Colored leaves in Nagatoro

In Eastern Japan there are many places familiar with beautiful colored leaves in autumn. One of those is Nikko in Tochigi prefecture.

However, in a peak season, Nikko is so crowded that it’s very difficult to book tickets for the express train to go there. Or in case you go by car, you could be stuck with very heavy traffic jam.

Now here is a tip. Nagatoro in Chichibu in Saitama prefecture is a little-known good place close to Tokyo area with beautiful colored leaves.

You need to take a train of Chichibu railway to go to Nagatoro. The train of Chicibu railway is painted with colorful pictures. You will be excited to imagine what color you can meet in Nagatoro.

Before viewing colors, you can enjoy country dishes. Nagatoro is located along the headwaters of Arakawa river. Many sweetfish swim in the river. You can enjoy the sweetfish as pot rice (Kamameshi in Japanese).

There are many places where you can enjoy colored leaves in autumn. However, the features of Nagatoro is that you can enjoy the colored leaves with big rocks. The contrast between colored leaves and grey rocks is very impressive.

And the highlight of Nagatoro trip is that you can enjoy the nice view from the boat in the river. The boat is made with a Japanese tradditional style and the boat master entertain you with their talk.

At last one caution! As of November 10th 2019 some parts of a road along Arakawa river with colored leaves are damaged by the big typhoons which hit Japan in summer. You should check the latest condition in the tourist information center.

The first boy’s day for our baby

May 5th is the boy’s day in Japan. And today May 5th in 2019 is the first boy’s day for our baby ! Let me explain about Japanese’s boy’s day on this post.

On the body’s day in Japan there are several tradition to pray for healthy growth of boys. When we are young boys, our parents displayed a doll of young samurai and a samurai helmet. This year they displayed them for the first time after more than 20 years. But they still looked like new.

The doll and helmet are decorated with katana (Japanese sword), horse doll and arrows. Around 30 years ago in the country side of Japan, many families with young boys had such dolls.

Also another typical tradition is Koi-nobori, streamer with the shape of carp. In east Asia carp is considered as a symbol of good promotion deriving from an old legend in China that carp climbed up a steep waterfall to become a dragon. And in Japan as well for several hundred years the paper carps have been flying in the sky to pray for good promotion and health of boys.

However recently when more and more young families live in apartments of big cities, it becomes more and more difficult to display dolls or to make carps fly due to space limitation.

Nevertheless, we can celebrate the boy’s day with other traditions. At least we can eat Kashiwa-mochi, special rice cake wrapped in oak leaf. In this season we can buy the cake in many Japanese style confectionery stores and even supermarkets. The oak leaf add a bitter taste on the sweet cake and and it’s very delicious.

You might be yet concerned that you cannot see Koi-nobori carps in Tokyo. For such people at Tokyo’s two big towers, Tokyo Tower and Tokyo Sky Tree, they displayed a lot of small carps at the entrances. When I visited Tokyo Tower, many carps were flying in the night sky of Tokyo.

Even if the lifestyle in Japan changes, the parent’s wishes for healthy growth of their kids are unchanged. We wishes health of our baby and babies of friends !!!

How to avoid congestion in Hakone

Hakone is one of the most popular sightseeing places in Japan. You can go there from Tokyo in 2 hours by the express train and enjoy hot springs, active volcano, museums and nice view of Mt. Fuji. However, the problem is that too many tourists come there in peak seasons. You might need to wait for more than 1 hours to ride on a vehicle. On this post, I explain a tip how to avoid congestion in Hakone.

When you arrive at Hakone Yumoto station which is the entrance of Hakone area, ignoring long lines waiting for a train of Hakone mountain railway or a bus of Hakone mountain bus, you should take a taxi to Lake Ashi. Since it costs approx 4,500 JPY, it’s better if you can share the taxi with another group. On the way, you would be impressed with amazing view of Mt. Fuji and Lake Ashi.

It takes approx 20 minutes by taxi to Lake Ashi. Lake Ashi is a big volcanic lake created by the eruption approx. 3,000 years ago. You can ride on a pirate ship there to make a sightseeing cruise on Lake Ashi. the ships are designed like pirate ships of Pirates of Caribbean. If you have kids, they would be excited.

It’s an approx. 25 minutes cruise from Motohakone-ko terminal to Togendai-ko terminal. Then you ride on the rope way up to Owakudani terminal, the highest terminal in Hakone area. Since many rope way cars are operated, you don’t have to worry if there is a line waiting for the rope way. On the way, you can view down whole Lake Ashi.

Finally you arrive at Owakudani station. Owakudani is the highlight of sightseeing in Hakone. At first you would be surprised to see volcanic gas strongly blowing out. Due to sulfur included in the gas, the buildings are colored with yellow. And if volcanic activities are too active, you cannot go outside of the station. You should check the activity level before the trip. Also you cannot forget eating black eggs boiled in volcanic ponds.

And Owakudani is also the spot where you can have the best view of Mt. Fuji. You might want to go to Mt. Fuji itself. However, it takes approx 3 hours by bus from Tokyo to 5th station of Mt. Fuji, and takes even more in peak seasons due to heavy traffic jam. So it doesn’t fit one day trip from Tokyo. More than that Mt. Fuji looks more beautiful when you view from a distance.

So if you are interested on Mt. Fuji, we recommend to go to Hakone and follow this route to avoid congestion.

Kanazawa, city of history and seafood

In Japan there are several historical cities registered to the World Heritages of UNESCO such as Kyoto, Nara. You can see wonderful temples and shrines there. However, since these cities are located inland, they are not good places to eat fresh seafood. In this sense, Kanazawa in Ishikawa prefecture is an unique city where you can enjoy both great historical sites and wonderful fresh seafood at the same time.

In the 16th century, a famous Samurai, Toshiie Matsuda supported his Shogun, Nobunaga Oda and showed great performance in many battles. As the result he got his territory in northern coast of the main island in Japan including Kanazawa city.

And in Edo era, in the 17th to 19th centuries his descendants as lords of the land had been developing their territory and created the most prosperous area in Japan at that time.  Its richness was called as “Kaga Hyakuman-goku” which means they produced a lot of rice in the land. With wealth from big rice production they had been making one of three famous Japanese gardens, Kenrokuen for a long time.

In Kenrokuen different aspects of Japanese garden coexist and create significant beauty as a whole. The garden was awarded with three stars by Michelin guide.

Their wealth also allowed people there to keep a luxurious industry. While in Edo era gold leaf production was prohibited outside Kyoto, workmen in Kanazawa had kept its technique of gold leaf production through three centuries of Edo era. And now Kanazawa still has approx. 98% share of gold leaf production in Japan.

However, long history with luxurious culture is not an only attraction of Kanazawa. Located close to the sea of Japan, you can enjoy very fresh seafood. While Tokyo is famous for long history of sushi cooking, Kanazawa has a different style of sushi cooking and there are a lot of good sushi restaurants there as well.

Sushi is served on plates of Kutani ware, local pottery. And kinds of fish in the sea of Japan are different from those in the Pacific Ocean. Especially Nodoguro, rosy sea bass in Japanese is so delicious that the fish is considered as a symbol of seafood in Kanazawa.

In the past it was not convenient to go to Kanazawa from Tokyo. But since Hokuriku Shikansen, bullet express train from Tokyo to Kanazawa started operation in 2015, now you can arrive at Kanazawa from Tokyo for 2.5 hours.

If you want to enjoy both traditional cultures and seafood in Japan, why don’t you visit Kanazawa?

Praying at Suitengu shrine for safe delivery

Some shrines in Japan are famous for the benefit of safe baby delivery. Since ancient time many pregnant women have been visiting such a shrine at the dog day (in the twelve signs of Chinese zodiac) within their 5th month of pregnancy for safe delivery.

In Tokyo Suitengu shrine is a shrine famous for such a benefit. Unlike other shrines the shrine is covered with concrete walls. So it perfectly fits with surrounding urban environment.

Even though we visited the shrine just after a big typhoon had passed Tokyo with strong wind and rain, there are so many people inside since it was the rare dog day on Sunday.

In order to handle so many people in the shrine the procedure to pray is very systematic. After we paid prayer fees, we could wait in the waiting room air-conditioned well. And we could find our turn in the TV screen on the wall. It helped us who came to the shrine in extreme hot summer.

The prayer at the dog day is not an only famous stuff in the shrine. There is also a popular pair of statues of a mother dog and a child dog surrounded by 12 small hemispheres representing the twelves signs of Chinese zodiac. It is said that women may be able to get pregnant when they touch the hemisphere representing their own sign.

In Japan worldly benefits prayed in shrines still take deep root among ordinary people.

Fireworks viewing from a distance

Fireworks are one of symbols of summer in Japan. Japanese have been enjoying fireworks since the 17th century.

However, you need to be careful when you visit big fireworks events. The spots close to the places where fireworks are launched are so crowded, so sometimes you end up with seeing people only instead of fireworks.

So we try to find little-known hot spots where you can enjoy fireworks with less people around, even though there is more distance from fireworks. Let’s see how it works.

Adachi Fireworks is a popular fireworks event in northern Tokyo for which fireworks are launched from sandbank of Arakawa river. And spots around Kita Senju station, which is the closest station to the event, are so crowded every year. So this time we went to Adachi Odai station of Nippori Toneri Liner along Arakawa river with a little distance from the event.

It was true that there were less people than the spots in Kita Senju. Moreover you can enjoy viewing fireworks sitting on the bank of Arakawa river.

You are maybe concerned that fireworks are visible but too small. Don’t worry. Japanese fireworks are big enough to be viewed well from a distance.

By the way the beauty of fireworks is not only a fun on such an event. You might want to enjoy viewing fireworks while eating food and drinking bought at festival stall stands. Unfortunately there were no stall stands around Adachi Odai station.

In such a case you can visit a supermarket or a convenience store around the station. The supermarket we visited sold alcohol beverages at room temperature only. However many people including us bought cans of alcohol beverages and ice so that we could enjoy making beverages “on the rock” while viewing fireworks.

When you plan to visit a firework event, why don’t you search a little-known spot with a distance?

Unknown exiting trail in Mt. Fuji

The season to climb up summer mountains has come in Japan! And Mt. Fuji, highest mountain in Japan (3,776 meters) is filled with so many people this summer as usual. Among 5 trails to the summit of Mt. Fuji, Fuji-Yoshida trail and Fujinomiya trail are two famous trails to both climb up and down. And even though two trails have a lot of mountain huts as well, we need to sleep in very tiny space at night like a photo below.

Nevertheless it’s necessary to stay at such a hut and to climb up in midnight and early morning so that you can see beautiful sunrise from the summit.

But after the sunrise you may feel it’s not exiting to climb down the same trail pushing many people who are climbing up. In such a case I recommend you to climb down Gotenba trail.

Gtenba trail is the longest trail among 5 trails, so it’s not recommendable for first visitors to climb up. But it’s a big fun to climb down the trail. On the latter half part of the trail you can enjoy literally “run” down the trail. The latter part is called as Osunabashiri meaning in Japanese “run in big sands”. As per the name the trail is filled with deep sands and your legs automatically move down even if you don’t put power on legs.

The trail looks as another planet. The trail is covered with volcanic ash created on the latest eruption of Mt. Fuji about 300 years ago. The eruption created another smaller mountain called Mt. Hoeizan.

More surprisingly Mt. Fuji is the active volcano even today. When I saw a crater yesterday, it looked very stable.

But we cannot be too optimistic. It has already taken more than 300 years since the last eruption. When you run down Gotenba trail, please think about the dynamism of nature.

Consider tides when you visit Itsukushima shrine

Itsukushima shrine is the shrine in Hiroshima prefecture in Japan registered as one of world heritages of UNESCO. Even though you have not visited there, you might see an image of a guard frame of shrine sinking in the sea like below.

Many buidlings of Itsukushima shrine were built by a famous samurai in the 12th century in Japan, Kiyomori Taira. Kiyomori was the leader of a samurai group, Heike family at their peak of the family, although the family was beaten by another samurai family, Genji at the end of the 12th century. In the main building they worshiped three goddess of Munekata welknown as protectors of sea.

The shrine is still worshiped by local people. If you are lucky, you can see a local couple having Japanese traditional wedding.

But you need to be careful. The water which makes the scenery of the shrine beautiful changes in accordance with tides. If you visit the shrine at low tide, the shrine looks less photogenic.

But you don’t have to worry. Around the shrine there are many places you can kill time until the tide becomes high. At first you can play with deer living around the shrine.

Furthermore around the shrine there are many restaurants serving local famous food. One of the local specialties is rice bowl of conger eel, Anago-Meshi. Another local specialty is Okonomi Yaki in Hiorishima way. Okonomi Yaki is thin, flat pancake with various ingredients. And the cake in Hiroshima prefecture is unique to include noodle and local seafood.

Now you get a lesson. When you visit Itsukushima shrine, please make a schedule considering the tides.

Coffee shop serving coffee from East Timor

In Japan American chain coffee shops such as Starbucks and Tully’s Coffee are very popular as well. But there is one interesting coffee shop chain which import all coffee beans as fair trade.

At the end of April in Tokyo it is too hot like early summer. In Ikebukuro, an area in north west of Tokyo popular among young people, many people enjoy sunshine in the park.

Such hot climate makes us thirsty. But taste of coffee at regular coffee shops is not satisfactory. Don’t worry. At east end of Ikebukuro there is a peculiar coffee shop named Moriva coffee.

This coffee shop imports all the coffee beans from developing countries such as Rwanda, Mexico and East Timor. Furthermore they import the beans from these countries as fair trade by co-working with local NGOs.

Among these countries which are poor and troublesome in different ways, East Timor is the country not so known by Japanese, although it’s located in Asia. But the coffee shop serves iced coffee made by beans from East Timor. And it gives us a good opportunity to learn about the country.

East Timor is the new country located east to Indonesia which became independent in 2002.  Coffee industry was their main industry for export. But due to confusion after independence the coffee industry seriously declined.

Zensho, a Japanese company which run the coffee shop started importing from East Timor in 2007 when the country was still unstable. They bought the beans as fair trade and used the fund created from the trade to support local bean producers and develop local infrastructure for coffee industry.

The fact that Zensho run the coffee shop of fair trade impressed me much because this company is more known by me (and most of the Japanese) as the company run the chain restaurant of beaf rice bowl (Gyu-don in Japanese) named Suki-ya. But even as the Gyu-don restaurant  Zensho is known as unique and various menus of Gyu-don. For example the photo below is their Gyu-don with cheese, which would attract Americans!

I’m proud of Zensho’s creativity and their vision to create better world through their food business.

Flower festival in Nishi Arai Taishi temple

In Tokyo Senso-ji temple in Asakusa is famous among foreign visitors as a temple popular for ordinary people. But Asakura is not only a place for such temples. Nishi Arai located in the north part of Tokyo has another popular temple for ordinary people named Nishi Arai Taishi.

Nishi Arai Taishi is the temple established by a famous monk in the 9th century, Kukai. When Kukai visited this place, he saved local people who suffered from diseases thanks to a miracle by a Buddist saint.

In April and May Nishi Arai Taishi hold a flower festival. And the temple is surrounded by a lot of beautiful flowers. Among these flowers the temple is famous to have a lot of kinds of peony, Botan in Japanese.

In the temple not only peony but also wisteria trellises are in bloom in late April(Fuji in Japanese).

But for many ordinary people rather than flowers in bloom sweets might be more attractive. (In Japan there is a proverb saying Hana Yori Dango meaning (people) like sweet dumpling more than flower. Don’t worry. In front of temple there are several shops of sweet dumpling and green tea.

When you come to Tokyo, why don’t you visit many temples to see how the temples are liked by local people.