the neighborhood of the ryokan…

Are those biker shorts?!

Are those biker shorts?!

And we stumbled by an old man making tatami mats, the soft flooring used in most Japanese homes. We stayed and watched for a good 20 minutes though the old man never acknowledged our presence.

Uhm. Bye little uhh girl.

Uhm. Bye little uhh girl.

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One Response

  1. wow — that looks alot of fun!

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