Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Feasting in our Kimonos at the Yamagishi Ryokan
Officially back from Japan, I'm about to bombard you with my experiences, and end this little content hiatus you've been seeing on the blog. There's so much amazingness that Dan and I experienced there culturally and gastronomically that I probably won't give it justice, but I will certainly try to cover the highlights.
One such peak of our trip is the stay at a traditional Japanese Inn or a Ryokan that I briefly mentioned in my previous post. So, what exactly is a Ryokan and how does it differ from a hotel? To say it in just a few words, a Ryokan is a comfortable place of respite where you'll feel completely relaxed and detached from the crazy, modern world. It's a place where you'll find yourself sleeping on tatami mats, hanging out in your yukata (traditional cotton Japanese kimono), taking hot spring baths and eating like true royalty.
Dan and I got to experience this awesomeness last week in the Lake Kawaguchiko region, just a short train ride from Tokyo. For those of you hard core Japan buffs, you'll also know that this region is famous for being in close proximity of Mt. Fuji (or Fuji-san as the Japanese refer to it) and it's absolutely breathtaking.
But now on about the complete experience...
Upon checking in to our Ryokan, we were told to report to the dining room at a given time for breakfast and dinner, which were both included in our stay. We knew this going in and were looking forward to seeing what we'd have, but we really didn't have a clear idea of what to expect. Upon arriving to the dining room floor, the most amazing experience unravelled before us.
At first, we were greeted by a friendly host who addressed us by name (last name + "san" is customary) and we were escorted to a special room where the guests of the ryokan were apparently having dinner. When we walked in, we couldn't believe our eyes - a mid-sized dining room before us full of low tables with mats and chairs that were set for couples or at most a party of four. We scanned the room quickly and saw that almost everyone was eating in their kimonos, and everyone had a designated table, including us! The table had our name on it, and was already set up with the most amazing spread of food that made our jaws drop.
Guys, when I say spread, I mean it - just take a look at the above, as our table included everything from fresh sashimi, to pickled veggies, miso soup, Japanese delicacies such as super salty seaweed, raw squid, snail and more. But the piece-de-resistance during each meal (not just this dinner) was the DIY aspect - in this case being the hot plate with beef and veggies that we were tasked with barbecuing. It had a hint of Korean essence to it (the steak dinner in particular), and we just loved having an activity throughout each meal.
Though you may think that dinner is expected to be impressive, breakfast was just as much, as we were offered a full table of food gifts yet again. This time, the interactive portion included a metal pot of water with a poached egg, carrots and dumplings inside. We politely asked our waitress to light the fire so we can watch the egg cook to perfection and not long after devour it with gusto.
One very interesting aspect about a Japanese breakfast is that it's not too distinct from dinner. A lot different than in Western culture, which embraces dairy products for breakfast, a Japanese breakfast consists of raw fish, pickled veggies, rice, miso soup and occasionally some fruit. Even though this may sound odd to you, I assure you that it was really delicious and since we were so used to eating this type of cuisine throughout our trip, we were actually craving it even for breakfast. When in Japan...
I have to take note of the quality of the food at the ryokan, which I found really good. All the fish tasted super fresh and the meat we ate was really tasty too. Nothing but the ripest fruits and veggies surrounded our table and overall, everything was interesting yet also simple - far surpassing our expectations of traditional hotel food.
Customary to Japanese hospitality we've been experiencing the entire time, the staff at the ryokan dining room was wonderful and gracious. Always on hand when we needed something like a refill on our drinks or rice, they were lovely and even explained to us what some of the more non-traditional food we were eating was. Although they spoke primarily Japanese, we figured out what the other was saying, using hand gestures, smiling and lots of patience.
Yamagishi Ryokan - 4030-1 Fonatsu, FujiKawaguchiko-machi, Minami-Tsuru-gun, Yamanishi
Fujikyu Rail Line - 8 Minute walk from Kawaguchiko Station