Have you ever eaten lunch inside a huge old soya sauce barrel? Unless you have been to the special place called Sanrokuen, I doubt very much that you have! Up in the tree-covered hills, 7 or 8 km to the east of KIshiwada, it is unlikely that there is any other place on earth quite like this amazing restaurant.
Opened in 1976, and designed by the man who built it and now still runs it, these barrels are a place to come with friends and relax while eating some tasty barbecued food in beautiful surroundings, which in my experience are second to none.
The gardens are wonderful, and with the plum trees in blossom and the cherry trees beginning to bud, springtime may be the best time of the year to come here. If you are thinking of visiting on a weekend during hanami, I would strongly recommend making a reservation in advance: it will be busy!
The barrels range in size from cosy to cavernous, and cater for romantic couples up to groups of 20, or more. Some of the smaller barrels have TVs, and all (I think!) have karaoke possibilities. Even the toilets are housed inside barrels – how cool is that?
In the past, I have only been at night time and by car, but yesterday we decided to take the train and bus, which for the kids, and some of the adults (especially the one who got the wrong train and ended up at Kansai airport on her own!) was a bit of an adventure.
We took the JR line from Otori to Higashi-Kishiwada, and then the number 44 (maybe!) bus from between the station and Saty, just next to the train crossing. The bus journey took about 15 minutes and then we had a 15 minute walk up the hill: easy!
Except for the pink-faced man pushing the baby-car loaded with heavy bags, and an incredibly fat baby, up a 25% gradient hill, quite possibly the steepest in Japan, for the last 100 metres, to the entrance of the restaurant.
Lunch time was supposed to finish at 2pm, but as we know the owner, we were there all afternoon until close to 5.30pm. Occasionally, to take a rest from the difficult task of eating meat, we went for a stroll around the gardens.
The kids, especially, love some of the added touches, such as the fish tanks and the little museum, full of bits and pieces, including some stuffed animals like the inoshishi you can see in the photo.
At the end of a long afternoon feasting on beef, drinking jibiru, chatting with good friends, it would have been easy just to roll down the hill back to Higashi-Kishiwada, but we decided to take taxis, which the master called for us.
If you have any free time this spring, make a journey up to Sanrokuen, but watch out for the final hill if you are pushing a baby car laden with heavy bags and an enormous infant, it might just be the last hill you ever walk up!
For prices, times and transport, check out the helpful website: Sanrokuen.