November 24, 2008

Weekend in Okayama

This (three-day) weekend we headed to Okayama Prefecture with another family just to get away. We stayed on Shiraishi Island (Shiraishi-shima), a small rural island on the Seto Inland Sea, in one of the Okayama International Villas. (The International Villas are a collection of villas located throughout Okayama, that are available for non-Japanese to use at bargain basement prices.)

Thanks to the Shinkansen, the city of Okayama is a mere 40 minutes away. On our way to the island, we stopped at Kurashiki, which had been described by our guidebooks as one of the most picturesque old-feel Japanese towns around. On this gorgeous fall day, it certainly lived up to expectations. An old canal, surrounded by white and black old storehouses and adorned by willows and other droopy trees, is the centerpiece of the old historic area.

In addition to the boat rides on the canal, there were some street artists, and some nice little boutiques to check out. There are also a number of famous museums, but with the children, we were happy to wander through, watch the swans, feed the fish, and grab some lunch.

After that terrific stop, we took a short train ride to Kasaoka, where a clunky little boat (referred to as "the express") transported us (and several elderly Japanese) to Shiraishi. Shiraishi Island is one of the most remote places we have been in Japan. We followed a winding sidewalk from the pier, up the hill, and in between the old wooden homes with their vegetable and fruit gardens before reaching the Villa on the top of a hill.

With an exposed wood beam-and-glass architecture, and a nice deck overlooking the small beach, this was a perfect rustic get-away. There are five rooms - 1 Japanese tatami room (ours), and four western rooms. Our friends stayed at the very dated (apparently Japan did not escape from that distinctive early 70's shade of green) beach-front Ryokan down the road.

Our Villa-mates during the first night were a group of English teachers here with the JET Program (an Aussie, a New Zealander, and an American) with their girlfriends (an American and two Japanese). They got along terrificly with Jacob and Lauren, which was nice. (And Jacob got along particularly terrificly with the girlfriends! He is an unstoppable force around young Japanese women.)

It was like a weekend away with friends at Mike's parents Lake House back home. Except we were in Japan. We played UNO and Dominoes. We hung out on the deck and walked on the beach. We shopped at the one tiny grocery store on the island, and bought beer from the one tiny beer-store on the island. And we cooked up a storm.

On Sunday, another beautiful day, we went on a steep hike up to an observation point that is the highest point on Shiraishi, from a path just steps away from the Villa. The kids were hearty little explorers, and we did our best to keep up! The views were fabulous, and from the top you can see the many other islands of the Seto Island Sea rising out of the water like a field of mountains.

We had planned to stop in Okayama city on the way home to check out Korakuen Garden, billed as one of the top three gardens in Japan. Unfortunately, it was not to be this time, since Monday was a rainy and raw day.

So we got back in the early afternoon, and topped our weekend off by celebrating Jacob's birthday with our friends at a local family-friendly yakiniku chain restaurant called Jyu Jyu Karubi. Ilena brought the cupcakes! (This was a fine Plan B. We had actually planned to go over our friends apartment to have nabe - hotpot stew made at the table with fish stock, veggies, tofu, and meat or fish - but apparently with the cold weather, everyone on Rokko Island was thinking nabe, and the store was out of shabu meat!)

1 comment:

jmgesq said...

hmmmm do I know Okayama by another name?