Thursday, 3 April 2014

Kyushu Japan Road trip Day 3 - Kurokawa Onsen

The drive to Kurokawa Onsen from Takachiho was quite long but we ended up having quite a few surprise stops.  We just stopped by anywhere pretty really : )

Taken from the car park of Takachiho martial art centre - sooo magnificent!!

Saw this giant field at 高森 (where we  had Japanese bbq yesterday ) with a giant horse and Kumamon made of hay!  There was also a little waterfall on the side and cherry blossoms

There were a few restaurants - grilled chicken and this soba place.  
We thought we will have a light lunch before driving off.  

Homemade soba :)
It is not the best I have had ...the noodles are thick but not very chewy.  
Wish I have ordered the cold version instead.  

The next stop we made with very random :p
Not sure where exactly that was but it was truly fascinating!!!.
There were easily more than a hundred different shaped hedge - animals, boat, Japanese tower etc.
I have tried googling it but failed.  It must be somewhere between Aso and Kurokawan Onsen - just right by the road.

There were also a few animals and a little farm shop on the side selling vegetables and fruits in bulk!

mummy and baby rabbit

 You can buy little bags of carrots to feed the deers
Kurokawa Onsen is one of the most popular onsen village in Kyushu.  It is particularly famous for its outdoor baths.

You could either stay at a ryokan or go onsen crawling by getting one of these wooden pass which allows you visit 3 different onsen hotels for 1200 yen within 6 months.

many used wooden passes hung outside the shrine

We arrived early so we dropped off our luggage and just wander around the village before checking in.  
Not long (5-10min?) after we set off from the hotel, it started pouring so we hid inside a store.  We then noticed a staff from the hotel ran out chasing after us just to lend us umbrellas!  That was very sweet of them :)

River by the ryokan.  

It's not a very large village - with less than 20 shops/cafe/restaurants maybe?
Note : There is NOOOO cash machine in walkable distance!! and the onsen hotel only takes cash.  so please make sure you take enough cash beforehand!!!!
(we nearly ran out of cash!! )

First, we stopped by a rice snack shop - they sell these grilled mochi skewer (Nure Okaki) and grilled rice crackers (Okaki) .

That's very nice - its a kind of grilled mochi that we have never tried! 
It's crustier outside and it's sticky and moist inside (you can just see the rice grains).  
There are a range of toppings you can choose from.  We picked black sesame

Explaining what they are and how they are made

Dora Dora
I've been longing to try this out when I read about this from the guidebook!
Dorayaki with mochi cream inside!!!!!!! two of my favourite snacks combined as one!!!
You can even have add ice cream if you wish.

There are 5 different flavours - milk. orange, custard, green tea and coffee (scroll down this page to see various photos of  how it's made)

It was amazingggg. The pancakes were very buttery and soft.  
Wish I could bring them back but they cannot be kept for long as there is cream inside :( 

By the bridge across the river, there's a little Japanese cafe which is famous for its croquette.  
They have two flavours: black curry and white yam.  

(and there's one table where you can dine with Kumamon :p) 

They've sold out the black curry ones :( 
The yam ones are still very nice though! you can see strings of yam inside with a very crispy breaded coating.

Patisserie Roku
It's just by the shrine
We bought a cream puff and a slice of swiss roll with chocolate coating from there.  The lady asked when are we planning to eat it (to see if we need an icepack) and we looked at each other and said - less than 5min! (just long enough to look for a bench to sit down and consume it!)
Here, the puff is more expensive (210 yen) than the one we had at Aso (110 yen!!!) but it was bigger - with cookies crumbs at the top.  yum yum yum.   

by then ... we have already ran out of cash :(  would have bought more otherwise.  
They all look sooo gooood. e.g. the giant strawberry mochi!!

It's our second time staying at an onsen hotel!
We booked a room at ikoi ryokan.  Apparently it's voted as one of the top 100 onsen hotels in Japan!

We visited Arima in 2012 and we have to say the experience was very different!
This is more traditional and original.
The ryokan at Arima was more fancy and luxurious with beautiful yukata, mochi pounding ceremony in the morning, English menu, range of bath products to choose from, massage chair etc.  Therefore it maybe more suitable for foreigners.
However, in terms of onsen - ikoi ryokan offers a lot more - many more to choose from and they were all very beautiful.
There are many different onsens to choose from and most importantly the temperature was just right - so it was actually very soothing and pleasant!  ( we found the ones at Arima were rather hot)
I went for a bath 3 times - once after checking in, then after dinner before bed time and for the last time in the morning before breakfast.

You can get onsen eggs from the entrance for 70 yen.  
We wanted to get one but we were too full already after all the snacks :p 

Free foot baths outside


Dinner menu in Japanese

The plum wine on the right was the best I have had in my life !! 
( I haven't had that many :p )

Horse sashimi! - It was very soft

Veg steamed by onsen water

You have the choice of pork, beef or chicken as the main.  
We went for pork and beef to share.  

I would highly recommend you to go for the beef - sooooo soft.  
Shabu Shabu pork

DIY Teppanyaki steak

Grilled fish

Tofu and konnyaku soup 

They have their very own farm and they make their own pickles.  

We paid extra for the dinner upgrade - so we get an extra piece of aso steak.
I have to say I was very disappointed with the size!!!! and I would prefer them to serve it rare.  
I wouldn't recommend the upgrade personally given the price difference.  


Vanilla icecream and creme brulee
Our beds are lay out while we went out for dinner.  

They came up to our rooms to offer us Japanese red bean soup with dumpling a little later.  

Breakfast on the next day
Fish, onsen egg, veg, pickes and yogurt on the side

After checking out, we drove to 小国's post office for some cash.  dropped by this butcher for lunch!

Katsu burger

You can either have deep fried pork chop  or deep fried minced pork burger (I find it more juicy!)

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Kyushu Japan Road trip Day 2 - Takachiho

Set off early in the morning.  
Got breakfast from the patisserie and also from the souvenir shop by the Aso train station 道の駅 
They sells tonsssss of different products/bento/fresh vegetable etc with a sitting area if you want to eat your food straight away.
We've bought some very nice prawn cracker and this rice ball.  

Rice ball with minced horse meet and a soft boiled marinated egg in the middle!! 
Look at the colour of the yolk!!!!

Back on the road

On the way to Takachiho, we stopped by this traditional Japanese bbq restaurant called 高森田楽の里
熊本県阿蘇郡高森町大字高森2685-2  Tel:  0967-62-1899

We've ordered a set each.   
You can see the menu (with pictures) here: 

There were also 3 bowls of different miso to accompany different food.  
I particularly loveeeeeeee the yuzu miso. 
We didn't know you are supposed to spread the miso onto the food when it's nearly done and grill it for a little longer before eating (we saw that's what the Japanese couple next to us did!)  
We just dipped it into the miso just as we eat  - o well.. next time :p
Normally I'm not a big fan of sweet potato but those the baby sweet potato they serves there are super sweet and tastes great with the crispy skin after grilling.  

Beef and spring onion skwer

Stewed dumpling miso soup

Next door, there is also a cafe and souvenir shop.  

Amazing view as you step out of the restaurant

We stopped by the old train station - which is now a souvenir shop and the tunnel is used to store Japanese Shochu.

We love these little dried fish, seaweed and little crabs!!!
I noticed they are available at Mitsubishi at Tenjin  too :p so I guess it's not something special from the area) 

Why is every corner we go to looks so stunnningggggg
This is just outside the train station

Got to the gorge :-)
rented a little boat and rowed along the river for 30min.

prob not a good idea to go anywhere near the fall :p 

A lazy little kitten :p 

We were still full from lunch so we didnt' get to try this out :( 

We then drove to the Amano Iwatoshrine

To get to the Amano Yasukawara (天安河原), follow the path - it's roughly a 10-15
min walk (if you don't stop by the icecream store :p ).  

You will see lots of little piles of stones - these represent the wishes and prayers from the previous visitors.  
Apparently, the higher the pile the better. 

On the way back to Takachiho, it goes past many rice fields and sake/shochu factories :p

We stayed at a family owned guest house called Kariboshi.
and here's the view from the hill

We had such a hard time looking for a restaurant.  found this little local eatery but they ran out of rice  x.x
We didn't have much time before the dance performance at the Shrine so we just had udon there (which was so so)

At night there's this "shortened version" of Yokagura - a ritual ceremony to pray for good harvest.
It was interesting but frankly - I find it a little longggg.  It lasted an hour.  You can see people started clicking their phone after a while.

making mochi together