An Inn Worth Staying In: Watanabe

Watanabe Inn Sign

Even though I enjoyed the Christmas holidays which was just last month, I already feel like I need a vacation. It’s been a little stressful for me lately for reasons beyond my control so it would be nice to go on a trip somewhere where I could just relax will help take my mind off a few things. This reminds me of my previous post on Miyajima, Japan. I truly cherished our time there, particularly our stay in Watanabe Inn.

We decided to stay overnight on Miyajima island based on a number of reviews we read. However, there weren’t many places to stay (not to mention expensive) but sifting through people’s comments and recommendations, we were able to find this delightful place. It’s a small family-owned inn which is nicely situated right in the heart of town and away from the big hotels or tourist spots. The place is so quiet that you can even hear the trickling sound coming from a creek nearby.

While it takes about a 20-minute walk to get Watanabe Inn from the ferry docks, it is certainly well worth the effort. We went there first to check-in and drop off our luggage.

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The landlord immediately greeted us by the door, took our luggage and seated us in the restaurant. They served us green tea and locally-made cookies while waiting for our room to be ready. It was nice to have that warm tea as it was a bit chilly when we arrived.

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After a few minutes, we were fetched and then led upstairs see our room. Although the steps on the stairs were narrow, like the rest of the inn, it was charming and had lots of character.

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There are only three rooms so they can only accommodate three groups of guests per day. However, the rooms are spacious, well-appointed and done in traditional Japanese style. The size of the rooms are determined by the number of Tatami mats which are made from Japanese grass called igusa. One Tatami mat is equivalent to one-person size. We were given the “Momiji” of “Autumn Leaves” room which is the size of 10 mats. The other rooms are “Shiraito” of “Undyed White Thread” room which is the size of 16 mats, and the smallest of the three, “Sesshu” of “the Japanese ancient ink-painter, Sesshu” room which is the size 8 mats.

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Every detail was well thought out in this room, even this Ikebana arrangement of fresh flowers.

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Each room also has a separate toilet and private bath made of Japanese cypress wood. Taking a bath in this tub was heavenly! It was different but it felt so good and relaxing.

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As for the toilet, it’s pretty hi-tech with all the bells and whistles, all easily controlled with a touch of a button. It even conserves water. After washing your hands, the “dirty” water is collected in the tank to be used for the next flush.

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In the closet, each guest is given a yukata or a casual summer kimono and a complimentary toiletry bag containing a face towel and a toothbrush. They also provide a pair of thin cotton socks as guests are not allowed to wear shoes or outer footwear inside the inn.

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There are no coffee makers here. Instead, a tea set, a small container of green tea and a plugged-in thermos (which ensures there is always hot water)  are available in the room.

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Downstairs is a restaurant where you have a choice of dining in traditional Japanese style or Western style. Of note, another reason we chose to stay here is that each overnight stay includes two meals — a dinner and a breakfast.

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As much as we wanted to stay and relax in our room, we hurriedly went out to explore the area while there was still some daylight left.  After a long day of sight-seeing and shopping, we worked up an appetite so we went back to the inn. Before our meals arrived, we ordered Kirin beer which came in this big bottle.

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We actually forgot that while our stay includes dinner (and breakfast), it wasn’t just a typical dinner like ramen or sushi. It was kaiseki-ryori, a traditional multi-course Japanese dinner which is often small and artistically arranged. The menu changes all the time as only fresh seasonal ingredients, usually locally sourced, are used and prepared in ways that aim to enhance their flavour.

We couldn’t make out all the ingredients in each dish that were served but they were all well-prepared and delicious. Equally amazing was the presentation of each dish as you can see in the following pictures.

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- 1st course: I think it’s seaweed with a little bit of okra. -

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 - 2nd course: Grilled oyster, grilled fish (skin on) and some pickled items -

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- 3rd course: Translucent fish sashimi with a small salad on the side -

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- 4th course: I know what you’re thinking but this fish head had a lot of meat in it and certainly one of the best we’ve ever tasted. -

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- 5th course: Battered and fried oyster -

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- 6th course: Perfectly cooked steak with enoki mushrooms -

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- 7th course: Clams in a tasteful clam broth -

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- 8th course: A plate of sushi -

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- 9th course: For dessert, the sweetest persimmon and strawberries we’ve ever had which were served chilled. -

We were certainly full after having this elegant and very satisfying nine-course meal. After thanking our gracious host, we retreated to our bedroom to have a nice warm bath and relax. Once we got in our room, we noticed the futon mattresses have already been nicely made and prepared for us. These futons were actually very comfortable to sleep on.

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The next day, we woke up early to catch our 9 a.m. ferry ride, and of course, we didn’t want to miss our breakfast.

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- To start: Some pickled vegetables, tofu, rice and hot broth -

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- Main course was nice and light with fried egg, a couple of pieces of bacon and side salad. -

A great way to end a perfectly good breakfast is with a nice cup of espresso.

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Ahhh… It’s time to go on another memorable trip. Hopefully soon!

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