Hawaii in Fukushima

Unfortunately Fukushima, a prefecture in the northeast of Japan, became world famous due to the accident of nuclear power plants after the big earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

However, Fukushima has not only nuclear power plants but also many attracting places. One of them is Spa Resort Hawaiians, a theme park featuring Hawaii inside of the northern province of Japan. The story of this park is a story of hope.

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In early 1960s, Iwaki city in Fukushima suffered from the decline of coal industry, which was the main industry for the city until that time. In order to create jobs for the workers in the coal mines and their families, Joban Colliery, an operator of the mines, made a very creative and challenging decision.

For coal mining, hot water springing out from the underground of the mines was not more than the nuisance. But the company’s idea was to heat up a dome with the heat of hot water and create a theme park featuring “Hawaii” inside the dome. At first many people including some employees of the company thought it was too unrealistic. But Mr. Yutaka Nakamura, one executive of the company led the company very strongly and made it decide to go ahead.

At that time Hawaii was the most popular foreign place for Japanese and the symbol of the oversea, while foreign trips were too expensive for ordinary Japanese. But they made a Hawaii in only 2 hour drive from Tokyo. Joban Hawaiian Center opened in 1966 attracted many ordinary Japanese dreaming a paradise and it became popular soon.

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In order to make the visitors feel like as if they were in Hawaii, the company recruited several girls in the city none of which had been overseas and gave them lessons in hula dance and other Polynesian dances so that they performed the dancing show in the park like the dancers in real Hawaii. After hard lessons they became the symbol of the park called “Hula Girls”. Their story became a movie in 2006 and made a big hit in Japan.

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Even after foreign trips became much less expensive for ordinary Japanese, the park had been surviving with some new ideas such as making the biggest hot spring in Japan and changing its name to Spa Resort Hawaiians.

Then, the big earthquake happened in the northeast region of Japan in March 2011. And the dome was seriously damaged and they were obliged to close the park in the long time.

However, the employees of the park didn’t forget how they overcame the serious decline of coal mining industry 50 years ago. Hula Girls visited all over Japan and performed their show believing that they could open the park again. One year after the big earthquake they reopened the park and had as much visitors as they had had before the earthquake.

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Again, when I heard a name of Fukushima in foreign countries, in many cases they mention the name related to the earthquake and the nuclear accident. I really hope Fukushima got more attention about the people who have strong mind to overcome many hard times.

Below is the website of Spa Resort Hawaiians (sorry only in Japanese).

http://www.hawaiians.co.jp/

How farms in Hokkaido attract visitors

In Japan most of the farmers struggles to continue farming when cheaper vegetables are imported to Japan and also they have difficulty to find their successors. However, in Hokkaido, the northern island of Japan, there is an area where the farms themselves attract many visitors.

Furano, a basin located in the central Hokkaido, surrounded by high mountains and along with Sorachi river, has fertile soil and there are many farms of potatoes, fruits and flowers.

A photo below is Mt. Tokachi, active volcano east to Furano.

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In Japan this area became famous in early 1980’s when the TV drama series Kita no Kuni kara (From the northern country in Japanese), a drama about a family which moved from Tokyo to Furano and lives in the nature, had been filmed in Furano and became a big hit. The drama series continued in 20 years till 2002. For many Japanese including me Furano is a typical image of the country side of Japan.

And in the drama the symbol of Furano was lavender and in Furano there are many farms which grow lavenders. And the biggest one is Farm Tomita. They open their flower farms to visitors for free and many visitors including foreigners come to the farm and can enjoy some flowers all the year round.

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In late August lavenders were at the end of its season. But we can still enjoy their beauty.

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Website of Farm Tomita (english available)

The farms which attract visitors are not only flower ones. Recently in Furano due to climate change some farmers started growing grapes for wine. And from a window of the cafe, Campana Rokkatei, you can see a fantastic view of vineyards on the hill with Mt. Tokachi on the back.

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Website of Rokkatei Campara (english available)

Of course it’s not only seeing vineyards. In Furano there are several winery as well and in the hotels and B&Bs in Furano, you can enjoy wines made in Furano with nice food in peaceful atmosphere. The chef of the hotel we stayed used vegetables grown in Furano as much as possible and they match with the taste of wine nicely.

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Lastly it’s reported on the news that some part of Furano area was seriously damaged by the typhoon a few days after we visited. We sincerely hope they recover from the damage soon and many people can enjoy the beauty of Furano.

Ainu, the indigenous people in Hokkaido Japan

In Hokkaido, the northern island of Japan, there is a people called “Ainu”. Before the Japanese expanded to the north and started living in the island late in the 19th century, they had lived there and had kept their traditional lifestyle based on hunting, fishing and gathering.

Now in 2016, somehow changed, but the Ainu people is still trying to preserve their culture. In Hokkaido there are some of their communities, called Kotan in the Ainu language. And Poroto Kotan located in Shiraoi-town in central Hokkaido is one of such communities.

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In fact most of the Ainu people doesn’t keep the same lifestyle of hunting and gathering as they had in 100 years ago. They have Japanese nationality. And in daily life they live like the other Japanese people live. Nevertheless with the identity as “Ainu” they try to preserve their traditional culture.

For example they have their own language, music and dance. This Poroto Kotan is not only their community but also their museum. And they show their music and dance to the visitors with their traditional clothing.

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Their culture is deeply related to their religion. In their religion all the stuff in nature is considered as gods. For example salmon, one of their main food is called “kamuy cup” in the Ainu language, meaning fish of god. Since it is a god, they treat salmon so respectfully and eat all the parts of its body. In the picture below they hang salmon from the ceiling of their house to smoke and make it to the preserved food for harsh winter.

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Among the animals as gods, bear is the most holy animal for them. In the community they raise 4 bears in the cage. It’s my first time to see bears raised in the place in Japan other than zoo or safari park.

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For the Ainu people the ceremony called “Iomante” was the most important for their culture. In one winter they bring a baby bear to their community and grow the bear with great care as if it’s their own child. But when the bear has grown up in a couple of years, they have Iomante celemony and “send back” the bear to the world of gods with a lot of food and drink. They think a god of bear come down to the world of human with the shape of the baby bear, and thus they treat it very respectfully.

It’s my fist time to meet with the Ainu people while I have learned and heard about them many times. It was so impressive! I believe it’s a key for Japan to be a multicultural society if they can keep their identity and preserve their own culture in the 21st century.

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Below is the website of Ainu museum in Poroto Kotan (English availalble).

http://www.ainu-museum.or.jp/en/

Sado, golden island in Japan

Long long time ago, Japan was known by the West as a legendary golden island. And many sailors who looked for gold such as Christopher Columbus headed to Asia. But it was true that Japan was a golden island in the sense that Japan produced a relatively big amount of gold at that time and Sado, an island northwest of Niigata city, had one of the biggest gold mountains in Japan.

We can go to Sado island only by ship. If we use a car ferry on which we can bring our own cars, it takes 2.5 hours from Niigata port to Ryotu port, main port in Sado island. But if we use a smaller jetfoil ferry, it takes only 1 hour.

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Sado Kisen (Ferry Service to Sado Island)

Apart from Japanese main 4 islands (Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu), Sado is the 2nd biggest island in Japan next to Okinawa’s main island. And it has approx. 56,000 population. The people in the island are proud of the beauty of its sea and its peaceful atmosphere. The sea is so clean that we can get a lot of abalones in the shallow sea.

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However, in the 17th century, when Sado golden mountain produced its biggest amount of gold and there was a “Gold Rush” in the island, there were more population and Sado was one of the most active cities in Japan at that time.

Sado golden mountain is located in the western part of the island. In the 17th century at first they used a method of open pit mining to find gold. And finally the top of the mountain had been cracked as a “V” shape.

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Then they drove a lot of tunnels throughout the mountain. Soon the tunnel reached under the sea level so they needed to drain water in order to continue digging. Now in the old tunnel there are a lot of dolls which shows us how to dig gold at that time. IMG_0559

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Sado golden mountain had been producing gold almost 400 years and had been an important fiscal source for Tokugawa shogunate. Now the people in the island try to register it on World Heritage of UNESCO and maintain old tunnels and equipment as a museum.

When you visit the mountain, you might be interested to get some gold with you. But are you afraid of expensive prices of golden jewelry? Don’t worry ! Here you can eat a lot of food with gold dust such as gold ramen noodle and gold ice cream.

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Please visit Sado, golden island in Japan and clarify with your own eyes if the legend of golden island was true.

Sado Kinzan (Sado golden mountain)

Machu Pichu in Peru, Nachu Pichu in Nasu Japan

Machu Pichu is a famous historical site of Inca empire in Peru, where a lot of tourists come from all over the world. However, in Nasu Japan, in Tochigi prefecture approx 150km north of Tokyo, there is a place called “Nachu Pichu”.

Nasu itself is a popular sightseeing place in Tochigi prefecture which is famous for cool highland climate and Nasu mountains. And Nachu Pichu is located inside Nasu Alpaca farm.

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As you may know, Alpaca is an animal domesticated mainly in South America including Peru. Alpaca was not well known among Japanese until recently. But Nasu Alpaca farm started breeding alpacas in 1999 for the first time in Japan.

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According to their website, they imported 200 alpacas from Peru in 1999. At first due to change of environment and lack of knowledge about diseases of alpacas, many alpacas died. However, they made continuous effort to cure their diseases and finally they successfully increased alpacas up to about 400.

In this season we can see alpacas sheared. Every year this farm invites professionals to shear alpacas from Peru. And when they shear them, they create a kind of art on body of alpaca called “Art Paca”. For example an alpaca in the center of a photo below has a moon on his body.

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And now everyone, this is Nachu Pichu.

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At a first glance, it looks nothing but a pile of stones. And obviously alpacas in front of Nachu Pichu don’t care it neither. However, this is not just a humor of the employees of the firm. According to the sign next to the mountain, a diplomat from Peruvian embassy in Japan who visited the firm named it Nachu Pichu (Pichu means mountain in quechua, official language in Inca empire.) In order to connect it to Inca as much as possible, they play melancholic Andean music around it as well.

In spite of bold naming it seems Peruvian people loves this firm in Japan. SPAR, Peru Alpaca Breeding Association, certified it as the firm which breeds the most friendly alpacas in the world.

In fact the alpacas there are so friendly that we can touch and feed them.

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When you visit Nasu, please visit the firm and check how Japanese learnt the way to breed alpacas from Peru.

Below is the website of Nasu Alpaca Farm (sorry only in Japanese).

http://www.nasubigfarm.com/index.shtml

Mt. Takao, the most approachable mountain from Tokyo

Tokyo is a concrete jungle where we wear out ourselves every day. However in about 1 hour by train from Tokyo there is a mountain called Mt. Takao, like an oasis in the jungle. As a former guide of Mt. Fuji, let me introduce this mountain as the most approachable mountain from Tokyo.

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Once you get out of Takaosan-guchi station of Keio line, you see a map of six trails to the summit of Mt. Takao. If it’s your first time to Mt. Takao, I recommend the trail No.1.

This No.1 trail is a sightseeing course rather than climbing a mountain. Most of the trail is paved and the biggest number of hikers take this route among all 6 trails. So it’s difficult to enjoy quiet time in the woods. On the other hand, I recommend this route since you can understand the relationship between Japanese people and mountains.

Traditionally for Japanese people who live close to mountains, high mountains were considered as a symbol of wild and harsh nature. Therefore they feared the mountains and made shrines to worship the mountains as a god and tried to calm down their anger.

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And a picture below is the oldest ceder in the mountain called Tako-Sugi (Octopus Ceder in Japanese). The name comes roots of the ceder which have grown up like legs of octopus. Japanese people in the past believed that such an old thing in nature could acquire supernatural power and worshiped it as well.

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And the symbol of gods in Mt. Takao is “Tengu”, a legendary creature which was sometimes considered as a god and was considered as a monster in other times in Japanese history. Tengu’s feature is red face and big nose and he can fly freely with a special fan.

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After 2 hours walk on the trail No.1 seeing these gods, you can reach the summit of Mt. Takao. In good weather, you can see a great view of both Tokyo, concrete jungle at one direction and Mt. Fuji, symbol of mountain worship at another direction.

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After enjoying the nice view, you can take another trail walking down to the entrance of the mountain. In order to enjoy Mt. Takao, as a mountain, I recommend the trail No.6 where you walk along a stream.

In contrast to the trail No.1, there are much fewer people. And you can enjoy peaceful atmosphere hearing sound of signing birds and streaming water.

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Nevertheless, even on this trail, you can see a spot which shows you how mountain worship was developed in the mountain. The stream along which you have just walked down becomes a waterfall. And waterfall is a place where mountain ascetics train themselves to reach enlightenment.

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By the way,  if you can enjoy the mountain more easily and simply, there is a cable car from the entrance to the halfway point. And in summer season, they open a beer garden where you can enjoy Japanese beer with a great view of Tokyo.

If you are interested, check out “Beer Mount” in their website (They have an English website !) below.

Mr. Takao Official Web Site

Mt. Takao is a great sightseeing spot where you can enjoy nature of Japanese mountain as well as understand traditional mountain worship in Japan with a day trip from Tokyo.

Utogi, where wasabi was cultivated for the first time

Wasabi is an essential spicy source for some Japanese food such as sushi. However, do you know how wasabi is grown? In my hometown, Shizuoka, there is a place named Utogi, where wasabi was cultivated for the first time in Japan.

In 1 hour drive from Shizuoka station, after driving a winding road through mountains of Abe-Oku, we arrive at Utogi, which is in May surrounded by green colors including those of tea leaves.

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And soon after we walk from Utogi village toward mountains, we can find many green plants grown on terraced fields.

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Wasabi cannot grow without clean water flowing by the plant. Therefore, wasabi plants are always made along the river as terraced fields so that water from the river flow by the plant. The existence of wasabi indicates how clean water in the area is.

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According to the history of Utogi, at the beginning of 17th century, when the Shogun of Tokugawa started Edo era, a man living in the village tried to plant wild wasabi on a spring and soon found that wasabi by flowing water grew much better. This is how Utogi people started growing wasabi.

In the village we can taste fresh wasabi with soba noodle. With the knowledge how to grow wasabi, it tastes more special.

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Yokohama port, where old and new coexist

Yokohama port is one of the biggest ports in Japan for our current global trade as well as one of the old ports opened to the West by Japanese government in 1859 as an important event in the first stage of Japanese modern history. Due to these backgrounds both old and new things coexist in this area.

At the first glance you can see skyscrapers of the new urban area named “Minato Mirai 21, (Port of Future). The tall building in the left of the photo below is named “Yokohama Landmark Tower” build in 1993 and had been the highest building in Japan till 2012.

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You might feel that everything in the historical port has changed after recent redevelopment. However, when you see more closely you can find many historical buildings.

One good example is the building of Kanagawa Prefectural Museum of Cultural History.

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You might think that you come to a historical district of a US major city. It’s not a strange feeling since this building is one of major architectural examples of the era when Japan was trying to accept Western culture so drastically in order to catch up to the West. The building was build in 1904 originally as the headquarter of Yokohama Specie Bank. The architecture, Yorinaka Tsumaki, designed it using Baroque Revival style, which was the latest style in the West at that time. In 1967 the building was reopened as Kanagawa Prefectural Museum of Cultural History.

Another good example is “Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse”.

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Yorinaka Tsumaki, the architecture of the building of the bank mentioned above, also designed this building, as the modern bonded warehouse of Yokohama port, which was rapidly developing as a sea entrance of eastern Japan. They used the latest architectural technique at that time such as the first commercial elevator in Japan to build the warehouse. Thus it had been known as a good example of bonded warehouse architecture in a long time.

This building also has finished its original role as bonded warehouse. In 2002 it was reopened as a shopping area. And now it’s loved by local people and visitors as a symbol of Minato Mirai area.

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