Love in the Time of Coronavirus… or The Quiet Ryokan

Super Sake Boy on one knee proposing marriage to Blossomkitty while both wearing yukata on a decking around a traditional Japanese pebble garden with a maple tree featured at Shizuka Ryokan in Hepburn Springs

Twenty five days ago I wrote a blog about our impending trip to Japan. It feels like a year ago. Needless to say our plans have been completely disbanded and even if we wanted to leave the country, we could not. I am somewhat relieved we were not stuck in a difficult situation of being unable to get home or having to isolate from our four kids upon return.

As the reality of our trip being impossible came to light, amid feelings of disappointment and longing, we decided that before we both started working from home, indefinitely, and were bunkered down with four teenagers, also indefinitely, we would carefully and cautiously have a weekend away. Somewhere not too far from home, but with the mind that it would help us re-set mentally. We had been looking forward to a break together, of two weeks, but decided to take two nights while we could. We were, of course, very mindful of social distancing, and to be honest, things changed reasonably rapidly over the course of the weekend.

Super Sake Boy had a plan, his Plan B. I actually came up with precisely the same Plan B, so we decided that the synchronicity was a signal we were doing the right thing. We booked two nights at Shizuka Ryokan, in Hepburn Springs. A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn and this beautiful establishment did not disappoint. It was a very authentic experience and several times over the weekend I forgot where I was.

We arrived and were welcomed by the very lovely Arisa-san, who looked after our every need for the weekend. Catherine, the owner, was extremely hospitable with recommendations and advice and ensuring everything was perfect. We arrived and literally left everything at the door. The arguments at home over internet capacity, the ever climbing list of Coronavirus infections and deaths, the anxiety and stress of trying to manage everyone else’s anxiety and stress. We were in a perfect little Japanese bubble in the middle of Victoria, and it was perfect.

Our room was called the “Iris Room” and the walls were blue and the scroll hanging in the tokonoma (like an alcove) was irises. The wood, the shoji screens, the tatami, the futon, everything was just as it should be in a ryokan. It was lovely. As Arisa-san was showing us around I had a bit of a chat in Japanese. She was surprised and made me laugh when she said I was so like Japanese I made her nervous. She was so very Japanese, sweet and polite and so cute, she made us feel like we were in Japan. We went straight out to a lovely little restaurant recommended by Catherine called The Surly Goat. The food was great. The wine was great. The tables were sparse, to allow for the correct amount of space to socially distance from others. We came back to our room and had a few quite sakes, and chatted about how fortunate we were to find one another, later in life, with so many shared interests, values and ideals.

The following morning Super Sake Boy was very unwell. He had an incredibly bad headache and I was concerned he may have a fever. I went and ate breakfast alone, with my book. The breakfast was so delicious. I love traditional Japanese breakfast and this one was particularly good. Kingfish with ginger, rice, miso, tomagoyaki (omelette), pumpkin, spinach with gomae, pickled daikon, tuna and capsicum and green tea. Superb. I was getting my head around a day of reading when Super Sake Boy made a miraculous recovery and we went to find coffee.

A delicious lunch in a sunny and beautiful courtyard, a wander around the shops of Daylesford (no more than a few people allowed in a shop at once, being very strictly managed by shop-owners) and an unhurried browse through the bookshop. My perfect afternoon, topped off with some cheese and champagne at The Surly Goat on the way back. We then had a guilt free afternoon nap and re-charged a little.

Saturday evening we had booked to have the omikase menu at the ryokan. Omikase literally means “I’ll leave it up to you”. I am super glad we left it to them, the meal was absolutely delicious. My wheat intolerance was no drama, and Super Sake Boy is not fond of much seafood, so he was well catered for, without it affecting my sashimi and seafood experience. Kingfish sashimi, tempura prawns, chawan mushi with scallop (like a savoury egg custard), Shiokoji tsukune (chicken meatballs… our favourite), with brown rice, mushroom salad and dashi soup with vegetables. Super Sake Boy had nasu nigiri (eggplant) and tuna tempura (he likes tuna) and chicken in his chawan mushi. This was followed by matcha pudding, with sake cream, home made chocolate ice cream and anko (adzuki bean paste) and black sesame meringue. All served with sake. YUM!!!!!!

After dinner, Super Sake Boy asked Arisa-san if she would take a photo of us in the beautiful garden. We stood on the platform, by the maple tree in the raked stone garden and after a couple of snaps, Super Sake Boy got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. It was the most perfect setting, it was incredibly romantic, so much thought and love had gone into the asking and I am most definitely the luckiest girl in the World. Arisa-san was in shock, but continued to take photos and video, all the while saying “めっちゃかわいい” mecchya kawaii… s “so cute”….making the whole experience feel all the more authentic. We were swooning.

We went back inside and were presented two sparkling sakes and heart felt congratulations from the wonderful staff, Arisa-san, Yu-chan, Shoko-san and Catherine. It was surreal. Super Sake Boy told me of his Plan A. To propose at Aioi Shrine at Shimogamo Jinja in Kyoto, with two trees that have grown into one. A place people go to pray for a good marriage. He had researched and put so much thought into it. I was a little overwhelmed, but felt that at such a time of great upheaval, in the current circumstance and despite the fact I think SSB could make me feel special anywhere, I wouldn’t change our Mid-Pandemic Proposal… it was completely perfect in every way.

Our breakfast the following morning was as delicious as the first and I could not recommend Shizuka Ryokan any more highly. It was an exceptional place to stay and we were very well looked after. We will definitely return after our period of lockdown, and we are already looking forward to it. I went out and bought a copy of Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriella Garcia Marquez. It seemed fitting and I can tell my grandkids our story of Love in the Time of Coronavirus. Shizuka means quiet in Japanese and our weekend of quiet, of reflective gratitude and of enjoying our love, together will forever be in my memory as one of my very best adventures. (And I didn’t even get on a plane).

Shizuka Ryokan is located 7 Lakeside Drive, Hepburn Springs 3461 Telephone: +61353482030 Email: Website link is

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