Marvellous Mingei : Matsumoto Hotel Kagetsu

Mingei, meaning the art of the people, is a style that is born from the local people’s everyday lifestyle, making it a product of nature and tradition. Items made in the Mingei style of Matsumoto are familiar, comfortable, simple yet beautiful, and the passage of time just adds uniqueness to their character.

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This philosophy clearly shows in the Matsumoto Hotel Kagetsu. Located within a stone’s throw away from Matsumoto Castle, this classic hotel is a convenient and comfortable time capsule. Step into its elegant interior and let yourself be wrapped in the romance of vintage Mingei that is unique to Matsumoto.

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The guest rooms are comfortable and beautifully furnished.

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In their restaurant [I;caza] (which charmingly means “Let’s go” in Nagano dialect), you have the choice between their fantastic Japanese or Western fare.

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Don’t forget to visit the clean and pleasant bathing area to complete the experience.

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Check out our Matsumoto articles for all the fantastic things to do in the area.

Information

main_松本ホテル花月Address: 4-8-9 Ote, Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture
Access: 15 min. walk from Matsumoto station
URL: http://www.matsumotohotel-kagetsu.com/index-english.html

Fuji-Q Highland, thrilling rides with a view of Mt. Fuji

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As the quintessential Japanese symbol, Mt. Fuji often evokes quiet and peaceful imagery. That’s why it’s hard to think of it as home to some of the highest, steepest and scariest roller coasters in the world. However, it’s precisely this contrast along with its proximity to Tokyo that makes Fuji-Q Highland amusement park a unique place to visit and a must for all thrill seekers.

The park is located in the foothills of Mt. Fuji in Yamanashi prefecture and can be reached by the Fujikyu express bus in approximately an hour and a half from Tokyo, Shinjuku and Shibuya stations. Fuji-Q features roller coasters such as Takabisha, with the steepest drop in the world at 121° degrees, Eejanaika, the so-called 4th dimension coaster with endless turns and spins and of course, the Fujiyama, dubbed “the king of coasters” with a maximum speed of 130 km/h and a maximum height of 79 m. However, if heart-pounding rides are not your thing, Fuji-Q offers great alternatives, such as Fuji Airways, a virtual flight around Mt. Fuji in high definition, or Thomas Land, an area filled with exciting rides for small children. Visitors can also enjoy taking on the Super Scary Labyrinth of Fear, the Ferris Wheel, or even visit the nearby Fujiyama Onsen, featuring Japan’s largest wooden bathroom with an exclusive pipeline that feeds the facilities with a stream of water packed with minerals. It is said that after soaking for a while in this onsen’s miraculous waters, your skin will feel smooth and beautiful.

Three of our WAttention Ninja had the opportunity to experience all Fuji-Q Highland has to offer and this is what they had to say:

Aagje Kessels

Our day started at Tokyo Station where we took the bus to Fuji-Q Highland. As soon as we got there we couldn’t resist the urge to take a ton of pictures. Honestly, if you have the opportunity to behold such a beautiful landscape as Mt. Fuji, you want to show it off to your friends on social media. We enjoyed everything, from the soaring roller coasters to the cute “La ville de Gaspard et Lisa”, an area that looks like a small French town where you can find many food stalls and nice souvenir shops. The three of us were very scared of the most thrilling roller coasters, but I’m glad to say that we conquered our fear and had the time of our lives. Lastly but definitely not least, we visited Fujiyama Onsen, which offers a great variety of baths. I personally loved the outdoor Onsen, because even though it was quite cold when I first stepped outside, I found that nothing can beat the feeling of dipping into the hot water and instantly feel your body warm up and your troubles wash away.
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We started an amazing day at Tokyo Station, where we rode the bus heading to Fuji-Q Highland. When we got there, we didn’t have to wait long before entering the park. We were already a bit hungry, but we were so excited to get on the rides that we headed straight to the most challenging roller coaster: “Eejanaika”. It was amazing, it was the most intense ride I had ever experienced. After eating a much-deserved lunch, we decided to ride our second roller coaster: “Fujiyama”, which offered amazing views of Mt. Fuji. We also tried other attractions like the teacup ride, and the amazing Fuji Airways, a virtual tour of Japan’s tallest mountain with amazing special effects and a huge screen. We also took the time to walk around Fuji-Q Highland and visit the onsen. We had an amazing day!

Jan Siegrist

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Jenny Teer

As soon as we arrived to Fuji-Q, we took on the most intense rollercoaster: the 4th dimension coaster “Eejanaika”, which turns riders upside down a whooping 14 times and holds the Guinness World record for the most inversions in a roller coaster. I was quite scared at first but when everything was over, I thought the experience was really worth it. After pumping so much adrenaline, we decided to take a break to eat lunch and recharge batteries with a hearty meal of pizza, fries and soup. Our second ride was the “Fujiyama”, the tallest complete-circuit rollercoaster measuring 79 m at its highest point. This awesome ride became my favorite in the whole park. Around 5 pm we headed to Fujiyama Onsen. Since it was our first time in an onsen, we were feeling a little bit shy but I knew I had to change my mind and give it a try. After a while, I became used to it and ended up really enjoying it.
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Sample schedule for a day in Fuji-Q Highland
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Fuji-Q Highland

Hours: Open Monday to Sunday from 9am to 17pm. Operation hours vary according to the season.
Admission: Park admission is 1,500 JPY for adults and high school students, 900 JPY for children. One-day free pass ticket is 5700 JPY for adults, 5200 JPY for high school students and 4300 JPY for children.
Address: 5-6-1 Shin-Nishihara, Fujiyoshida-shi, Yamanashi Prefecture
Access: Take the Fujikyu Express bus at Tokyo Station bound for Mt. Fuji and get off at Fuji-Q Highland. Direct buses also operate from Shinjuku and Shibuya station, while daily night buses from Osaka and Kyoto are also available.
URL: https://www.fujiq.jp/en/
Contact: [email protected]

Enjoy the Mt. Fuji Area to the fullest with these useful tools

・Mt. Fuji Pass
This is a tourist pass especially made for foreigners visiting Japan. Save on sightseeing and transportation and get preferential access to different tourists facilities, including Fuji Q Highland.
Find out more here: http://bus-en.fujikyu.co.jp/mtpass/
fuji-q-resorts-
・Fuji-Q Resorts App
Get insider tips to make the most out of your visit to the Mt. Fuji area
The app is available in Japanese, Chinese, English and Thai
Find out more here: http://app.fujiq-resorts.com/fuji-qresorts/lp/
apli

Why is Niigata rice so delicious?

An average temperature of 24.5°C, long hours of sunlight and large temperature differences between day and night are ideal for growing delicious rice.

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Why is Niigatamai called “Japan’s No1”? Here’s why:

  • Highest Rice Crop Yield in all of Japan: For 28 consecutive years now, “Uonuma Koshihikari Rice” has received an A rank in the annual taste ranking.
  • Most Recognized rice brand among women living in greater Tokyo.
  • Taste the difference in Japan’s finest rice

    Here are some tips on cooking Niigata rice without a rice cooker

    stepone1.Wash the rice gently in circular motions and discard the water. Repeat thrice.
    step22.Soak the rice for at least 30 minutes.
    step33.Drain the rice for 10 to 15 minutes.
    step44.Water used when cooking should be about 1.2 times the amount of rice.
    step55.Steam for 10 to 15 minutes on medium heat and remove from fire.
    step66.Keep lid on and let rice sit for 10 to 15 minutes.
    step77.Use a rice paddle to fluff up the rice and serve!

    Deeply rooted in Japan’s food culture

    Rice cultivation has set the rhythm of life for Japanese for over 2,400 years. During this time, Japan has produced many ingenious recipes for eating rice in the most delicious ways. Today, in fact, many traditional Japanese dishes that are popular around the world are prepared using only especially delicious rice because – of course – if the rice is bad, then the sushi will also be bad! The main star of the Japanese table has always been rice, so remember to pay particular attention to the rice quality whenever you eat Japanese food.

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    おにぎり Onigiri
    The easiest way to enjoy the taste of rice – “Japan’s soul food”.
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    和定食 Wateishoku Japanese-style set menu
    A set menu of rice, miso soup and grilled fish is the ultimate combinationto experience the deep flavor of rice.
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    寿司 Sushi
    To make the fresh fish taste even better, only the best rice is used. In sushi shops, rice is called “gin shari”.

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    天丼・ウナ丼 Tendon, Unadon

    “Don” is used to describe a dish consisting of a bowl of rice with a topping. Eel, tempura and cutlets are some of the examples of topping that enhance rice’s flavor, and bringing it to a new level.

    Where to find Niigata rice in Tokyo

    上越の恵 田喰 TAKU 銀座店
    Joetsu no Megumi Taku Ginzaten

    Rice and fish directly from Niigata cooked by an expert chef.
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    Hours: Lunch 11:30am – 2:30pm (Mon. – Sat.),Dinner 5:30pm – 11pm (Mon. – Fri.) / 5:30pm – 10pm (Sat.) (Closed Sun.)
    Address: Ginza Puzzle Ginza 5F, 2-5-19, Ginza, Chuo-ku
    上越やすだ 新橋銀座口店
    Joetsu Yasuda – Shinbashi Ginza shop

    Established 120 years ago, this restaurant specializes in Niigata’s traditional food.
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    Hours: 5:30pm – 11:30pm (Mon. – Sat.)(Closed Sun.)
    Address:
    Hulic G10 Building 8F, 1-4-5 Shinbashi, Minato-ku
    つみき 神楽坂
    Tsumiki, Kagurazaka


    Restaurant serving Niigata sake and kama-meshi (kettle rice) with Uonuma Koshihikari rice.
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    Hours: 5pm – 11:30pm (Mon. – Fri.)5pm – 11pm (Sat. & National holiday) (Closed Sun.)
    Address:
    Rakuzan Building 3F, 4-3 Kagurazaka, Shinjuku-ku

    馳走 紺屋
    Chisou Konya

    Recommended Japanese kaiseki meals with Niigata wagyu beef.
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    Hours: 5pm – 11:30pm (Mon. – Fri.) 5pm – 11pm (Sat. & Holidays)
    Address: Clair Kagurazaka III 1F, 3-1 Kagurazaka, Shinjuku-ku

    豪農 五十嵐邸銀座
    Gonou Igarashitei Ginza

    Rice cooked in an earthenware pot together with carefully selected ingredients and sake.
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    Hours: Lunch 11:30am – 2pm, Dinner 5pm – 11:30pm (Mon – Fri.) (Closed Sat. & Sun.) Address: Kumo Building B1, 7-16-21 Ginza, Chuo-ku
    新潟食楽園
    Niigata Shokurakuen

    Enjoy a lunch set with delicious rice and seasonal fish.
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    Hours: Lunch 11am – 2:30pm (Mon. – Fri.) 11am – 3:30pm (Sat. & Sun.)Dinner 5pm – 10pm (Mon. – Sat.) /5pm – 9:30pm (Sun. & Holidays)
    Address: 4-11-1Jingumae, Shibuya-ku

    What kind of place is Niigata?

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    Just a short two hours away from Tokyo by shinkansen, Niigata sits along the coast of the Sea of Japan. Niigata prefecture is also known for its heavy snowfall, so many people visit the skiing areas. Just as they love seeing cherry blossoms in spring, Japanese love to see rice paddy fields as a symbol of the unchanging nature of their country. In Niigata, visitors can enjoy different, beautiful rice field shapes every season. The scenery of overlapping rice paddies, know as tanada, is a marvel to behold. In addition to eating, rice-producing regions also use rice to make sake. For those who want to eat fresh fish, drink superb sake and eat the best Japanese rice, Niigata is definitely the go-to place for you!

    Niigata travel guide

    must see

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    Terraced rice fields of Hoshi-toge
    These overlapping paddies are also known as senmaida (千枚田), or “thousand-fold rice fields”.
    Selected as one of Japan’s 100 best rural spots, the appearance of the fields change with the growth of rice each season and is a sight to behold during sunset.

    Takada Castle
    Constructed in 1614 as the home base of Tokugawa Ieyasu’s sixth son, the area surrounding the threetiered turret is renowned as a sakura-viewing spot. During summer, lotus flowers bloom in abundance and cover the entire outer moat.

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    Toki-no-mori Park
    This park is dedicated to the toki (朱鷺, Japanese Crested Ibis), which was once an integral part of Japan’s rural landscape. Here, you can learn more about the conservation efforts made by Sado Island as well as admire the ibis in its natural habitat.

    must do

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    Try out snow activities
    Known for its high snowfall, you will be spoiled for choice when picking a resort. Gala Yuzawa has 15 different runs with varying difficulty, while Naeba offers spa treatments and is also the host of the famous Fuji Rock Festival.

    Visit a sake museum
    Found inside Echigo-Yuzawa Station, visitors can try up to 100 varieties of sake at Ponshukan (ぽんしゅ館越後湯沢店). There is even a sake onsen right next door so you can soak your worries away too.

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    Make your own senbei
    At Senbei Okoku (せんべい王国), you have the rare opportunity of roasting a huge 25cm wide rice cracker, and drawing on it with shōyu to make it your very own.

    must eat

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    Kiwami Sushi Platter (極み寿司)
    A luxurious platter including uni (ウニ, sea urchin), ikura (いくら, salmon roe) and white fish atop warm home-grown sushi rice. Order the extravagant Kiwami Gozen set at Tomi Sushi (Niigata) to taste the best seasonal fish, which also comes with ara-jiru (あら汁, miso soup with fish) and tempura.

    Sasadango (笹団子)
    This famous treat is made of mugwort-flavoured mochi (もち, glutinous rice) and red beans wrapped in bamboo leaves.

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    Tare-katsu Donburi (タレカツ丼)
    Niigata’s take on the katsudon (かつ丼, deep-fried pork cutlet over rice) comes with katsu cutlets dipped in a savoury-sweet sauce.

    Wappameshi (わっぱ飯)
    A local specialty containing seasonal vegetables and seafood over seasoned rice, which is steamed and arranged in a container made from cedar wood.

    must stay
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    Matsudai Shibatoge Onsen Unkai
    This inn is found 400 metres above sea level and has an exquisite outdoor bath that overlooks the mountains of the Uonuma Range and terraced rice paddies. With the right conditions, a sea of clouds form so you feel as though you are floating on them.

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    Kirinzan Onsen Yukitsubaki-no-Yado Furusawaya
    Opened since 1935, this ryokan faces the Agano River and the foothills of Mt.Kirin. With only 15 rooms available, you are guaranteed a serene stay with gorgeous views of the surrounding nature.

    Osado Onsen Hotel Osado
    Situated on Cape Kasuga, the open-air baths offer panoramic views of the coastline so you can sit back and relax while taking in the scenery. The meals also feature plenty of choice seasonal produce from Sado Island.

    Sasagawa Nagare – Niigata

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    Breathtaking coastline with a beautiful contrast between the clear blue sea and white sand. The strange name “Sasagawa Nagare” roughly translates to “Sasagawa Flow” and is meant to express the waves brushing the coastline and flowing back between the complex rock formations like a mountain stream. You can gaze upon the rocks towering above the coastline from a leisure cruise.

    Access: Area around Kuwagawa Station (Uetsu Main Line)
    URL: http://www.sasagawanagare.co.jp/ (Japanese only)

    Hatsushima, an island full of adventure


    A thrilling escapade away from bustling Tokyo


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    There is an island off the shore of the city of Atami in Shizuoka prefecture with the rare virtue of combining adrenaline and relaxation. The Hatsushima island adventure starts at the Atamiko port, where visitors ride either the “Ile de Vacance Premier” or “Ile de Vacance III”, the two high-speed vessels that serve the island with departures several times a day. It’s a 30-minute pleasant ride that gives passengers the chance to admire the breathtaking view of Sagami Bay and feed the sea-gulls that try to catch up with the boat.

    Hatsushima offers a variety of amazing outdoor activities such as the Asian Garden “R-Asia”, where you can relax in a hammock and admire a great variety of flowers such as daffodils, the bird of paradise flower, and even early cherry blossoms, allowing visitors to Hatsushima to enjoy the quintessential Japanese flower as early as mid-February!. Inside the garden, adrenaline lovers can also join the SARUTOBI experience, an adventure course featuring bridges, webs and ropes hanging from the top of the trees that you have to complete wearing a special harness.

    For lunch, there are many restaurants offering a great variety of dining options and seasonal dishes. For example, from February 4th to March 12th, visitors can taste the time limited Donburi Gassen, a delicious bowl of rice with fresh and tasty fish caught by local fishermen. Visitors can also take a relaxing dip in the ocean bath “Shimano-Yu” and admire the breathtaking view at the ocean pool during summer.

    At Hatsushima, you can also get a glimpse of majestic Mt. Fuji on a clear day from the top of Hatsushima’s lighthouse or go underwater for scuba diving, spend the night in the camping site, go fishing or visit the local Maritime Museum. You will never run out of things to do.

    Two of our WAttention Ninja got the opportunity to experience a full day of adventure at Hatsushima island and this is what they had to say about the trip.

    Santiago Basterra

    To say that my day at Hatsushima Island Resort was thrilling and exciting would not make it justice, it was so much more! The restaurants had such a friendly atmosphere, small and traditional with top notch food and great attention. The miso was delicious! The Sarutobi adventure was my favorite part though, the first course was exciting and good for people who are not used to obstacle courses. Meanwhile, the second course was amazingly challenging, with the zip-line at the end being the cherry on top of the cake as you celebrate having completed the hardest course! Afterwards, the ocean bath was exceptionally tidy, everything was perfect and the water deliciously warm. Special mention to the sakura in the garden which were already blooming despite the fact that it was only February!
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    We took a 30 minute boat ride from Atamiko port to Hatsushima island, and as soon as we arrived, we saw the great variety of restaurants offering Hatsushima’s delicious sea food. We got to try the Donburi Gassen, a special, time limited dish made with shrimp, fresh fish, rice and accompanied with miso soup. We then headed to Hatsushima Island Resort to join the Sarutobi experience. The staff was always there to help us put on our safety gear, and there is also a brief orientation where they explain the dynamic of the activity. After that, we were confronted with two courses, an easy one, where you can test your abilities and then a hard one, only for those who feel comfortable going further. At first, it can be a bit scary because of the height and the difficulty level that increases as you go along, but after a while I felt excited and had an amazing time.

    Samuel Estribi

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    Sample schedule for a day in Hatsushima Island
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    Hatsushima Island

    Open: Asian garden “R-Asia” 9am to 4pm (varies according to the season), Sarutobi experience 10am to 5pm, Ocean Bath Shimano-Yu 10am to 9pm, Lighthouse from 9am to 4pm.

    Address:(Atamiko Port boarding place) 6-11 Wadahama-Minamicho, Atami, Shizuoka 413-0023. (Hatsushima Island resort) 1113 Kamifuruji-no-yama, Hatsushima, Atami, Shizuoka 413-0004.

    Phone: Hatsushima Island resort, PICA Reservation center 0555-30-4580

    Price: the Asian garden “R-Asia” is 900 JPY, Sarutobi experience is 1,700 JPY for adults and 1,300 JPY for children, the Ocean Bath Shimano-Yu is 900 JPY for adults and 600 JPY for children, Lighthouse is 200 JPY for adults, free for children and the Atami – Hatsushima round-trip high speed boat is 2,600 JPY for adults and 1,300 for children.

    Website: http://www.hatsushima.jp/en/

    Access: From Tokyo, take the Shinkansen Kodama for Atami Station and then take the bus bound for Atami Port & Korakuen from Bus Stop #8 (15 min). At Atami Port, get on boat named either “Ile de Vacance Premier” or “Ile de Vacance III” to reach Hatsushima.

    Enjoy the Mt. Fuji Area to the fullest with these useful tools

    ・Mt. Fuji Pass
    This is a tourist pass especially made for foreigners visiting Japan. Save on sightseeing and transportation and get preferential access to different tourists facilities, including Fuji Q Highland.
    Find out more here: http://bus-en.fujikyu.co.jp/mtpass/
    fuji-q-resorts-
    ・Fuji-Q Resorts App
    Get insider tips to make the most out of your visit to the Mt. Fuji area
    The app is available in Japanese, Chinese, English and Thai
    Find out more here: http://app.fujiq-resorts.com/fuji-qresorts/lp/
    apli

    Discover the warmth of Japan’s No.1 rice


    Japan’s best rice
    from Niigata


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    Rice is an essential part of Japanese cuisine. The rice cultivated in Japan (also known as “Japonica rice”) has a rounded, oval shape, is very sticky and features a slight sweetness. After making the effort to come all the way to Japan, don’t you want to sample the most delicious rice available? “Japan’s rice” is said to be produced in Niigata Prefecture so, for Japanese, Niigatamai (Niigata’s rice) is a very attractive brand. If you are familiar with Niigatamai, you’re already well on your way to becoming an advanced Japanese chef!

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    WAttention events

    Skiing on the slopes of Mt. Fuji

    The ultimate Japanese winter experience

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    It’s hard to imagine a better way to experience the Japanese winter than to slide down the slopes of Japan’s most iconic and sacred mountain, Mt. Fuji. Located at an altitude of over 1,300 m on its southern slope, Snowtown Yeti is a ski and snowboarding park that offers visitors four different runs, three lifts and incredible views of the snow-capped mountain.

    The park is connected to Shinjuku station’s west exit by the direct Linerbus which takes two hours and half to reach the park. There are also buses from the nearby Mishima, Gotemba and Fuji Stations. Upon arrival, visitors can then rent the necessary equipment and enjoy the thrill of skiing and snowboarding on the slopes of Mt. Fuji. Snowtown Yeti features courses for all levels with an average inclination of 11 degrees and up to 25 degrees for a more challenging experience.

    The winter season starts early at Snowtown Yeti, as the park opens in mid October, when man-made snow covers the slopes, and the park even has all-night skiing days where the park remains open until early morning.

    Three of our WAttention Ninja got the opportunity to experience a full day of skiing and snowboarding at Snowtown Yeti and this is what they had to say about the trip.

    Lucas Vandenbroucke

    The trip started off really well, since the bus was confortable and had Wi-Fi connection. When we arrived to Snowtown Yeti, we rented our equipment, which was of a very good quality, and completely water proof. The ski runs where adapted to different levels of skill. The weather that day was great for skiing and snowboarding and we enjoyed a fun day of going down the slopes. We also had time to rest at the restaurant and purchase gear at the shop where you can buy all you need to enjoy a full day out in the snow. I’m glad to have experienced skiing in such a great place, and in the company of my friends.
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    I had an amazing day at Snowtown Yeti. The gear we got was comfortable and top notch. There were some restaurants too, where they serve appetizing hot meals. There was also a place where we could buy our own ski equipment like gloves or googles. We had fun enjoying the slopes, which had different levels, for both beginners and advanced skiers. Overall, we had an amazing time and I’m looking forward to come back soon.

    Simon Brodard

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    Ricard Roddy

    The first thing I realized when we arrived is that we were already at the top of the slope, so we didn’t have to wait to get on the ski lift, we were able to start having fun right away. I really liked that you can buy all the equipment you need at the park, since I had forgotten my gloves. That really saved my day! You can find everything you need on site, restaurant, shop, rental gear and changing rooms with lockers. I spent such a good time with my friends, that when we left we wanted to come back again the next day! I would definitely like to recommend this place to anyone who wants to have an amazing day.
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    Sample schedule using the Fujikyu Direct Linerbus from Shinjuku Station
    schedule

    Snowtown Yeti

    Open: Weekdays from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., weekends and public holidays from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., all-night skiing 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m. the next morning (available on certain days).
    Open mid-october to early April of every year.
    Address: 2428 Aza Fujiwara, Suyama, Susono-shi, Shizuoka Prefecture 410-1231
    Phone: 055-998-0636
    Website: http://www.yeti-resort.com/en/
    Access: Take the Fujikyu Direct Linerbus near Shinjuku west exit, in front of Kogakuin University.
    Price: Yeti Liner Package (Yeti direct liner bus + rental ski + 1 day ticket) Adult 9,000-9,500 JPY, Child (6 to 11) 7,000-7,500 JPY. Please check Snowtown Yeti’s website for all-night skiing rates and other pricing information.

    Enjoy the Mt. Fuji Area to the fullest with these useful tools

    ・Mt. Fuji Pass
    This is a tourist pass especially made for foreigners visiting Japan. Save on sightseeing and transportation and get preferential access to different tourists facilities, including Fuji Q Highland.
    Find out more here: http://bus-en.fujikyu.co.jp/mtpass/
    fuji-q-resorts-
    ・Fuji-Q Resorts App
    Get insider tips to make the most out of your visit to the Mt. Fuji area
    The app is available in Japanese, Chinese, English and Thai
    Find out more here: http://app.fujiq-resorts.com/fuji-qresorts/lp/
    apli

    5 Outdoor Autumn Activities in Karuizawa

    shutterstock_663088822Karuizawa, a small resort town in Nagano Prefecture, is a popular destination thanks to its laid-back atmosphere and luxury resorts. At an elevation of 1,000 meters (3,281 ft) the cooler temperatures result in stunning fall colors. And if that’s not enough, we’ve found five other amazing reasons to explore the town.

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    5. Shopping

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    Cooler weather is great for shopping, particularly when many of Karuizawa’s best shopping districts are outdoors!

    An outlet mall is located on the south side of the town, near the Karuizawa Prince Hotel, and is a sprawling shopper’s paradise with more than 200 stores. You can find everything from fashion items, to sports gear and outdoor items here, in addition to multiple restaurants and cafés that are perfect for recharging with a warm beverage.

    Kyu-Karuizawa, or Old Karuizawa—about 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) to the north—is home to Karuizawa Ginza, an important merchant street that grew during the Edo Period (1603-1868). The shops along the street embrace tourists and is home to traditional cafés, restaurants and souvenir shops selling locally produced jam and honey.

    4. Ziplining

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    For adrenaline junkies, Karuizawa Prince Hotel offers ziplining through a company called Zipline Adventure on the ski slopes through early autumn.

    Tours depart three times a day and run from 90 minutes to two hours (depending on group size and speed). Hiking up the slopes is necessary, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes!

    Check out the website for more information, such as height and weight requirements.
    www.zipline.jp (Japanese)

    3. Hiking

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    Nagano is well-known for its natural beauty and there are many paths and trails in the area. The challenging Mount Asama, a 2,568 meter (8,425 ft) active volcano, is one of Japan’s 100 Famous Mountains. It last erupted in 2009; even so, hikers are required to stay out of restricted areas. The sulfur fumes can be hazardous, so heed the warnings you see on the trail. Every hiker has their own pace, but expect a minimum of six hours for the round trip.

    If a volcano doesn’t strike your fancy, there’s also the Karuizawa Wild Bird Sanctuary (Yacho no Mori), home to more than 80 different species of birds, as well as the scruffy kamoshika, or Japanese serow. The park is free to enter, but various nature walks are available with a reservation through the Picchio Visitor Center.

    www.tozai-trek.com

    2. Onsen

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    Karuizawa is home to the luxury ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) operator Hoshino Resort. If you want to splurge, the Hoshinoya Karuizawa resort is probably the pinnacle of luxury in this town. However, there’s a smaller onsen, or hot spring, called Tombo no Yu that caters to day-trippers.

    The onsen is located at the base of a forested mountain, with indoor and outdoor baths filled with steaming hot water that is said to rejuvenate the skin and cure everything from nerve pain to hypertension.

    Regardless of which hot spring locale you choose, soaking in an onsen is a relaxing way to keep warm on a crisp autumn day!

    www.hoshino-area.jp

    1. Bicycle Rental to Kumoba Pond

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    Cycling is a great way to get around the main areas of Karuizawa. The streets are wide and rental shops dot the town, particularly close to the Shinkansen station. In addition, many of the beautifully designed summer homes tucked away in the tree-dappled valley are best viewed while on a leisurely bicycle ride.

    One of the most popular autumn destinations in Karuizawa is Kumoba Pond, a small pond with dozens of Japanese maples planted around it. A footpath circles the pond, allowing visitors to take in the surrounding trees and wildlife. On a clear day, the water reflecting the scarlet and gold of the turning leaves is a sight that’ll take your breath away.


    Read the original article on All About Japan: 5 Outdoor Autumn Activities in Karuizawa

    You might also like:
    All About Bus Tours in Japan
    16 Superb Views Found in Kyushu
    Halloween Pumpkin Bread

    Ultimate Map of Fall Foliage Destinations in Japan : Niigata Prefecture

    Niigata 1~ 6


    1Dragondola (ドラゴンドラ) in Yuzawa

    First colors: Beginning of October
    Color Peak: End of October
    Details: Long gondola that gives you a panoramic view of the mountains in full fall beauty. The ropeway connects Naeba ski resort and Tashiro ski resort, so even in the winter this is a good visit. The gondola is the longest and fastest in Japan (5,5 km, 6m/s). Also visit the nearby Prince Hotel for the 1,800 yen all-you-can-eat buffet.
    Festival: October 31st (Monday) – November 1st (Tuesday). Autumn appreciation day.
    Access: 35min bus ride from Echigo-Yuzawa Station (JR Joetsu Line; Hokuetsu Express – Hokuhoku Line)
    Admission: 2,400 yen (adults) / 1,200 yen (children) for a return ticket
    Address: 202-4 Mikuni, Yuzawa-machi, Minamiuonuma-gun, Niigata 949-6212
    Ranking: ★★★★☆
    tripadvisor.com


    2Okutainai (奥胎内) in Tainai

    First colors: Middle of October
    Color Peak: End of October
    Details: This valley in the Bandai Asahi National Park is virtually untouched by human hands.
    Special sight: One of Japan’s best photo spots for crystal clear water. Nearby hut to enjoy nature.
    Access: By car: 50min from Nihon-kai Tohoku Expressway Nakajo IC
    90min from JR Uetsu Matin Line “Nakajo Station”
    Address: Okutainai-san, Shimoarasawa, Tainai-shi, 959-2816 Niigata
    Ranking: ★★★★☆
    nihon-kankou.or

    Ultimate Map of Fall Foliage Destinations in Japan Niigata Prefecture


    3Yuzawa Kogen Panorama Park (湯沢高原パノラマパーク) in Yuzawa

    A photo posted by Kazuhisa Inui (@kazuhisa_inui) on

    First colors: Middle of October
    Color Peak: End of October
    Details: During the winter this is a beautiful skiing area, but autumn is equally beautiful. Enjoy the 7min ride and observe the twisting mountains covered in colored foliage.
    Recommended Spot: Mt. Omine
    Access: 10min walk from JR Echigo-Yuzawa Station
    Address: 490 Oaza Yuzawa, Yuzawa-machi, Minami Uonuma-gun, 949-610 Niigata
    Ranking: ★★★★☆
    nihon-kankou.or


    4Todo no Mori Water Park (杜々の森名水公園) in Nagaoka

    First colors: Middle of October
    Color Peak: End of October
    Details: Natural spring water still comes from the ground in this park. There are onsen nearby to enjoy while watching the trees turn color.
    Access: 50min by car on the Hokuriku Nakanoshima Mitsuke IC
    Address: 3996 Nishinakanomata, Nagaoka-shi, 940-0256 Niigata
    Ranking: ★★★★☆
    enjoyniigata.com

    Ultimate Map of Fall Foliage Destinations in Japan : Niigata Prefecture


    5Kiyotsu Gorge (清津峡) in Tokamachi

    First colors: mid-October
    Color Peak: end of October – beginning of November
    Details: One of Japan’s three biggest gorges
    Special sight: The panoramic area with an overview of the gorge
    Access: 30min by bus from JR Echigoyuzawa, then a 25min walk
    Address: Koide, Tokamachi, 949-8433 Niigata
    Ranking: ★★★★☆
    snow-country.jp


    6Yahiko Park (弥彦公園)

    First colors: Middle of October
    Color Peak: End of October until the middle of November
    Details: Best known for its shrine, Yahiko also has a big park with lush greenery. Why not combine your autumn walk with a shrine visit and mountain hike?
    Recommended Spot: Maple Valley
    Festival: Chrystanthemum Festival at Yahiko Shrine (November 1st – November 24th)
    Access: 2min walk from JR Yahiko Station
    Address: Yahiko, Yahiko-mura, Nishikanbara-gun, 959-0323 Niigata

    Ranking: ★★★★☆
    vill.yahiko.niigata.jp

    Fukui Cosmos fields

    Not so many years ago the locals of Miyanoshita in Fukui had to decide what to do with a large piece of barren ground. One of the options was to turn it into a construction site, but the local council made the final decision. Eventually the whole area got turned into a beautiful field ten times bigger than the Tokyo Dome and full of cosmos flowers.

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    The reason for choosing cosmos flowers is that it’s a strong flower not in need of much maintenance. They come in a variety of colors and can be left to bloom as is. It was Miyanoshita’s hope that the cosmos field would attract tourists and give the area a relaxing atmosphere. We must confirm that they succeeded, as the whole area looks peaceful with the Mt. Hakusane range as a backdrop.

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    During our visit the cosmos weren’t yet in full bloom, but there were already plenty of visitors and kindergartens on school outings to check the earliest flowers. There are separate patches dedicated to single color flowers and there’s an area for the cosmos festival held from mid-october until the end of october. The activities include tractor rides and a fresh market all organized by the locals.

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    If you’re in the area during fall, don’t forget to visit this flower field.

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    Information

    Dates: from the beginning of October until the end of October
    Location: Miyanoshita Cosmos Park
    Address: 12-16 Goshogaichicho, Fukui, Fukui Prefecture 910-3112
    URL: info.pref.fukui.lg.jp (PDF)

    Eiheiji, the temple Steve Jobs wanted to study at

    In Fukui there are two well known temples, Daianzenji and Eiheiji, that differ very strongly from each other. Eiheiji Temple belongs to the “Soto Zen” school of teaching and its name literally means temple of eternal peace. The founder, Dogen Zenji, adopted Zen practices from China and applied them to his own “way of the Buddha” in Japan. In 1244 he built a mountain temple near Fukui City with the help of one of his most devoted followers, the samurai Yoshishige Hatano. Even though the Rinzai school was more popular with samurai at the time, the Soto school was more straightforward and easier to understand for most people. Because of these reasons Eiheiji and Soto Zen became the “to go” practice for the common folk.

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    A Temple School

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    More than an actual temple, Eiheiji is a temple school training monks from all over Japan. The strict teachings recorded by Dogen Zenji in his books attract more than 200 trainees who all live in the temple. They each have just one tatami mat measuring one by two meters on which they have to eat, sleep and meditate (zazen). The Soto Zen school teaches that every activity should be a religious practice, so talking and reading is never allowed in the priest’s hall. Because of the strictness and sanctity of most of the halls you are not allowed to take photos or even visit the trainees’ daily living quarters.
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    Eiheiji, the temple Steve Jobs wanted to study at

    What do priest trainees eat?

    PillarWith more than 200 people living under one roof there must be a very complex system for cooking, right? On the contrary, the monks prefer to keep the sober lifestyle dictated by their teachings and still use the same kitchen, Daikuin, as during the old days. Of course most of the equipment has been updated to keep up with the times. These modern appliances are a great help to the eight monks who have to make all the meals every day for everyone else. The cuisine at Eiheiji is strict vegetarian and prepared with local ingredients. Meals are always sober and plain. “Upon flowing into the pure ocean of dharma, there are no such discriminations as delicacies or plain food; there is just one taste, and it is the Buddha dharma, the world itself as it is.”

    The kitchen building is a three-story cooking complex with some interesting features. There is a shrine dedicated to swiftness and protection from fire. Praying here will give you the strength to deliver meals quickly and to warn everyone in case of fire…which hopefully won’t happen if you prayed hard enough. The nearby wooden pillar is as old as the temple itself and it’s said that if you rub it three times you become better at cooking. Rub it six times to become better at flattering.
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    Holy places

    Every hall, room and space in Eiheiji is a place of worship. Even when going to the bathroom one has to respect the rules written in the Senjo, a special chapter in the Soto Zen book stipulating rules for going to the toilet. Some of the other important places include the official entryway with statues of the Four Heavenly Kings who protect the Buddha (sadly, no direct photos allowed of the deities), the main temple called “Hatto” and the mausoleum of the founder Dogen Zenji. This mausoleum is officially called “Joyoden” and not only houses the ashes of Dogen Zenji but also the ashes of several of his successors. They are respected as if they were living teachers. There are living quarters near the mausloeum for the priests who are assigned to maintain this holy area. The framed kanji character means “shouyou”, roughly translates to “receiving the sun”, and was written by the Emperor Meiji.

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    Stay overnight

    If you want to experience Eiheiji life or start a training like Steve Jobs wanted to do, you can! You can do short overnight stays but if you want to sign up for the real deal you have to be affiliated with the Soto Zen Sect or prove your conviction. Of course there are also day courses to practice zazen Eiheiji style. If you’re interested you can read all about it here.
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    Information

    Hours:4am – 5pm (5:30am – 4:30pm during winter)
    Admission: 500yen
    Location: near Fukui City
    Access: Timetable for Eiheiji Liner bus
    Address: 5-15 Shihi, Eiheiji, Yoshida District, Fukui Prefecture 910-1228
    TEL:0776-63-3102
    URL: https://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/spot/shritemp/eiheiji.html

    Five Fantastic Fukui Facts

    You might not have heard of Fukui but there are many amazing things in this lesser known prefecture. Let WAttention introduce you to some fantastic facts that you can use in your next conversation about Japan.

    1) Fukui has one of the few 8K Planetariums in the world

    The recently opened shopping complex “Happiring” features a brand new planetarium with an amazing 8K screen. Only a handful of planetariums in the world offer this experience.
    Besides the regular screenings the planetarium itself is a fun interactive environment.

    Location: Seiren Planet Fukui
    Hours: 10am – 6:30pm (Mon, Wed, Thurs, Sun) / 10am – 9pm (Fr & Sat) / Closed every 2nd Wednesday of the month
    Admission: 400yen (adults) / Dome Theater 600yen (adults) , 500yen (high schoolers), 300yen (children)
    Address: 1-2-1 Chuo, Fukui City
    Access: right next to JR Fukui Station
    URL: http://www.happiring.com/english/
    Planetarium

    2) Dinosaurs are everywhere!

    The largest dinosaur excavation site in Japan is in Fukui. In fact, they were able to keep digging from 1989 until 1993 and still found dinosaur fossils. Even today they are still trying to find new fossils. Of course the city is extremely proud of its dinosaur museum which is considered 3rd best in the world. The scriptwriter for the movie “Jurassic Park” even came to the museum to give a lecture.

    Location: Katsuyama City, Fukui
    Hours: 9am – 5pm (last entry at 4:30pm) / closed every 2nd and 4th Wednesday
    Admission: 1,200yen (adults) / 1,000yen (high school and college students) / 600yen (primary/secondary school students)
    Address: 51-11 Terao, Muroko, Katsuyama, Fukui 911-8601
    Access: from JR Fukui Station, go to Katsuyama on the Echizen Railway Eiheiji Katsuyama Line (1hour). There is a bus from Katsuyama station to the museum (10min).
    URL: https://www.dinosaur.pref.fukui.jp/en/ & http://www.fuku-e.com/lang/english/feature/feature-dinosaur_museum.php
    Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum(1)

    more here
    inside Fukui Station

    Outside Fukui Station
    Outside Fukui Station. (They move and make sound too!!)

    3) The Matrix+Fukui=…?

    Glasses! Fukui has tons of glasses and in fact, they make about 10% of all the glasses in Japan. The brand Sabae was the first company to start using a light titanium frame for glasses and even now about 96% of all the frames in Japan are made by Sabae. These Japanese frames from Fukui are such top notch quality that Neo, played by Keanu Reeves, from the movie “The Matrix” allowed a pair to adorn his face.

    Glasses

    The people of Fukui are proud of their glasses.
    The people of Fukui are proud of their glasses.

    4) Amazing Cherry Blossoms

    The Asuwa River that runs right through Fukui City has a cherry blossom riverbed of 2km long with about 600 trees. Every spring visitors come from all over Japan and even deem it one of Japan’s finest spring views. It’s also included in the list of 100 best cherry blossom viewing spots in Japan. When the trees are in full bloom there is a festival and illumination at night.

    Asuwa Rivre Cherry Blossoms

    5) Rich History

    As a first time visitor to Fukui I was surprised myself to discover how much history is packed into one prefecture. The ruling Matsudaira clan of Fukui produced the first Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu and was the main target for famous warlord Oda Nobunaga. On top of all that, Ichijodani had a rich culture well advanced for its time. There are streets from the Edo period that are still intact with picturesque storefronts and traditional goods. I’m sure that if you explore Fukui yourself you will find many more Fantastic Fukui Facts.

    History

    Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


    WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

    Ilse Montald
    From popular culture to traditional culture, I’ve immersed myself in both. I love writing about tradition, history and sharing fun discoveries. If I’m not outside watching a festival parade I’m leisurely reading manga in kimono.

    MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

    Ichijodani Asakura Ruins, remnants of a powerful clan

    The Asakura clan (朝倉氏) was one of the most powerful clans in Fukui during the Sengoku period (1467 – 1603). Ichijodani is the name of the city they built. At its height, Ichijodani had over 10,000 residents and an advanced culture.

    Map

    Background History

    The Sengoku period was a time of civil war in all of Japan. The last ruler of Ichijodani, Asakura Yoshikage, was an adept ruler who kept peace in the city. Because of this, Ichijodani became a refuge for people fleeing unstable areas in conflict. Warlord Oda Nobunaga seeked to unify Japan and captured Kyoto (then the capital) in an attempt to rule the country (1568). The Asakura clan was called upon to drive Nobunaga from Kyoto, thus creating a conflict. Oda Nobunaga’s answer was a siege on the Asakura domain and in 1573 he burned down the whole city.

    Luckily, in 1967, Ichijodani’s secrets were revealed during a large scale excavation. The city turned out to be much grander than anyone ever expected and is one of the only ruins in Japan with this much detail. You can visit the site and see a reconstruction of the village houses.

    maquette

    guideThe Asakura Ruins offer a very handy virtual guide that shows you how the original buildings would have looked by using a real time camera. Just point the guide to a location and a virtual reconstruction will begin. This guide costs 500yen and is available in both English and Japanese. This is very useful as most of the area is barren and you need a lot of imagination to picture the buildings.

    You can also choose to have a real guide tell you all the stories of Ichijodani. I would suggest to take both the virtual guide for the experience and the real guide for the secret stories and enthusiasm.

    Ichijodani Asakura Ruins, remnants of a powerful clan

    The City

    There are many interesting things to see in the reconstruction of the Ichijodani. Actors walk around in historical costumes and mannequins are set up inside the homes to reenact historical scenarios.
    For safety reasons, the Asakura family built the city in a very interesting and unique way. The streets have a slight curve, making it possible to see every enemy no matter where you are standing in the street. The same principle is applied in Narai Juku, Matsumoto.

    City Streets

    You can see that the city has a built-in waterway that serves as a sewage system and to keep the area cool during summer. The walls are fortified with big rocks, protecting against floods and invaders. When you walk around the ruins it’s difficult to imagine the grand buildings that once housed powerful samurai and lords.

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    The Karamon gate is the entrance to the ruins of Yoshikage’s house and used to be the entrance gate to a temple. Thanks to the good condition of the ruins an accurate image of the villa could be created.

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    The Karamon gate is still in good condition because it was built after the destruction of the Asakura clan and again reconstructed during the Edo period. If you look closely, the gate bears both the mark of the Asakura clan and of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. In 1570 during the Battle of Anegawa Hideyoshi fought in defense for the Asakura clan against Oda Nobunaga. This gate is thus dedicated to Asakura Yoshikage.

    GateKamon

    There are several gardens in Ichijodani and some are still waiting to be discovered. You can easily spend a full day in the area as it’s surrounded by beautiful nature and there’s so much history to absord.

    Something the guide was really proud about is that telecom operator Softbank chose to do a commercial series in Ichijodani. Their trademark white shiba inu named “Otousan” (“father” in Japanese) has been around since 2007 and is the head of the Shirato family. According to the commercial series his hometown is Ichijodani.

    Information

    Hours: 9am – 5pm (last entry at 4:30pm) / Closed Dec. 28 – Jan. 4
    Admission: 210yen (500yen for the virtual guide)
    Location: Ichijodani Asakura Family Ruins
    Address: 910-2153 Fukui-ken, Fukui-shi, Kidonouchichō
    Access: From Fukui JR Station go to Ichijodani Station on the JR Kuzuryu Line (15min) and walk for 25min / Take a bus from JR Fukui Station to Jokyouji and get off at Bukeyashiki-mae (35min) / 30min by car from central Fukui.
    URL: http://www3.fctv.ne.jp/~asakura/ (Japanese only)

    Restaurant Review: Ichijodani – Restaurant

    Near the Asakura ruins is a modern restaurant that is very much in touch with the seasons. Ichijodani Restaurant changes its menu every time new local ingredients are at their peak. They then turn them into Japanese-style dishes with a Western touch. After a visit to the ruins this restaurant is a must visit.

    A 7-course menu starts at 3,500 yen. We’ll take you through their current, delicious, offering.

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    Italian inspired stuffed Shiitake

    The starter already made a great impression. This Shiitake was stuffed with cheese and a topping of sweet basil. It’s difficult to tell if this is a Japanese dish or an Italian but it was delicious nonetheless.
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    Salmon with Citrus

    The appetizer made a combination that I never think would have worked, fruit with fish. It took a while to get to the salmon pieces at the bottom so at first you’d think this is a fruit dish. On my way down I recognized salmon roe, edible flowers, pomegranate and lemon jelly.
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    Steamed Onion

    Personally, I am not a fan of onions. But this onion truly changed my mind. I was told that Japanese onions taste a lot sweeter than their Western counterparts and the story seems to be true. The taste of the broth had completely seeped into the onion and transformed the flavor to something different. The kelp bag it was served in was also edible.
    Onion in Konbu

    Light soup with Steamed Egg

    This cup had so many little details inside that it was difficult to eat it, but sadly, it was delicious. The vegetables well precisely cut into maple leaves to visualize the season and the mushrooms gave it that autumn taste. The eggs were very fluffy and did not get soaked by the soup, I wonder how they did that.
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    Chicken with Red Fruit

    When they first brought out the plate it looked like a strange modern art painting. Upon closer inspection (and taste) you could see that the different sauces were used as “paint” for this abstract piece. Red fruit, vinegar, and a sauce reminiscent of sauce hollandaise.
    The only negative point; it was difficult to eat this chicken without a fork and knife.
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    Japanese Pumpkin Curry

    Of course this seasonal favorite couldn’t be forgotten. Kabocha, or Japanese pumpkin, has a sweeter taste than the Western pumpkin and a tougher skin, making it fairly difficult to use for Halloween carvings. But luckily kabocha makes for better food than decoration, adding a special flavor to the curry. The pickles on the plate give it that extra touch.
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    Dessert

    For dessert we had coffee and a fruit jelly. As a surprising detail, the grape had a part cut off so it would have a flat surface to balance properly on the jelly. That’s how much detail and thought was put into every dish.
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    The Restaurant

    Besides serving delicious food, the interior is extremely beautiful in its simplicity. The wooden theme gives a relaxing and cozy atmosphere. There is a big hardwooden table where large groups of guests can sit together.
    Interior

    Information

    Hours: 11am – 6pm
    Price: Courses are at 3,500yen / 5,500yen / 7,000yen
    Tel: 0776-37-3712
    Access: 21min walk from Ichijodani Station. Parking available
    Address: 10-48 Kidonouchicho, Fukui, Fukui Prefecture 910-2153
    URL:www.1jyoudani.jp (Japanese only)

    Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


    WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

    Ilse Montald
    From popular culture to traditional culture, I’ve immersed myself in both. I love writing about tradition, history and sharing fun discoveries. If I’m not outside watching a festival parade I’m leisurely reading manga in kimono.

    MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

    Visit the Origin of Ninja (4) : Kids’ Ninja Village

    Kids’ Ninja Village

    Togakushi is well-known as the origin of ninja, so we visited the Kids’ Ninja Village, where children and even adults can dress up like a real ninja! Ninja costume rental is available for a reasonable fee (kids: 400 yen, adults: 800 yen). So all members in your family can enjoy an immersive experience in becoming ninja.

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    Next, let’s move on to training! The village offers various facilities to enjoy the way of ninja such as shuriken (star-shaped disc) throwing experience, climbing, and a ninja trick house. Moreover, they offer exciting shows related to the skills of the ninja. With such wonderful attractions and shows, you can enjoy being a ninja for a whole day.

    For all big ninja fans, please do not miss visiting Ninpohkan where you can see a huge collection of all things ninja. From manga such as Ninja Hattori, to every single ninja character in pop culture, to lego ninja figures, and posters of ninja movies as well as other ninja paraphernalia can be found here. We came to realize just how the legend of the mysterious and enigmatic ninja has permeated Japanese and global culture, from traditional Japanese culture to pop culture.

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    Ninja version vending machine!
    Ninja version vending machine!

    Read other articles in the series:
    Visit the Origin of Ninja (1) : Togakushi Shrine
    Visit the Origin of Ninja (2) : Museums and a Ninja Trick House
    Visit the Origin of Ninja (3) : Ninja Soba

    Information

    Open: Late April ~ Late November
    Open hours: 9.00 ~ 17.00 Closed on Thursdays (open daily for the summer vacation period, mid-July ~ end August)
    Access: From Nagano to Kids’ Ninja Village: Take bus Togakushi line no. 70 or 71 to Togakushi-Chusha bus stop → walk around 15 min
    Admission fee: Kozaru Ticket (Adults – Elem. School Kids: 450 yen, Kids: 200 yen) *This price does not include attractions fee
    Website: http://www.ninjamura.com/english

    Visit the Origin of Ninja (3) : Ninja Soba

    Togakushi Soba Yamaguchiya

    On the way back from the hill, we visited Yamaguchiya Soba restaurant. They specialize in making Togakushi Soba with a unique concept. The recommended menu is Ninja Soba (cold soba with shredded radish, vegetable tempura and original walnut soba sauce). Moreover, they have a ninja menu for ladies called the Kunoichi Soba that comes with a Japanese dessert. Both menus are ninja-themed with edible components such as shredded radish that represents ninja smoke bombs.

    Ninja Soba Set
    Ninja Soba Set
    Kunoichi Soba Set (Ninja Soba set for ladies)
    Kunoichi Soba Set (Ninja Soba set for ladies)
    Soft serve ice cream
    Soft serve ice cream

    Mr. Yamaguchi, the owner of Yamaguchiya and ninja master, told us that the secret to make delicious Togakushi soba are premium ingredients and pure water. He also said that in training to be a ninja, energy is extremely necessary so food that contains a lot of energy but can also be easily digested and healthy such as soba, is the best menu for ninja.

    Currently, Mr. Yamaguchi is an instructor for ninja training as well. Some ninja trainees are not local Japanese, and some even came all the way from Europe to explore the way of the ninja with different purposes. The key to be a ninja is not complicated techniques, high power or good items but ability to adapt all ninja skills. Moreover, those skills are for defend and protect ourselves not for attack others.

    Ninja pose with Mr. Yamaguchi
    Ninja pose with Mr. Yamaguchi

    Read other articles in the series:
    Visit the Origin of Ninja (1) : Togakushi Shrine
    Visit the Origin of Ninja (2) : Museums and a Ninja Trick House
    Visit the Origin of Ninja (4) : Kids’ Ninja Village

    Information

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    TOGAKUSHISOBA YAMAGUCHIYA
    Opening Hours: 9.00 – 17.00
    Address: 3423 Togakushi Chusha Nagano city, NAGANO Japan.
    TEL: (+81)26-254-2351
    URL: www.togakushisoba.com

    Visit the Origin of Ninja (2) : Museums and a Ninja Trick House

    After accomplishing a tranquil mind like a ninja, we moved on to the ninja house!

    Just across the road from the entrance from Okusha, we arrived at the Togakushi Folk Museum, Togakushi Ninja Museum and the Ninja Karakuri Yashiki (Ninja Trick House) which are all located in same area.

    ninjahouse2

    In the Togakushi Folk Museum, there is an exhibition of tools and items that were mainly used for daily use and farming. We were impressed by the ingenuity of these functional and convenient items.

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    Togakushi Ninja Museum was built like a two-story house. While visiting the first floor, we learned the lifestyle of ninja that doubled as farmers. After climbing to the second floor, the atmosphere changed completely. The long history and way of ninja were revealed there. Historical documents, pictures of mysterious techniques and items are shown here to make you wonder about how they can do all of this!

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    The Ninja Karakuri Yashiki is the highlight of this place as both adults and kids can enjoy finding their way out of the maze-like building. The Ninja Karakuri Yashiki was built based on tricks used by ninjas, so it is easy to go into the house but difficult to find your way out. In the past, this kind of trick was a great way for ninja to escape their enemies. All rooms seem like normal rooms, but if you cannot think like ninja, you may not find the right direction to reach the exit. The most impressive room in the Ninja Karakuri Yashiki is the room with a sloped floor so we have to walk upward against the gravity.

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    In other areas, there are game corners, and a souvenir shop in Ninja theme.

    Read other articles in the series:
    Visit the Origin of Ninja (1) : Togakushi Shrine
    Visit the Origin of Ninja (3) : Ninja Soba
    Visit the Origin of Ninja (4) : Kids’ Ninja Village

    Information
    Hours: 9.00 – 17.00 (Last entry 16.30)
    *In 2016, opened 23 Apr – 23 May
    *From 6 Nov, open only on Saturday, Sunday and Holiday.
    Admission: Adults 600 yen, Kids 400 yen
    URL: http://www.togakushi-ninja.com/

    Visit the Origin of Ninja (1) : Togakushi Shrine

    Togakushi Shrine

    After taking an approx. 1,5 hour trip by Shinkansen from Tokyo, we arrived at Nagano Station. This time our destination is Togakushi which is located in the northern part of Nagano Prefecture. Togakushi is the birthplace of the mysterious Togakushi Ninja. Our first stop was Togakushi Shrine which is mainly related to the sun goddess Amaterasu in Japan mythology. The shrine consits of 5 shrines called Okusha, Chusha, Houkousha, Kuzuryusha, Hinomikosha. However, this time we focused only on Chusha, Okusha and Kuzuryusha.

     

    Chusha Shrine
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    The first thing we saw in front of Chusha Shrine was a gigantic Torii, a traditional Japanese gate which can commonly found in front of shrines. Moreover, there are 3 enormous trees that made us feel like we received power from nature as we drew close. Following Japanese traditional etiquette when visiting shrines, we washed our hands with the crystal clear water from the pond. This is a symbol of cleaning up body and mind before entering a spiritual place like the shrine.

     
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    The most impressive thing about this shrine was Omikuji (fortune draw) which normally shows good or bad luck. Omikuji is usually just numbers written on a paper, but this shrine gives your fortune in the form of a letter. After telling our age to the shrine, we got a specially selected Omikuji, a letter that was supposedly given by the deity of the shrine. Usually, people should draw this omikuji only once a year and carefully keep it and refer to it throughout the year as a letter from the god.

     

    Special Omikuji of Togakushi Shrine
    Special Omikuji of Togakushi Shrine
    In the main hall of Chusha, there was another must-see spot, which is the painting of the great dragon, one of the deities worshiped there. Apart from that, we also enjoyed seeing pure water fall in a well-known nature power spot for monks to make their physical and mental training and for normal people to escape from their busy daily lives.

     

    Okusha Shrine

    The next stop for training our mind as a ninja was Okusha. The approach to Okusha is around 2 kilometers from the entrance. In the past, no matter they were great people or farmers, everyone had to leave their horses near the entrance and walk step by step to the spiritual shrine as equals. On both sides of the path, you can enjoy ancient cedar trees that have been standing for more than 400 years to welcome visitors and clear your mind as you walk down the green pathway.
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    Afterwards, we arrived at the red Zuijinmon. In winter the ground will be covered by white snow, providing a gorgeous contrast to the color of the gate. We passed through this historical gate to enter another natural pathway ringed with cedar forest.
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    Finally we saw Okusha up on the hill with the scenery of Togakushi Mountain as its backdrop. Some folktales said that Amaterasu, mighty goddess of the sun hid her body in the cave on this location so other gods and people held the celebration to bring her out. Since the god of this shrine, Amaterasu, is known as the major deity and the goddess of agriculture as well, the symbol of the shrine is crossed sickles which represents the relation between the shrine and agricultural life of the people throughout its long history.

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    A short distance from Okusha, there is Kuzuryusha built for the nine-headed dragon deity Kuzuryu, where people commonly pray about the weather. Furthermore, the deity is also believed to be the god of teeth and the god of love. Even now, people still offer food and fruits to the Dragon God in the forest.

    Read other articles in the series:
    Visit the Origin of Ninja (2) : Museums and a Ninja Trick House
    Visit the Origin of Ninja (3) : Ninja Soba
    Visit the Origin of Ninja (4) : Kids’ Ninja Village

    Information

    Access: From Tokyo to Nagano: Shinkansen Hokuriku Line, Bus
    Chusha: Bus Togakushi line (via Birdline) from bus stop no.7 (in front of Nagano Station) to Togakushi-Chusha
    Okusha: Bus Togakushi line (via Birdline) to Togakushi-Okusha
    *In the winter during ski season, the bus will not stop at Togakushi-Okusha

    URL: http://www.togakushi-jinja.jp/

     

     

    Wakamatsu Chita Hot Spring Resort

    Located on the Chita Peninsula, a less-traveled area in South Nagoya, the Wakamatsu Chita Hot Spring Resort promises a comfortable stay, combining the authentic Japanese “omotenashi” hospitality with state-of-the-art facilities.

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    Here you can rest in beautiful Japanese rooms with traditional tatami flooring. Take in the view of the Ise Bay and be lulled to sleep by the sound of the ocean waves.

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    They also take pride in their hot springs. Four different onsen areas with different themes and views are available for you to experience. You can reserve the private bath on the roof with an amazing view.

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    And though the Chita Peninsula is off the beaten track, it offers a plethora of different activities and attractions, including fishing experiences, fruit harvesting experiences, whiskey making, theme parks, museums, and many more! Spend a relaxing stay at the Wakamatsu Chita ryokan and fall in love with the Chita Peninsula, the hidden playground in Central Japan.

    Information

    Wakamatsu Chita Ryokan (Hot Spring Resort)
    Address: Hamaokabe-19-1 Utsumi, Minamichita, Aichi Prefecture
    Access: 30 minutes by car from Central Japan International Airport
    URL: http://www.wakamatsuryokan.com/chita/index_en.html

    Discover the town of Onsens, Shuzenji

    Located about 100km southwest of Tokyo, is Izu City, Shiszuoka Prefecture. Found at the Izu Hantō (peninsula), it is well known for its natural resources, mild climate and a mix of popular traditional and modern attractions, especially its onsens – making it a popular weekend getaway for Tokyoites.

    The city can be split into three major areas: Eastern, western and central. Facing Sagami Bay, Eastern Izu is home to the famous Kawazu Sakura, the earliest flowering sakura in Japan while Mount Fuji lies in the west, across Suruga Bay’s coastline. Running through central Izu is the Kano River, Shuzenji Onsen and Temple. Other attractions include Atami Castle, Toi Gold Mind and MOA Museum of Art.

    Easily accessible from Tokyo by train, you can get to Izu City by taking 50-minute ride on the JR Tokaido Shinkansen from Tokyo to Atami and Mishima or an 80-minute one by Odoriko from Tokyo to Atami.

    SHUZENJI

    One of the oldest and most famous hot springs resort towns on the Izu Peninsula, Shuzenji Onsen was named after the Shuzenji Temple (修禅寺) that is found in the centre of the town. Surrounded by the volcanic Amagi mountain range, the onsen offers guests a beautiful hilly view in place of the regular ocean-view onsens. Rich in history, Shuzenji Onsen is also known as Sho-Kyoto (kanji, little Kyoto) for its historical architecture and traditional charms.

    BAMBOO GROVE PATH
    Take a stroll along the scenic bamboo-lined Katsura River and discover quaint coffee shops and Shuzenji Gallery along the way.

    SHUZENJI TEMPLE
    Founded by Kobo Daishi this 1,200 year-old Zen Buddhist temple’s mizuya (purification fountain) uses onsen water that you can drink.

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    Soak and relax your feet after a day of exploring at this free hot spring foot bath in the town centre.

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    Hop on the steam locomotive and discover the town’s four unique areas: Canadian, English and Izu villages and a Japanese garden.

    ONSENS

    OCHIAIROU MURAKAMI
    Registered as a National Cultural Property, this 150year-old onsen is famous for its luxurious rooms, warm hospitality, high standards of service and mysterious cave hot spring. Guests can expect a truly authentic and historically-rich experience thanks to its well-persevered Showa Era architectural structure, traditional décor and gourmet seasonal kaiseki (懐石, traditional Japanese course meal).

    Access: 20-minute cab ride from Shuzenji
    Address: 1887-1 Yugashima Izu-City Shizuoka 〒410-3206
    Web: ochiairou.com

     

    YAGYU-NO-SHO
    Tucked away in Shuzenji’s bamboo woods, this resort’s as well-known for its deeply relaxing hot springs as it is for its genuine Kyoto-style kaiseki. Their rooms are designed in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony style called Sukiya Zukuri (数寄屋造り) that is characterised by the use of natural elements such as wood and, of course, bamboo.

    Access: 10-minute cab ride from Shuzenji
    Address: 1116-6 Shuzenji Izu-City Shizuoka 〒410-2416
    Web: yagyu-no-sho.com/en/

    SORA TOGETSUSOU KINRYU
    This hot spring resort has four uniquely themed open-air baths for you to choose from. Their contemporary “Lights” onsen has a clean and minimalistic look that is best enjoyed at night and “Sunset” offers a gorgeous view of the sun setting over Mount Daruma. “Rock” and “Stone” show the contrast of traditional and modern styles while using the same earthy element.

    Access: 8-minute cab ride from Shuzenji
    Address: 3455 Shuizenji Izu-City Shizuoka 〒410-2416
    Web: kinryu.net

     

    SIDE TRIPS IN IZU CITY

    MACHI NAVI YURURI
    Get dressed up for a day at this charming little kimono rental store set across the Shuzenji Onsen bust terminal. There are over 150 designs to choose from with various accessories to complete your look.

    JŌREN FALLS
    One of Japan’s 100 exquisite falls of Japan, Jōren Falls is surrounded by beautiful fauna and flora. On your way up, savour a creamy wasabi soft serve sold exclusively at the entrance of the falls.

    GETTING TO SHUZENJI

    30-minute ride on the Izuhakone Railway from Mishima Station to Shuzenji Station or a 2-hour ride on the Odoriko trains from Tokyo Station to Shuzenji Station, followed by a 10-minute bus or taxi ride to the town itself.

    Read the original article on WAttention Singapore

    The Art and Culture of Kanazawa

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    Kanazawa has been the economic and cultural center of the Hokuriku region since the Edo period, during which the feudal lords supported and encouraged the development of culture and handicrafts. Fortunately Kanazawa escaped destruction during World War Two, so parts of the old town remain in good condition today.

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    Since the old days, traditional Japanese culture has been very much a part of daily life in Kanazawa and Ishikawa Prefecture. Fine arts such as Noh, the tea ceremony, dyeing and gold leaf are handed down to current generations and continue to dazzle.

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    Noh
    Designated as a World Intangible Cultural Heritage, Noh is a classical performing art which originated in the Japanese middle ages. A Noh play is far more about conceptualization than many other forms of theatrical art and thus takes some prep-work to understand it.

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    Kanazawa Noh Museum is a great place to start. Here you can even put on a Noh mask and costume. Noh wonder!

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    Kanazawa Noh Museum
    Hours: 10:00-18:00, closed on Mondays
    Admission: 300 yen
    Address: 1-2-25 Hirosaka, Kanazawa, Ishikawa
    URL: http://www.kanazawa-noh-museum.gr.jp

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    Kanazawa Gold Leaf
    The making of gold leaf is another flourishing Kanazawa tradition. 99% of Japan’s gold leaf is produced in Kanazawa. At ‘Kanawana Katani’, you can try your hand at gold leaf decoration.

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    One session lasts about 60 minutes. Price depends on your choice of creation and starts from 900 yen. You get to take your handiwork home of course!

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    Kanazawa Katani
    Hours: 9:00-17:00
    Address: 6-33 Shimoshin-cho, Kanazawa, Ishikawa
    URL: http://www.k-katani.com

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    Contemporary Art
    In Kanazawa you can immerse yourself not only in traditional Japanese culture but also modern art from around the world. Opened in 2004, the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art is a great example of Kanazawa’s flourishing art and culture. The architecture itself is a breath of fresh air and its collection of modern artworks promises to give you a new perspective on Kanazawa’s rich cultural landscape.

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    21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art
    Hours: 10:00~18:00, closed on Mondays
    Admission: 350 yen for permanent exhibitions
    Address: 1-2-1 Hirosaka, Kanazawa, Ishikawa
    URL: http://www.kanazawa21.jp

    Japan Travel 101: Introducing Ishikawa

    ishikawa map_nov 5-01Located on the coast of the Sea of  Japan, Ishikawa-ken 石川県, Ishikawa-Prefectureis in the Chūbu region of Honshū (本州, main island). Surrounded by the Sea of Japan on one side and mountainous regions on the other, Ishikawa is rich in resources and holds numerous treasures for visitors to discover.

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    Kanzawa City, Ishikawa Prefecture Photo Source

    Formed in 1872 through the merger of Kaga Province and Noto Province, Ishikawa’s history and tradition is heavily associated with the Maeda-shi (前田氏 ,Maeda clan) who were one of the most powerful samurai families in Japan. Kanazawa, in the then-Kaga province, acted as their headquarters from 1583 until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Till this day, Kanazawa serves as Ishikawa’s capital city.

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    Kenroku-en in autumn Photo source

    Ishikawa has an abundance of Prefectural and National Historic Sites and many are cultural relics of the Maeda Clan. These include Kanazawa-jō (金沢城, Kanazawa Castle),  Kaga han shu Maeda ke bosho (加賀藩主前田家墓所, Kaga Domain Maeda Clan Graves) and Kenroku-en (兼六園, Six Attributes Garden).

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    Senmaida in the day  Photo source

    Some other sites worth visiting are the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, Senmaida (千枚田, 1000 Rice Fields) and Haku-san (白山, Mount Haku) – which is one of Japan’s Sanreizan (三霊山, Three Holy Mountains) and a potentially active volcano.

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    Yamanaka Lacquerware Photo source

    Due to the Maeda Clan, Ishikawa’s traditional and cultural performance arts and crafts are heavily influenced by traditional samurai lifestyle and culture.

    Sadō (茶道, tea ceremony), introduced in the mid 17th century by Kaga’s second lord Maeda Yoshitsune, in particular has left lasting impression on many of Ishikawa’s arts and crafts, including their lacquerware and sense of omotenashi (おもてなし, hospitality and service).

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    Yamanaka-shikki master Okada-sensei demonstrates how to apply delicate Kanazawa gold leaf to a fine piece of lacquerware at a recent live-demonstration at Isetan.

    Introduced to Yamanaka in the 17th century, Yamanaka-shikki (山中漆器, Yamanaka lacquerware) originally used various woodcraft techniques such as sensujiniki (せんすじにき, thousand-line engraving) and komanuri (こまぬり, concentric circles) to create homely everyday items . Designated as a traditional craft in 1975, Yamanaka lacquerware developed into beautiful pieces of art when maki-e (蒔絵, lacquer sprinkled with gold or silver powder/leaf) was introduced to the craft. Since then, Yamanaka has been producing high end products that serve as beautiful souvenirs.

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    Kagaya, Japan’s top rated ryokan for the past 35 years. Photo Source

    Ishikawa is also home to Kagaya Ryokan. Located in Noto (north Ishikawa), Kagaya is a seaside ryokan (旅館, traditional Japanese inn) that has both traditional Japanese rooms and modern western rooms. Well-known for their meticulous care of their customers, Kagaya’s believes in “doing everything as if someone is watching you” and “always doing it the right way”. Their high standard of omotenashi is reflective of the samurai who paid careful attention to every small action they take.

    Kagaya’s fastidious service, gourmet menu and elegant rooms have even won the favour of Emperor Akihito, who stayed in a Hamarikyu suite  at the top of Setsugekka (Kagaya’s traditional themed wing).

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    Wajima morning market Photo source 

    Because Ishikawa is surrounded by sea and mountains on either side, there is an abundance of seafood, farmed and wild vegetables and meats. Japan’s second largest fishery is found in Noto, making Ishikawa one of the best places to enjoy fresh, seasonal seafood no matter where you eat.

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    Ishikawa oshizushi

    One of Ishikawa’s speciality dishes is oshizushi (押し寿司, pressed sushi) featuring seafood such as anago (穴子, salt-water eel) and zuwaigani (ズワイガニ, snow crab). There’s also a pickled turnip and yellowtail version called kabura zushi ( かぶら寿司) that is found only in Ishikawa. Another traditional dish is jibu-ni (じぶ煮), a stew made with flour-coated duck or chicken meat, wheat gluten, vegetables, and mushrooms all simmered together in dashi stock.

    Isokurumi, a local Ishikawa side dish is made from a mix of walnuts and small fish and shrimp. It was one of nine foods available at Ishikawa’s booth at Oishii Japan 2015. Other foods included oshizushi, steamed aged yuzu, wagashi (和菓子, traditional Japanese confectionary) and inari (いなり, deep fried tofu skin). 

    Due to the prefecture’s location, Ishikawa experiences warm, humid summers and cold, snowfall laden winters, giving them the perfect conditions for creating fermented foods such as soy sauce chocolate, pickled fugu ranso (河豚卵巣, puffer fish ovaries), ishiri (いしり, fish soy sauce) and natto (納豆, fermented soy beans).

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    Students at Hakkou University Photo Source

    Ishikawa is so famous for and dedicated to the fermentation process that they even have a Fermented Food College, Hakkou University, that specializes in the study of fermentation. Recently at Oishii Japan 2015, some of the facility came down to Singapore for the first time to conduct a lecture and share their knowledge.

    From left to right: Chikuha Noto no Umeshu, Hakuto Brewery Oku-Noto no Shiragiku, Junmai-Ginjo, Sakurada Brewery Special Junmaishu Daikei and Matsunami Brewery Oeyama Fukkokuban Junmai-shu

    Like many other Japanese prefectures, Ishikawa also has their own local sakagura (酒蔵, sake brewery). A majority of the breweries are found in Noto and Kaga while the remainder are closer to Kanazawa. Over the years, Ishikawa sake has seen a change in the flavour of their sake. However, despite going from fairly heavy and sweet taste to lighter, drier ones, Ishikawa’s sake remains clean, fragrant, light with deep complex notes. Most of Ishikawa’s sake is made from water running off Haku-san into the Tedorigawa river and 80% the sake is consumed in the prefecture itself.

    Have you been to  or are planning to go to Ishikawa? Tell us what you’re looking forward to or if you have any tips for visiting this prefecture at our Facebook page or check out our feature on Ishikawa in our latest issues.

    How to get to Ishikawa:

    From Tokyo to Kanazawa: Hokuriku Shinkansen Kagayaki 2 hours 30 minutes
    From Osaka to Kanazwa: Limited Express Thunderbird 2hours 30 minutes

    Read the original article on WAttention Singapore

    Scenic Food Spots: Mori no Eki Fujisan

    Our next spot to get good food with a million-dollar view is Mori no Eki Fujisan, a newly opened eatery and souvenir shop at the foot of Mt. Fuji. Look out of their giant glass windows for a breathtaking and unobstructed view of Mt. Fuji.

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    They serve dishes made from ingredients taken from the local area as well as fresh seafood from Suruga Bay.

    Try their green onion and pork soba, made from pork raised at the foot Mt. Fuji and buckwheat that was cultivated in nearby Gotemba.
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    If you prefer beef, try their “Hayashi Rice” (hashed beef rice) made to look like Mt. Fuji.
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    If you plan to go as a large group, you can reserve a grand meal in buffet-style, consisting of more than 20 types of dishes including sushi and freshly cut roast beef.
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    For an additional 2,000 yen to the price, you can even add crab to the menu!
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    Find interesting Fuji-themed treasures on the 1st floor souvenir shop, as well as some seasonal vegetables harvested from the surrounding area.
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    Being at the foot of Mt. Fuji, this eatery is located in an extremely strategic spot. There is a large parking lot nearby for people planning to climb up Mt. Fuji. It is also within a short driving distance from major tourist spots around Mt. Fuji, such as the Fujisan skyline and Grinpa theme park, making this place a convenient and beautiful place to eat and rest during your trip up and around Mt. Fuji.

    Information
    Address: Shizuoka Prefecture, Susono, Suyama
    Hours: 9am – 5pm
    Telephone: 055-998-0085
    URL: http://www.pica-style.co.jp/retail/morinoeki.html (Japanese)

    The Charm of Hokuto (5): Top 5 Photogenic Nature Spots

    Get your cameras ready! Wattention staff visited Hokuto in Yamanashi prefecture and listed up the most photogenic spots in this area.

    1. Hokuto City Akeno – Sunflower FestivalDSC_0663

    600,000 sunflowers will welcome you at the Sunflower Festival in Hokuto City. Surrounded by Mount Fuji, the Yatsugatake Volcanic Group and the Southern Alps, the scenery is breathtaking and counts as one of the best photo spots during summer.

    Information
    Date: July 23rd – August 21st
    Hours: 8am – 5pm
    Admission: free
    Access: About 20 minutes by taxi from Nirasaki Station (JR Chuo Main Line)
    Address: Akeno Sunflower Field,  Asao 5664, Akeno-cho, Hokuto-shi, 408-0201 Yamanashi
    URL: Hokuto Sunflower Festival 2016


    2. Sun Meadows – Kiyosato Terrace

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    The Kiyosato Terrace located at 1900m altitude is usually known as a popular ski area during winter season, but in summer you can enjoy the beautiful view of Kiyosato Highland, Mt. Fuji and the Southern Alps while relaxing on the huge bed-like sofas together with a delicious drink or dessert available at the Kiyosato Terrace Café. The Panorama Lift which takes you to the terrace has a total length of 1100m and the altitude difference from ground to top is about 330m.

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    The price range for food and drinks is between 200 ~ 500 yen and the Sky Waffle for 500 yen is our recommendation!

    Information
    Date: May 28th – November 6th
    Hours: 10am – 3pm (weekday); 9:30am – 3:30pm (Weekend, public holiday and during summer season)
    Admission: Lift ticket (both ways) – 1,300 yen (adults), 700 yen (children)
    Access: About 20 minutes by taxi from Nirasaki Station (JR Chuo Main Line)
    Address: Sunmeadows Kiyosato Ski Area, Nishiide 8240-1, Oizumi-cho, Hokuto-shi, 409-1501 Yamanashi
    URL: Sun Meadows – Kiyosato Terrace


    3. The Red – and Yellow Bridge of Hokuto

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    The red bridge named “Higashizawa Ohashi” and the yellow bridge named “Yatsugatake Kogen Ohashi” are surrounded by beautiful nature and especially during autumn season they offer a stunning photo scene when the trees show their beautiful autumn colors.

    Information
    Higashizawa Ohashi – Red Bridge
    Address: 8240-1 Nishiide, Oizumi-cho, Hokuto-shi, 407-0311 Yamanashi

    Yatsugatake Kogen Ohashi – Yellow Bridge
    Address: Higashiide, Takane-cho, Hokuto-shi, 408-0024 Yamanashi  (Prefectural Road No. 28)


    4. JR Koumi-Line and the Yatsugatake Volcanic Group

    The JR Koumi-Line runs along the Yatsugatake Volcanic Group and offers a beautiful view of the surrounding nature and the mountains.

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    JR Koumi-Line connects Hokuto in Yamanashi with Komoro in Naganao Prefecture. It runs 78,9km through the mountains with 31 stations. The best place for trainspotting is the Kobuchizawa Big Curve, where the train turns and you can get an unobstructed view of the sky and mountains. Or get on the train itself at Kobuchizawa Station and be fascinated by this unique panoramic view.


    5. Suisha no Sato Koen (water wheel village park)

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    This beautiful little park is surrounded by paddy fields and shows you the original rural life of Japan’s countryside. If you are lucky you can even spot Mt. Fuji.

    Information
    Hours: open all day
    Admission: free
    Access: About 10 minutes by taxi from Hinoharu Station (JR Chuo Main Line)
    Address: Mukawacho Mifuki 2573, Hokuto-shi, 408-0301 Yamanashi
    URL: Rural Water Wheel Park

    Read the rest of the series:
    The Charm of Hokuto (1) : Oasis of the Highlands
    The Charm of Hokuto (2) : Hirayama Ikuo Silk Road Museum
    The Charm of Hokuto (3) : Suntory Hakushu Distillery
    The Charm of Hokuto (4) : Inn Blue in Green
    The Charm of Hokuto (6): Moegi no Mura
    Restaurant Review: Soba Restaurant Sanbuichi

    Ninja ID: nene16


    WATTENTION WRITER PROFILE

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    Tabea Greuner
    Living and working in Japan since 2015. Always excited about discovering new places. Passion for photography, nature-lover & Japanese fashion expert. MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

    The Charm of Hokuto (4) : Inn Blue in Green

    If you want to try something other than the traditional Japanese inn, or ryokan, try staying at a Japanese pension. Usually more laid-back and homey compared to the traditional ryokan, pensions in Japan are western-style lodgings that are run by families or private individuals. Very similar to B&Bs, pensions in Japan usually offer homemade breakfast, lunch, dinner and sometimes even tea! And since pensions usually double as the home for their owners, they always seem to showcase the owners’ personalities, hobbies and interests. Which is why each pension is so unique.

    Inn Blue in Green

    Only a 10-minute drive from Sunmeadows Ski Resort and a 5-minute drive from JR Kiyosato Station and Moeginomura, Inn Blue in Green is located in a very strategic yet quiet and beautiful place.

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    The interior is cosy and comfortable, decked with warm wood and soothing colors. Here and there you can see dried flowers and little crafted decorations made by the owner’s wife. There’s also the owner’s huge collection of CDs. Both the owner and his wife are very kind and friendly. Let them know if you find a CD you like and they will gladly play it for you.

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    Their sign shows the words of Paul Rusch, touted as the "Father of Kiyosato": Do your best and it must be first class
    Their sign shows the words of Paul Rusch, touted as the “Father of Kiyosato”: Do your best and it must be first class
    They have 3 cozy rooms with lovely views of the mountains. They are also family-friendly with a play area for kids on the first floor.

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    For dinner, indulge in their Italian style home-cooked fare, made with fresh ingredients sourced locally from the surrounding area. Breakfast is also delightfully hearty and homemade.

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    Step out onto the outdoor deck where you can enjoy your dinner or breakfast in the surrounding nature. The deck opens out to a wide expanse of green meadows and trees with breathtaking views of the Yatsugatake mountain range. Keep your eyes peeled and you may spot some deer!

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    Information

    Inn Blue in Green
    Address: Takane-cho Kiyosato 3545-6030, Hokuto, Yamanashi Prefecture
    Access: 5 min. drive from JR Kiyosato station
    Booking: http://www.booking.com/hotel/jp/blue-in-green.html

    Read the rest of the series:
    The Charm of Hokuto (1) : Oasis of the Highlands
    The Charm of Hokuto (2) : Hirayama Ikuo Silk Road Museum
    The Charm of Hokuto (3) : Suntory Hakushu Distillery
    The Charm of Hokuto (5): Top 5 Photogenic Nature Spots
    The Charm of Hokuto (6): Moegi no Mura
    Restaurant Review: Soba Restaurant Sanbuichi

    The Charm of Hokuto (3) : Suntory Hakushu Distillery

    The history of Suntory

    Unbenannt-2Shinjiro Torii (1879-1962), a lover of wine and scotch whiskey had a vision to establish the production of those beverages in Japan as well.

    In February 1899 he set up his own business called “Torii Shoten” and started the production and sale of wine. His concept was to create western-style liquors that would match Japanese standards.

     

     

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    Eight years later, the “Akadama Port Wine” was launched with big success and acted as the foundation stone of Suntory. In 1922, the wine was promoted by the first nude-poster in Japan featuring model Emiko Matsushima, which even ranked first place during the World’s Poster Contest held in Germany.

     

     

     

     

    Due to this positive feedback he started to turn his dream of creating original Japanese whisky into reality and invested all his assets to build the first whisky distillery in Japan.
    The first malt whisky distillery called Yamazaki, opened in 1923 between Osaka and Kyoto, an area with the most clean water resources in Japan. The Katsura -, Uji – and Kizu river confluence created a misty climate, as well as especially soft water. The variety of temperatures and humidity in this area offer the perfect conditions for the characteristic “Suntory barrel aging” process.

    In April 1929 the first Japanese whisky “Suntory Shirofuda (white label)” was launched, but unfortunately flopped. The name “Suntory” was introduced together with the first product and combines the meaning of Akadama (Port Wine) which means red ball and resembles the “sun”, as well as the surname “Torii”.

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    Finally, in 1937 the “Suntory Whisky Kakubin (square bottle)” led to success and is to date the top-selling whisky in the whole country.

     

     

     

    Suntory Hakushu Distillery

    In lieu of the 50th anniversary of Japanese whisky in 1973, the Hakushu Distillery was established. The distillery is located on the foothills of Mt. Kaikomagatake in Japan’s Southern Alps. Fresh and clear water flowing through a rich green environment offers the best conditions for whisky production.

    The Hakushu Distillery is open for guided group tours where you have access to the historical museum, the distillery, the whisky aging area and the souvenir shop. The tour provides also an exclusive whisky tasting experience.

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    The museum offers language guides in English, French and Chinese. The observation deck on top of the museum provides a beautiful view into Japan´s Southern Alps and its rich green forest.

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    After leaving the museum, a short walk leads you to the distillery which gives you a peek into the process of the whisky production.

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    Parts of the malting and mashing tank area, the fermentation area and the distillation area are open for curious visitors.

    After leaving the distillery, a shuttle bus will bring you to the whisky aging building which is home to hundreds of barrels of different production years. The strong aroma of whiskey fills the whole room and a few minutes are necessary to get used to the strong smell.

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    The light red whisky on the left side was produced 4 years ago and the one on the right side is already 12 years old. Within one year the whisky decreases by 1-2% (known as the “angels’ share”) and the color turns darker.

    We went back to the main building for the tasting session. Three types of whiskies were prepared in front of each seat.

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    Each of them was different in taste and color. The highlight was to create a Highball, a mix of whisky, sparkling water, a lot of ice, and some mint.

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    Since the beginning of the 1970´s, mixing whisky with water got very popular, since it matches the traditional Japanese dishes very well.

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    The flagship product of the Hakushu distillery, the Hakushu Single Malt Whisky in its green bottle, symbolizes the rich green environment of the area.

    The souvenir shop offers a lot of limited products, like special designed glasses, pens and even snacks.

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    Suntory is not only selling alcoholic beverages; soft drinks, water and even flowers or health products are in the range of products.

     

    Information

    Guided Tour (distillery, whisky aging area, the souvenir shop, tasting experience)
    Hours: Weekday 10:30/11:30/12:30/13:30/14:30; Holiday 10:30, 11:30, 12:30, 13:30, 14:30
    A reservation is necessary: Telephone 0551-35-2211 (9:30-16:30); Online LINK
    Age limit: 20~
    Fee: 1,000 yen (tax included)

    Historical Museum and souvenir shop
    Hours: 9:30-10:30, 10:30-11:30, 11:30-12:30. 12:30-13:30, 13:30-14:30, 14:30-15:30, 15:30-16:00 (16:00-17:00)
    A reservation is necessary: Telephone 0551-35-2211 (9:30-16:30); Online LINK
    Fee: free

    Access: About 10 minutes by taxi from Kobuchizawa Station (JR Chuo Line)
    Address: 2913-1 Torihara, Hakushu-cho, Hokuto-shi, 408-0316 Yamanashi
    URL: http://whisky.suntory.com/

    Read the rest of the series:
    The Charm of Hokuto (1) : Oasis of the Highlands
    The Charm of Hokuto (2) : Hirayama Ikuo Silk Road Museum
    The Charm of Hokuto (4) : Inn Blue in Green
    The Charm of Hokuto (5): Top 5 Photogenic Nature Spots
    The Charm of Hokuto (6): Moegi no Mura
    Restaurant Review: Soba Restaurant Sanbuichi

    Ninja ID: nene16


    WATTENTION WRITER PROFILE

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    Tabea Greuner
    Living and working in Japan since 2015. Always excited about discovering new places. Passion for photography, nature-lover & Japanese fashion expert. MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

    The Charm of Hokuto (1) : Oasis of the Highlands

    Nestled in the highlands between the Yatsugatake Mountains and Minami Alps, Hokuto City in Yamanashi Prefecture is a true jewel worth exploring. Surrounded by majestic mountains from 3 sides and the view of Mt. Fuji to the south, awe-inspiring views abound no matter where you look. Only two hours by train from Tokyo, the alpine weather in Hokuto is considerably cooler, making this one of the best places to escape from the summer heat of the Kanto region.

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    Hokuto is blessed with some of the purest, most mineral-rich water in Japan flowing down from the mountains into their many natural springs.

    This water lends to extraordinarily tasty vegetables, fruits, and produce. It is also credited for delicious soba, wines, whiskey, and sake that is loved by many connoisseurs.

    Beautiful flowers grow in abundance here, evidenced by their many flower fields and gardens.

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    In Hokuto you can see a blend of different cultures. Yet, all those different cultures seem to be perfectly at home here, anchored down harmoniously by the sky, the mountains and the surrounding nature.

    In the northeast, you will encounter many Western styled houses and facilities. Seisenryo that wouldn’t be out of place in the American countryside, the Blue in Green guesthouse that is reminiscent of a French country house, and Moeginomura that looks like it was taken straight out of a German fairy-tale are all within driving distance.

    A few minutes drive to the southwest will take you to a more Japanese area with expansive rice paddies and old-fashioned establishments including the Shichiken sake brewery and confectionery manufacturer, Kinseiken.

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    You can enjoy outdoor activities such as horseback riding, segway tours, trail walking, or plain old trainspotting. And being out in the countryside doesn’t mean you can’t have a posh holiday. Go taste-testing in “wine resort” Risonare Yatsugatake or the Hakushu Whiskey Distillery. Hokuto also houses several art museums including the Keith Haring Museum and the Hirayama Ikuo Silk Road Museum.

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    So what are you waiting for? Quench your thirst this summer with picturesque views, good food and drinks, and cultural experiences here in Hokuto.

    Read the rest of the series:
    The Charm of Hokuto (2) : Hirayama Ikuo Silk Road Museum
    The Charm of Hokuto (3) : Suntory Hakushu Distillery
    The Charm of Hokuto (4) : Inn Blue in Green
    The Charm of Hokuto (5): Top 5 Photogenic Nature Spots
    The Charm of Hokuto (6): Moegi no Mura
    Restaurant Review: Soba Restaurant Sanbuichi

    Restaurant Review: Soba Restaurant Sanbuichi

    The common soba (buckwheat noodles) is made from buckwheat flour mixed with wheat flour that acts as a “tsunagi” or binding agent that keeps the dough together. Only soba restaurants with the most skilled craftsmen are able to produce Juwari soba, which consists entirely of buckwheat and Soba Restaurant Sanbuichi is one of them.

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    No need to hide
    You can see for yourself how skilled their soba craftsmen are through the big window that looks into the kitchen.

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    Even in the peak of summer which is said to be the hardest time of the year to produce soba, they were able to roll and fold the dough evenly, their quick and precise cuts producing uniformly thin soba noodles.

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    Water worth fighting for
    The secret of Sanbuichi’s soba lies in the spring where they got their name and water from. Sanbuichi Yusui is arguably the most famous spring in Yatsugatake. Legend says that Takeda Shingen, an exceptionally famous samurai warlord divided the flowing water into three using this triangular stone in order to settle a feud among his farmers over the spring water.

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    The water comes from the snow and rain that falls on the peaks of Yatsugatake which then filters through the ground, emerging as pure water filled with healthy minerals. The water flows throughout the year, neither drying out during summer, nor freezing over during winter.

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    Soba so good
    We tried their Juwari Soba Tenmori, which consists of Juwari soba and a side-dish of crispy tempura of season vegetables and shrimp. The tempura batter is thin enough that it doesn’t overwhelm the fresh vegetables. Dip them lightly in fine-grained salt for a subtle flavor. The soba is fragrant and has just enough chewiness in them. Put a bit of wasabi on the soba before dipping them in the tsuyu (dipping stock).

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    Afterwards, pour some soba-yu (hot water mixed with buckwheat flour) into the leftover tsuyu and drink it like a soup. It’s believed to give you longevity.

    Don’t forget to visit the farmer’s market shop adjacent to the restaurant where you can pick up vegetables and rice from the surrounding fields, some Shingen mochi (with a picture of Takeda Shingen on the packaging!) or some buckwheat flour and tsuyu to make your own soba-yu at home.

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    Noodle flavor rate: ★★★★★
    Freshness of ingredients:★★★★★

    Restaurant information

    Soba Restaurant Sanbuichi
    Price range: 1,000 yen – 5,000 yen
    Location: 292-1 Nagasakacho Koarama, Hokuto, Yamanashi Prefecture
    Access: A 10-min walk from Kai-Koizumi Station

    Read about other interesting spots in Hokuto City:
    The Charm of Hokuto (1) : Oasis of the Highlands
    The Charm of Hokuto (2) : Hirayama Ikuo Silk Road Museum
    The Charm of Hokuto (3) : Suntory Hakushu Distillery
    The Charm of Hokuto (4) : Inn Blue in Green
    The Charm of Hokuto (5): Top 5 Photogenic Nature Spots

    Salmon Harvest: Delicacies Abound, Niigata Prefecture

    Murakami, dubbed “the Salmon City,” has a long history of catching and processing salmon. Over the centuries, the area has accumulated hundreds of homemade recipes that range from fermented, salted and sake-marinated salmon to salmon simmered in miso broth. When preparing fi sh, the locals make sure nothing is wasted: heads, bones and entrails are used either as main ingredients for stock or grilled to the perfect texture. During New Year’s season, many households hang rows of salmon upside down from the ceiling to dry; it’s a truly unique spectacle well worth seeing!

    “Hizu Namasu” pickled salmon head with radish and salmon roe
    “Hizu Namasu” pickled salmon head with radish and salmon roe
    “Shake no Sakebitashi” sake-marinated salmon
    “Shake no Sakebitashi” sake-marinated salmon

    Summer With A Bang! – Top 3 Runners-up Fireworks Festivals in Japan 2016

    From breathtaking patterns in the sky to exhilarating festival parades, summer brings out the passion in Japan. And if our selection of top 3 Fireworks Festivals in Japan wasn’t enough for you, these 3 other selections are up to par!

    Toyota Oiden Matsuri Fireworks Festival
    Toyota City, Aichi Prefecture

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    This up and coming festival features collaborations with the Japan Fireworks Artists Association, a synchronised “melody fireworks” show with cylinder fireworks, a wide starmine display and a 30 meter tall Niagara Falls programme.

    Event information:

    No. of fireworks: 13,000
    No. of spectators: 360,000
    Date: Jul. 31, 2016
    Time: 7:10pm – 9pm
    Address: Yahagi River, Shirahama Park area
    Access: Take the Shinkansen to Nagoya, change to the JR Chuo Honsen line to Maetsuru, and take the Meitetsu to Toyota City Station. A 10-minute walk from the station.

    Fukuroi Enshu Fireworks
    Fukuroi, Shizuoka Prefecture

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    A popular programme in this display is the “Japan’s Most Popular Melodies Starmine”, a fireworks display synchronised to popular tunes held by the lake. One of the few musical fireworks in Japan, it is also representative of the Tokai area (Shizuoka, Aichi, Gifu and Mie prefecture).

    Event information:

    No. of fireworks: 25,000
    No. of spectators: 410,000
    Date: Aug. 6, 2016
    Time: 7pm – 9pm
    Address: Haranoyagawa Water Park, 3164-1 Aino, Fukuroi City
    Access: Take the Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to the JR Tokaido Line Aino Station, and walk for 20 minutes to the venue.

    Tsuchiura All Japan Fireworks Competition
    Tsuchiura, Ibaraki Prefecture

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    The Tsuchiura fireworks competition is said to be where the starmine firework technique began, making it the go-to place to catch the most advanced technical displays; impressing all viewers as they burst in a harmony of colours and shapes.

    Event information:

    No. of fireworks: 20,000
    No. of spectators: 700,000
    Date: Oct. 1, 2016
    Time: 6pm-8:30pm
    Address: Sakuragawa river banks (in the vicinity of Ohashi school)
    Access: From Tokyo Station, take the JR Joban Line to the Tsuchiura West exit, and walk for 30 minutes, or take the shuttle bus from the station.

    Picturesque Matsumoto (8) – The Strange Ice Cream of Matsumoto –

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    During our visit to Matsumoto City in Nagano prefecture, Wattention staff found some very interesting ice cream flavors. Please enjoy these unique finds when you make a trip to Matsumoto and don’t forget to check out our other articles for more sightseeing spots.

     

    1) Cream Cheese

    Found during our hike in Kamikochi, this ice cream can be purchased in a souvenir shop at the main bus terminal near Kappabashi bridge. It tastes very refreshing during a warm day and the cheese flavor is not too overpowering.

    Cream Cheese Ice Cream

    2) Wasabi

    We all know it as that green spicy substance served with sushi, but did you know it also makes great ice cream? Don’t be afraid to try this frozen green treat as even non-wasabi lovers will be able to handle it. There is no hint of the sharp wasabi flavor, you’re only left with a nice and mild green taste. Available at the Daio Wasabi Farm.

    Wasabi Ice Cream

    3) Miso

    This was the weirdest but also the most surprising flavor in all of Matsumoto. Miso is made from fermented soybeans and is a staple in the Japanese kitchen. Producing that uniqe Japanese umami flavor, miso is becoming loved all over the world. But we never would have thought about putting it in ice cream! The flavor is very unique and reminiscent of sweet and salty English fudge. Only available at the Ishii Miso Brewery.

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    Picturesque Matsumoto (7) – The Bizarre World of Yayoi Kusama –

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    At the forefront of the artistic avant-garde movement stands Matsumoto-born artist Yayoi Kusama. She has had many successful exhibitions abroad but her permanent museum is in Matsumoto City.

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    Born on March 22nd 1929, Kusama started painting at an early age. Her parents did not agree with her choices and after a short time studying in Kyoto she left for New York in 1957 without notifying her family. Here she spent almost twenty years surrounded by prominent avant-garde artists such as Donald Judd and Eva Hesse. In this environment she felt inspired to create large artworks, installations and happenings. Kusama has even been said to be an inspiration for Andy Warhol. In 1973 she moved back to Japan and her mental health started to deteriorate. She voluntarily admitted herself into a mental hospital in Tokyo and she still lives there today. During the day she commutes to her art studio just across the street.

    Recurring themes of Kusama’s artwork are polka dots, mirrors and organic shapes. She creates large exhibits that the visitor can interact with or walk through. Most of the exhibits in the Kusama Yayoi museum bring the visitor into her world.

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    Access: A 12-min walk or 5-min bus ride from JR Matsumoto Station
    Hours: 9am – 5pm, closed on Mondays (but open on National Holiday-Mondays) and from December 29th – January 3rd.
    Admission: 410 yen (Adult), 200 yen (University Student), FREE (elementary / junior high students and senior citizens)

    Picturesque Matsumoto (6) – Matsumoto Castle –

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    Matsumoto Castle is one of the oldest original castles still remaining in Japan. Besides being designated as a “National Treasure of Japan” and its beautiful surroundings, the castle holds an immeasurable historical value for Japanese and the global audience alike.

    The castle used to be known as Fukashi Castle but during the Sengoku era, then it was moved to another location and renamed as Matsumoto Castle in 1582. Minor keeps, gates and moat were being added and finally the castle’s main keep was completed somewhere between 1593-1594.

    Because of its black wainscoting and roof decorations that seem to be flaring out, the castle was nicknamed “Crow Castle.” Most of the original surroundings are still preserved but the gates and defensive measures have been upgraded to fit the standards of the modern world.

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    Matsumoto Castle is a flatland castle(平城 hirajiro). Its complete defensive structure consists of an extensive system of interconnecting walls, moats and gatehouses. Inside the castle wall, there lived about a hundred Samurai families, all loyal to the lord of the castle.

    One of the castle’s secrets is that it has a hidden floor. From the outside it seems like the main tower only has five stories, but it actually has six. The hidden annex area was used to hide weapons and gunpowder.

    Castle Interior

    The castle has a very interesting structure with wide passages and steep staircases. There are holes for defending the castle with bow and arrow all around the castle. These holes were later narrowed down for the use of guns. The wooden construction for the foundation floor curves inwards to follow the line of the stone foundation. Truly a historical architectural marvel.

    Shrine
    The sixth and top floor lies 22.1 meters above the ground and could be covered with 16 tatami mats for comfort. This floor was used as the headquarters of the “war lord” if the castle was under attack.

    On the ceiling there is a shrine dedicated to Nijuroku-yashin, the 26th night goddess of the month. On the night of January 26th, 1618, one of the young vassals on duty saw a woman dressed in beautiful clothes. She handed him a brocade bag and said “if the lord of the castle enshrines me with 500kg of rice on the 26th night of every month, I will protect the castle from fire and enemy.” The deity is still enshrined in the castle rooftop to this day, and it is believed that because of this reason the castle has been able to survive as the oldest castle of Japan in its original form.

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    The Moon-Viewing Room. Currently only two castles, Okayama and Matsumoto, have a moon-viewing wing.

    Thanks to the collaborative efforts of the people of Matsumoto, the castle is still standing and keeps its history alive.

    Information

    Access: A 15-min walk or a 5-min bus ride from Matsumoto station (JR Line)
    Hours: 8:30am – 5pm (doors close at 4:30pm)
    Admission: Adults : 610 yen (Adults), 300 yen (Elementary School to High School students)
    Closed: From December 29th until January 3rd
    *Free English volunteer guides are available!

    Picturesque Matsumoto (5) – Ukiyo-e Museum –

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    Ukiyo-e, also known as Japanese woodblock prints, became a cultural phenomenon during the Edo era (1603-1868). But now they are admired around the world and many Ukiyo-e enthusiasts spend time and money to collect as many as they can to get their hands on.

    One of the passionate collectors was Mr. Sakai, the second richest merchant in Matsumoto, Nagano prefecture. His extensive collection included paintings, scrolls and art books. But among which were about 100,000 of pristine Ukiyo-e prints. Thanks to the family’s generosity, the prints have been made available to the general public and the Ukiyo-e Museum was established in 1982 in the city of Matsumoto. There, you can admire and learn everything about Ukiyo-e: from their sense of design to delicate colors, and of course, how they are made.

    So, how are Ukiyo-e made? 
    The Ukiyo-e prints are the results of a collaborative effort of three artisans; an artist, a woodblock cutter and a printer. Unlike the modern machine-made prints, these prints require several woodblocks, sometimes dozens of blocks to produce. So, let’s look at the process of making an Ukiyo-e print step by step.

    Tools
    First the artist draws his picture onto a piece of paper, this is later traced to a thin and partially transparent piece of mulberry paper. The picture is then transferred to a piece of cherry wood so the outlines are visible. A carver, called a horishi, uses different tools to cut out the image from the woodblock. This takes special skill and years of training as some lines are very small and intricate. The woodblock cutter also has to make sure he does not break the piece of wood, or he has to start all over again. First, he makes one woodblock to print the outline of the picture in black.
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    Ukiyo-e used to be full-black pictures. It is only during the early 18th century that colors were added. This made the process longer and more complicated, but the effects are stunning! Brushes to apply the ink to the woodblock are made from horsehair and smoothed using shark skin. The Baren is a unique tool specially invented for woodblock printing. It is made with thin bamboo ropes and multiple layers of papers sheathed in a bamboo leaf.

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    For a picture with many colors, separate woodblocks have to be made for each color used. Once the blocks were made, the printer had a lot of flexibility in changing and choosing colors. Of course the artist designed a main image with specific colors in mind, but now new colors could also be used.

    The paper is aligned on the block and the printing happens color by color and block by block. The principle in Ukiyo-e is that you start from the lightest colors and finish with the darkest. However, the outline is always done first.

    The print always needs to be aligned perfectly on the block and the printer has to adjust the positioning many times. If the alignment is wrong and the colors are not inside the black outline, then the print needs to be made all over again.

    Using the Baren, the printer adjusts the pressure and decides just how much of the color he wants transferred. This results in a gradation effect or lighter imprints of the colors. It’s truly a craft on its own and groundbreaking prints were always collaboration between the artist and the printer.

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    These prints were made by the hundreds and were very popular among the general populace of old Japan. Looking at Ukiyo-e prints with many colors, you can really admire the effort and craftsmanship that went into producing these pieces of art.

    At the Ukiyo-e Museum in Matsumoto you can take a closer look at the process and the tools used to make Ukiyo-e. And of course, don’t forget to admire all the prints, which give you a glimpse of daily life during the Edo period.

    Museum Inside

    Information

    Address: Shinkiri 2206-1, Shimadachi, Matsumoto, Nagano
    Access: A 15-min walk from Matsumoto Railway Kamikochi line Ohniwa station or a 7-min taxi ride from Matsumoto Station (JR line)
    Hours: 10am – 5pm, closed on Mondays (open on National Holiday-Mondays, closed on the following Tuesdays)
    Admission: 1,050 yen (Adults) / 530 yen (Elementary School to High School students)

    The Museum is located beside the Japanese Court and Open Air Architectural Museum (Rekishi-no-sato). 

    Picturesque Matsumoto (4) – Daio Wasabi Farm –

    You know wasabi as that green thing they serve with your Sushi, but do you know how it’s grown? 32km north from the center of Matsumoto City is a 15 hectares wasabi farm that has been in operation since 1915. Its location and prosperity is no coincidence, as the fresh Alps water provides the most ideal conditions for the perfect wasabi.

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    Wasabi is a fickle root and takes a lot of effort to grow. If the leaves are damaged the whole growth process of the plant can slow down. The root needs constant caring since it requires plenty of fresh water. Furthermore, the plant can take up to three years to grow for the flavor to fully develop. This is why some wasabi can be very expensive. But for those who love Sushi with wasabi, it’s worth the wait and money.

    During the warmer months with plenty of sunshine, farmers cover the wasabi with black nets so the sun doesn’t damage their leaves. The temperature of the water at Daio Wasabi Farm is kept at a constant 13°C all year.

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    Wasabi

    But the farm is not the only reason why visitors come to this area. There are beautiful walking trails between the fields where you can take in the fresh air and admire the crystal clear water from the Japanese Alps. Near the farm stands the Daio Shrine which enshrines the spirit of ancient local hero Hachimen Daio. It’s no wonder the farm was named after him.

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    All the parts of the wasabi are harvested and processed for consumption. The restaurant and food stalls near the farm offer all kinds of food with wasabi: From the popular wasabi soba noodles to refreshing wasabi ice cream. If that’s not enough wasabi for you, stop by the gift shop and surprise your friends with some wasabi beer, wasabi chocolate, wasabi crackers, etc…

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    If you want to spice up your journey, come over to Daio Wasabi Farm where you can try all things Wasabi.

    Information

    Access: A 10-min taxi ride from Hotaka Station (JR Oito Line). Rental bikes (15-min) are also available in front of Hotaka station for 200 yen/hour.
    Admission: Free
    Hours: 8:45am – 5:30pm (April – October), 9am – 4:30pm (November – March)
    URL: http://www.daiowasabi.co.jp/ (Japanese only)

    Picturesque Matsumoto (3) – Narai Juku –

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    Walking along this street makes me feel like a traveler from the Edo period (1603-1868). Narai Juku in Nagano prefecture was the thirty-fourth of the sixty-nine stations of the Nakasendo, one of the old five main roads between Tokyo and Kyoto. Back in the day, it took more than two weeks to walk the whole way, naturally, there were many station towns catering to weary travelers. The efforts to preserve Narai Juku street is clearly shown in every detail and the visitors can appreciate the benefits. Electricity cables are hidden, and cars are forbidden during the day.

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    In contrast to the famous Tokaido route that runs along the coastline, the Nakasendo goes inland along mountain trails. What’s interesting about this street is that it’s built along a slightly curved road. This technique was often used in olden days so that all the storefronts were visible from travelers when they are looking straight ahead. This made it easier for inns and shopkeepers to advertise. There are still many traditional inns and ryokans in service, giving tourists an original experience.

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    Popular souvenirs from Narai Juku were wood products and lacquerware. You can still find these in one of the many shops along the street. There is also a hidden statue of the Christian Virgin Mary at Taihoji Temple. The statue depicts the typical image of the Vergin Mary, caring for a child with a cross. During the Edo period Christianity was forbidden with severe punishments and Christians had to go in hiding for fear of their lives. This statue was most likely discovered by the Tokugawa authorities and decapitated.

    Edo style houses line the street and create an air of the past. An interesting aspect of the Edo houses is that even though they have a second floor, no one lived there or held shop. In old Japan, the class system was still very much alive and the Samurai were at the top, right under the government officials of the Shogunate. When a high ranking Samurai would pass the street, people would go upstairs to the balcony to observe. Touching a Samurai’s sword, even by accident, or looking at him in a wrong way could result in a punishment or even death. Of course people did use the second floor for other things, but it was there as a precaution.

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    Well

    Halfway down the street, you will see a small well filled with spring water. Coming straight from the Japanese Alps and purified by the mountains, this water is not only safe to drink but also is tasty. Since many travelers used to stop at Narai Juku either before or after climbing a mountain pass, pure mountain water was a precious source of energy and strength for the road to come. You can tell how dangerous the mountain path was by looking at two hundred statues of Jizo in a nearby graveyard, which were brought together to commemorate those who died on the Nakasendo.

    If you want to feel the atmosphere of a traditional Edo period street, this area is made for you! Take your time to relax and feel yourself falling into a time slip.

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    Information

    Access: A 3-min walk from Narai Station (JR Chuo Main Line)
    The Information Center has free English maps available.

    Picturesque Matsumoto (2) – Norikura Snow Wall –

     

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    Impressive snow walls will greet you at the top of Nagano prefecture’s Mt. Norikura. Thanks to the stable climate on the mountain, you can enjoy skiing even from May until August. The snow corridor is only open for a limited time from April to June, so be sure to check the days before your visit. On the opening day, the walls can reach an amazing height of 13 – 20 meter and the only way to witness these massive walls of nature is to take a special Norikura Snow Wall sightseeing bus. This bus makes several stops along the way, giving you the opportunity to walk to the top of the 3,026m high mountain from whatever point you choose. The bus takes you about 2,700m up, so from there you still have some walking to do.

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    Obviously, seeing the snow walls is at the top of people’s priority list. But the surrounding area is equally beautiful and invites hikers for amazing adventures. During the summer there is a marathon on Mt. Norikura called the “Heavenly Marathon,” which attracts more than 1,000 runners every year. The route up to Mt. Norikura is closed off for private cars, so you can enjoy the quietness of nature. Along the road there are some restaurants where you can stop for a drink or a bite.

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    The view from the final bus stop at the top of the mountain already gives you an overview of the snow walls. Wattention staff went to the snow walls in early June so they were already past their peak. But even if the walls aren’t as high as they could be, they are still an impressive sight. Not to mention that it is extremely fun to play in the snow during summer.

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    Can you believe it’s June?
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    During its peak, the walls can reach an impressive height!
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    The rice represents Mt. Norikura’s majestic “Sword” peak.

    The bus goes to and from the top about 4-5 times per day and waits at the top for an hour before going down again. The snow walls are a 2-min walk from the bus stop so you have plenty of time to observe this wonder of nature. But if you brought your skis you can spend a longer time at the top and just take the next bus down when it comes. After getting back to the bus terminal you can enjoy a plate of special Mt. Norikura curry.

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    The Norikura snow wall sightseeing bus departs every 1-2 hours.

    Information

    Access: Take an 80-min bus ride from Matsumoto Station (JR Line) to Norikura Station. Then take the Mt. Norikura Highland Shuttle Bus (about 50-min) from Norikura Kogen.
    Price: 2,500 yen for a round trip.
    Hours: Departures every 1-2 hours.
    URL: http://welcome.city.matsumoto.nagano.jp/contents08+index.htm

    You can download this multilingual brochure  from Matsumoto City about Norikura with the best walking routes and hiking tips.

    Picturesque Matsumoto (1) – Hiking in Beautiful Kamikochi –

    Some of the best hiking trails in all of Japan are in the Japanese Alps in Nagano Prefecture. You can make it as adventurous as you want, climb a high mountain or take a long leisurely walk in the forest. Be prepared for raw nature, as the Kamikochi area is forbidden for personal vehicles. Access is only possible by bus or taxi. Special buses are arranged to take you to Kamikochi.

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    Most hikers start from the Bus Terminal near a wooden suspension bridge called Kappabashi (the Kappa bridge). A Kappa is a mythological water creature that lives under bridges. Near this suspension bridge are several hotels, souvenir shops and restaurants. Besides these facilities and the Visitor Center, the whole area is without human interference. The trails along the Azusa river provide you with the most scenic views as you see the Japanese Alps reflected in the crystal clear water. This easy walking route is often very crowded in the summer and the best season to go is from mid May through July.

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    Along the way you may encounter some monkeys and various birds. Bears do live in the area but they are rarely spotted along the trails.

    Monkeys

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    You can get very close to wild monkeys!

    There are about ten kinds of willow species in the Kamikochi area. The higher you go the more the landscape changes and the dominant trees shift from willow to Japanese elm and Japanese larch trees. During Autumn these trees turn into beautiful hues of red and yellow, giving Kamikochi a completely different look.

    Mountains

    For the more adventurous hikers there are plenty of mountains to challenge. A popular mountain is Mt. Okuhotaka-dake, the third-highest mountain in all of Japan. In 2016 Kamikochi is scheduled to be open from April 15 to November 15, as it can be dangerous to climb the mountains out of season. If you want to make your hiking trip longer than a day, there are mountain huts along the trails where you can stay for around 8,000 yen per person. No need to bring food or a sleeping bag as bedding and two meals are provided. It is advised to arrive at these huts before 3pm. Of course you can stay in one of the lavish hotels or relaxing ryokans where you can enjoy natural hot spring water. It is advised to make a reservation or check availability beforehand.

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    Access

    There are many ways to get to Kamikochi. You can start from the nearest city, Matsumoto, but there are even buses from Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka all the way to the Kamikochi area.

    From Matsumoto Station, Nagano: A local bus takes about 90 min.
    From Shinjuku, Tokyo: The highway bus takes about 4h 40min.
    From Nagano Station, Nagano: With highway bus takes about 2h 30min.

    2 Day Pass for sightseeing in Kamikochi, Norikura and Matsumoto: 
    This pass allows unlimited travel by train & bus to/from Kamikochi, Norikura-Kogen, Norikura area and the local bus in Matsumoto within 2 days. This is the best deal if you want to sight-see not only in Kamikochi but also in Norikura and Matsumoto.
    Price: 5,150 yen (adult), Children: 2,580 yen (children)
    Pass is Available in the Matsumoto Bus Terminal.

    Read also: Cool Summer Treks Around Tokyo (1): Kamikochi in Nagano Prefecture

    Summer With A Bang! – Top 3 Fireworks Festivals in Japan 2016

    Summertime in Japan isn’t complete without watermelons, shaved ice, wind chimes, mosquito coils and last but not least, fireworks of massive proportions!

    It’s a great reason to put on a summer yukata, throng the streets and look up into the night sky for an hour or two.

    Here are some of the top few heart-stopping, jaw-dropping fireworks festivals in Japan.

    The Oomagari no Hanabi All Japan Fireworks Competition
    Daisen City, Akita Prefecture

    – Japan’s No. 1 Fireworks Competition –

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    With an ideal backdrop of two mountains and a riverfront, Oomagari is where top firework technicians stage their best musical fireworks show to compete for the coveted Prime Minister’s Award for fireworks. Now into its 106th year, this offers one of the widest starmine displays.

    Event information:

    No. of fireworks: 15,000 – 20,000
    No. of spectators: 80,000
    Date: August 27, 2016
    Time: Day fireworks: 5:30pm~  Night fireworks: 6:50pm~
    Access: Take the Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Oomagari Station, 30 minutes’ walk from the station to the venue.

    Nagaoka Matsuri Great Fireworks Festival
    Nagaoka City, Niigata Prefecture

    – Historic Fireworks –

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    The fireworks festival here has a painful past – August 1 was when Nagaoka City was practically razed to the ground during a World War II air-raid 71 years ago. These shells are launched in commemoration of the lives lost then, and a celebration of recovery.

    Event information:

    No. of fireworks: 20,000
    No. of spectators: 960,000
    Date: August 2 and 3, 2016
    Time: 7:20pm – 9:15pm
    Access:  Take the Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to JR Nagaoka Station, and walk for 30 minutes, or take the shuttle bus from the station.

     

    Suwa Lake Fireworks Festival
    Suwa City, Nagano Prefecture

    – Fireworks Frenzy –

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    The Suwa Lake Fireworks Festival boasts the most number of fireworks for such displays. Surrounded by mountains, the display is particularly dynamic in terms of sound. The 2km-long water starmine here is another treat for the senses.

    Event information:

    No. of fireworks: 40,000
    No. of spectators: 500,000
    Date: August 15, 2016
    Time: 7pm onwards
    Access: Take the JR Chuo Main Line to Kami Suwa Station then walk for 8 minutes from the Kami Suwako West Exit

    For more festivals in & around Tokyo: July 2016 Fireworks Festivals Schedule – In & Around Tokyo

    Come on over to Komatsu (7) : The 7 wonders of Komatsu

    The world might have its seven amazing wonders, but Komatsu has them too!

    Located in Ishikawa prefecture, this city has many wonders to discover. Besides being famous for kabuki, there are many more interesting things in this city near the ocean.

    1) World’s Largest Dump Truck

    Komatsu is not only the name of the city, it’s also the name of the famous producer of construction machinery. At Komatsu no Mori you can go on the 930E, the largest piece of riding industrial equipment you will ever see.

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    2) Gold Snacks

    Responsible for 99% of all of Japan’s gold production, Komatsu has plenty of the stuff. So much even that they wrap their ice cream in it and sprinkle it on their cakes. You can buy these gold snacks at Yunokuni no Mori.

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    3) Amazing Moss Forest

    The “Forest of Wisdom” has amazing moss growth that took the locals years to cultivate. Nowhere else will you see such a beautiful green-covered forest.

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    4) Breathtaking Stone Caves

    Actually, they’re stone mines. But that doesn’t make them any less awesome. These caves are carved into the mountain by hand or with special equipment. The stones the excavated were used to build bridges, castles and walls. Walking in these halls makes you feel like an adventurer about to find the legendary sword of Komatsu.

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    5) A Stone Turtle

    According to the legends, this turtle wanted to be near the god of the shrine so bad that he crawled all the way there from the ocean. When he arrived, he turned into stone and is now forever with his beloved god. Even though the ocean is quite close to the shrine, it’s still an amazing feat for a turtle.

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    6) This Tree

    You think we’re running out of wonders, right? Wrong! This fresh tree branch is actually growing from a bona fide pine tree. A completely different type of tree is sprouting from its branches. We can’t wait to see how this will develop. You can find this tree in Rojo Park.

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    7) Japan’s #1 Chestnut Sweet

    This delicious chestnut snack has been crowned the number one of all chestnut sweets in Japan. And in the world of nutty snacks, that counts for something. We have tried it ourselves and can confirm it is indeed very worthy of its title.

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    Read Also:
    Come on over to Komatsu (1) : The City of Kabuki
    Come on over to Komatsu (2) : The Forest of Wisdom
    Come on over to Komatsu (3) : Craft Theme Park
    Come on over to Komatsu (4) : Natadera, the temple in touch with Nature
    Come on over to Komatsu (5) : 1300 year old Ryokan – Houshi
    Come on over to Komatsu (6) : Rojo Park

    Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


    WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

    Ilse Montald
    From popular culture to traditional culture, I’ve immersed myself in both. I love writing about tradition, history and sharing fun discoveries. If I’m not outside watching a festival parade I’m leisurely reading manga in kimono.

    MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

    Come on over to Komatsu (6) : Rojo Park

    The area where an expansion of Komatsu castle used to be is now a beautfiful Japanese style park named “Rojo Park”. The old castle was the residence of the third lord of the Maeda clan’s Kaga Domain, Toshitsune Maeda. For its period the castle was quite unique, the shogunate had a”one castle per domain” policy but Komatsu Castle was allowed to be maintained alongside the domain’s chief castle at Kanazawa.

    During the Meiji restoration Komatsu Castle was demolished and its site was sold to a private owner. He wanted to leave the people of Komatsu a vestige of the castle and the area was changed into a park. It is a very popular cherry blossoming viewing spot, with 140 sakura trees in full bloom during spring.

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    Besides pine trees and sakura this park has some amazing Japanese wisterias of over a hundred years old. These trees have lived so long that one single tree’s branches can cover a whole walkway with beautiful purple wisteria flowers.

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    Walking through the park you really feel at ease. Japanese gardens excel at blending a man-made garden into the natural environment. They are made so that it seems like nature itself built the garden. A good example of this are big rocks placed in waterways and the creation of hilly areas in the garden.

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    The park has a beautiful tea house and we were lucky enough to be in the park on the day of a big tea conference. Many people in kimono were in attendance and we got to see real equipment used for the traditional Japanese tea ceremony.R_P1060024R_P1060079 R_P1060084

    Before you leave the park, don’t forget to say hello to all the Koi fish swimming in the ponds.

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    Access

    13 minute walk from Komatsu Station

    Read Also:
    Come on over to Komatsu (1) : The City of Kabuki
    Come on over to Komatsu (2) : The Forest of Wisdom
    Come on over to Komatsu (3) : Craft Theme Park
    Come on over to Komatsu (4) : Natadera, the temple in touch with Nature
    Come on over to Komatsu (5) : 1300 year old Ryokan – Houshi
    Come on over to Komatsu (7) : The 7 wonders of Komatsu

    Come on over to Komatsu (5) : 1300 year old Ryokan – Houshi

    Being established in the year 718 Houshi was once recognized as the oldest hotel in the world before another ryokan in Yamanashi prefecture beat its founding date by 13 years. Still, Houshi has been operated by the same family for forty-six generations giving it an amazing history.

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    The ryokan’s hot spring is said to be founded by a monk. While he was climbing the holy Mount Hakusan he had a dream where the mountain’s deity told him about a spring with restorative powers and ordered him to find it for the people of Awazu.

    It has 100 guest rooms and a ‘Hanare’, a private guest residence. There are two indoor and two same-sex-only outdoor hot spring baths. Two family baths can also be privately reserved by guests. There are a total of four buildings belonging to the Ryokan; Shinshun no Yakata (early spring building), Haru no Yakata (spring building), Natsu no Yakata (summer building), and Aki no Yakata (autumn building).

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    The entrance to the building is very impressive with a beautiful decorative carpet. When you first arrive, you are welcomed with a cup of matcha and a sweet while looking at the inner garden.

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    When you stay at a ryokan, food is served in your room and an attendant is there to help you explain the dishes and later to help you make your bed.

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    After eating you can visit the amazing outdoor and indoor baths for a nice long and relaxing soak. The water is beautiful and it is not difficult to believe the legend that it has special curative powers given by a god.

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    If you want to be truly luxurious, you can stay in the special VIP room where emperors have stayed before. It is a big complex that is more than just one room. But if that is out of your budget, you can still enjoy the view of the thousand-year old garden.

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    Other entertainment at Houshi include a bar, occasional Noh plays and a small museum featuring crafts from the region.

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    Access

    Awazu Onsen, Komatsu-shi
    Ishikawa-ken 92383
    Website: http://www.ho-shi.co.jp/jiten/Houshi_E/home.htm

    Read Also:
    Come on over to Komatsu (1) : The City of Kabuki
    Come on over to Komatsu (2) : The Forest of Wisdom
    Come on over to Komatsu (3) : Craft Theme Park
    Come on over to Komatsu (4) : Natadera, the temple in touch with Nature
    Come on over to Komatsu (6) : Rojo Park
    Come on over to Komatsu (7) : The 7 wonders of Komatsu

    Come on over to Komatsu (4) : Natadera, the temple in touch with Nature

    Japanese people have always been in touch with nature. This can be seen in the traditional arts and their religion. Both Buddhism and Shinto take lessons from nature and Natadera is a place where both these religions come together in harmony.

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    About 1300 years ago, the monk Taichou thought that the universe and earth were gods with all living beings at their mercy. This inspired him to build Natadera, to show the harmony between humans and nature. Life is sacred and nature is a paradise, so nature must be held to be as important as human life. The Natadera temple is the head temple of the Shingon Sect of Buddhism.

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    The thousand-handed Kannon is enshrined in Natadera as well as various other small gods. There is also an old Inari shrine on the temple grounds. All the gods lived together in Natadera until the Meiji period, when there were orders to create a clear distinction between Buddhism and Shinto.

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    What makes this area quite unique is not only the surrounding nature, but also the strange rock formations that are said to be the remains from ancient undersea volcanic eruptions. An fine layer of moss covers most of the temple area. The water in this area is said to have special properties and drinking it will revitalize your body. The water is so pure that from the plankton in the streams fish were able to grow at lightning speed. Supposedly one of the gods enshrined here was born from the water.

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    The main shrine is built inside a natural cave and you need to enter through an elevated construction similar to Kiyomizudera in Kyoto.

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    Just like Yamadera, the famous poet Basho Matsuo had paid a visit here and left behind a haiku:

    Whiter far
    Than the white rocks
    Of the Rock Temple
    The autumn wind blows.

    After visiting the area you can enjoy a nice meal in a restaurant near the main temple. No matter the season, Natadera always has beautiful sights.

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    Access

    Hours: Open all year from 8:30 – 16:45  (12/1 – 2/28: 8:45 – 16:30)
    Admission: Adult 600 yen / Elementary School Student and below 300 yen
    Bus: take the bus bound for Natadera Temple from JR Komatsu Station or take the CANBUS from JR Kaga Onsen Station and get off at Natadera Temple. 25 Minutes

    Read Also:
    Come on over to Komatsu (1) : The City of Kabuki
    Come on over to Komatsu (2) : The Forest of Wisdom
    Come on over to Komatsu (3) : Craft Theme Park
    Come on over to Komatsu (5) : 1300 year old Ryokan – Houshi
    Come on over to Komatsu (6) : Rojo Park
    Come on over to Komatsu (7) : The 7 wonders of Komatsu

    Come on over to Komatsu (3) : Craft Theme Park

    Komatsu city in Ishikawa prefecture has a natural forest filled with traditional Japanese houses that let you try all kinds of amazing crafts. Yunokuni no Mori is officially called a “Traditional Handicraft Theme Park”, but it is more than that. Not only do the activities give you the opportunity to make your own unique souvenir, the area in itself is so beautiful that it is worth a visit.

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    It is very difficult to decide on an activity once you are in the forest. To be honest, you will want to try them all. There are over 50 traditional handicraft experiences at 11 houses such as; pure gold leaf crafts, making ceramics, try making traditional Japanese paper Washi, glassworks and more. Wattention staff tried two activities in the forest, gold leaf crafts and making Kaga Yuzen ( printed silk).

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    Ishikawa prefecture produces 99% of Japan’s gold leaf. These sheets are worked with until they are 1/10,000th of a millimeter thick. This makes them easier to apply to different surfaces and of course you get more worth for your gold. First you decide on what you want to decorate with gold. This can be everything from a box to mirrors and decorative trays. First you apply glue extracted from a tree and then you can rub on the gold in any design you like. There is always someone to guide you while working on your craft so don’t worry, it will always come out good. R_20160520_160516

    Next we tried making printed silk. Kaga Yuzen is the specific type of printed silk from Ishikawa and it is on par with Japan’s most famous Yuzen from Kyoto. Again, there is someone to help you with the designs and colors but in the end it’s all up to your creativity. Why not paint a nice handkerchief or T-shirt to take home. Traditionally Yuzen had to be washed in a stream, but luckily you can take your work home immediately (And it’s washing machine safe).

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    After trying out various crafts why not enjoy a secret goodie bag full of cakes and sweets. And if you want to have that luxurious feeling, try a gold-covered ice cream or gold sprinkled sundae. (Yes, real gold)

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    While strolling through the forest you will see these funny dolls made by the staff. Dont be scared when you suddenly see one sitting on a bench or in the forest.

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    All the crafts in the forest are an amazing experience for every age, making Yunokuni no Mori a perfect day out for a family or group of friends.

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    Access

    Hours: 9:00 to 16:30
    Admission: Adult : 540 yen / Junior High School Student: 440 yen / Child (over four years old) : 330 yen.
    By train: 3hr from Tokyo via Hokuriku Shinkansen, Hokuriku Line / 2hr 12min from Osaka / 2hr 27min from Nagoya / 25min from Kanazawa (via limited express)
    By car: About 20min by car from Komatsu airport / 50min by car from Kanazawa
    By bus: There are buses from JR Kaga Onsen station going to Yunokuni no Mori. The trip takes about 35min.

    Read Also:
    Come on over to Komatsu (1) : The City of Kabuki
    Come on over to Komatsu (2) : The Forest of Wisdom
    Come on over to Komatsu (4) : Natadera, the temple in touch with Nature
    Come on over to Komatsu (5) : 1300 year old Ryokan – Houshi
    Come on over to Komatsu (6) : Rojo Park
    Come on over to Komatsu (7) : The 7 wonders of Komatsu

    Come on over to Komatsu (2) : The Forest of Wisdom

    The actual name for this peculiar place is “Koke no Sato”, or “Moss Village”. This is because the whole area is covered by a fine layer of green moss, cultivated over many years. Hiyou Town has been taking care of this moss, cleaning it every day.

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    Only 7 families live in Hiyou Town, making it one of the smallest villages in Japan. Moss can only grow in certain conditions making it tough to maintain. The area needs to have enough moisture, not too much light and no stepping all over from humans and animals.

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    The nearby shrine is beautiful surrounded by the moss. Visitors are advised to stay on the path as to not damage the moss.

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    The Forest of Wisdom is the perfect place to see the famous, untranslatable word “Komorebi”, the rays of sunlight falling in between the trees.

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    “The Forest of Wisdom is a place to explore the wisdom along with the eternal culture and nature of Japan.”

    The Forest of Wisdom project aims to bring all kinds of culture and wisdom from all over the world together. This mostly happens in the Wisdom House where you can attend workshops and even jazz concerts. The Wisdom House is a refurbished 100-year-old folk house, built using local timber.

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    Access

    From Kanazawa by train: Take an express train from Kanazawa to Komatsu (15 min) and then take a taxi to Koke-no-sato in Hiyo-machi (20 min).

    Read Also:
    Come on over to Komatsu (1) : The City of Kabuki
    Come on over to Komatsu (3) : Craft Theme Park
    Come on over to Komatsu (4) : Natadera, the temple in touch with Nature
    Come on over to Komatsu (5) : 1300 year old Ryokan – Houshi
    Come on over to Komatsu (6) : Rojo Park
    Come on over to Komatsu (7) : The 7 wonders of Komatsu

    Come on over to Komatsu (1) : The City of Kabuki

    Believe it or not, Komatsu is a Kabuki City. But why? You might ask this question because when people think about attending a Kabuki play they think about the extravagant theaters in Tokyo and Kyoto. But Komatsu in Ishikawa prefecture has more Kabuki than you might expect.

    Komatsu City is a castle town founded by Maeda Toshitsune, third lord of the Kaga clan. Toshitsune was knowledgeable about the arts such as the traditional tea ceremony and at the same time protected and promoted the industry. This made Komatsu flourish, both culturally and economically. A lot of this cultural knowledge was invested in children’s Kabuki plays that are still performed every year.

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    Another very important reason is that Komatsu is the location of Japan’s most famous Kabuki scene from the beloved Kabuki play:Kanjincho. This treasured story is about two warriors, Yoshitsune and Benkei. Even though they are seen as legends now, these two people are actual historical figures who existed.

    Yoshitsune was a fierce warrior trained by Tengu and Benkei was a warrior monk, said to have been the size of an ogre with equal strength. They became friends and traveled together.

    Yoshitsune’s half-brother Yoritomo, who would become the first Shogun of Japan, started chasing the pair out of fear that Yoshitsune might take away his favorable position. Yoshitsune and Benkei disguised themselves as Buddhist monks and headed for the Ataka no Seki checkpoint, where they would be safe after making it through. Togashi, who was the head of the checkpoint did not believe they were monks and asked them to read from their donation scroll. Quick-witted Benkei started reading from a blank scroll and was able to fool Togashi into believing he had a real donation list. After all, Benkei was a real monk and could easily make up the names. But Togashi came closer and saw the blank list, and the truth was revealed. Luckily, he still praised Benkei’s smarts and let them pass.

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    Ataka Barrier Ruin facing the Sea of Japan is the setting of this famous Kabuki scene and has statues of Yoshitsune, Benkei and Togashi. Standing in front of these figures really takes you back to the time when this scene actually took place.

    The original weapons used by Benkei are kept in the shrine near Ataka, just a short walk from the statues.

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    Everywhere in Komatsu you can find traces of Benkei and Togashi.

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    Every year in May children perform Kabuki during the Otabi festival. Eight towns have special floats that look like mini-Kabuki stages. The children are in full makeup and are said to perform brilliantly.

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    So when you’re in Komatsu, why not try to catch a children’s Kabuki play or visit the local museum about the famous Kabuki play “Kanjincho”.

    Read Also:
    Come on over to Komatsu (2) : The Forest of Wisdom
    Come on over to Komatsu (3) : Craft Theme Park
    Come on over to Komatsu (4) : Natadera, the temple in touch with Nature
    Come on over to Komatsu (5) : 1300 year old Ryokan – Houshi
    Come on over to Komatsu (6) : Rojo Park
    Come on over to Komatsu (7) : The 7 wonders of Komatsu

    Restaurant Review: Moeginomura ROCK

    This curry will rock your world!

    Bacon and runny eggs and butter may sound like a typical American breakfast but these are the toppings to Rock’s unique curry.

    Practically every Japanese household or restaurant that serves curry has its own secret recipe. Some stew bananas, apples or chocolate for a sugar and spice curry, others add a touch of red wine, soy sauce or even bonito shavings. Toppings can be anything betweeen natto, cheese and fried pork cutlets. Japan’s competition in curry is so high it is probably only second to India.

    Still, it is safe to say that Brewpub Restaurant ROCK’s version of Japanese style curry can count itself among the true curry elites.

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    Brewpub Restaurant ROCK is located within Moeginomura, a pleasant area with picturesque gardens, restaurants, cafes and shops located in Hokuto City, Yamanashi Prefecture. The area makes for the perfect setting for a European mountain village postcard, except for the fact that it is located on the other side of the planet.
    In the middle of this setting, ROCKS’s old-fashioned American saloon style architecture creates a remarkable juxtaposition between European and American architecture in Japan!

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    Before I start talking about the curry, it cannot go without mentioning that ROCK is also famous for its craftbeer brand, TOUCHDOWN.
    TOUCHDOWN has 5 different flavors as well as lager brewed beer and has won the prize of “Best beer of Asia” at the World Beer Awards of 2014.

    touchdown
    ROCK’s curry is so beloved that it would be hard to find a local that never gets cravings for it. It has a history of over 40 years, and while maintaining its roots, it has continued to evolve and capture the hearts of young and old.

    The curry’s roux is on the thick side, tastes sweet but has a spicy and slightly sour fragrance at the same time.
    Spices and ingredients stewed to create this roux are a company secret, but the slight sourness made me speculate that TOUCHDOWN beer could have been used as seasoning to add a special final touch.

    The toppings play a role just as significant as the roux in ROCK’s curry, so let’s have a closer look. You will first notice the giant lump of juicy bacon which has been a trademark ever since ROCK originally opened in 1971, but that’s just beginning of this richly topped curry. A soft-boiled egg (or onsen egg in Japanese as it is boiled at the same temperature of hot spring water) is placed on top of the bacon so that the egg yolk may drip over it later on.

    imagesWhat might be even more important, is the raisin butter you seen in front of the bacon. Mix this melting morsel with the roux for a sweet, rich taste that really distinguishes it from other Japanese curries.

    While the dish might appear to be voluminous, note that half of it consists of fresh vegetables that come from nearby farms. The pickles on the right edge are capsicum, a vegetable rarely pickled in Japanese cuisine or even in general.

    Altogether ROCK’s beef curry makes for a unique curry that is hard to compete with. Those that seek for even more satisfaction can add toppings as an extra slice of bacon or fried sausages.

     

    Degree in which the curry stands out from its competitors: ★★★★☆

    Degree in which the restaurant’s facade stands out from its surrounding: ★★★★★

    Important Message:
    In the early morning of Aug. 8, 2016, fire broke out in Moeginomura ROCK, causing heavy damage to the building. Excluding Rock, all the other buildings in Moeginomura were not affected and are operating as normal. No word yet on what may have started the fire and there is no definite date yet on when they will resume its business, but according to their website, Rock will definitely re-open. We do hope that they re-open quickly and we can once again enjoy their iconic curry.

    UPDATE: Starting September 17, Moeginomura finished setting up a provisional kitchen and are currently re-opened for business. Even though the seating is still outdoors under a tent, we are glad to be able to once again savor the flavors unique to this beloved (and resilient!) restaurant.

    ROCK

    Price Range: 1,000 – 2,000

    Hours: 10 am – 11:30 pm

    Location: Kiyosato 3545 Moeginomura, Takanecho, Hokuto, Yamanashi  山梨県北杜市高根町清里3545 萌木の村

    Access: 10-min walk from Kiyosato Station (JR Koumi Line)

    Gero Hot Spring – Gero Onsen Yamagataya

    bath

    Private-use hot springs: Yes
    Rooms with open-air baths: Yes

    Named one of Japan’s top three onsens back in the Edo era, this region is still renowned for its ancient hot springs, with footbaths, public spas, and ryokans scattered all across town. The simple thermal spring waters here are known commonly as the “springs for the beautiful”, dating back to the 10th century, and Gero Onsen Yamagataya has been providing numerous ways to enjoy them for 180 years. Rest at the outdoor spa while surrounded by bamboo and maple trees, or listen to the soothing sound of the streaming Hida River from the private onsens. If you come in autumn, you can also catch amateur kabuki performances in town.

    room

    food

    Access:
    Take the Limited Express Hida train from Nagoya Station to Gero Station. A shuttle bus is provided at the station.

    WEB:
    http://yamagata-ya.co.jp/lg_en/

    Hida Takayama Hot Spring – Hanaougi Bettei Iiyama

    bath

    Private-use hot springs: Yes
    Rooms with open-air baths: Yes

    Just a 50-min bus ride from World Heritage site Shirakawa-go, explore Hida Takayama’s charming townscape at this secluded 17-room ryokan. Hanaougi Bettei Iiyama offers a personal touch, with lovely wooden architecture from local trees, and even assigns a serving lady to take care of you from arrival to departure. And thanks to the spring waters 1,200m underground here, you can soak in the silky sodium bicarbonate saline spring waters in your room’s onsen and the public and private spas. The bi-annual Takayama Festival—considered one of Japan’s most beautiful—makes a trip here in the spring or fall ideal, while the melt-in-your-mouth local Hida beef is delicious all year round.

    room

    food

    Access:
    Take the Limited Express Hida train from Nagoya Station to JR Takayama Station, then take the free shuttle bus from the station.

    WEB:
    http://www.hanaougi.com/english/

    Overnight trip from Tokyo- (2) Nostalgic Nagano

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    Located to the northwest of Tokyo, Nagano is easily accessible with Hokuriku Shinkansen and serves not only as an ideal overnight trip from Tokyo, but also a great stopover on the way to Kanazawa. In this article we will bring you to Iiyama, Zenkoji Temple, and Karuizawa and show you what they have on offer. Join us and expect to discover a different Japan!

    Suggested itinerary

    Day 1: Tokyo Station 7:52 – (Shinkansen) – 9:32 Iiyama Station – (8 minutes on foot) – Iiyama Handicraft Paper Studio – (15 minutes on foot) – Mayumi Takahashi Museum of Doll Art – (10 minutes on foot) – Rokubei for lunch – (7 minutes on foot) – Tanakaya Brewing – (1 minute on foot) – Patisserie Hirano – (15 minutes on foot) – Iiyama Station 16:28 – (Shinkansen) – 16:39 Nagano – Check in at Hotel Metropolitan Nagano – (20 minutes on foot, or take a local train to Gondo and then walk 10 minutes) – Azumaya for dinner – (back to hotel) – Bar APOLLO of Hotel Metropolitan Nagano

    Day 2: Nagano Station – (7 minutes by bus) – Zenkoji Temple – (7 minutes by bus) – MIDORI Nagano / Nagano Station 13:05 – (Shinkansen) – 13:36 Karuizawa Station

    Option 1 (love nature): Karuizawa Station 14:00 – (bus) 14:23 Shiraito Waterfall 15:30 – (bus) – 15:53 Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza/Karuizawa Station 18:51 – (Shinkansen) – 20:00 Tokyo Station

    Option 2 (be sporty): Karuizawa Station 14:15 – (bus) – 14:35 Karuizawa Ice Park 17:02 – (bus) – 17:32 Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza/Karuizawa Station 19:41 – (Shinkansen) – 20:52 Tokyo Station

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    Day 1: Iiyama

    Tokyo Station 7:52 – (Shinkansen) – 9:32 Iiyama Station

    Located to the north of Nagano city, Iiyama is a compact small town reminiscent of rural Japan. Especially suitable for a walking tour.

    Iiyama Handicraft Paper Studio

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    Iiyama Station – (8 minutes on foot) – Iiyama Handicraft Paper Studio

    For over 350 years, craftsmen in Iiyama have been making the durable Uchiyama washi paper. Here you can try your hand at making washi and creating your one-of-a-kind postcard.

    Mayumi Takahashi Museum of Doll Art

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    Iiyama Handicraft Paper Studio – (15 minutes on foot) – Mayumi Takahashi Museum of Doll Art

    Based in Iiyama, Mayumi Takahashi seems to possess an innate ability to capture the essence of countryside life in the good old days. Once you step into the museum, you will be impressed by the dolls’ amusing facial expressions and thoughtfully designed details that recreate the heartwarming scenes occurring in everyday countryside life.

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    Though it was the first time I visited the museum, I had a feeling I’ve seen these dolls somewhere sometime in my life. Maybe because they are so real that I had this déjà vu kind of feeling?

    RokubeiJapanese traditional cuisine with a local twist

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    Mayumi Takahashi Museum of Doll Art – (10 minutes on foot) – Rokubei

    If trying local food is important to you when you travel, this is the place to be. Because of the harsh winter in Iiyama, people have been using plant fibers to replace wheat in making the local Tomikura soba, which gives the noodle a unique springy texture. Another local dish you can’t miss is Sasazushi (Sushi on bamboo grass), a local variation of sushi that has its root as portable food for troops of the famous warlord Uesugi Kenshin.

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    Tomikura soba and Sasazushi
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    Miyuki pork steak rice bowl

    Tanakaya Brewing

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    Rokubei for lunch – (7 minutes on foot) – Tanakaya Brewing

    Delicious Japanese sake made with local ingredients and by local employees. Come and sample the sake of your choice.

    Patisserie Hirano

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    Tanakaya Brewing – (1 minute on foot) – Patisserie Hirano

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    The patisserie offers a wide selection of cakes and pastries at reasonable prices, and is highly popular among local people and tourists. We had coffee with an apple tart, a matcha mousse cake, and a sakura swiss roll cake. After you tried its cakes, you will have no doubt why it’s a neighborhood mainstay.

    Hotel Metropolitan Nagano

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    Patisserie Hirano – (15 minutes on foot) – Iiyama Station 16:28 – (Shinkansen) – 16:39 Nagano – Check in at Hotel Metropolitan Nagano

    After exploring Iiyama, we headed to Nagano, the capital city of Nagano Prefecture. Tonight we stayed at Hotel Metropolitan Nagano, a modern city hotel boasts superb location (directly connected to Nagano Station), comfy guest rooms, and an elegant bar offering creative cocktails and charming night view. Certainly it is an ideal base to explore Nagano.

    Azumaya – Treat yourself to a slice of Japanese high life

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    Hotel Metropolitan Nagano – (20 minutes on foot, or take a local train to Gondo and then walk 10 minutes) – Azumaya

    This was the place we had dinner in Nagano city. Hiding in an unassuming alley near Zenkoji Temple, Azumaya is a fine dining Japanese restaurant whose buildings are renovated from Japanese traditional storehouses with almost 200 years of history. Local delicacies served are as pretty as pieces of art. Recommended for those want to experience Japanese hospitality.

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    Bar APOLLO of Hotel Metropolitan Nagano

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    The night is long and we are not yet ready to call it a night! Bar APOLLO is located in the top floor of the hotel and offers creative cocktails and great night views. My personal favorite is the APOLLO cocktail mixing apple cidre, apple juice, and peach liquor.

    Day 2: Zenkoji Temple and Karuizawa

    Zenkoji Temple – Discover the mysteries of National Treasure

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    Nagano Station – (7 minutes by bus) – Zenkoji Temple

    Zenkoji Temple is an ancient Buddhist temple worshipped by many generations. The Hondo (Main Hall) is designated as National Treasure, and also the third largest wooden structure in Japan.

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    The streets leading up to the temple are lined with souvenir shops, stylish cafes and soba restaurants.

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    Mystery 1: The Buddha enshrined here is said to be the oldest in Japan and no one has ever been allowed to see it. Thus it is known as the “Secret Buddha”.

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    Mystery 2: Go down into the crypt passage and search for the “key to the paradise” in absolute darkness. The key to finding it is to keep faith and just move forward.

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    Mystery 3: Find the plaque under the eaves of the Sanmon Gate and take a close look at the first character (善). It is stylized to look like the face of a cow due to an old Japanese saying that goes “following a cow to Zenkoji”.

    Mystery 4: Take a look again. Can you find 5 pigeon figures hiding among the strokes of the three characters?

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    Free guided tours are available in several foreign languages. Check out the details at http://www.zenkoji.jp/ENGLISH/guide/

    Nagano Station & MIDORI Nagano – Everything under one roof

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    Zenkoji Temple – (7 minutes by bus) – Nagano Station / MIDORI Nagano

    Nagano Station is not only a perfect gateway to exploring Nagano, it is also a shopping haven as well! You can get everything you need from souvenirs to a taste of local gourmet at MIDORI Nagano without stepping out of the station building. Since Nagano is most famous for its honey sweet apple, why not choose something from an array of souvenir snacks made from Nagano’s apple?

    Karuizawa

    Nagano Station 13:05 – (Shinkansen) – 13:36 Karuizawa Station

    Before going back to Tokyo, we made a stop at Karuizawa, and propose you the following two options for a quick of the famous resort. Both options require travelling on bus. While you can follow our itinerary listed here, make sure to check the latest bus schedule (Japanese only) to ensure a smooth trip.

    Option 1: Shiraito Waterfall – Artful and graceful

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    Karuizawa Station 14:00 – (bus) 14:23 Shiraito Waterfall

    Standing 3 meters high and 70 meters wide, the crescent-shaped Shiraito Waterfall is named so because the water off the rock surface looks like hundreds of white threads (shiraito) are flowing down. The waterfall is refreshingly cool in summer and ever flowing in winter because geothermal heat keeps the water temperature at about 11 degree Celsius even in wintertime.

    Option 2: Karuizawa Ice Park – Play chess on ice

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    Karuizawa Station 14:15 – (bus) – 14:35 Karuizawa Ice Park

    Checkmate! No, we are not talking about moving chess pieces on a chessboard but sliding stones on a sheet of ice. This is curling, a unique winter sport in which two teams take turn sliding stones towards a circular target. A great deal of strategy is involved, that’s why curling is often called “chess on ice”. Here at Karuizawa Ice Park, the curling venue for the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics, basic curling lessons are offered all year round for anyone interested in learning the game. Come and give the unique sport a shot. You will fell like an Olympian! After you have experienced curling, you may try ice skating before the next bus comes.

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    Information: 2,380 yen per person for a 60-minute curling lesson. Inquiry and reservation by email: [email protected]

    Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza – Indulge in a shopping spree before going back to Tokyo!

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    If you followed option 1: Shiraito Waterfall 15:30 – (bus) – 15:53 Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza/Karuizawa Station 18:51 – (Shinkansen) – 20:00 Tokyo Station

    If you followed option 2: Karuizawa Ice Park 17:02 – (bus) – 17:32 Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza/Karuizawa Station 19:41 – (Shinkansen) – 20:52 Tokyo Station

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    Located right next to JR Karuizawa Station, Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza is a shopping heaven less than 90 minutes away from Tokyo. Find outlet shops of overseas designer brands and local specialty food and products at this huge shopping mall set among acres of grassland. If you are looking for distinctive souvenirs to bring home, head to the Souvenir Court for a great selection of local delicacies of Nagano. And of course tax-free shopping is available here!

    Key takeaways

    Boasting the highest life expectancy of all 47 prefectures in Japan, people in Nagano seem to exude friendly warmth as naturally as the sun gives out heat. In this article we have shown you an itinerary covering top tourist attractions and places off the beaten tracks. The rest is up to you to experience!

    Previous in the series:

    Overnight trip from Tokyo- (1) Countryside Gunma and Snow Country Niigata

    Gifu

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    Gifu: The Land of Clear Waters

    Map of Japan and Gifu
    Map of Japan and Gifu

    Strategically located in central Japan, Gifu-ken (岐阜県, Gifu prefecture) is made up of five (unofficial) regions and is famous for its beautiful mountain towns, clear waters, traditional cormorant fishing and mouth-watering delicacies.

    Historical Gifu

    Takayama in spring
    Takayama in spring

    Gifu was so named by the powerful daimyō (大名, feudal lord) Oda Nobunaga during his campaign to unify Japan during the late Sengoku jidai (戦国時代,Sengoku Period). Due to its location, the prefecture was also known as the “crossroad of Japan”. Through the Sengoku Period, Gifu’s powerhouse status was often referred to by the saying “control Gifu and you control Japan.”

    Sword making masters forging a new katana in Seki.
    Sword making masters forging a new katana in Seki

    Historically, the prefecture was (and still is) the centre of katana crafting in all of Japan, with the best swords coming from the town of Seki. Now, the prefecture is also known as the number one producer of fake food models in Japan.

    Adorable Gifu

    character
    Minamo, Gifu’s mascot

    Like other prefectures, Gifu also has its own yuru-kyara (ゆるキャラ, mascot): Minamo. Minamo is a smiling fairy sprite whose yellow stripes represent the shining sun, while his light blue pays homage to Gifu’s clear streams, within which he lives. He even has the power to unite people and bring them happiness through the things that he does.

    Beautiful Gifu

    Although tucked deep within a mountainous region, Gifu has plenty of sights to take in, making it a must-go spot for foodies, history buffs, hot spring enthusiasts and nature lovers.

    Shirakawagō in winter
    Shirakawagō in winter

    Shirakawagō (白川郷)is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is famous for its traditional gasshō-zukuri (合掌造), some of which are over 250 years old. Named for their steep thatched roofs that resemble hands pressed in prayer, the A-shaped roofs were developed over many generations and are designed to withstand the heavy winter snowfall. The roofs are made without nails and provide a large attic space that is also used for cultivating silkworms.

    Inside a gasshō-zukuri
    Inside a gasshō-zukuri

    The oldest and largest remaining gasshō-zukuri in the village is called the Wada House. It is still used as a private residence, but part of it is also open to the public and it has many traditional tools on display.

    The best way to experience Shirakawagō is to stay overnight in the village in one of the cosy farmhouses. Just make sure to book in advance if you’re considering this stop in your itinerary.

    Takayama festival held in spring
    Takayama festival held in spring

    Often referred to as Little Kyoto, Takayama is famous for retaining its original appearance and is commonly referred to as Hida-Takayama to differentiate it from other places with similar names.

    House along Sannomach Street
    House along Sannomach Street

    Back in the Edo Period, Takayama thrived as a wealthy merchant town. The old settlement is a beautiful sight to behold, with whole streets of houses, shops, sake breweries and coffee houses well-preserved in their original elegant states – especially along Sannomachi street in the southern half of town.

    Takayama Jinya
    Takayama Jinya

    Here you’ll also find the Takayama Jinya (高山陣屋), a former government outpost built during the Edo Period when the city was under the direct control of the shogun due to its valuable timber resources. Designated as a historical landmark in 1929, the building continued to be used as a public or prefectural office until 1969. It is now the last building of its kind and has been restored almost entirely to its original Edo Period state making it a truly one-of-a-kind place to visit.

    Rickshaw ride in Takayama old town
    Rickshaw ride in Takayama old town

    While you’re there, make rickshaw tour of Takayama’s old town as an alternative way of sightseeing. Also, don’t miss the two morning markets held daily in front of the Takyama Jinya and long the Miyagawa River. There are plenty of stores selling local crafts and farm produce for you to buy.

    A hot spring in Gero city
    A hot spring in Gero city

    If you love soaking it up in hot springs, Gero-shi (下呂市, Gero City) is where you want to be. Listed as one of the “Three Famed Host Springs” in Japan, Gero-shi has been an onsen town since the 10th century and is filled with ryokans, public baths and free foots baths. The springs are famous for their smooth water and are nicknamed bijin no yu (美人の湯, springs for the beautiful). The town is surrounded by nature and is found along Hidagawa (飛騨川, Hida River); the river featured in a popular kabuki play, Musume Dojo-ji – a story about a maiden in love with a celibate monk who takes the form of a serpent to cross the river to pursue him.

    Mount Haku in winter
    Mount Haku in winter

    For nature-lovers, one must see site is Haku-san (白山 , Mount Haku). A potentially active volcano, Mount Haku straddles the borders of Gifu, Fukui and Ishikawa Prefectures. It is one of Japan’s Sanreizan (三霊山, Three Holy Mountains), together with Mount Tate and Mount Fuji. The mountain is considered to have three main peaks with the tallest, Gozengamine (御前峰), standing at 2,702m. Because it is very prominent from the nearby coast and appears white even after the mountain range has lost its snow, Mount Haku still appears white, which is one explanation for the its name which means “white mountain”.

    A stop along the Haku-san Super Rindo in autumn
    A stop along the Haku-san Super Rindo in autumn

    Mount Haku is a national park that has seen very little human intrusion, leaving its mountainous greenery largely untouched making it a popular destination for trekking. If you choose to drive to Mount Haku, the Haku-san Super Rindo is a 33 kilometer route that connects Ishikawa and Gifu and passes the magnificent Fukube-no-otaki waterfall.

    Delicious Gifu

    Amongst the many delicacies that Gifu is famous for, there are three that stand out the most: Hida Beef, the Ayu and sake.

    Grilled Hida Beef
    Grilled Hida Beef

    Hida gyū (飛騨牛) is a specific type of beef that comes from Kuroge Washu (黒毛和種, Japanese Black) specially reared in the mountain town of Takayama. Hida gyū is considered a high-quality meat due to its intensely marbled appearance. Plus, it has to meet strict requirements from various national associations before it can officially be titled Hida Beef.

    Japanese Black cattle
    Japanese Black cattle

    Thanks to Gifu’s expansive natural environment, clear water, rich earth and clean air, the cattle raised here can live a relatively comfortable and healthy lifestyle. This results in beef with an umami-rich, succulent flavour that has a melt-in-your texture which can be enjoyed grilled,roasted or even as shabu-shabu.

    Grilled Ayu
    Grilled Ayu

    A distant relative of trout, Ayu (鮎) is Japan’s most highly prized river fish. This slippery, silvery fish travels a seasonal migration route throughout the year, similar to salmon and can only be found in the clearest and purest rivers, such as Gifu’s crystalline Nagara river. This summer delicacy has a unique flavour that is said to resemble watermelon!

    Cormorant fishing on the Nagara River
    Cormorant fishing on the Nagara River

    The 1,300 year old traditional trade known as Gifu Nagaragawa no Ukai (ぎふ長良川の鵜飼 , Cormorant fishing on the Nagara River) has played a vital role in the history of Gifu City as a means of survival and profitable industry. During the fishing season (May 11 to October 15) many tourists flock to Gifu to watch the elegant fishing birds in action and enjoy the fish that can be cooked by grilling, boiling or even as tempura.

    Bottles of Gifu Sake
    Bottles of Gifu Sake

    Gifu is also one of the leading sake produces in Japan, with over 50 breweries in the prefecture. Thanks to its mountainous region, cool climate and pure, clear water, Gifu has the ideal resources to produce high quality sake. Another important ingredient used in producing premium sake with a well-balanced flavour is the use of Hidohomare rice, which is grown with crystal-clear snowmelt water flowing from the mountains.

    Gifu sake is in such high demand in Japan that few bottles ever make it out of the country. So while you’re in town, make some time to savour a cup or two.

    Getting to Gifu

    The Chubu Centrair International Airport is conveniently located in the city of Tokoname, just 57 minutes from Gifu Station. To reach Gifu Station from the airport, take the Meitetsu Limited Express towards Shinunuma, and then change at Kanayama Station to the Tokaido Main Line towards Ogaki. ¥1,710.

    Ski in Japan: Resorts Near Tokyo

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    Here are our picks for slopes near Tokyo that will give you a satisfyingly ski-filled day trip and still leave you time to head back to Tokyo in the evening in time to watch the city light up.

    Snowtown Yeti (Shizuoka Prefecture)

     

    Yeti1English instructor : No
    Number of courses : 5
    Located on the southern foothills near Mt.Fuji, Snowtown Yeti starts its skiing season from October, perfect for those who can`t wait to ski. This resort is mostly for beginners, and night-skiing is available for those who find the winter daytime too short.

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    Address: Fujiwara 2428, Suyama-aza, Susono-shi
    Access: Take the Yeti Bus from Gotemba Station to Snowtown Yeti
    Web: www.yeti-resort.com/en

    Fujiten Snow Resort (Yamanashi Prefecture)

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    English instructor : Private lessons only (advanced booking needed)
    Number of courses : 7
    Fujiten Snow Resort makes for a great ground to learn the basics of skiing, and has child-friendly courses as well. You can also enjoy a day of skiing with Mt.Fuji in the backdrop.

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    Address: Fujisan 8545-1, Narusawa-mura, Minamitsuru-gun
    Access: Take a taxi from Kawaguchiko Station to Fujiten Snow Resort
    Web: www.fujiten.net/pc/en

     

    Prince Grand Resort Karuizawa (Nagano Prefecture)

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    English instructor : Yes
    Number of courses : 10
    How about skiing in the chic town of Karuizawa? After skiing, you can shop at an outlet mall or enjoy the hot springs in the area. This is the ultimate integrated winter resort near Tokyo.

    Karuizawa2

    Address: Karuizawa-machi, Kitasaku-gun
    Access: A 10-min. walk or 1-min. by taxi from Karuizawa Station. Free shuttle bus is also available.
    Web: www.princehotels.com/en/ski/karuizawa/index.html

     

    Ski in Japan: Top 5 Central Japan Resorts

    Within just 3 hours of Central Japan, you can find slopes to suit any ski level, not to mention a great selection of spas. Our top four picks take you high, where trees freeze into “ice monsters” and the onsens thaw you out at the highest altitude in the country. For sliding and soaking fun in the heart of Japan, start here.

    APPI Snow Resort (Iwate Prefecture)

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    English Instructors: Private and group lessons available. Advanced booking needed
    Number of courses: 21

    With the mind-boggling number of courses available, this is the place to go to ski or snowboard to your heart’s content. Slope levels varying from beginner to advanced, plus meticulously manicured slopes and dry light snow makes this the ultimate skiing and snowboarding haven no matter what your level is.

    Address: 117 Appi Kogen, Hachimantai City, Iwate Prefecture
    Access: Take the JR Hanawa Line from Morioka Station, there is a free shuttle bus available between JR APPI Kogen Station and the resort buildings.
    Web: http://www.appi.co.jp/foreign_country/english/winter/index.html

    Manza Onsen Ski Resort (Gunma Prefecture)

    photo-110 - コピー
    English Instructors: Advanced booking recommended
    Number of courses: 9

    If ski and spa is your ideal combination, Manza is your most convenient choice. At a 1,800m altitude, enjoy fresh powdered snow and choose from ten relaxing onsens – the highest in Japan – at the Prince Hotel, located right on the slopes.

    万座画像 - コピー

    Address: Manza Onsen, Tsumagoi-mura, Agatsuma-gun
    Access: Take the Seibu Kogen Bus to Manza ski area from Karuizawa Station. Guests of the Manza Prince Hotel or Manza Kogen Hotel can take a free shuttle bus through advanced booking.
    Web: http://www.princehotels.com/en/ski/manzaonsen

    Gala Yuzawa Snow Resort (Niigata Prefecture)

    ①スキー・スノーボード
    English Instructors: Yes
    Number of courses: 17

    With a decent amount of courses, Gala Yukawa is the ideal ski resort for skiers and snowboarders of any level, and is also conveniently connected to the Shinkansen Station. Have a hot bath at hot spring SPA Gala No Yu afterwards to get the most out of this all-in-one ski facility.

    ④SPA温泉

    Address: Yuzawa 1039-2, Yuzawa-machi, Minamiuonuma-gun
    Access: Take the Joetsu Shinkansen to GALA Yuzawa Station from Tokyo Station
    Web: http://www.galaresort.jp/winter/english

    Zao Hot Springs Ski Resort (Yamagata Prefecture)

    Juhyogen Course 6
    English Instructors: Private lessons only (advanced booking needed)
    Number of courses: 12

    Soak in one of Japan’s most famous onsens after a full day of skiing amongst the awe-inspiring juhyo (ice-frosted trees) here. From December to February, the unique weather conditions create these natural wonders – often called “ice monsters” – particularly beautiful when illuminated at night.

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    Address: Zao Onsen 708-1, Yamagata
    Access: A 40-min. bus ride to Zao Onsen Bus Terminal from Yamagata Station.
    Web: http://www.zao-spa.or.jp/english

    Shizukuishi Ski Resort (Iwate Prefecture)

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    English Instructors: Advanced booking recommended
    Number of courses: 13

    Experienced skiers will love the challenging slopes here at Mt. Iwate, home to the FIS ski and snowboard world cup multiple times. If you’re feeling brave, glide down its longest course, which is a good 4.5km long!

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    Address: Takakura Onsen, Shizukuishi-machi, Iwate-gun
    Access: A 20-min. taxi ride from Shizukuishi Station, or take the free shuttle bus to Prince Hotel Shizukuishi through advanced booking.
    Web: http://www.princehotels.com/en/ski/shizukuishi

    The 5 highest mountains of Japan

    Who is Japan’s king of the hill?

    With 73 percent of Japan’s land consisting of mountains and more than 100 of them being over 2,500 meters high (including peaks of the same mountain range), it is safe to say that Japan is a mountainous country. But which of these giants, are the very highest? Here follow Japan’s big five!

    1. Mt. Fuji

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    Height: 3,776m
    Prefecture(s): Shizuoka, Yamanashi

    Mt. Fuji is not only Japan’s most iconic, but also Japan’s highest mountain. Best viewed from Yamanaka lake in Yamanashi prefecture.

    2.  Mt. Kita

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    Height: 3,193m (10,476 ft)
    Prefecture(s): Yamanashi

    Mt. Kita is Japan’s tallest non-volcanic mountain. It is located in Yamanashi’s Minami-Alps city, which can be translated as Southern Alps city.

    3. Mt. Okuhotaka

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    Height: 3,190m (10,470 ft)
    Prefecture(s): Nagano, Gifu

    If its peak had been only 2 average women’s size taller, this would have been Japan’s second highest mountain. Being more rocky than most of Japan’s other mountains, climbing Mt. Okuhotaka is not recommended if you are not an advanced climber.

    4. Mt. Aino

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    Height: 3,189m (10,463.0 ft)
    Prefecture(s): Yamanashi, Shizuoka

    With a mountain peak so wide you can even get lost, Mt. Aino’s peak is also known as the Aino Dome. Climbing Mt. Aino is often done on the way to Mt. Shiomi, a popular mountain to climb in the same region.

    5.  Mt. Yari

     

    m_163605Height: 3,141 m (10,305 ft)
    Prefecture(s): Shizuoka, Nagano

    Towering in the back of this picture like a sharp spear, it is not hard to understand where Mt. Yari got is name from, yari being Japanese for spear.

    The Takaoka Doraemon Tour

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    For fans of Doraemon, a pilgrimage to Takaoka, where Fujiko F. Fujio created the futuristic blue robot cat, is a must. And though you may not have a Dokodemo door—one of Doraemon’s handy gadgets—to instantly transport you here to Takaoka City, we’ve provided the next best thing with this photo tour, starting right at JR Takaoka Station.

    Send a postcard from the Doraemon Postbox

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    It may not be as big as the city’s Great Buddha statue, but this giant bronze postbox on the station’s ground level is the largest Doraemon you’ll find in the city. Best of all, letters and postcards sent from here will be postmarked with a Doraemon stamp, a great souvenir from your trip!

    Shoot some selfies at the Doraemon Promenade 

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    Step outside the station and walk towards the Takaoka Manten Hotel, and you’ll find the whole cast awaiting you. Dedicated by Fujiko himself, these statues were established to continue to inspire creativity amongst the city’s children (or adults like us).

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    Ride the Doraemon Tram

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    Dedicated in 2012 to commemorate 100 years until the birth of Doraemon in 2112 (according to the manga, as this cat hails from the future), this tram along the Manyosen Line is a Doraemon dream ride, decorated with everything from little dorayaki painted on the interior, to its cute tram logo on the front.

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    Dorayaki, Doraemon’s favorite red bean-filled pancake treat.

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    Just be sure to look up the tram’s schedule in advance, as there’s only one tram that travels between Takaoka Station and Koshinokata Station (Imizu City).

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    Go to where it all began

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    Though you won’t find any Doraemon statues to mark the spot, head to the Takaoka Park Sumo Field within Takaoka Kojo Park to see where it all began. Here, on the hill just behind this field, it is said that Fujiko would come regularly for inspiration for his artistic creations.

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    Just look for this rock, a short walk from the main entrance to Imizu Jinja Shrine.

    See the newest landmark

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    Opening in just over a month on Dec. 1, get a rare glimpse into Fujiko’s imaginative world, through many of his original drawings and artworks gathered at the Fujiko F Fujio Hometown Art Gallery. Just a 10-min. walk from the Ritsushikino Chugakkoekimae Station via the Doraemon Tram!

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    And to finish, why not try a Toyama Black Dorayaki? A sweet ending to top off your tour.

    All Doraemon Photos ©Fujiko-Pro

    The Takaoka Top Sites Tour

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    Not all cities can boast of National Treasures, vast nature, and one of Japan’s Three Great Buddhas, all within walking distance of the main station. So for some quiet meditation or some dazzling festival floats, be sure to stop at these spots.

    Takaoka Daibutsu (Great Buddha)

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    Watching over the city at 15m tall and said to be the most handsome of the Three Great Buddhas according to poet Akiko Yosano, Takaoka’s Daibutsu stands—or sits, rather—as the only one of the three completely funded and crafted by its local citizens.

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    Erected in 1933, three decades of coppersmith construction went into creating this 65 ton landmark, which contains a collection of art and craftwork beneath the statue, also well worth seeing.

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    Zuiryuji Temple

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    The most prized relic of the prefecture, Zuiryuji’s Central Buddha Hall, Lecture Hall and Main Gate are the only buildings in Toyama registered as National Treasures. Dedicated to Takaoka’s founder, Lord Maeda Toshinaga in 1663, this Zen temple is representative of early-Edo architecture.

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    Central Buddha Hall

    When gazing at the Central Buddha Hall, be sure to look up, as this work of architectural genius supports 47 tons of lead tiles without employing a single nail!

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    Mikurumaya Kaikan

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    Though the Mikurumayama Festival, which dates back to 1611, can only be caught on May 1 along Takaoka’s city streets, you can view examples of its beautiful floats here at this museum all year round.

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    Known for their tall wooden hoko poles and elaborate lacquerware and metalwork ornamentation, these carriages are said to be based on an elegant one once used by the great Daimyo Toyotomi Hideyoshi, which was later donated to Takaoka’s Maeda clan.

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    Takaoka Kojo Park 

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    Within just a 10-min walk from the station, here you can enjoy 22 hectares (54 acres) of lush greenery at this park, particularly beautiful during the cherry blossom and fall foliage seasons.

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    While nothing remains of the original Takaoka Castle that once stood here except for the expansive moat, a free zoo, and the Manyou Shu Festival in early October, as well as a recent statue of Lord Toshinaga Maeda.

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    The stage for the three-night poetry reading festival, Manyou Shu.

    Nagoya Tastes: Miso and More

     

     

    Nagoya is a treasure chest of street food and has a unique food culture from that of Tokyo and Osaka, the other two major cities it is sandwiched between and often bypassed for. Just coming here for a gastronomic adventure is worth the trip itself!

    MISO CUTLETS

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    Nagoya is famous for its miso food culture. The dominant type of miso used is 八丁味噌, or hachomiso, which is a miso with a sweet and nutty taste. This is used as a seasoning for all sorts of food, such as oden, and most famously on its pork cutlets as miso cutlets.

    SEKAI NO YAMACHAN

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    Sekai No Yamachan, or literally, Yamachan of the World, is a popular restaurant chain specializing in Nagoya dishes, and famous for its spicy and crispy chicken wings. There are 75 branches within Japan, with 37 in Aichi prefecture and 17 in Tokyo. You can also eat other Nagoya specialties here such as kishimen.

    KISHIMEN

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    This is a broad and flat noodle with a broth that is not as soy sauce heavy as the Kanto style and not as light as the Kansai style. Its smooth and chewy texture makes it a tactile treat.

    MORNING 

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    “Morning” in Japan refers to breakfast, and the most famous component of breakfast in Nagoya is the red bean paste toast served with a dollop of butter. Try this melting blend of east meeting west here!

     

     

     

    The Takaoka Traditional Crafts Tour

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    More than anything—yes, even Doraemon—Takaoka is a city of craftsmanship.

    In particular, metalworking here dates back to the Edo era, when it was designated as an industrial zone under the ruling Maeda lords. Over 400 years later, the city is still the nation’s leading copperware producer, and its skillful techniques and traditions are revealed in every statue that lines its streets, as well as its modern lineup of accessories and decorations. Below are three names any craft fan or omiyage hunter will surely want to be familiar with.

    Kanaya-machi 

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    Behold the birthplace of Takaoka’s metal-casting industry. Lord Toshinaga Maeda established this district in 1611 by commissioning seven metal workers, and one walk down its stone-paved streets—which also includes scraps of copper—will give you a nostalgic sense of the city’s origins.

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    Enter into one of its many latticework-decorated machiya townhouse shops, and you’ll find boutique displays with one-of-a-kind products, handcrafted by third and fourth generation artisans laboring in the dark factory warehouses hidden just behind the storefront.

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    From copper to tin, ceramic to lacquerware, a wide array of decorative items can not only be purchased here, but even handcrafted by participating in a workshop, such as the one offered at Sabo Gallery Otera—a great way to experience Takaoka’s tradition for yourself.

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    Nousaku

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    What began a hundred years ago as a manufacturing company of brass and bronze butsudan Buddhist altar fittings, tea sets, and flower vases, has expanded to one of Takaoka’s most innovative creators of tableware and home accessories.

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    In fact, a meal at any nice dining establishment within the city is likely to be served on one of Nousaku’s malleable tin plates.

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    Its KAGO basket line is perhaps its most popular, using 100% tin, making them bendable by hand into a number of shapes to suit any occasion.

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    By visiting its factory, you can get a first-hand tour of the creation process, from the initial pouring of molten aluminum, bronze, copper, and tin into the mold, down to the detailing and polishing—a metal-lover’s must see.

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    Raden

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    Said to have originated in Nara in the 7th century, raden is the decorative craft created by setting lustrous abalone shell into lacquerware, glass, stone or metal. And at Musashigawa Koubo, a team of just five craftsmen design each of these masterpieces in their small workshop, carrying on four generations of the trade in Takaoka.

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    Once the abalone shell—a wide variety of which are employed—is polished down to as thin as 0.1mm, it is carefully cut and shaped before inlaid and polished again.

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    While originally designed for Buddhist altars, tableware, and traditional Japanese ornaments, Musashigawa Koubo keeps up with the times, handcrafting everything from business card holders to smartphone cases and desk accessories. Though a bit more pricey than your typical omiyage, these gifts are sure to be as treasured in the future as they have in the past.

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    The Takaoka Street Treats Tour

    Situated between the two capital cities of Toyama and Kanazawa, Takaoka is often bypassed by tourists. But with lots to offer in terms of culture, crafts, gourmet, historical streets and a Doraemon street, Toyama’s second largest city is one you don’t want to miss. Find out more about the hidden charm of Takaoka in this 5-part series.

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    Sightseeing and snacking go hand-in-hand, and with nearly all the major tourist attractions in Takaoka City within walking distance, these street treats make the perfect pairing for your exploring.

    Anything and Everything Konbu

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    Though green konbu kelp isn’t cultivated locally, the Kitamaebune ship trade routes from Hokkaido to Toyama Bay made this seaweed a staple here for over 300 years. Sure, its furry texture may not be what you’d expect on your onigiri riceball or atop your oden, but it makes for a savory and healthy addition to almost any dish!

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    Takaoka Croquette

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    Croquette is a favorite across Japan, but perhaps no other city treasures this crispy potato-filled treat more than Takoaka, where sales are said to be highest in the nation. From local Hida beef-filled versions, to the oversized Daibutsu (Giant Buddha) version, over 40 stores are ready to dish out this deep-fried soul food.

    Black Dorayaki

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    Combining the rich black soy sauce flavor of Toyama’s famed Black Ramen with animated hometown hero Doraemon’s favorite food, this red bean paste and butter-filled pancake is the perfect way to commemorate the city’s beloved blue cat.

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    Melon Bun

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    Though not native to Takaoka City, this melon bun chain store from next door Kanazawa City in Ishikawa Prefecture (whose name humorously reads “The World’s Second Best Freshly Baked Melon Bread Ice Cream”) has been featured on TV numerous times since opening. Straight out of the oven, its slightly crispy texture and sweet taste is delicious by itself or with a scoop of ice cream inside. Apparently the world’s best fresh baked melon bun refers to the first person to have created it…

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    Black Kaki no Tane

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    Only available in the Hokuriku region, try the black version of this traditional kaki-pi (crescent-shaped rice cracker kaki no tane and peanuts) snack. Just don’t be confused, as unlike all the other black dishes in Toyama, this one gets its color and flavor from black squid ink, not soy sauce.

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    Nagoya Sights (1): Castles and Ferris Wheels

     

     

    Situated between the popular tourist cities of Tokyo and Osaka, Nagoya is often left out of the “Golden Route” from Tokyo heading to Kansai. However, this third largest city in Japan has lots to offer from history to food and sights.

    For a start, it boasts famous castles and Ferris Wheels, and we’re not talking about a theme park!

    NAGOYA CASTLE

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    Famous for its kinshachi, or golden dolphins which are recognized as a lucky charm, the Nagoya castle was built by the first shogun Ieyasu Tokugawa. Along with Kumamoto Castle and Osaka Castle, this is one of Japan’s most famous castles. The kinshachi is typical of the spirit of Nagoya, which places emphasis on lavish appearances.

    INUYAMA CASTLE

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    This unassuming little castle on a hill, more specifically, Inuyama, is recognized as a national treasure for its historical value. First built in 1440, it is the oldest wooden castle tower in Japan and one of only twelve original castles remaining from the feudal age, having withstood many wars and natural disasters. Inuyama is around 30 minutes from Nagoya city by express train.

    SKY [email protected] SAKAE 

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    Not many places can you find a 42m diameter Ferris Wheel attached to a shopping mall. Hop onto one of the capsules for a 15m ride that will give you great views of the grid streets of Nagoya.

     

     

    The Takaoka Taste Tour

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    From historic copperware craftwork to the futuristic cartoon cat Doraemon, Takaoka City is the home of traditional and modern culture for all ages. And thanks to the recently completed Hokuriku Shinkansen, visiting this picturesque town located along Toyama Bay, facing the Sea of Japan, has never been more convenient. Travel with WAttention as we bring you Takaoka’s top eats, spots, and traditions in this five-part series.   

    The Takaoka Taste Tour

    Toyama Bay is indeed gorgeous, named as one of the Most Beautiful Bays In The World by UNESCO last year. But it is also a breeding ground for Japan’s tastiest seafood, some of which can only be found here. Whether raw, fried, or in your ekiben (“train bento”), bite into the bay’s best eats while they’re at their freshest in neighboring Takaoka—and don’t forget about it’s iconic ramen either.

    Shiroebi (White Shrimp)

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    Referred to as the “jewels of Toyama Bay”, full-scale fishing for these little whitish-pink creatures takes place only here, between April and November. Savor its sweet melt-in-your-mouth creaminess by trying it raw, or eat it whole as a crunchy fried snack.

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    Hotaruika (Firefly Squid)

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    These, one of the smallest species of squid, are as delicious to eat as they are fascinating to watch, as they light up Toyama Bay with their glow in early spring. Often boiled and served in a sumiso (vinegar and miso) sauce, this delicacy can also be enjoyed as tempura, or of course, raw.

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    Toyama-wan Zushi (Toyama Bay Sushi)

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    With over 500 species of fish swimming throughout the waters here, there’s no shortage of toppings for fresh sushi. Typically served as a set of 10 atop Toyama-grown rice, Toyama-wan Zushi offers a sampling of all the local favorites, including yellowtail buri and honmaguro tuna.

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    A Toyama-wan Zushi display inside Shin-Takaoka Station

    Masu no Sushi

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    300 years ago, a samurai dedicated this dish of pressed pink trout sushi wrapped in bamboo leaves to the daimyo lord Toshiaki Maeda, and ever since, it has been considered a classic. Be sure to grab one of the ekibens for your train ride back, as these have won numerous national awards for best boxed lunch!

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    Toyama Black Ramen

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    Dark soy sauce is the secret ingredient to this, the flagship noodle dish in Toyama Prefecture. But don’t let the color scare you, as this ramen took first place three consecutive years at the Tokyo Ramen Show. And unlike the other dishes above, it can even make a great omiyage if you buy the instant version at any convenience store in the area.

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    World Heritage (5): Shirakawa-go & Gokayama

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    Shirakawa-go & Gokayama: Fairy tale-like farmhouse villages 

    Like a scene straight out of a fairy tale, the twinkling towns of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama possess a magical beauty that moves with the seasons.

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    Ogimachi village, the largest village in Shirakawago

    Surrounded by steep rugged mountains and isolated along the Shogawa River, the quaint village communities of Ogimachi in Shirakawa-go (Gifu Prefecture), and Ainokura and Suganuma in Gokayama (Toyama Prefecture) were registered as cultural world heritage sites in 1995. Known particularly for their steep-roofed gassho-style houses which design reduces snow buildup, 88 of these farmhouses within the three villages are listed as World Heritage sites.

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    Gassho literally means “praying hands”, as the slanted roofs so resemble. And like an answered prayer, this creative architecture helped these villages dating back to the 11th century to survive the unique environmental challenges through the present. As only .04% of the land in this area is cultivatable, residents relied on mulberry trees, silkworms, and gunpowder manufacturing for their livelihood.

    白川郷にある合掌造りの民家の屋根裏です

    These four-story buildings not only allowed for warm storage of silkworm beds and mulberry leaves on the upper floors, but could sustain massive snowfall with its sharp-angled roofing. As a result, you won’t find this picturesque townscape anywhere else in Japan. Such resourcefulness is what earned it its UNESCO registration, even though the oldest original house is but a few hundred years old.

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    While an open-air museum and several of these houses are available for touring, the panoramic views from the Ogimachi Castle platform or Tenshukaku platform in Ogimachi village offer the most breathtaking scenery. With re-thatching of the roofs in the spring, vast green forestry in the summer, and a water-spraying exercise in the fall, this area’s seasonal events extend far beyond its iconic winter illumination.

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    The water-spraying exercise held on the last Sunday in Oct. for these highly flammable gassho-style houses.

    So for a setting that mixes fantasy world with folk town, you couldn’t pray for a better site to visit than here.

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    Access:
    Shirakawa-go: A 50-min express bus ride (Nohi Bus) from JR Takayama Station.
    Gokayama: A  40 min bus ride (Kaetsunou Bus) from JR Johana Station.

    Owara Kaze no Bon Festival

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    Owara Kaze no Bon: Enchanting evening wind festival

    For a dreamlike festival under the darkness of night, the Owara Kaze no Bon will take you on a time slip to Toyama’s traditional past.

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    Unlike many upbeat and celebratory festival dances, this one is much more solemn. Don’t expect any shouting or cheering here, in fact, the streets are silent except for the shutter of cameras as the dancers move gracefully to the melancholic tunes of the kokyu – a Chinese violin rarely used in Japanese folk music – as well as the shamisen and slow rhythmic beat of small taiko drums.

    This mesmerizing performance takes place from Sept. 1-3 at the sleepy hillside village of Owara in southwestern Toyama. Both a bon festival welcoming ancestral spirits in the summer, and a ceremony to protect against strong winds (kaze) that damage crops, this celebration has been passed on for 300 years.

    However, the festival never fails to bring about a typhoon of tourists, as nearly 300,000 come here to watch 11 local dance units perform on stages, and throughout a 3 km street course over three nights.

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    The festival starts from around 3pm (except the third night), and carries on until 11pm. As the sun sets, thousands of crafted paper lanterns pave the path for the performers, dimly lighting the rustic townscape with its peach and golden hues.

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    With faces veiled by braided straw hats, the participants move to one of three dances: the older Honen odori dance, or the newer men’s and women’s dance.

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    Women dressed in colorful yukata (summer kimono) with traditional black sashes portray the four seasons through their graceful strokes and strides.

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    Men on the other hand, mimic farming movements in their “scarecrow dance”, boldly stepping and swaying in their happi coats.

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    With the backdrop of latticed-door houses and ancient temples, smaller units simultaneously perform throughout the town. The sight will surely make you feel as though you’ve been transported to another world. So as the summer comes to a close, why not breeze on by for a few nights of otherworldly entertainment?

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    Access: A 40-min walk from Etchuyatsuo Station (JR Takayama Line)

    Fun Around Mt. Fuji (5): A Final View of Mt. Fuji

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    For one final panoramic view of Mt. Fuji from another angle, we saved our highest ascent for last. And thankfully, hiking isn’t the only way to get 1,075 meters above Lake Kawaguchiko.

    By hopping on the newly renovated Kachikachi-Yama Ropeway, we scaled to the top of Mt. Tenjo in just 3 minutes! This mountain is the setting for the famous Japanese folk tale “Kachi Kachi-Yama”, and its cute rabbit and raccoon characters awaited us at the summit.

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    And just because we didn’t huff and puff our way up the mountain didn’t mean we weren’t entitled to eat the tanuki (“raccoon”) mochi while marveling at the scenery.

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    From the observation platform, we indeed had a spectacular view overlooking both Lake Kawaguchiko to the east, and Mt. Fuji to the south. With mochi in one hand, and camera in the other, we snapped our final goodbye shots of our favorite mountain.

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    Off to omiyage shopping!

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    Of course, we couldn’t leave without finishing our trip in true Japanese fashion and picking up some omiyage. Fortunately for us, Mt. Fuji’s newly famed Fujiyama Cookie shop is located just next to the base of the Kachikachi-yama Ropeway. Shaped after the iconic mountain itself, and made with natural ingredients found in the Fuji Five Lakes area, only here can you find these cookies available for individual retail, including our favorite, the matcha green tea flavor.

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    Azuki topping or white chocolate covered: 130 yen; Plain: 120 yen

    And with Fuji-shaped cookies in our bags, and Fuji’s views in our heart, we bid farewell to the Fuji Five Lakes!

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    Tip: For all your other omiyage shopping needs before leaving the Fuji Five Lakes Area, go to Gateway Fujiyama at Kawaguchiko Station. Here, you can also get assistance about transportation and attractions in English at the concierge desk.

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    Attraction Info:
    Kachikachi-yama Ropeway
    URL: http://www.fujikyu.co.jp/en/leisure/

    Fujiyama Cookie
    URL: http://www.fujiyamacookie.jp (Japanese)

    Fun Around Mt. Fuji (3): Mt. Fuji By Sky!

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    Mt. Fuji by sky: Soaring at Fuji-Q Highland

    Looking to enjoy Mt. Fuji from another angle? How about while speeding down the Takabisha ride above, with its world-record holding 121-degree drop, or while spinning upside down on one of its 7 inversions?

    From sea to sky, let’s get high at Fuji-Q Highland! With some of the world’s tallest, fastest and steepest rollercoaster rides, just looking at some of these is enough to make one queasy.

     

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    Fujiyama, the park’s centerpiece attraction, was the world’s tallest and fastest roller coaster when it opened in 1996, and it continues to rank among the best coasters in the world. When climbing slowly up to the peak of 79 meters high, we couldn’t keep our eyes off Mt. Fuji, which seemed even closer from such heights…that is until we started dropping at 130 km per hour!

    Soaring of a different sort

    But fortunately for the faint of heart, there’s more than one way to soar here at this scenic theme park. We boarded a flight on the new Fuji Airways (Hikousha) ride – a “next generation movie theatre” – that gave us stunning aerial views of Mt. Fuji from the comfort of our carriage seats. Complete with forest scents and splashes from the lakes, this flyby around Mt. Fuji made for a full sensory experience.

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    A taste of France by Mt. Fuji

    Once our stomachs had settled from free-falling and flying, we couldn’t resist the smell of fresh baked pastries at the Café Brioche, where we had tea and croissants with our new favorite French picture book duo, Lisa & Gaspard. With the sound of accordions playing as we walked along this character-themed town, we felt as though we’d been transported to Paris itself!

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    Having gotten our fill of panoramic views and pastries in the Highlands, join us as we go low next time, even underground, as we explore some natural beauty by the Lake Saiko Area.

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    Hotel Tip: The Highland Resort Hotel & Spa next door is certainly the most convenient place to stay when visiting Fuji-Q Highland, with re-entry in and out of the hotel allowed. Also, the Fujiyama Terrace on the 4th floor had the most dynamic view of Mt. Fuji from any dining facility we’d eaten at. A trip here for breakfast or lunch is a banquet for the eyes and stomach.

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    Attraction & Hotel Info:

    Highland Resort Hotel & Spa
    Address: 5-6-1 Shin-nishihara, Fujiyoshida-shi, Yamanashi
    Access: A free shuttle bus is available from Fujisan Station.
    Tel: 0555-22-1000
    URL: http://www.highlandresort.co.jp/english/

    Fuji-Q Highland
    Hours: 9:00am-5:00pm (varies based on season)
    Address: 5-6-1 Shin-nishihara, Fujiyoshida-shi, Yamanashi
    Access: A 1-min walk from Fuji-Q Highland Station (Fujikyu Railway Line)
    URL: https://www.fujiq.jp/en/

    Fun Around Mt. Fuji (2): Mt. Fuji By Sea!

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    What could be more beautiful than a clear sight of Japan’s most famous mountain? How about seeing its perfect symmetry reflected upon the waters of nearby Lake Yamanakako – the largest of the Fuji Five Lakes. We set out for the perfect view aboard two cruisers that are quite peculiar sights on their own: the Yamanakako no KABA, and the Excursion Ship [Swan Lake].

    A bus…that swims?

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    If you’ve never been on a bus that drove straight into a body of water…and survived, now’s your chance! Fear not, the Yamanakako no KABA, an amphibious kaba (“hippo”) bus runs both on land and lake. Led by our scout uniform-clad tour guide, who provided lively explanations throughout the ride, this hippo took us on a 10-min. expedition through the lake’s surrounding forestry, before splashing straight into the lake itself. If you don’t mind a little spray of water on your face, this 30-min. adventure makes for a great first encounter with Lake Yamanakako.

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    Then, sail like a swan

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    From one animal-themed cruiser to another, we hopped off the hippo and headed next to the far smoother and less wild Excursion Ship [Swan Lake]. While no real hippos live around this lake, there are quite a few gracefully gliding swans – the inspiration for this ride. You can even greet them up close before hopping on board, by picking up some feeding bait for 100 yen!

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    While the double-deck interior cabin with its sleek wooden design and window-side seating make for a comfortable viewing spot, be sure to head to the balcony to take in the lake’s natural scents and sounds. Sailing along the serene lake, with the cool sea breeze in our face and the glittering sunlight reflecting off the lake’s waters, made for the perfect setting to gaze upon Mt. Fuji in all its majesty.

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    So now that we’ve sailed, you ready to soar? Come back next time as we go airborne above Fuji-Q Highland, and see Mt. Fuji from a different angle, even while upside down!

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    Tip: For luxury lodging just above the banks of Lake Yamanakako, stay at Hotel Mount Fuji, just like we did. With views of Mt. Fuji from our room, the courtyard, and even the outdoor onsen, it was like a buffet of Mt. Fuji photo spots! Speaking of which, we enjoyed the hotel’s buffet breakfast and its signature fluffy omelets – seasoned with a view of Mt. Fuji.

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    Attraction & Hotel Information:
    Yamanakako no KABA
    URL: http://mtfuji-jp.com/lake-yamanaka/

    Excursion Ship [Swan Lake]
    URL: http://www.fujikyu.co.jp/en/leisure/leisure16.html

    Hotel Mt. Fuji
    Address: 1360-83 Yamanaka, Yamanakako-mura, Minamitsuru-gun, Yamanashi
    Access: A free shuttle bus is available from the Fujisan-Yamanakako bus stop, reservations required.
    Tel: 0555-62-2111
    URL: http://www.mtfuji-hotel.com/english

    Fun Around Mt. Fuji (1): A Short Trip To The Fuji Five Lakes Area

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    Part 1: Let the fun begin!

    Thousands of tourists travel to Mt. Fuji each summer to make the strenuous ascent to its peak.

    Others of us just want to have a little fun.

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    Which is why I’m hanging in a hammock, rather than strapping on my climbing gear.

    Ready to have some fun in the Fuji Five Lakes Area? Follow us in this 5-part series as we bring you onsens, high-flying rollercoasters, panoramic views, and yes, even a Hammock Café, where I’m hanging now. Everything is five times the fun with the majestic view of Mt. Fuji in the background, so let’s get started!

    Train otaku, all aboard!ふじっこ号

    First things first, you’re going to need to get around the Fuji Five Lakes Area, which is no problem with Fujikyu Railways. And if you’re a train otaku and vintage vehicles get your engines moving, these retro buses and old-fashioned trains will take you for a trip back in time.

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    The Fujikyu Limited Express, featuring 58 cartoon characters of Mt. Fuji on its exterior.

    Even if you’re like me, simply just wanting to get from point A to B, some of these rides will still stop you in your tracks…like the Fujikyu Limited Express, with 58 cartoon characters of Mt Fuji on its exterior.

    Tip: Pick up your “Mt. Fuji and The Fuji Five Lakes Passport [Fujikyu Train Set]” at Otsuki Station to ride unlimited on Fujikyu Railways’ buses and trains for two consecutive days.

    And while you’re at the station…

    Station-side snacks

    Since food is half the fun when traveling, try these two treats, conveniently available upon arrival at Fujisan Station.

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    The Fujiyama Taiyaki combines the traditional taiyaki fish shape with Mt. Fuji, and is ready to erupt with steaming hot sweet bean filling! (160 yen)

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    With vanilla “snow” on top, and native aobara (“blue rose”) as the mountain base, this soft serve embodies the shape and local flavor of Mt. Fuji. (350 yen)

    Now that we’ve got some sugar in our system, where should we explore first?

    A sacred starting point

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    Even for non-climbers, you won’t want to miss the historical starting point of the Mt. Fuji climb, at the Kitaguchi Hongu Fuji Sengen Shrine. This shrine, dedicated to restrain the erupting of Mt. Fuji, is preserved as one of Japan’s largest forest shrines with sacred trees dating back over 1,000 years. For a taste of Mt. Fuji’s ancient heritage and abundant nature, starting here will get your trip off on the right foot.

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    Now, off to see Mt. Fuji! Come back for Part 2, and follow us as we catch some spectacular views from sea at Lake Yamanakako.

    Tip: If looking for an affordable stay close to Fujisan Station, try the Fujisan Station Hotel, just a 2-min walk away. With rooms starting at 7,000 yen, including breakfast, this newly renovated hotel is equipped with free wifi in every room, and would certainly be my pick if traveling by myself to the Mt. Fuji area.

    [Attraction & Hotel Information]

    PICA Yamanakako Village (Hammock Café)
    Access: There are several bus services per hour from Shinjuku Station (Fujikyu and Keio). Shuttle services are available for those staying at PICA Yamanakako Village (reservation required)
    URL: http://yamanakako.pica-village.jp/en/

    Kitaguchi Hongu Fuji Sengen Shrine
    Access: Take Fujikyu Railway from Otsuki Station to Fujisan Station. A 20-min. walk from Otsuki Station
    URL: http://sengenjinja.jp/english/

    Fujisan Station Hotel
    Address: 2-7-12 Matsuyama, Fujiyoshida-shi, Yamanashi
    Access: A 2-min. walk from Fujisan Station
    Tel: 0555-24-3300
    URL: http://www.fujisanstation-hotel.com/ (Japanese)

    Toba: A Small Fisherwoman’s Village

    The home of pearls and Ama-zing female divers

    Most of our readers have probably never heard of Toba, a small fishing village in Mie Prefecture, not too far from Ise Town.

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    The name Mikimoto however, might very well ring a bell.
    As the first to ever produce cultivated pearls, Mikimoto is one of the world’s leading pearl manufacturers to this day. Although the company might be based in Ginza, founder Kokichi Mikimoto was born in Toba, and it is here where he succeeded in cultivating pearls back in 1893. To this day, Toba is known as the town of Mikimoto, the town of Japanese pearls.

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    The planting and harvesting of these pearls was originally done by Ama, or female divers in white diving suits with a wooden barrel, who plunge into the sea and harvest the ocean’s treasures without any underwater breathing apparatus. Although modern cultivation technology has taken over today, Ama can still be seen at hourly performances at the Mikimoto Pear Island, a museum where you can learn about the history of Mikimoto and pearl cultivation in general.

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    In case pearls are beyond your budget, there is another way to enjoy Toba’s shellfish; eating them!

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    Toba’s bay is filled with splendid fruits of the sea, ranging from shellfish as oysters and clams to Ise Ebi, or Japanese Spiny Lobster.
    While Ama are no longer involved in the cultivation of pearls, they are still active as fishers to this day. As the only country with active skin-diving fishers along with Korea (which has a similar tradition), the Ama deserve to be treated as a unique culture, so let’s hope that there are many new generations of Ama to come.

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    At the restaurant street in front of Toba station, there are several casual restaurants where you can try out amazing seafood freshly caught by Ama (or just regular fishermen) for a reasonable price.

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    Enjoy the local atmosphere while savoring the freshest clams that take you on a journey to the bottom of Toba’s sea.

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    Upper left: Large clams Upper right: Oyster

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    Location: Toba, Mie Prefecture

    Access from Ise: From Iseshi Station, take the Yamada Line and transfer to the Toba Line at Ujiyamada Station (A 16-min trip).

     

    Ukai: A 3-in-1 Truly “U”-nique Experience

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    To enjoy Japan’s culture, cuisine and scenery, try a Ukai river cruise.

    “Ukai” literally means the rearing of cormorants and refers to a traditional fishing method deploying these long-necked aquatic birds to hunt for river fish.

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    While fishing might sound like a boring activity at first, this is anything but that. In fact, it is said that Charlie Chaplin, who visited Nagaragawa River in Gifu prefecture on two occasions to see cormorant fishing, kept on exclaiming “Wonderful!” throughout the spectacle.

    The 3-in-1 enjoyment of Ukai

    “U” get Cuisine

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    Ayu hungry yet?: A full course of sweetfish – salt-baked, sweetly-simmered and fried.

    The trip starts with a delicious bento lunch – all featuring salt-roasted ayu (sweetfish), which is the fish that cormorants dive, swallow and spit out (but try not to think about that) – aboard a yakatabune, or a barge-style boat.

    “U” get Scenery

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    While one can take a yakatabune ride along the Sumidagawa in Tokyo and enjoy the city skyline, these manually-steered barges really belong to a river surrounded by verdant valleys, with the natural background music of river birds singing.

    “U” get Culture

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    Harking back 1,300 years, Ukai was a fishing technique used in China and Japan.

    While once a booming industry, it can only be witnessed in 12 locations in Japan today, from around early summer (June) to late autumn (October).

    Up to ten cormorants are strung up and skillfully steered by the cormorant master, and when the hunt begins, he wields a burning metal frame in front of the boat. This is used to scare the river fishes to the surface for the cormorants.

    At the clack of wooden blocks, the cormorants dive in unison to swallow as many river fish as they can. The string around the birds’ necks prevents them from swallowing fish like ayu or even the occasional unagi, but they get to keep the smaller fishes.

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    Master trainers of cormorants belong to a national agency (the Imperial Household Agency), and an important duty of theirs is to make offerings of small trout to the Emperor.

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    With prices ranging from around 2,500 yen to 4,500 yen for this 2-1/2 hour trip, it’s definitely worth making a day trip from the city for.

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    Here are the venues where cormorant fishing can be viewed today:

    -Nagaragawa, Gifu
    -Hijigawa, Aichi
    -Mikumagawa, Oita
    -Fuefukigawa, Yamanashi
    -Kisogawa, Aichi
    -Ujigawa, Kyoto
    -Yodogawa, Kyoto
    -Basengawa, Kyoto
    -Aritagawa, Wakayama
    -Takatsugawa, Shimane
    -Nishikigawa, Yamaguchi
    -Chikugogawa, Fukuoka

    Hiraizumi: Representing Heaven on Earth

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    Hiraizumi, created as a Buddhist heaven on earth over 1,000 years ago, celebrates its third year as a World Heritage site this June. Its temples, gardens and buildings were recognized as a rare example of a cultural legacy that is deeply permeated with a universal longing for peace – but its roots lie in a land ravaged by war.

    The UNESCO recognition also came at a poignant time for Iwate Prefecture, which was hard hit by the Tohoku earthquake in March 2011, where thousands of lives were lost. This is the first such UNESCO site in the Tohoku area and the 16th in Japan.

    Hiraizumi was founded by the Oshu Fujiwara clan in a bid to fulfill their longing for permanent peace and the achievement of the ideal Buddhist territory.

    The dramatic rise and fall of the city – once said to rival Kyoto – within a 100 years inspired the famous haiku master Matsuo Basho to compose several now classic haikus after he visited the remains of Hiraizumi town.

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    Famous haiku master, Matsuo Basho , on visiting the ruins of Hiraizumi, penned: Ah! Summer grass! All that remains/Of the warriors’ dreams.

    So, just what does this heaven on earth comprise of? It consist of five designated sites, the Konjiki-do (Golden Hall) within Chusonji Temple, Motsuji Temple, the remains of Kanjizaiō-in and Muryoko-in and Mt. Kinkeisan. Here, we will introduce Chusonji and Motsuji, and Mt. Kinkeisan.

    Chusonji Temple

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    This is the cornerstone of the UNESCO designated sites. A climb up the Tsukimi-zaka Slope lined with 300- to 400-year-old cedar trees will bring you to the Konjiki-do (Golden Hall) portion of Chusonji Temple. This is the only temple remaining from the 12th century and was built by the founder of Hiraizumi, Fujiwara no Kiyohira to memorialize all living things that died in Tohoku during the power struggle from which he emerged victorious from.

    The gold-gilded Konjiki-do within the temple was built as a mausoleum and contains the mummies of four generations of the founding Fujiwara clan.

    Motsuji Temple

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    The main attraction here is the picture perfect and expansive Jodo garden which has stood for some 800 years. The Buddhist philosophy of Jodo states that it is “expansive without end and everything there is beautiful”. The garden here was created to depict the scenery described in the sutra using the Heian era garden landscaping technique. The center piece here is the Oizumi ga Ike, a pond measuring 180m in the east-west direction.

    Mt. Kinkeisan

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    This 98.6m high mount located between Chosonji and Motsuji is said to have a golden chicken and rooster, after which it is named, buried at its peak as protectors of the city. When the famous haiku master Matsuo Basho visited Hiraizumi, he sadly remarked that only Mt. Kinkeisan retains its formed after the surrounding temples and buildings were razed to the ground.

    Access: Take JR Tohoku Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Ichinoseki Station (2 hr. 33 min.)

    Cool Summer Treks Around Tokyo (1): Kamikochi in Nagano Prefecture

    With the mercury rising in the concrete jungle of Tokyo, it’s definitely time to drop a few degrees Celsius by taking a hike somewhere in the lush, green hills of Japan.

    And while the average tourist may not think of going beyond Roppongi Hills or Omotesando Hills as ‘cool’ places to hang out, we’re talking about national treasures that have become regular pilgrimage sites for trekking aficionados in the know.

    In this 4-part series, WAttention will walk you through some of the best highland treks just a few hours out of Tokyo for your fill of negative ions and positive sentiments!

    Kamikochi in Nagano Prefecture 

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    Coined the “Japanese Alps” since 1877 when the breathtaking beauty of the snow-capped Nagano mountain range was discovered by early English explorers, a trip to Kamikochi will leave you in awe of the picture perfect setting—and the convenience of omiyage shops, onsens, ice cream and croquette stalls 1,500m above sea level.

    But not to worry, while the shops and facilities are sufficient, the area is not touristy and far from overdeveloped, with just around half a dozen hotels. Private cars are also banned from Kamikochi, in favor of buses or taxis.

    Three hours will be sufficient to cover around half of the mostly flat 15km trekking route at a leisurely pace. Geographically, Kamikochi is basically a long plateau in the Azusa River Valley, surrounded by dramatic mountains starting from 2,455m in height.

    Recommended for beginners is a start from the turquoise Taisho Pond to Kappabashi Bridge, a suspension bridge where you’ll find cafes, restaurants and cafes nearby for a lunch break. Abundent birch trees add to the alpine feel.

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    Kappabashi Bridge, a suspension bridge across the Azusa River, is the main landmark here, and a popular photo spot. In fact, so stunning is the scenery that you’ll find an artist there that has dedicated his life to painting that vista of Kamikochi.

    Another attraction is the Imperial Hotel Kamikochi, of the prestigious Imperial Hotel chain, which was previously owned and partly funded by the imperial family. Designed like an alpine resort, sipping a spot of tea at the hotel café is on the wishlist of many a sophisticated Japanese lady. Which just goes to show how Kamikochi is a hiking trek fit for royalty.

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    Access: From Shinjuku Station take the JR Chuo Honsen Limited Express “Azusa” (2hours 40minutes) to Matsumoto Station, then take the local bus or taxi to Kamikochi

    Next cool trek: Goshikinuma Lake in Fukushima Prefecture