Tuesday, May 30, 2006

JAPAN, Part II: Ryokan

During our recent trip to Japan, we stayed at a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) in the countryside near Fukui. The ryokan, famous for its onsen (hot springs), was a new experience for us and we really enjoyed ourselves.

We arrived at Arawaonsen station in the early afternoon after a two-hour express train ride from Osaka. The small town has many onsen ryokans and we took a cab to ours. The minute we walked in, we were greeted warmly by Japanese men in suits and ladies in traditional kimonos. As we were led to our rooms by one of the ladies, I marveled at the gorgeous Japanese gardens visible through the pristine windows. Everything smelled like light Japanese incense and the entire lobby area was decorated beautifully.

During our stay at the ryokan, one "attendant" was assigned to our party to assist us. She was the one who would set up the meal at the time we requested, as well as put our the futons at the time we wanted to go to sleep. At a ryokan, you always eat in your room, so we arranged for the four of us (my parents, husband and I) to eat in my parents' room.

While we waited for dinner to roll around, we put on the yukatas provided for us and went down to the onsen (hot springs). Mom and I went to the outdoor rotenburo and just soaked in the nice, hot water while we watched the rain fall onto the garden. Talk about relaxing. After about 40 minutes we made our way back to the room where our attendant had started laying out all of the different elements of our dinner.

The dinner spread...and this isn't even everything!

We were starving and my eyes were so busy checking out all of the little dishes filled with different kinds of Japanese food. I can't even remember everything we ate, but all of it was very good. We had chilled snow crab legs, several different kinds of sashimi, thin sliced beef in a hot pot which we cooked ourselves, simmered Japanese vegetables, yuba (tofu skin) with bamboo shoots, fish cakes, miso cod, cold soba with dashi and grated daikon, chawanmushi, clear soup with tofu and a few other things I just can't recall. I do, however, have to point out that someone in the area must have been having a sale on amaebi (sweet shrimp) because it showed up in quite a few dishes. Although we all love amaebi, we were pretty tired of it by the end of the meal.

Snow crab
Sashimi assortment
Bite of maguro?

Even after all this food, rice was offered but we declined since we were just completely stuffed. We did, however, thoroughly enjoy the light dessert offering. It was a soy milk pudding with a green tea gelatin topping capped off with just a small spoonful of anko and served with a sesame meringue cookie. It was so good that we asked for the recipe, and found out that the "secret" ingredient was steamed and mashed sastumaimo, which is a Japanese sweet potato. Very interesting. I just bought all of the ingredients for this and plan to try it this weekend.

Three-tiered tray containing various goodies.
Bamboo shoots and yuba
Soy milk pudding w/ green tea gelatin

The next morning, we had breakfast in my parents room again after soaking in the onsen. This time the meal consisted of some lovely ika somen (squid cut into thin strips like noodles), grilled fish, Japanese potato salad, thinly sliced ham, crab ochazuke (soupy rice), sashimi and an onsen tamago which is a very soft boiled egg (my favorite!). Everything was delicious and once again, we were totally full! I don't see how the average Japanese person can eat that much food, but I suppose they must since most of the ryokan's clients are indeed Japanese.

Breakfast, anyone?
Various delights including an onsen tamago
Ika somen and grilled fish

As always, I took tons of photos- mainly to remember the beautiful arrangement and plating of everything. The care that goes into making everything look so gorgeous is really astounding.

Our room

My husband and I behind my parents in our yukatas.

Hope you enjoy these as much as I enjoyed the whole ryokan experience. I highly recommend it!



carlyn said...

What a wonderful experience!!!!! A true slice of Japan in a ryokan... Everything looks so relaxing and delicious!!!!

Colleen Cuisine said...

Wow - those photos are STUNNING. I particularly love the one of the outdoor garden and koi pond... it looks like absolute paradise. It's amazing to me the amount of detail and ritual that goes into the ryokan experience.

eatdrinknbmerry said...

I am very jealous that I didn't get to hangout in the rural area. I was really getting tired of the urban Japan scene. This place looks really peaceful and enlightening for the heart. Not to mention the beautiful spread of japanese food. I'm afraid to know the damage of your stay here. Nice post TAG.

J said...

hi, beautiful post on a beautiful experience; i really enjoyed your wonderful descriptions and the evocative photography!

Momo said...

What a beautiful post!! And all the delicious food pics... Could you please tell the name of the ryokan you stayed in? I'm going with my family to Japan next year and after spending a blissful weekend in a lovely ryokan on the mountains above Nikko a few years ago we definitely want to include a ryokan stay this time as well.

Tokyoastrogirl said...

Hi Momo,

The ryokan we went to is near Fukui (about 2 hours on an express train from Osaka) at a station called Arawa Onsen. The onsen is called YAGI, and has its own web site: www.hotel-yagi.co.jp. I hope you go- it's supposedly the best in the area and we had such a fantastic stay!