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Oceania Riviera in Japan – Discovering a Premium Experience: Part Seven (Hiroshima and Beppu, Japan)

My journey on Oceania Riviera continues, as we are approaching our final ports, some of the ones I have most been looking forward to are coming up.

Shukukein Garden, Hiroshima, Japan
Shukukein Garden, Hiroshima, Japan

Hiroshima has been high on my list of places I have wanted to visit. Having grown up at a time when World War II was still fresh in peoples’ minds, history was actually taught in American schools, and we had air raid drills where we hid under our wooden desks or sat silently in the hallways of our elementary school.  Yellow emergency shelter signs were everywhere.

We were scheduled to arrive in Hiroshima at 9:30 a.m. so I scheduled my guide for 10:00 a.m., as normal. As I wrote in a previous article, Oceania knew that we would have to go through a full face-to-face immigration and customs procedure as we were reentering Japan from Korea, so the reality was that – best case – 11:00 a.m. would be the earliest anyone would get off the ship. It said nothing until a late-night letter in the evening before…and still had tours scheduled for 10:00 a.m., never advising that the tours would be delayed until everyone cleared so not to panic.

The result was a line that started before 9:30 a.m. and, by the time the immigration process started at 10:30 a.m. – delayed because ya’ know, don’t you…the poor internet – the line needlessly went the entire length of the ship. By that time, tensions were high, scuffles had started, and chaos ensued. Fortunately, I was able to get some assistance to get through the process as soon as it started.

My guide, Masayo, who patiently waited in the rain through my 45-minute tardiness, was a wonderful Hiroshima native woman with wonderful but subdued enthusiasm and a charming smile.  

Shukukein Garden, Hiroshima, Japan
Shukukein Garden, Hiroshima, Japan

She was concerned I might want to skip the visit the 400-year-old to Shukukein Garden which was pretty much wiped out when the A-bomb, as the people of Hiroshima call it, exploded. Well, I’m not going to miss that!

This was an important garden of the shogunate and was created, as many Japanese gardens are, as a miniature representation of various building (such as tea houses) and landscapes (including, not surprisingly, another homage to Mt. Fuji). 

This bridge survived the A-bomb
This bridge survived the A-bomb and a mini-Mt. Fuji behind

However, all that survived the blast was a stone bridge and an ancient Sakura tree that seemed dead but sprouted the following year…giving the distraught survivors a sign of hope.

Masayo also pointed out a shrine in memory of those lost in the blast, explaining that bottles of water are offered, as after the blast the water was irradiated and undrinkable, so fresh water was precious to those who survived even for a short time.

As we strolled through this beautiful garden, softening the colors in the light rain, but brightening the red of one bridge. 

I asked her about her family and how the A-bomb affected it.  She told me her father was a survivor of the A-bomb, who lived into his 80s. Her mother was an infant who lived outside the blast zone, so she is not considered a survivor. With this, I asked her if she or her family felt resentment toward America, the Japanese government, or both. Of course, I said she didn’t need to answer, but I felt it important – at least for me – to ask the question.

As we headed toward a small, covered, platform she said that Hiroshima people do not have resentment toward anyone, sincerely stating that in war everyone does horrible things; the Americans, the Japanese, everyone in every war. Hiroshima, instead, is focused on “Peace” and centers their feelings on this. We sat for a while…peacefully. 

It was time for us to change topics from the history of the war to a bit of culinary exploration!  This was the most thought-provoking food tour I had ever been on, and the charm and subtleness of our time in the garden kept right on through the day…which passed so quickly.

The first place we were going to was closed due to a family emergency. Masayo quietly panicked because – as we later laughed about – when Westerners say they will eat anything they really don’t mean “anything”, so her safe option was gone.

Garibea Restaurant, Hiroshima, Japan
Garibea Restaurant, Hiroshima, Japan

I looked down the street and saw a tiny old brown building with a sign that said it served curry. “You sure?” “Absolutely!”  Garibea is so small that the door cannot open fully because the tiny stools you sit on block it. It is packed with locals…all ten of them, but we go lucky and quickly found two stools opened up.

Octopus and Squid Curry
Octopus and Squid Curry

I ordered Spicy Curry with Squid and Octopus and a beer. The food is not meant to be beautiful, but rather hardy and flavorful. It was delicious with an amazing depth of flavor.

How they create such dishes in such a tiny place amazes me.

Okonomimura Restaurant's Okonomiyaki.
Okonomimura Restaurant’s Okonomiyaki.

We then headed to Sarashina for Okonomiyaki.  This tiny restaurant is run by the daughter of its original owners, her parents since 1951. As it was explained, when they had two people cooking, there was a line out the door, but now with only the daughter running it, she limits herself to about 100 dishes a day.

Okonomuyaki is basically a layering of a variety of ingredients in between to thin wheat crepes and grilled. It was pretty much the only thing the survivors could eat; piling together the bits of this and that which they discovered. It is a staple for sure. I had had this dish once before in Osaka, but it was not this delicious offering.

Oh, and while I was waiting, I had some beef tendon…and, of course, sake!

One of the specialties of Hiroshima is oysters. When sailing in you will see dozens of oyster farms floating in the harbor. Because it was the end of the season, not everyone was offering oysters and, honestly, having raw oysters at the end of the season without knowing how they were stored is not a worth the risk.

Udon Noodles with Oysters + Sake
Udon Noodles with Oysters + Sake

But Masayo had a great idea, so it was off to Taikoudon for Udon with Oysters! And an amazing sake! As amazingly delicious as the Udon was, our conversations were so much better.

I had arranged for Masayo to spend more time with me if needed and simply pay for her time. (Remember the guides work for a living and need to be fairly compensated so if you run over, please be kind!).  We had not yet visited the Peace Memorial, but with the delays getting off the ship and all of our conversations, we had well overrun our time. When she mentioned she had a personal thing to attend to, but she could put it off for a while, there was no way I would further impose.  So, we hugged and said our goodbyes after a really wonderful time.

Peace Memorial, Hiroshima, Japan
Peace Memorial, Hiroshima, Japan

However, I had more to do! I walked over to the Peace Memorial, and it was just so exquisitely done…if you looked at more than the featured items.

Peace Memorial, Hiroshima, Japan
Peace Memorial, Hiroshima, Japan
Peace Memorial, Hiroshima, Japan
Peace Memorial, Hiroshima, Japan
Peace Memorial, Hiroshima, Japan
Peace Memorial, Hiroshima, Japan

I thought about the Peace Museum, but when I saw a long line and many buses, I thought I had enough immersion for the day and didn’t want to ruin it by doing just one thing too much. (I’m glad I skipped it because I was told it was so crowded you could hardly move and couldn’t really see much.)

Time to head back to the ship…or so I thought. The first taxi didn’t want to take me to the port, so I got out. The second one said he knew where the cruise port was …and didn’t. When things looked a bit off, I pulled up Google Maps. He didn’t get it. I then pulled up Cruisemapper.com and showed him the exact location of the ship. Then he got it!  Quite honorably he turned off his taxi meter and, despite all his grumbling to himself, when we got to Oceania Riviera he asked for only 2,000 Yen (about $13) and apologized…at least I think he did!

That evening, I had a reservation at Oceania Riviera’s Toscana Italian restaurant. I was not looking forward to it after the myriad of disappointments, but I was hoping to be positively surprised. Unfortunately, I wasn’t.

I was looking to have a bottle of a nice Chianti Classico Reserva – about as typical a wine as any decent Italian restaurant would have. There was none on the list. Really? When one of your main restaurants is Italian? The complimentary red wine was a Chianti Classico.  Every good sommelier will tell you Reserva or Nothing, but I went with it. Not good but serviceable. 

I was offered some hard Parmesan cheese to nibble on. It was soft, not crumbly, and off-tasting. I ordered a caprese salad, but the tomatoes were, frankly, sickly.

It is bad when you add red cherry tomatoes and they underscore the salad is just grey.
It is bad when you add red cherry tomatoes and they underscore the real tomatoes were grey and flavorless.

The pappardelle pasta was fresh but grossly undercooked (again!) – making it like eating raw dough.  The suckling pig had all the moisture, flavor, and color “sucked” out of it. (And it seemed like the skin was attempted to be crisped up with a blow torch, that only burned it.) But the tiramisù was pretty good.

The next day was Beppu, Japan; a town I had never heard of, but which is famous for its thermal baths or onsen. Aside from my son’s insistence that I visit an onsen, I had visited two in Taiwan with my daughter a few years ago, but this time it was going to be the “real deal” as opposed to the bougie ones I had previously been to.

Hyotan Onsen is not only an ancient onsen, but one supposedly with Michelin stars. Obviously, that was the one I was visiting! Upon arrival, it was clear that English was not even close to an option as the woman at the front desk and I laughed our way through my options and instructions using an electronic translator. (I’m really bad with language, but somehow, I find my way.  I blame my junior high school Miss Nevins. My 13-year-old me was more focused on her body and cutting class than Spanish…and it was all downhill from there.)

Hyotan Onsen
Hyotan Onsen

You have a choice of a public onsen, where you share a large onsen with members of your sex, get fully naked (no bathing suits), shower before you get into the bath, and then settle in. (You are given a small towel to wear that is not allowed to touch the water, so the tradition is you put it on your head.)  The other choice is a private onsen (referred to as a family onsen), which is the way I went.

My onsen was a throwback in time. Thick cedar, hardened by years of minerals soaking in, created a large bath that holds the mineral and slightly sulphuric water that continuously flows to keep things at the same temperature (which you can make cooler if you need) and fresh. It also had a small steam room that was really hot (a warning in Japanese said “No more than 5 minutes”) as well as a circular cedar bath for children or if you like the hot-to-cold-to-hot option.

You are given a choice of 30, 60, or 90 minutes. I chose 90 minutes as it’s very inexpensive and…why not?! With that, you are given a basket with your towel, a wood block with the name of your private onsen, a key to it, and an (insulting lol) hairdryer. You enter and place a coin (there is a basket of them in your onsen) and the water starts to flow.  While things are filling, you take a shower and relax.

After you are done you can call it a day or continue on to one of two restaurants. In one you purchase a chicken or a basket of vegetables, etc., and have them steamed with the naturally occurring steam. (I thought that rather ordinary.) The other – the one I chose –is a more normal restaurant where you are given a menu, make your selections, and then head over to a vending machine to place your order. There may not be “the show” of most Michelin-star restaurants (BTW, I saw no indication it actually was one), but the cuisine was fantastic. Of course, while the server didn’t speak English she questioned if I was ordering for only one person! (There seems to be a theme about my ordering.)

Hand Rolled Noodle Soup, Yurari Beef Bowl, and Miso Soup.
Hand Rolled Noodle Soup, Yurari Beef Bowl, and Miso Soup
Two types of fish, shrimp, scallops, beef, chicken, mushrooms, corn, potatoes, and more.
Two types of fish, shrimp, scallops, beef, chicken, mushrooms, corn, potatoes, and more.

I sat for almost two hours, relaxed from the onsen and enjoying a wonderful lunch with a couple of beers. Pretty perfect.

Back on the ship, I didn’t want the day’s experience to be interfered with, so I stayed in my suite and ordered a late room service. The Meze platter and Club sandwich were actually pretty good.

Oceania Riviera's Room Service Meze Platter
Oceania Riviera’s Room Service Meze Platter

The next day was a sea day, so I thought I’d catch up on work, but I had to leave my suite to seek out a signal for the internet. After finally finding a good signal, the still slow speed made it almost impossible to get anything done. If Oceania is going to taut Starlink, and then require you to pay extra to get access to it, Give Access to It. Infuriating, to say the least.

I hadn’t yet tried the Terrace Café buffet, so off I went. And off I did go. I saw them making fresh pasta, so I figured I give it a try as veal Bolognese. While I was waiting the line cook mixed the spatula making the sauce with the marinara sauce, which set off a woman who said she was a vegetarian…and she wasn’t wrong. Meanwhile, a second woman ordered the pasta along with me, so two orders of pasta were placed in the pasta water. Moments later the line cooked asked how many orders of Bolognese were needed. “Three”…and our two orders of pasta were split into three. I came to find the pasta was also undercooked…again.  “Move the line” was the goal; not providing a quality product.

As I started to walk away with my small portion of what came to be undercooked raw pasta, I noticed Portobella mushroom risotto. WAIT! Wasn’t that offered as a course in La Reserve, but with pennies worth of truffle dust?

Oceania Riviera's La Reserve Risotto with Portobello Mushrooms with truffle dust
Oceania Riviera’s La Reserve Risotto with Portobello Mushrooms with truffle dust
Oceania Riviera Buffet Risotto with Portobello Mushrooms
Oceania Riviera Buffet Risotto with Portobello Mushrooms

Talk about insulting! Does Oceania think it is entitled to scam me out of $180 with nothing but marketing and bad food?

The consistent lack of care, the lack of concern over delivering the best product for the guest, and the lack of pride, are just disheartening.  Add to it Oceania dipping into my pocket at every opportunity and it is downright insulting.

Back to my suite. Back to a club sandwich for dinner. Back to wanting off Oceania Riviera.

Next up: Kyoto and Kobe…and some amazing beef (not beefing!)

Interested in a Luxury Journey by Cruise, Expedition, or Land?

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Email: eric@goldringtravel.com 

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