asazuke

Life in Japan, food, music, whatever…

Ama-no-Hashi-date and Ine 4 December, 2017

Filed under: food & drink,places — johnraff @ 4:55 pm
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A winter trip we took at the start of 2014 – the pics have been here on the computer, so thought I might as well put some of them up.

This time I didn’t fancy driving in the snow so we took trains and buses – the Shinkansen and then local trains up to Amanohashidate, later buses to Ine and beyond. A-n-h-d is a somewhat well-known “scenic spot” with some vague associations with Lafcadio Hearn. Maybe it’s just because he was in Matsue, up the coast a bit. Anyway, basically it’s a pine-covered narrow peninsula, that almost completely blocks off a small bay.
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I rather like Kannon temples like this one, with their simultaneously exotic and at-home atmosphere. There’s always lots of incense being burnt, lots of wishes being made, and usually plenty of business going on in the area. At the same time, there is a rather dark, mysterious atmosphere… Yes, Kannon-sama is worshipped in China and many other Asian countries too.

amanohashidate-1401-0008The pine-covered spit of land is just a long sand-bank really, but I suppose it’s pretty enough, probably even nicer when the sun is out. Everybody seems to like it a lot, and the area is full of souvenir shops and soba restaurants, because it’s within fairly easy range of Kyoto. Since foreign tourist numbers must have pretty much doubled since 2014 it’s probably well supplied with tour buses now.

We buy some dried fish – it looks tasty and isn’t expensive – and some “heshiko” pickled mackeral. It’s quite strong flavoured, a bit like anchovy maybe, but good with sake or with rice, and I once made a Thai Tom Yam soup with some that also came out quite well.

That evening we don’t stay in a traditional Japanese Inn or homestay, but a sort of lodge run as an annex of a biggish hotel. The room is simple, but cheap at around 7000yen a head, and comes with a French dinner at the restaurant downstairs and a buffet breakfast. Dinner turned out actually not to be too bad at all, so we were quite pleased with the deal.

A few more photos from around Amanohashidate:

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The next day, on to Ine. This is Japan, and we get a little edgy when the bus is 5 minutes late because of the winter roads. Ine has interesting “funaya” houses with built-in garages for boats! The sea comes right into the back of the house.They can get away with this because the village is at the back of a sheltered bay with no waves, and no history of tsunami apparently. I presume the tides must be gentle too.

I’m just leaving a few shots of the place:

Later that afternoon, another bus to our minshuku, where crab is for dinner. The Sea of Japan is famous for crab in winter, but of course you get what you pay for, and while we eat mountains of beni-zuwai-gani (red snow crab) the taste isn’t all that special. According to a TV programme I saw around that time, that crab is caught in very deep waters and frozen on the boats, so “fresh” has no meaning really.

The last day we have a look at the local Urashima Taro shrine. There are shrines to him in a few places around Japan. Near this one is a hole in a bank which leads to the underworld:

Passage to the underworld.

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The Goto Islands 15 March, 2013

Filed under: places — johnraff @ 3:13 pm
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At new year we took a 6-day trip to the Goto Islands, just off Kyushu. These are a bit off the regular tourist routes, but quite interesting historically, having been on the way in to Japan from the Asian continent, and also for the Christian population who fled there escaping persecution in the Edo era. As a result there are many churches, some of them quite beautiful, though not so old. The scenery is also stunning in places, especially the north. Anyway I’ll leave you to Google “Goto Islands” if you want to learn more, and just add a few notes from our own visit, and some photos.The ferry leaves quite early.

It’s a three-hour ferry ride from Nagasaki to the island of Fukue in the south. (The hydrofoil’s faster but more expensive.) It leaves in the morning so we fly to Nagasaki the evening before and stop at a business hotel.

It’s cold (January, remember) – don’t expect balmy sub-tropical Okinawa. We’re fairly north here and Korea’s not far away, though the Kuroshio current does warm the sea a bit. On the first of January it snowed in Fukue and there was still some on the ground in patches when we arrived on the 2nd. On the 3rd we had a bitter cold wind. Generally it was cloudy  with occasional sun which did warm things up if you were out of the wind. They get a lot of wind here. Occasional gaps in the clouds which let through dramatic rays of sun also seem a feature which fits in nicely with the Spiritual imagery. (Most visitors come in summer.)

typical dramatic lightPublic money has been spent here: there are many bridges and tunnels, and the ferry terminals are warm, spacious, shiny and super-clean. (Use the toilet there while you have the chance.) The northern Kami-Goto area has its own smart airport which now looks out of use. Still, off the nice new main roads you have these narrow twisty lanes with many hairpin bends that lead to tiny fishing villages with even narrower streets. There are buses, but you’ll probably need a car to get around so make sure you rent a little one, especially away from Fukue island. The islands are bigger than you might think. You’d need a couple of weeks to cycle around so a car is pretty much essential – rent is around ¥4500 a day.

Many shops, museums etc. are closed till 4th January – be careful travelling at new year. Fukue has seen better days. Arakawa hot spring (where we stayed two nights) obviously used to jump – there are many bars and ryokan now closed, leaving just two ryokan and two minshuku, all pretty run-down looking. It was the whaling apparently, and the fact that Arakawa was a refuge for fishing boats when the weather was bad, so the sailors would drop some of their (relatively good) pay there. This all ended some 30 years ago. Our ryokan is in an 80-year-old wooden building which is full of character but in need of repair in many places. The dinner is pretty good though, with an abundance of locally caught fish.

Many Group Homes for the elderly – there seems to be another one on every corner. At first we thought it was good service by the local government, but later heard they’re all privately run. The aging population must mean there’s a good market.clouds, sea, islands...

Moving north to Kami-Goto for three more nights – these islands are very mountainous and incredibly complicated with oddly shaped inlets and peninsulas (check Google Maps). You get amazing scenic views at every corner. It must be gorgeous – verging on breathtaking – in summer. The water is crystal clear, so you can see right down to the bottom, just like Okinawa. Somehow I like the atmosphere here in the North more than Fukue –  it seems a bit livelier.

Our minshuku here “Katayama” is in a little fishing village like dozens of others we pass on our first day, though maybe a bit scruffier than some. Old fishing nets used as fences. Katayama is at the end of a decrepid wharf but the house itself is a typical Japanese wooden farmhouse, ie rather nice, and the lady who runs the place (Mrs. Katayama?) keeps it very clean and pleasant, decorated with flowers and her own patchwork. A very friendly, positive, person who clearly takes a personal interest in her guests. Katayama's ownerShe cooks good food too, mostly based on vegetables she grows herself and fish from the port down the road. For example, dinner on Saturday night was buri teriyaki, tofu, oden with delicious daikon, carrot and home-made konnyaku, four kinds of sashimi followed by freshly made tempura then rice, pickles and soup with sea bream head. I may have forgotten something. Everything was good.

There are camelias everywhere, especially on the northern Nakadori island. The oil used to be an important local product but now apart from tourist souvenirs it seems to be mostly used in the rather special local noodles “Goto udon”. They are slimmer than standard Japanese udon noodles with a pleasant smooth texture and come in a broth made from dried flying fish, called “ago dashi”. Quite good actually.

The crime rate is obviously low. Our rented car is waiting at the ferry terminal in Nakadori, unlocked, with the key in the ignition! “Come to the office to pay any time you like” they said.The camelia flower is a recurring theme.

There really are a lot of churches here, especially in the North, often standing above a tiny village at the end of one of those twisty back roads. I think the current overall Christian population of the Goto islands is around 20%, but in some of the outlying villages it’s more like 95%, which is certainly unusual for Japan. None of the churches are much more than 100 years old, because Christianity was strictly forbidden, and very cruelly repressed, during the Edo period. Some are quite modern, but most are very simple in design, often plain white, with equally simple interiors that feel more Protestant than Catholic. Much more than when visiting temples or shrines, I feel as if I might be intruding in someone’s private space.

When we switch on the car ignition a little panel on the dashboard reads “Hello Happy” and when we open the door to get out it says “See you, good-by.”

We drive up to the top of Nakadori Island, via numerous churches, up a narrow neck of land that’s more like a submerged mountain chain, to the lookout point at Tsuwazaki, where you can look out over a stretch of sea studded with dozens more islands. I can see smoke coming from behind a hill on one of them. That evening the TV news mentioned a fire in the area…

The next day, to Hinojima, over a couple of big bridges, way over to the west. There’s a little village there, now half-deserted, with a beautiful 100-year-old school building that’s now used, if at all, for summer camps or something. With a couple of broken windows, it definitely needs some care and attention, which it won’t necessarily be getting… Just behind are a rather nice temple and shrine. The temple, Genju-in (源寿院) has a Buddha image, several hundred years old, which is only displayed every 33 years. It was originally pulled from the sea in a fishing net!! Could it have drifted over from Korea?

Dejima wharfBack in Nagasaki with a couple of hours before we have to head to the airport, we sip a glass of wine on Dejima wharf and enjoy the lights of the harbour as the day draws to an end. While it’s not exactly warm, it is (just) feasible to sit outside, which is not at all the case in Nagoya at the moment. What I like about eating in Japan – even in touristy spots like this there’s no service charge, no added tax, and no tipping. Four drinks at 500 yen each, one pizza at 1050 yen, total 3050 yen. That’s it. (Nagasaki‘s a very nice place, and well worth a visit in itself in warmer seasons.)

I took a lot of photos. You’ll soon get the somewhat grey atmosphere, but even in winter weather it was a good trip.

 

Farmlog November & December 2012 6 March, 2013

Filed under: countryside,places — johnraff @ 1:52 pm
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4th~5th

It turned pretty cold a couple of days ago, but Sunday is a beautiful autumn day with feathery clouds and vapour trails across the deep blue sky. The sun manages to bring the mid-day temperature up to 19°C in Nagoya, which isn’t bad going. Views of holy Mount Ontake magnificent in new snow.

As we get out of the car at the other end the air has a sharp bite. A flock of tits tries to cheer us up over our cup of tea. There’s just time to pick a last batch of chillies before it gets dark at 5:30 and my fingers are frozen. We won’t be coming up next week, and by the 18th the plants will probably have been killed by the frost.

We have dinner at a friend’s down the road. Almost everyone, driving or not, is drinking non-alcoholic beer, which I find deeply depressing.

Monday is cloudy and chilly, though when the sun peers through it warms things up a bit. Rain is due later. The tits are still around, and we have a brief visit from some goldcrests(?) and other small greenish-brown birds. The autumn colours are well under way, but we’ll miss the best, which will probably be next week.

Min. temp. 2°C, max. 19°C (max from last week?)


11th~12th

We stay in Nagoya. On Monday, visit Tanigumi.


18th~19th

We leave town a bit late because Saturday night at Raffles was busy. Sunday is a nice early winter’s day with an almost clear blue sky. Passing through Inuyama we pause to check out Saito Ham’s sausages and see a sign to “Jakko-in” – a Zen temple nearby famous for its maple trees, which might just now be at their peak so we decide to have a look as we’re running late anyway. About half the population of the Tokai area have decided to do the same, and the narrow road is totally jammed. We give up and escape up a side road only to happen upon a secret car park, so we stop after all and walk 5min. to Jakko-in. It is rather nice but loses out to Tanigumi maybe. (pics below)

It’s dark by the time we reach our house and it’s my turn to make dinner – Chinese-style chicken breast stir-fry with peppers, hot sour soup and tomato salad, with a simple (ie cheap) red wine from the South of France. It turns out OK.

Sunday night drops to 0°C but the chillies are just hanging on to life. I pick a few but we’ve got more-or-less all we need now. Cut some thorny citrus branches to help keep the cats off our garden in Nagoya. The mid-day sunshine is pleasantly warm but at 3:00 the sun goes behind the hill opposite and by 4:00 the BIg Chill has its teeth in us and my fingers are numb. A warm bath helps a lot, then back to Nagoya in the dark.

Min. temp. 0°C, max. 15°C


25th~26th

Sunday is another beautiful day – sunny with no wind – perfect for viewing the autumn colours and plenty of people must be doing just that, as the roads are quite crowded. Once out of town, the scenery is indeed impressive with red, brown and yellow leaves against a deep blue sky with distant white mountains to set it off. However, the weather is unsettled and the radio promises rain tomorrow.

Big “daikon” radishes are in season and cheap everywhere.

There’s another mouse in the trap (last week too) and the deer (probably) have knocked down the net round the chilli plants, but the chillies have died from the frost anyway.

Wake to the sound of rain as promised, and it looks set to continue all day…

Min. temp. -1°C, max. 11°C


December 16th~17th

We’ve missed two weekends! Two weeks ago there was a private party at Raffles and last week there was just too much snow to make the trip enjoyable. What’s more, next week we’ll be busy getting ready for Xmas and the week after getting ready for our trip to the Goto Islands, so this will be our only visit in December.

It’s a beautiful Sunday with magnificent views of snowy Ontake again.

Oshogatsu stuff is starting to appear in the supermarket. T buys mochi to decorate the farmhouse.

I make “miso nabe” for dinner – it’s OK.

Monday is wet again – this seems to be a regular pattern this autumn. Cut some more cat-thorns, dispose of the organic refuse and head back to Nagoya for an evening of blues at Otis’.

Min. temp. -5°C, max. 10°C

Jakko-in Photos:

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Kongoshoji 28 February, 2013

Filed under: places — johnraff @ 2:44 am
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A day trip we took last September – drove down from Nagoya to Morozaki at the end of the Chita peninsula, then took the car ferry to Irago on the Atsumi peninsula, and another one from there to Toba in Mie. The sea was OK (weather semi-clouded), Toba was OK (we found a nice cheap sushi place for lunch) and from there we drove to Ise Shrine, but somehow what made the greatest impression was the temple, Kongoshoji, about half way along the Ise Skyline road, near the top of Mount Asama.

It had a very special atmosphere, a wonderful collection of Jizo statues, beautiful buildings and a forest of wooden posts… T said there was a belief that the spirits of those who had passed away returned to the woods around the temple and the posts were erected to comfort them. Some of these posts were very new, so this is still a living tradition. Somehow, I felt as if I was in South America. Anyway, some pictures:

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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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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.

 

Setsubun 4 February, 2012

Filed under: city,customs — johnraff @ 3:00 pm
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Osu’s one of my favourite places in Nagoya and I had to be in the area anyway, so went down to Osu Kannon for the bean-throwing. Nice sunny day (though freezing cold) and the place was looking colourful and exotic with people wandering around in devil masks, a couple of ladies in full geisha attire and white makeup and some more weird costumes I couldn’t figure out at all – maybe advertising something? All thoroughly photogenic, but my camera told me to recharge the battery, and shut itself down. Ah well…

Instead I went up to the balcony where good-luck beans were being thrown and managed to catch a few in my hat. I was quite pleased with myself, but later T complained it wasn’t nearly enough. You’re supposed to eat as many beans as your age to get the full effect, but it would have meant hanging around for an hour or so to collect that many! Went in to pay my respects to Kannon-sama. The Goddess of Mercy is a boddhisatva in Buddhist terms, but also a goddess in Shinto, with connections to China and probably the Indian Avalokitesvara. There are many Kannon temples in Japan – a famous one is Asakusa Kannon in Tokyo which, like Osu in Nagoya, is in the middle of a bustling downtown sort of area; Osu has markets, second hand clothes shops, computer stores, Brazilian and Turkish restaurants, a place for traditional medicines like dried snakes, and another exotic little temple called Banshoji right in the middle of the arcades. It’s a great place to wander around.

Oh yes, bean-throwing? Setsubun comes just before the traditional lunar New Year, the name (節分) suggests changing seasons and it’s about driving out bad luck and letting the good fortune in. The beans are supposed to scare the devils away. There’s also something about eating a big sushi roll while facing in the lucky feng shui direction (this year it’s NNW). Originally just a local custom somewhere, it’s being pushed recently by the sushi roll makers, maybe taking a hint from Valentine’s day. Someone invented a “tradition” of girls giving chocolate to boyfriends, friends or even office superiors on Feb. 14th, and now that day accounts for 50% (was it?) of chocolate sales in Japan!

More about Osu here and some photos here (not as good as what I would have taken of course 😉 ).

 

 
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