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Tokyofoodcast’s San’in Trip: Day One

In my post from last week, Tokyofoodcast’s San’in Trip Series, I mentioned starting a new series. The series is focused on area we loved exploring and what made our travel so memorable. So, compared with our other posts where food and sake are the center of the universe, you may find it this a change of pace. I hope the series gives some perspectives about the wonderful life and culture in San’in area and help you to get information for when you are ready for a visit of your own.

-Precursor to the trip-

The day I returned from visiting Chiyomusubi in Sakaiminato in January, we opened a bottle of Tamagawa Tetsukezu Genshu from Kinoshita Shuzo. This was bottled directly from the giant accordion of a pressing machine, or Yabuta. It was so bubbly and lively. I happened to also bring back some Matsuba Kani from Tottori that day. The sake itself was great, but with the crab, that was just soooo good. That’s when I pulled out a map of Japan to see where Kumihama, Kyoto is.

“It’s on the Japan Sea coast and not far from Tottori or for that matter, Shimane is pretty close.” After going to a tasting of Shimane sake, I was really impressed by the region. Thus, my first casual thoughts boiled and bubbled over the next few weeks to finally emerge as a plan for a grand tour around San’in in March.

Day One

Ama-no-hashidate, Kyoto

On a gray March day, as soon as we hit the airport in Itami, Osaka, we got in a car and drove through mountains after mountains for a few hours to Ama-no-hashidate in Kyoto. This area is often referred to as the furthest place from Tokyo. I think thatis because there’s no single quick flight or direct train that takes you there from Tokyo. Instead, you have to get to either Kyoto or Osaka, then travel for another few hours from there.

Ama-no-hashidate is known as one of the best three views of Japan next to Matsushima in Miyagi and Itsukushima in Hiroshima. As the name indicates, viewed from the hill top from Kazamatsu Park, Ama-no-hashidate sand bar stretching out in the middle of the blue bay with over 8,000 pine trees appears as if the bridge reaches heaven-with one catch. The proper viewing technique here is that you bend over and view the scenery from between your legs. I allowed two-and-half hours here, but walking 3.6 kilometers from one side of the muddy sandbar to the other side after lunch, then, going up the hill on a cable car for the view took way longer than I thought. In the end, we found a private motor boat to take us back to the car in a few minutes and managed to leave the place on time to head to our next destination. View from the Kazamatsu Park is something you must see, but it’s like climbing Mt. Fuji–once in life time is enough, I thought. The only thing I would go back for is to see what the summer is like. It may be totally different.

Kinoshita Shuzo, Kumihama, Kyoto

Driving about 30 minutes from Ama-no-hashidate, we got to Kumihama and the place that brought us to on this trip. At Kinoshita Shuzo, residence, sake brewing kura, and their shop are all on the same premises giving visitors very welcoming atmosphere. Their toji, Philip Harper, welcomed us to to the brewery and shared his philosophy around brewing-very traditional approach mixed with innovations. For example, the type of yeast called awanashi kobo that does not foam bubbles so high is widely used today for ease of use. Harper-Toji says “how else do you see the state of the moto?” and sticks to the old tradition and clears off the foam from the traditional yeasts regularly. On the other hand, his passion to share the first drop of the brew with as many people as possible right after being pressed made him take a big change by bottling directly from the press machine. New and time consuming effort!

After Harper-Toji took us around the brewery, it was the tasting time! During the trip, we took turns doing the tasting at the breweries we visited since one of us had to drive. At this first one, it was my turn to do the honors! Lucky me! So, I was completely relaxed by the time we left Kumihama where the sun started to set in a misty bay and when we headed out to Kinosaki Onsen to wind down the day.

Kinosaki Onsen, Hyogo

Kinosaki Onsen is a beautiful classic hot spring resort with 1,300 years of recorded history as a place that harbored many writers. Willow trees line a creek that runs through the little town. Although cars occasionally pass by, as the night darkens, the sound that echoes the little streets is the tapping of geta, “karan koron”. Everyone staying in the sleepy onsen district goes hopping from one bath to another in the traditional attire–yukata cotton robe and wooden geta.

At Kinosaki Onsen, two things were memorable: finding a restaurant or rather not finding a restaurant, and the moment we arrived at the ryokan. I made an online reservation for a Japanese-style inn, but just for a stay without dinner or breakfast. When staying at a ryokan, usually the best thing of all is the extravagant multi-course dinner in the room. However, when we travel more than a few days, I book places to stay without meals and go out for dinner and sake in the area to get more variety and explore a bit. At least, that was the idea. I called the tourist information office in advance to make sure there were restaurants, but….

At this type of onsen resort, everyone stays at ryokan with dinner and breakfast inclusive. So, when we were ready to go out for dinner, we only found a few places to choose from. One, I believe, was ramen and the other one was a Japanese place. We couldn’t go back to the hotel and ask for a meal! That night, we ended up at a very nice dinner with a bottle of Kasumitsuru, a local nihonshu from the area. So, in the end, the restaurant affair was not so bad other than the sudden realization that I have no grounds to complain that Gotanda, where we live, does not have enough good restaurants.

The other incident is rather funny, but I feel bad thinking back on it. When we pulled up to the ryokan that was run out of a residence and as Te-chan stepped out the car, the owner who was supposed to be greeting us had this fearful look on her face, as if she saw a ghost or something. I am sure Te-chan was not prepared to encounter this, either. “Our facility is very traditional Japanese and not designed for foreigners. You sleep on the futon.” “Wakkatte masu” Te-chan replied in Japanese assuring the lady he knows the rule. I whispered “This is like Kurofune hits Japan!”. The poor lady was still not convinced and murmured few words. Once we settled in, we were almost invisible to her–we went out to the bath, had wonderful dinner, strolled in the area, came back went to sleep listening to the sound of geta. Next morning, we were packed up and ready to go. When she saw the futon we folded up neatly, she finally relaxed and said “So, daijobu nanndesu-ne / You are OK.”

So, I have two pieces of advice to anyone thinking of following us: one, be generous allowing time at Ama-no-hashidate, and two, stay at a ryokan with dinner when in a tiny onsen town! You might be spared from shocking someone to death!

Please see Tokyofoodcast’s San’in Trip Series for locations of the places in the post.

JNTO’s guide to Ama-no-hashidate and Kinosaki area via pdf download.
http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/location/rtg/pdf/pg-504.pdf

Links for English information: Ama-no-hashidate and Kinosaki

Discussion

5 Responses to “Tokyofoodcast’s San’in Trip: Day One”

  1. The best part of arriving at the ryokan was even before that.

    Terrified Obachan “Ara! Gaijin-san desu ka? / What! Are you a foreigner?”

    Me: “Hai! So desu, ne. / Yes! That’s right!”

    Terrified Obachan “Nihongo wakarimasuka?”

    LOL

    Posted by Te-chan | September 24, 2009, 2:35 pm

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