Tatsuta Ryokan on the Izu Peninsula

Gorgeous day today. As we drove from Shizuoka to Izu, Mt Fuji was our constant companion out the passenger window and my propensity for iffy high speed landscape photography reasserted itself in spades… This was Mr K’s preferred shot, complete with Shinkansen in the mid-ground.

We’d had quite a warm day – somewhere in the low 20Cs all day, but as we neared Izu and entered the mountainous villages of the peninsula, the temperatures dropped considerably, and with it, the autumn leaves were more prevalent. It’s interesting how you can see which slopes of a small valley are the coolest.

Our last weekend in Japan for this trip, thankfully we only minimal transport work this weekend (unless our Middle East clients start arcing up on Sunday just for shits and giggles!) and two nights of rest and relaxation, fun and frivolity in the beautiful Izu Peninsula staying at Tatsuta Ryokan.

I saw this ryokan on a travel vlog and thought it looking lovely. Beautiful ambiance and a welcoming atmosphere. Sometimes it feels a little hit and miss when booking places in languages you are unfamiliar with, but I seem to have won here.

This was booked months ago, and I honestly forgot what type of accomodation I had booked for most of this trip,so it always felt like a wonderful surprise when we arrived at our ryokan stays. Here, at Tatsuta, because we are having guests on the second night, I remember booking a larger room with the private onsen bath, but damn… this room is palatial!

It’s quite difficult to capture the size of this room – between the bed space above and the living room space in the picture below, is also about another six tatami mat of floor space? I also wish I could adequately convey the amazing smell of this room – the fresh cypress of the timber work, the tatami mats, and the fresh breezes coming in the large windows to the river… it’s intoxicating.

I noticed this quaint device by the bed… cute touch. 🙂

And of course, I’m starting to feel that no night in Japan is complete without your own private onsen bath on the balcony… just the sight of it is enough to make you start to relax.

We also had a generous provision of coffee, hot tea, cold water, snacks and an amenities kit full of more pookie than you can poke a stick at…
Toothbrush, razor, hairbrush, tabi socks, shower cap and so much more. Most of the ryokans have provided loads of amenities like this – the packaging always gives me pause though!

The view from our room of the Nekokoshi River.

First things first of course we had to shower and then get in for a soak in the tub. It was amazing. The water was about 40C and felt fresh and clear. After that we did a little unpacking and cleared away some work before checking out the ryokan’s other onsen baths. There were four other private onsen baths we could access – and they all had door locks that were electronically monitored so you could scan a QR code and find out which baths were free. This bath was directly at the end of the corridor on our floor, and we had time so we thought we’d go for a second dip before getting ready for dinner. It was lovely – and I imagine four or five people could enjoy this space together quite easily. This is the view from the ryokan’s riverside restaurant on the first floor… just beautiful.

Looking all relaxed and ready for another delicious kaiseki dinner. The menu is predominantly Kawadoko cuisine in this part of Japan (not entirely sure what that means, but I am writing it down so I can hunt for it later). The starters were as impressively presented as they were flavoursome – there was an umeshu aperitif, sakiwan golden soup, boiled rockfish, pork hachimanmaki, forest boar liver, and tengyo nanban (I need to look that one up too!).
The sashimi was fresh kingfish from Ito port, and scallops.

And as per what is now becoming quite the habit, I tried a local junmai saké with the meal.

This was the little boiled rockfish – very fishy, with a very thick consistency, a bit like octopus, but not really.
There was small box covered with decorative paper in the first picture that I hadn’t noticed, and when I did uncover it – more sashimi! Yellowtail and tuna, so fresh and delicious. Amazing… I really am not going to have Japanese food for months after I get home, it just won’t measure up.

Next course, we were back to cooking our own shabu-shabu of delicious golden sea bream and specially prepared tofu.

We were also served this interesting ‘boiled fish’, when we asked our attendant what sort of fish it was, he haltingly replied, ‘Errr, red fish’. 🙂 I’ve since discovered it was known as kinmedai in Japanese which is a Splendid Alphonso to the English speaking world. It was served boiled in a light soy and was very tasty – though I did heave most of the raw ginger off the top… it was just too much!We were also served some tempura seasonal vegetables with wasabi salt – I never thought I was overly fond of tempura…. in Australia it tends to feel heavy in oil, and the one time we went for tempura in Asakusa with a Japanese friend, Amané, she took us to her favourite and she claimed ‘best’ tempura restaurant in Asakusa and I honestly didn’t like it that much. But the ryokan meals we have had have served tempura that is light and delicate and doesn’t taste like heavy deep fried food at all.We discovered that Izu is really well known for their fresh wasabi – and we also discovered, when you grate your own wasabi and not using the squishy over processed stuff you see most places, it is more flavourful and less hot. Very nice.Dashi broth heating for our rice set course – The rice set came with more red fish, sesame, miso pickles, nori, wasabi, and coriander (thank you so much for the heads up on the devil’s weed!), then of course you pour some broth on once you have loaded up your rice.Ta-da! Super tasty. They gave us a large pot of rice and said to call if we wanted more rice – but after such a large meal, I nearly had more condiments than rice in my donburi. Thankfully, with these multi course kaiseki meals, the dessert/sweet courses are usually simple and small… I say ‘thankfully’ because many Japanese abhor waste when it comes to food and it is considered rude not to clean your plate – if you are at a buffet and choosing food for yourself, it is VERY rude to take more than you will eat.
Dessert tonight was some local Fuji apple, a couple of well chosen grapes, a piece of brown sugar pudding, and some sort of slightly cheese-layered-cake thing. Looking very relaxed and chilled there Mr K.

The restaurant as we were leaving – each table has blankets under the table top and heaters under the table. We were also given large fluffy Japanese parkas that we could wear if we got too cold, but seeing it was quite a bit warmer here than Takayama and up in the snow near Nagano, we felt a little too warm!

Having dinner by the stream was lovely – though I have to say the water was a bit loud for quiet conversation. I imagine in spring this area would look completely different and the river wouldn’t be trickling past, it would be roaring! Waking up to this in the morning is something I could really get used to.

Took this snap of Mr K enjoying the view from the onsen bath before we went down from breakfast. 🙂 I reckon it’s a pretty safe bet that 2,000JPY he is thinking about work on Monday already.
You can see the dining ‘room’ by the river so much easier to photograph in the morning – it is gorgeous here. It was chilly this morning so we rugged up a bit and settled ourselves in beside the river.

Breakfast full of all good things again – egg and a piece of boar bacon, miso soup, rice and condiments (below), pickled veggies, yoghurt, and green tea all beautifully laid out.

The donburi condiments box for breakfast is full of exciting and some unidentified things. 🙂 Beans-of-uncertain-preparation (?) at 12 o’clock, mushrooms in soy at 11 and 1, some slimy umami fishy things (on the middle left), some miso-ish onion flavoured something (on the middle right), seaweed dead centre, wasabi and bonito flakes!

We also had some grilled fish (local whitefish and some sardine) to heat along with some boar’s speck, which was really an interesting flavour – super gamey bacon. I’m getting used to cooking with the chopsticks and have even mastered removing the fish bones from the morning’s grilled fish offerings, with my chopsticks. The miso soup here was excellent – one thing travelling around to so many different areas throughout the country is you rapidly learn that not all miso soup is made equal! Nor is all curry or all ramen.


The morning light really brought out the colours along the riverbank…

We are off to explore the Izu Peninsular today, in particular some interesting road infrastructure and how they’re integrating their tourist transits from rail through to other passenger transport options (‘cos that’s how we roll!).

But this post continues because we stayed here for TWO days and on Saturday afternoon, The Boys arrived from Tokyo! I have so been looking forward to sharing this lovely ryokan experience with them. These guys have known each other since the first grade and this is their first holiday together like this. They’ve been in Tokyo all week and are now hitting the countryside and road tripping to Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, Kanazawa, Takayama, Nagano, Fuji and back to Tokyo… but this is the only ryokan/onsen visit they have booked (in fairness you can stay in ryokan at all price points, but places like this one aren’t all that accessible for your average early 20s, budget conscious, backpacker types! They all look great and super uncomfortable in their samue… I’m sure a bit of saké will dispel the discomfort quick smart.

When they first arrived, I was busy re-packing our suitcases for our transit home tomorrow, while Keith took them to one of the private onsens so they could figure out how this whole thing works. Which suited me perfectly as I got the bath on our balcony to myself. We all scrubbed squeaky clean, got dressed and made our way down to dinner.

We had a significantly different menu to last night – still served out in the lovely open air river-side dining room… this time a table for five was made up for us.

We started with a yuzu aperitif, and the appetisers tonight were – ginko tofu, simmered sweet potato, tengyo (smoked salmon) with cream cheese, beef with myoko.

On the side was some more beef and green karachi egg in some delightfully delicious sauce made of shitake mushrooms. I have no idea what else was in this, but it was fabulous.

Tonight’s sashimi was two kinds of Ito port fish, and various kinds of wives, (translations provided by google, they don’t always makes sense?), Amagi natural shrimp

The Boys enjoyed grating their own wasabi – very novel.

…and very serious business

A small selection of tempura vegetables – this one had a large piece of sweet potato that I happily swapped for Mr K’s mushrooms… though not passed between chopsticks of course!

Amagi Shamo special wasabi hotpot that you make into a kind of porridge… the soup is made at the table and we were each served up some rice into a bowl, broke about three decent sized eggs and whisked it up and then mixed fresh egg through our rice. Added pickles, miso paste, wasabi, spring onions, and other things to taste, and then add soup to cook the egg… it’s time consuming table side but was really tasty. There was also a savoury egg custard made from tortoiseshell and yuzu paste (?), and some grilled swordfish with magnolia leaves, but I got busy with the cooking of the hot pot and failed on the photos. 🙂 Dessert again was lovely and light and simple: almond pudding, with orange and local melon.

All up a fabulous meal with lots of very traditional Japanese flavours to try… which is a good thing because it sounds like these guys have landed themselves twice in CHINESE restaurants since getting here – and there is zero excuse for that! Japanese food is amazing… I have no idea why you’d opt for Chinese!

After dinner, we all went back to our room, (which all up was about four times the size of the room the Boys were sharing), because of course we had accumulated more saké than I could take home, and Mr K had left over beer and snacks we thought they could demolish or take with them for the rest of their trip. An impromptu work meeting transpired over saké…Less so as the night went on… 🙂

See? Way more comfy in their samue after sufficient application of saké. We managed to polish off quite a bit – which was nice, I knew I was buying more than I could consume or would be allowed to take home.

I also gave them a crash course in ‘which saké to buy from which convenience store’. LOL… – 7/11 to stock up on cold Hakutsuru, Lawson’s for affordable and reliable good, Tatayam Junmai, and FamilyMart? Well, FamilyMart is a bit of a crap shoot on what you’ll find at any given store. 🙂

Breakfast time, we met The Boys down by the riverside. Tamago, pickled yam, miso soup, an egg custard, and another donburi set with all the amazing condiments. I have no idea what this dish was in the top right… but it was delicious and full of rich umami flavours – unfortunately the breakfast didn’t come with a menu, and our attendants skills weren’t up to a translation.

This morning’s donburi condiments consisted of whitebait, pickles, seaweed, sesame, bonito flakes and dashi or soy sauce. It was kinda cool to be old hands at the Japanese way of serving dinner now – and to watch the confusion as The Boys tried to figure out what the hell they were eating.

Breakfast miso soup should be a thing back home, I think. I’m gonna turn it into a thing when I get back. Miso soup for breakfast… can’t think of a single reason why not to. Oh okay, other than the fact that the readily available miso soups at home are nowhere near as good as here!

More grilled fish and sardines – plus a weird little chicken popsicle thing that tasted a bit of yuzu…

… but all too quickly, breakfast was over and it was time for us to try and hit the road for the long drive back to Tokyo where we had to return our rental car to Haneda and then meet a driver to take us to Narita (short but annoying story omitted here, where Qantas is the villain*)

We had a marvellous interlude in the mountains hanging out with the kids before they continued on with their adventures and we head off to travel home. This is the good stuff… the best stuff, really. Making memories that last a lifetime.

*Villain is probably being far too harsh a term for these circumstances; we booked return to Haneda back in April, but from today onwards, all QF62 Tokyo to Brisbane flights will be going Narita to Brisbane, not Haneda to Brisbane. We’ve known about it for months, so the only inconvenience was two hour transit across the city and the cost of a private transfer to haul our arses and our luggage. *shrug*

Migiwaya in Yaizu, Shizuoka

Work was pretty full on today – we were looking at integrated transport solutions in Nagoya and then had to make our way to Shizuoka which took longer than anticipated… we have found the SatNav in the car to be variously reliable. It gives us decent information on route options and is usually accurate on the cost of tolls, (which are seriously prohibitive considering they barely save you any time at all on some occasions), but we don’t think is always operating on real time traffic data. We have had a couple of instances where the tolls route had a lot of congestion and ended up taking much longer than the no tolls route would have taken. C’est la vie. Live and learn.

We stayed for the night at Migiwaya in Yaizu Harbour in Shizuoka in a lovely little ryokan known for the fresh and crystal clear onsen water. We had a quiet little garden villa at the back of the properly in a tucked away secluded little spot.

The room was enormous – I think these newer ryokan establishments have realised how people from the cramped larger cities of the country enjoy a bit of space for restful and relaxation.

The living room was also quite large – had enormous closets and the lovely little half height rocking chairs that were really comfortable.

The tea making space was well equipped and the fridge stocked with complimentary beer, highball and non alcoholic drinks.His and her yukata for the stay.and his and her towels. The blue is for boys, and pink is for girls really is ubiquitous. Outside was a lovely deck overlooking a private garden. Not as established as some gardens but will be lovely in a few years as the plants mature. Dressing room:Bathroom:Snackage and drinks: Before scubbing off the road and into the onsen. It was a very warm 41C – which probably only felt warm because the ambient temp was closer to 20C than 10C this close to the coastline. The water really is crystal clear, and while not as soft as some others, was lovely and refreshing. After a couple of dips in the bath (in between getting some work done) it was time to go for dinner. Here was the menu for the evening, laid out in a lovely autumnal design:

Appetisers of wheat bread and persimmon mixed with walnut paste, roasted duck, smoked salmon, Japanese radish, red turnip pickle and citrus seasoned grilled fish. So tasty.Maguro sashimi – this was delicious. Lovely three different cuts of tuna of varying grades. <3 Big fan! Had to try the local saké of course – cute little saké jug.Shimonita leek soup. Followed by a house speciality – deep fried tuna cheek. This was possibly the most flavourful cooked piece of tuna I’ve ever had in my life. I’m not super fond of tuna once it’s more than lightly seared, but this was fantastic.Local fish with Chinese cabbage served with seaweed sauce.Simmered Shrim Potatoes.Marinated steak with malted rice paste.

Steamed rice with fried Sakura shrimp, served with miso soup and pickles. It’s interesting to see how the flavours in miso soup change so much from region to region.

For dessert, a small brown sugar pudding and some local fruits.

Another delicious meal, and so beautifully presented… 10/10 would dine here again.

After dinner we had a reservation in a different, larger, private onsen… so we made our way down the garden paths to a private little cabana-like space. It had a double dressing room, a double shower room and this lovely large onsen. Only we found it to be rather too well lit and took care of that pronto…much nicer without a spotlight overhead, and just the garden lights left on.
This was actually an odd space to be bathing in – it has all the appearance and feel of privacy, but probably had the actual privacy of a tent! People couldn’t see in, but you definitely got the impression with the open air space that your voices would carry, though the ryokan was not full and we saw only two other parties at dinner.

After this it was time for a much need, good night sleep with the sounds of the ocean not far away. We both woke up bright and early – our deck faced predominantly east, and even though we had remembered to close all the blinds, we found ourselves waking early. Never mind, that just gave more time to have another soak in the onsen on the deck before breakfast in the dining room.

Breakfast that comprised of a cast of a thousand dishes!
Grilled Japanese horse mackerel with fish sausage and wasabi.Tuna sashimi for breakfast! How decadent.Tamago with pickled broth sauce.

Plus a bunch of other delicious things – they seem determined to fill us up at breakfasts here, which works well – if you skip lunch!

Hidatei Hanaougi Onsen

Okay, So I have travelled to over 70 different countries and stayed in more hotels, inns, hostels, ryokans, cabins, and resorts, than I could ever attempt to count… so when I say this is without a doubt my FAVOURITE HOTEL in the entire world, I have a lot of different accomodations in my past that I am comparing it to.
When I was making arrangements for this trip back in April, I had originally intended to stay a couple of nights in a more Western style hotel closer to the old part of Takayama where the transport issues are – until I saw a Japanese video posted by someone who had stayed at this ryokan. It just looked amazing and I have been looking forward to it for six months. The entrance to the hotel is fairly unassuming – perfectly manicured gardens are ‘de rigeur’ here and seem quite common everywhere. But just on the other side of those shrubberies is a world all of its own… a large koi pond featuring equally large koi. A cute little walkway over the pond which leads to and onsen foot bath (fresh hot mineral waters piped into a knee deep bath where you can remove your socks and shoes and soak your weary feets). An outdoor lounging area that wasn’t seeing much use given it was max temps of 10-11C while we were here and lows of 4C and 2C overnight.We were welcomed by a lovely young lady named Kyaka, who checked us in, brought us some drinks, hot towels and showed us through the quiet and dimly lit hallway to our room.The decor was very traditional, except for the slightly elevated futon beds. In the room waiting for us was some snacks, and green tea and an explanation of where to find things in the room – yukata and jinbei (Japanese style pyjamas) to wear, a bunch of amenities for us, and an opportunity to specify what time we would like to have dinner and breakfast etc. The bathroom was neat and all panelled in fresh cypress – it smelled amazing!

And had a traditional Japanese shower space and a large and deep cypress tub inside.But the best bit… omg! So excited – was the stonking huge granite onsen bath in our own private garden. <3 I couldn’t wait for Kyaka to finish her introduction so we could have a shower, scrub up and then slide into this amazingly beautiful bath in this cute little garden space. The bath was a steady 40-41C and was just bliss. The water at this particular onsen comes from 1200 feet below ground and is particularly high in minerals which make the water so soft it feels kinda slippery… it was so steamy as the ambient temperature was only about 8C or so.In what is now become quite our usual habit, we shared some saké acquired on our way to the ryokan and had a good soak. Love it!

After some work and another soak in the bath, it was time for dinner. Our dinners were served in a private dining room on the second floor of the hotel – and Kyaka was looking after us for dinner also.The ryokan has some lovely open spaces that guests can use if they wish, but we hardly saw anyone – in fact with the private onsen in our little garden, and having a meal in a private dining room, we could swear for most of our visit that there was hardly anyone else staying at the inn. The only give away was the shoes all lined up in the morning as people were getting ready to check out or go to town for the day. There are no shoes worn on the tatami mats here, only tabi socks. Even the staff are silently walking up and down the hallways in socks.Dinner was a multiple course kaiseki meal – starters consisted of:
– mustard paste inside a slice of lotus root
– minced fish and chicken with poppy seeds
– cooked shrim in ginger
– mackerel sushi with vinegar
– boiled quail egg boiled in persimmon juice
– grilled eggplant and yam cake topped with sesame sauce
– pickled and marinated koi

Oishi! So delicious. Matsutake mushroom soup with shrimp, pike and eel.Sashimi – roasted Hida beef with plum flavoured onion sauce. Sashimi – amberjack and mackerel.Local saké. Steam turnip with mushrooms and lily root, stuffed with ginkgo nut.Hida beef steak with vegetables.Grilled freshwater sweetfish stuffed with roe.Whipped pumpkin topped with abalone.Local steamed rice, miso soup with mushrooms, tofu and pickles.Sweet potato cake and seasonal fruits… I love the little maples leaves they are decorating our meals with seeing as it is autumn. You just know someone in the kitchen is tasked with finding the prettiest leaves for the job.After such an amazing meal, we let our dinner settle and then it was back into the onsen again… I could really get used to this. You can just feel the tension draining away from all your muscles, and even though the air temperature was quite cold, the water was so inviting that you barely noticed it.

I slept like a log! Possibly due to the very busy week we’ve had? Possibly due to the quietness of our little garden with the water trickling in the background? Possibly due to the nice firm futon mattress? Or (more likely) due to an elegant sufficiency of saké!

Woke early and opened up the paper screens to see this beautiful setting – and well, had plenty of time for another soak before breakfast, so why not?Breakfast was another lavish affair of itty bitty dishes filled with very tasty things!The menu was rather more casual for breakfast, which was excellent. 🙂

Oh wouldn’t you know it – the onsen beckoned once more before we had to head to town for the day.When we returned from doing transport stuff in the city, I had an opportunity to pop into the ladies public onsen in the hotel. Not all rooms here have a private bath like we have booked and there is a men’s and ladies onsen baths that swap over day to day so you can try the different bathing spaces. There were dressing tables for about six people, all full of amenities – soaps, lotions, shampoos, conditioners etc. A space for dressing and changing and to store your clothing while you bathed.A post-onsen relaxation space where you could have complimentary cold beverages and even try out a massage chair.And, as the onsen was unoccupied I was able to take a photograph of the baths here. The Japanese are very ritualistic about their baths – which I love, but one of their customs is that tattooed peoples re not allowed in public onsens. Some ryokan will make exceptions for their Western guests (as we are highly unlikely to be connected to local organised crime gangs) but others are very strict and ask you to cover your ink. I have no idea what the policy is here – I didn’t ask… but it was the primarily motivator for booking a room with a private bath. That and bathing with strange people who you don’t share a common language with gets pretty boring pretty fast. So we didn’t make use of the public onsen and made use of our private garden bath again! I’m so enamoured of this little garden oasis – I took so many photos. Oh more saké before dinner? Don’t mind if I do!Prior to arriving I had requested the special Hida beef kaiseki meal on our second night. It was at a small additional cost, but given Gifu is so famous for their Hida beef, we felt it would be worth it. Kyaka kept referring to it as the ‘Too Much Beef Dinner’, which we thought was cute.

The appetisers tonight were:
– small salmon sushi
– shrimp grilled with poppy seed
– apricot jelly
– Mozuku seaweed
– stewed conger eel with soy-sauce jelly
– stewed broad bean
– deep fried chestnut with fish paste

A rare selfie taken in our private dining room… the ‘glow’ is the saké, of course. 😛

Sashimi: sweet shrimp, tuna, yellowtail.
Grilled Hida beef sushi.

Conger pike dumpling.Hida beef steak

Hida smoked beef (on Sakura cherry wood) with plum flavoured onion… there was a wisp of smoked trapped under the glass bell, and it was so beautiful presented and tasty!

Hida beef shabu-shabu

Local rice, filefish soup.

Dessert of purple yam on a sakura pudding and yuzu sorbet.

The meals here are quite the experience – trying new things, sampling new tastes, preparing each mouthful to get a complimentary combination of flavours. It was quite late before we felt up to getting back into the onsen. I’m going to miss this!

For a late night snack, we had some Takayama Pudding-tei that we bought back from town with us… no word of a lie, this is creme brûlée in a jar.

Next morning, we had opted for western breakfast which consisted of ‘Way Too Much Food’! Toast, an egg to scramble on the little stove, a salad, some muesli, seasonal fruits, and not pictured – English breakfast tea. All lovingly presented and wonderfully fresh.
As a parting gift, Kyaka gave us some chopsticks as an unexpected gift. A very thoughtful touch.

So, yeah. My this is now my favourite hotel EVER! I have stayed at the Waldorf-Astoria with a view down Fifth Avenue in New York. I have stayed at the Hotel Fortuna in Rome, with a view over the Trevi Fountain. I have stayed at the Four Seasons in Sydney, with a glorious view over Sydney Harbour. I have stayed at the Grand Hotel in Prague, with an uninterrupted view of the astronomical clock. I have stayed at Samphire on Rottnest Island with the quokkas. I have stayed at an Adnaan Resort in the Maldives… so yeah, when I say that of all the hotels/inns/resorts that I have stayed at, this place is now my favourite hotel ever, I’m not kidding. It was absolutely amazing… and I look forward to coming back again some day.

Sansuikan Ryokan in Takatsuki

We checked out of our Osaka hotel this morning and left behind another collection of empty saké bottles. Not sure what the cleaners might make of this, but I had fun! Today, we were leaving the Chuo Ward and heading to Osaka Station to put the bulk of our luggage into storage and head off for what we were hoping would be a seriously serene and very Japanese, traditional onsen (hot spring) experience in a ryokan (inn) in a town called Takatsuki.  Takatsuki is a town about the size of Toowoomba and roughly half-way between Osaka and Kyoto. But not before we did a spot of shopping at Osaka Station… it might sound odd to be shopping at a train station, but this particularly large station has two massive 13 and 11 floor shopping malls above it complete with food courts, restaurant halls, outdoor garden recreation areas – you name it.  We have been wondering what Japan’s unemployment rate is like lately, (currently a seasonally adjusted 2.3%) because we keep seeing people doing jobs that just don’t really exist at home… from elevator attendant, to gift wrappers, to doormen and taxi management staff. In one store I had four people assisting me to buy some chopsticks!  Everywhere feels overstaffed, it makes you wonder how companies are making any money. We did a bit of shopping and decided to stop for a nice lunch before taking our train out to Takatsuki.  The food in any large shopping mall or department store here is always confectionary, groceries and take out style food in the basement levels and more intimate cafes and restaurants on the uppermost levels – seems a bit counter-intuitive to me, if you can’t find anything that takes your fancy, you find yourself traversing up to 12 floors of escalators to find the other food outlets.

We chose a restaurant specialising in beef dishes – and were pretty confident it was going to be good because there was a line 20 deep waiting to get in.

Mackerel ‘cooked’ in vinegar and salt.
Fried tofu in some delicious but unknown sauce. Beef three ways, beef stew, beef nibblets of some sort and seared beef tongue. It was really good. After lunch we made our way to the trains – yet again – and head out to the Sansuisan Ryokan in Takatsuki.  We had an uneventful train ride, though there was a pretty serious cockup at the other end.  We had requested a shuttle from the hotel to get us out to the onsen but were given no details where the shuttle bus meet-up point was.  When we called up about it, we encountered some pretty serious language barriers and couldn’t make out what was going on. We ended up giving up and hopping a cab to get there, and on arrival were greeted by someone who told us that ‘someone else had taken our shuttle who was booked in for tomorrow night not tonight’.  I kinda thought that missing the shuttle a lesser cock-up than turning up to a fully booked hotel on the wrong day and having to go away again… but it has made me determined to learn some useful Japanese before I come back here again.  “Please”, “Thank you”, “Excuse me”, “How much is this, please?” and “Two sakes please” is just not enough to get by when the logistics start going pear-shaped.

We did, however, arrive safely and close enough to on time, so let’s call that a win.  We were shown to our room and immediately treated to green tea and a rundown on which onsens were open for men, and which ones were open for women, and a discussion on how they would swap in the morning and to please check before entering any onsens!  Some yakutas (light indoor/summer kimono style gowns) and slippers were provided for our use during our stay, and I did some quick googling to make sure we didn’t screw up on any onsen etiquette!  There is a great article here on ryokan and onsen etiquette, which I found pretty useful and took a bit of the mystery out of what to expect and how not to look like a boorish foreigner! Our room made up for day use – later while we were dining someone would come in and set out futons for us… this seems like a great plan, as the room can accommodate one or half a dozen if needs be – none of this Western hotel ‘family room with four beds’ required type thing. The tatami mats are lovely to walk on, and it’s socks or bare feet only once you step up into the room. Our room had a view over the river and we could hear the moving water babbling outside the window all night.  We also saw many great cranes flying in and around the gorge.  It was truly very peaceful and relaxing after coming from the hustle and bustle of Osaka!

After we had oriented ourselves and had some tea, I went out to check out the facilities, in particular, the outdoor onsen which was accessible from the same floor as our room and currently marked for women’s use… there is no photography allowed in the onsens as nude bathing is mandatory, but when I arrived there, it was unoccupied, so I took a number of photos, from the lovely canopy of Japanese maples that provided privacy and shade to the lovely natural looking rock pool. I was quite concerned about the general ‘no tattoos’ policy that applies in most public baths throughout Japan (tattoos being associated with Yakuza – organised crime gangs who would use the bathhouses to conduct business) but the host who greeted us waived away my concerns and said ‘Tattoo – no problem, no problem’… I was still a bit apprehensive, as he had only seen the bee on my ankle, not the large Asian style dragon tattoo on my left shoulder! With the women’s outdoor onsen empty, I raced back inside to change and come out for a nice private bath.  I got showered (as is custom before getting in the baths) and dressed in my yakuta and by the time I got outside, there was a Japanese lady and a small boy who I presume was her son in the bath.  Now, they modestly turned away as I slipped into the pool, but I was then faced with a dilemma – do I face them, leaving the poor lady to repeatedly remind her young not to stare at the big boobied (some gestures are universal regardless of language barriers!) or do I turn my back to her and display my large back tattoo?  Oi!  Within minutes the issue was quickly negated as she decided to remove herself and her son from the onsen… I hope I didn’t chase them out, but I have a feeling I did. After they left I had this little paradise all to myself for about half an hour – I wish it was longer, but I found the water temperature was just a bit too hot for me at 42℃, and I literally couldn’t stay in any longer.  I made a mental note to take some cold water to the private bath we had booked for after dinner, which is the only way that men and women can bathe together.

While I was in the outdoor onsen, Mr K was using one of the indoor onsens that was designated for men’s use at that time. He said that onsen was very busy and had a more modern and formal change room with lockers etc, and a tiled bathing area.

After our first foray into Japanese style same-sex bathing onsens, we got dressed in our yakuta and went down for our 7:30pm dinner reservation. The dinner is a set menu that is included in our room rate, they merely enquired as to whether we had any allergies and then we were in their hands for the meal. Our meal was exquisitely presented, everything on its own individual little dishes, served with the appropriate sauce, pickle or condiment.  First course consisted of some sort of green tofu served with wasabi, some mollusc of unknown genus, a very mysterious but tasty fern frond and some pickles.  In the little jar on the bottom right was some shrimp on a very tasty bean paste concoction.
Off to our sides were individual steamboat chicken dishes, with mushroom and vegetables making a very tasty broth. Of course, I ordered some sake, and Mr K tried a local beer.  Next course was some sashimi, with tuna, mackerel, salmon and shrimp.

Followed by a yam cake with fish on it cooked in a cherry blossom broth… very unusual. At this point I wasn’t quite sure when the little meals were going to stop coming – the next dish was a baked trout with vegetables and miso flavours. After that, our chef brought out thin sliced, rare roast beef also served with some unique sauce that I couldn’t for the life of me tell you what it was. THEN… a soba noodle dish served with tempura seafood. And finally a sake flavoured blancmange, with yuzu jelly and strawberry served with black tea for afters.  This is traditional Japanese ‘all evening dining’, where you have roughly the same amount of food you would have in an ordinary meal, but it is continually being brought out in small meticulously presented portions over the course of several hours. The meal was delicious, and even though the courses seemed to just keep coming, we both felt we had an elegant sufficiency.

After dinner, we returned to our room to find the hotel staff had transformed our day quarters into a sleeping room.  Futons were laid out and we had the hardest pillows you could possibly imagine – they were heavy as, and if I didn’t know better, I’d say they are full of grain as they had the texture of a wheatpack.
We went for the first of two visits to the private baths – these needed to be booked in advance and cost JPY3000 on top of our room rate, but it was totally worth it.  Mr K and I were able to relax in the bath and chat with each other – it’s a totally different experience to using the large sex-segregated onsens and the conditions are just idyllic… right beside the river you can see out across the gorge and listen to the burbling cascades below and hear the occasional birds calls. My only lament is that I found the water a bit too hot for my liking (which is weird because I usually LOVE really hot showers).  The website says the water from the natural springs is at around 56-60C, but presumably, have cooled somewhat by the time they reach the baths dependent on ambient temperatures.  But it was okay, I just found I kept getting out and dousing myself in cold water Nordic style to cool down so I could hop back in!  It’s my Scando/Viking genes I think! Showering space to get clean and wash your hair etc before hoping in the onsen bath. The round drum looking bucket is for filling up and dumping (cold?) water over yourself. We had a second private bath booked for first thing in the morning and it was lovely and fresh in the open air bath – all the muscle tension just seeped away. After our morning bath, we dressed and eventually made our way down to breakfast.  There was a large buffet with a mixture of Japanese and some western food offerings. Again our meal was presented in beautiful lacquered boxes and small dishes for each individual little morsel…
 From left to right, fish roe, mushrooms, some baby spinach type leaf thing, marinated squid, boiled tofu, shrimp, yam and something I didn’t recognise, and a serve of black tea and mackerel. On the side was another steamboat with tofu and light vegetables, served with soy and spring onions.

I have a feeling Japanese fine dining was invented by someone who doesn’t like their food to touch!

We checked out of the Sansuikan ryokan and went into Takatsuki to check out the Festa 1000 – the Children’s Day Carp Kite Festival that is held each year to encourage the future well being of the city’s children.  We discovered Takatsuki has it’s own cute little mascot and lots of carp kites.

Then we took the train back to Osaka and we found some green spaces at Osaka Station to kill some time before our flight tonight (not this space though – it was too busy and noisy). Kansai airport was decked out in wisteria which reminds me I need to find the huge wisteria tunnels that Japan is known for – if they’re anywhere near as spectacular as the cherry blossom groves, it will definitely be worth the trains and hassle to go find them next time we are in Japan. Kansai airport has two Pokemon Store and sooo many restaurants. Thankfully the lovely people who checked us into our flight let us know there are stuff all restaurants once you go through security, so we stayed outside to have dinner. We ended up having okonomiyaki at a restaurant called Boteju which I’m only recording here because it had the best okonomiyaki we’ve ever had (across three trips to Japan) and it was highly unexpected for an airport restaurant – but then I found out they had been in Osaka since 1945 and have quite the reputation so if I had done my homework I should not have been surprised… Finally, we were heading home on a blissfully empty plane!  Some earplugs and valium and maybe I’ll arrive home in a half decent state. This flight was booked on QFF points, so I am thinking with three seats to myself and the ability to lay down and sleep all night for barely $70 in taxes – this flight probably represents the best value for travel $$$ I have ever spent!

Highlights of this trip were definitely the cherry blossoms at Hirosaki Castle, the Miyako Odori spring dances in Kyoto and the lovely ryokan in Takatsuki – but we have seen so many wonderful things in Japan and enjoy every moment here.  I love the people, and the gentle courtesy they extend during everyday transactions, and the accompanying artfulness that is applied to even simple day to day tasks.  I also love the culture, art and history, it’s so diverse from Western European culture. And we really love Japanese food culture – the restaurants, noodle bars, street food and izakayas all have a different dining experience to offer and we always enjoy trying new things.

So another amazing trip is over, and with no travel plans on the horizon (#stayhome2019 has gone out the window), I am counting the stamps in my passport and wondering where I’ll end up next?