The next leg of our trip offered some of what were, for me, the most memorable moments of our time in Japan – some of which were unexpected.
We took the bullet train from Kyoto to Okayama, where we stopped for lunch at a little Italian place by the station. Full disclosure: at that point, as much as I love fish, I was ready to sell my soul for anything but. I don’t remember what we ate exactly, but it was delightfully fish-free!
Our plan was to get a bus from the train station to Uno Port, where we would catch the ferry to Naoshima. The complexity came in finding where to get the right bus. A first attempt failed, at which point I got a little stroppy and insisted my Google app knew better than my husband’s. It then led us down a ramp to an underground bicycle parking garage. Stefan immediately saw my mistake and high-tailed it, chuckling demonically at my navigating skills, while a very nice man in a uniform helped me lug my heavy suitcase back up the bicycle ramp.
We finally got on a bus going the right way and managed to determine that it would indeed take us to the ferry port, a fact that was confirmed by the announcements in both Japanese and English. Still, every now and then Stefan got up to check we hadn’t missed our stop with the driver, a fact which did not go unnoticed by the locals. As we approached the ferry port, it made me smile when several Japanese passengers got up to tell us it was time to get off.
The short ferry ride took us to Naoshima’s Miyanoura port. The little island on the Seto Inland Sea is known for its iconic pumpkin which some clever marketing people have used to brand everything. A quick shout-out to fellow blogger and journalist Colin Bisset, who made the brilliant suggestion we include the art island on our tour.
On our first evening, whether due to local custom or the fact that it was near the end of the season, very few restaurants were open for dinner. It was raining as we ventured out to a place described on Google maps as an izakaya (pub-style restaurant). This appealed as we had spent the weeks before our trip watching – and loving — Midnight Diner.
Pushing open the door, we entered a run-down looking place with a few dilapidated stools around the bar. Behind it was a lone man, cigarette dangling from his lips as he worked over the grill. I hesitated, wondering if we were quite ready for something this, well, local. But we took the leap. He brought us beer and a simple menu. A few minutes later, a man entered the bar, looking at us in surprise as he chatted to the chef/owner. Then three older women came in, followed by a young guy. Everyone seemed to know each other and they all seemed rather curious about us. Then the man, apparently the official emissary of the other customers, asked us a few questions: where were we from, etc. After a little hemming and hawing, he asked us if we would mind changing seats and sitting on the other side of the bar; it seemed that we were sitting on their ‘regular’ stools. It broke the ice. We found ourselves sitting next to the young guy, who spoke enough English that we were able to have a conversation. In the meantime, while we were waiting for our food, several tourists entered and were turned away. It seemed that the policy of the place was to take just a few guests and no more. Just as well, given that the old guy was on his own and took the time to prepare everything from scratch on a small cutting board.
When the food came, it was delicious. Well worth the wait, cigarette smoke aside, and insanely cheap. Overall, a unique experience and what felt like a slice of local life.
On the way back to our hotel, we stopped by this sculpture beautifully lit up for night.
The next day saw us checking out the island’s main art museum, Benesse House. It was a fascinating place both for the architecture and the pieces displayed — modern and monumental.
Before we took the ferry out that afternoon, we stopped for some edible art. Oddly enough, the little patisserie was a one-woman-show of its own, run by a pastry chef who had trained in…Lyon. And yes, the chocolate cake tasted just as good as it looked!
Next stop: Hiroshima
What a wonderful way to discover Japan, Mel. Love that happenstance brought you to that little “dive”. It’s pretty special to find yourselves amongst the locals.
Beautiful art, too.
‘Dive’ is what it felt like, in every sense of the word. The experience was a reminder to go with the flow, which brings its own rewards. (Actually all of Japan was a reminder of that!) As for the art, I’ve barely skimmed the surface here. It was well worth the detour. I’m sure you’d love it!
Those often turn out to be the best places where you can really get a feel for the place. One day, Mel. One day…
Another great post, in which my favourite bit is your spit-and-sawdust meal which is probably something that will live in your memory too.
It will indeed! Although I’ve digested it all by now, writing these posts is like savouring so many wonderful moments all over again.
And that’s why we blog! For our own memory banks.
Naoshima was on our list but we had to change plans and give it a miss…. Our travel companions went and were raving about it when we met up – ho hum 🙂
one of the things I loved about Japan were the contradictions – on the one side the high tech toto washlets, and on the other some incredibly basic (almost mediaeval looking) public toilets, high-tech Tokyo and almost third world electrical wiring….
Yes, that’s it exactly! The contradictions were something I noticed everywhere we went in Japan. Little quirky things like the ones you mention — modern vs decrepit. Hopefully I’ll capture some more in the next couple of posts. Too bad you missed Naoshima but — a reason to go back?
Oh I love your experience in the ‘diner’. How wonderful to get a real taste of how the locals live, and eat. It reminded me of one of my favourite places in Périgueux back in the 70’s. Basically just a house with a door opening straight onto the street. Inside were three rooms set up with tables and chairs, and the food was just as homey: a 3 course meal based on whatever the chef bought at the market that day. And the insanely cheap price included half a bottle of local red. Price aside, it was also some of THE best food I had in all of France. -sigh- Nostalgia.
Ah, it’s hard not to feel nostalgic about those days: no food allergies, vegan options, just simple food served up fresh! Although France of all places remains very traditional and perhaps your place is perhaps still around. Never been to Périgueux…still so much to discover close to home!
God yes…I feel positively ancient doing the nostalgia thing, but life really was less…frantic back then.
If you get the chance, go to Perigueux and find your way to the old city. It’s mediaeval with even some Roman ruins. And the best part is that it’s still lived in, or at least it was when I was there. Like a living museum. Rocamadour is also stunning. That part of France is full of ancient castles and old towns that take you straight back to the past. My favourite part of France. 🙂
Thanks for the shout-out! So glad you made it there, and did it so properly. It’s a beautiful area. That izakaya looked great. It’s so worthwhile stepping out of your comfort zone in Japan as mostly it makes for the most memorable experiences, and locals are always alert to how they can help. Much as I love Japanese food, that chocolate confection looks dazzling. (And forgive the plug but you mightn’t have read this radio piece I did some years ago: https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/icons-of-architecture:-chichu-art-museum/10879862)
How I wish I had read it! Would have approached the site far better informed, although I am confused about the name as it seems to now go by Benesse House. But I am just glad we got there, so plug away!😊
Sorry, I should have sent it to you before you went… I thought the whole complex is called Benesse, including the fancy hotel, and Chichu just the museum but maybe it’s all been streamlined into one now, which would make sense. 🤔
Lovely experience. It shows that you often have to go beyond appearances. Glad the food was good.
We are back after a 3 month trip and will start posting on our blog soon…(Suzanne)
So true about going off the path to experience something great! Am just checking in as we are now getting ready to move and will catch up with your posts soon!
Good luck with the move…always a lot of work (Suzanne)