Value Dega Deal @ WaQu, Crows Nest

Date of Visit: October 28 2013

I have driven past WaQu along Pacific Highway, maybe a zillion times.  I had wanted to try out the Japanese cuisine there but had never got around to checking it out until last Sunday evening.  Perhaps due to stiff competitions along the numerous Japanese eateries along the strip, the  establishment is currently offering a 6-course degustation meal at $58, which is $10 off – perfect to spend on a glass of wine to accompany the meal!

For the wine aficionado, an additional $45 will get you 6 different wines to match with your meal which I went for.  Otherwise, a glass of 2009 Dourthe  ‘Terrasse de la Jalle’, a Cabernet Savignon from Medoc, France ($12)  comes highly recommended by my Mom who appreciates robust red wines.  I had a sip, and found the wine to be pleasant with soft tanins (e.g. not bitter and dry).

First up, was my sake – Toyo Bijin, a sake in DaiGinjo-style from Yamaguchi Perfecture, west of Japan. This style of sake is made of highly polished rice – up to 50% – and added with additional alcohol.  It is a light, crisp and fruity varietal that paired well with my amuse bouche and first course to come.

Amuse Bouche for the table was sushi rice wrapped in charred zuchini and Japanese basil. The inclusion of the herbaceous Japanese basil or shiso – as it is commonly known – together with the chopped up hazelnuts gave a unique and vibrant taste that I can only describe as citrusy and nutty.

20131027-214735.jpg

Zucchini Sushi

Course 1

Soup of the day is chilled pumpkin soup infused in coconut milk and onion with a generous douze of lemon oil on top.  A truly delectable milky sweet soup, with barely a hint of onion.  Paired with the acidity of the fruity fragrant Toyo Bijin sake, the umaminess of the soup is extenuated, thus making this combo akin to an aperitif.

20131027-214744.jpg

Chilled pumpkin
soup

Course 2

The sommelier, now wearing his waiter-hat, explained the cooking method of Su-Jime Salmon Sashimi which came beautifully plated in a glazed stone bowl with mango sauce, myoga salad, lightly fried wild rice, green tea salt. The raw salmon has been macerated in Japanese rice vinegar to cook and it is akin to Peruvian cerviche without the sourness.  Mango sauce went well with the sashimi . The myoga salad was basically spring onions if I recall correctly.

To drink: 2008 Frogmore Creek, Cuvee Evermore from Coal River Valley, Tasmania

20131027-214754.jpg

Su-Jime Salmon
Sashimi

Course 3:

Scallops + Beans is a platter of 2 big juicy scallops accompanied by peas of sorts. There was a big broadbean hidden under the prociutto crisp. Light-flavoured peas puree together with peas and yoghurt mousse provided additional richness to the scallops, but I prefered the robust crunchy sweet peas instead.  Not sure about the macadamia nuts dusting though as it rendered itself quite tasteless, but quite made a pretty heap.

To Drink: 2013 Brindabella Hills, Rieslings, Canberra ACT.   Canberra is an emerging wine district, and this riesling is akin to the floral minerally Austrian riesling with good acidity.

20131027-214804.jpg

Scallops + Beans

Course 4  (2 choices to choose from)

My Bro had the Pan-fried Barramundi which came accompanied with grilled eggplant nibitashi (that means eggplants that have been grilled, then stewed in soy and mirin sauce), cucumber and zuchini puree.

20131027-214815.jpg

Pan-fried Barramundi

While my Mom and I had the Pan-fried Kingfish.  True to the Sommelier-waiter explanation, the skin was indeed the best part of the fish.  I also enjoyed the salty bacon foam which contrasted well with the bitter watercress puree.  The steamed white asparagus were lightly charred and were delectable to help cut the flavoursome taste of the fish  off my palate.  Not sure about the roasted soba seeds though – but interesting to see they looked like rice! 😜

To Drink: A dry-medium bodied  2012 Hamelin Bay Chardonnay from Margaret River, WA.  A nose of bitter almond and sweet pineapple, it has a hint of cashew nut, clean and crisp without any butteriness.

20131027-214840.jpg

Pan-fried Kingfish

Course 5  (3 choices to choose)

Bro chose Tajima Wagyu Sirloin Steak, this incurred a surcharge of $8.  The accompaniments were  celeriac puree, rocket puree, apple sauce, potato gratine, mustard seeds.

20131027-214848.jpg

Tajima Wagyu Sirloin Steak

My Mom chose Roast Rack of Lamb which is accompanied  by purple carrot and almond  puree, mung bean sprout salad, potato confit.

20131027-214908.jpg

Roast Rack of Lamb

I chose the Thirlmere Corn Fed Chicken Two Way.  The roasted chicken breast was not as tender as I liked, but the skin was fantastically thin and perfectly crispy.  I used the parsnip ginger puree as ‘lubricant’.  The chicken thigh was juicier and stuffed with a roulade with cauliflower and black truffle which smelt heavenly.

To Drink: 2010 Shadowfax ‘Minnow‘, a Cinsault Mataro Carignan from Mornington, VIC which is  herbaceous with a nose of lavender and rose berry.

20131027-214916.jpg

Thirlmere Corn Fed Chicken Two Way

 Course 6

My final wine pairing for the night was the Ume-no-yado, a plum sake from Nara Japan.  This is an unfliltered sake thus the cloudy look.  It has the honey plum nose as well as taste.  Sweet!

20131027-214925.jpg

Ume-no-yado

Strawberry x Strawberry x Strawberry signalled the end of our meal.  This is a deconstructed strawberry cheesecake… Strawberry cheese cubes, strawberry mousse, sweet macerated strawberries, sable crumbs, nougat pieces and cream sauce… I especially liked the herb-infused strawberry sorbet which is utterly refreshing, adding a summeriness to the mouthfeel – so let’s not about the unpredictable weather in Sydney now – blowing hot and cold – making me take a lot of guesswork in my ward-robing!

20131027-214932.jpg

Strawberry x Strawberry x Strawberry

20131027-214942.jpg

Strawberry x Strawberry x Strawberry

A swig of coffee, a moment to digest, then we are off!

Service was pretty good in general, although there was a hiccup in our reservation.  I booked through Dimmi and received a couple of reminders and even a text inquiring dietary requirements, yet we arrived at the restaurant, our booking was not on the clapboard and raised a pair of well-groomed Japanese meterosexual male eyebrows.  Otherwise, service was attentive whereby the waiters took great pains to explain each dish – in this instance the sommelier was the star!

This is truly an upscale modern Japanese -Australian fusion dining sans the price.

20131031-113955.jpg

Quick iPhone shot of the moody timber interior.

WaQu scored 84% out of 204 votes at the time of posting

Waqu on Urbanspoon

Join in the Fun! My 2nd Liesbster Award

WooHoo!  I am awarded the Liebster Award by Deb of Hong Kong Fong.

(Thanks Deb!  😘 )

We have been following each other for over a couple of months now.  Deb is an American expat from the States currently residing in Hong Kong, her blog is an interesting personal blog of sorts documenting her stay in the City That Never Sleeps – I especially love her photography – well, she’s a photographer(!) – and her restaurant reviews.  I’ll stop gushing and let you check her blog out!

Moreover, this is also my second time receiving the award,  my first was awarded by Hari of Hari’s Got Tales (here).   He writes lovely Indonesian Peranakan tales and fables – check him out too!

liebster-a

Liebster is an loving German term and that mean ‘sweetest, kindest, nicest, dearest, beloved, lovely, kind, pleasant, valued, cute, endearing, and welcome

I have explained Liebster Award in my previous blog, so I won’t repeat it again.  Basically, in order to accept this award, one has to:

  • Answer the 10 questions asked of me by the blogger who nominated me
  • Nominate other bloggers to receive the Liebster Award
  • Create 10 new questions for my nominees to answer, should they choose to accept the award

Deb’s 10 Qs to me:
1. What makes you tick?
Deadlines.  A procrastinator like me gets an adrenaline rush from simply panicking!! But once settled, my concentration is undivided.  With my attention totally focused on the task in hand, I produce my ‘best’ work with speed like Speedy Gonzales!  Arriba! Arriba! Andale! Andale!  (What says you, Deb?  Finally got around to answering your Qs after 1 month?  😜)

speedy_gonzales_02_800x600

Speedy Gonzales
Source: Internet

2. Most memorable travel experience?
A recent trip to Gokayama, Japan where we were holed up in the ranger’s hut in the snow storm.  C’mon, snow in March? (Adventure blog to come! 😜 )

3. Most memorable culinary experience?
I love theatrics.  So a lit-up classic Bombe Alaska is always a treat, still is…

4. Sweet or savory?
Hmmm…Salted caramel ice-cream… Maple Bacon Ice-cream… tough call, but I’ll have both, thank you!  That’s sweet-savory for me!

5. Modern or rustic?
Modern

6. Favorite childhood memory, or most powerful epiphany in life so far?
Never trust the nice man in Armani suit“, spoken by a lady Mayor in Iceland – the first country to collapse in the GFC – I believe this was the opening line to ‘Inside Job‘, a documentary on the GFC narrated by Matt Damon.  So, yes, my most powerful epiphany in life so far is never to trust anybody (notwithstanding a financial advisor) with my money!  And don’t buy into any funds! (Been there, done that)

7. How do you define community?
“Community  is a living, breathing, interactive entity where people hold two-way conversations.  There is an exchange of ideas and the  value of this community should become such that one feels privileged to be connected to a like-minded group of people and thankful such a group exists to help others embark on a similar journey to our own.  – outforalonglunch.com”

8. #1 thing to do on your (remaining) bucket list?
I’m guessing going on stage in a fitness competition will always remain the #1 on my bucket list – while high up on my list, I don’t think I will even attempt it.  But a nice wishful thought.  So, maybe a tight 6-pack then?

9. #1 place to visit on your (remaining) bucket list?
I’m slowing working my way through my bucket list. I did Camino Santiago in 2011 and next year, my side-kick gal pal and I will be going on the Inca Trail.  I hope to do all the pilgrimage trails and trade routes.

10. Who is your hero?
There are many nameless everyday heroes and it would be unjust to name just one. So, let’s go with a fairy-tale character. My favourite fairy-tale is ‘Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs’, so I’d pick the Prince who brought Snow White back to life with his magic kiss – and a dash of romance!

6a00d8341c55bb53ef01156fd35aa7970b-200wi

Prince Kissing Snow White
Source: Internet

My Nominees are new blogs I have been following since my last Liebster Award – and they are…(drums roll, please)
1.  Yummy Lummy – Dr Gary Lum from the Garden City aka Canberra, his blog focuses on his outings, food and restaurant reviews around Canberra, he also rates the napkins and hygine facilites in the establishments!
2. Suitui pui – Arthur, a popular retired English teacher, the proclaimed Food Mayor in Sibu – the town I’m currently spending much time in – my go-to source for good eats around town.
3. Japan-Hub.com – a terrific and resourceful blog encompassing all things Japan which I truly enjoy
4. Guai Shu Shu  – Kenneth Goh writes a very detailed  recipe blog which I came across when I was reading on Sarawakian food.
5. Chestervizconde – my new friend in the blogsphere.  We ‘met’ yesterday.

Since I had such fun in answering Deb’s questions, I’m going to recyle her Qs!

So Nominees, here goes the 10 Qs!
1. What makes you tick?
2. Most memorable travel experience?
3. Most memorable culinary experience?
4. Sweet or savory?
5. Modern or rustic?
6. Favorite childhood memory, or most powerful epiphany in life so far?
7. How do you define community?
8. #1 thing to do on your (remaining) bucket list?
9. #1 place to visit on your (remaining) bucket list?
10. Who is your hero?

My dear Nominees, DO Spread the LOVE!  Pass the award along!

Hope you join in the fun as much as I do and I look forward to you answers!

Danke Schoen All!

Near Death, 36 Hours in Pavilion Mall KLCC, Malaysia… and An Announcement!

Date: October 24 2013

4 sticks of satay chicken on a bed of tomato fried rice, 1 bread roll, some salad and a slice of orange cake on board MAS from SiBoo to Kuala Lumpur… could this possibly be my last meal? And if it was, at least I have tried the Malay tomato fried rice before I perished! 😉

20131024-144556.jpg

MAS: Inflight Lunch

Perished? Err… excuse me?

Let’s keep this hush-hush between you and I OK? I posted my flight’s near-collision on my FB whereby my friend immediately commented that this piece of info is considered ‘OSA’ in Malaysia and anyone leaking this info will face up to RM1 Million or 1-year mandatory imprisonment or both!

What the heck is OSA? According to Wiki, OSA is short for The Official Secrets Act 1972 (Act 88), a Malaysian statute prohibiting the dissemination of information classified as an official secret. The legislation is based on the Official Secrets Acts of the United Kingdom. Apparently, a blogger has been held under the draconian Official Secret Acts (here) because of his comments on the Sultan of Johor. Well then, since it was announced by the pilot onboard with 100-odd passengers, if the OSA does indeed operates, then we are all going to be arrested!

Back to the near-collision story, our plane was on approach to land in KLIA, when another bigger plane trespassed into our path. We had to make a sudden acceleration to go back up into air, spending a good 10 minutes of circling before we made finally it down to land (all-in-all, the flight to KL took nearly 5 hours, taking into account the hour-long delay in SiBoo). Anyway, I saw a nice seaside resort very similar to the plan of Dubai Palm Jumeirah’s land reclamation – if anyone knows the name of the resort, do enlighten me.

*****

After refreshing and unpacking – and feeling rather knackered, I decided to go for an early dinner @ La Boca which I had been before (here).

In anticipation of my Inca Trail next year, an induction into Peruvian food is a must. First up, the ubiquitous pisco sour. Sweet, tangy, punchy and deceivingly alcoholic, this lemonade made with egg white made me go: “Hit me Baby, one more time!”

20131023-212616.jpg

Pisco Sour

Since there were 3 of us, we ordered Fajitas La Boca to share. It looked exactly like in the menu. There is an option for beef, lamb, chicken or mushrooms (vegetarian). We opted for mushrooms. In hindsight we should have asked for the other meat options because the mushrooms with lots of onions and capsicums were oily and not very filling.

20131026-154948.jpg

Picture menu

20131024-134921.jpg

Fajita (with a side of 4 tortillas wraps, not pictured)

My main was Peruvian Salmon Ceviche. The salmon was not raw as I had expected, it had been lightly seared and mixed with bits of corn kernels, onions, tomatoes, avocado and capsicum. It tasted alright, although I didn’t bother with the accompaniment of the tough cassava chips.

20131023-212816.jpg

Peruvian Salmon Ceviche: Topped with rockets, tough cassava chips drizzled in pesto oil

My dining companion #1 had his usual: Steak, chips and salad, which he finished with a gusto.

20131024-142350.jpg

Steak, chips and salad

My dinner companion #2 had Seafood curry. It was a HUGE with pan-fried salmon attoped with 4 pieces of prawns, 2 huge wedges of pumpkins and rice. The curry was rather Malaysian, although I have no idea what Latino curries tasted like – I will find out in April 2014!

20131024-142406.jpg

Seafood curry

*****

To round off our meal, we headed to Meet Fresh, a Taiwanese franchise renowned for desserts on Level 6.

Dining companion #1, being the healthy one opted for Mung bean, Lotus Seed and Tofu pudding.

20131024-142424.jpg

Mung bean, Lotus Seed and Tofu pudding (RM6.50)

Dining companion #2 had the new Super Mango Shaved Ice which is lots of defrosted mango pieces on top of a bed of shaved iced soaked in mango juice and topped with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream.

20131024-142628.jpg

Super Mango Shaved Ice (RM9.80)

Me, being me, went for Meet Fresh Special Herb Jelly – because I loved the combination of chewy taro balls, yam balls and melt-in-my mouth herbal jelly. I even requested for a scoop of Taro Ice-cream to send me to sweet-sweet lullaby!

20131024-142635.jpg

Meet Fresh Special Herb Jelly (RM6.90) + Taro Ice-cream (RM2)

*****

Breakfast meeting the next morning @ Pressroom Bistro which is at The Connection, outside the mall.

20131024-142644.jpg

Croissant + Flat White (RM14++)

20131026-154954.jpg

Menu

*****

Lunch @ Ippudo. Surprisingly, the noodles have improved since my last visit here.

20131024-142653.jpg

Shiromaru Motoaji + Onsen Tamago

20131024-142659.jpg

Akamaru Shinaji

Met for Coffee @ Ben’s which I had been to before (here). The Iced Black Coffee was very weak, I prefered Dr. Mahatir’s version (here) with -60C ice-cubes!

20131024-194800.jpg

Weak, weak Iced Black Coffee… yuck, yuck, yuck!

*****

Upon entering the Madam Kwan’s (at the Basement of Pavilion Mall KLCC) for dinner, a quirky lady in a hat came to greet us and directed us to our table. Madam Kwan looked very much the caricature in her menu, a woman in her 70s, she is almost a fixture at her restaurant. Myself and one other decided to order 2 dishes to share.

Can you believe that I have never tried Otak Otak? I saw an episode on Asian Food Channel (AFC), presented in Mandarin by a chap called ‘Ah Sien’, who travels around Malaysia and Singapore in search of the perfect Malaysian street food. In one particular episode he talked about Otak Otak, his description of this street food made it sound impossibly delicious and got me interested. This is a spicy fish paste wrapped in banana leaf. Hmm… as a chili padi enthusiast, I have to say this one is overly spicy for me and thank goodness for the side of cucumber! The Char Kway Teow was pretty ordinary fare.

20131024-194807.jpg

Char Kway Teow $18.90

20131024-194813.jpg

Otak Otak $19.90

There, there, 36-hours stay-over in Pavilion KLCC, carb-ladden by meals with hidden sugars, no wonder I felt very bloated and very yucky… whew, at least my clothes still fits!

As I took my early flight back to the Land of Oz the next morning, I did a bit of contemplation and decided that my current sedentary lifestyle and the choice of food are not doing me any good. I am flabby, sluggish, achy and tired all the time. Even though I take time out to run at least 2-3 times a week, the unbearable heat makes me exhausted even before I start my run. Grr… running is not cutting it, I need to lift weights. So the picture below is my ‘final’ – fingers-crossed –carb-ladden meal before I embark on my 3-month Body transformation on November 1.

20131027-154808.jpg

Inflight Brunch KL-Sydney: Fruit salad, Main (Omelette with chicken sausage, spicy potato wedges, mushrooms, tomato and sweet peas, Orange cake, croissant, muesli bar, snickers bar, tea, red wine, 1 mini magnum).

So here’s THE announcement, in additional to my normal restaurant/food reviews and travels, I shall be blogging about my ‘transformation’ aka how I’m gonna get my groove back every Monday – starting next week! I will be documenting my food journal for the past week and the exercises I’m doing. A bit of a challenge, as you shall soon see as I love food and wine a teeny-weeny bit too much!

I’m excited now, hope you are too! See you around! 😘

Indigenous Sarawak River Fish: Tengadak @ New Capital Restaurant, Sibu, Malaysia

M.I.A?  ME??  NOooo…!!

I had my knickers in knots trying to self-host my blog.  I got sold on the idea that one shouldn’t live in a rental when one can afford to move out to one’s own house, but the ‘deal’ went pear-shaped ‘cos I’m not the most literate when it comes to computer. Sure, I can pay USD100 for the ‘happiness engineer’ to spare me the misery, but surely that defeats the purpose of having a paideutics hobby, right?  Me, being a practical miser that I am, thought that I can somehow be my own happiness engineer with the assistance of  the free youtubes and literatures abound on the web! How wrong I was – it was an exercise in futility and so I cancelled my BlueHost and ditched the idea of redesigning my webpage.  Lesson learnt:  Computer stuffs should be best left to professionals.

The past couple of weeks  have been excruciatingly hot – so hot that my tummy bloats up  to the size of  a water-melon and have me belching!  I’m guessing the heat and too much natural fermentation in my tummy from my daily diet of cabbages and brocollis is making me Miss Farty-pants, so I went in search for a simple home-styled lunch.

New Capital Restaurant is my go-to restaurant in SiBoo Town for yummy-licious Cantonese-Sarawakian cuisine.  There are only 2 restaurants worth going to in Boo Town and I am so surprised -shocked – that they are not even listed on TripAdvisor!  (The other restaurant is here)

So when the proprietress recommended tengadak – a fresh river fish, I was thrilled.  Fresh river fishes are notable produces from Sarawak.  Unfortunately, over-fishing and pollution means tengaraks are fast becoming scarce.  Furthermore, with the development of the highly controversial Bakun Hydroelectric Dam – the second tallest concrete-faced rockfill dam in the world for a population of 2.4M people in Sarawak – their natural habitat in the rapids and rocky areas are also under threat.

Here is a quick snap of my tengadak fish.  It has been steamed first then ladled over with sizzling hot oil and light soy sauce to enrich its delicate flavour.

20130921-195028.jpg

Steamed Tengadak in light soy sauce

Tengadaks are bony fish due to its small size but very delicious – just be mindful of the tiny ‘Y-shaped’ bones.  Their flesh are naturally sweet and flaky as they feed on natural organic staples such as insects, reptiles, amphibians, fish, flowers and fruits that are caught in the turbulent water.

Tengadaks are indigenous fish to Sarawak.   They are a slow-growing species that take at least 5 years to mature up to 800g in weight. The biggest tengadak caught was only around 2kg.  Most line-caught ones from the river are around 300-500g.  Attempts have been made to farm the tengadaks, but farmed fishes taste ‘muddy’, and do not even come close to those living in the wild.

20131021-191300.jpg

Who hit the jack-pot?!
Source: Reflections from Sarawak’s Rivers – coffee table book but forgot to take the name of the author.. 😦

Let’s cut to the chase – care to take a guess at how much my  little 400g fish costs?

Well, the fish did pushed the envelope of my lunch budget at RM400.  Still, when compared to the ‘King’ of fresh river fish in Sarawak – Empurau – aka the most expensive fish in Malaysia – tengadak is ‘cheap’.   The nickname for empurau is ‘unforgetable’ and at RM6,000 for a fish, this nickname  is very appropriate!  Check out the article here

20131021-123905.jpg

RM6,000 for an empurau fresh river fish (wholesale price)
Source: Borneo Post

‘Side-kicks’ to my lunch were:

20130921-194950.jpg

Native Sarawakian fern: Stir-fried ‘Midin’

20130921-195000.jpg

Midin

20130921-195010.jpg

All-time favourite: Deep-fried sweet and sour pork

20130921-195019.jpg

Double-boiled Chicken soup with Chinese water-cress

Do check out New Capital Restaurant for authentic Cantonese-Sarawakian dishes, if you are lucky, they may have exotic games on their menu!

20130921-194918.jpg

Address on pink paper serviette

Bro’s Blessing Ceremony @ Ise Grand Shrine, Japan

Amidst the cacophony of strumming string instruments and whistling pipes, 5 girls in Shinto robes are staging a prayer-dance in slow, circular movements, paying respects to all the 4 directions while holding the fans and bells in their hands (torimono). This is Miko Kagura, one of the oldest type of kagura danced by women in Shinto shrines.  Originally, miko kagura was a shamanic trance dance, performed by the miko who were shamanesses but it later evolved into a prayer-dance led by the priestesses in the service of the Shinto Shrines.

I am kneeling with my back straight, sitting seiza-style at my Bro’s Shinto Blessing ceremony in Kaguraden (Hall of Sacred Music and Dance) at Ise Grand Shrine.

Trying hard I am to concentrate on the religious rites being performed on the wooden stage in front of the sparsely decorated timber hall, but I am in too much of an agony to absorb any of the religious renditions – least of all, understanding the utterances! All I know albeit selfishly  is that my legs are burning and stinging with pain after only kneeling on the tatami floor for 5 minutes (!!)  *what a whimp, but kneeling is not for the un-initiated!*

Finally, after what seemed an eternity – 40 minutes – the priest read out his last verse in humming sing-song chants. He invited everyone to join in by bowing twice, then clapping our hands twice and following our final bow – the drum is beaten. We are now allowed to step out of our seiza.

To complete the ceremony, my Bro and the other worshippers receiving blessings were invited to receive a sip of sacred sake and a piece of blessed wood to take home.

For me, I am only too happy to find my feet again!

***************

A ‘Lil Intro on Ise Grand Shrine

Ise Jingu or Ise Grand Shrine is the holiest and most important shrine in Japan with over two thousand years history.  This is where the Japanese prime minister comes to, to make his new year’s prayer every year.

There are two shrines to the Ise Jingu Complex:   Naiku (inner shrine) which is dedicated to the sun goddess called Amaterasu – the mythological ancestor of Japanese Emperor –  and Geku (outer shrine) which enshrines the deity of food.  Each site has the central building for worship which is not open to public and a number of sub buildings in a forest.   Most people visit Geku first, then Naiku, but if you don’t have time, my advise is to visit the larger grounds at Naiku.

This year, 2013 marks a significant year of renewal for Ise, known as ‘Sengu‘ – whereby the shrine buildings at Naiku and Geku, as well as the Uji Bridge, are rebuilt every 20 years in accordance with the Shinto belief of the death and renewal of nature and the impermanence of all things – and also a practical way of passing building techniques from one generation to the next.

“The new shrines built identically with the old ones, are not considered a replica of Ise, but are “Ise re-created”, meaning the recreation process reveals Shinto’s understanding of nature which does not make monuments, but “lives and dies, always renewed and reborn.” (William Alex, Japanese Architecture.)

Photos Journal:
Parked car.  Walked into a busy pedestrian-only street and had lunch at one of the many noodles shops around.

20131015-135346.jpg

Oharai-machi: A pedestrian-only street replicating the Meiji-era merchant quarters, very touristy but well-maintained.

Stopped by the famous dessert shop for Akafuku mochi (here).  This is another variation of mochi with red bean paste with 3-finger indentations encasing a glutinous rice center.  The mochi is very delicious and I do suggest buying a couple of boxes as souvenirs, although you can also buy them at convenience stores and service stations around the area.

20131013-113909.jpg

Akafuku Dessert Shop: #1 in TripAdvisor (at time of posting)

20131013-113917.jpg

Lots of stalls selling food, souvenirs and ‘whatevers’…

A fair walk later, we came to Uji Bridge -the entrance to Naiku – we gave a customary bow then walked onto the bridge across the Isuzu River.

20131013-112614.jpg

Entrance to Naiku

20131013-112630.jpg

The Uji Bridge constructed out of Japanese white cypress, Hinoki. This will be dismantled during Sengu

20131013-112654.jpg

Cast-iron detailing on bridge

20131013-112704.jpg

Isuzu River

Well-landscaped garden

20131013-112717.jpg

Bonsai pine-trees

20131013-112730.jpg

Bonsai pine trees

20131013-112741.jpg

Pilgrims go for purification to wash their hands at the Isuzu River

In Japan, the mysterious forces of nature, called ke, were believed to permeate palpable matter and formless space (collectively called mono in Japanese) to create mononoke. Mononoke was seen to coalesce in trees and stones.  Thus, the beautiful trees to look at and lots of walking on gravelly stones!

20131013-113013.jpg

Sacred grounds

20131013-113022.jpg

Sacred grounds

Ise Jingu is built amid a dense forest of giant cryptomeria trees which are sacred, covering an area of 5,500 hectares (13,600 acres).  Abut 90 hectares of the area around the shrines are untouched since they were founded 16 centuries ago.  The rest has been used to provide construction materials for shrine construction.

20131015-162001.jpg

The trees need to grow for at least 100s of years before they can be considered big enough for construction materials

20131015-162016.jpg

Centuries-old trees

20131015-162009.jpg

Trees

20131015-162022.jpg

20131015-162028.jpg

Steps leading to Naiku

Naiku Shrine is enclosed in sacred enclosures.

20131015-162034.jpg

Steps leading to Naiku

The strong pure lines in the structure is said to hold mystical powers.

20131013-113148.jpg

Inside Naiku

20131013-113157.jpg

Ceremony

After visiting the shrine, the worshipper has walk the path to the west of the sanctuary, to see the rice storehouse, treasury  and also to get a view of the Naiku Shrine, however, we retraced our footsteps instead and found oursleves to be walking against the crowds.  Since it is regarded bad-luck to walk against the flow, we decided to return to our original path.  So here’s a file picture from the internet to show you what the Naiku Shrine looks like,  although obscured by the high wall.

20091009-Yamasaise_naiku_6002

Naiku Shrine
Only members from the Imperial Family and head priests are allowed into the Inner Sanctum where Amaterasu’s sacred mirror is said to be held held, wrapped in layers of clothes, no one had laid eyes on it for thousands of years.
Source: http://factsanddetails.com/japan.php?itemid=974

My architectural profession insists on…

Brief notes on the architecture of Ise Jingu:
The building material from roof to floors for both structures and finishing comes entirely from Japanese white cypress, Hinoki. The wood is unvarnished and unpainted, displaying the wild beauty of the cypress’s natural texture. No nails are used, only dowels and interlocking joints. The roof is thatched with miscanthus grass.There are crossbeams at either end of the roof and large rounded logs on the ridge of the roof. Protruding from the upper part of the gable at either end of the building are metal-tipped poles to add structural symmetry.  The main building of the Naiku is designed in a special form of architectural style, called shimmei-zukuri. This style is prohibited for other shrines. It’s simple rectangular design is said to derive from the granaries and treasure storehouses of prehistoric Japan.

20131013-113222.jpg

Road signs

20131013-113232.jpg

Gigantic trees

20131013-113243.jpg

Lamp post

Kaguraden 
In the middle of Uji Bridge and the Naiku Shrine is the Kaguraden.  There is a  building next to it where the worshippers can buy omamori  or Japanese amulets (charms, talismans) for luck or protection against adversity which costs about USD5. The luck lasts for one year but after that the charm needs to be returned to a Shinto shrine for disposal. According to legend, there’s a God inside so they should never be opened or disposed of improperly.   The worshipper can also request a blessing ceremony to offer their thanks and wishes to Amaterasu Omikami.   This is a special prayer to the kami accompanied by ceremonial music and dance which has been performed from ancient times.

20131013-113039.jpg

Omamori souvenir complex

20131013-113307.jpg

Kagura Den

20131013-113258.jpg

Roof

20131013-113331.jpg

Purple-curtained Music Hall

20131013-113341.jpg

Water for purification

20131013-113350.jpg

Eaves

Going into the waiting area inside the Kaguraden for the ceremony

20131013-113402.jpg

Water for cleansing

20131013-113414.jpg

Waiting area for the kagura

Garden within the shrine grounds

20131013-113803.jpg

20131013-113813.jpg

Carps

Residential houses in the neighbourhood with perfectly landscaped gardens.

20131013-113829.jpg

Private home

20131013-113840.jpg

Private home

Check out what I saw on the ground!  And I believe this to be on my bucket-list!  Answer to guess here.

20131013-113851.jpg

Symbol for Shikoku 88-temple pilgrimage

A Modern Ryokan Experience @ Oyado The Earth, Toba, Japan

Date of Visit:  February 27 2013 (overnight stay)

To truly enjoy traditional Japanese hospitality, one should at least stay at a ryokan – like what I did for my little R&R after Tokyo Marathon 2013!

Never heard of a ‘ryokan’?  Easy-peasy, let me explain….

Ryokans are traditional Japanese inns which became popular in the 17th century (Edo Period) to accommodate travelling merchants and feudal lords along the Japanese highways (gokaidou).

And for a more verbose explanation with historical perspective…

In feudal Japan, vast landholdings were controlled by the Daimyo, ‘territorial lords’.  In order to stop them from becoming too powerful and rebellious, the Shogun, ‘generalissimo’, issued a directive that all Daimyos have to travel to Edo (current day Tokyo) every other year (sankin-koutai) to spend a year in Edo where their wives and children were forced to remain as hostages.   Since the Daimyos travel in an entourage of hundreds of people, they needed frequent stops along the road to rest and eat, and thus the traditional inns were born to serve these needs.

Today, the ryokans continue as the cornerstone of Japanese culture offering retreats to visitors to immerse in traditional customs, cuisines and architecture.

Ditto-ed and onward to my stay at Oyado The Earth!!

*********

Oyado The Earth (OTE) is a 16-suite inn in the City of Toba located at the northeastern end of the Shima-hanto Peninsula in Mie Perfecture.  Bordering the Ise-Shima National Park and facing Ise Bay of the Pacific Ocean, Toba is also a beautiful place for boating and  hiking.  The area is famous for seafood especially oysters and cultured pearls.  Does Mikimoto ring a bell, Ladies?  I am sure that you are all too familiar with the name synonymous with the perfectly round pearls – and this is where it all started – Toba!

Nevertheless, the main reason I travelled down to Mie Perfecture was to visit Ise Grand Shrine – the most sacred shrine in  Shinto religion.  I was also lucky to have Taka, my friend whom I met in Hong Kong ages ago to volunteer as driver for Mom, Bro and I.  (FYI:  If you are not as lucky as us, OTE is 2 hours and 45 minutes by car from Nagoya, or a 1 hour 40 minutes by train from Nagoya station to Toba Station and a further 35 minutes ride by car from the station).

Booking Oyado The Earth (apparently ‘oyado‘ is another word for traditional-style Japanese inn) meant venturing into unfamiliar territory for me and proved an interesting exercise since I could not find much online reviews when I started booking back in December 2012.   And what a wonderful surprise to find out how wonderful The Earth was!

OTE is set in a near total immersion in a relatively pristine natural environment surrounded by forests and Toba Bay.  From the observatory deck in The Earth, one can easily see the numerous islands in the middle distance.  Our trip to OTE took us down the windy narrow and rocky road to the edge of a cliff.  

We were very suprised to find the hotel attendant already waiting for us at the gate to direct us to our carpark.

20131007-182041.jpg

I am impressed with the geometric low-sprawling layout of Oyado The Earth set in harmony with the natural environment

20130413-224055.jpg

Oyado The Earth

The passageway to OTE is quite James Bond-ish – cue in the automatic steel sliding-doors and zig-zag corridors with pockets of landscaping.

20131007-182023.jpg

Passageway to oyado

20131007-182002.jpg

Landscaped niche

While waiting for the key to our room,  we were seated in the lounge and treated to a welcome drink of sparkling wine and Japanese sweets.

20130413-224149.jpg

Welcome drinks and snacks

20130413-224235.jpg

Sweetened Soy Bean

OTE’s common spaces includes gender segregated 24-hour hot-springs bath or onsen (on the ground floor where the rooms are), a cosy library and an adjoining lounge furnished with plush sofas.

20131007-144246.jpg

Bar, Lounge and Library areas

20131014-184915.jpg

Reception Area

20131014-184943.jpg

Entrance

20131007-144238.jpg

L: View into the entrance lobby/ reception
R: View from the entrance lobby looking up to the observatory deck

20131007-181934.jpg

Central stairs: Ground floor = Rooms, Spa and Onsen
1st floor = Entrance, Reception, Restaurant, Lounge
2nd floor = Outdoor observatory deck

20131010-205738.jpg

Ikebena/ Flower arrangements

While each suite in OTE has a  private open-air spring-fed onsen attached, ours went one step further with our own private entertaining room and a guest toilet.  Our Premium Suite is very spacious, we also have a separate sitting area for Bro to close off for his privacy.  He slept on a make-shift futon which was laid out on the heated tatami mat when we were having dinner.  I have to point out that service in Japanese hotels are truly all-inclusive whereby pajamas and toiletries are provided – the guest simply has to turn up!

20130416-204513.jpg

Our room. Note the sliding screen door which can be closed off and the cupboard where extra futons and yutakas are kept.

20130416-204528.jpg

Our room

20130413-224338.jpg

Freebies: Mikimoto facial care kits (Yay!)

20130413-224324.jpg

Bathroom

We had a small outdoor onsen where Mom, Bro and I went to soak our feet after dinner.  Even though we were sitting in the freezing cold,  the hot water warmed us up and  I must say the stiffness in my calves and feet literally melted away in the hot water from the springs!

20130416-204454.jpg

Onsen

20130416-204433.jpg

Our backyard

20131007-144258.jpg

Our private dining room with heated kotatsu seating which is adjoined to our room with a small kitchen.

Our packaged stay came with elaborate set meals for both dinner and breakfast, served at a time set by us.  (‘Confession!’: I had exchanged some emails with the  Eri, the GM of the hotel, regarding dietary requirements and meal times, so even though the attendants did not speak much English, everything went smoothly without a hitch!)  We had the traditional multi-course kaiseki dinner, drawing on freshest produce from the land and sea in the area.

20131010-202722.jpg

1st Course + Orange Juice

20130416-204921.jpg

1st Course – the roe was amazing

20130416-204937.jpg

Sake

20130416-204952.jpg

2nd Course: Sashimi with sea-urchin

20130416-205010.jpg

3rd Course: Soup with white baits

20130717-202519.jpg

4th Course: Asparagus and mushrooms specially prepared at our kitchen by our own private chef!

20130717-202555.jpg

5th Course: Steamed vegies and fish paste

20130717-202623.jpg

6th Course: Seafood – remember to request Ebi lobster, the speciality of Mie Perfecture!

20130717-202707.jpg

7th Course: Kagoshima beef accompanied by the biggest broad pea ever!

20130717-202737.jpg

Palate cleanser: O Cha

20130717-202845.jpg

8th Course: Rice mixed with baby shrimps

20130717-202901.jpg

9th Course: Preserved vegies and a cockle dressed in mustard. Yum!

20130717-202913.jpg

10th Course: Miso Soup

20130717-202924.jpg

Dessert: Ice-cream and fruits

Last, but not least, OTE left no details out, by ensuring that we have our midnight snack of rice and roe on standby in case we wake up in the middle of the night hungry!

20130717-202934.jpg

Midnight Snack

20130717-202956.jpg

Rice and Roe

We woke up early the next day to catch day-break.  Watching the sun-rise was truly a majestic experience and made even more special by catching the sun rising over the the Pacific Ocean.

20131007-144400.jpg

20131007-144343.jpg

20131007-144439.jpg

20131007-144417.jpg

20131007-144452.jpg

20131007-144513.jpg

We had our breakfast at the restaurant at 7:30am as arranged.  Here is our very attentive server.

20131013-210450.jpg

Restaurant

20131007-144810.jpg

Interesting round windows

Our breakfast of assorted small dishes was literally fit for a Daimyo!

20130925-183625.jpg

Breakfast

20130925-183732.jpg

Breakfast

20130925-183743.jpg

Breakfast

20130925-184556.jpg

Rice

Hang on!  That’s not all for breakfast!  We were invited out to the Lounge for fruits and yoghurt while waiting for Taka to pick us up!  More Oishi!

20131014-182821.jpg

Yoghurt with fresh fruits

It was truly a fantastic experience staying at OTE – delicious food, attentive service and beautiful surroundings.   The only regret is that we only stayed overnight, if we revisit Toba in the future, we  will stay for an extra few days to take in attractions of the area such as  Meoto Iwa, Toba Aquarium, Mikimoto Museum and Pearl Island  – maybe even go hiking in the Shima National Park.

We also had a warm send-off from the manager.  As Taka drove out of the oyado, we noticed in our rear-view mirror that the manager maintained his deep-bow position until we lost sight of the oyado!  Wow!  Now, THAT was a real traditional Japanese hospitality!

Before we headed back to Nagoya train station, we detoured to visit Ago Bay which came highly recommended in the Michelin Green Guide.

The winding road to Ago Bay is a bit like the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, Australia – trees and shrubs on one side of the road and scenic water views on the other.  Once we arrived at Ago Bay, we had to climb some steep steps to reach Yokoyama Observatory Deck.  There, at the height of 203m, one can take in the spectacular panorama overlooking the peninsula to see with our own eyes the famous saw-toothed coastline that has more than 60 small islets.   It is said that every season has its natural beauty, such as cherry blossoms and red maple leaves.

20131014-182836.jpg

A steep walk up to the observation deck

20131007-182548.jpg

Walked around the observation deck

20131014-203922.jpg

Views of Ago Bay

After 30 minutes, it’s time to head back to Nagoya train station to drop off our rental and onward journey to Kanazawa!

20131010-210117.jpg

Nagoya station: This is the only 2 modern buildings in Nagoya! (Surprise! Surprise!)

Additional info:  I booked Oyado The Earth through  JAPANiCAN.com (here) and hired our car from  Japan-experience. com (here).