The trend in Japan lately is game meats. In the past year alone, I’ve had wild boar (inoshishi), deer (shika) and in Hitoyoshi, I got to add a new one to the list. Kijiya, an eatery on the Kuma river just outside the city of Hitoyoshi in southern Kumamoto, is one of the only places in the country to specialize in pheasant.
The setting couldn’t be more idyllic. The restaurant sits on the edge of the river, with all of the tables being in individual rooms that overlook the water. You can open up the windows to let the breeze run through and into the open-air hallway. In wintertime, the table becomes a kotatsu, those lovely pieces of furniture that have blankets and heaters to keep your toes warm.
Sadly, the staff at Kijiya was a bit … odd. Not surly, but not effusive, and not really concerned that customers were showing up. We plunked ourselves in our seats – gorgeous views at least – and attempted to puzzle out the menu. My questions to the server didn’t elicit much help, but we finally settled on two hotpot meals and hoped for the best. (There are pictures at least for non-Japanese readers.)
Thankfully, Kijiya’s food is much better than their staff and we delighted in our appetizer of pheasant and miso, pheasant pate and candied kumquat before moving on to the homemade tofu, rice studded with carrot and pheasant and – of course – the pheasant hot pot with homemade noodles. It was all delicious and frankly a steal at about $10-$15 per person.
It’s not easy to get to Kijiya without a car, but if you take a taxi, the route is fairly straightforward. You can always ask the staff at the train station to call ahead for you if you’d like to reserve a table. We reserved but things didn’t seem to fill up on the weekday we were there.