Saturday, June 13, 2009

Day 4: Beautiful Biei

The morning dawned, all dreary and pissy.  We stayed in bed, snugly sandwiched between our quilts and our futons.

We eventually dragged ourselves out of bed and went downstairs for a Japanese-style breakfast: rice porridge with grilled salmon, fermented bean cheese, stewed daikon and the works, plus Hokkaido favourites, potato salad and pasta salad.

After breakfast, we dashed downstairs for another bath.  By the time we emerged, all scrubbed and soaked, the rain had let up.  We took advantage of that to take some last photos of the scenery.

Shirohire Waterfall again

that stream sans mist

a closer look

pine cones

Big Snow Mountain National Park, literally

white wagtail

It was time to leave.  The hotel provided a free ride to Biei Station, so it was that we found ourselves back in Biei town, with enough time before our second Twinkle Bus Tour, to check our email at the Tourist Information Centre.

The Hill Country Course Tour would take us to the other side of Biei, arguably the more famous side.  This was where many an advertisement had been shot, and the "landmarks" had names like "Tree of Ken and Mary" and...

Tree of Family

Not being familiar with Japanese advertisements, we were happy just to appreciate the beauty of the landscape, not to mention the ubiquitous quirky bits and the lovely architecture.

rolling fields, mountains - we could certainly see why the Japanese, living in less spacious conditions, would fall in love with this place

beautiful buildings

you know you are in Japan when there are vending machines everywhere

why do people have to be told these things?

woot, the Calbee Potato Chip factory!

The main pitstop was at the rather grandiosely named Northwest Observatory Park

that white structure is the Northwest Observatory...

We walked around, taking in the view from ground level and from the top of the observatory.

landscaped, rather than landscape

bird's eye view of the stalls (of course) and the parking lot

more beautiful buildings

The weather had indeed cleared up, for the moment anyway.

on a clear day, you can see forever

ah, finally, patchwork fields

we couldn't resist a snack

steamed corn and asparagus

I know that looks like bunny food for health nuts, but, believe me, the corn and asparagus were so flavourful, they felt sinful.

a last look

We weren't too distraught at having to leave - our choice of accommodation for the night would put us right smack in the same neighbourhood, but more on that later...

In the meantime, we found ourselves back at...

... the Biei Station

With a couple of hours to kill before our ride to our accommodation picked us up, we had ourselves a nice lunch.  We went back to Okirakutei Cafe Restaurant.

country cafe vibe

with little "authentic" touches

The chef himself was in attendance, and explained to us that it was a one-option prix fixe menu i.e. there was no menu, just a set meal.  And the main course?

pot au feu

fresh garden salad

We were not surprised that the cooking was more than competent, and made good use of the freshest of local produce. To us, that was so Japanese - that in the middle of nowhere, it would be possible to find classic French food.

The sun was finally out in full force - the town, and in particular its gardens, were in full technicolour.

In the bright sunlight, the town looked like a movie set for "The Truman Show".

Apparently town legislation mandated that all buildings on the main streets had to have triangular roofs and the year they were built emblazoned on their facades.

And then there were the whimsical signs . We wondered if those were mandatory too.

In some ways though, I preferred the more organic, less planned side of town.

the town bath-house!

We finally collected our luggage from the Tourist Information Centre and waited outside the Biei Station for our ride to Potato No Oka.  Mr Marushima who had corresponded with me duly arrived at 3.10 p.m.

Potato No Oka was a youth hostel in the fields of Biei.  We had long considered ourselves too old for the enforced sociability of youth hostels - young backpackers, shudder - but we made an exception for this one.  Every single review we had read had mentioned the excellent food, that plus its excellent location.  Hopefully, this being a Japanese youth hostel, it would all be very civilised.

We were given the Pumpkin Room.  Small and simple, the room was clean and functional.

ooh we would have to make our beds ourselves

the view from our window

The building was all polished timber floors.

the building had a number of these stained glass sunlights

cosy sitting area upstairs

the view from the upstairs sitting area

the rec room

look who's hiding out in the rec room

the dining area

So far so good - the hostel was quiet, clean and not unpretty.  It wasn't time for dinner yet, so we decided to go check out the great outdoors.  We were reminded to be on time for dinner - at Potato No Oka, everyone ate together.

the main building

Just behind the main building were some cute cottages...

and a restaurant which may or may not have been open

We went a little further afield, to take in all that Mother Nature had to offer.

we weren't the only ones out walking

We walked up and down that stretch of road running past Potato No Oka several times, and in that time, the weather blew hot and cold. It was fascinating to watch how the landscape transformed as the sun played peek a boo with the clouds.

We even managed to catch sight of some birds:

the ubiquitous crow

We even caught sight of a Greater Spotted Woodpecker, hopping up and down a wooden lamp-post, but could not get a good shot of it.

When we returned to the hostel, we found that the tables in the dining room had been set and labelled. We sat down at "our" table on which our dinner had been laid out.


fried fish with tomato sauce, daikon and asparagus

miso soup with tofu and mushrooms

potato gratin with tomato sauce

satsuma (mandarin orange) jelly

Dinner was a real pleasure and every bit worthy of the hype. Again, this was a gourmet meal, using French techniques to bring out the best of Japanese ingredients. We didn't see any chef - dinner was served by the hostel staff - though there must have been one.

After dinner, everyone was served half and half coffee (half soy bean, half coffee). Mr Matsuda, the owner, stopped by each table to explain that half and half would help us sleep better. He assured us that the coffee served in the morning would be full strength!

After dinner, we observed a group being briefed on the next day's cycling tour of the tour of the area. We had other plans. We retreated to our room. While HM showered, I made our beds.

not too bad, eh?

And then it was lights out.

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