The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G.K. Chesterton

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Eating, Bathing and Sleeping the traditional Japanese way in Nagano

After hanging out in Nagano city for a few hours, we headed north to Yudanaka Onsen in Yamanouchi town, which is about an hour's train ride from the city. The main reason for visiting this town is to see the snow monkeys in the nearby Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park, but Yudanaka is also an onsen (hot springs) area, and we enjoyed our stay in this town the traditional Japanese style. We were initially booked to stay only one night at Ryokan Issa no Komichi Biyu no Yado, see the snow monkeys the next day then head south of Nagano to Matsumoto, but we enjoyed the first night so much that we made a spontaneous decision to scrap our trip to Matsumoto and stay another night in Yudanaka. The ryokan owner (who spoke excellent English) informed us that there was vacancy, and offered us the same rate as our first night.

A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn typically offers their guests a Japanese room with tatami mats, communal baths and gorgeous Japanese kaiseki cuisine. Ryokan Biyu is a fairly modern Japanese inn, offering both Japanese and western style rooms, a private bathroom in each room, and features both indoor and outdoor public onsen baths. And the food was delicious! Service was impeccable, and the ryokan staff were very accommodating to our 14 month old toddler. We had a very comfortable stay and enjoyed a relaxing soak in the hot spring bath each day.

Given tea service upon reception at Ryokan Biyu; and our 14-tatami room, with complimentary Japanese cake on the table:

For dinner on Day 1, we enjoyed a traditional Japanese meal that included a mini beef nabe, soba, seaweed and sashimi with apple wine. Fish and tempura were served freshly prepared. The highlight of the dinner was harvesting our very own mushrooms for the grill!

Fish and vegetable tempura were served freshly cooked and piping hot:

Light soup and a refreshing dessert of fuji apple and caramel pudding with a fruity jelly topping.. The caramel was delicious and not too sweet like most caramel-flavoured stuff often are!

After dinner we returned to our room to find that the futons had been rolled out, ready for us to sleep in:

On the second day, we rolled out of futon, and went to the dining room for our breakfast. We enjoyed a traditional Japanese breakfast that included udon noodles, onsen tamago (hot springs egg), salmon, miso soup, rice, pickles, simmered eggplant and salad with apple juice.

Dinner that night was Shabu-shabu, which is a winter hot pot dish of vegetables and thin slices of beef. The condiments for shabu-shabu were ponzu (citrusy soy sauce) and goma-dare (sesame sauce), and we enjoyed a sweet cassis wine with dinner. Like the previous night, two additional dishes (beef and seafood) were served freshly prepared.

The necessary ingredients for shabu-shabu: a pot of boiling water, vegetables and thin slices of beef; and the ponzu and goma-dare, cassis wine and sashimi to go with the shabu-shabu:

Rich eggy buttery bread with a rich beef broth; and the hotpot with all the vegetables inside - to eat shabu-shabu, we take individual slices of beef, swish it around in the boiling broth briefly to cook, dip in the condiments and then eat. We eat the vegetables in the same manner too :

Fresh seafood, steamed in a bamboo cylinder; and delicious fried fish:

Refreshing grape sorbet:

Breakfast on day 3 - there were udon noodles, miso soup, rice and pickles, the same as the day before, but we also enjoyed omelette, fried unagi (eel), ham and yamaimo (Japanese yam):

As you can see, we enjoyed a lot of good food. If you're ever in Japan, I definitely recommend staying a night or two in a ryokan. Photos of cute snow monkeys to follow, so stay tuned!

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