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.

 

 

Kitakata, local delicacy

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

Kitakata is also famous for its ramen noodles. Kitakata’s population is 55,000 and the city has more than 100 ramen shops !

Many people from other parts of Japan visit Kitakata to enjoy ramen noodles. From morning to evening, I saw people line up in front of the popular shops.

I heard some people speak in western dialect. I thought many of them who are lining up are tourists. “ Asa rah “ is getting popular. It means eating ramen for breakfast. “ Asa” means morning and “ rah” is short for ramen.I guess some people from different cultures might have some psychological barrier to trying this. In fact, a friend of mine told me that having something salty for breakfast is strange, let alone noodles. But he can eat noodles for lunch or dinner. The landlord of the inn insisted that I should try “asa rah” since many ramen shops are only a few minutes away from the inn. I heard that some people stay at the inn to get good access to ramen shops. On top, in the morning, it’s less crowded. So I went to the one near the inn around 7:15 AM to find a relatively long line ! I was also surprised to find out that many of them are local people. The line moved quickly and I didn’t have to wait for long. I was satisfied with this ramen. The noodles are rather thick and the broth tastes good.

 

 I also tried local delicacies for dinner:tofu topped with soy bean paste, salad with grilled chicken etc. They all go well with local sake. We could enjoy drinking and eating in an old fashioned room. The service is good and price is also reasonable. One of the good points of Kitakata city is that one can walk around and see many places. The size is right for walking but the day I visited was too hot.October or November might be a good season to walk around. 

  

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

 

 

Shoju-an, Zen temple in Iiyama, Nagano

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

I have always wanted to visit Shoju-an in Iiyama since reading the book on Hakuin( Wild Ivy), the famous Edo era Zen priest. Hakuin was born in Hara (Shizuoka) about more than 300 years ago. He trained in many temples in Japan. One day he visited Shoju-an to see the head priest Etan. That time Hakuin was kind of conceited and the old sharp priest at Shoju-an saw through Hakuin’s mind. The old priest was very hard on him but Hakuin somehow came to respect him. However the old priest didn’t accept Hakuin as his pupil. Eventually Hakuin was allowed to stay at the temple and he learned a lot from the old priest.  

   This uphill path to the temple is called “ Hakuin keotoshi no saka “.

“ Keotoshi” means to kick one down and “saka “ means slope. It is said that Etan, a son of the lord of Matsushiro (Nagano) kicked Hakuin down the slope. Etan ( the old priest at Shojyu-an)  went through a lot of harsh training, he became a distinguished priest and was offered many good positions and donations but he kept turning down many kind offers. He was happy to be at Shoju-an, which is small and located in country.

 

 

 The night before I visited Shoju-an, I had dinner at an Izakaya style restaurant. I had a chance to talk with the owner of the restaurant. He told me a lot about Iiyama City and Shoju-an.

   He was an alpine skier himself and he has been a coach for Olympic competitions. One of the famous skiers who he has coached is Aiko Uemura.  According to him, Iiyama has been famous for manufacturing skis. The ski firms Ogasaka and Imura are from Iiyama. They were originally manufacturing furniture. The owner also knows a lot about Zen.

  His story about the present priest of Shoju-an was very interesting to me. This area was affected by a big earthquake a few years ago. One day a person offered some amount of money to repair the building of Shoju-an but the present priest turned down this kind offer. Everybody asked him why he didn’t accept the donation. He said that the money would help him and the temple only temporarily and he shouldn’t grow to always expect that kind of money. He is far from greedy. For example, he grows vegetables at the temple and he often gives them away to the supporters of the temple. He probably takes after Etan’s spirit. Shoju-an is not big but it is a very pleasant temple.

   I really enjoyed listening to the owner’s story. The food they serve is very delicious. I also like the wide line up of their sake. The quality of the food and drink are good but the price is very reasonable. I strongly recommend the people who visit Iiyama should go to this restaurant called “ Rokubei “.

 

 

 Another interesting thing I found in Iiyama is this golden lavatory.

I asked why they applied gold on a lavatory. Iiyama is also famous for making family Buddhist altars and the interiors of these expensive altars’ inside are covered with gold. I was just amazed to see it and I felt kind of guilty about using the toilet. I just viewed and took some photos of it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sake brewery, Shiyunnouten, in Yamanashi

Sunday, August 12th, 2012

The river Fujikawa starts from Mt. Nokogiri in Yamanashi and Nagano.

This river eventually runs into Suruga Bay.

It contains a large volume of water and is one of three fastest-running rivers in Japan.

Long ago in the Edo era, many commodities, such as rice and salt, were carried by boat along this river between Shizuoka and Yamanashi.. Kajikazawa town ( currently called Fujikawa town ) was prosperous as a tradepost.

I happened to visit this town only by accident but felt a strong sense of de ja vu. I felt like walking around the town and happened to find this beautiful sake brewery. This brewery was called “ Yorozuya “ established in 1790. They changed its name “Shiyunnouten” later.

“ Shiyunnouten” is a famous piece of the court music of Japan. It means the voice of bush warblers. In 1933 Akiko Yosano , a famous poet, stayed at this house with her husband Tettukan Yosano since the owner of the brewery was a friend of them. Akiko wrote a poem. In the poem, she used the word “ Shiyunnouten”. Since then they called the place Shiyunnouten.”

 

I really like the building and of course the sake they make. You can taste sake or have some tea in the spacious café area. If you want to relax they have a large Japanese-style room too.

They ask a specialized farmer to grow rice for sake somewhere near their place.

The inside of the brewery can be visited in winter with advanced reservation and I am planning to do visit then.

Going to Tohoku, Sendai

Sunday, September 25th, 2011

I went to Sendai, the center of Tohoku and where I used to live. I was very happy to catch up with some of my friends there.

One of my friends lost her house in the tsunami. But she was lucky. All of her family members are all right. Two other friends I met were affected in some way too but they have houses to live in and their families are all right, too.

Superficially, Sendai looks the same or even more impressive than before but people’s mind set seems to have changed. They became more family-, friend- or community-oriented. They had been too busy to ask each other how they are doing but now they are more supportive of each other.

Tokyo is too crowded and everything is centered on it. Japan should change. I think would better if more people spread outside Tokyo and each main city in each region maintained its own character, culture and center of gravity. It would be more interesting. Thanks to internet, working in the countryside isn’t as difficult as it used to be I guess.

I think it’s crazy how so many people working in Tokyo have had difficulties in going home because of earthquakes or typhoons. People should live nearer to their schools or workplaces as it’s safer and more productive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was also happy to drink rice wine from Yamagata called “ Jyuyondai, which  means  “14th generation. They don’t produce much so it is only available in special places. I love its sharp and crystal clear taste. I also missed this seafood called “ hoya “. Many people in other areas don’t know and haven’t tasted it. It looks kind of scary but it tastes really good. It goes very well with rice wine. I went to a Japanese a type of pub known as an “ Izakaya “ with my friends and was surprised to see the great variety of foods and volume of the portions served.

 

Let’s go to Tohoku in autumn.

 

Going to Kyoto after the mega earthquake

Saturday, April 16th, 2011

I went to Kyoto after the big earthquake in Tohoku. Many people cancelled their plans but I didn’t want to do that. I always like to do something different from other people.

 

Although Kyoto is about 600 km away from Fukushima, many people cancelled their trips to Kyoto. I didn’t expect Kyoto would be affected very much by the disaster far to the north but in fact it was.

 

 

 

 

We stayed in Uji City which is located between Kyoto and Nara, being famous for its green tea, and two world heritage sites. One is Byodoin Hououdou and the other is Ujigami Shrine. Last time I visited the place, there were too many people and I couldn’t enjoy myself but this time I could appreciate the essence of Uji.

I went to The tale of Genji museum nearby. We had the boom of Tale of Genji a few years ago. As everyone knows the tale of Genji was written by a writer called Murasakishikibu about 1,000 years ago. Like many students, I was forced to read some part of the story at school. I didn’t enjoy studying it that time. I didn’t understand why this kind of literature is important. However now finally I came to understand.

I guess my mind set was changed greatly after the earthquake. When I saw my hometown destroyed and changed, I was just speechless and that time I realized the feelings of “ Mono no aware” or  fragility or insecurity of life. Nothing lasts forever

I don’t know why but this kind of classic tale seems to heal my mind. Now I understand the importance and roles of literature. I think many people tend to think primarily about the efficiency of work or how to make money fast. But when I am  kind of depressed, I find literature encourages me very much. And taking vacation and visiting somewhere you haven’t been might give you a lot of new ideas.

 

Fushimi Inari is also a great place to visit nearby. I saw a lot of people visiting there.

Even my friend living near Fushimi Inari was surprised to see the crowd. Probably many people feel insecure and are  trying hard to encourage themselves and of course I am one of them. Fushimi is also famous for its good water and sake.

I went to one old Sake brewery in Fushimi. We can taste many kinds of sake at the bar.

Unfortunately, the seat was full. I asked them to send some bottles to my house by Takkyubin. The sake tastes very good. It tastes sharp and dry. It goes well with sushi.

 

 

 

 

 

Visiting the Sake brewery in Fujinomiya ( Shizuoka )

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

We went to my favorite sake brewery in Fujinomiya, Takasago sake brewery. This brewery was founded more than 180 years ago. They use the undercurrent water from Mt. Fuji and special rice made for sake from Hyogo and Nagano. The collaboration between mild water, high quality rice and the passion of sake brewers make delicious sake. We visited the place a little too late this year. They have almost finished this year’s sake making. Still we could smell the elegant fragrance of sake in the warehouse called kura. We learnt how their sake is made as we took a look inside of the brewery.

They still employ the method called Yamahaizukuri which requires a lot of care, patience and risk-running but it will produce a deep, complex taste. The person at the sake brewery told us that sake brewers need more young people to take over the tradition. Sake has a history of 1,000 years or so and it has been related to many Japanese cultural events and daily life. For example,in my family sake is one of the most important necessities !

 

 

Another thing to see at this sake brewery is these Buddhist statues of Yakushi Nyorai and Kannon Diety. About 141 years ago, Japanese Government told the people to do away with all Buddhist’s things in order to establish a Shinto-centered nation. On top of Mt. Fuji there were many Buddhist’s statues but because of the Meiji Government’s order, almost all of them were broken. They were almost always decapitated. Some people who didn’t want to do that saved some statues secretly and kept them. They have the people called goriki, or sherpas, carry them down. They must have been very heavy.

Many of them were thrown into the crater of Mt. Fuji but survived to the amazement our eyes. I don’t know why they had to do that.

 

      

After learning about sake and history, we all enjoyed tasting sake and ended up buying some bottles to enjoy at home.