Of Uni and Onsen

Hello from Tokyo!

Two weeks into our Japan trip, I have to say, Helene and I are having an absolute blast. We started out in ultramodern Tokyo, enjoying cozy little bars in Shibuya, and late night izakaya rampages filled with delicious food and umeishu (plum wine.) Afterwards, we zipped to Kyoto by shinkansen (bullet train.)

Kyoto, for very personal reasons, turned out to be something of a disappointment. This owned mostly to the fact that we ended up in a ryokan (traditional japanese inn) on the wrong side of the train station, and entirely too cruddy and small to enjoy. This made getting out a chore in the morning, and we ended up shopping quite a bit, and seeing just a little of the innumerable temples dispersed throughout the city. The highlight for us was Grotto, a cozy izakaya near the shopping district with its delicious Kyoto-style pizza, and the nightingale floors of Nijo palace, special floors emitting a soft bird-like whistle when a would-be ninja stepped on them.

Slightly deflated from our 5-day stay in Kyoto, we were in for a treat, however: off we went to the outskirts of Shimoda, a small town (pop. 40,000) on the Izu peninsula, reknowned for its seafood and its onsen (hot-spring baths.) We stayed at Kanaya Ryokan, a delightful inn featuring reputedly one of the best onsen on the peninsula. Our room was not just spacious; it felt positively royal after our small Kyoto cubicle. What followed was 5 days of pure relaxation, as Helene and I multiplied leisurely baths in hot springs, and quick outings to nearby Shimoda. On Thursday night, I achieved some sort of culinary holy grail, by eating traditional sushi in a small family-owned restaurant near the ocean. The meal was absolutely divine, and made all the more pleasant by the quiet owner who held her sleeping daughter in her arm while she expertly cut nori for her sushi chef husband. The uni (sea urchin), my favorite sushi by far, was so absolutely perfect and delicious I had to order two more and close my eyes to enjoy them properly.

And so, a little bit sad, and a little eager to return to civilization, Helene and I made our way back to Tokyo on Friday night. We’re now in a modern little Western-style hotel near Roppongi, which is a drastic if somewhat pleasant contrast to our delightful ryokan near Rendai-ji station. At least, as Helene would surely be quick to point out, we can surf the web without worrying about the 8-inch monster millipede sleeping on the wall. (True Shimoda story, I’m afraid; I’m sure the pictures will make it on Helene’s website soon. I initially wrote ‘6-inch’, but Helene made sure to correct me. ‘Including antennaes,’ she asked me to add.)

Come Thursday, we’ll be back in grey Shanghai, then one week later, will be bound for Montreal. But fortunately, we still have 4 days to wander around Tokyo and sample its many delights and surprises!

About Daniel Roy

Daniel is a writer, backpack foodie, slow traveler, and endurance runner. He is the author of the upcoming book, "The Way of Slow Travel: A Hands-On Guide to the Best Travel of Your Life."

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