ultramarinus – beyond the sea

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DAY 6 (6/6): CROAKING FROGS AND MOONLIGHT REFLECTIONS, Gokayama (五箇山), Toyama Prefecture (富山県), Japan, 2018.05.30

The stay in Ainokura proved to be more than worthwhile.  We got the chance to take refuge in a 350-year old gassho-zukuri house and dine right by a traditional Irori (囲炉裏) hearth in the atmospheric dining room.  The stay also allowed us to experience Ainokura in the evening, when most tourists were gone.  After dinner, it stopped raining.  We went out to take in the tranquil atmosphere under the silver moonlight and shimmering stars.  Wandering on the winding paths, we were totally surrounded by rice fields and the croaking sound of frogs.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe owner of Gassho Minshuku Nakaya used the traditional Irori (囲炉裏) hearth in the dining room to prepare the smoked ayu fish for our dinner.

DSC_7999Seasoned with sea salt, the smoked ayu fish were the star delicacy of our dinner.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPickle, deep fried, and soy sauce veggies, carp sashimi, local rice, and smoked ayu fish left us more than satisfactory after a long and wet day in the Japanese countryside.

DSC_8048Outside of Gassho Minshuku Nakaya, the village path was lit with dim street lamps.

DSC_8016The mirror-like rice fields reflected the beautiful gassho-zukuri houses.

DSC_8020With clouds and moonlight, it wasn’t the best time for stargazing.

DSC_8021Loud croaking sound of frogs came from rice fields in all directions.

DSC_8024The village paths were pretty much deserted after dark, except a handful of tourists and local villagers.

DSC_8027The sky was getting darker as we wandered around the village.

DSC_8028We could see a bit more stars as the last twilight faded.

DSC_8031In the dark, we walked uphill a little bit to a lookout that we visited earlier in the day.  From there, we took a photo of the night sky over Ainokura just before the moon emerged behind the mountains.

DSC_8037Across the rice fields and river valley, the moon was about to emerge beyond the mountains.

DSC_8039The silhouette of mountains and silver moonlight depicted a lovely reflection in the rice fields.  We were grateful to enjoy a moment of absolute peace just before moonrise.

 
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CHUBU (中部地方) 2018, Japan, 2018.05.25 – 06.03
Introduction

Day 1: Tokyo (東京)
1.1 TSUKIJI OUTER MARKET (築地場外市場)
1.2 TSUKIJI INNER MARKET (築地中央卸売市場)
1.3 MORI ART MUSEUM (森美術館), 21_21 DESIGN SIGHT & CAFE KITSUNE

Day 2: Matsumoto (松本)& Kamikochi (上高地)
2.1 MATSUMOTO CASTLE (松本城), Matsumoto (松本)
2.2 “ALL ABOUT MY LOVE”, Yayoi Kusama’s Exhibition at Matsumoto City Museum of Art (松本市美術館), Matsumoto (松本)
2.3 MATSUMOTO PERFORMING ARTS CENTER (まつもと市民芸術館), Matsumoto (松本)
2.4 FROM MATSUMOTO (松本) TO KAMIKOCHI (上高地)
2.5 ARRIVAL IN KAMIKOCHI (上高地), Chūbu-Sangaku National Park (中部山岳国立公園)

Day 3: Kamikochi (上高地)
3.1 MORNING WALK IN KAMIKOCHI (上高地), Nagano Prefecture (長野県)
3.2 DAKESAWA HIKE (岳沢), Kamikochi (上高地)

Day 4: Kamikochi (上高地) & Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉)
4.1 TAISHO POND (大正池), Kamikochi (上高地)
4.2 RETREAT IN THE JAPANESE ALPS, Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉)
4.3 MOMENTS OF ESCAPE, Tsuruya Ryokan (つるや旅館), Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉)

Day 5: Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.1 CITY IN THE MOUNTAINS, Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.2 HIDA BEEF (飛騨牛), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.3 SAKE (日本酒) BREWERIES, Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.4 YOSHIJIMA HOUSE (吉島家住宅), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.5 HIGASHIYAMA WALKING COURSE (東山遊歩道), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)

Day 6: Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山), Shirakawa-go (白川郷) & Ainokura (相倉)
6.1 MIYAGAWA MORNING MARKET (宮川朝市), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山), Gifu Prefecture (岐阜県)
6.2 OGIMACHI IN THE RAIN, Shirakawa-go (白川郷), Gifu Prefecture (岐阜県)
6.3 SOBA, TEMPLE & LOOKOUT, Shirakawa-go (白川郷)
6.4 RAINY AFTERNOON IN AINOKURA (相倉), Gokayama (五箇山)
6.5 GASSHO MINSHUKU, FLOWER BEDS & RICE PADDY FIELDS, Ainokura (相倉), Gokayama (五箇山)
6.6 CROAKING FROGS AND MOONLIGHT REFLECTIONS, Gokayama (五箇山)

Day 7: Kanazawa (金沢)
7.1 DEPARTURE IN THE RAIN, Ainokura (相倉) to Kanazawa (金沢)
7.2 A SEAFOOD PARADISE – OMICHO MARKET (近江町市場)
7.3 D T Suzuki Museum (鈴木大拙館)
7.4 Kenroku-en Garden (兼六園)
7.5 Oyama Shrine (尾山神社) and Nagamachi Samurai District (長町)
7.6 Nomura Samurai House (武家屋敷跡 野村家), Nagamachi Samurai District (長町)
7.7 Sushi Ippei (一平鮨), Katamachi (片町)

Day 8: Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture (金沢, 石川県)
8.1 Iki Iki Tei (いきいき亭) and Higashide Coffee (東出珈琲店), Omicho Market (近江町市場)
8.2 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art (21世紀美術館)
8.3 Kazuemachi District (主計町茶屋街)
8.4 Higashi Chaya District (東山ひがし茶屋街)
8.5 Kaga Yuzen Toro Nagashi (加賀友禅燈ろう流し), Asano River (浅野川)
8.6 AFTERMATH OF KAGA YUZEN TORO NAGASHI (加賀友禅燈ろう流し)

Day 9 & 10: Tokyo (東京)
9.1 Marunouchi (丸の内) & Nihonbashi (日本橋)
10.1 OEDO ANTIQUE MARKET (大江戸骨董市), Tokyo Forum (東京国際フォーラム)
10.2 FARMER’S MARKET, United Nations University (東京国連大学), Aoyama (青山)

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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.

DSC_7981Gassho Minshuku Nakaya is a well-preserved 350-year-old gassho-zukuri house in the UNESCO World Heritage village.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe thatched roof and timber wall panels of the minshuku look just like other traditional farm houses in the village.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJust like any typical Japanese house, there is a decent entrance vestibule at the Gassho Minshuku Nakaya.

DSC_7758The guest area is limited at the ground floor only, with traditional tatami bedrooms, dining room, and bathroom.

DSC_7757In 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.

DSC_7756Our room was a Japanese style tatami room with traditional decorations.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAUpon arrival, we were given green tea and snacks.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOutside of Gassho Minshuku Nakaya, lovely flowers could be found in many fields and flower beds.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the most impressive flower beds we saw was just opposite to the front door of our minshuku.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe small flowers in front of Minshuku Yomoshiro present a subtle beauty.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAColourful flowers along the village paths lighted up the scenery in a rainy day.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe found some of the most impressive flowers at the terracing flower beds in the midst of the lush green rice paddy fields.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd more flowers…

DSC_7898Late May.  Rice seedlings had just planted not long ago.  Rows of footprints were visible in the rice paddy fields.

DSC_7914It was a pleasure to get so close to the rice paddy.

DSC_7995At the end of Ainokura near Gassho Minshuku Nakaya, we found some larger rice fields with beautiful reflections of the surrounding mountains.

DSC_7984After spending time to photograph the rice fields, it was about time for dinner.

 


YI O (二澳) & TAI O (大澳) AT NIGHT, Western Lantau Part 2, Hong Kong

The trail from Fan Lau to Yi O was less well maintained than the path we walked in the morning.  It took us about 40 minutes to walk from Fan Lau Sai Wan (分流西灣) to the farming village of Yi O (二澳).  This was our second visit of Yi O.  A little over two years ago, we came to Yi O and found a beautiful valley where a few farmers trying hard to reintroduce rice farming back to Lantau Island.  Yi O, a farming village with over two hundred years of history and over a thousand villagers in its heyday, became an abandoned village in the 1970s when the last of its inhabitants moved out to the city.  In 2013, a farming cooperative secured a 30-year lease after negotiations with the original four clans of villagers to re-cultivate the land of Yi-O for organic rice paddies.  Since then more lands were cultivated and more helpers were hired each year.  Over 10% of Yi-O’s land had been worked on to develop the farm-to-table business.  In the past, growing rice in a constantly lightly flooded plot in front of village homes was a self-sustainable way of living for Yi-O inhabitants.  Nowadays, the cooperative tried to revive this method, but were still experimenting with more efficient ways to yield more crops.  Under the late afternoon sun, the golden rice paddies revealed a lovely rural dream.  In the era of enormous concerns regarding food safety, the farming experiment of Yi-O might prove crucial for Hong Kong to reduce some degree of reliance on food imports.

DSC_6031Yi O lies in the embrace of lush-green mountains from both sides.

DSC_6036The golden rice paddies looked promising.  Perhaps it was almost harvest time for these fields.  Because of its small output, it isn’t easy to buy a bag of rice from Yi O.  The farming cooperative has a small shop in Tai O to promote their products.

DSC_6045We found our way to the main path in the middle of Yi O, and continued to walk north towards Yi O Bay.

DSC_6049Winding through the village of Yi O, we could still encounter a number of abandoned homes and construction equipment.

DSC_6064The sun was low and so as the tide when we reached Yi O Bay.  The tidal flat is the ideal place for mangrove trees to thrive.

DSC_6073As we left Yi O Bay and headed towards Tai O, a few dogs came the opposite direction towards Yi O.  One by one the dogs walked across the mudflat and disappear into the village of Yi O.

DSC_6075The mudflat of Yi O Bay faces north towards Pearl River Estuary.

DSC_6084Reflection of the western sun and distant mountains and the incoming tidal water on the mudflat of Yi O Bay was quite picturesque.

DSC_6116The sun was fading fast behind the silhouette of mountains adjacent to Yi O.

DSC_6140The flag of Yi O flew high at a nearby concrete pier.

DSC_6173Despite the hazy weather, the sunset over Pearl River Estuary was quite spectacular.

DSC_6188About an hour after we left Yi O, we arrived at the small village of Fan Kwai Tong (番鬼塘), across the bay from Tai O.

DSC_6194We walked across the Tai O Promenade from Fan Kwai Tong (番鬼塘) to Tai O (大澳).  The tide was coming in as the last twilight faded.

DSC_6205In early evening, the popular Tai O wasn’t as busy as we thought.  Without the tourist groups, it was our first time to experience the charm of Tai O as a tranquil fishing village but not a busy tourist trap with vendors trying to sell you all kinds of souvenirs and snacks.

DSC_6206Without the tourists, we could leisurely admire the beauty of the fishing community.  After a long day of hike, we decided to have dinner in Tai O before returning to the city centre.

DSC_6209As we entered Tai O, vendors selling dried seafood to tourists were about to close their stalls.

DSC_6215We soon reached the iconic suspended bridge of Tai O.  The festive lights from the Chinese New Year were still up.

DSC_6227We crossed the suspended bridge to enter the main part of the fishing village.

DSC_6231Without the noise from tourists, Tai O was quite peaceful.  Many inhabitants were preparing dinner in their stilt houses.

DSC_6233We passed by an interesting shrine dedicated to the deity of the local land.

DSC_6237Tai O Community Centre is the main venue for cultural activities at the fishing village.

DSC_6240We passed by a number of shrimp paste shops and manufacturers, an industry that Tai O has been famous for many generations.  Many of the shops were already closed for the day.

DSC_6251After wandering through Tai O, we ended up at Tai O Heritage Hotel.  The hotel was established in 2009, after extensive renovations were carried out for the historical police station built in 1902.  We dined at the glass roofed restaurant Tai O Lookout in the hotel.  The food was nothing spectacular but the historical setting of the complex and the airy atmosphere of the glassy building offered us a pleasant experience to finish the day.

DSC_6266After dinner, we strolled through the village once again heading for the bus station at the village entrance.

DSC_6282The tide was much higher than an hour or two ago, and so as the moon.

DSC_6296All the stores near the bus station were closed.  We waited for about ten minutes before boarding a Lantau bus for Tung Chung at North Lantau, where we would switch to the MTR, Hong Kong’s super efficient metro system, to return home.