Tuesday, August 5, 2014

To Okunoshima

So, we get to Onomichi after several train transfers.  We took the Kinosaki limited express from Kinosaki Onsen back to Osaka, then transferred to a Sakura Shinkansen to Fukuyama, then a local JR train to Onomichi.  We stayed one night at the Green Hill hotel, just across the street from the main Onomichi station.  There's a Shinkansen station at Shin-Onomichi station, but for some curious reason, it is very difficult to get from Shin-Onomichi to Onomichi.  No trains, no direct buses.  You could walk the mile down a steep slope. Anyway, you don't care about that.

Onomichi is famous as the setting for the hometown of the protagonists of Tokyo Monogatari, an awarded film, that, in 2012, received the best film of all time award by the British Film Institute.  I won't go into gory detail about the film; suffice it to say that it was a provocative look at post war Japan family relationships. There is an Ozu (director of Tokyo Monogatari) museum in Onomichi, but we didn't have time to get there.

The others found the place to be boring.  I didn't mention that Onomichi is the gateway to the seven bridges to Shikoku.  People stay in Onomichi to ride their bicycles across the bridges to get between two of the four big islands of Japan.

But, we weren't doing this, either. Onomichi is the home to Onomichi style ramen, a particular type of ramen that is known for its light shoyu broth, with a hint of fish, but also with a layer of fat on the top which acts as an insulator for the heat that is contained in near-100° C broth. Great for forming blisters on your palate as you eat.  But this wasn't to be, either.

We couldn't agree on food that night.  We walked to Tsutafuji where we hoped to get some really good ramen.  We stuck our heads in, and heard Irashai, but when we said we were a group of four, then we were told that they didn't have enough broth for four bowls.  It was about 7 PM.  Connie wanted to divide up, but I thought that would be unfair, so we all left, dejected.

We walked all around the main town, and saw a bunch of places, but none caught our eyes, so the kids bought salads, and stuff at the Lawson combini and the basement of the Fukuya depato (that is ubiquitous in Hiroshima prefecture), and Connie and I went out again searching for real food.  A row of lights along a street caught my eye, and we headed towards it, and we got there, and found a pizzeria with a wood burning oven.

It was called Tranquillo, and it was pretty good. Not superb, but they were friendly and hard working there. It looked quite new, and there were a bunch of customers there.

The wood burning oven is behind the guy in the white T-shirt.  You'll have to trust me on that.  We got a salad, a margherita pizza, an order of arancini, and a beer.  

I thought the arancini was pretty good, not soggy at all but Connie wasn't a fan.  The pizza was good, but needed a bit more time in the oven.  Still, the effort of the people working there was appreciated by us.

I struck up a brief conversation in my broken Japanese with the guy who was likely the owner, manager, head waiter, main dish washer, and I asked him how long this place was open.  Three weeks, he said!  Wow, this place isn't in Tabelog yet, in all likelihood, I thought (and it isn't yet).  They need a bit more work, but I'd come back in a year.

So the next AM, we arise early to get to the destination for which we stayed in Onomichi.  Ookunoshima. Or if you google it, Okunoshima.  It was two trains and a boat ride to this island.  It is known for having a bunch of wild and tame rabbits.  Tons of them.  

Here is Onomichi station where we start out the day's journey.  There is a temple at the top of the hill, which looks like a castle. Onomichi has a whole bunch of temples along the slope, which we didn't get to.

First stop at Mihara station, where we stow our excess luggage in coin lockers.

Then to Tadanoumi, where we catch the ferry to Ookunoshima.

The ferry to the island.

As soon as we disembark, we see what we came for.

We bought a bunch of lettuce and carrots, because we didn't want to spend ¥100 for pellet food.  Healthier too. The rabbits liked the food. They weren't necessarily really friendly, but they weren't especially afraid of people, either.

Ookunoshima is famous (infamous) for another thing too. Pre and peri war (II), it was where the Japanese did chemical warfare research.  They readily admit it now, and there is a museum that shows how atrocious such weapons are.  

We're all a bit underwhelmed by the whole experience.  Kind of macabre to be where they did poison research on rabbits (and no, I've read that these rabbits are not the descendants of the prior test subjects). They even have a resort hotel on the small island, but I'd never even think of staying there.

Back to Tadanoumi.

Onto the Sakura Shinkansen and we travel to Osaka. Here is a screen shot from my iphone from my nav app.  This isn't kph, but it's mph!

We're staying at the Granvia Osaka, another JR hotel, right in the Osaka station.  There is a brand new huge Osaka station (called Osaka Station City), which, even after two full days, I cannot navigate through at all; it is so huge.

We're told by Cal and Kayla that we have to get to Isaribi, a robatayaki near Umeda station (adjacent to Osaka JR station).  Lonely Planet lists it as a select restaurant. Anyway, I'm worried about finding the place, since the directions I've found on the internet are all over the place. But we stumble our way out of the station.  Google and Apple maps on the iphone work well for GPS navigation, even underground in the basement levels (I can't explain how that's possible); you just need decent internet access on the go, like I have with my pocket wifi. We are walking on the streets and there is a very small sign that says, "Isaribi."  "Yonin," I say, to which I hear the familiar, "Yonmei sama."  I ask for a counter seat and this is our view, just at opening time (5 PM).

We order a bunch of stuff, including fresh sushi.

Here is our cook tending the fire (huge fans overhead).  He has these long handled paddles (see picture below) that he uses to hand the cooked goodies to us.

Large snail cooked in its shell.



Grilled green peppers, mildly spicy.

Bacon wrapped asparagus.

Yaki tori.

Large prawns.

Yaki tori.

Chicken cartilage, better than you'd think.


More sushi.  Kampachi.

Grilled corn.

Really nice yaki-onigiri.

Our guy in action.


Really nice meal.  Back to our hotel.  We stayed on the Granvia level, the 27th floor, with its own lounge, with complimentary beverages, including alcohol in the afternoons. Some nice snacks. 

Tomorrow, exploring Osaka.

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