Seeking out the snow in Hanamaki (Iwate )

Monday, January 21st, 2013

 

It has been really cold in Japan and it has snowed a lot. But I suppose there wasn’t enough snow for me where I live in central Japan so I travelled up to Hanamaki City in the northern prefecture of Iwate. It is not a big city but some distinguished people were born in this place, including writer Kenji Miyazawa and statesman and educator Inazou Nitobe, both active in the earlier part of the last century.

 

This city also has very good hot springs. I stayed a night at one called “ Yamanokami hot spring “ “ Yamanokami “ means ‘mountain god’ and the inn was designed and built by carpenters who make shrines and temples.

I enjoyed the snowscape from my room and as I was taking a dip in the open air hot spring, the snow fell on me and the breeze cooled my head, so I could stay out in the fresh air for quite some time.

   

After taking a bath, I got great foot massage for 30 minutes. It was very painful for me at the time but worked wonders afterwards. It was my second time to try a foot massage in Hanamaki and each time I was quite impressed by the skills of masseurs and masseuses. Hanamaki must have a good school for massage or good teachers to keep their level high! I had no chance to ask about it but next time I’m going to inquire further. I think it’s worth traveling to Hanamaki just for their hot springs and massage. I like people in Iwate because they are often funny. However, I haven’t had very delicious food in Iwate. I wonder why.

 

I visited Kenji Miyazawa’s museum and learned a lot about him. He was such a surprisingly versatile man. Some of his stories are very sad and some are very funny and sarcastic. He called his hometown “ Iitohabu” , which means “ Iwate “ in Esperanto. He was one of the supporters of the Esperanto movement for a common language for the world. His work was translated into many languages. Near the museum, I found an interesting restaurant called “ Yamaneko ken “. Clearly this was inspired by Mitazawa’s funny and rather interesting story called “ The Restaurant of Many Orders.” Two gentlemen go hunting and get lost in the woods. They feel hungry and find a restaurant whose billboards says “ Anyone is most welcome. Please do come in. We especially welcome those who are heavy and young.” This story is one of my favorite ones. I am happy to find Miyazawa Kenji’s spirit is still alive and well in this area.

The Zen temple Shuuzenji in Shuzenji

Saturday, December 29th, 2012

On our way back from Heda (West Izu ), Mr. Seki said that he’d like to visit Shuuzenji temple. This temple is in the town called Shuzenji. It has good access from Mishima which has a Shinkansen (bullet train) station. Izu Hakone railway takes you from Mishima to this town, which is also famous for its hot springs and old Japanese style inns. One inn even has a Noh stage and puts on performances of this ancient form of theater.

Our visit was at the beginning of December. The autumn leaf colors were past their best but we were still struck by their beauty. We were lucky to have a chance to see the garden of Shuuzenji temple. This garden is open to the public for just one week or so every year and we arrived on the last day. The garden is magnificent and the trees along the river in Shuzenji are beautiful, too. It’s nice to take a walk and visit some of the gift shops.

I wondered why Mr. Seki is interested in Zen temple. As he was a student in Japan, he stayed at a zen temple to experience zen training for one week.

In fact, his major is philosophy.

He was told to do zazen all day long for the first few days. He felt he was doing nothing and that just doing zazen was very hard and so when he was told to sweep the garden, he was extremely happy to work. I thought people who don’t feel like doing anything might try this. After that they will be willing to do many things.

 Sometimes we have too much to do and too many things in our minds. During year end and new year vacation, I’d like to clear my mind by doing zazen.

Old railway and Hot Spring around Kitakata

Friday, September 28th, 2012

Kitakata itself doesn’t have a hot spring but if you go north you will find some very quiet hot spring resorts.

One is called Atsushio hot spring and another is called Nittchu hot spring.

They used to have a railway called the Nittchu Line. This railway connected Kitakata to Atsushio covering just 11.6 km and five stations. It was built in 1938. That time people planned to build a railway from Imaichi in Tochigi ( near Nittko ) to Aizu Wakamatsu, Kitakata and  Yonezawa ( Yamagata ).But because of the war, they couldn’t continue the construction work. Also high mountains made the work more difficult. That is why the line is so short. Still the line was used but was eventually abandoned in 1984.

 This line was mainly used by students to commute to school. Only four to six train services were available each day, just early in the morning and evening. People used to joke that the Nittchu line did not run during day time even though “Nittchu” means daytime in Japanese.  I pictured steam locomotives running backwards on their way to Kitakata and forwards on their way to Atsushio. It must have been wonderful. In Japan after this line was closed, we had a steam locomotive boom. The track the train ran on is now used as a cycle lane. I wish they had kept the railway and steam locomotive so that this line could attract more tourists or make railway enthusiasts happy. Just like Ooigawa railway in Shizuoka. However the terminal station and the old train carriages are kept in a nice way. The car at front is used as a snowplow. It snows a lot in this area. The waiting room has many pictures of olden times and very nostalgic.

 

 I didn’t have time to visit Nittchu hot spring but I took a bath at Atsushio hot spring. As the Kanji say, “atsu “ means hot and “ shio “ means salt. The hot spring’s temperature is said to be 70C and the water is salty. They cool the water down so that people can bathe. This hot spring was discovered about 600 years ago by a priest. You can see a Zen temple in the middle of the village. The water is hot and salty and that makes people’s body keep warm for a long time. It is effective for skin ailments and stomach problems. Also it’s good for women who wish to have babies or people who have poor circulation.

All in all relaxing in this peaceful and quiet place while bathing in the hot spring and eating natural food will benefit your health. Or if you like you can try out Zazen at the nearby temple.

Weeding in paddy field in Kobuchizawa in July

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

We visited paddy field to experience weeding. This field is organized by people who would like to grow rice or vegetables in as friendly a way as posisble to the earth. That means weeding is one of the most important tasks to do in summer. Mr. Tobe who is famous as a rice maestro helps them grow organic rice. According to him the yield or quality of the rice depends on how much you tend to the paddy during this time of the year. In August we shouldn’t go into the paddy field since it may interfere and reduce the yield.

 

The weather on the day in Kobuchizawa was cloudy and cool. It was much easier for us to weed. They showed us how to weed. With two bare hands, we grasp the weed with mud and twist them to remove the weed’s roots, after which we bury the whole weed in the mud immediately after. I was worried about damaging the roots of rice plants while twisting the weeds around, but they said paddy is very strong and it recovers. I don’t know other methods of weeding but I think this is a very clever way to do. Because: 1. We can work more speedily and effectively. 2. The weed dies in the mud but at the same time they can help grow rice as fertilizer. This field is free from harmful chemicals so people can touch the mud directly.

 

It was a cool day but as I kept working, I was sweating a lot. It was a great exercise for me. Unless you have problems in your back or knees, it’s worth trying.

 

After work, we went to a hot spring called “ the hot spring of the Fossa Magna”. The hot spring is located at the place where The North American plate and The Eurasia plate meet. This hot spring is rich in alkali. After soaking our body in this good warm hot spring, we enjoyed drinking cold beer.

When I take a trip I often eat too much without doing enough exercise.

But the experience of practical work will bring you more enjoyment from hot spring, food and drink. Above all, meeting and making friends with the new people is the most enjoyable and precious thing. This could be a new style of tourism.  I hope my British friend who experienced this agrees with me.

Hot spring in Yamanashi

Sunday, August 14th, 2011

It has been really hot and some might not even want to think about going to a hot spring. Shimobe hot spring in Yamanashi is great one in this case.

 

Shimobe is located in south west of Yamanashi prefecture. Yananashi is next to Shizuoka prefecture. This time of the year, many roads have heavy traffic so our choice of destinations and means of transportation are very important.

We were really lucky to choose Shimobe because:

1.    We were not caught in any traffic jam.

2.    Shimobe was cooler and quieter than other areas.

3.    Shimobe hot spring’s water is low in temperature (31 Celsius or 41 Celusius). In one bathing room, there are two big bathtubs with low temperatures and one with a relatively high one, so that we can alternate. In summer a low temperature bath is preferable. I could stay in it for a long time.

This hot spring is as much as 1,200 years old. Lord Takeda, who used to govern this area, loved this hot spring. This water is good for recovery from injuries. Probably Samurai warriers healed themselves in this hot spring.

 Also some writers such as Masuji Ibuse stayed at this hot spring.

This hot spring water is drinkable. As we went into a room, a woman at the inn gave us a big bottle of sake. First I thought “ What a welcome drink !”

But it contained hot spring water, not sake. “This water is good for your stomach,” she said. This hot spring isn’t very refined but it reminds me of old Japan. I hope it stays as it is.

Kamakura in Yokote ( Akita )

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

I have been longing for kamakura since I was a child. By kamakura I mean small houses made of snow (and not the historical city in Kanagawa, which I love, too ). It’s summer and pretty hot now in Japan but you can experience what kamakura are like. You can find one in a certain building in Yokote city where a kamakura festival takes place every winter. The day we were there, the temperature was above 30 C ( 86F ) and inside the building where holding the kamakura it is minus 10 C. You have to wear a wataire (a cotton stuffed) jacket before going into the facility.And anyone who has a weak heart should refrain from going in. In fact it was an interesting experience but we couldn’t stay there for a long time. Inside the kamakura a water god is enshrined. They give thanks to the god and enjoy baking rice cakes and drinking something hot. They set candles and usher the people into the kamakura. I hope to go to the festival sometime.

 

I discovered another interesting place in Yokote. But my camera’s battery was flat and I couldn’t take photos of the inn. About 50 minutes drive from downtown Yokote will take you to the inn where we stayed. The area is called Mitsumata hot spring. The facility is kind of old and nothing special but it’s really quiet and relaxing. The hot spring is pretty good and the food they serve is excellent. I couldn’t take photos of them but I’m going back to that place again and then I’ll take photos of them. They serve homemade buckwheat noodles and they still use a windmill to grind the seeds.

Atami

Sunday, June 6th, 2010

I went to Atami in Shizuoka. From Tokyo station by bullet train, it takes only about one hour.It’s famous for its hot springs.

In Chinese characters ( Kanji ), Atami is written “hot sea”

It is said that a long time ago, a hot spring emerged under the ocean. Since hot water sprung up fish swam away and fishermen were in trouble.

A certain priest prayed and his power moved the hot spring to the land!

Since then Atami has been one of the biggest hot spring resorts.

The Tokugawa Shoguns loved it very much. But the Shogun was too busy to visit Atami ( or perhaps did not travel for security reasons ) so they carried hot spring water all the way to Edo ( Tokyo )! It must have been heavy. Besides, since the water is for Shogun, they were not supposed to put it on the ground to rest. The day we stayed in Atami, the weather was cloudy. The hotel we stayed in is located on the hill overlooking the ocean. They had many guests but they were all quiet. The people working there were all tactful so I enjoyed myself staying there. The hotel doesn’t display many things. I like their style but some people might find it boring. They displayed only a few hanging scrolls and a vase made by ex-prime minister Morihiro Hosokawa (who resigned about 17 years ago) and he is often compared with ex-prime minister Hatoyama these days. I think both of them are from good families but their characters look very different to me. I don’t know them personally though. I remember the weather of 17 years ago was very similar to this year’s. History repeats and so does weather ?

Or does weather affect people’s behavior ?

 

Mt. Zao

Monday, January 11th, 2010

   

 I went to Yamagata Zao hot spring. Yamagatas hot spring is different from the spring on the Miyagi side of Zao. The hot spring is very effective. Its really good for your skin, stomach, après-ski bruises and cuts, high blood pressure and nervous tension. Since it contains hydrogen sulfide , if the water gets in your eyes it causes smarting. Its better to take off any metal things such as rings. The water will rust the metal. Or if you soak cloth in the water the cloth will weaken.  I am a bath fanatic and whenever I stay at a hot spring resort I take baths for too long and too often. It is said on the first day, one should take a bath just  once or twice for a short time and on the second day one can take more and stay in longer. I wish I could stay at that resort for a week without doing anything.I also sleep long hours when I go there. I could sleep 10 hours in a row. Am I too lazy ?

 

    

 

 

This resort is located as high as 880 meters above sea level. The hot spring shrine is on the hill. In Shinto we worship nature and are always thankful for its blessings. This is Ashiyu or foot bath. After enjoying skiing your feet are cold and tired but this hot bath might soothe them.

 

 

Spring Colors

Friday, April 24th, 2009

On my way to my favorite hot spring, I enjoyed viewing spring colors. Deep in the mountain spring trees and wild cherry blossoms entertained my eyes. Near the hot spring there is a nice noodle shop. The buckwheat noodles are home-made. I like their style and attitude. I always order noodles, Tempura ( deep fried vegetables ) and sometimes beer. Then they always offer us free side dishes.

The people who work there are local old ladies and they cook the vegetables they have grown and do their best to entertain their customers.

       

The restaurant is located on a river. It has an interesting garden and a pond where you can enjoy fishing.

Last autumn I had guests from the UK. and I wanted to take them to this restaurant but that time it was closed. I was very worried about it but was relieved to find that it is going again !

      

To take a bath we have to go deeper into the mountain. The hot spring has two big bathtubs inside and relatively shallow one outside. A lady and I were in the outside bath on that day. It was so quiet and relaxing.Then the lady fell asleep. Gradually her body was sliding, sinking little by little into the water. I didn’t want to interrupt her good nap but I thought I need to keep monitoring her. I decided I would pinch her if the water level reached her lower lip level. When the water touched her chin she woke for a few seconds but again went back to sleep. That time another lady joined our bathtub and my duty was over. I moved to the inside bath. Am I a worrywart ?