Kurashiki & Kaiseki
I’m guessing it is around 15 years since I last visited Kurashiki, a small town in Okayama prefecture, the heart of which is based around an attractive canal area lined with traditional store houses. I had very fond memories from our first meeting but the moment we re-met I noticed the marked increase in touristy shops and consequentially way more tackarama than had previously been on offer! After a day wandering the streets a little further afield and a local craft museum I warmed to the place a little. And after a wonderful night in a gorgeous ryokan in the thick of things I’d acquired a better understanding of why there were so many shops selling jeans and jean-based accessories (the area is famous for indigo) – and was regretting not having done a bit of investigation before our arrival and planned a visit to some local artisans – but there is always next time. No matter what I think you will agree she is rather photogenic.
Walk with me.
Dried persimmon sweets (L) and Wasabi flavoured fried rice crackers above and local Karintou (sweet senbei/rice crackers) below.
And of course you’d be needing a drink with all those snacks. My favourite (Calpis) is front and centre below – a fermented yoghurt drink that tastes so much better than it sounds. Addictive stuff. I have already converted more than a few doubters on my tours so do give it a shot if you find it. To the right are a popular Japanese soft drink or ‘cider’ called Ramune (think lemonade but a bit more perfumed, a little like bubblegum at times but very refreshing and there are now many wonderful flavours available in specialist stores so keep an eye out). The bottle with the green label at the front is green tea and the bottles that look like gingerale are also tea – likely Houjicha – a roasted green tea which has a delightful nutty flavour. These soft drinks are available everywhere – in shops or vending machines.
I love the red and white noren on the front of this little antique shop where I found the most gorgeous old glass medicine bottles for just a few dollars. Pretty Ikebana below in a vase of natural bamboo.
After lunch we checked in to Ryokan Kurashiki – what a welcoming entranceway..
From the front door we looked directly onto this bridge in the heart of the historic canal area.
The stunning waiting room
Upon check-in we were offered match and some local Wagashi, a traditional tea sweet made of beans ( I’m strangely fascinated by the stuff – for more of the wonderful world of Wagashi take a peek HERE).
We enjoyed our cuppa while we gazed onto the ryokan’s serene garden
before being shown to our “room” which consisted of 2 sleeping areas, a separate sitting area, and a small bathroom (with fantastic spa bath!) and separate toilet area. However there is a formal onsen available for those who like to bath together.
The amenities were top notch including the lovely oils, bath salts and the fresh flowers in the Tokonoma, the spiritual centre of the room.
Below: The central foyer area surrounded by the sleeping quarters
We spent the remainder of the day discovering a little more of the town.
And we came across the old shotengai (shopping arcade) area. They are always a bit dingy but I do feel rather drawn to their old fashioned dagginess.
Shotengais are the perfect place for spotting some old school cafes or restaurants with plastic food in the window!
And fabulous advertising like this
Hello my little hambaagu friend and katsu king!
This wall of porky ramen was my favourite – I felt like diving into it!
Back in the street I enjoyed looking at some of the less well preserved architecture. I love the effect of the rust next to wood.
As the lights go down on Kurashiki there is the most delightful glow – apparently the town is famous for it.
As the sun set we retired to our ryokan to bath and change into our Yukata for our in room Kaiseki dinner.
Place setting and menu (fortunately they also had an english version printed for us! so thoughtful)
We were offered 3 different sake to taste so that we could choose one for our meal.
Our first course of appetisers including simmered sea bream roe next to the grilled bamboo shoot upper right, salted mullet roe on daikon in centre, mountain vegetables with yuzu miso upper left, sushi with prawn, a broadbean cooked in syrup and a little salad with rare duck.
How beautiful is this lacquerware bowl? I enjoyed the appropriately decorated sake cups in this year of the horse.
Greenling in thickened dashi with hijiki seaweed noodles and kinome (aromatic leaf from the sansho plant)
Sashimi course with fresh wasabi to grate as much as you like
Spanish Mackeral with yuzu soy, miso pickled shirako (sperm sacs) of sea bream, pickled myoga (ginger bud) with sesame
Grilled Sea eel and sand eel, sake steamed whole baby squid filled with its roe, shiso, wakame, warabi, cucumber, vinegared jelly and mustard miso
Tempura vegetables with green tea salt
Miso soup, Green pea rice above, plain rice below with toppings of chirimen jakko ( baby sardines with sansho), shiso and pickles on the side
Sakura mochi (filled with red beans and wrapped with cherry blossom leaf) and fruit.
Everything was cleared away, a pot of tea and a snack of warabi mochi were brought to the room for later…. yeah right…
My futon was made up and with that I rolled into bed and a deep, deep sleep. Oyasuminasai.
In the morning we were prepared breakfast by the garden.
Then stepped back through the door of our Ryokan oasis to say a final goodbye to this charming view before heading on to Okayama and Imbe – a village known for Bizen pottery.