Delicious noodles and more in a calm atmosphere away from Miyajima’s busy main streets.
The To-no-oka Chaya [塔之茶屋宮島] is a simple shack of a building built under the shadow of the beautiful five-story pagoda on Miyajima that serves delicious bowls of udon, soba, tea and sweets such as zenzai and a unique dish that invigorated carpenters of old.
The name of the shop means the “Tower Hill Tea Shop” and it is right next to the five-story pagoda. There are a few low tables on platforms outside where you can take your shoes off and enjoy eating al-fresco on a nice day. I really like this outside area and even in November, a sunny day was warm enough to sit there. It was very quiet despite the traffic to and from the pagoda. The banter of the many different pagoda visitors conversations was like subtle BGM. It was a great finale to a beautiful autumn daytrip to Miyajima.
It might be a good idea to mention to the staff where you would like to sit if possible before sitting down. This seems usual polite restaurant behavior in Japan and there are sometimes annoyed staff when customers sit down without asking. It may not be necessary in every case, but it certainly warms the staff up to you. The reason I mention it in this review is because I saw a bad review for this Chaya on TripAdvisor saying the staff were “rude” and wondered if unknowingly a customer’s own behavior may sometimes be the cause of a frosty reception.
In a non-tipping culture like Japan, the initial humble posture and soft voice signifies good manners. Take or leave this advice, but it can make for a better overall experience. Even without Japanese language ability, if you stand quietly near the cash register and point to a free table you would like to sit at and say, “OK?” while smiling, it is usually polite enough. If you need to get someone’s attention you can say, gomen kudasai or sumimasen (“Excuse me”) then point at a table and ask, suwatte ii desu ka? (“Is it Ok to sit?”).
Once I got the nod to sit, I took off my shoes and settled in at one of the raised tables outside, a very pleasant staff member came with an English menu. There are different kinds of udon (thick white wheat noodle) and soba (buckwheat noodle) dishes and sweets like mochi rice cakes in kinako powder and zenzai. I’ve noticed recently that there seems to be a zenzai boom in Japan, as I suddenly see this traditional dish listed everywhere, especially around traditional sightseeing spots. It is a wonderful warm dish of sweet azuki beans with mochi rice cakes which is sometimes served thick like a pudding, but which more often looks like a soup.
I was very pleased with my order of the Chikara-udon ‘Power noodles’ that I decided on for ¥700. As a fan of Udon, I was intrigued as I don’t often find mochi served inside a bowl of hot udon, and it was delicious. Mochi is also my favorite topping in Hiroshima’s signature dish okonomiyaki BTW. The mochi was perfectly soft and good, but it was actually the pan-fried egg topping that stood out as it had a great, freshly cooked, savory flavor without the sweetness of most egg topping. I was also enjoying the combination of savory soup, egg, mochi and the taste of the ocean from a dollop of mozuku seaweed on top. A Japanese superfood according to the BBC, mozoku is a sustainable seaweed crop which grows in the warm waters of Okinawa. I’ve been told it’s a Japanese woman’s secret to beautiful hair and skin as it is bursting with health benefits.
The meal was delicious and filling, so unfortunately I was too satisfied to try any of the sweets this time. On my next visit, I look forward to trying Taikaku Chikara-mochi, a pile of mochi rice cakes covered in kinako and sugar, which is said to have kept up the energy of the workers who built the nearby Senjyokaku 100 Mat Pavillion in the Edo-era. Among locals, this is the dish To-no-oka Chaya is most well known for.
You can easily find To-no-oka Chaya from the stairs leading up to the five-story pagoda from either the souvenir shopping side (behind the floating Itsukushima shrine) or from the ferry terminal side.
Opening hours: 10:00-17:00
Address: 419 Ohmachi, Miyajima-cho, Hatsukaichi-shi, Hiroshima-ken
Address in Japanese: 広島県廿日市市宮島町大町419