Our obsession with long train trips and onsens continued and we decided to go on a day trip to visit Arima Onsen, just north of Kobe. We booked a day stay at a onsen including a 5 – 6 course lunch – including Sashimi, Kobe beef, Tempura among many others, and a dip in their famous sulphur onsens.
As usual, we were late because we got lost in between the train transits. After asking around and using the internet to navigate our way and followed by an ‘obligatory couple fight’, we finally reached Arima Onsen an hour late for our scheduled time slot for the private Onsen. We felt bad and were very apologetic but the staff were kind enough to reschedule our time slot and ushered us to our room to have 8 course meal first. I could not remember some of the food items served for the 1st entrée but they were definitely delicious cause I could still recall myself polishing the plate. The dish was served with a shot of citrus liquor. Though served in a small amount, the drink was packed full of citrus zest with a hint of sweetness.
The next two entrées consisted of an assortment of sashimi. Chia got a bit too excited when she spotted a small piece of vegetable garnish on the glass serving dish, exclaiming,’ Look! It’s billin !’ According to her billin or fiddlehead fern (according to Wikipedia) is a fern vegetable that could be found in her hometown and is often served with garlic sauce or cooking wine. She was surprised to find something similar in Japan.
The first main dish was shabu-shabu and there was nothing as satisfying as having a nice warm hotpot dish during winter. Halfway through our meals, our eating pace started to slow down as we were getting very full. However, our eyes quickly lit up when the hostess came in with a small dish of tempura and Kobe beef. The tempura may be delicious but the main star of the meal had to be the beef. The beef was cooked on a small individual stove for a few minutes before consumption. The marbelization of the fat gave the beef a buttery, melt-in-your-mouth texture. Without any seasoning, the beef tasted amazing by itself!
Sadly, we forgot to take a picture of our dessert but if I could recall correctly, we were served Yuzu jelly (a type of citrus fruit found in Japan) and it was refreshing after a heavy meal. After our meal, we headed to our private onsen, located on top of the building to take a dip. The atmosphere was quiet and serene. The onsen was not completely closed off, so we could still enjoy the scenery and cool winter breeze while whatever tensions we had on that day were lifted off.
After a 15 minute dip, we started to feel slightly light-headed, perhaps due to not having gotten used to the temperature of the hot spring. We knew it was time to leave and after bidding the staff farewell, we went around exploring the area. As much as I love the rush of the people and the buzz of a metropolitan city like Tokyo, I have a soft spot for smaller quaint towns on the countryside – for example Arima had a toy mueseum, a small family owned store dedicated to cats and many other unique gift and souvenir stores that you will never find in the city. People are friendlier, talkative and just a pleasant feeling walking around the town compared to the hustle and bustle in busier cities.
We came across this small family-owned store that sell mostly handmade cat themed souvenirs and items. The store owner also had her two really well-fed cats roaming around the shop, with their typical look of contempt, which most cats generally have but we still find them cute nonetheless. The shop also sell some sweets and soft serve ice cream. We had a black sesame soft serve to share and had a short but pleasant conversation with the store owner. The owner is warm and friendly and according to her, all the souvenirs were designed and drawn by her daughter.
On the way back to Osaka, we had a short stopover at Kobe – as we were walking along one of the shopping streets, we turned into an alley and discovered Kobe’s Chinatown. All of sudden we were surrounded by red decorations, novelty stores, Chinese food, red lanterns and a traditional Chinese pagoda surrounded by the 12 zodiacs. I know most people comment on what is the point of exploring Chinatown in another country and being Chinese ourselves. Though that argument has valid points, Chia and I could not help being curious as we wanted to know how Chinatown in Japan looks like and how our food and culture are represented there.
The foods mostly sold there were nikuman (Chinese pork buns) and other steamed buns with various fillings. dumplings, sweet and sour dishes, noodle dishes, and selected varieties of dim sum. One of the stalls even sold Peking Duck! Not to mention, there were a lot of Panda themed souvenirs. Chia told me walking through Chinatown reminded her of those post-apocalyptic movies where dodgy underground dealings were made and information sold. Of course in reality and with all the cute panda themed items and food, we doubt anything like that will happen anytime soon.
For dinner we stopped by Coco’s near our hotel and had comfort food – Tonkatsu curry. We had a small serve of fried chicken with spicy mayo on the side.
Of course the food fest did not end here. Chia wanted to end the day with something sweet, so she bought a custard cream puff to share, while on the way back to our hotel. To end this post, here’s a random picture I took for Chia as the doughnut store was probably selling some Rilakkuma themed doughnuts at that point in time and one of her close friends is very fond of the bear. Actually, we still do not know what is the exact reasoning was going in our heads but Chia was ecstatic and exclaiming that she could not wait to show this picture to her friend, which she admittedly hasn’t. Also, we just realised the cashier was very well-prepared as you could see her posing for the camera from far. What a pro!