Breakfast is generally considered the most important meal of the day as it provides fuel for the day ahead. While traveling in Japan, the hotel or ryokan (旅館; traditional Japanese inn) where you are staying at will most likely provide breakfast for its guests, be it in Japanese-style or Western-style.
Usually, the Western-style breakfast is served as a buffet where you can take your pick from the selection of bread, ham, cereals, fruit and juice while the Japanese-style breakfast tends to be in individual sets containing standard items such as rice, soup, pickles, vegetables and a main dish.
Given the wide array of breakfasts offered by Japan’s hotels and ryokans, do you know where the best breakfasts are offered? Look no further than the annual Asagohan Festival (朝ごはんフェスティバル) or Breakfast Festival organized by Rakuten Travel (楽天トラベル) for some ideas which may come in handy when deciding where to stay during your trip!
Rakuten Travel organizes the Asagohan Festival every year where the best breakfasts provided by hotels and ryokans across Japan are selected after three stages of competition. Using 2016’s edition as an example, about 1,500 entries were received, which were then voted for by netizens as well as online reviews and ratings in stage one.
During the festival, another 500 voters who visited the event venue, along with two special judges, picked the top six breakfasts. The chefs from the top six hotels and ryokans then had to cook the breakfasts on the spot and be subjected to a tasting test by five judges, who decided the final victor.
As of April 2017, the festival had been organized seven times and attracts a lot of attention and interest from the public, especially since being a winner will bring about greater awareness and popularity for their respective hotel or ryokan.
Are you ready to find out which hotel or ryokan won the top three titles in 2016? Read on to discover what makes their breakfasts so good!
To find the No. 3 breakfast, you’ll have to get to Yubara Onsen (湯原温泉) in Maniwa City (真庭市) in Okayama Prefecture. Firstly. this is the number one open-air hot spring in western Japan according to the ranking released by the Japan Spa Association (日本温泉協会).
What’s so special about Yubara Onsen is its location, which is directly below the Yubara Dam. The hot spring water emerges from the bottom of the Asahi River (旭川). As such, the hot spring has a nickname “sunayu” (砂湯) or sand bath, since guests are surrounded by rocks as they take a bath in the hot springs.
There are three types of baths with temperatures between 48 and 51 degrees Celsius. They are bijin no yu (美人の湯) i.e. beauty bath, kodakara no yu (子宝の湯) i.e. blessed with children bath and chouju no yu (長寿の湯) i.e. longevity bath. They are open 24 hours a day and are free, so be sure to check these out if you find yourself in Okayama.
Gamelan describes itself as a Bali-style hotel and spa on its website and features six types of rooms. The most luxurious room offers a rooftop open-air bath for your enjoyment. Even if you are not staying overnight here, you can still make use of the spa and hot spring facilities. For a fee, you can get access to value-added products and services such as aromatherapy lamps, selfie sticks, flowers and cake for a special occasion, music players, Bluetooth speakers and DVD players which can be used in the bath area. Apparently, this is not the first time that Gamelan had won awards in the Asagohan Festival as it was named No. 1 in the desserts and drinks category back in 2014.
The winning breakfast here comprises of a sandwich containing aged branded Chiyagyu (千屋牛) beef fillets from the black-haired cows raised in Chiya Ward of Niimi City (新見市) in Okayama Prefecture, and potage made from green soybean milk, a signature product of Yubara Onsen.
Although some of you may think that having beef fillets in your sandwich might be too heavy for breakfast, the meat is lightly deep-fried on the surface so when eaten with the thinly-sliced toast slices, the sandwich is said to be pleasing to the palate. Meanwhile, the potage, which has a pleasing light green pastel colour, is a healthy companion to the beef fillet sandwich and provides a variety of nutrients to jumpstart your day.
Next is Shiroyama Hotel whose breakfast won the No. 2 title. This hotel has been in operation since 1963 and is perched on a 108m-high plateau on Mount Shiroyama; it is a mere 10-minute drive to the city area and Kagoshima Chuo Station (鹿児島中央駅).
The open-air hot spring bath here named Satsuma no Yu (さつま乃湯) uses hot spring water with a temperature of 54.2 degrees Celsius from a depth of 1,000 meters underground. It is said to be a beauty bath especially effective in improving your skin’s condition. What’s more, the open-air baths offer a panoramic view of the city as well as its symbolic volcanic mountain Sakurajima (桜島) and Kagoshima Bay (鹿児島湾), also known as Kinkou Bay (錦江湾).
The hotel offers a very extensive buffet spread of about 80 types of Japanese and Western foods. These include homemade bread with no preservatives and the local signature satsuma age (さつま揚げ) or deep-fried fish cake. If the weather is fine, you can even head outdoors to have breakfast while admiring the sights around. Apparently, the breakfast spread here is rather well-loved as it was ranked No. 9 in TripAdvisor’s 2015 ranking of the hotels in Japan with the best breakfast.
As for its winning breakfast set, it features madai (真鯛) or red sea bream, nigauri (ニガウリ) i.e. bittergourd and butamimi (豚耳) or pig’s ears (all are famous produce in Kagoshima) and sotetsu miso (ソテツ味噌) or sago palm miso, a signature product from Amami Oshima (奄美大島).
The first dish is a chazuke (茶漬) cooked rice where a soup made from boiling the gill area of the madai and leftover flesh on the spine containing the rich seafood flavour is poured over the rice. The fish meat is served either as sashimi or in slices placed on top of the rice for the chazuke. Customers can then choose to add arare crackers (アラレ) or specially-made sesame on top of the chazuke according to their preferences.
In the second dish, the bittergourd and pig’s ears cut into strips are stir-fried with the flavourful sotetsu miso, which is said to be so delicious that even children will have no problems eating it. The bittergourd is said to have twice as much vitamin C than a grapefruit, so it is a popular health food, although some people may have issues with its bitterness. Sotetsu miso is actually made from the fruit of the Japanese sago palm, soybean and brown rice, so it is even more nutritious than the regular miso. The pig’s ears’ crunchy texture serves as the icing on the cake for this dish which is said to go very well with rice.
And finally, let’s head north to Tohoku (東北) where we will meet the 2016 winner with the best breakfast, Bankokuya! This luxury ryokan, which has been operating for 347 years, is located at Atsumi Onsen (温海温泉) in Tsuruoka City (鶴岡市) of Yamagata Prefecture. It was crowned the No. 1 onsen in the Tohoku region by travel magazine Tohoku Jaran (東北じゃらん).
Atsumi Onsen has a very long history of about 1,000 years and was visited by famous cultural figures such as Edo-era (江戸時代) poet Matsuo Basho (松尾芭蕉) and author Yosano Akiko (与謝野晶子) who wrote about the onsen in their poems and novels. The slightly alkaline hot spring water here is said to be effective in healing cuts, neuralgia, and rheumatism.
Bankokuya’s breakfast set not only won the competition but was also the victor in the local produce and consumption category, which rewards those who excel at using ingredients produced in their locality. The first dish is a clear soup with a tinge of sweetness derived from a generous portion of premium Yamagata beef and taro and was described as the perfect hot dish for chilly days. As for the second dish, it is chazuke topped with various vegetables produced locally while the soup to be poured over the rice contains Japanese wine made from the Yamagata branded rice Tsuyahime (つや姫). The flavor compliments the dish rather than overpowers it.
Now that you’ve read about these award-winning breakfasts, are you eager to try them to see if they are as good as they seem? Besides savoring these delicious treats, be sure to check out the beautiful surroundings at these hotels and ryokans, the relaxing onsens they offer and the places of interest nearby, too!
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