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
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