Following the Northstar to Nikko, Japan

Our time in Tokyo was drawing to a close, we were leaving. But we would be back in two days (to do the washing and leave again).

Our leaving involved dragging our hosts away from work and school a day early (oh no!) to spend an extended weekend with them up in Nikko. If you follow the North Star from Tokyo towards the mountains, you will find yourself in Nikko. Once upon a time somebody important did just that, they liked the spot and decided they would build some temples. Okay, that is a terrible bit of history writing, please go look it it up on the internet for the real facts before you pass this story on.

We on the other hand caught the train, in the daylight. Then we got the hotel bus up the valley/mountain to the upper lake. At the top is a little hot spring town, that also doubles as a sking town in the winter.

Fold and Kiyomi had booked us a couple of Ryoken (Japanese Inn) for the trip. I wasnt quite sure what to expect, as we have a couple of others booked for the coming weeks. This one turned out to be very much a hotel, though the rooms are Japanese style with mats and beds on the floor. It also had an Onsen (hot spring bath) which was water straight out of the ground into pools to bathe in, sorry no pictures, I’m still a little modest without my clothes.

We locked dinner in for 7:00 and went for a walk down to the lake.

Wow, awesome picture Lizi. For those who cant tell, Liz owns the picture with the watermarks, whereas I belong to the unmarked ones. So now you can abuse me for all my blurry moments, and praise Liz for her composition and stuff (working on my inner camera nerd, it must be there somewhere).

Though check out the composition on this baby;

The beautiful balance of Liz on one side in my Ipswich Woollies flanny, and Fold planking his way to glory on the other side. Okay, I’m still trying to channel the little man inside that knows what f-stop and aperture mean.

When we got down to dinner there was a spread of food in front on each seat. I mean like 15 courses each. I had done a little research into traditional Japanese inn dinners, but was still a little overwhelmed by the amount of choice available for each mouthful.

First up to the left we had a little shabu-shabu setup, which is a light broth over flame to which you add vegetables and meat. The shabu-shabu bit had a couple of dipping sauces ponzu and sesame.

Then we had some pickles, the little bowl with the bright yellow radish. In the three little bowls we had tofu, some sort of greens (spinach or fern maybe) and some preserved mussels. Then we had two plates of seafood, the first just straight up sashmi, whilst the second had some seared bonito (maybe, my fish knowledge although poor, gets even worse in Japan where they have there own names for each type) with salad. The little bowl at the back right is some local tofu called Yuba.

This was how the shabu-shabu starts.

Then progresses to this.

Then you add meat, which ups the excitement to levels where you forget you have a camera.

For the sashmi we have tuna, mackerel (again only maybe) and prawns. Ive never eaten raw prawns like this before, not much taste really.

Other dishes kept on coming out as we ate. Below was a clear soup with yuba and mushrooms. We also got some cooked salmon in foil which was pretty good, and another little pot of hot tofu which was kind of like savory custard.

The highlight of this meal for me was the tofu. When I was a kid a Japanese lady down the road used to make fresh tofu for us. I had completely forgotten about it till I tasted this tofu, just like being eight years old again. The mussels, the tuna and the beef were also pretty ranking high in my mouth party.

But then out came the desert. Tofu cheesecake. This is the best cheesecake I have ever eaten, probably because it didn’t actually have any cheese in it. But don’t me wrong, I do like cheesecake, this was just better.

After all that I have to say that I  ate too much. Time for bed. But what comes after bed? Breakfast of course. I will let you guess for yourselves what we had here. Two clues; the brown stuff on the right side  is coffee and the legs at the bottom is me.

Then we walked. First sround the lake, then through the swamp and then down the waterfall. I will let the pictures at the bottom do the talking.

After walking came lunch.

Yes all I really do is eat, I’m working on a book of metaphors for describing how good food is when you just can’t seem to find the words (you will need a random number generator to use it (thats dice to you less geeky folk)).

We passed by some interesting offerings of little fishes or riceballs on sticks.

But kept it predictable and grabbed some soba, with tempura.

But then came the treat. Fold went and got some Ozouni, which is  mochi soup. Which is slimy kind of rice balls in a bowl of soup.

Not only were they tasty, but they were chewy, sticky and goopy all at once. This stuff was excellent (d100=63) as good as diving into a pool of vodka jelly.

Then onto the bus and down to our second Ryokan of the weekend.

More onsens were had, more japanese robes were donned and dinner was attended.

This time we had a more modern interpretation of Japanese ryokan food, with actual courses served one after another, much less confusing.

First up was the tofu, both standard and yuba. This was also pretty good, but lacked something magical that the last lot had.

But was very pretty.

Then we had some corn and soy milk soup. This was genius, I would never have though of this, but it works so well together.

Who do you want to be? I got dibs on the hairy guy in the man dress.

Then came the standout dish, vegetables. These were cooked and served with just oil and salt. The trick here was just how fresh and tasty the vegetables were, nothing more.

Then some local fish.

Steak and Veg, you just gotta eat steak in Japan to understand the flavor all that extra fat adds.

For desert was pear tea cake and pear ice sherbert.

The next day we strolled down the river, had a look at the temples, please refer to the pictures at the bottom for non-food related information.

After the temples we stopped at the previous ryokan owners daughters vegan cafe.

For sesame tofu stuff set in a cup.

Some more teacake.

Some hippy detox tea (and coffee for me).

Not always the bigest vegan fan I still have to say this was really good (d100=88) as tasty as the velvet clouds of heaven coated in sin and brandy.

Just at the train station we grabbed some fried red bean treats. These were sweet, oily and salty (thats the three magic hangover cure ingredients, all in one).

Then we grabbed a chicken bento to go.

Thanks to Fold & Kiyomi for the amazing weekend, we will never forget it.

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3 Comments

  1. Tina says “yum” ,,, oh yeah, great photo’s 🙂

  2. awesome stuff- great time it was- love the random comment generator- and liz; that shot with the tall grass in foreground of the plain and mountain is awesome! hope you guys are doin well- you’re obviously keeping a blogging pace of about 3 weeks in arears- do wonder where you at now- how kyoto and the rest went! cant wait to hear from you! big love- we won’t ever forget havingg you guys hear either- really special 😉