April 14th, 2010

Ok, we are HOME. But before we get back to business, there are still days left of Japan to cover! There was so much to think about before leaving, that I forgot that my laptop didn’t have a good photo editing program so it made it really hard to work on posts on the road. So onward to crazy spa weekend!

Since this was a working holiday, and Tokyo is quite a frenetic place, we decided to splurge on a little romantic rendezvous near Nagano. We found the Hoshinoya spa via an article in Monocle Magazine on its sister hotel in Kyoto. The main building, pictured above, was dark and designy with a copper artichoke light on top. The Kasuke restaurant is on the left.

PH Contrast lights and dark stained (or burned?) wood.

When we were brought to our room, we were served Japanese tea and cherry blossom bean pastries.

My fixed lens couldn’t properly account for all the space in our room. It was HUGE! On the bed are our yukatas, fleece jacket for night time and socks to be worn with the slippers.

John’s dream come true, a hinoki tub! Just as cool, with the flip of a switch, it fills with temperature perfect water.

On the second day, our herbs in a bucket were replaced by Shinshu apples, a regional fruit. Meant for putting in the bath, we ate them instead. They were the biggest apples I have ever seen in my life. And tasty.

We love Japan for their delineation between indoor and outdoor shoes. We used these to hobble around the grounds. You should have seen John in his yukata…at one point a hotel staffer chased us down to tell John he could get him a larger yukata, so that his hairy legs and socks wouldn’t be so visible (of course, he didn’t say it in so many words).

Yukata! At first we were the only ones walking around in these particularly noticeable checkered numbers (most Japanese chose the two piece outfit) so we weren’t even sure if they were for public consumption. Before dinner we lurked in the library sussing out the scene, and as soon as we saw others in their yukatas, we knew it was safe to wear them to dinner.

Whilst in the library, I liked how they used blocks of wood to fill out the shelf. They also had some great design books on Alvar Aalto and Makoto Koizumi. And free tea/coffee and amazing candied fries. Maybe it spoiled our appetite a bit…

Off to our crazy traditional Japanese dinner. The place looks beautiful all lit up at night. Click to see the rest!

The menu was very long. Our appetites weren’t up to snuff, due to the jet lag and late dinner time I chose (8pm, we were starting to nod off about half way through). Here we go!

Sake! We were seriously coveting these tin sake cups and decanter back in Tokyo. Makoto Koizumi makes them so we are hoping to get some in the shop. Fun fact: they are bendable!

The Greetings from the Head Chef: Venison soup. Tasty and aromatic, a good start.

Hassun-Assorted meal:
What I surmise to be in the top photo: Broad Bean, Sushi of Smoked Salmon, Thick Omelet.
What I surmise to be in the bottom photo: Boiled by Japanese Pepper and fried Amago (fish that lives in the river), Wheat-Gluten Bread with Mugwort, Shrimp Grilled with Bottarga, Bracken dressed with Katsuobushi, Butterbur mixed with Miso and Tofu.

This is when things got challenging for our pallets. Top photo was pretty good. Bottom photo, well food with heads are generally a bit strange. And I am still having nightmares over the green thing, whose taste is indescribable but I popped it in my mouth like sushi and had to deal with it there for a terrible amount of time.

Soup: Yuba Shinjo (a steamed and fried mix of puree of Tofu Skin and Grated Japanese Yam and wrapped by leaf of Cherry Blossom), local trout, Kogomi (young ostrich fern), Shiitake Mushroom.

Mild flavor, tasty trout, the beginning of the end of our tofu affair.

Tempura: Miso of Butterbur Scape in Friend Rice Cake, Thick Starchy Sauce, Wasabi

Charcoal Grill: on the left, Shinshu Beef, on the right, Shinshu Salmon.

Yum and Yum. Apparently the beef in the region are fed Shinshu apples, which makes them very tender.

Kasuke Special Seasonal Vegetable Tofu: Spring Cabbage Tofu

Hot Pot: Wild Boar, Japanese Parsley, Burdock Root.

By this point we were running out of steam. Too much food!

Vinegar Dish: Char, Uni (hosta plant), Wheat-Gluten Bread, Rapeseed, Horsetail, Puree of New Onion.

Again with the wheat-gluten…

I was going to write, “what, you thought we were done?” for the next photo, but realized that the pic didn’t turn out – one more dish before desert:
Gohan: Rice boiled with Pea, Miso soup, pickles. We just picked at it because we were stuffed and feeling a bit off due to all the miso, tofu, wheat-gluten and gelatenous randomness.

Above, Seasonal Fruits.

Kasuke’s Special Zenzai (Sweet Azuki Beans) with Green tea ice cream.

End scene.

There were two onsens (hot spring) at Hoshino. The first one we tried was right by our room, and private to guests only. We went at a weird time of day and got to enjoy a relatively private experience, which is good considering the nudity factor. The onsen pictured above was outside, so we figured we should try it out. A bit awkward, especially for John, since it was very busy.

Nearby there is a collection of shops and restaurants.

Even Hoshino has a Scandinavian shop, which makes us wonder what took Toronto so long?

Yum, gelato!

A walk in the bird sanctuary. That’s an active volcano!

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