Posts Tagged Ryokan

April 5, 2006 – Pottery Lessons and free upgrades

My parents, The Penpal, and her parents spent the night at the beautiful Hanabusa ryokan in Izu Nagaoka. Izu is filled with ryokans, but one of the reasons we chose Hanabusa over the others was that they offer pottery classes. After a delicious breakfast we went to the pottery classroom to learn from the resident pottery master.

There is a long history of pottery in Japan. I had been to a pottery class with The Penpal a few years ago with a sad looking teacup to show for it. I was looking forward to getting a second chance to test my skills as a potter.

Pottery class!

Pottery class!

The pottery area was in a large room with long tables surrounded by shelves with cups, plates, and vases in various states of completion. Our families were the only ones in the pottery room, so we got the full attention of the master, who was a friendly, energetic older gentleman. The Penpal translated as he guided us through pounding, rolling, spinning, and shaping our cups.

Thanks to the expert instruction and hands on assistance, we all did reasonably well. My mom’s cup actually turned out fantastic, and mine was far less terrible than my attempt two years earlier. We all finished our cups, and the master promised to glaze and fire them, then ship them to The Penpal’s house.

izu-pottery-1

My parents absolutely loved their time at Hanabusa! It was a far different experience than simply staying at a hotel somewhere. Getting to stay at the ryokan with The Penpal and her family made everything even better; they were just as excited to share their culture with us as we were to learn about it.

After checking out, we drove around Izu in the rain before returning to Numazu. The Penpal’s family dropped us off at the hotel for the last time, where we learned that my parents had been given a free upgrade to a suite as a thank you for spending so many nights at the hotel.

If you need a hotel in Numazu, stay at Hotel Miwa located conveniently close to the north side of Numazu station! It’s convenient, reasonably priced, and the service is fantastic!

We said goodbye to the Penpal’s family, and my parents started getting themselves ready to return to Canada. I can’t believe their visit is almost over!

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April 4, 2006 part 1 – Family Ryokan experience

Today was the start of two days of family togetherness in Izu. The Penpal and her family were taking my parents and I to a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) in Izu Peninsula.

I met my family at the hotel, and we were picked up in our two car convoy by The Penpal’s parents. Once again the men were in my future father in-law’s car with me translating, and the women were in The Penpal’s car with her translating. Their car was smaller but had a much better translator.

izu-statue

We hit a few sightseeing spots in Izu to show off the beauty of the mountainous peninsula before heading to our destination – Yado Ryokan Hanabusa in Izu Nagaoka. The “yado” is for pottery – one of the features of our inn was traditional pottery lessons; we’re doing that tomorrow.

Pottery Ryokan Hanabusa

Pottery Ryokan Hanabusa

The landscaping around Hanabusa was beautiful, with cherry blossoms, rocks, and those beautifully crooked old trees that seem to be everywhere in Japan.

Each family got their own room complete with sliding wooden doors, tatami floors, low tables and cushions, and a fantastic view of mountains and trees out the window. My parents enjoyed the traditional decor, but were also happy that the room came with a modern, non-threatening bathroom.

After unloading our luggage, we went to the dining room for one of the most amazing dining experiences of my life. The food was kaiseki ryori, which involved a lot of fancy, small dishes that looked more like art than food. We weren’t really sure what we were eating most of the time, but everything was delicious. My mom specifically asked about a soup containing tender, flavourful white fish. The Penpal informed her that she was enjoying fugu, the poisonous blowfish that was made famous by Homer Simpson.

fugu_-_blowfish

The only food that wasn’t to everyone’s liking was uni, raw sea urchin. Uni is one of those foods that people either love or hate, with no middle ground. My dad bravely took half of a bite into the meat that had the same colour and texture as something you might cough up when you have a bad cold, said “no way”, and offered the rest to me. I ate it, and then got to eat almost everyone else’s uni as well, which was fine by me.

Other than the uni, everybody loved all the food they ate. We moved from the dining room to the lobby to chat for a bit. There was a piano in the lobby, so we all convinced The Penpal to play a song for us. She played Moonlight Sonata beautifully which attracted a small crowd of other guests. After a few songs she tried to leave the piano, but the guests and hotel staff wouldn’t let her until she had played some more. Yes, my future wife is awesome!

We could have ended the day at this point and considered it a success, but we still hadn’t tried Hanabusa’s onsen yet. My dad didn’t yet understand what I was getting him into…

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August 29, 2004 – Love Call Bell

We woke up in Ryokan Ooya to a massive breakfast. I think if I spent a week here, I would gain a lot of weight. We watched the news in the morning and heard that a huge typhoon was heading in our direction. Fortunately the weather held out for the day.

We checked out of the ryokan and went to an old gold mine which has turned into a museum. The mine is over 400 years old. Visitors can walk through and see the working conditions, complete with signs and models of workers in period clothing. The work looked hot and dangerous. I don’t think I would have liked working there.

After the gold mine, we went to Koibito Misaki (lover’s cape), a beautiful sightseeing spot on the west cost of Izu peninsula. The view was spectacular. To the we could look across Suruga Bay towards Shizuoka city. To the east were the green, tree covered mountains of Izu. Koibito Misaki is a popular tourist spot for Japanese people, but foreigners rarely visit. I think I was the only gaijin in the area today.

One of the highlights is the large “Love Call Bell”, which is a large metal bell with a rope attached. If a young couple rings the bell, their love will last a long time. We rang the bell, and time will tell if it worked.

On the way back to Numazu, we took the most windy, dangerous, crazy road that I have ever seen. At times the road ware barely wide enough for two cars. Other times the road suddenly went into endless S-curves up and down the side of a mountain. It was both fun and scary at the same time. I would recommend this road on a motorcycle, but never on a car.

Our weekend together was a lot of fun, and it was a great break from work. Japan is full of natural beauty, but you have to get away from the big cities to find it.

(2014 Update) Apparently there is a waterfall in Fujinomiya that has the opposite effect of the Love Call Bell. We didn’t go there.

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August 28, 2004 pt2 – Private bath at Ryokan Ooya

Private outdoor onsen at Ooya Ryokan

Private outdoor onsen at Ryokan Ooya

The Penpal and I left Mishima and headed south towards Izu Peninsula. Toi is on the west side of Izu Peninsula. The peninsula is full of tree covered mountains with small towns along the coast and in some of the flatter areas in the middle. The Penpal has a friend who lives in Toi, and wanted me to meet her. The friend was excited to introduce me to her young son. I would be the first foreigner that he ever met. The concept of “wow my son is going to meet his first foreigner today” may seem a bit strange to people outside of Japan, but I have been hear almost a year so it doesn’t seem unusual anymore.

We had a nice visit at their house, and then moved on to our next destination, Ryokan Ooya. A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn. The rooms have tatami mat floors and sliding wooden panels. Everyone wears yukatas, and they serve traditional Japanese food. When we checked in, I learned that I was the first foreigner to ever stay at Ooya. The Penpal knew the owner’s family, so we got upgraded to a huge room.

Our dinner was served in the room by yukata clad ladies. They started bring tray after tray of delicious looking seafood, soups, and things I had never seen before, all laid out on fancy decorative plates. It was simply the most beautiful food I had ever seen. There was probably enough food for four people, but the meal was all for us. We did our best but couldn’t finish everything.

After dinner, we had a reservation for one of the private outdoor baths. Reservations could be made in 30 minute blocks. Like most Japanese baths, we had to clean ourselves first, and then sat in neck deep hot water. Between the relaxing water and the amazing view, our 30 minutes went by very quickly. Thanks to the food and hot outdoor bath, it was an early night.

If you ever get the chance, stay in a Ryokan. Don’t think of it as a hotel, think of it as a destination in itself. And arrive hungry.

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