Miyajima, Japan - Day 5 Part 1

This is now day 5 of my trip with Yuye to Japan in March 2011. Our trip started just a day after the great earthquake hit.  Visit my earlier posts to find out what you missed!

Nara - Day 1
Osaka - Day 2
Nara - Day 3 - Shunie (Fire & Water Festival)
Osaka - Day 4 (Part 1) - Okonomiyaki & Osaka Castle
Osaka - Day 4 (Part 2) - sushi trains

If all had gone according to my itinerary (which I planned 5 months in advance and took me about that long to complete) we would have woken up at 7am, eaten breakfast properly and headed to Hiroshima, walked around the Peace Park and then traveled to Miyajima. I'm half glad that we didn't do what I had planned because it meant we had extra time to sleep but of course at the same time, we had to rush to make it to our destination. In fact, we ended up going to Hiroshima after Miyajima as a stopover to Kyoto.

The snacks

A strawberry yoghurt bread bought the previous evening from a convenience store had to suffice as brunch as we rushed to make our JR Shinkansen. Along with green tea flavoured mousse and sakura flavoured crackers. The strawberry bread apparently had strawberry jelly in the filling but I didn't notice anything of the sort, maybe I was in too much of a hurry.

We were only allowed on the medium to slow trains (Hikari, Kodama or Sakura were allowed, but not the Nozomi) which arrived around once an hour or so due to the JR Pass limitations. However getting seats were always a breeze because Japan is such a helpful country. All we had to do was speak to someone in the JR ticketbox usually located next to the gates where you enter and tell them our destination, they will calculate the best route and times and get us reserved seating if it's available. As getting tickets was so easy, plenty of time was left over to wander around the stores to find ourselves something nice to munch on during our 2 hour trip.

As we walked around, I heard a faint sound of what seemed like a bell chime. To my utter satisfaction, I had found myself the most wonderful Japanese cheesecake shop - Rikuro Ojisan (りくろーおじさん)! They ring a bell when freshly baked cake comes out of the oven and each cake is packed into a ready box to be taken away and enjoyed by all the eager patrons lining up outside. We were very lucky that this store was inside JR Shin-Osaka Station because the main store in Osaka's busy Namba walk had a constant line of around 20-30 people or more, every single time we walk past. When I see the line, I just snicker because we got it for under a minute with no wait! Can you believe the cake (which is fairly big) only cost 588Yen? It is unbelievable. I'm just kicking myself because Melbourne doesn't have anything as good or as cheap as this.

The cake was so light and airy that it wobbled like Flubber from the blockbuster flick (1997) as soon as the shop assistant opened the cake mold. I wish I wasn't so frozen at the amazement that maybe I could have gotten out my camera in time for a video of the action. But no. I was amazed alright, and hungry! Yuye didn't have to be told to buy it. He went straight for the counter and took a steaming hot cake away while I beamed from ear to ear.

It is best eaten freshly out of the oven while it was still hot and airy, but as we found out later on in the evening, eating it chilled with a cup of hot green tea was yet another experience to be had!

Our next stop was to get actual lunch and there was nothing better than two boxes of ekiben (train bentos), a must try if you're taking the shinkansen. This was my first experience with ekiben and my impressions of it were so hyped up that frankly I was a little disappointed. It may have looked beautiful, everything you'd expect from an authentic bento box in Japan, but eating cooked and fried things cold just wasn't our thing.

Yuye's bento was called "Mizuho to Sakura - みずほとさくら" which I think cost 1000Yen. The food I must say, looked absolutely stunning. The Japanese people are very good with their colour coordination which is clearly displayed here.

My bento cost 930Yen (I may have gotten the bento prices the other way around). It didn't look as colourful or pretty as Yuye's but I thought it tasted better. Perhaps it was the sukiyaki in the middle and the grilled salmon which gave it a richer flavour (compared to Yuye's katsu and chicken).

If you didn't manage to grab a bite before boarding, you can also purchase snacks and bentos from the trolley lady (I couldn't think of a better name I'm sorry!) who walks around every time the train reaches a large station.

The Transport

Miyajima is a small island off the coast of Hiroshima and is considered one of the top three best views in Japan. It is a very famous and popular tourist destination, especially during the autumn months due to the large amount of autumn leaves that cover most of the island. It is also famous for the floating torii gate which is the entrance to Itsukushima Shrine.

From Osaka to Miyajima, the ideal transport is to take the Shinkansen from Shin-Osaka Station to Hiroshima Station. From there, you can either take a train on the JR Sanyo Line bound for Miyajimaguchi Station (takes roughly 25 minutes and is covered by the JR Pass) or take tram number 2 from central Hiroshima bound for Miyajimaguchi. If you're going straight to Miyajima, taking the train is the best option, however, if you have some time to kill and wish to look around Hiroshima first then taking the tram is a good alternative. The tram is obviously a little slower and is not covered by the JR Pass (it costs 270Yen per person one way). From Miyajimaguchi Station, it is roughly a 5-10 minute stroll to the pier where you can board one of two ferries bound for Miyajima - provided by JR and Matsudai, the JR ferry is covered by the JR Pass (normally costing 170Yen) while the one provided by Matsudai is not. For more transport information, visit http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3454.html.

I will post about all the siteseeing adventures in Miyajima in my next post, I will concentrate mainly on where I stayed and what I ate this time.

Where we stayed - Ryoso Kawaguchi (旅荘かわぐち)

After we landed on Miyajima, we proceeded to the information desk just beside the exit of the pier and the lady inside kindly called Ryoso Kawaguchi on our behalf. Within a few minutes, a cute little van with big Ryoso Kawaguchi written on the side arrived to pick us up. This place was Yuye's first ryokan (traditional Japanese style hotel) experience and you could see the excitement in his eyes (mine too of course).

Although not a huge place, it was comfortable and clean and the service was fantastic as expected. Due to the earthquake, there were not as many visitors on the island. Naturally, there were also very few guests at the ryokan - 2 couples to be exact, including ourselves. You'd be surprised at how expensive hotels are on the island and as I was spending quite a lot on the whole trip, I had decided to book here because of the reasonably cheaper prices. It was 24150Yen for the two of us, including a beautiful traditional Japanese dinner and breakfast. This is roughly just below $300AUD. 

If you're planning to stay on the island overnight (which is highly recommended to experience a quiet and most serene night without the crowd), make sure you book a place with dinner because there are pretty much no open restaurants after 6pm. It is also in a fantastic central location, with the 5 storey pagoda down the road, the main shopping strip one block away and a few minutes to all the major attractions as well as the pier.

Our room is a tatami room (all rooms are tatami) and different to other ryokans, the futons were already out by the time we arrived. This usually happens when dinner is served. The room was quite spacious and comfortable with the usual low table set up, mini fridge, TV and tea.

There was a view overlooking the garden downstairs as well as the neighbouring buildings.

By this time, Yuye has gotten used to Japanese toilets. This one's no different, albeit a little small and it didn't have all the buttons to play with but the seat was still warm. You will notice however that there are no showers in the room. This is because there are two private Japanese baths downstairs which can be used at the guests' leisure, just leave your slippers outside and you're all good.

There is a public room on level 3 (top level) of the building where there is a massage chairs, books, comfy chairs and best of all, a wonderful view.

The view is of the 5 storey pagoda which is situated literally down the street from the ryokan. You can also see the rooftops of all the small residential buildings belonging to the locals. It's such a fantastic place to enjoy a quiet afternoon and read a book if you have the time. Note that level 3 can only be used between the hours of 7:30-9:30am and 3-11pm.

The decorations were also fascinating and authentic which made the stay very enjoyable. I spent a long time taking photos and just looking around the place. :)

Dinner at the ryokan

After I took all my photos in the ryokan, we headed out to do some site seeing. I will be writing about these adventures in my next post so next up is dinner! Dinner was served in their dining room which was all set up when we arrived at the specified time. This was also the location for breakfast the next morning.

The owner's wife was very nice and explained to us in quite a bit of detail what each dish was. The first course was a trio of cold entrees including brocollini with mustard and sesame seeds, marinated raw salmon and cooked anago (saltwater eel). The brocollini was refreshing, the salmon was perfectly salted so no wasabi or soy sauce was provided and the anago was a little dry but still very flavourful.

We ordered a Kirin beer (mainly for Yuye) to enjoy with the meal as drinks were not included as part of the meal, apart from tea of course.

The next course was sashimi of aji (horse mackerel) and flathead. They were just beautifully presented and tasted beautiful too. Look how pink and enticing the flesh is!

Miyajima is famous for its oysters in winter and we were lucky enough to have just made the end of oyster season. The oysters, which formed our next course, were juicy and plump and tasted beautifully like the sea. With a squeeze of lemon, I was in oyster heaven.

While our cold dishes were being served and eaten, simmering quietly on the side was our soup.

As it came to a boil, we put in the enoki mushrooms, tofu, vermicelli, rocket (I don't think it was actually rocket but I'll call it that anyway), shimeji mushrooms and homemade chicken balls. The chicken balls were made from minced chicken with ginger and mushrooms and the soup base includes soy milk, miso and dashi (flavours all too familiar to people who have made Japanese dishes at home).

The soup was smooth and soy tasting, a hearty dish that soothes the soul and was the perfect starter to the warm dishes to come.

Just when I thought we've already had our oysters, more oysters were presented! This time it was wrapped in foil and baked with tomatoes and cheese in a delicious homemade miso and mushroom sauce.

Rice and pickles were served next. Don't underestimate this rice. The lady owner said there were 10 ingredients put into the rice which we spent a number of minutes trying to identify. We concluded our investigation with only 8 - rice (being the most obvious), black and white sesame, red bean, chestnuts, corn, black glutinous rice and barley (according to Yuye although I don't really believe him).

The pickles were sour and fragrant, however we did have better pickles later on in my trip.

No, the meal had not ended. How can it end without this wonderful wagyu? It was beautifully presented, almost like Japanese French fusion food. I believe the meat was reasonably high grade and just melted in my mouth. The sauce on top was possibly ponzu with grated daikon which gave it a sour touch.

I was so full by the end of the above dishes that I could hardly fit our miso soup in. But it was just so tasty and pretty that I had to drink it. I found the miso soups served in Japanese ryokan to be far superior to the ones we have back at home. They were more refined, tasty and you can see all the effort the chef spent in decorating it. As Miyajima was famous for autumn leaves (momiji), there was a colourful momiji shaped fishcake at the bottom of the bowl! It was a very nice little surprise when I finally got there. :)

To wrap up the meal, a scoop of mandarin sorbet was served in a chilled Japanese flag dish. It was rock solid but very refreshing.

After relaxing a little in our room, we proceeded to the bath. There were two baths available for private use, one was slightly larger and can fit around 3 people while the other was smaller and probably fits a maximum of 2. We took the large one of course, beating the other couple to it! The doors are lockable from the inside and both baths close at 11pm.

This is me relaxing in my yukata. :)

Breakfast at the ryokan

Breakfast at ryokans are usually early which is good. It was really the only way to get us out of bed and out to site-seeing. After the morning call, we head downstairs to find most of the dishes for breakfast already on the table. We had selected the Japanese style breakfast (western is also avaiable but I would totally recommend Japanese for a well rounded experience) and the setup was amazing. That is one of the things I love about Japanese cooking, things are so intricate and presented so nicely on little colourful plates. When you put them all together, it sure looks like a big breakfast!

The egg that came with the kitsune udon was fantastic, the yolk was still runny while the outside was completely cooked. I think I'd have liked my egg white to be less cooked though. The noodle was flat, not the usual round udon but was still fantastic and made me so full! The soup was a sweet soy sauce base, much like the traditional kitsune udon ("Fox udon" which is topped with aburaage - sweetened tofu skin).

You can see into the garden from the dining room and it just added a perfect touch to the authentic Japanese surroundings.

My next post will be about the temples and shopping strip as well as Mt Misen, the tallest mountain in Miyajima which we managed to climb to the top. Stay tuned as it gets more exciting!

Ryoso Kawaguchi (旅荘かわぐち)
Phone: 81-829-44-0018
469 Miyajima-cho, Hatsukaichi-shi, Hiroshima, Japan

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  1. Thanks for putting this post up! Makes me miss Japan so much more now.. ANd I am going to kill for a Japanese breakfast here!! Arrgghh...

  2. Oh my goodness - the Japanese cheesecake looks SO GOOD. I want one!

    Enjoying your Japan posts, makes me want to go back soooo badly :)

  3. @msihua, thank you for reading! :D I'm totally missing it right now, looking through all the photos make me crave for the food so much! Why don't anywhere do Japanese breakfasts eh? No fair!

    @Agnes, I know how good does it look! By the time we ate it, it was slightly depleted though but it still tasted awesome. :)

  4. i would have had nothing but oysters and onsen-tamago and beer


    lets have nabe soon

  5. Looking at these pictures makes me miss Japan so much! I remember the first time I stayed there as an adult, I stayed at a ryokan and it was gorgeous! :)

  6. All the times we've been to Japan we've stayed in big hotels.. never a ryokan and your experience is making me wish I'd done it differently.

    Wonderful post! Can't wait for the next one.

  7. @batasan, I don't think you'd be allowed to do that :P but yes, let's do nabe! Perfect for this cold weather.

    @Not Quite Nigella, I love ryokans! If I had lots of money, I'd stay at nothing except ryokans :)

  8. @Maureen, you are definitely missing out if you haven't stayed at a ryokan in Japan. It's a wonderful way to experience the authentic Japanese lifestyle and the wonderful food! I don't even know where to start with the food. It is a bit more expensive than staying at hotels but definitely worth every cent. :)