Archive

landscape

The Izu Peninsula came about by the collision of two tectonic plates. It is an area of great beauty with volcanic activity, both old and relatively recent, evident on the coastline. The peninsula is prone to earthquake swarms and tsunami activity, neither of which we wish to experience.

It’s raining today and we’re having a low key afternoon after visiting the Jogasaki coastline. We watched the sea swell from the Kadowaki Suspension Bridge.

This is what last night’s dinner looked like. The luxury hotel we stayed in was booked months ago at a very economical price. The cost for two to dine in their restaurant was more than we paid for the room. The Gyoza Center is well patronised in the area by travellers keen to get some good gyoza from a family-run take-away business. A drop-in to a convenience store on the way home and we were set to smuggle dessert and a bottle of wine to our room.

 

The same went for breakfast this morning. We started the day in the cafe of the Hakone Open Air Museum, thus rendering us fit to walk around the extensive and impressive gardens and halls of this sculpture park.

lrg_dsc05289

lrg_dsc05306

 

The Picasso Pavilion contains some of the artist’s less familiar works. It is the first time I have ever seen any of his gemmail pieces where layers of coloured glass are overlaid with a clear glue to produce a mottled stained glass effect.

lrg_dsc05302.jpg

One of the most impressive works in the Museum is Symphonic Structure. A  staircase allows you to climb up the inside to get a closer view of the sculptured glass work.

 

img_4220There are many notable names represented in the collection, including Alexander Calder and Henry Moore. Here’s a small selection not by Calder or Moore.

 

lrg_dsc05347

A journey down the east coast of the Izu Peninsula afforded big sea views and a change from the winding roads around Mt Hakone. We stopped off in Ito, right near the railway station in search of lunch.

Some of our best meal experiences have been random. If the price is right and the plastic models or menus look promising, we’re in.

In the company of two others seated with us at the counter, we watched while the chef prepared and assembled nine sushi plates from scratch for the customers who had already ordered. His parents were preparing other dishes, serving up miso and waiting on customers.

After our meals arrived, another customer entered and sat beside us. Once her glass was filled with sake, she started to chat, our broken Japanese and English helping to make a connection. The next thing we knew, the man at the counter was offering us one of his raw fish dishes to eat. It felt like a Netflix episode of Midnight Diner (Tokyo stories) except for the fact it was lunch time.

By the time we left, it was bows and handshakes all around. The elderly woman escorted us out of her very small restaurant and called out as we stepped up the road. “Nice day have!” We did have, and she helped to make it so.

img_4307

We are in Izukogen for the next two nights overlooking the ocean and pulling back a tad on the pace of travel. On Thursday, it’s back to Tokyo until we leave for the Mongolia leg of this amazing trip.

The Fuji Shibazakura (moss phlox) Festival runs for around six weeks each year and has about a week to run. Perhaps that’s why we had free entry to the site as many of the plantings had died off or were beyond their best.

img_4154

Still, the views up to Fuji were enhanced by the pink carpets still blooming and there were beds of Japanese primrose, tulips and dahlias still in flower.

The road to Hakone skirted around the mountain with new aspects around each bend.

We took the Ropeway up to Owakudani, where active sulphur vents release steam and that oh so familiar smell, and the best-selling product is black eggs, hard boiled in the hot springs. We passed on the eggs, but did enjoy a sample taste of peanut snacks coated in bamboo charcoal.

An afternoon wander around Moto-Hakone around Lake Ashino resulted in the inevitable cafe drop in to take in the views.

lrg_dsc05278

Today, we drove from Matsumoto in the top left corner of this map to a place called Kawaguchiko which is a little north of that mountain in the centre bottom of this map. Yes, that mountain.

 

This place is stunningly beautiful. We are staying beside one of the Fuji Five Lakes and my travel agent (also known as Himself) has exceeded all expectations in finding this place, across from which Mount Fuji soars. EVERY room has a view of the mountain.

We were extremely fortunate to arrive on an afternoon of full sun and a clear sky. There is a walkway around the lake where you can take in Fuji San, watch boaters and recreational fishers and birds looking for a feed.

I will let the landscape tell its own story via these photographs. Meanwhile, we are here for dinner and breakfast, and settling in for the night.

img_4045

 

We left Nagano early this morning to drive to Ogizawa, the starting point of the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route.

lrg_dsc04901

By various means, we went through, across, up and over to Murodo, the highest point on the route. The weather was variable to say the least, from sporadic sunshine with great views to minimal visibility from the Daikanbo observation point.

img_3906

lrg_dsc04961

After lunch we drove on to Matsumoto and its castle, bathed in sunshine late in the afternoon.

lrg_dsc04972lrg_dsc04975

img_3564

 

Our little blue car was released from the car elevator this morning for the ride to Nagano via the coast road.

Kanazawa’s morning was wet and windy. By the time we pulled into a roadside lunch spot, the rain had stopped and there were signs of sun. Buying ramen by ticket can tend to be a guessing game, but you can’t go too wrong.

We stopped at a lookout to see the cliffs of Oyashirazu where story boards related the tales of this most dangerous part of the old Hokuriku (aka Koshiji) Road. The name Oyashirazu means “parents don’t know”. Travellers had to navigate their way through the waves to continue on the road.

A 12th century clan leader was defeated in battle and escaped. His wife followed him and penned this poem after their child was lost in the crossing.

The parents not knowing

on the waves of this shore, a child

vanishes in the foam along the Koshiji Road.

lrg_dsc04650

The clouds were low today and the rice fields were a mirror for the sky.

lrg_dsc04661

We arrived in Nagano and high-tailed it up to Zenkoji before it closed. The structure of the Hondo or Main Hall dates from 1707. Our ticket entry included going through a pitch black tunnel underneath the sanctuary with only our right hand to guide us along the tunnel wall until we reached the Key to the Pure Land, emerging to see ourselves reborn in a mirror. One touch of the key ensures eternal salvation, so we’re good to go.

lrg_dsc04682

We’ll head out to dinner soon in this Winter Olympics City (1998). Tomorrow will include a trip to see the Snow Monkeys.

Armed with a 500 yen day bus pass, we started off in Kenroku-en Garden, one of the most famous gardens in Japan.

Kenrokuen means “Garden of the Six Sublimities”, a term taken from ancient Chinese literature to describe the six essential features of a perfect garden. To create a sublime garden, the gardener must incorporate spaciousness and seclusion; artifice and antiquity; and waterways and broad views.

Some of the features include:

Gangkou bashi, The Flying Geese Bridge. 

The word gangkou means “flying in the formation of geese”. Eleven Tomuro stones (local red andesite) are placed across the water just so, as stepping stones.

lrg_dsc04489

 

The care of trees

There is evidence everywhere of the care that Japanese arborist take to protect the longevity of trees.

 

In winter, the technique called Yuki Tsurugi uses bamboo poles and ropes to protect trees and shrubs from heavy snowfalls.

The Kotojitoro Lantern

lrg_dsc04485

Midoritaki Waterfall

lrg_dsc04524

We participated in a communal tea ceremony at Shiguretei Tea House inside a tatami alcove before a last view of the irises and Kasumigaike Pond.

 

 

lrg_dsc04537

Kawazama Castle and its neighbouring Gyokusen inmaru Garden are just across the road from Kenroku-en Garden.

 

 

After lunch it was time for a little reflection at a museum dedicated to the Buddhist philosopher, D T Suzuki.

lrg_dsc04591

Much of the afternoon was spent in the Higachi Chaya district the home of historic tea houses and entertainment venues and geisha.

 

 

Kanazawa is a sleek and modern city, with an impressive new railway station, built to accommodate the arrival of a Shinkansen service.

 

We ended the day nearby the station in a sushi station complete with tablet ordering and bullet train delivery, where the pile of plates were scanned to produce the bill at the end of the meal.

7062bb4a-3036-4f25-ab13-5f25685546af

 

Today we visited three UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Shirakawa-go and Gokayama districts in the mountains between Takayama and Kanazawa.

Due to seasonal road closures we had a little ‘go back you are going the wrong way moment’ on the way to Ogimachi, passing a group of road maintenance workers on their morning break. They did not bat an eyelid as we drove past them and around the hairpin turn to the gate across the road. Neither did they blink as we passed them going in the opposite direction to find a road, any road, that was open.

The thatched-roof farmhouses in a few villages in this mountain region are in a style known as Gassho-zukuri. The name reflects the shape of the roof: gassho – to join one’s hands in prayer, and zukuri – a type of architecture.

The houses are designed to cope with winter snow and their large roofs accommodate a number of floors. Traditionally silkworms were raised in the attic and salt was made under the floor. Smoke from the open hearth fumigated the thatched roof to protect it from insect damage. Here’s a taste of the each of the villages.

Ogimachi

Suganuma

Ainokura

This was the most serene and picturesque of all the villages. We were fortunate to see a re-roofing project in progress. Traditionally, these tasks are collaborative and a labour exchange system called yui ensures that if you receive assistance, you must assist other villagers who helped you. This system also perpetuates the traditional methods of Gassho-zukuri roofing. Nearby, spent thatch was being used to mulch a rice field.

lrg_dsc04452

Sunshine was never so welcome as this morning. We drove up towards Kamikochi in the Chubusangaku National Park to enjoy some stunning scenery. Only buses and local transport are allowed to go into Kamikochi so off on the bus we went.

After lunch we were back in Takayama, walking around the old preserved merchant streets and partaking in our first samplings of sake from local brewers.

For just 300 yen, we bought entry to the Hirata Museum, which holds all sorts of fascinating collections including children’s toys, tools to fashion hairstyles, and playing cards.

lrg_dsc04364lrg_dsc04356

A few more steps around this town before heading back to our digs to catch up with the mundane but necessary task of laundry.

Yesterday morning, we walked eight kilometres of the old Nakasendo Way or ‘mid-mountain road’ between two of the post stations, Magome and Tsumago.

We started out with light rain falling, dropping in to a tea house with light coming only from the fire place and the front entrance. One man serves tea and pickled vegetables to walkers for a small donation. Joanna Lumley also visited here in her travel series on Japan.

By the time we reached Tsumago, the rain was dumping from the sky. Refuge was sought in a soba noodle restaurant followed by a visit to Okuya, the “Waki-honjin” of Tsumago. Inns like this were resting places for daimyos travelling between Kyoto and Edo (now Tokyo).

We took the local bus back to Magome to pick up our car and set off for a two hour drive to Takayama. The afternoon had other plans as we ended up sitting in a tow truck to Ichinomiya to deliver a damaged vehicle back to the rental company. A car ran a red light and collected the front of our car. Long story short, we had a long wait in the rain, the local police sorted it all out, the other driver was apologetic and Toyota Rent-a-Car very kindly had a replacement car ready for us when the tow truck arrived. (We had fun with the police swapping translated questions on our smart phones).

We took the expressway straight to Takayama, arriving around 8.00 pm instead of four in the afternoon. Safe and sound and happy for a hot meal and dry shoes and socks.

 

A change of pace today after a Shinkansen from Kyoto to Nagoya to pick up a rental car which will be our transport for the next couple of weeks.

We arrived in Magome this afternoon. It is one of the stations or posts on the ancient Nakasendo road from Kyoto to Edo (now Tokyo), serving as a rest station for travellers and their horses. All things being equal, tomorrow we will walk the 7.8 kilometres to Tsumago to experience the mountain landscape with cobblestones at our feet.

Tonight we are treating ourselves to a stay at Inn Tajimaya, a ryokan complete with tatami mats and futons and an evening meal fit for the hungriest of travellers.

lrg_dsc04094-1

That meal called for an evening walk before returning well before the Inn’s 10.00 pm curfew.