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DAY 6 (3/6): SOBA, TEMPLE & LOOKOUT, Shirakawa-go (白川郷), Gifu Prefecture (岐阜県), Japan, 2018.05.30

After a leisure stroll in the picturesque Ogimachi (荻町), at around 11am we crossed the suspension Deai Bridge (であい橋)over to the main parking lot / Open-air Museum Gasshozukuri Minkaen (合掌造り民家園).  The rain was quite heavy and instead of visiting the open air museum, we opted for a lunch break at Soba Wakimoto (蕎麦脇本), a lovely soba restaurant housed in a traditional gassho-zukuri building.  The lunch was a delicious soba noodle soup and a mini bowl of Hida beef rice.  After lunch we crossed the bridge back to Ogimachi, and paid a visit to the Myozen-ji temple complex.  The visit included seeing two gassho-zukuri buildings, the Kuri (former residence of the monks) and the worship hall.  Before leaving Shirakawa-go, we headed up to Shiroyama Observatory Deck (城山天守閣展望台) for the spectacular birdeye’s view of the village and the surrounding mountains.  At around 1:40pm, we headed back to the bus station, picked up our backpacks, and boarded a “world heritage bus” heading to Ainokura (相倉) of Gokayama (五箇山), where we would stay the night in a 300-year-old gassho-zukuri house.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn the other side of Deai Bridge (であい橋), the tour bus parking lot and the Open-air Museum Shirakawa-go or Gasshozukuri Minkaen (合掌造り民家園) didn’t look busy at all.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor tourists who arrive by tour buses, Ponte Deai (であい橋) would be their point of arrival into Ogimachi.

DSC_7606Just a stone throw away from the tour bus parking lot, we arrived at Soba Wakimoto (蕎麦脇本).  We decided to go for a bowl of soba and a cup of hot tea.

DSC_7612Two “raccoons” welcomed us at the front lawn of the soba restaurant.

DSC_7609It was 11am, and we were the first to sit down in the dining hall of Soba Wakimoto.

DSC_7610We ordered two soba sets.  Both came with a seafood soba, and a bowl of Hida beef rice.  The meal was fantastic and gave us an opportunity to dry up our jackets.

DSC_7605After lunch, we headed back to Ogimachi.  Outside of a tourist restaurant, a sarubobo (さるぼぼ) doll offered visitors a photo opportunity with this amulet of Takayama.  The faceless doll was a traditional gift made by grandmothers for their grandchildren as lucky charm.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABack in Ogimachi, we passed by Myozen-ji Temple again and decided to paid a visit.  Built mainly in the early 1800s, Myozen-ji Temple presents a rare surviving example of gassho-zukuri temple architecture.

DSC_7570In the Myozen-ji Temple, we could visit the Bell or Shoro Gate, the Kuri, and the main worship hall.  All three structures were constructed with the unique thatched roof of the gassho-zukuri style.  These temple structures were built in the early 1800s.

DSC_7503The Kuri of Myozen-ji Temple is one of the largest building in the village.  Our tour of the temple complex began from here.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe spacious attic of the Kuri building had been converted into a two storey museum.  Back in the old days, attics of many gassho-zukuri houses were used to make washi paper and raise silkworm.

DSC_7659Outside the Kuri, the gassho-zukuri houses and reflective rice paddies offered us a glimpse into the fading rural lifestyle of Japan.

DSC_7645The upper levels of the Kuri building allowed us a closer look at the straw eaves of the thatched roof.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrom the Kuri, a zigzag corridor led us to the main worship hall of Myozen-ji Temple, where the interior was decorated with a series of paintings depicting the Mount Fuji.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn the ground level of the Kuri, we arrived at a beautiful fire hearth where visitors gathered around to smell the burning natural wood.

DSC_7700Before leaving Shirakawa-go, we walked up the hill near the bus station to Shiroyama Observatory Deck (城山天守閣展望台).

DSC_7704The Shiroyama Observatory Deck (城山天守閣展望台)  offers the iconic postcard view of Shirakawa-go’s Ogimachi.

DSC_7711Despite the rain, the village of gassho-zukuri houses looked spectacular with the lush green surroundings.

DSC_7743Although most tourists prefer to visit Shirakawa-go in the snowy winter when the gassho-zukuri houses were lit up by flood lights at specific weekends, we didn’t mind to visit in late spring to see the village with its reflective rice paddies and lush green surroundings.

DSC_7720It was touristy, yet the scenery of Shirakawa-go and its traditional gassho-zukuri houses made the visit to this UNESCO World Heritage site more than worthwhile for us.

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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)


WESTERN RESORT IN THE ORIENT, Karuizawa (軽井沢), Japan

At the foot of Mt. Asama, Honshu’s most active volcano, stands a mountain resort town that first captivated the attention of Westerners in late 19th century.  Since then, it grew into a summer resort for many Tokyo residents, including the royal family.  In the 1970s, John Lennon and Yoko Ono spent several summers at Karuizawa for retreat.  Today, the shinkansen bullet train takes a little over an hour to connect Karuizawa and Tokyo, a rather convenient day trip for visitors who want to take a break from the bustling scenes of the Japanese capital.  Visitors come for the natural scenery, the Westernized old town, the interesting galleries, the large shopping outlet right by the railway station, or just a breathe of cool air and peaceful atmosphere to escape the summer heat in urban Tokyo.

0Outside the railway station, the tranquil air of the countryside offers a big contrast from the dense and intense urban scene of Tokyo.  On the south side stands the large shopping outlet, and the north side rows of pitched roof houses and streets leading into the old town centre.  It’s about a half hour walk from the railway station to the town centre.

1In the town centre of Karuizawa, one of the busiest restaurant is Kawakamian (川上庵), a delightful restaurant specialized in soba buckwheat noodles.

2The dining area of Kawakamian (川上庵) was fully occupied when we were there.

4At Kawakamian (川上庵), we ended up getting a table at the outdoor terrace.

5Duck meat soba noodles of Kawakamian (川上庵).

6Tempura vegetable and shrimp with soba at Kawakamian (川上庵).

7There are a few patisserie shops in Karuizawa.  Gateau des Clochette (ガトゥ・デ・クロシェット) is a popular one with tourists.

8A row of old timber houses at the high street of Karuizawa (旧軽井沢銀座通り) reveals the former European atmosphere of the town.

9Cafes, restaurants, patisserie shops and souvenir stores can be found at the pedestrian high street of Karuizawa.

10Dairy products from the area is popular among visitors.

11This doll house-like timber house is a popular cafe on the high street.

12In the new town centre, we passed by a flea market selling all kinds of old household items in a parking lot.

13Halfway between the old town and the railway station, the  Karuizawa New Art Museum (軽井沢ニューアートミュージアム) offers tourists and the local community a pleasant stop for art exhibitions.

14Directly south of the railway station is the large retail outlet frequented by tourists.  The environment of the outlet is completely different than the high street of the old town.

15A water pond in the middle of the outlet offers a pleasant park setting for shoppers.

16Right by the pond is the circular restaurant pavilion.  The openness and scale of the outlet made me feel like traveling in North America.

17Shinkansen bullet train makes the trip from Tokyo to Karuizawa in a little over an hour.


DAY 2 (3/6): KIYOMIZU DERA to KENNINJI, Kyoto (京都), Japan, 2016.12.04

Leaving Kiyomizu-dera behind, we walked down Matsubara Dori (松原通) to the intersection of Gojo-zaka (五条坂), where we were drawn by a small shop selling different senbei (煎餅), or Japanese rice crackers snacks.  The shop Terakoya Honpo (寺子屋本舗) is a well known chain store of senbei in Japan.  We couldn’t resist but picked up a piece of delicious senbei with seaweed spices.  Turning into Sannen-zaka (三年坂), we found our way back to Yasaka Dori (八坂通), the historical alleyway dominated by the iconic Yasaka-no-to Pagoda of Hokanji Temple (法観寺 八坂の塔).  A number of locals and tourists dressed in traditional kimonos were posing for photos in front of the pagoda.   A strong coffee aroma led us to a few shops down from the pagoda.  The sleek design of curved glazing and minimal decor of %Arabica Coffee provided a pleasant contrast to the historical atmosphere of Higashiyama.  We went in, ordered two cups of hand drip coffee, and sat down at the communal table.  A female staff took our order and prepared the coffee at the counter.  After about ten minutes, our magnificent morning coffee were ready, and that was probably one of the best coffees we ever had.

Just round the street corner from %Arabica along Higashioji Dori (東大路通), we arrived at a alleyway leading to the Shinto shrine Yasui Konpiragu (安井金比羅宮).  Nothing monumental or extravagant, the low profile shrine in a residential neighborhood was surprisingly popular with local worshipers due to the specialized wishes of “sever bad relationships and established  good relationships (悪縁を切り良縁を結ぶ).  In the shrine complex, the centre piece “Power Stone Monument” is a 3m x 1.5m tall rock with an oval hole in the middle.  The monument is fully covered with white paper charms.  When we were there, there was a long queue of visitors (mostly young women) waiting for their turns to crawl through the oval hole in a ritual of making wishes related to relationships.  The main shrine building stood adjacent to the “Power Stone Monument”.  In front of the main shrine, racks fully loaded with ema (絵馬) wooden plaques and paper charms written with wishes captured our attention.  Judging from the amount of ema, Yasui Konpiragu should be considered a very popular Shinto shrine.  We exited the shrine complex through a side torii gateway into a residential lane, and soon found ourselves just steps away from the perimeter wall of Kenninji Temple (建仁寺).  Before entering this oldest Zen temple in Kyoto, we stopped by a soba restaurant next to the temple entrance for a quick lunch.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOutside of Kiyomizu-dera, visitors including us began to walk down Matsubara Dori (松原通) towards the city.

02Senbei, Japanese rice crackers, with seaweed spices ordered from Terakoya Honpo (寺子屋本舗), a chain snack shop.

03On Yasaka Dori (八坂通), there were quite people dressed in traditional kimono and posed for photos.

04A grapefruit tree below the Yasaka-no-to Pagoda of Hokanji Temple (法観寺 八坂の塔).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANear Yasaka-no-to Pagoda, we passed by  Yasaka Koshindo (八坂庚申堂), a small Koshin (庚申) temple.

06Walking down Yasaka Dori looking for %Arabica Coffee.  Whenever we turned around the Yasaka-no-to Pagoda just dominated the vista.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThree customers sat on a bench in front of %Arabica Coffee Shop.

08Front counter of %Arabica Coffee Shop in Higashiyama.

09Coffee beans stored behind glass cabinets against the long wall in the coffee shop.

10Coffee roasting machine at the back of the shop.

11Two cups of Hand drip coffee!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA long queue for the opportunity to crawl through the hole of “Power Stone Monument” at Yasui Konpiragu (安井金比羅宮).

13A young woman crawling through the “Power Stone Monument”.

14A young woman worshiping at the main shrine.

15A rack fully filled with ema (絵馬) wooden plaques

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Side Entrance and torii gate of Yasui Konpiragu (安井金比羅宮).

16soba restaurant.

17Interior of the soba restaurant.

18Soba with tempura

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASoba with fresh tofu skin in thick broth

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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