Denise visited Japan for the first time this February and she’s in love. Check out what she ate, drank and saw at Yamaguchi prefecture!
It is a source for amusement for everyone that my first ever trip to Japan entailed visiting Yamaguchi, which is the westernmost prefecture of Honshu Island. I still haven’t been to Tokyo. The last day of our week-long trip to Japan was supposed to include a day in Tokyo, but that plan, however, was derailed by the fact that our flights were massively delayed due to a snow storm in Tokyo.
But let’s start at the beginning.
Material World was kindly invited by Media Japan – the publisher of Oishii magazine in Singapore – to cover the sights, sounds and food of Yamaguchi prefecture for a regional feature in Issue #1. The girls, knowing that I had never been to Japan prior to this trip, volunteered me to represent Material World for this trip.
I actually liked the fact that I was going somewhere off the beaten track. On my own, when I travel, I tend to spend as little time as possible in big cities. My rationale for this is that I travel to get away from the stresses of city living. I love visiting smaller cities or more rural areas where the pace of life is slower.
What I also appreciated about this trip was that I was able to fully immerse myself in the culture: At every stop of the trip, I got to speak to Japanese shop and business owners about their enterprises, hostesses of traditional ryokans, sake brewers … that definitely helped me gain a better understanding of this fascinating country and its people.
Here are the three highlights of my trip:
1. Amazing regional food
I had my fill of amazingly fresh seafood when I was there, but one of my more memorable meals was having countless plates of puffer fish sushi at Karato Sea Market in Shimonoseki. There is a popular conveyor belt sushi restaurant located on the second floor of the market, Kaiten Karato Ichiba Sushi. If you go around lunchtime, do expect to wait at least 20 minutes before you are seated. The puffer fish sushi is topped with spicy chilli radish, and spring onions, and paired with a citrus-y ponzu sauce. It was a heavenly combination of delicate flavours I couldn’t get enough of. I swear I had at least five plates of these to myself!
2. Gorgeous sights
I had seen pictures of the Ruriko-ji Temple in Yamaguchi City, but nothing could prepare me for seeing this awe-inspiring sight up close. This temple has its origins in the 16th century, when it was built by samurai Ouchi Yoshihiro to hold memorial services for his family, and was moved in 1690 to its current location. One of the oldest five-storied pagodas in Japan, it is flanked on both sides by lush greenery (during the spring months), making it the perfect place for a spot of quiet contemplation.
3. Exceptional service
The Japanese are so proud of their attentive service and hospitality that they even have a word for it: Omotenashi. We stayed for a night in the beautiful ryokan Hagi no Yado Tomoe in Hagi, and I had a chance to speak to the elegant head hostess Keiko Kato. The one thing that really struck me was her dedication to her job. She says, “We have served famous actors and actresses, as well as politicians and members of the royal family. But every guest is important to us, regardless of their status.” If you ever visit Hagi, do try to stay for one night in the ryokan: The rooms are super spacious and well-equipped, and there are Onsens within the compound, and there’s even a room within the ryokan featuring artwork and ancient artifacts from the region.
Needless to say, this trip to Yamaguchi has been inspiring in more ways than one. Not only am I already planning for my next trip back to Japan, I have also replaced my bed with a tatami mat, because I liked how my back pain miraculously went away when I slept on it during my time in Japan.
Have you explored Japan beyond Tokyo? Where did you go and what did you love about it? I’d love to read your recommendations in Comments below!
Besides the regional feature on Yamaguchi, the team at Material World worked hard on many articles in Issue #1 of Oishii magazine. Pick up your complimentary copy at selected restaurants and cafes.
About the Author: Denise Li is a founder of Material World and a freelance writer-editor. Before that, she spent a few years in the Features section of CLEO and Cosmopolitan Singapore. She considers Chiang Mai her spiritual home and makes it a point to head there for a yearly pilgrimage. She’s also a fitness buff and enjoys boxing, running and the occasional yoga session. Follow her on Twitter @DeniseLiTweets.
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