asazuke

Life in Japan, food, music, whatever…

Tanigumi via the Tarumi line 16 November, 2012

Filed under: places — johnraff @ 2:34 pm
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A great one-day outing last weekend – we took the Tarumi line from Ogaki and got off at Tanigumi Guchi. A 10-minute bus ride away is the Buddhist temple at Tanigumi. If you stay on the Tanigumi line it winds through some amazingly picturesque scenery to the historic Usuzumi cherry tree at Tarumi, according to T who went there last spring with some of her friends, but that trip will wait for another time… Today we’re headed for the autumn colours around Tanigumi, and it turns out to be a good choice.

From Ogaki you spend the first 30 min. or so going through a plain of persimmon trees – for which Ogaki is famous – then suddenly turn a corner, cross a bridge and you’re in a narrow gorge pushing through a forest, through a short tunnel and too soon you’re at Tanigumi Guchi. I was tempted to stay on the train for the scenery coming up, but T says no, today let’s see Tanigumi. OK out of the train and immediately you’re hit by the different smell – taste – of the fresh air. There’s a local bus waiting for us – the only passengers – and soon we’re at Tanigumi.

While T is looking around one of the dozens of shops on the street up to the temple’s main gate I’m standing outside in a sort of daze, just feeling happy to be there… This, apart from T’s wonderful existence, is why I’ve been in Japan all these years I feel, and that feeling is confirmed later in the temple itself. I’m not the only one to get these vibes from Tanigumi – this lady felt similarly in 2008, and a Japanese blog I happened upon today referred to it as a “power spot”. (Power Spots are another current boom that might be worth a mention one day.) Amazingly – to me anyway – is that I’d never heard of this place before today. Plenty of others have though – the big car parks with room for rows of tour buses tell of the crowds that must have come on Sunday. The “mon zen machi” street is lined with souvenir shops, cafes, restaurants, even a couple of “ryokan” hotels, and lots of stalls selling those Ogaki persimmons. Anyway, this Monday is nice and peaceful with just a handful of people.

The temple is gorgeous, even without the beautiful red maples and yellow ginkgo trees. Every direction you look you’re rewarded with beauty. There’s that special Japanese blurring of the boundary between the man-made structures and the natural world outside, so every fern and vine seems to be a part of the temple. We’re distracted by a sign that says “to the inner shrine”, so set out on a hike up to what looks like sunlit hillsides just above us. It turns out to be something like a one-hour trek, about 2Km at ~30° (it feels), and the inner sanctum isn’t that spectacular, nor are there any panoramic views. Ah well – it was good exercise. Get back around dusk, in time for almost the last bus back, pausing to buy some of those persimmons and a pile of mandarin oranges.

If you live in Nagoya this trip is still a good option for this weekend – the autumn colours should be even better if anything. Just watch the train timetable – the Tarumi line trains run only once an hour or so, so you want to time your arrival at Ogaki so you don’t have to wait over an hour as we did! Here’s the Tarumi line website and timetable. The JR service from Nagoya to Ogaki is pretty fast and frequent. Even if you miss the maples, the Tarumi line looks worth checking out some day. (Here’s the Tanigumi tourist website, in Japanese.)

Some pictures:

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Sakushima Pictures 18 October, 2012

Filed under: places — johnraff @ 2:36 pm
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There were a lot of photos left over from our 2010 trip to Sakushima. Hope you like some of them!

 

Kitemiteya きてみてや 29 April, 2012

Filed under: city,food & drink,places — johnraff @ 1:40 am
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This is the kind of place that Japan excels at. Just a counter with room for 6~7 people, and a bit of tatami at the back with a couple more tables. One guy, Ina-chan, runs the whole place – serving drinks (though beers from the fridge are self-service) and the snacks that are obligatory when drinking in Japan – squid with spinach, noodle salad, mackerel stewed in soy sauce… and because Ina-chan’s from near Osaka you can also get good Kansai style okonomi-yaki (the negi-yaki’s especially good) and yaki-soba which will fill you up if you’re hungry. In Britain you’re lucky to get a couple of crisps or peanuts but here you can easily have your whole evening meal down at the pub if you want. There’s a kind of fuzzy area between eating out and drinking out which I thoroughly enjoy exploring.

Here at Kitemiteya anybody’s welcome, but most of the people at the counter are regulars, and there’s a pretty good chance you’ll know somebody. Lately he’s taken to putting the TV on more often, to show off the shiny new wide-screen digital picture, and because he’s a Hanshin Tigers (baseball) fan, but Ina-chan’s got a music background and the sounds he puts on tend to be choice – usually some Japanese artist you’ve never heard of because they’re outside the music industry machine. Prices are really cheap too, especially the food which is generally in the ¥300~¥400 region. Add to all that the fact that it’s just a two-minute walk from where we live and you’ll see why Kitemiteya’s been our regular place for some years.

Musicians tend to drop in quite often, and the other day this guy we know brought in a friend who’d just finished playing a concert. He had this instrument case with him and asked if we’d like to hear a bit – well, sure, we said and he takes out this Mongolian horse-head fiddle thing and starts playing it. It sounds pretty good, and then he gets into this Mongolian “throat singing”. Gosh. I don’t know if you’ve heard any, but it’s very strange, a bit like playing a Jew’s harp with your voice. Till then I’d only heard it on CDs or the radio but at a distance of 1 metre it’s very impressive. I was ready for more, but it was getting late and we had to leave. I don’t know how often you’d get to hear Mongolian Throat Singing down at the local back in the UK.

When I came to Japan 36 years ago you’d be able to call Kitemiteya a typical Japanese bar, but it’s really not easy to make any sort of living doing this these days. People can no longer afford the sort of prices an owner would have to charge to make a proper living from it, and drink instead at chain pubs with food that comes out of factories. These little street-corner drinking places are becoming quite scarce, along with the local sushi-shops. Inachan just seems to get by somehow… anyway, long may he continue!

A few pics:

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Nagiso to Nojiri 10 March, 2012

Filed under: countryside,places — johnraff @ 2:32 am
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It’s fairly easy to get out of Nagoya and into some nice countryside, especially if you head North towards Gifu and Nagano prefectures. A Sunday last November (yes, I know I could have posted this a bit earlier) we took advantage of a cheap weekend railway ticket to get on the Chuo line out to Nagiso in the Kiso region. The Nakasendo, along with the Tokaido, is one of the two roads that used to link Edo with Kyoto. While the more famous Tokaido ran along the Pacific coast, the Nakasendo went through the mountains, and sections of it still exist in this area, sometimes with the original stone paving. It’s usually easy walking, and a good way to get some nice scenery and a bit of history…

Nagiso station is full of middle-aged ladies with rucksacks, checking out the tourist pamphlets and souvenir stands, but most of them get on the bus that goes to the more famous Tsumago down the road. The walk from Tsumago to Magome is a very popular section of the Nakasendo, and an enjoyable three hours or so, but today we head North towards Nojiri. The main path follows the Kiso river, more or less with the current Route 19, but there’s an alternative called the Yokawado which goes through the hills instead. Apparently this was used when the Kiso flooded, and for a hike it’s a more attractive option. Nagano prefecture have been quite good about putting up signs, and it’s not long before we’re above the town looking out over the Autumn hills.

Quiet. There’s hardly anyone around, we pass through a couple of almost empty villages – surrounded by electric fences to keep out the deer and wild boar – and the only people we run into are a foreigner+Japanese couple walking in the opposite direction. There are no drinks machines of course, so if you try this you’d better take a bottle of something and a couple of sandwiches or rice balls.

The weather wasn’t perfect, but the countryside was beautiful and when we picked up our train home from Nojiri in the late afternoon the Yokawado seemed just about right for a day’s outing. A few pics…

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Eiheiji and Ichirino hot spring 11 February, 2012

Filed under: countryside,places — johnraff @ 3:12 pm
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This was a weekend trip at the end of last October – up to Fukui prefecture on the Sea of Japan side of the country. We had bad luck with the weather, it’s usually beautiful at that time of year, and indeed was just before and after, but on our two days we had cloud and drizzle… ah well, it didn’t really spoil things that much.

First, to Eiheiji. This is a huge Zen temple in the hills, and a major tourist attraction which even used to have its own railway station. The souvenir shops sell Zen T-shirts. I suppose Lourdes might be like this, maybe even more so. Even so, this is still a functioning temple and all over the sprawling complex of buildings there are young monks, polishing the floor, weeding the gardens or cooking in the refectory. Is tending an immaculate little garden inside a temple in the mountains where only monks and visitors will see it a waste of time? OK so what exactly isn’t a waste of time? Spending an hour or so walking around – didn’t take any photos – on the way out we passed through a hall hung with some inspiring messages from the founder, in English as well as Japanese. Buy a T-shirt on the way back to the car. Here are some nice photos, and two other peoples’ descriptions of the place.


On to Ichirino hot spring resort. Not a historic spot really, but a collection of buildings at the foot of a ski slope. There’s no snow yet, and anyway the ski boom is over, so the place is empty. When I first came to Japan, “minshukus” were houses, usually in the country, where people lived but had been adapted to take guests – something like Bed and Breakfast (though usually dinner is included too). These days they tend more often to be purpose-built, with a bit less atmosphere and “at home” friendliness than in the Good Old Days. Our place, chosen almost at random after a web search, turned out to be good (Yukiguni-so if you’re in the area). A bit scruffy but clean and run by friendly people.

The obasan who runs the place with her husband and daughter was really friendly, and an incredible hard worker. She’s up to all kinds of stuff: in the woods behind the place she picks “nameko” mushrooms, walnuts, “tochi” nuts and “warabi” fern shoots. They also grow “zenmai” ferns, “shimeji” mushrooms, beans… The food is good, but sadly the cafe at the front is empty.

The next day we’re given some walnuts and set off to take in Mount Hakusan on our way back to familiar Gifu prefecture. In spite of the gloomy weather the scenery is stunning. The autumn colours are just right and waterfalls in the narrow valley the road takes up the mountain are beautiful. Crossing through all this scenery, when we come down on the other side, somehow it all has a more familiar look. Fukui was a foreign country compared with our usual Gifu. What was it? The plants? The shape of the hills? And of course the houses are different too, once you get down to human inhabited zones.

Our own house is still intact, and we drop in to pick some more chillies on our way back to Nagoya.

 

Now, where was that station…? 24 December, 2011

Filed under: news,places — johnraff @ 1:48 pm
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Talking on the radio yesterday about how the Tohoku region is slowly pulling out of the earthquake and tsunami destruction. It’s a very long slow job and many people are still in dire trouble, but this time it was about the railway system. Apparently many lines were repaired and back running in a month. Others, like lines that ran along the coast, were more severely damaged and will take longer. There are also cases where the towns that the line ran through were completely wiped out, and there is some doubt as to whether people will return there to rebuild, or move somewhere a bit further from the sea. There wouldn’t be much point in rebuilding a station in a deserted mudflat. (It’s not surprising that the prospect of a house just by the beach is not as appealing as it might once have been…)

Yet other places exist where it’s no longer possible to tell where the station used to be.

 

Body chemistry or something 20 April, 2011

Filed under: food & drink,places — johnraff @ 1:54 am
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I’ve just got back from three weeks in the UK. It’s the place where I was born and grew up and I love it; the buildings that were intended – in contrast with earthquake-prone Japan – to last for years and years, the green green grass everywhere even in winter, the TV, the humour, the relaxed mixture of cultures you now enjoy, the warm beer, and, yes, even the food.

All that said, I’ve now been living in Japan for 35 years – more than half my life – and my body must have adapted in some way. Maybe it’s the air, maybe the water: I don’t know but this morning my breakfast – the same fruit + yogurt + muesli + pot of tea I was having while in Britain – just tasted so good.

 

 
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