I’m back from Japan and can finally reflect on the amazing first trip to Japan for me since the pandemic started!!!! We were able to secure a travel visa because this trip is to visit our sister cities in Japan. Our group flew to Oahu on Hawaiian Airlines where we had to collect our many bags filled with omiyage for our sister city friends.
Once we got all our bags, we made our way to the Japan Airlines check in counter. The walk was easy and we checked in quickly with our MySOS app. Luckily, since we were with a special group, we were allowed access to the JAL Sakura lounge where we enjoyed tonjiru and curry rice while waiting for our flight. After settling in on board and a bit into the flight, we were given oshibori, a wet hand towel to clean our hands and freshen up. Our meal was a chicken teriyaki and miso soup with a few small side dishes. In true Japanese fashion, the side dishes were served in small containers.
I loved that they served Haagen Dazs ice cream as the dessert. Ice cream anytime is a treat but to have it on a plane is a lovely surprise. We landed at Kansai airport in Osaka at around 4 pm and were so fortunate that our sister city of Sumoto arranged a charter bus to get us on our two-hour ride to Sumoto on Awaji Island.
We made one stop at a supermarket where we bought some food and drinks since it would be hard for us to find a restaurant after we checked in to the hotel. After checking in at 8 p.m. and enjoying our many supermarket purchases (never go grocery shopping when you’re hungry) with a few travel mates, we went to sleep around midnight.
On this first full day in Japan, we are in our Sister City of Sumoto on Awaji island. They are famous for sweet Awaji onions, Naruto oranges, and Awaji beef. Our hotel is the Umi no Shimahana Hotel where I woke up early and was able to enjoy an early morning onsen experience all to myself. Went walking with a pal before our Japanese-style breakfast started at 7 am. I loved the okra gomaae, natto, and grilled salmon. The activities of the day included a tour of Awaji Island including getting a special blessing at Izanagi Shrine where I got some omamori to help our family live productive lives this year.
We had a yummy udon lunch at Izumoan served with a shoyu dashi with a deep-fried whole sweet Awaji Island onion and a huge bowl of gyudon made with Awaji beef. The rice was crisped in a stone pot and made the dish even yummier. After lunch, we stopped at a shoreline spot where we took some fun photos perfect for IG. Or maybe even our Christmas card.
Following that quick photo op stop, we headed to a round table discussion with Sumoto City middle and high school students. We answered questions they had about living in Hawaii relating to food, school, and life in general. They shared some of what life is like for them and their hopes for their futures. That evening, we had dinner with the Sumoto International Association members at Sea Aiga Kaigetsu restaurant where we indulged on amazing meat and seafood cooked over our own BBQ grills and all you can drink! So much fun getting to know our sister city people.
The next day, I woke up around 4 a.m. and again headed to the onsen since it opened at 4:30. On this day, we had an official visit to Sumoto City Hall with council members and the mayor. Next we visited the beautiful Ekishukan garden and Sumoto Castle ruins with the most amazing view of the city.
We had some great pizza for lunch at S-Brick Pizza where we found out that the Dragon Quest creator is from Awaji Island. In the gift shop, I found somen made with Awaji onion and decided to buy some to try at home. I think it will be delicious in a hot dashi. We had a quick visit to the Awajishima Museum before returning to the hotel to rest before our official Sister City Signing Ceremony at Yumesenkei hotel. What a special event commemorating 20 years of sister city friendship. The food and program were awesome but most of all seeing old friends and making new friends was the most special of all.
This visit gave me treasured memories of Sumoto–I can’t wait to enjoy its beauty, food and most of all visit my Sumoto friends once again. Living Hilo Style in Sumoto.