23,Oct 2015 Reviews
Coming back to Kifu no Sato for the second time is like returning home from a long journey. A place where friendship is renewed, the meeting of old friends.This time, I brought my dad and friend to experience the excellent omotenashi of Kifu no Sato, Home of seasonal melody and again, it did not disappoint.
When we were first picked up from Tsuyama station, we were greeted by the warm smiles of Ryoto san, my young japanese friend. It was like seeing an old friend again
and catching up with old times, how the weather was, how were so and so, what food we were going to eat, what are we going to do. We were chatting like old friends catching up. As we went past the quiet ravine roads between the mountains, we spotted numerous kaki (persimmon) trees fruiting its orange wares. This was one of the fruits in season in Okayama Mimasaka
during the months of October. We were told that this was the season of Nashi pears, Pione Grapes, Giant Setos, and the famous Shine Muscat. If you haven’t had a
chance to pop one of these green tear drops in your mouth, please do so as it is both crunchy and candy sweet. A flavour unlike the grapes you have tasted before.
As we traveled on, Ryoto point to the left and said this was where his home was and it was like home we were returning to.
Before long, we had arrived at the Grand Ryokan, greeting by Haru Ji San, the strongest 65 year old man we have seen. Able to haul of luggage as if it was a feather pillow.
He plops it by his arms and swiftly cleans the dirt off the wheels. My dad marvelled at it more than the exterior of the ryokan. From the outside, he didn’t expressed much enthusiasm,
his first time at a Ryokan. But the moment we stepped into the ryokan, we have entered a different world.
As soon as we got our shoes off, we were greeted with the familiar faces of Masaki san and his team. All smiles, they welcomed us and led us to comfortable seats to settle us down to proceed with
registration. It was as simple as producing our passport and the explaining of when dinner time and breakfast time was. We were led to our rooms, as they carried our luggages there. Thereby beginning 5 days
of being pampered with lush ambience, friendly atmosphere and excellent kaiseki dishes. The head chef was a very famous 1 michelin kaiseki restaurant in Kyoto so we were in for a treat. We booked a single room
and also a room with hot spring bath. The bath provided us relaxation time when the main bath is closed.
During our stay, we were looked after at meal times by my friend, Michiko san, who was all smiles and always ensured we had our rice and soup. She would constantly be in and out the kitchen and explaining what we were going to eat.
Perhaps we troubled her more than neccessary, constantly sending her to the kitchen to ask Shokunin the origins of the ingredients. However, she never complained and enjoyed our curiosity.
We met the ever young Grand Dame Hiroko san, Okami of Kifu no Sato. Although she doesn’t speak much english, you could tell from her smiles and eyes, she was happy to have us. Although words could not
express, our hearts also somehow told her, we too were happy to be here. A respite from the days wear in this little town in Okayama especially for our busy travels earlier in the mad rush of Tokyo.
Junko san was not around the first day. Her daughter had a piano competition however, she met us after breakfast as we rested and slumbered the night. It is amazing how the hot waters of Yunogo energises you
and you feel you have slept longer than you did. Ever Sweet, Junko, who speaks good english, welcomed us to Kifu no Sato. She also helped planned for things for us to do during our stay. We decided to watch the
Unkai, a most amazing experience at Kifu no Sato. The nearby Oyama observatory allowed us to watch the mountains peaks covered by a sea of clouds in the early morning mist. Waking up to go at 6.45 am was a
challenge but was most worth it. We were ushered by the ryokan’s shuttle bus and I wished we had more time up at the mountain. This phenomenon takes place when there is a difference between the cold and
warm air of the hot spring resort enveloping the whole town with a sea of clouds. It was certainly peaceful up there and you feel you are top of the world.
We planned to travel and Junko san helped to organise a mini van to bring us to Dairy town of Daizen, Kamba Falls, Wineries of Hiruzen and Yubara Onsen to bath besides the river. It was surprising that these
places were quite accessible from the ryokan.
Getting there was easy, by arranged transport or renting a car. The scenic sights of the above locations kept my photo bug friend happy, as we went past mountains, lookouts, ski slopes, Jeresey cows, goats,
mountain flowers and had fabulous fresh ice cream, milk, cheese and yoghurt. Cost of transportation was not cheap, but the mini van can take 11 and if divided accordingly is good value.
For folks not intending to go so far, taking the smooth cold 5.0 milk fat from the ryokan’s cafe is a good foretaste of the experience to be had.
Yubara onsen was a sight to behold. it was a simple place but bathing at the river was sublime. A real experience. It was also my first time to a mixed onsen, and for those wondering, we were mainly covered up, nothing too much to see unless…towels fall.
The stones from one of the pools were slippery and i fell leading to a not so happy end. Yet, the driver Ouji san, was so concerned that upon his return, he told Haru san about my fall and immediately Masaki san was informed and greeted me with plasters and disinfectant.
Masaki san sat on the floor tending to my toe and dressed it. Words travel fast, and Michiko san at dinner made sure I was okay and the next day, Junko san who heard from the driver ensured I was okay to continue my adventures.
We did take time to explore Yunogo onsen. It is a quiet little town, nothing much in the day. A free public foot bath in the center, a fountain by the bridge. One would quickly dismiss it as nothing much, however, the quietness rewards the treasure hunters.
In town, there is a quaint bakery that has a lovely apple raisin bun and lovely blueberry jam, a glass blowing workshop that you can make your own glasswares, a leather bag making studio where custom designed
tote bags are produced, a pottery place if you want to enact the portion from “Ghost”, a sushi shop that sells a mean gyu sugi kasu jiru or beef tendon miso soup which warms the heart on a cold day.
The chef remembers me and its this little sense of belonging, that makes you feel as if you have come by, left an impression in the lives of others however small. We were welcomed as old friends.
There is also a friendly officer from the tourism center that engages you and act out things to overcome the communication barrier. I still remember him asking me about the laws back home if we had to go to the
toilet urgently in the open. He was acting it out. I couldn’t help laughing and am glad i played charades as I wondered about the true to life town that i had entered in.
Do not miss exploring the town, slowly, but surely, you will find gems. The people are most friendly and language is not a barrier for a welcoming heart.
There too is an izakaya there just opposite the ryokan called Kushijin, that serves good kushiyaki but surprise surprise also has an amazing chef that sings.
Yes, Tatsumax is his moniker and he sings well, belting up tunes like his own creation, and cover songs of the beatlesto the tunes of “let it be”, “yesterday” and others. We tested him for his versatility and he was game enough to sing for us Chage and Aska’s “Say Yes.” for the first time ever.
As he sang, images of my past experiences in Japan came floating back. The people I have met when i was a teenager in Japan and the sights i have seen. It was as if i had just time travelled in the orange lighted quaint little table of that restaurant in the city.
We had such fun that we requested also Ponyo Ponyo, a children anime song that we all gamely sang. We had so much fun, we came back the second night. We were introduced to a Karaoke owner and his mama san of a karaoke called Tom. The owner eats regularly at Kushijin. Perhaps leaving something to look forward to the next time I am there.
Junko san took us out on the 4th day. She took us to the nearby tea farm Qualitea to watch the artisans in action as they pick and process the tea. It is a 3 generation tea farm with Houjicha and Kabusecha sold at
the ryokan. The family were friendly and treated us to tea and gave us some tea as omiyage to remember them by. We were 250 m above sea level, surrounded by mountains, with fresh tea scent in the air. Quiet,
you can almost see the vegetables grow. Cool mountain air, birds chirping in the distance. No wonder people live long there.
My dad suggested that i should work there a few months to enjoy the health benefits, namely weight lost. Cheeky.
We stopped by a Shokudo which was in a defunct primary school. The principal’s office was converted to a kitchen and the neighbouring staff room was changed to a dining room. There we had wild boar gyoza and
Deer meat. Deer was in abundance and needed to be controlled and this was a great way. The venison was out of this world, i think they should even export it. The gyoza was also one the best we had. These were
cooked by the villagers as part of their hobby. We are officially the first foreign guest they had. Only opened on Thursday, the villagers would prepare their menu and the town folks would make their way there to
have an inexpensive but delicious meal. On Saturdays, the ladies in the village would turn the place into a cake house serving rolls, pana cotta and other lovely sweets. I was wishing I was still around then.
Junko san then took us to buy grapes from the different stalls plying their trade in the city. This is where you must be pick up the lovely Shine Muscat if it is in season or any other lovely Okayama fruits in its shun.
Fruit stall people were friendly and often gave us room to try the grapes and gave us extra grapes to take back. We must had a most luscious bunch of Shine Muscat just plucked from the vines. Crunchy and sweet.
We made short work of it, after the hands started grabbing the lovely round tear drops from the stem.
We can’t thank Junko san enough for her kind hospitality and time to bring us around. She never had to but she did and thus makes this ryokan extra special.
After 3 mornings of Japanese and Western Breakfast, my dad needed a change. He requested for tempura udon which at first, due to time to make as well as a change in the itamae’s menu, was not able to be
acceded. Michiko san heard about it, and immediately made it happen for us. My dad was of course very pleased. Hence, we nicknamed the Udon, Bootsu Udon (beat you Udon) as we imagine, Michiko san could
have Bootsu the chef into complying. She did say later, she had good Goodwill/Guanxi with the chef and it was an easy request but we thought the legend of the Bootsu Udon was more apt. Do order Bootsu Udon
for lunch or Washoku lunch at the ryokan. You will be surprised by the lovely flavours.
We were sad to leave on the last day. Everyone greeted us and sent us off. From Junko and also Onsen Tomodachi. It was hard leaving a ryokan that many memories were made. Ryoto san brought us to Sayo
station and carried our luggage all the way up the stairs and ensured we did not miss out train to Kansai airport. I would hazard a guess that if we Bootsu him enough, he would have willingly drove us to Himeji or
the airport as he loves long drive. Alas, he has work to do so we will try another time.
It is said to me, the distinction of a good ryokan is not the hardware, the hot springs, rooms, decor, interior or exterior but rather the software which is the heart that runs the ryokan, the omotenashi and the
impeccable service. I think in all these points, Kifu no Sato has yet again exceeded our expectation.
From the team, looking after us, we were pampered much and would once again become an everlasting memory etched in our lives. The town and surroundings were again gems to be explored and discovered and
even I found new things this time round. I believe there are more to be found. Knife making Setouchi City for one. I have yet to return a ryokan I have been to before, but Kifu no Sato was my first and perhaps not my last.
I look forward to the day I could bring my wife and son to see my japanese Tomodachi yet again.
Till that time, till we meet again, thanks Kifu no Sato for indulging in us. Indeed it was Melodious in the seasons.
Domo Arigato Gozaimashita!