Saturday, January 21, 2017

Ryokan in Yamanouchi

Everything we read about Japan recommended staying at a ryokan, a traditional Japanese bed and breakfast, somewhere along our journey.  The one that we found was closer to a hotel/ryokan hybrid, which gave us a bit more privacy while still giving us an introduction to the traditional tatami mat, futon beds and low chabudai table.

The other perk of staying in a ryokan was the opportunity to try a outdoor private onsen experience together. Typically onsens are public and segregated by sex. Neither one of us was interested in a public bathhouse experience (Lana tried the hammam in Istanbul and found the public nudity to be not her thing), but we wanted to try the onsen. This gave us an opportunity to try it together, without any awkward but conspicuousness of strangers pointedly NOT staring at us.
We obviously didn't take any photos during our hour-long private onsen experience, but the photo above is from hotel website. We found it to be pleasant for a while, alternating between tubs and occasionally stepping out to cool off and enjoy the view. But eventually it became uncomfortably hot, and given that Lana was battling a bout of hives, after about 40 minutes we were done cooking ourselves.

After enjoying the afternoon at the onsen, we wandered down for our 12 course kayseri dinner, which was served in a private room. They thankfully had chairs for us to sit on the floor, because neither one of us could kneel for the several hours this amazing meal lasted.
This was the initial table setting we sat down to: a rose hip cocktail aperitif in the stemmed cup, the remainder we set out in more detail below.
Small appetizer: Sakura colored savory tofu topped with simmered fuki butterbur
Seasonal appetizer: Roasted duck with shredded plum and cheese, with urchin sauce. 
Soup with hotate (scallop) paste, fu (wheat gluten) cake, and yuzu (citrus).
Sashimi: sea bream, shinsu salmon, and squid. Lana tried a bite but generously gave the rest of her portion to David, who loved it.

There was a dish after this one that was so delicious that we apparently (and sadly) didn't get a photo of it: Fry of Cod & Seasonal Vegetables with Starchy Sauce with Yame, King Trumpet Mushroom, Eggplant, Tomato, Fukinoto Sprout and Taramone Bud.

Roasted bamboo shoot (so good!) and spicy pickled horsetail.

Shinsu beef, which we grilled on the iron plate over a tea light seen in the picture of the initial setting.
Simmered Dish: steamed rice with eel.
Rice, red miso soup, parsley boiled with soy sauce, and pickled seasonal vegetables.
Dessert was a parfait with green tea jelly and vanilla ice cream. Note the spoon is carefully wrapped in a napkin for hygienic presentation.  As you can see, all of the courses were small so we were pleasantly full but not groaning at the end of the meal. It was so delicious, and a fun way to try new foods without the pressure of having ordered the "wrong" dish at a restaurant. In some ways it was a turning point for Lana with food in Japan, and one of the best meals of our trip (and maybe of our lives!).
We would like to tell you that after that amazing meal, we went to bed and slept the sleep of someone who has had a nice hot bath and a filling meal, but unfortunately, despite having doubled up on futons, we had a restless night trying to get comfortable on the futon atop a tatami mat. We were rewarded, however, with this view when we gave up trying to sleep after a long night on the hard, hard floor.  
Breakfast was almost as amazing a view--we opted for the western-style breakfast, and it was an enormous amount of food, albeit many small portions of various things. Breakfast began with a hot corn bisque, which sounded odd but was quite good. That was followed by a basket of breads with jam and butter (you can see the personal toaster oven at the back of the table). Then came yogurt with a dollop of jam, a small belgian waffle (with whipped cream and strawberries on top), pesto pasta, a garden salad, two kinds of sausages, cheese omelet, and crab croquette, accompanied by coffee, tea, apple juice and water. There was a couple at the next table who had had the Japanese-style breakfast the day before, and had been so stuffed that they opted for the western version the next day. We had to break it to them that it wasn't going to be smaller.

While the futons on a tatami mat weren't an experience we would want to repeat, we did enjoy the overall ryokan experience and would highly recommend giving it a try when in Japan!