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.

One of the mysteries in Izu ( Shizuoka )

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

At the beginning of December, we had a year-end party after a study meeting about economics. I often go to study meetings on economics in Numazu. The organizers know many different kinds of people and they invite guests to give us lectures. And for the December meeting, we had a person who is very familiar with Chinese related matters. He is Chinese but has been living in Japan more than 20 years, married a Japanese woman and became a naturalized Japanese citizen. He has published some books and occasionally on TV. His name is Mr. Hei  Seki.

As everyone knows, some problems underlie the relationship between Japan and China.

Personally, I’m very worried about it and so are my friends.

By listening to his talk, we got new ideas and understood the things better.

I think a person like him is a treasure for both China and Japan. He can help both of us to understand each other.

 

After the lecture, Mr. Seki and some of the members went to Heda village located in the western part of Izu. This village is said to be one of the most loveliest traditional Japanese villages, with a view of Mt. Fuji over the ocean, beautiful paddy fields, a fishing port and mikan orange orchards covering the hills. We all enjoyed eating fresh fish and drinking high quality Japanese rice wine from all across Japan.

The following day, some went orange picking. But I was in a group going to Shuzenji on my way home.

 

 

 

The weather was not perfect but we could see Mt. Fuji over Suruga Bay.

We also overlooked the Ose promontory as we drove. This promontory jutting out into the ocean has a pond called “ Kamiike “. “ Kami” means god and “ Ike” means pond. This pond is in the precincts of Ose Shrine, surrounded by a juniper wood, which is a protected plant. Strangely, the pond water is fresh, not salty, even though it’s located only 20 meters away from the ocean and only one meter above sea level. Fresh-water fish such as carp, crucian carp and catfish are living there. The water is not very transparent so we can’t see into the pond very well and no in-depth studies have been conducted on it because people say that if we investigate the pond, a curse will come on us !

I have been scuba diving in the nearby ocean but I haven’t visited the pond and shrine. I’d like to do so someday. This is one of the famous scuba diving spots in Izu with many kinds of sea animals.

This place has an interesting festival on April 4th. Many fishermen wear women’s costume and makeup and they go on board. In Japan, March 3rd is called girls’ festival, May 5th is boys’ festival. So maybe this festival in April, lying between March and May, could be a gay festival!

Mr. Seki seemed to enjoy himself viewing Mt. Fuji. Talking with him was a lot of fun.

 

 

Going to the art exhibition

Sunday, December 23rd, 2012

 My friend and I went to an art exhibition by Yukiko Kasahara, who I have known since high school days in Sendai. She went to art university in Tokyo and we have followed different paths, but we are still good friends. Some of her artwork is small enough to fit in my living room or study but she has made many big pieces for public facilities such as hospitals, schools and public buildings in some communities. I think public space affects people’s mentality or behavior very much. For example, hospitals need something that makes people optimistic and free. Often I feel really depressed when I visit some hospitals I’m afraid. Good hospitals should have some good artwork like this to give people more energy to live. My photo skill isn’t good enough to describe her work well so please have a look at the site below.

http://www.echigo-tsumari.jp/artwork/metamorphosis_the_memory_that_dwells_in_place

 

Many of the motifs in her work involve plants. Before making a piece, she does a lot of field work to study about the plants, insects or nature all around the area with some people who are familiar with the area’s nature and vegetation. Her field work takes much longer than I expected. It sounds interesting and I wish I could join the work someday. When I visited her atelier in Hayama ( near Kamakura ), I saw more than 100 kinds of plants in her collections. One of the most encouraging things she told me is that as she gets older, she has more things she feels like expressing in her artwork.  

In the middle of busy days or daily routines, we often fail to realize who we are and what we are in nature. She said that traveling or staying in India can give us new ideas about our lives. I’d like to visit India in the near future for the stimulation.

 

 

 

 

 

Organic Yuzu

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

Yuzu is my favorite fruit. The flavor and scent of this citrus fascinates many people. It can be used for many kinds of cooking. For example its ground or chopped peel can be added to soup, grilled fish. Or its juice makes a great dressing for salad when combined with other seasonings. We also put whole yuzu in the bath to enjoy its smell while hoping the essence of yuzu will make our body beautiful and keep our body warm. It is said that if you eat snacks made by pumpkin and azuki beans and take a bath with yuzu on the winter solstice day, you won’t catch a cold.

I visited Fujikawa town in Yamanashi the other day and discovered organic yuzu. They are free from chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or disinfectants last 30 years.

Yuzu sometimes taste bitter but these are not bitter at all. Growing them organically must be difficult and the price of this kind is much more expensive, though. I also learned that yuzu is good food for the people who are suffering from diabetes, high blood pressure and gout.

   

 

I heard that the town harvests a lot of good yuzu every year. The town has an old temple (probably more than 700 years old) and the priests at the temple planted yuzu to use it for shoujin cooking. The history of yuzu in this area is very old. Like many other country towns, this town doesn’t have young people to take care of agricultural production, so they ask people outside of town to help with harvesting or taking care of trees etc as volunteers. Or they invite people to gain ownership of yuzu trees. Once I wanted to plant yuzu in my garden but got discouraged having heard that it takes 18 years to harvest the first yuzu. It takes many years to get it started and once we quit doing it, it can get out of hand or wither very quickly. We have to do all we can do to keep the land free from any kind of contamination and maintaining the right style of agriculture. I’m always amazed to learn the contributions of temples in olden time. The person who introduced tea first was a priest and in this area it was a priest who started to grow this wonderful fruit. Of course the lords of areas encouraged him to keep going, too. Temples have been and should continue to be centers of culture.

Agriculture is a long lasting investment. We also enjoyed viewing beautiful colored maple leaves. This year’s autumn leaves are very beautiful. I heard this years’ are the best in the last ten years.

 

Tea Bushes and clouds

Monday, November 5th, 2012

I was just taking a walk around my neighborhood when I found myself surrounded by tea bushes. The harvesting season is already over and the bushes have been neatly trimmed while the ground below them is scattered with fallen leaves and strewn with mown grass, both of which help to fertilize the bushes. I also noticed some dainty white tea flowers among the trimmed leaves of the tea bushes. I love their round shape. They belong to the camellia family, but tea flowers are much smaller than other camellias.

 

The weather was perfect for taking a walk. I am really lucky in having sweeping views of Suruga Bay in front of me and tea terraces stretching up towards Mt. Fuji behind me. Since it has got colder Mt. Fuji is now wearing its white cap. I saw a line of cloud above the peak. When Fuji has umbrella-like clouds floating above it, that means it’s going to rain. At the same time I saw this strange cross-shaped cloud in the western sky. I don’t know what it means though. Anyway, according to the weather forecast, it’s going to be rainy tomorrow.

Ink Stone in Yamanashi

Monday, October 15th, 2012

I went to Amahata village in Yamanashi. This village is located to the north west of Minobu. It is a very quiet but interesting and slightly spooky place.

This place is famous for ink stones – the stone used to hold ink when painting caligraphy. I found this ink stone museum. It’s awesome.

Ink stones were first produced about 700 years ago. Nichiren , the founder of Nichiren sect in Buddhism told his student to explore this area. He discovered beautiful stone in the upper stream of the Amahata river. The priest asked a local person to carve the stone and the person made a great ink stone. Since then, ink stones in Amahata became very famous all over Japan. The golden age was the Meiji Era when about 100 artisans were working together there. However, after the Second World War, the number of artisans decreased to only a few and today only one person carves ink stone in Amahata. It’s a shame that so many traditional skills have been abandoned.

    

 

 

 

You can see how to make ink stone and if you want, visitors can learn how to carve their own ink stone. This stone doesn’t absorb water very much so even if you keep ink in the stone over one night, the ink stays as it is. The hardness of this local stone is just right for ink stone. You can cut it with a normal saw but it’s very durable. Once you buy one you can use it for a very long time. Since the quality is excellent, the prices are not low. A small one is cheaper, starting from 3,000 yen and a very big one with elaborate one is 350,000 yen.

 

 

 

They are all beautiful. I felt like learning calligraphy. Yamanashi also produces good handmade Japanese paper. Paper for calligraphy, postcards, pads and envelopes, brush, and Indian ink are sold. This museum is designed very well. The windows are set in the lower part of the wall so that we can see the lake Amahata ( a dam lake ). The color of the lake is mysterious and the big sandy mountain made the scenery more interesting. The sandy mountain in the lake was made by heavy rain. The sand ran down from the mountain to the nearby dam.

They say the end of November is a good time to view autumn colors. I hope to visit Amahata again at that time to enjoy hot springs and tofu dishes.

They don’t have many visitors. Probably not many people know this place.

I would like more people to visit it but on the other hand I don’t want it to become a noisy place. I have mixed feelings.

 

 

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.

Mt. Fuji in 2012

Sunday, July 15th, 2012

Her name is Atsuko and she has taken me to mountains a few times.

She has climbed 97 of Japan’s 100 Famous Mountains.

(Nihon Hyakumeizan) She is going to climb the remaining three mountains this summer and autumn to make it 100. She climbed Mt. Fuji twice last week.

  The first time she climbed, she was not in perfect condition since she hadn’t slept well the night before. She gave up going to the top and came down from the 8th station.

 A few days later, she climbed again. The weather was beautiful and she was in great shape. She took some photos on her mobile phone.

They were taken from the 7th station, viewing the 5th station , where people start to climb. You can see a part of Houei crater. She made the summit on that day.

 She said that she started to climb at 8:30 and reached the summit at 13:55.

On her way back, starting 14:20 and reaching 5th station at 16:45.

It seems rather a fast pace to me. She saw two big snowy patches remaining on her way to the top. In the last few years I heard the snow patches have got smaller and this could be due to global warming, but perhaps things will get back to normal if we are fortunate. 

 Many people hope to climb Mt.Fuji and they think it’s an easy mountain to climb but some people are not well-equipped nor well-prepared and end up asking for help. Also people are not always in perfect condition. Even Atsuko gave up going to the top for the first climb of the week.

 She saw many climbers from foreign countries and enjoyed talking in English. The interesting thing is that many people in Fuji where I live don’t climb Mt. Fuji. They say the mountain is to view and worship and not for climbing. Some people may think that it’s only an excuse for being lazy though. In any case Mt. Fuji is a special mountain for everyone. Both Atsuko and I hope we can preserve this great nature untainted.

 

 

 

 

Growing broccoli sprouts

Monday, May 28th, 2012

I’m into growing vegetables these days. However I don’t have enough land for growing. Still, I have learned about the difference between ‘true-bred’ and ‘first filial’ generation and now I feel like eating and growing true-bred vegetables as far as possible. The easy first step can be this small vegetable which can be grown inside of the house. This vegetable can protect our bodies from getting cancers. I can buy sprouts at a supermarket but the ones I grew taste much better. In Japan only one seed shop sells true-bred, but anyone can order seeds from them on the internet.

 

 

First , in the small pot, place a little soil, cotton and water. Then put in some washed seeds. It will take a few days for them to sprout. Until they grow 5 to 10 cm tall, they have to be shaded. When they become tall enough, they are ready to get sunshine. It has been a little cool for this season and it took about a week for them to grow this level.

They are a little small but I added these young fresh vegetables as a garnish.