Sekitei Ryokan Inn – Miyahama Onsen, Hiroshima

Last February, I made a quick visit to Hiroshima for a family gathering. It was an auspicious occasion, so I booked a room for lunch at Sekitei which is famous for its rooms, garden and cuisine.

Click here for the tripadvisor reviews (photo from Sekitei website)

Sekitei, a traditional Japanese ryokan inn with a good reputation near Miyajima, is very popular among both the locals and tourists, so advanced booking is a must. Luckily, I could get my hands on the very last room/slot.

View from our room, 大観 (annex Taikan )

Before the lunch, we stepped out to the manicured Japanese garden for a stroll.

library
facing Miyajima
Nishikigoi, Amur carp

It was a chilly winter day with some snow and the garden was colourless, yet still pleasant to stroll around. Once winter is gone, it becomes bright with flowers and green leaves.

in cherry blossom season

This time of the year, satsuki and fuji are in bloom.

五月 or Satsuki azalea bloom from May to June; the name “Satsuki” in Japanese is reference to their blooming period, the fifth month of the Asian lunar calendar. (Wikipedia)
fuji or Japanese wisteria

 

I had ordered a kaiseki course menu for the special occasion.

menu
先付 sakizuke, appetizer: anago sushi wrapped in bamboo leave and Chinese cabbage mousse
椀物 wanmono, soup course: oyster with vegetables and maitake mushroom
造里/向付 tsukuri/mukozuke, sashimi dish: sea bream, cuttlefish, shrimp etc.
八寸 hassun, seasonal platter
煮物 nimono, simmered dish: bamboo root, satoimo eddoe etc.
awabi, abalone
焼物 yakimono, grilled course: anago
酢物 sunomono, vinegar marinade: monkfish liver, spring onion etc.
食事/飯物  shokuji/hanmono, rice dish: anago meshi (grilled saltwater eel with rice)
水菓子 mizugashi, dessert: custard pudding with matcha ice cream

 

After pleasing and satisfying meal, some of us enjoyed dipping in the onsen at 500 yen pp – it was a bit rush though as we were supposed to vacate the room by 14.45 (the lunch plan, 11.00 – 14.45).

 

We were all full but couldn’t resist Anago Meshi Bento from Ueno restaurant, their sister restaurant, to take away.  Anago meshi is one of my favourites – somehow I am not into unagi, freshwater eel  although both look alike! Anago from Setonaikai Inlandsea  is superb!

It may be a good idea to order the bento at Sekitei if you don’t want to queue up for anago meshi at Ueno near Miyajimaguchi. If you are going to Miyajima and don’t mind standing still in a queue, try Fujitaya  – oh, I didn’t know the restaurant had been awarded one Michelin star!! It was ages ago that I tried their anago meshi but clearly remember how scrumptious it was!

We were all happy with the place, meal, staff and service and left Sekitei hoping to come back and stay overnight someday.

 

En route to Hiroshima Airport, I popped in Miyajima (no time for Fujitaya and of course, no room in my stomach!!)

 

One more thing – about tipping. There is no tipping custom in Japan, however, there exists old one called kokorozuke(心付け). It is usually practiced at pricey ryokans, and to be given to nakai or a room attendant on arrival at your room. Kokorozuke should be a small amount in an envelop (1,000 – 3,000 yen, depends on number of guests and duration of stay) or a small gift, like a box of confectionery. Don’t worry, nowadays there are many who don’t know this custom, even Japanese, so they wouldn’t expect people from outside Japan.

 

 

石亭 Sekitei

For more photos or booking through booking.com, click here.

“Located in the Miyahama hot-spring area, Sekitei features spacious Japanese-style accommodations with traditional interiors…. Guests can relax in the hot-spring baths and enjoy the seasons at the Japanese garden. A free shuttle is available from JR Oonoura Train Station, which is a 5-minute drive away.

Some spacious rooms are located in the main tower, while many are individual cottages with 2 floors and a private wooden bath. Most rooms come with tatami (woven-straw) floors and Japanese futon bedding. Each room has garden or ocean views.

A traditional multi-course meal is served for dinner in the guests’ room. A Japanese set-menu is offered for breakfast, which guests can choose to dine in their rooms or in the dining room.

Sekitei Inn is a 15-minute drive from Miyajimaguchi Ferry Terminal. JR Hiroshima Train Station is a 50-minute drive away. ”  — Booking.com

(other than mine, the photos from Sekitei website/Instagram)

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Ichijiku no Kanroni – Japanese Fig Compote

 

Figs are fully in season, so I made Ichijiku no Kanroni.

 

 

Ichijiku means ‘fig’ and its kanji spelling is 無花果, which denotes a plant that bears fruit without flowering: 無=naught,  花=flower, 果=fruit.

Kanroni is a cooking method or type of dish, and it spells as 甘露煮: 甘=sweet, 露=dew, 煮=simmering /simmered. The ingredients stewed in sweet sauce or syrup are not necessary to be fruit, and fish like sardine, smelt etc. are also common for kanroni served as an appetiser or a side dish.

For kanroni, green, firm and less sweet ones like White Genoa or Kadota varieties are preferable, and they need to be just before fully ripe and not splitting open.

 

left: White Genoa for kanroni / right: Horaishi to eat raw or for jam

 

Being seasoned with some say sauce, it may taste a bit like mitarashi or daigaku imo.

 

my daigak imo, Japanese caramelised sweet potato (click here for the recipe)

 

Ingredients

1 kg fig,  green, firm and less sweet such as White Genoa or Kadota (just before fully ripe and not splitting open)
200 g caster sugar
2 tbsp sake (Japanese rice wine)
1 tbsp honey
1 tsp koikuchi shoyu (dark Japanese soy sauce, not tamari)

 

 

Method

  1. Wash the figs and remove the stems. Put the figs in a large pot with plenty of water to cover, and bring to the boil over medium heat. When boiled, take out the figs and drain off the water.
  2. Pour the sake in the pot, place the figs and sprinkle over ¹⁄3 of the sugar. Cover with an aluminum foil or baking parchment lid (on top of the figs so as to circulate heat and the liquid), then bring to simmer over low heat for about 60 minutes. While simmering, do not stir but shake the pan occasionally, so it will not burn to the bottom.
  3. Add another ¹⁄3 of the sugar, and the rest after 60 minutes. Continue simmering for 30 minutes, stir in the soy sauce and honey, and simmer for further 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand for overnight.
  4. Bring back to simmer for 15 minutes on low heat, stirring occasionally. Cool completely and store in an airtight container. It can be store at room temperature for a week or so unless in hot weather, but keep in refrigerator for longer storage up to 3 weeks.

 

Ichijiku no Kanroni with Yukimi Daifuku, mochi icecream

 

The juicy, chewy and nicely sweet fig is scrumptious as it is, but really goes well with ice cream!

 

 

Umeshu Matsuri – Plum Wine Festival in Tokyo

If you live or happen to be around in Tokyo this long weekend, why don’t you pop in Yushima Tenmangu, or Yushima Tenjin to sip umeshu, Japanse plum wine?

Umeshu (梅酒 : 梅 ume = plum, 酒 shu = sake) is made by steeping unripened Japanese plums in alcohol and sugar to allow the flavours to infuse. It is called plum ‘wine’ in English, but it is liqueur type of alcohol.

venue: Yushima Tenmangu, near Ueno

Over the weekend, the Umeshu Matsuri, Plum Wine Festival is held at the Shito shrine, which is famous for its beautiful plum blossoms in spring. Beer is nice – Oktober Fests are thrown here and there around this time of the year even in Japan, but it may be a good idea to try this aromatic, sweet and plesantly sour liqueur.

the leaflet and token coins

At the entrance, purchase 18 token coins for 1,600 yen (advanced ticket was 1,400 yen). 1 or 2 coins are required for a small cup of umeshu (about 30 ml/cup), but 3 for some or award winning ones. Okay, now you are ready to sip. Enjoy and find your favourit(s) out of 156 umeshus from sake breweries all over Japan.

made with distilled alcohol – from Hiroshima
made with sake – from Hyogo
made with sesame shochu – from Fukuoka
Kosher umeshu – made with sake – from a brewery in Kyoto (established in 1673!)
made with brandy – from Akita
blended with yuzu juice – from Wakayama
blended with gyokuro green tea – from Kyoto
nigori umeshu from my favourite sake brewery in Hyogo producing Kotsuzumi which I mentioned on Kinosaki Onsen post (left: more fruity and tastes like peach juice right: with plum pulp and full flavour)
umeshu hopping

If you find your favourit(s), you can buy it/them!!

I bought a bottle of 梅申春秋, Baishin Shunju from my fav brewery!

left: Baishin Shunju / right: Daku Daku


Umeshu Matsuri

Facebook page
Period: 6th – 9th October 2017
Venue: Yushima Tenmangu
Access: Nearest staion is Yushima on the Chiyoda Line. Take Exit 3 and the left, turn left at the first intersection and walk down about 30 metres. It’s on the left hand side.


Now that you’ve come all the way, why don’t you look around the site?

Tribute to the Shito deity: the first rice sheaves of the harvest are presented as offerings, called shinsen, to the kami, deity or sacred power of Shintoism during agricultural and other festivals.

Yushima Tenmangu(湯島天満宮)a.k.a. Yushima Tenjin(湯島天神)was originally founded for Ameno Tajikaraono Mikoto in 458, and became one of Tenjin shrines in 1355 – Kitano Tenmangu in Kyoto is the most famous one.

‘Tenjin’ is the name of Michizane Sugawara (845-903), a scholar and a high government official. Like other Tenjin shrines, Yushima Tenjin is visited by students to pray for passing exams and inscribe ema – small wooden plaques – with petitions for success in exams, esp. entrance exams.

Among lots of ema, you will find Michizane on a cow. A cow, a typical feature of a Tenjin shrine, is believed to be the servant of the deity.

In the precincts of the shrine, there is a bronze cow, which is known as nade ushi (a cow to stroke). People believe that touching or stroking the cow will cure physical illness, and that is the reason why its head  and forehead are so shiny.

You will also see plum trees in the garden and bonsai as well.

Tenjin is strongly related to plum because Michizane had always favoured the trees and blossoms (There is a legend about him and his tree, called ‘Flying Plum Tree‘),  so ‘plum’ became a crest of the shrines.

 

plum blossom crest in the blue circle

Strolling in the precincts, you might come across a wedding ceremony.

Would you like to try omikuji, sacred lot?

If the fortune telling is not a good one, tie it around branches of a pine tree or some such. If good, keep it in your purse or wallet!

Hope you enjoy umeshu and the visit.

See you!  S/he is cute, isn’t s/he?

 

More about Umeshu:
Umeshu seminar in London last year
Umeshu made with whiskey by Suntory produsing Hakushu, Yamazaki, Hibiki whisky

More about Tenjin, read the post of one of my blogger friends.

 

Nanbanzuke – Japanese Escabeche

Nanban is a Sino-Japanese word, originally referred to the inhabitants of Southeast Asia, particularly the islands of modern-day Philippines and Indonesia. After Portuguese first made contact with Japan in the 16th Century followed by Spaniard, the trades based in their colonies in Southeast Asia were carried out. Consequently, ‘Nanban’ became to designate Portugal and Spain (mainly the former), the people and things from the countries and trades.

As the name indicates, nanbanzuke (tsuke or zuke means ‘marinade’, ‘pickled’, ‘soaked’, ‘dipped’), a Japanese dish which is principally deep-fried fish soaked in vinegar based marinade flavoured with soy sauce, dried red chili pepper, onion or Japanese leek etc., is Portuguese origin and derives from the escabesche.

… in Portugal, escabeche (eesh-kah-besh) is a way of preserving food in vinegar and aromatics. It is commonly served cold as a petisco (Portuguese tapas) with some bread to soak up the sauce. Recipes vary but the basics consist of fried sardines or mackerel marinated in a sauce made with vinegar, olive oil, onions and herbs. Its origins go back to the Romans who used vinegar to preserve both fish and meat though the word comes from the Arab iskbê.

(source: Portugal on a Plate)

 

Sardinha de escabeche (source: Pinterest)

 

When it comes to the main ingredient of nanbanzuke, it usually refers to aji, Japanese horse/jack mackerel, but there are many varieties: wakasagi Japanese smelt, mackerel, sardine or salmon, meats like chicken nanban, or even vegetables. The Nanban-style marinade and the history of influence to Japanese cuisine remind me of Filipino Adobo originated in Spain.

 

Click here for my Chicken Adobo recipe

 

Red chili pepper and deep-frying cooking method you can recognise in nanbanzuke dishes, were also introduced to Japan through Nanban. That is the reason why the pepper is also known as ‘nanban kosho’, or nanban pepper.

At soba or udon noodle places, you might come across kamo nanban (soba/udon) and/or curry nanban (soba/udon). In this case, ‘nanban‘ designates red chili and onion or Japanese leek (as substitute of onion), which is  plausibly said that Nanban-jin were eating a lot of Japanese leek to prevent cholera at the time when kamo (duck) nanban was invented in the middle of the Edo period (1603-1867). Onion was also brought to Japan by Nanban trade during the period, but remained as an ornamental plant until the turn of the last century.

Oops! Sorry, too many trivia. It’s already September, but summer is still here. Enjoy this refreshing nanbanzuke dish in hot weather!

 

 

 

Ingredients

(for 2 servings)

[Marinade]
5 cm x 5 cm dashi kombu (dried kelp)
60 ml water
50 ml rice vinegar (acidity 4.5%)
2 tbsp usukuchi shoyu (Japanese light soy sauce)
2 tsp caster sugar
½ dried takanotsume red pepper or dried red chili pepper (small-sized)

60 g onion, finely sliced
20 g carrot, julienned
6 small fillet of aji, mackerel, salmon or sardine
10 g plain flour
10 g katakuriko or cornstarch
vegetable oil, to deep fry

optional as garnish:
shishito pepper or okura,  prick each to avoid explosion
kabocha, sliced

 

 

Method

  1. Leave the akatogarashi in water for a while. Drain, seed and cut into thin slices.
  2. Put the water, vinegar, soy sauce and sugar in a non-reactive tray, and mix well until sugar dissolved. Add in the kombu and akatogarashi, then onion and carrot to marinate. Set aside.
  3. Heat the oil over medium heat to 180℃. Lightly dust the fish with a mix of the flour and starch. Fry shishito and kabocha (without flour/batter coating) first, both sides until slightly brown and drain excess oil. Fry the fish in the same way.
  4. After frying, immediately marinate: remove the vegetables from the marinade, put the fries into the liquid and cover with the onion and carrot. Stand for at least 30 minutes or refrigerate overnight.

 

 

On more trivium:

 

You may already know, but tempura is one of the Nanban cuisine as well.

Portuguese merchants introduced tempura to Japan. They were in the habit of eating fried fish during the religious seasons (“tempora“) of abstinence from meat.

The word “tempura“, or the technique of dipping fish and vegetables into a batter and frying them, comes from the word “tempora“, a Latin word meaning “times”, “time period” used by both Spanish and Portuguese missionaries to refer to the Lenten period or Ember Days (ad tempora quadragesimae), Fridays, and other Christian holy days. Ember Days or quattuor tempora refer to holy days when Catholics avoid red meat and instead eat fish or vegetables. The idea that the word “tempura” may have been derived from the Portuguese noun tempero, meaning a condiment or seasoning of any kind, or from the verb temperar, meaning “to season” is also possible as the Japanese language could easily have assumed the word “tempero” as is, without changing any vowels as the Portuguese pronunciation in this case is similar to the Japanese.

(source: Wikipedia)

Wagashi of the Month: Minazuki

Here comes June again –  the month of Minazuki, June in the lunar calendar, and the month for Minazuki, a confection. One of my colleagues brought the latter Minazuki from Gionmanju in Kyoto for me, so once again I am posting this Wagashi.

 

Wagashi of the Month: June last year

 

Kyoto Trip in Minazuki Day 1  from my post last year:

 

Kyoto Trip in Minazuki Day 2 and Minazuki sweets from my post last year:

 

 

Kinosaki Onsen Hot Spring Town

As I mentioned last March on this blog (Kusatsu Onsen Hot Springs Resort), a friend of mine and I made a visit to another Onsen place. It was just before the New Year’s Eve and Kinosaki was ready for the 2017.

Shimekazari : traditional Japanese New Year decoration or wreath hung over the front door to keep evil spirits away and to welcome the Toshigami, the deity of the New Year
Kadomatsu (Gate Pine) : another New Year decoration to welcome in good fortune for the New Year – normally set up on either side of the front entrance to the house

Kinosaki Onsen is one of the most well-known hot spring resorts in Japan. One of the reasons is that it appears in At Kinosaki (1917) by Japanese writer, Naoya Shiga  – there still exists the ryokan, Mikiya where the author stayed. In the short story, the main character visits Kinosaki Onsen to recuperate from injury.

Not for recuperation, but I used to dip in the hot spring in winters when I was a resident in Kobe (Arima Onsen in Kobe is my another favourite). Kinosaki is getting popular among foreign tourists – but still less compared to Hakone, Kusatsu etc. – although it is far from Tokyo, and even from Kyoto or Osaka, it takes about three hours.

map from Independent

Whether it’s popular or not, you would surely be charmed once you visit the onsen town along a willow-lined river. Walking down the high street with old-fashioned shops, restaurants and amusement arcades, you would feel the ambience of good old Japan.

The top attraction at Kinosaki is sotoyu meguri, ‘public bath stroll’ although every ryokan has its own bath. There are seven public bathhouses in town, and in the evenings, people enjoy onsen hopping from one to another in yukata outfit and wooden geta sandals – also some in early mornings as well.

Sotoyu meguri is enjoyable, but you should be mindful of yuatari, bath dizziness, which may cause your blood pressure and heart rate to rise temporary. To avoid yuatari, we didn’t bathe too long or longer than our body can handle, and didn’t try all the seven bathhouses – just two or three a day at most is enough! – and had two at night and one in the morning.

Below are the seven along with the sotoyu meguri map:

 

 

① Satono-yu
② Jizou-yu
③ Yanagi-yu
④ Ichino-yu
⑤ Goshono-yu
⑥ Mandara-yu
⑦ Kouno-yu

The weather forecast expected snow for the days, however, we had some rain and occasional sleet or hailstone instead. Our bare feet in geta sandals miserably got soaked and frozen on the way to the baths, so we had to defrost them in the hot spring 😦

Other than that, we relaxed in the hot springs and enjoyed hopping (and a bottle of German wine afterwards 😀 )

 

MUST EAT & DRINK at Kinosaki

Seafood from the Sea of Japan

Onsen tamago again (Read my Kusatsu Onsen Hot Springs Resort). Buy nama (raw) tamago and cook your own in a hot spring well!

(You can make onsen tamago – not in a hot spring though – at home! Here is the wonderful recipe.)

Takeaway Ohagi/Botamochi at Chikara Mochi.

(from left) cinnamon daifuku, shio (salt) daifuku, ohagi/botamochi

Kinosaki Beer from a microbrewery in Kinosaki.

The beer is good, but I would like you to try Japanese sake, Kasumitsuru. If you visit Kinosaki in winter, try Kasumitsuru Shiboritate sold only for winters.

If you drive to Kinosaki or can afford a one-hour taxi drive from Kinosaki, visit Kasumitsuru Brewery, where you can join the guided tour (booking is necessary) and try some samples.

Sake brewing at Kasumitsuru Brewery (in English)

To be honest, I prefer Kotsuzumi from adjacent province, Tamba. There are variety of Kotsuzumi, and among others, I like Akino Hiyaoroshi most. Unfortunately, this one is also seasonal product and only available in autumn months.

Visit the liquor store, Sakamotoya in Kinosaki where you can find the drinks I mentioned above and buy not only bottled but also a glass (glasses 😀 ) of sake at the counter.

crab crab crab crab

In winter months, from November to March when Matsubagani crab is in season, many, especially from Kansai region (I used to be the one of them), head to Kinosaki for Matsubagani cuisine – kani sashi, yaki ganikani suki/kani nabe etc.

However, Matubagani is pretty expensive. If you find less expensive ones or dishes, they are not Matsubagani but crabs from Russia.

Kani suki, crab hot pot (pic from Mikiya website)

If you would like to enjoy sushi, sashimi, Matsubagani and other seafood dishes in high quality, dine at Orizuru, one of the best restaurants in Kinosaki. Reservation is a must.

Orizuru

As you can easily imagine, the bill would come out quite…, but their lunch menu is more affordable. I popped in the restaurant at lunch time after seeing off my company who headed for Izumo Grand Shrine, and took away a bento box of kani chirasi, scattered sushi with crab meat.

kani chirashi (1,400 yen)

If you are Wagyu or Kobe Beef lover, Tajima Beef is a must!

 

How to get to Kinosaki Onsen

By bus (Zentan Bus)
From Osaka (nr Umeda Station) or Shin Osaka (departs from nr JR Shin Osaka Station): about  3-3.5 hour journey
From Kobe (nr JR Sannomiya Station): about 3 – 3.5 hour journey

By train (JR)
Click here for further information.
Hyperdia – timetable and route search

 

Where to Stay in Kinosaki

http://visitkinosaki.com/lodging/inn/

 

More options: minshukua kind of bed & breakfast or guest house usually run by family – a bit away from the central Kinosaki but more budget

Hashimoto –  We wanted to try this minshuku but had fully booked. (Not sure if English-speaking available)

Or stay in KasumiShibayama etc. small towns by the Sea of Japan and visit fish markets!

Maruya – I stayed here many years ago. The place was cozy and comfortable, and I remember they served good Matsubagani cuisine. (Not sure if English-speaking available)

Kasumi Tourist Information: http://kasumi-kanko.com/index.php

Accomodation in Tajima province: http://www.hyogo-tourism.jp/english/accomodations/hi_tajima.html

 

Wagashi of the Month: November

As autumn deepens and it gets cooler, leaves change colour into bright red and yellow.

Wagashi of the Month in November is fallen Momiji, or Japanese maple leaves on the bottom of river.

 

Autumn colour from my album:

Day Trip to Hakone – Nov. 2011
Lake Ashinoko, Hakone – Nov. 2011
Tokyo in late autumn, 2014

I’ll add some more photos from a local autumn festival last month.

There are countless local festivals (Matsuri) in Japan because almost every shrine celebrates one of its own. Most festivals are held annually and celebrate the shrine’s deity or a seasonal or historical event. Some festival are held over several days.

An important element of Japanese festivals are processions, in which the local shrine’s Kami (Shinto deity) is carried through the town in Mikoshi (palanquins). It is the only time of the year when the Kami leaves the shrine to be carried around town.

(source: japan-guide.com)

 

Mikoshi

 

Wagashi of the Month: September

‘Moon Rabbit’ and ‘Chrysanthemum’ for September

Of all the year’s 12 full moons, the harvest moon in autumn is considered to be the most beautiful here in Japan. There is a moon viewing custom to admire the beauty at the night on 15th August in the lunar calendar, which falls on 15th of September this year. The night is called Jugoya, the night of 15th, and it is said that the moon at Jugoya is the brightest, most beautiful and most sublime of the year although the moon is not always full.

Tsuki Usagi, Moon Rabbit

Why rabbit?

The moon rabbit in folklore is a rabbit that lives on the moon. … The story exists in many cultures, prominently in East Asian folklore and Aztec mythology. In East Asia, it is seen pounding in a mortar and pestle, but the contents of the mortar differ among Chinese, Japanese, and Korean folklore. In Chinese folklore, it is often portrayed as a companion of the Moon goddess Chang’e, constantly pounding the elixir of life for her; but in Japanese and Korean versions, it is pounding the ingredients for rice cake. (source: wikipedia)

On the surface of the moon, Japanese people see not ‘a man in the moon’ but a rabbit pounding Mochi, rice cake.

Mochitsuki – pounding rice cake

Click for more about Tsukimi, moon viewing.

sugar candies: full moon, mountains, Chinese bellflowers, rabbits
full moon and rabbits

 

Another one is Kiku, or chrysanthemum, which symbolises autumn.

Kiku, chrysanthemum

 

Kiku is a symbol of Japan itself as well as Sakura, cherry blossom. I should have put a sword next to the chrysanthemum?

 

Wagashi of the Month: August

 

Towards the end of August… but the very hot weather will continue one more moth. We are still in the midst of summer and seeking for coolness through five senses. The green colour and the fresh smell of bamboo and the leaf evoke a sense of coolness.

 

Kuzu-mochi, a clear jelly of Kuzu (starch from Kuzu or Kudzu Root) wrapped in a bamboo leaf. Kuzu-mochi is also considered a summer dessert.

 

Nadeshiko flower – Dianthus or Pink

 

Yokan, gelled sweet bean paste, in a bamboo tube

 

 

 

Wagashi of the Month: July

 

Kingyo, or goldfish fascinates many people with its beautiful colours and adorable shapes. Here in Japan, the fish is most popular in summer as Japanese people regard that its gently swaying tail in water evokes a sense of coolness.

 

 

Another one is Himawari, or sunflower. I think the flower is a bit modern motif, not a traditional one, but it was too pretty to pass over!

 

Himawari

 

We are still stuck in the rainy season although it’s high time it had been over. Well, I’d rather this than the awful heat and humidity waiting ahead though….

 

 

Kyoto Trip 2014 – Day 2

Itinerary – 2nd day (30th June 2014):

Central Kyoto – Shugakuin Imperial Villa – Kamigamo Shrine – Tenyu – Kamesuehiro – JR Kyoto Station – Tokyo

Unlike the rainy first day in Kyoto, the following day was bright and clear. Lucky enough to have such a lovely day as I was suppose to visit Shugakuin Imperial Villa with breathtaking beauty and great masterpieces of Japanese gardening.

The Shugakuin Imerial Villa (Shugakuin Rikyu), built in the mid 17th century for retired Emperor Gomizuno, is a set of gardens and outbuildings (mostly tea-houses) in the hills of the eastern suburbs of Kyoto. It consists of the Upper, Middle and Lower Villa areas, each featuring gardens and buildings of the traditional imperial style.

 

Fusuma sliding doors of Jugetsu-kan, the Lower Villa building where Gomizuno would rest before going on to the Upper Villa.
Cedar wood sliding doors depicting the Gion Festival, Kyoto’s most well known festival in July (Middle Villa)
Regarded as one of the ‘three most treasured shelves’ in Japan (Middle Villa)
on the way to the Upper Villa
Upper Villa

shugakuin 3

shugakuin 2

The Shugakuin Imperial Villa is only accessible through guided tours, which require advanced booking because it is one of the Imperial properties and under supervision of the Imperial Household Agency (Click for the application).

For more information:
http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3936.html
http://www.japanvisitor.com/japanese-culture/shugakuin-villa

Kamigamo Jinja (Shito shrine)

After Shugakuin Rikyu, caught a taxi and hurried to Kamigamo Shrine (Kamigamo Jinja), one of the oldest Shinto shrines in Kyoto and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, for Nagoshi no Harae, an ancient Japanese summer purification rite which many shrines conduct on the 30th of June. In this religious ceremony, of which origin goes back to the Nara period (AD 710 -794), people atone for their sins in the first half of the year and then pray for their health for the remainder of the year by walking through a tall chinowa wreath (a large sacred ring made of loosely twisted miscanthus reeds called chigaya).

Shinto priests

Unfortunately, I couldn’t reach the shrine in time for the rite – well, I knew I couldn’t make it after the Shugakuin Rikyu guided tour, but anyway, I followed the worshipers: walked through the chinowa wreath three times  in a 8 shaped like form (1. counterclockwise, 2. clockwise and then 3. counterclockwise) praying ‘Purification Prayer’ to purify myself from misdeeds (tsumi), impurities (kegare), and misfortune, and wished for good health for my family and for myself.

Chinowa

Below are Nagoshi no Harae – Summer Purification – rituals:

evening ritual

The 30th of June is the day of Oharae or Oharai (Grand Purification), purifying sins and bad lucks not only for an individual but also for the public and the country. This Shinto ritual is held twice a year: on the 30th of June and the 30th of December (Toshikoshi no Harae). On the day of Oharae in June, people in Kyoto eat Minazuki (as for Minazuki, read my Wagashi of the Month).

Minazuki

It is said that the triangular shape and Azuki bean, especially its red colour, guard people against evil spirits and protect against misfortune and illness. Minazuki is also believed to expel any negative actions of the first half of the year like the ritual. That is the reason why they eat Minazuki at the halfway mark in the year, praying for a good second half.

Nowadays, you can buy the confectionery anywhere in Japan, but I wanted to try authentic one, so I tried Kamesuehiro (est. 1804),  one of the most famous traditional confectioneries in Kyoto. Unlike others (very exclusive! – ‘Ichigen-san, okotowari’ which means ‘New customer/first-time customer/chance customer, no admittance’ is common among long established restaurants, tea-houses, confectioneries etc. in Kyoto), Kamesuehiro is exceptionally customer-friendly. I recommend, however, you should make an appointment and place an order in advance as people do with other long established confectioneries, esp. when you purchase a seasonal speciality like Minazuki.

Minazuki
Minazuki from Kamesuehiro

Also bought a small box of Kyo no Yosuga with higashi (dried sweets) and hannamagashi (half-raw sweets). Kyo no Yosuga is ideal for gifts (Click for more info).

Kyo no Yosuga: the sweets represent seasonal feature of Minazuki, or June: e.g. blue one with a green leaf — hydrangea; pink (dianthus) etc.

Hang on, what about lunch? The foodie is highly organised when it comes to food 😀
I had already ordered a bento lunch box to takeaway as well as Minazuki. I can’t afford to stay and dine at Tawaraya Ryokan, one of the best ryokan inns in Kyoto, but I can afford a box from the tempra restaurant Tawaraya runs! So I made a phone call to Tenyu (Reviews on Tripadvisor and photos of their dishes and obento boxes).  Tenyu offers a bento box of the month as the photo shows below: for June, Ayu Gohan bento box – fishing season of ayu, or sweetfish starts in June and the fish is one of the most popular ingredients of Kyo Ryori, or Kyoto Cuisine.

 

Fully enjoyed Minazuki, June in archaic word, in Kyoto, and the bento on a Shinkansen bullet train back to Tokyo :-9

 

 

 

 

Kyoto Trip 2014 – Day 1

I paid a quick visit to Kyoto in June 2014: a two-day trip from Tokyo in the rainy season.

Itinerary – 1st day (29th June 2014):

Tokyo – JR Kyoto Station – Lunch at Daiichi Asahi – Yogenin Temple – Byodoin Temple – Dinner at Ishikawa – Drink at Oku

Headed to Kyoto Takabashi Honke Daiichiasahi for Ramen as soon as I hopped off a Shinkansen bullet train. Just a five minute walk from Kyoto Station, and I found some people were queuing up. Waited for 15 minutes or so, but worth the wait! Reviews on Tripadvisor

 

Ramen @ Daiichiasahi – with extra Kujo-negi scallion topping

 

Then, went to Yogenin Temple, which is famous for its blood soaked ceiling:

The ceiling above the corridor of the main hall is well known for the “blood ceiling”. At the Battle of Fushimi Castle in 1600, Mototada Torii and his subordinates, ordered to defend the Castle by Ieyasu Tokugawa (1st Shogun in Edo period), were defeated and killed themselves. The floorboards stained with their blood were brought to the temple to pray for those departed souls.

You might think it’s creepy, but Yogenin is one of the most historically interesting temples in Kyoto. It’s worthwhile visiting if you are interested in Toyotomi and Tokugawa Clans (click for more details).

 

 

After Yogenin, took a train down to Uji to see Byodoin Temple, one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites. ‘Byodoin Temple is a striking example of Buddhist Pure Land (Jodo) architecture. Together with its garden, the temple represents the Pure Land Paradise and was influential on later temple construction. Byodoin was initially built in 998 as a countryside retreat villa for the powerful politician Fujiwara no Michinaga, not as a temple.’ (ref: japan-guide.com)

You cannot miss the interior of Amida Hall, or the Phoenix Hall, ‘built with the sole purpose of housing the Amida Buddha image. It has three wings, creating an image of the mythical bird of China, the phoenix. The central hall is flanked by twin wing corridors on both sides, plus a “tail” corridor. The roof of the hall is surmounted by bronze phoenixes.’ (ref: sacred-destination.com)

The hall accepts up to 50 visitors at a time, and each tour is limited to 20 minutes. Check with the admission and times when visit.

Byodoin in rain — If you happen to have a 10 yen coin on you, you might want to contrast and compare.
Cleared up!
Byodoin in reflection

 

If you visit Uji in June or July and have a plenty of time there, try Mimurotoji Tempe for beautifully bloomed hydrangeas and lotus flowers. I was going to stop by, but stuck in the temple because of heavy rain and couldn’t have enough time to make it….

 

Hydrangeas @ Mimurotoji

 

Headed back to Central Kyoto to book in a hotel, and went out for Obanzai dinner. Obanzai is:

the traditional home style cooking of Kyoto. It is made up of multiple small dishes that are usually quite simple to prepare. Local produce that is in season is best suited for the dishes. Although the cooking methods are usually not complicated, obanzai dishes can be made very rich by chefs skillfully bringing out the natural flavors of the ingredients.

Restaurants that serve obanzai ryori can be found all over Kyoto. Many of them have a relaxed and friendly atmosphere that reflects the home style of cooking. A full meal usually costs 2000 to 3000 yen, but can vary depending on the number and type of dishes ordered.   (ref: Kyoto Food Guide)

Enjoyed Obanzai a lot at Okazuya Ishikawa.  Reviews on TripAdvisor

 

After Obanzai dinner, chilled out at Bar Oku with a dram of Scotch.  Review on TripAdvisor

 

Alternative Obanzai restaurants:

Menami
My favourite Obanzai place –  I used to be a Menami-goer when lived in Kansai. Nama Yuba Harumaki, or Yuba (Tofu skin) Spring Rolls, and Renkon Manju, or Lotus Root Dumpling, are highly recommended! Loved to go back again, but it’s closed on Sundays. Reviews on Tripadvisor

 

Aji Rokkon
Tried 3 years ago and liked it very much. Reviews on Tripadvisor

 

Wagashi of the Month: June

 

Now we are in the midst of rainy season (that’s why the photos need more light!) – hydrangeas bloom beautifully and delight the eye. Ajisai, or hydrangea, is considered to be a symbolic flower of June and the rainy season here in Japan, so I chose Ajisai shaped confections for this month.

 

Ajisai Kinton made of mashed beans

 

Rokugatsu, June in Japanese and literally means ’the sixth month’, has another name in archaic word: Minazuki. There is a confection called Minazuki and sold during this time of year.

 

hydrangea petal shaped sugar candies

 

Minazuki is a layer of white Uirou, steamed rice jelly made from rice flour, with Azuki red beans on top. The white triangle shaped Uirou represents a piece of ice, and the beans, crushed ice.

 

Minazuki
Minazuki

 

Minazuki is originally from Kyoto. In ancient times, only the nobles in the Imperial Court could afford ice in summer: on the 1st of June by the old calendar, they enjoyed pieces of triangle shaped ice brought down from icehouses, where ice was stored from winter to summer, in the mountains of Kitayama, Kyoto. The commoners in Kyoto, on the other hand, ate Minazuki as substitute for the cold solid. 

 

 

In Kyoto, there is a custom to eat Minazuki on the 30th of June, which shall be mentioned later this month.

 

 

 

Onigiri – Rice Balls

My lunch today: Onigiri (Mame-gohan and Takenoko-gohan), Tamagoyaki and Tsukemono & Umeboshi

Rice balls (green peas rice and bamboo shoot rice), rolled omelette w/ Nori seaweed and preserved vegetables (cucumber and aubergine) & pickled plum

 

Onigiri on bamboo sheath, once used to wrap onigiri

 

 

 

Wagashi of the Month: May

In Japan, Children’s Day, or Kodomo-no-hi, falls on 5th of May. To be precise, however, it is actually celebrated as the Boys’ Festival. To drive away bad spirits and celebrate the future of their sons, families display Gogatsu-ningyo, samurai dolls and their armaments, indoors like Hina Matsuri Dolls, and hoist Koi-nobori, cloth carp streamers.

 

koinobori
Koi-nobori (pic from gaijinpot.com)

 

koinobori
Carp/Koi-nobori shaped Wagashi and iris leaves

 

Iris flowers called Hana Shobu, which bloom in early May, are placed in homes to ward off evil. It is customary to have a bath known as Syobu-yu, filled with floating iris leaves and roots not only to drive off evil but also to prevent disease.

 

hanashobu
Iris flower shaped Namagashi

 

Kashiwa-mochi, rice cake stuffed with sweetened bean paste and wrapped in an oak leaf, is eaten on the day. Since oak tree doesn’t shed old leaves until new leaves grow, it is considered a symbol of the prosperity of one’s descendants.

 

kashiwamochi
Kashiwa mochi 

Wagashi of the Month: April

Oops, May is almost there…. I was going to post this while cherry blossoms were in bloom but missed the right timing, so this is a bit out of season….

 

sakura

 

Sakuramochi is a wagashi confectionery consisting of sweet pink-coloured rice cake with a red bean paste (anko) centre, and wrapped in a salted cherry blossom (sakura) leaf. Different regions of Japan have different styles of sakuramochi. Kanto-style uses shiratama-ko ( rice flour) to make the rice cake while Kansai-style uses domyoji-ko (glutinous rice flour). The former is called Chomyoji-mochi, and the latter is Domyoji-mochi.                 (Wikipedia)

 

chomyoji mochi
Chomyoji Sakuramochi

 

domyoji mochi
Domyoji Sakuramochi

 

sakura

 

 

sakuramochi assortment

 

Kusatsu Onsen Hot Springs Resort

Must hurry to post this before winter has completely gone!!

Japanese people are so much in love with onsen, hot springs.  Generally, ‘onsen’ refers bathing facilities, inns around hot springs or hot spring resorts. There are numerous hot springs here and there in Japan, and people enjoy various types of bathing facilities in a dozen ways: popping in an urban public bath house equipped with a sauna or offers spa massage services, dipping in an open-air hot spring on riverbank or riverbed after a long bike or motorcycle ride in mountains, staying at a luxury ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn, to enjoy onsen and very tasty and high quality Japanese cuisine, etc.

An ideal onsen holiday  – must be in rural mountains or by the sea, hopefully snowy places in winter. My favourite one is, at an onsen close to the sea, eating crabs and doing a public hot spring bath crawl, which I am going to try again next winter and post on this blog .

Hakone Hot Springs Resort is one of my favourite destinations – no crabs though. Hakone is very popular among hot spring goers and tourists because of the easy access from Tokyo, and beautiful and spectacular views of Mt Fuji.

Hakone
Hakone: Lake Ashinoko and Mt Fuji (far left)

The onsen holiday we enjoyed this winter was a simple and basic one for a weekend gateway from Tokyo. Kusatsu Onsen is one of the most famous hot springs resorts in Japan, and considered one of the three most renowned hot springs along with Arima Onsen and Gero Onsen. We made a visit at a very cold wintry weekend – windy and snowy – so it was an ideal day for taking an onsen!

The most popular tourist place is Yubatake, the biggest (in water volume) hot spring in Kusatsu Onsen, which literally means ‘a field of hot water’, where hot spring water is cooled down in the wooden conduits by a few degrees before it gets distributed to the various ryokan and public baths.

yubatake

yubatake

Kusatsu Onsen is famous for its quality and quantity of spring water. In Kusatsu Onsen altogether, about 32,000 liters of hot spring water are pouring out of the ground per minute and Yubatake itself 4,040.

yubatake

yubatake

yubatake

Yubatake

hot spring source
a tiny shrine in the hot spring source – people throw coins in (not allowed though!)

Another tourist attraction is Yumomi performance in Atsunoyu Building adjasent to YubatakeYumomi is  a traditional way to cool hot spring water. Unlike other onsen, the temperature of spring water is extremely hot – it depends on the sources but it’s between 50 °C and 90 °C  (125°F – 195°F) – while at many other onsen, the water needs to be heated up as it isn’t hot enough to bath in.

yumomi

Yumomi
Yumomi Performance

Yumomi

It used to be cooled down like this (What a labour!) but not any longer.

After the performance, we had some walk up to Sainokawara Koen Park with hot spring streams, ponds and waterfalls.

hot water stream (sig)

saino kawara koen park
Can you see the steam coming off?

from top of the fall

hot water fall (sig)

shinto shrine
Shinto shrine

There is a open-air onsen in the park  for public use –  of course, we didn’t try it 😀
Instead, we enjoyed rotenburo, an outside bath in the hotel we stayed.

 

MUST EAT in Kusatsu or Onsen Resort
Onsen Manju, a steamed bun stuffed with koshian, mashed and sweetened azuki bean paste. It is said that the munju used to be steamed with steam from hot springs but not any longer.  I highly recommend Matsumura Manju shop’s in Kusatsu!

onsen manju

You might also want to try Onsen Tamago. Onsen Tamago, an egg poarched inside its shell slowly cooked in 30-40 °C hot water, is another speciality. Well, it’s still called so even though boiled in a pan over a stove at home… but anyway, it is literally authentic Onsen Tamago!!

onsen tamago
Onsen Tamago eggs cooked in a hot spring

 

How to get to Kusatsu Onsen

Bus from Shinjuku, more precisely at JR Yoyogi Station, is the easiest way but advanced booking is a must!

There is another way with trains – http://kusatsuonsen-international.jp/en/access/

 

Where to stay

The Kusatsu Hotel, where we stayed, is one of the best ryokan in Kusatsu Onsen and has a long history – opened in 1913.

kusatsu hotel
Kusatsu Hotel

hotel & kaki

hoshigaki
Drying persimmons/kaki to make Hoshigaki, dried persimmon