Thursday, 17 September 2015

02.08.2015 ~ Travel from Hiroshima to Okayama (& Kurashiki)

We had a well deserved lie-in this morning after yesterdays hectic travelling; we felt good & refreshed. We got the street-car 2 stops from the end of our street to Shukkei-en Garden as we were dying to see Koi in Japan (might seem odd but it was an important desire). The entry fee ¥260/person is paid in the hut to the right as you walk in the main gates, HOWEVER make sure you then go back across the path to the gift shop to buy fish food. We only found out you could feed the Koi/turtles at the end when we'd run out of time.

The garden is absolutely beautiful! There are 14 beautiful bridges of varying scale, design and material criss-crossing over the ponds and streams. Sure enough there are plenty of Koi and also some turtles, who will follow you around in the hope of food (if only we'd known!). Being the height of summer, the garden was very green with full foliage in the trees, I imagine the garden is even more stunning in Autumn when the leaves turn.

We began the trail around the garden delighting in all the colours and sizes of the Koi but as we crossed over the 2nd bridge a Cicada landed on my hip (Kowai!) Big, surprisingly heavy bug, eurgh! Continuing on, we chose the short trial as we had travel plans for the afternoon. We were thrilled to see Koi everywhere and so many different colours & patterns; so beautiful and relaxing.

We went to the gift shop for a drink and discovered the fish food, I think it was ¥100 a bag - we probably would've bought 6 bags if we'd known it was available.

In all we spent around 40-60 minutes in the garden and could've spent longer but our travel plans were inflexible so we had to leave to get back to the hotel to pick up our luggage. We hadn't eaten yet so we bought 2 breaded pork Bento boxes from inside Hiroshima station, and snacks and drinks from the 7/11 directly in front of the station. We got the 11:53 Shinkansen to Okayama, and when we arrived there seemed to be a festival going on at the station plaza; there were stalls, a TV crew and groups of dancers in the most amazing traditional costumes (especially as it was over 35C). Unfortunately on the way to the hotel we suffered at the hands of the tourist map with no scale so ended up walking 30 minutes further than we needed to, luckily a group of dancers on their way to their next performance were passing so we asked for directions and they very kindly escorted us to the hotel (which was only 2 streets over from the train station). The staff at Hotel Kooraku were very lovely and as we were arranging to leave our bags the Manager of the hotel came to welcome us. In a strange turn of events, he said he had travelled the UK and been to Stoke-on-Trent & Birmingham in search of ceramics as he collects pieces for the hotel (there was a ceramic display in front of the elevators on every floor).

Back at the station we caught the local train to Kurashiki where we took a 15 minute walk to get to the 'Historical Quarter'. We were here to see the Folkcraft Museum & Ohashi House. Both of which were exactly what I'd hoped for. There was an excellent array of craft goods in the Folkcraft Museum, from furniture to basket weaving to glass to ceramics to textiles. The entrance fee was well worth it, and the added novelty of wearing slippers inside (M struggled as there was only one small size provided)

After an ice-cream (can you see the theme developing here..?) we headed to the Ohashi House, a 5 minute walk away down a side street. The entrance fee here was well worth it too, as the house is deceptively huge. From the street it looks like a regular entrance gate that you could just fit a small car through if wooden posts weren't there. Immediately inside there was a gate house where you paid entrance fee, listened to a brief audio history, and received leaflets; then it was out into the courtyard where on the right was the rice store (now exhibits of furniture, jewellery, possessions); to the left was the main garden; and straight ahead was the house which looked like a barn from the outside. Once inside the house entrance you took off shoes to step up onto the tatami mat flooring and start exploring. There are so many rooms to this house, leading from one to another, each with a defined yet undefined function; beautifully proportioned and maintained. This was a truly stunning example of traditional Japanese living. The flooring, walls, doors, windows, furniture; it all felt authentic and wonderfully  suitable. Even the allowances for modernity such as the lighting didn't get in the way of the aesthetic appreciation.

It was easy to forget where we were, but we were quickly reminded on stepping into the back garden and seeing the high-rise modern buildings all around. We were at Ohashi house for about 40 minutes but you could definitely spend more time to really absorb the feeling of the house.

Back at the hotel our luggage had already been placed in our room so we checked in with ease. We put on 2 loads of washing (¥300/wash) and then borrowed a clothes dryer from reception as the tumble dryer was completely ineffective (leaving the air con off while we went for dinner ensured the clothes were nearly dry by morning).

For dinner we went to the underground complex at Okayama station, to 'Kitchen Runway' and ended up at 'Farmer's Garden' as most everything else seemed to be closing (it was about 20:30 on a Sunday). This was our first poor meal in Japan; we both ordered what looked like rice dish with fried or poached egg on top. What we got was bowl of rice and meat with raw egg dribbled all over it. Perhaps the rice should've been hotter to cook the egg? Either way it was a disappointing meal & even the drinks weren't so good. Needless to say we stopped at Lawsons on the way back to the hotel for apple juice and cake.

(M says beware of this. It is not Lemon Cake. It is a savoury bread type affair, disconcerting if you're expecting sweet cake)

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