Roadtrip to Yuda Onsen (湯田温泉), Yamaguchi Prefecture
Yamaguchi prefecture has some interesting backroads and whenever I go to Japan, I usually get around here since this is where many of my relatives live. The occasion of this roadtrip was to stay at an onsen as a pre-wedding celebration, but also to visit a relative who, unfortunately, recently fell ill. Because we had to shuffle our plans due to our relative’s illness, we decided to stay at an onsen in Yuda, which is an onsen town, and near the hospital.
Let me back up a bit and talk about the roadtrip. We started in Hiroshima and drove along the Oseto sea, along the main highway. Although this was a fairly short trip, we had to make frequent stops to accommodate the older folks. And for the chowhound in me, I really wanted to stop at the rest stops along the highways in Japan, since they’re very different from the ones in the US. Apparently, the rest stop on the highway at Miyajima-guchi is well known for the view (of Miyajima island), so there are plenty of people stopping, which also means that there’s a brisk food business. This is one of the several food stalls offering food.
There’s also a cafeteria inside and a corridor full of vending machines, offering a full array of drinks as well as some snack foods. Inside, in the cafeteria, there are plenty of choices for hot foods like udon, or donburi, and other standards, and also a few little stores selling the local specialties. At Miyajima-guchi, it’s oysters. Outside, at the food stands, it’s like a festival. Okonomiyaki, various grilled items on sticks, roasted chestnuts, sweet potatoes, and other foods that are convenient on the go. However, like most festivals, the food is good, but not entirely wonderful. We got some chestnuts, and some grill/fried items on sticks and left it at that, since we would be stopping for lunch later.
Here’s a view from the reststop parking lot.
If you look carefully at the sea, you see all the oyster beds. And the beds continue for a few miles along the highway.
The older folks usually want to eat washoku (Japanese food), so stopping at a MosBurger won’t do the trick, but in these rural towns, finding a quick washoku stop could be difficult. Luckily we found a place called Yume-an (夢庵), a washoku chain, in a shopping center just off the main road going to Yuda. Yume-an was an ideal choice with something for everyone, and good prices. I got the ten-don. Maybe I haven’t searched enough for it in the US, but I’ve never had an exceptional ten-don in the US, while the ten-dons I’ve had in Japan have always been pretty darn good, even at chain shops like this one or Ten-ya. The nabeyaki udon seemed like it would be good since it comes out like an actual nabe, cooked on the table, but it seems a little misconceived since some of the ingredients, like the tempura need to be laid on top at the end of the cooking, rather than have it cooked into the soup. I was interested in their seasonal offerings, and they had big advertisements for the “crab fair” going on, featuring many types of crab dishes, from donburi, to croquettes, to nabemono. Their website has photos, though you have to navigate to the menu pages. We were pretty happy with the offerings at Yume-an, and if there was a place like this in the US for these prices, I’d be there in an instant.
Yume-an website: http://www.skylark.co.jp/yumean/index.html
The place that my relatives stay is a ryokan called Fujinoya (for a good value along with good food), but they couldn’t handle our group on short notice, so we had to make alternate plans and found another ryokan called Koteru (小てる). Koteru is a basic onsen ryokan that doesn’t really go above and beyond the standard services. Perhaps it can be considered a blue-collar ryokan. It’s a decent value, but compared to other ryokans I’ve stayed at, it’s very basic. The hot springs in Yuda run hotter than most, and the onsens in town are said to keep the water pretty hot, as was the case at Koteru. The food, though decent, was nothing to write home about, though there were a few little surprises. They didn’t have in-room service, so we ate in a nondescript dining room (almost cafeteria-like) and were served the usual ryokan courses, with sashimi, grilled fish, chawan-mushi, soba noodles, and most surprisingly, a westernized chicken dish baked in foil and flavored with rosemary. The sashimi was really good. The older folks commented that it was very good sashimi, and the matron of the house was nice enough to bring out another order of sashimi for them. The chicken seemed strangely out of place, but it was also pretty good. There’s nothing subtle about rosemary, so there were some flavors clashing, it seemed to me, but a well executed dish is a well executed dish. The older folks didn’t quite appreciate the chicken, so I got more than my share. The consensus was that they needed to pour wine to go with the chicken. http://farm1.static.flickr.com/188/371700148_171c118432_o.jpg
While the food was nothing to write home about, the hot spring was pretty nice. There were a couple yakuza types in there with their full body tattoos, which made me a bit nervous since it’s difficult not to stare a little, but they seemed to be there to enjoy the hot baths too.
Koteru website: http://www.c-able.ne.jp/~koteru/
More info on Koteru: http://www.axis.or.jp/~yuda/yado/koteru.html
Website on Yamaguchi with link to Yuda onsen (in English): http://www.city.yamaguchi.lg.jp/kanko/org/eng/02spots/y_top.html
Yuda Onsen website (in Japanese): http://www.axis.or.jp/~yuda/index.html
Fujinoya (where we really wanted to go): http://www7.ocn.ne.jp/~fujinoya/
Sounds like a fun trip. Actually, from the website and your experience, it seems Koteru is a "minshuku" rather than a "ryokan". I find minshuku good for road trips while I tend to book in advanced nicer ryokan stays. Every minshuku I've been to has had that communal dining thing. You usually get what you pay for at them- in my experience.