Japan Memories Day 16: Kinosaki Onsen Soak, Zen Temple, Crab Hotpot, and the World’s Best Risotto!

This is day 16 of revisiting my journal from our trip to Japan last year! If you’d like to start at the beginning, here is day 1.

So, day 16, here we go!

From Shauna’s Journal

Day 16, October 16th, 2017

This morning’s breakfast included rice, egg, soup, sausage. all kinds of tasty stuff. After breakfast I checked out the TV- lots of funny and cute shows and commercials (animal mating rituals! People and their pets! Infomercials! XD). 

Next, I went down to one of the other onsen in town- it was the most relaxing onsen yet. Goshono-Yu. Indoor and outdoor onsen with a waterfall, sauna, and a stone bench with flowing water and a footbath. I stayed and soaked for over an hour. The cascading bench and footbath provided the perfect spot to sit when the overwhelming heat of full immersion in the onsen became too much for me. 

Dustin and I had lunch at a local spot- my rice with crab was SCRUMPTIOUS.

Then we got delicious ice cream that I didn’t drop on the floor this time! Mine was a scoop of “burnt condensed milk” and a scoop of regular milk flavors. 

We went for a stroll around and found a gorgeous zen temple. In the back was a peaceful cemetery with waters flowing down the rockwork and many weathered stones. 

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Tonight’s dinner was crab hotpot- amazing. I think this area is known for their crab. Then the maid took all of the veggies and bits remaining in the broth out (she found the “Japanese pickle” I had added and thought it was funny- I guess you eat those separately and don’t flavour your soup with them!) She added rice and whipped egg to the remaining crab meat, making “Japanese risotto”. It was so good that I was sad that I was already so full and couldn’t enjoy more of it!

When another woman came to give us dessert (apple-pear matcha mochi) I told her that the risotto is the best, highest risotto, best in the world! She complimented my Japanese (so many compliments, but I know they are being kind- my Japanese is very basic. I want to learn more).

So, we had another soak in the private onsen, and I used their vibrating foot massager thing, and now we are just relaxing and getting ready to journey back to Tokyo tomorrow!

Tomorrow is day 17: Sayonara Kinosaki, and We Meet Again Tokyo!

Japan Memories Day 15: Kinosaki Straw Handicrafts and Impressive Autumn Festival!

This is day 15 of revisiting my journal from our trip to Japan last year! If you’d like to start at the beginning, here is day 1.

So, day 15, here we go!

From Shauna’s Journal

Day 15, October 15th, 2017

Breakfast is served in the banquet room between 8 and 8:30. Dustin had said to let him sleep as we’d assumed it would be buffet style like at Takaragawa, but when I saw how a table was set for 2 with an elaborate breakfast set, I went back downstairs and woke him up for it. It was delicious- grilled fish, rice, tamagoyaki, salad, soup, tofu… so much food!

After breakfast I reserved our onsen time and the woman at the desk brightened when I spoke in Japanese. It was a rainy, windy day, but we did some exploring around and found there was a festival for autumn happening. I asked a maid and she said it is called Danjiri (a cart pulling festival). Lots of men and boys were pushing these huge floats around in a display of a battle. There were 6 floats in all I think, carried by hand and heaved around. There were drummers inside!

We had coffee at a charming little local cafe (well, cafe au lait for me and a banana berry smoothie for Dustin) as well as some crab sandwiches. We also got some trinkets from some interesting shops, and visited a small museum about straw handicrafts that the area is known for- muguwara zaishi- it was very interesting. A skillful craft.

We watched a video showing all the work that goes into it, and it made us appreciate it a lot. I bought a few souvenirs from the museum: these are comparatively simple to the designs shown in the video and the ones we saw in the museum, but no less beautiful!

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We got ice cream at one of the shops, and while I was paying I dropped all of my ice cream (matcha soft-serve) on the floor T-T the lady was very nice about it and gave me another, though. 

At another shop a kind old man who laughed a lot and reminded me of my Grampy chatted with me about Halloween, the local festival, and straw handicrafts. He showed me some straw art hanging on the wall with a stork on it, and said “this bird… brings a baby!” with a knowing smile. We joked about my family wanting a baby, and when I said “aw heck, I’ll take it!” (the stork art) and told him “i’ll tease my husband with it!” he shook my shoulders playfully and thought it was great. I also picked out a teensy dog stuffie to buy and when he read the description tag he said “this cat called… Pagu” (it’s a pug). I told him that I have a pug-beagle dog at home that I miss very much! He also recommended this silk (?) postcard of Kinosaki, and I can’t say no to a cute old man!

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A local told me that the festival finale would be happening in the centre of town between the bridges, so I headed there before dinner. He told me I was very lucky to be in Kinosaki at the time of the autumn festival, as it was quite the sight to see. Very impressive displays with the man-lifted floats and drumming that continued into the night.

Dinner tonight was impressive again- crab, shrimp, beef, lots of little sides. Immaculately carved oranges for dessert. We tried the smaller onsen tonight. So relaxing. 

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Tomorrow is Day 16: Kinosaki Onsen Soak, Zen Temple, Crab Hotpot, and the World’s Best Risotto!

Japan Memories Day 14: Goodbye Kyoto, Hello Beautiful Kinosaki Onsen Town!

This is day 14 of revisiting my journal from our trip to Japan last year! If you’d like to start at the beginning, here is day 1.

So, day 14, here we go!

From Shauna’s Journal

Day 14, October 14th, 2017

Goodbye Kyoto. Today we head to Kinosaki. We hailed a taxi to Kyoto station where we ate some yummy ramen and saw some school bands playing (they were very good!)

 

 

The shinkansen to Kinosaki was nearly 2 hours long, with gorgeous views the entire way. Mountains, fields, cute little towns with gardens everywhere, paths leading up steep hills of intense greenery.

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When we arrived in the town station, a woman asked if we had a reservation at one of the ryokan. She pointed us in the direction of our ryokan, the Mikunia.

 

We checked in and were shown our room by a kind young man. We had a mixup over yukata (summer kimono to wear around the inn and town). I later found out he was telling me I could choose a coloured Yukata downstairs if I wanted an alternate colour to the standard grey yukata provided, but at the time I thought he was simply asking what colour I preferred, so I said “blue or pink would be great, thank you” in my best Japanese.

He brought me two lovely and elaborate yukata and said “one for today, one for tomorrow?” with a grin. Soon after though, the maids came in and were fretting over my yukata selections (not sure why, maybe the colours or patterns didn’t match the season?) and they took the blue one away, to which he began apologizing to me and I was like “oh, it’s ok! It’s ok!”

The maids were also concerned about Dustin’s yukata size (he’s a big guy) and we were trying to explain that he had bought a personal yukata in Kyoto and brought it with him. Then later, when I tried on my pretty pink yukata, a maid appeared and I showed her that my yukata was much too long for me. I didn’t realize that it was a different kind of yukata than the ones we wore in Takaragawa- this one was a fancier type, using two obi (sashes) to hold it up and customize the length.

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Once we figured out all of the yukata confusion, we had a stroll around the gorgeous town of Kinosaki- river with koi fish, bridges and trees, little shops, and footbaths.

 

We were given a kaiseki shabu shabu meal in our room (SO DELICIOUS), after which the table was cleared and moved aside, and our futon set up on the tatami.

 

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We arrived a bit late so our onsen reservation for private soak was the last slot of the day (11pm) and I had to nap first as I was exhausted- but the wait was worth it. Dustin and I had the little onsen to ourselves and enjoyed soaking in the hot water together. The steam and heat prepares you for a good night’s sleep.

Tomorrow is day 15: Kinosaki Straw Handicrafts and Impressive Autumn Festival!

Japan Memories Day 9: Learning to Relax, and Sentimental Musings at the Onsen

This is day 9 of revisiting my journal from our trip to Japan last year! If you’d like to start at the beginning, here is day 1.

So, day 9, here we go!

From Shauna’s Journal

Day 9, October 9th, 2017

Wow, this place is so lovely I can’t believe i’m here. This morning we woke up and had a delicious breakfast in the Gekko room. I tried things that I have no idea what they were, and some were so delicious! I especially enjoyed the crispy fish that were grilled for us. One was split down the middle so that it looked like one large, flat fish, but Dustin pointed out it was just grilled that way.

I’m extremely glad we decided to make this a 3 week trip, as it’s going by incredibly fast. I don’t miss home yet (usually I do… I mean, of course I miss Tegan and Butters, though!) but I do miss Ikebukuro! I was really starting to feel comfortable there, getting to know the streets, the train station, the “We Road”- so I am glad we are going back there for a couple nights when we return to Tokyo. 

We still have plenty left to see and do- Ghibli Museum, Shibuya, Nakano Broadway, Sawanoya Ryokan, Ueno Park, etc… and yet I am already dreading leaving Japan because I know I will miss it a lot! There is a special feeling in Japan that I’ve never felt anywhere else. I enjoy experiencing uniquely Japanese things, and practicing my Japanese with locals.

I will definitely, definitely want to come back to Japan again. (Every year? Please?!)

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~~~

So right now I am sitting at a large granite table next to a giant suspension bridge that connects our ryokan to the rotenburo (outdoor onsen area). The Tone river is rushing loudly underneath me. To my right is a lovely path that winds down the riverbank and connects to the different onsen baths. Two are mixed and one is women only. This morning I took a dip in the women’s bath. It was very relaxing but I couldn’t handle it for very long- the other women were also getting out after their soak remarking “atsui desu ne!”(hot, isn’t it?!)

I need to practice the art of relaxing. In the last year or so I feel like I’ve been working on being happy in the moment, in the now, and I am doing better with that. But still, sometimes I struggle with just enjoying peacefully doing nothing in particular- the kind of full relaxation a ryokan invites. Dustin definitely struggles with this also. 

This afternoon I decided to open the big window in our room to let in the air and the sound of the river. The little beetley-bugs that had been resting on the outside of the window rushed in on me in a sudden ambush on my hair and Yukata. The bugs are cute but they startled me and I was squealing! I was able to gather them up and shoo them back outside with a handtowel…

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One of my Japanese friends pointed out that I am too tall for the Yukata supplied by the ryokan- it’s supposed to go down to your ankles!

Dustin and I went down to the indoor onsen again today. I had a good soak. On my way back up the elevator a man and woman got on next to me- the man was saying “samui, ahh, samui” and clutching his arms (“cold, aah, cold…”). Having just come from the steaming onsen, I chimed in when he met my eyes and said, fanning myself, “Samui? Atsui desu! (“Cold? I’m hot!”) and they laughed with me at my little joke. When the doors opened at their floor he walked off smiling and saying in English in a funny voice “I’m cooolllddd!!!”

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A display in a public area of the ryokan- that’s Gunma-chan on the left!

There is a cute little gift shop here that has specialty chocolates and foods, and lots of unique handicrafts made by local artisans. A kind woman works there, and I bought a few souvenirs and gifts today- some cloth coasters, a kokeshi doll, some chocolates, and a Yukata. I asked the woman if she thought a green or pink obi (sash) would look better with the green yukata I picked, which had subtle pink flowers on it. She suggested pink looked cute, so I got the pink. I said “these chocolates look so delicious!” in Japanese, and she complimented me “Nihongo wa amari jouzu desu ne!” (your Japanese is very good!) to which I responded with the polite denial approach “made, made” (more to go, more to go!)- even though I know she was being kind and my Japanese is very basic, it really made my day. I’d been studying my books and trying so hard to learn. A simple “good evening” “that was delicious” or “thank you very much” in Japanese is so appreciated here, so I try to keep these phrases in mind. 

After I bought my purchases the woman said in Japanese “hold on a second…” and grabbed a box of sesame oil chocolates I had been eyeing. She put it in my bag and said “a gift for you!” It was so sweet of her! I was flabbergasted and thanked her profusely.

I’m not a very spiritual person or anything like that, but something about that little shop and that woman reminded me of Nanny McKim, who was very interested in Japanese culture and had so many Japanese handicrafts and dolls in her house. I know what Mom would say- “Nanny wanted you to have those chocolates”. And, coincidence or not, the sesame oil chocolates the woman gave me ended up being my favourite ones. ❤ 

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Tomorrow is day 10: Goodbye Gunma, hello Kyoto!

Japan Memories Day 8: Shinkansen to Gunma and Takaragawa Onsen- the Most Beautiful Place I’ve Ever Been!

This is day 8 of revisiting my journal from our trip to Japan last year! If you’d like to start at the beginning, here is day 1.

So, day 8, here we go!

From Shauna’s Journal

Day 8, October 8th, 2017

This morning Dustin and I bittersweetly said goodbye to our home base in Ikebukuro (for now) and headed for the Shinkansen that would take us to Gunma! We ate some delicious ramen and parfaits at the station and reserved our tickets for the bullet train. We were a tad confused- Dustin asked a security guard where our platform was and he gave Dustin a wry smile, saying “You can do it! Fighto, fighto!” with a pat on the arm while pointing us in the right direction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We did go to the right platform but we boarded the wrong train! It took off so quick that we just stood there worrying about what to do. A Japanese couple took pity on us- a young woman approached me and told us where to get off to catch our correct train! ❤ I thanked them profusely (the train staff did eventually come to talk to us, but the friendly woman saved us a lot of anxiety!)

 

Finally we made it to Gunma. I bought a few Gunma-chan  (Gunma’s mascot) souvenirs and soon we were on our shuttle to Takaragawa Osenkaku Ryokan. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The bus ride to the onsen ryokan was breathtakingly gorgeous. The most beautiful lush trees and mountainous skylines i’ve ever seen. A well lived-in, country feeling. Narrow, winding roads. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ryokan itself is astounding. Resting upon a river valley, it has amazing views, indoor and outdoor onsen baths, and a well-cared for living area with shining wooden floors, shogi screens, glowing lamps, tatami floors, everything so lovely. 

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We had a delicious kaiseki dinner of all kinds of Japanese foods. We are (so far) the only westerners here from what we can see, and we could tell people were curious about us coming way out here! What a special experience.

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Video and pictures are understandably not allowed in the onsen, but this promotional video from the Takaragawa website shows how amazing this place is year-round:

 

 

We visited the segregated indoor onsen tonight- so peaceful. So hot. So steamy and

relaxing. Ah, I can’t wait to eat more good food tomorrow and bathe some more! 🙂 zzZZzzZZ

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Tomorrow is Day 9: Learning to Relax, and Sentimental Musings at the Onsen