There's a very good chance that you'll smell Motoyoshiya before you see it. The smoke that emerges from the chimney of this thatched-roof restaurant is tinged with the rich smell of unagi, the delicacy of river eel for which the city of Yanagawa is well-known. Motoyoshiya is one of Yanagawa's oldest eel establishments—and one of its most popular. If the smoke doesn't draw you in, the crowds of hungry diners gathered outside the curtained door will definitely alert you to the fact that this eatery should be a "must" on your itinerary.
The interior of Motoyoshiya is spacious and multi-level. On the ground floor, low tables placed on the tatami mats look out onto a gorgeous interior garden. You'll have plenty of time to admire the stone lanterns and carefully cultivated moss; eel is not known as a "fast food." The menu is limited, as the restaurant sticks to its specialty. The two most popular dishes are the unagidon (usually seen on menus as simply "unadon"), a bowl of two or three pieces of grilled eel over rice, and the seiromushi sets. Seiromushi is eel that has been grilled but is then placed in a red bamboo box, topped with shreds of fried egg, and steamed. The rice underneath the eel turns a lovely copper color as it soaks in the juices of the eel. Seiromushi is served piping hot and usually stays that way until the last bite. The seiromushi set at Motoyoshiya comes with a bowl of clear soup that includes the eel's innards and a small plate of locally-made pickles. All sets come with as much green tea as you can drink. Expect to pay ¥3500 for the seiromushi set and ¥2900 for the unagidon.
The menu at Motoyoshiya is entirely in Japanese and no English version is available. However, the staff carry pictures of the two most popular choices and will use those to explain the options to anyone without Japanese ability.
Motoyoshiya is located away from the main canal district, where many of the other eel establishments can be found. It's a good 20-25-minute walk to the restaurant from either the train station or the canal district, just long enough to work up an appetite! For drivers, there are at least two dozen free parking places on either side of the eatery.