Magome in particular is one of the first places in Japan to purposefully restore and modernise it’s heritage buildings, it lead the way and set the example to other places what can be done to bring these wonderful places into this century and to give them purpose. The sympathetic conversions and restorations are visible in both Magome and Tsumago, the modernisations being completely understandable for what are people’s homes, these places are not just postcard villages.
Staying in these villages was cool, the traditional style guesthouses I stayed in offering full board, a complete necessity considering the towns closes at 5pm. The guesthouse in Magome delivered the best meals, while the guesthouse in Tsumago delivered better accommodation and amenities. Both guesthouses had the kinds of design features I expected from a traditional guesthouse, the paper windows, the tatami mats on the floor and the futons that get pulled out of the cupboard at night. The guesthouses keep some fairly odd hours that I found a bit frustrating, breakfast is served at 7:00am and dinner at 6:00pm. I can live with the early breakfast if I had things to do that day, but on holiday, in a sleepy village, that isn’t always the case. Dinner is served just half an hour before sunset, when the light is perfect for photography. Sadly by the time I had finished eating the sunset had gone, just a few wispy clouds on the horizon retained some of the orange tones given by the fading light.
Both the dinner and breakfast in Magome were superb, with multiple dishes served in their guest only restaurant, an entirely separate building across the street from the accommodation. The meals are served on western style tables I would have believed to seat 4 yet with the number of dishes with each mal these tables would only accommodate a couple.
The dinner set contained, salt roast trout, tempura, cold soba, horse sashimi, vegetable pickles, and a table top cauldron simmering some pork and cabbage. Rice was served to the table from a hot earthenware pot. Although delicious, I was once again reminded how the Japanese serve some food I’d have thought to be hot at room temperature, or cold. I didn’t mind the horse sashimi, but I imagine many western visitors may find the idea of raw meat difficult to swallow, with horse being a very difficult prospect indeed.
The breakfast set was very Japanese, roast salmon, rice, potato croquette, miso, and Japanese style egg. Again a few of the items like the salmon and croquette were cold, the steaming hot rice started my day well though, I find the smell of it just so clean and wonderful.
The meals in the Tsumago guesthouse, although mostly good, were less professional than those delivered in Magome. I think many of the items served where shop bought, not that there is a problem with that, whereas the meals in Magome where clearly handmade. I stayed 2 nights in Tsumago, I thought spending more time in the less visited town would be more satisfying, in a way it was, however I kept dwelling on the superb meals in Magome, in hindsight I should have booked the journey in the other direction. My Tsumago meals were served on traditional low set Japanese tables, these I had some problem sitting at, I’m not very flexible and can’t sit on the floor for long, I would often have a dead leg or some joint pain when trying to get up from the floor after a meal, any elegance I may have hoped for was lost with me trying to just keep my balance.
The first dinner set was charred trout, salmon sashimi, a gohei mocha, a walnut, sesame and soy glazed barbecue glutinous rice stick, along with a pork and mushroom cauldron that cooked on the table top, all washed down with plenty of steamed rice and some green tea.
The following night I enjoyed a little less, this time the cauldron simmered away with various surimi, tofu and vegetable items, a bit like oden, a palm sugar cured fish, the same item that I had for breakfast that very morning, a stale, I assume previously frozen, tai yaki, some fish roe tossed noodles and chicken skewers. It was ok, but certainly didn’t show a great deal of effort on the part of my hosts. Breakfasts where a little frustrating mostly because of the 7am wakeup call, I had nowhere to be and would have loved to sleep in.
On the first day it was at least Japanese the sugar cured fish, vegetable pickles, rice, miso and Japanese style egg looked a little like the breakfast from Magome, just a bit less polished. The breakfast on the day I departed just pissed me off, the “western breakfast” was a heart wrenchingly poor excuse for a breakfast, a certain fail leading to a disheartening start to the day, at 7 freaking AM.