DAY 6 (5/6): GASSHO MINSHUKU, FLOWER BEDS & RICE PADDY FIELDS, Ainokura (相倉), Gokayama (五箇山), Nanto (南砺市), Toyama Prefecture (富山県), Japan, 2018.05.30
The idea of staying a night in a traditional gassho-zukuri house prompted us to come all the way to Ainokura, the remotest of the three UNESCO World Heritage villages in the Japanese Alps. A few centuries-old gassho-zukuri houses in Ainokura have been converted into minshuku (民宿) or Japanese style bed-and-breakfast. A typical minshuku stay offers a Japanese tatami room, as well as dinner and breakfast served in a traditional dining room around an Irori (囲炉裏) hearth. Based on online reviews and guidebook recommendations, we booked our stay at Gassho Minshuku Nakaya, a 350-year old gassho-zukuri located near the end of the village. The interior of the house was as expected full of wooden panels, tatami flooring and timber lattices. The bathroom and toilets were clean and modern, while the dining room and its Irori hearth provided a feature for all visitors.
Outside of the minshuku, gassho-zukuri houses scattered along the few winding paths and surrounded by patches of terracing flower beds and rice paddy fields. Historically, Ainokura was self sustained not by farming, but by making traditional paper and raising silkworm. Since the decline of silkworm raising in the 1950s, some fields of mulberry trees uphill from the village were converted into agricultural fields for vegetables and rice paddy. Today, rice paddy fields dominate the scenery of Ainokura. As the most important staple food in Asia, rice cultivation represents the lifeline for many nations, including Japan. Apart from rice fields, small beds of colourful flowers can be found all over the village. Flowers are planted adjacent to rice terraces, or along winding paths, or in front of village homes, leaving touches of lovely colours among the lush green palette, even in the greyest rainy day.
Gassho Minshuku Nakaya is a well-preserved 350-year-old gassho-zukuri house in the UNESCO World Heritage village.
The thatched roof and timber wall panels of the minshuku look just like other traditional farm houses in the village.
Just like any typical Japanese house, there is a decent entrance vestibule at the Gassho Minshuku Nakaya.
The guest area is limited at the ground floor only, with traditional tatami bedrooms, dining room, and bathroom.
In the dining room above the Irori (囲炉裏) hearth, a jizaikagi (自在鉤) or free hook is attached to the beam structure of the house.
Our room was a Japanese style tatami room with traditional decorations.
Upon arrival, we were given green tea and snacks.
Outside of Gassho Minshuku Nakaya, lovely flowers could be found in many fields and flower beds.
One of the most impressive flower beds we saw was just opposite to the front door of our minshuku.
The small flowers in front of Minshuku Yomoshiro present a subtle beauty.
Colourful flowers along the village paths lighted up the scenery in a rainy day.
We found some of the most impressive flowers at the terracing flower beds in the midst of the lush green rice paddy fields.
And more flowers…
Late May. Rice seedlings had just planted not long ago. Rows of footprints were visible in the rice paddy fields.
It was a pleasure to get so close to the rice paddy.
At the end of Ainokura near Gassho Minshuku Nakaya, we found some larger rice fields with beautiful reflections of the surrounding mountains.
After spending time to photograph the rice fields, it was about time for dinner.
The illuminated Gassho-zukuri village houses blanketed in thick layer of snow make a fairy tale like postcard scenery have attracted visitors from close and afar, making Shirakawa-go an extremely popular tourist attraction at specific winter weekends. Situated in the remote snow county of the Japanese Alps, gassho rural regions such as Shirakawa-go (白川郷) and Gokayama (五箇山) have been historically isolated from the outside world. A unique rural lifestyle and special vernacular architecture have been developed in the past few centuries to tackle the snowy and wet climate of the mountains. Gassho-zukuri (合掌造り集落), which literally means “hands in prayer”, refers to the exceptionally steep thatch roofs of the regional farmhouses due to the heavy snowfall of the area. These steep roofs have become a unique symbol of the region. In 1995, three of these remote Gassho-zukuri villages: Ogimachi in Shirakawa-go (荻町), Suganuma (菅沼) and Ainokura (相倉) in Gokayama were declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Due to its proximity to Hida-Takayama, most visitors opt for a day trip (or half-day trip) to visit Shirakawa-go. Few would venture farther into Gokayama and even less so would stay the night at one of the mountain villages. In recent years, a number of the centuries old Gassho-zukuri farmhouses have been transformed into guesthouses, allowing visitors to experience the villages’ unique beauty and tranquility after the departure of the daytrippers. Being the largest and most accessible Gassho-zukuri village, Ogimachi of Shirakawa-go is the most developed in terms of its tourist facilities. A number of its old farmhouses have been converted into museums, restaurants and souvenir shops. There is even an area called Gasshozukuri Minkaen Outdoor Museum, where historical farmhouses have been relocated and grouped into an open air museum. Taking the 8:25am bus from Takayama, we arrived at Shirakawa-go bus station in about an hour. When we arrived at one of Japan’s most picturesque farming village, steady rain kept on coming down with no end in sight. We stored our backpacks in a locker at the bus station, picked up a village map and bought a transparent umbrella from the tourist office, and off we went to explore touristy yet charming Ogimachi of Shirakawa-go.
Just outside the bus station, we had our first peek of the rural charm of Shirakawa-go. Rhythmical rain drops rippled across the flooded paddy field of lush green rice seedlings.
Despite the rain, we were delighted to enter the tranquil world of Ogimachi.
It was 9:20am. Not too many tourists were around. We stopped by the pond of waterlilies in front of Wada Residence, one of the largest gassho style house in the village.
Ogimachi has a extensive network of irrigation channels. Visitors may occasionally find carps in the water.
A row of cute scarecrows offer an amusing background for photos, and a friendly reminder of Ogimachi’s rural past.
Straw from farm crops are harvested in the autumn, dried as a snow fence around the gassho style house, and used to repair the thatched roof in the spring or autumn. Due to the need of a large labour force, neighbors in the village would come over to help on repairing the thatched roof.
Many gassho style houses, including the Yamaainoie Residence (山峡の家), have been converted into cafes, restaurants, souvenir shops or guesthouses.
The small gassho style house serves as a charming little cafe with splendid views of rice patties.
The entrance of the cafe is decorated with plant pots, wood lattice and a “thinker” statue.
In 1961, the construction of Miboro Dam at Sho River in Takayama was completed. several villages and shrines were submerged, along with about half of the surviving Gassho-zukuri houses.
Today, the biggest concentration of Gassho-zukuri houses are found in Ogimachi, Ainokura, and Suganuma. Important structures, such as the Myozen-ji Temple in Ogimachi, have become rare survivors from the bygone period.
Thatched roof repair works can still be seen in Ogimachi of Shirakawa-go.
The steep angle of the thatched roof of the Gassho-zukuri houses help to prevent snow accumulation, though people, especially outside visitors, have to be cautious of the falling snow below the roof.
A number of Gassho-zukuri houses in Ogimachi of Shirakawa-go have been turned into guesthouses.
Fire hydrants are important in the farming village because of the combustibility of the Gassho-zukuri houses.
Because of the rain, the mountains beyond Ogimachi were covered in beautiful mist while we were there.
Newer houses in a distinct architectural style can also be found in the village.
Due to the unique appearance of the Gassho-zukuri houses and it natural setting, Ogimachi of Shirakawa-go is often considered one of the most picturesque farming village in Japan.
We arrived at the central gate of the Potala at around 9am. We excitedly looked up at the magnificent icon of Lhasa as we entered the palace ground beyond the first security checkpoint. We found our way towards the main ramp that ascend up to the Potala. Before climbing up, we made a brief stop at a small museum that housed a decent collection of treasures from the palace. Despite its interesting exhibit, we didn’t stay long as we wouldn’t want to miss our time slot for the palace visit. The walk up the main ramp looked easier than it actually was. Because of the 3700m altitude, the climb up the main ramp to the Potala may prove challenging to many tourists who haven’t completely acclimatized to the Tibetan highlands. We took our time walking up to the ticket office near the top palace level. After all the effort of pre-booking and climbing, we finally got a real admission ticket for the Potala. A flight of steps led us up a colourful passage to a open courtyard known as Deyang Shar. After a brief break at Deyang Shar, we walk to the far side of the courtyard and followed other tourists and tour guides up a small set of triple stairs into the White Palace. The Deyang Shar was the final spot of our visit that we were allowed to take photographs.
The first room we arrived at was the throne room of the Dalai Lamas. Walking into the former throne room felt like entering into a scene of Scorsese’s movie Kundun. The visit continued to a series of Dalai Lamas’ former reception rooms, meditation room, study room, etc. After the Dalai Lama’s living quarter in the White Palace, we continued our visit to the Red Palace from the top (3rd floor) down. On our way down the floors and through the chapels and assembly halls, we passed by impressive statues, golden chortens of former Dalai Lamas, mysterious chapels such as Chapel Arya, one of the oldest structures in the Potala built by King Songtsen Gampo. If not the noisy tourists and their rude tour guides were virtually everywhere in the visitor route, our Potala visit would be much more pleasant. One of the highlights was the 12.6m chorten of the 5th Dalai Lama. Gilded with 3.7 kg of gold, the chorten of the 5th Dalai Lama was significantly larger than the other chortens displayed in Chapel of the Holy Born.
In 7th century, King Songtsen Gampo erected his royal palace on the Marpo Ri (Red Hill). A thousand years later, construction of the Potala’s White Palace (Kharpo Podrang) began in 1645 under the order of the 5th Dalai Lama. In late 17th century, the larger Red Palace (Marpo Podrang) was also built to house the funeral chorten of the 5th Dalai Lama. Since then, the Potala has become the residence and final resting place of the Dalai Lamas. In modern days, the Potala was largely spared from the destructing forces of the Red Army during the Cultural Revolution. Extensive renovations took place in the 1990s to restore the palace. Since then, the Potala has been turned into an open air museum that attracts thousands of visitors everyday.
The palace visit took us about 2 hours. We exited the Potala from its back entrance. A prominent walkway zigzagged down the Marpo Ri, leading us to the kora path of pilgrims that surrounded the base of the Potala. We followed the kora path and entered the Zongjiao Lukang Park (宗角祿康公園) north of the palace. Large groups of park users were dancing at different open areas in the park under loud music. We strolled for a bit in the park and then moved on to find a small noodle eatery for lunch.
Unlike the mysterious night scene, the morning view of the Potala was splendid and elegant.
During our visit, we only had access to small parts of the White and Red Palace.
Despite the access and photography restrictions, a visit to the Potala is still a must-do for most tourists in Lhasa.
To reach the ticket office of the Potala, walking up the main ramp is the second major challenge for many tourists (the first challenge being getting up early to queue for the pre-booking.
From the main ramp, we could clearly see the Potala Square (布達拉宮廣場) beyond Beijing Road.
After an exhausting climb to the top, we finally reached the entrance gate and the ticket office.
From the entrance gate, we could see the beautiful landscape outside of the city of Lhasa.
The mural of the heavenly guards and other mythical figures caught the attention of every visitors passed through the entrance gate.
The entrance door was beautifully decorated with colourful details.
After the entrance gate, we passed through a flight of colourful stair up to the entrance courtyard of the White Palace called Deyang Shar.
The Deyang Shar is a pleasant courtyard that serves as the entrance for the White Palace, and the courtyard is also the last spot where visitors are allowed to take photographs during their Potala visit.
The visit of the Potala for all tourists begins with the White Palace.
At the Deyang Shar, groups of tourists began their palace visit via a steep stair.
After the visit we exited the Potala at the back side of the palace.
We walked down a pleasant walkway down the Marpo Ri.
The walkway led us down to the kora path of pilgrims that surrounded the base of the Potala.
Along the kora path there were small shrines for pilgrims.
Near the Zongjiao Lukang Park, we passed by a popular shrine frequented by pilgrims.
We followed the kora path and entered the Zongjiao Lukang Park (宗角祿康公園) north of the palace.
We strolled for a bit in Zongjiao Lukang Park and then moved on to find a small noodle eatery nearby for lunch.
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More blog posts on Tibet 2017:
JOURNEY ABOVE THE CLOUDS, Tibet 2017 (西藏之旅2017)
DAY 1: TOUCHDOWN ON THE ROOF OF THE WORLD, Lhasa
DAY 1: TRICHANG LABRANG HOTEL (赤江拉讓藏式賓館), Lhasa
DAY 1: KORA AT BARKHOR STREET (八廓街), Lhasa
DAY 2: FIRST GLIMPSE OF POTALA (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 2: KORA OF DREPUNG MONASTERY (哲蚌寺), Lhasa
DAY 2: DREPUNG MONASTERY (哲蚌寺), Lhasa
DAY 2: JOKHANG MONASTERY (大昭寺), Lhasa
DAY 2 : SPINN CAFE (風轉咖啡館), Lhasa
DAY 2: NIGHT VIEW OF POTALA (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 3: POTALA PALACE (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 3: SERA MONASTERY (色拉寺), Lhasa
Day 4: KORA OF GANDEN MONASTERY (甘丹寺), Lhasa
Day 4: GANDEN MONASTERY (甘丹寺), Lhasa
DAY 4: TEA HOUSE AND FAMILY RESTAURANT, Lhasa
DAY 5: ON THE ROAD IN TIBET
DAY 5: MORNING IN SHANNAN (山南)
DAY 5: SAMYE MONASTERY (桑耶寺), Shannan
DAY 5: SAMYE TOWN (桑耶鎮), Shannan
DAY 6: YAMDROK LAKE (羊卓雍錯)
DAY 6: PALCHO MONASTERY (白居寺), Gyantse
DAY 6: WORDO COURTYARD (吾爾朵大宅院), Shigatse
DAY 7: ROAD TO EVEREST BASE CAMP (珠峰大本營)
DAY 7: EVEREST BASE CAMP (珠峰大本營)
DAY 7: STARRY NIGHT, Everest Base Camp
DAY 8: PANG LA PASS (加烏拉山口), Mount Everest Road
DAY 8: SAKYA MONASTERY (薩迦寺)
DAY 9: TASHI LHUNPO MONASTERY, (扎什倫布寺) Shigatse
DAY 9: ROAD TO NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 9: EVENING AT NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 10: SUNRISE AT NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 10: LAST DAY IN LHASA, Tibet
EPILOGUE: FACES OF LHASA, Tibet
DAY 2 (1/4): YEBISU GARDEN PLACE AND TOKYO PHOTOGRAPHIC ART MUSEUM, Ebisu (恵比寿), Tokyo, Japan, 2017.06.15
On the second day, we decided to stay close to the area around Shibuya. We hopped on the Yamanote Line and went one stop over to Ebisu (恵比寿). Known as the God of Fishermen and Luck, Ebisu is a popular divinity in Japanese mythology. It was then used by Japan Beer Brewery Company to come up with the brand of Yebisu Beer back in 1890. Established their production facilities near Meguro, Yebisu Beer is one of the oldest beer brand in Japan. In the modern era, the train station and the surrounding community was named after the brewery as Ebisu. In 1988, the beer brewery were moved to a new location. The original brewery site at Ebisu was then transformed into a commercial complex consisted of office towers, retail, and museums known as the Yebisu Garden Place. The Western architectural style create a unique atmosphere, attracting young couples and the local community to dine, shop and relax.
Many tourists go to Yebisu Garden Place to visit the Museum of Yebisu Beer. We came specifically to visit Tokyo Photographic Art Museum (TOP Museum). Opened in 1995, the museum is known as the only public museum in Japan dedicated to photography. The museum has recently gone through two years of extensive renovations. Three wall display of world famous photographs marked the museum entrance at the end of a colonnade. Three exhibitions were on and we opted to see them all. The first one was “20 Year Anniversary TOP Collection: Scrolling Through Heisei Part 1”, a selection of works taken by Japanese photographers during the present Heisei era (平成). The second was Museum Bhavan by Dayanita Singh, a renowned female photographer who captures the various faces and colours of the magnificently complicated Indian society. The third was World Press Photo 17, the annual award event to compliment a selection of works by the world’s photojournalists in the past year.
The Yebisu Garden Place offers a lot of pleasant public spaces for the community of Ebisu.
Two traditional red brick buildings mark the entrance plaza of Yebisu Garden Place.
Many people arrived at Yebisu Garden Place about the same time as we did, probably going to work.
We arrived at Yebisu Garden Place in the morning at around 9am. We had breakfast at one of the cafe near the entrance of Yebisu Garden Place.
The interior of the cafe was causal and sleek.
Across from the cafe, the Yebisu Beer Museum offers visitors a glimpse of the history of Japanese beer. While a Mitsukoshi department store occupies the opposite side of the entrance square.
A barrel vault atrium and a gentle ramp frame the central axis of Yebisu Garden Place, with the Chateau Restaurant Joël Robuchon at the terminus.
We then walked under the canopy to the airy Central Square.
The design of Yebisu Garden Place is dominated by classical layout and axial arrangement.
Classical architectural elements include the colonnades that appear in a number of locations in the complex.
At the Central Square, there were benches painted with playful patterns that marked the 20th anniversary of the complex.
Yebisu Garden Place is frequented with locals. We saw a few who came dressed in traditional garments.
The Chateau Restaurant Joël Robuchon is a famous luxurious venue in the area of Ebisu.
Our main reason coming to Yebisu Garden Place was the TOP Museum (Tokyo Photographic Art Museum), formerly known as the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography.
The entrance colonnade of the TOP Museum offers visitors a pleasant approach.
Shōji Ueda (植田正治)’s Sand Dune and My Wife III (妻のいる砂丘風景III) , an iconic Robert Capa’s D-Day shots, and Robert Doisneau’s Le baiser de l’hotel de ville (Kiss by the Hotel de Ville) provide a dramatic setting for the museum entrance.
We stayed at the museum for about two hours, seeing three exhibitions including “20 Year Anniversary TOP Collection: Scrolling Through Heisei Part 1”, Dayanita Singh’s Museum Bhavan, and World Press Photo 17. The TOP Museum is a fantastic cultural institution for anyone who love photography. It offers temporary exhibitions on four levels of museum spaces.
Completed in 1959, the National Museum of Western Art is the only building in the Far East designed by modernist architectural maestro Le Corbusier. In 2016, the museum building has been inscribed in UNESCO’s World Heritage along with 16 other Le Corbusier’s works such as Villa Savoye, Unite d’habitation Marseille, Notre-Dame-Haut de Ronchamp, Chandigarh Capitol Complex, etc. We came for the modernist architecture, although many paintings and sculptures on display by world renowned artists were quite interesting too.
Precast concrete panels were used as the main cladding material for the museum.
We were greeted at the front entrance by Émile-Antoine Bourdelle’s Hercules the archer. Bourdelle was an influential French sculptor in late 19th and early 20th century.
The Thinker at Tokyo National Museum of Western Art was made after the death of Auguste Rodin.
The lobby atrium of the museum was a pleasant surprise. The high volume of the space and the trunk-like columns drew our attention to the unique skylight above.
A skylight consisted of multiple triangles provides an interesting design feature to the space, and also magnificent indirect lighting.
An architectural model provides a sectional view of the atrium and shows the exterior form of the skylight feature.
At one side of the atrium, a zigzag ramp led all visitors to the main exhibition on the upper level.
On the upper deck, we could get a clear view of the lobby atrium with its statues.
Again, the concept of bringing indirect sunlight into the interior was the clear intent from Le Corbusier. The glazing bulkhead above the paintings provided the main source of ambient light.
The collection of the museum ranges from Renaissance to the modern ages.
The glazing feature brings in indirect sunlight, but it also creates a long bulkhead along one side of the exhibition hall.
Some of the paintings and statues were interesting, but our focus was always on the architecture itself.
At the museum courtyard, we could see the various facade cladding materials used at different periods of expansion.
At the forecourt, another zigzag ramp supposedly leads visitors to the lower courtyard. Now the entire area, including the exterior ramp, is closed off.
After the National Museum of Western Art, we thought we had enough dosage of art and history for the day. We were quite tired due to the red-eye flight. We decided to check out another piece of architectural gem in Tokyo, Kenzo Tange’s St. Mary’s Cathedral in Sekiguchi.
THE BEAUTY OF CHAOS, Street Markets, Old eateries, Heritage Buildings and Calligraphy Signage of Sham Shui Po (深水埗), Kowloon (九龍), Hong Kong
Hong Kong has its charm as a vibrant metropolis and financial hub in the Far East, but it also has its issues of insanely expensive housing and tremendous gap between the rich and poor. New immigrants, elderly and young people living in bunkers about the size of coffins (known as “coffin homes”) have made the headlines in recent years while at the same time government’s land sales and housing prices have skyrocketed to record levels. Because of its concentration of inexpensive tiny bunkers and decades-old apartments, Sham Shui Po (深水埗), an old neighborhood in West Kowloon, has often been associated with issues of poverty and urban decay.
With its vibrant street markets selling everything from cheap electronics, second hand appliances, clothing, toys, and a wide range of DIY parts, from buttons and fabrics, to cables and motors, Sham Shui Po seems like one huge flea market. Beyond the chaotic appearance, however, visitors may find a special nostalgic charm in this neighborhood, with traces of the beautiful old Hong Kong that have been mercilessly replaced by cold and glassy highrises, luxurious malls, and uninspiring chain-stores throughout the city. A walk in Sham Shui Po is a diverse journey full of chaotic street markets, affordable and unpretentious food, lovely heritage buildings and much more.
Compared with many upscale residential neighbourhoods and the city’s commercial heart, the streets of the relatively less affluent Sham Shui Po are much more human and pedestrian oriented.
Sham Shui Po still has a variety of traditional businesses from Old Hong Kong, such as a high concentration of pawnshops.
Some old apartment flats in the area have been converted to subdivided rental bunkers. The worst type is called “coffin homes” due to their tiny size similar to real coffins.
Every view in Sham Shui Po seems layered, chaotic and complicated.
Quite a number of streets in Sham Shui Po are famous for street markets. Catering for different clientele, each market zone is more or less designated for a distinct type of merchandises.
Looking from above, the streets of Sham Shui Po seem like an abstract painting composed of rows of colour swatches.
While the streets are vibrant and chaotic, the rooftop level seems like a totally different world.
Ki Lung Street (基隆街) is popular with customers looking for DIY supplies for clothing, including fabrics, buttons, ribbons, trims, zippers, you name it.
Nicknamed Street of Beads, Yu Chau Street (汝州街) is another street in the area famous for DIY clothing accessories.
Known as the miniature of Sham Shui Po, Pei Ho Street (北河街) is a market street famed for its fine clothing in really affordable prices.
Another well known market street is Apliu Street (鴨寮街), a large flea market specialized in electronic parts and second-hand electronics.
There are many stalls at Apliu Street (鴨寮街) specialized in electronic repair.
Other than shopping, food lovers also have their reasons to visit Sham Shui Po for some of its more small, traditional and down-to-earth eateries that are disappearing fast in other areas of the city. Sun Heung Yeung (新香園 (堅記)) on Kweilin Street (桂林街) is one of the most popular Hong Kong style cafe in Sham Shui Po, famous for its beef and egg sandwiches.
Established in 1957, another renounced eatery in Sham Shui Po is Wai Kee Noodle Cafe (維記咖啡粉麵 ) on Fuk Wing Street (福榮街).
Wai Kee Noodle Cafe (維記咖啡粉麵 ) is famous for their beef and pork liver noddles (豬潤牛肉麵) and Coconut Jam French Toast (咖央西多士).
Kung Wo Dou Bun Chong (公和荳品廠) or Kung Wo Soybean Product Factory is another major attraction for food lovers.
With over a century of experience, Kung Wo Dou Bun Chong (公和荳品廠) sell all kinds of bean curd or tofu products.
Even the interior of Kung Wo Dou Bun Chong (公和荳品廠) is full of nostalgic ambience.
Apart from shopping and eating, Sham Shui Po is also a great place to admire Hong Kong’s old architecture. The government proposes a series of urban renewal.
Sham Shui Po still has a considerable amount of tong lau (唐樓) or old tenement buildings with a covered colonnade on street level. The ground floor was usually occupied by a small shop, such as a pawnshop or food vendor. This type of architecture once dominated much of Hong Kong before 1960’s.
The 5-storey Nam Cheong Pawn Shop at 117-125 Nam Cheong Street was built in the 1920’s. Even the iconic cantilevered pawnshop signage have becoming rarer nowadays.
58 Pei Ho Street is probably one of the most famous heritage buildings in the area. Built in 1920’s and served as a pawnshop until the 1970’s, it was then converted into a shop selling dried seafood until present days.
The curved balcony of 58 Pei Ho Street is quite unique. The amazing feature window a level above the street is such a lovely design gesture back in the old days when there was less vehicular traffic.
Old Chinese calligraphy signage can be seen all over the streets of Sham Shui Po. Before graphics design being computerized, most Chinese signage came from the hands of a professional calligrapher. Each neighborhood allowed a few calligraphers to earn a living, and each calligrapher had his/her own style. It’s the individual human touch that makes these calligraphy signage unique, especially in the age of computerization and standardization.
Built in the 1940s, Hang Jing Pawnshop is no longer in business. The colonnaded area is now used as an outdoor workshop of a nearby shop. On the columns, beautiful calligraphy of the former pawnshop is still visible.
On the concrete wall of Hang Jing Pawnshop, the old calligraphy set in the plaster represents a bygone era
In October 2014, we stumbled upon a small shop in the shopping centre Tokyo Midtown. Utensils, furniture, cloths, and other miscellaneous household items were on display on wooden shelves and stands. Merchandises were displayed in clusters according to brands from different parts of Japan. The design of that attractive small shop in the middle of a high-end shopping arcade, according designer Yusuke Seki, was inspired by shotengai (traditional shopping street). We stayed at the shop for quite some time, and ended up picking up a blue umbrella with a nice wooden handle. At its underside, there was a small label with an illustration of two deer and a traditional logo saying Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten (中川政七商店). Later on, we did some online research and realized that Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten originates in Nara, and has been around for three centuries.
Opened in 1716, Nara’s Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten just celebrated its 300th anniversary. Originally, the small Nara shop produced hand woven textiles for samurai and monk ceremonial robes. The textile was known as Narazashi, or sarashi bleached hemp textile. During the Meiji Period (1868-1912), the society went through a dramatic change. Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten was forced to diversify its focus on other products such as table cloths and handkerchief. Entering the modern age, the shop defied all odds of modernization, persistently remained faithful to its traditional techniques and craftsmanship. Nakagawa, the 13th president who joined the family business in the last 15 years or so, tested the potentials of his traditional shop to a new level. Not only did he opened new shops outside of Nara like Tokyo and Osaka, Nakagawa also re-branded the company, and gave new life to old products such as using the old technique of mosquito net making for the new best selling fukin (Japanese style table cloth). Furthermore, Nakagawa proactively engaged in fruitful collaborations with other craft companies across the country to come up with new brands and merchandises suitable for the contemporary era.
This time around, we were in Nara after a long day of temple hoping. We promised ourselves that we couldn’t leave the city without visiting the Yu Nakagawa Main Shop (遊中川本店), the flagship store of Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten located at a tranquil alleyway near Sanjo Dori. At one corner of the shop, several merchandises commemorating the 300th anniversary of Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten were on display. A beige cloth with beautiful embroidery was a reproduction of their 1925 product exhibited at the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris, the design world fair that gave birth to Art Deco. 90 years on, Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten is still standing at the crossroad between the old and new, advocating a good mix of traditional crafts and contemporary aesthetics. At their 300th anniversary, their locally made fabrics and household merchandises are as cool and modern as ever.
The subtle wooden machiya (町屋) facade of Yu Nakagawa Main Shop provides a perfect fit for the shop that advocates high quality local crafts and products.
The design of Yu Nakagawa is a comfortable blend of traditional and contemporary elements.
The signage of Yu Nakagawa Main Shop (遊中川本店) with the iconic deer symbolizing the city of Nara.
Rows of colourful textiles behind the cashier counter attracted our attention right from the beginning.
Cloths, bags, paper products, socks, scarfs, utensils, etc were on display in the pleasant interior.
Most items on display came from their own brands, such as 2&9, their line of well made socks.
It was already dark by the time we left Yu Nakagawa Main Shop.
Before we left Nara, we also stopped by Nipponichi (日本市) at Sanjo Dori. Nipponichi is also a brand from Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten focused on selling Japanese made souvenirs.
Our posts on 2016 Kyoto and Nara:
OUR FIRST KYOTO STORY, Japan
DAY 1: ARRIVAL AT HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: RYOANJI TEMPLE (龍安寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NINNAJI TEMPLE (仁和寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KINKAKUJI TEMPLE (金閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KITANO TENMANGU SHRINE (北野天満宮), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NIGHT AT KIYOMIZU-DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: MORNING STROLL IN SOUTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA to KENNINJI, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: ○△□ and Chouontei Garden and Ceiling of Twin Dragons, KENNINJI TEMPLE (建仁寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: SFERA BUILDING (スフェラ・ビル), SHIRKAWA GION (祇園白川), KAMO RIVER (鴨川) & DOWNTOWN, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: YAKITORI HITOMI (炭焼創彩鳥家 人見), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: MORNING IN NORTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (北東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: NANZENJI (南禅寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: PHILOSOPHER’S PATH (哲学の道), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: HONENIN (法然院), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: GINKAKUJI (銀閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: CRAB AND SAKE, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 4: HORYUJI (法隆寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: TODAIJI TEMPLE (東大寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KASUGA TAISHA (春日大社), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KOFUKUJI (興福寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: NAKAGAWA MASASHICHI SHOTEN (中川政七商店 遊中川), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: RAMEN & CHRISTMAS LIGHTS, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 1, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 2, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 5: FAREWELL KYOTO, Kyoto, Japan