There comes a point in every vacation longer than a week, where your energy levels hit a bit of a wall and you just need to slow things down. Luckily, this point coincided with the most chill leg of our revised itinerary. Amanohashidate is a scenic spot in northern Kyoto, within comfortable driving distance from city, and as it’s on the coast we had high hopes of good seafood meals.
We found rooms available at short notice in a ryokan called Monjusou. A ryokan stay is such a uniquely and quintessentially Japanese thing, and since our original plans included a ryokan stay in the Kyushu region, we were quite happy to have the ryokan experience despite the changes in our itinerary.
Upon arrival it was clear that we’d stumbled upon the kind of area that typically attracts more domestic tourism: nearly no one spoke English in the ryokan and in the town, so our miming skills quickly levelled up to keep pace. (There was one nice elderly chap in a shop whose English was quite remarkable though. He was chuffed to pieces when we said so.) Another way you know you’re in a very local tourist spot – all the shops and restaurants close at 5. Domestic tourists typically dine on kaiseki meals in their ryokan, something which James and I enjoyed many years ago but which we weren’t quite prepared to do with a restless toddler in tow.
We had a simple and satisfying lunch in a restaurant which felt like the living and dining room of someone’s mother’s home in the 1980s. It was a literal mom-and-pop establishment; a middle-aged lady took orders and served while a middle-aged man could be spied cooking in the back. Stomachs sated, we went onward to explore the woods and the beach. One of the perks of travelling with Tricia is that you learn a lot about the local geography – alas, I am a horrible student and have since forgotten her remarks about the Amanohashidate Sandbar…
Post-exploration, we settled back into the ryokan for a brief rest. Katy was most pleased to eat all the red bean topping from the mochi snacks that had been laid out in our absence, while James and I enjoyed our mugs of authentically and refreshingly bitter green tea. Eugene and Emma had gone off ambling further, so after lolling about for a bit James, Katy and I took off to see what the town might offer by way of dinner. Which was when we discovered the absence of dinner options, so we consulted the ryokan staff and headed to a mall in nearby Miyazu called Mipple. We had a very nice dinner in one of those restaurants that serves a bit of everything, so the kids could have rice and noodles and chawanmushi while the grownups indulged in tasty sashimi and grilled squid.
The next day our family set out in search of breakfast to find everything still closed; lunch is pretty much the only full meal one can expect in Amanohashidate proper. So we drove back to Miyazu… and ate at a McDonalds.
I opted to take it easy with Katy for the rest of the day because the cumulative effect of multiple truncated/missed naps was starting to get to her. So after some playtime with Emma, everyone else went out on a ferry and checked out scenic spots, and Katy took an epic nap while I updated our trip scrapbook. It was really nice to have a nice spacious ryokan room for our respective chill-out activities.
Our 2nd dinner in the area was a random find by James. He found an interesting-looking restaurant in the next town over on Tabelog – Japan’s restaurant directory website – and we went out on a limb to seek out a meal there. The seafood was tasty and fresh and the restaurant adorably rustic: those butter grilled clams were so good, Eugene and I ordered a tray each (and I very nearly managed to finish mine). It helped that there was an older middle-aged lady among the waitstaff who could speak passable English. The restaurant also had a few ageing scraps of paper on which someone had once helped translate most of their menu items into English.
Another nice thing about a ryokan stay is the ability to take onsen baths, in water piped in from hot springs, instead of a regular end-of-day shower. Each evening, after Katy went to bed, James and I took turns nipping down to the ryokan’s public bath facility to take a relaxing soak. It’s a very nice and soothing way to take the day off, especially when the weather is cool.
We drove back to Kyoto city the next day, which was the 2nd last day of our time in Japan. There was a renowned seafood market on the way, and of course Katy would be taking a car nap around the time we arrived. Lucky for me, my husband is very nice, and brought a plate of grilled seafood goodies for us to share in the carpark.
From Kyoto we parted ways with Tricia, Eugene and Emma. All of us had originally planned to fly out of Fukuoka together, as the end point of the Kyushu road trip. The earthquake raised some concerns around the feasibility of the original approach, but while James managed to get our family’s flights changed from Fukuoka to Nagoya, theirs had been booked with different T&Cs and they had to fly out of Fukuoka. It felt a bit odd and silly to say “bye, see you tomorrow at Changi”.
There isn’t a lot to say about Nagoya because we were just passing through, to spend the night in a hotel near the airport before flying out. I did notice that many of the subway and other signs were in Portuguese, most likely because there is a sizeable Brazilian population living in Nagoya.
We’d sent our luggage ahead to Centrair Airport from Kyoto, so it was the most convenient thing in the world to roll up to the airport with mostly our hand-carry luggage, then pick up our check-in bags from the Ta-Q-Bin counter. Every city should have such a service – it is such a game-changer when you’re moving around with children.
And that’s the end of the Katy Takes Japan chronicle!