We were on Miyajima Island for two days. The second day I managed to take rather more food pictures so those of you who came here because you were told this is is some kind of food blog-- as opposed to the majority of readers, who are related to me by blood, marriage or friendship--will have something to look at.
We got up the second morning and undaunted by the looming clouds in the sky, hiked the 10 minutes ("7 if run a little" we were told by the sign) up to the ropeway that would take us partway up the nearby mountain.
As we emerged from the ropeway station, we were greeted by several warning signs. My excitement about seeing the monkeys gave way to trepidation. What kind of creatures were these? We were warned of thievery and greed and gluttony ("but we are not interested in your camera" - the warning sign monkeys helpfully proclaimed). We stashed our backpacks safely away and ventured out carefully.
Aww. But look how cute they are! It was very windy and a little bit sprinkly outside, so the monkeys were all huddled together to keep warm and it was hard to think of them as very dangerous. I have to admit that at one point I accidently looked one in the eye. Luckily it was too cold to come get me.
We hiked the rest of the way up the mountain to a mountain temple and several shrines. Unexpectedly, we ran into a snowstorm at the top of the mountain. Luckily we had our raincoats on and were prepared.
How strange it was to come back down into warm sunshine. We met some Japanese schoolgirls skipping along as we came down, yelling "Konnichi-wa!" They must have wondered what happened to us, all disheveled and bedraggled like stray dogs. As we came down, the ropeway operator ran out telling us the tram was about to go down and we must get on. We wanted to stand and bask in the sun and watch the monkeys, but then we caught a glimpse of a sign indicating the ropeway had been shut down due to the weather during our entire hike. We decided to take the opportunity to get down. By the time we got down, it was raining again and we huddled in the station drinking hot beverages from the vending machine while we steeled ourselves to get the rest of the way back to town so that we could get some lunch.
In town, we wandered the streets, peering at plastic food displays, trying to figure out where to eat. Finally we decided on a lively looking place with an international crowd and English/picture menus, along with a list of how to say "oysters" in every different language. Also a little colony of oysters hanging out in a window aquarium, ready to be harvested for lunch.
We got ourselves settled and ordered our lunch sets. J. got a large lunch set of tempura, udon, pickles and oyster rice (above). I ordered a fried oyster set of fried oysters, rice, pickles, salad and miso soup.
Both of our lunches were hearty and really hit the spot on a rainy day along with some sake and green tea. It wasn't a delicate gourmet masterpiece, but was a simple comfort food that was soothing to weary travellers.
But there was something missing. As we finished our lunch and continued our walk, was that a shiver I was still feeling? Were my eyes still drooping in a little bit of weariness? Something was still required to complete our recovery.
What's this I see before me? Donuts on a stick? And coffee? We ducked into a small alcove that turned out to be your very fantasy of an old fashioned Japanese inn or sake house. In the front, two young women were busy frying up batter on sticks and serving them up to passers by. We procured our donut popsicles and some hot black coffee and sat down at the counter in the warm little wooden room beyond the front stand to complete our recovery.
That done, we had regained the strength to continue our walk around the island. We stopped at the Daiganji temple. J. had given some yen to a god on the mountain, but the god had not protected him from slip and fall on the bum. So we had to turn to stronger gods.
This guy would not let us down. He has fire and a sword! And is huge. I am sure our wishes will come true. I don't think it's any coincidence that no one fell on their bum for the rest of the trip.
From here we wandered into some quieter back streets. These were clearly local streets. In these streets we came upon this sign:
It's the kind of place every community should have, and not enough do. A place of plants, and flowers and trees, where people and get together and work or talk and kids can play. People could grow herbs or chiles or small vegetables for their kitchens, or it could just be decorative to encourage socialization. I wish I had one in my neighborhood, but that'll be the day.
After the garden, it was starting to get chilly again, and dinnertime was drawing near. We had to get back and get cleaned up and into our dinner yukatas!
And then our nightly feast began.
Each night, our main dish was a hot pot meal, where we threw a bunch of ingredients in a pot, the serving women lit it for us, and then it cooked as we ate our opening dishes. The first night it was a soup with tofu, fish, mushrooms and greens. On this night it was sukiyaki. We started with beef, tofu and vegetables and threw them into a pot.
When ready, take out and eat. Generally, you slop your sukiyaki in some raw egg as well, but this was just eating straight out of the pot.
It was at this point that I realized I was already full and the meal had barely begun. Ruh-roh.
This soup illustrates the beauty and care taken with each course. It was a seaweed soup that evoked the sea in both looks and flavor and was a reflection of the island itself. I was happy to see something in a liquid form and tried to slurp down as much as I could.
The next dish was a springtime soup of a light broth, peas, shiso leaf, fish, and glutinous rice in the form of a sakura blossom. It was elegant, seasonal and light as the springtime it conveyed.
By the time we got to the tempura course, of several fish and a mushroom, I was bursting. I had already pushed aside several dishes unfinished and I could barely nibble at this one.
After this, we still had the rice and miso soup course, and dessert. The server took pity on me and brought me a small portion of rice, which even so, I could manage only one or two bites. The dessert was a refreshing yuzu dish that I could eat despite my now pregnant appearance.
I certainly could not eat like this every night, and even after a nighttime stroll, my stomach let me know throughout the night that it was not pleased with me. However, the meal was so gorgeous and amazingly presented, and the service was so attentive and careful, that I do believe that everyone should have a Japanese meal of this type presented to them at least once in their lifetime. There's really nothing like it. It's like Christmas, but with food instead of presents.
It was with a mixture of regret and excitement that we packed up our things and retraced our steps back to the ferry in the morning to head back for phase 2 of Tokyo: the Lost in Translation phase.