Henro Day 3: Refelctions

14 02 2012

First posted at iHenro!

It’s no surprise that I like hiking, so it should also be no surprise that day 3 was one of my favourite days.

The trail from temple 11 to temple 12 is a ‘Henro Korogashi’ which I’ve only seen translated as Pilgrim falls down. I think a better translation would be Pilgrim’s downfall. There are a few points along the pilgrimage which are known as Korogashi, and they are known as that because they are particularly steep or arduous, and day 3 is the first test for any pilgrim.

I’ve spoken to another friend who attempted doing the pilgrimage a few years ago, and day 3 was as far as he got, so I was a little nervous about what to expect. In fact, I was quite ready to pull out if the weather went bad, or it was too difficult to do in trail runners. A funny thing, at temple 11 there is a mini pilgrimage before you start the trail, so if you don’t make it you could just pay your respects at the little shrines circling Fujidera.

Overall, I found my first Korogashi not too bad. None of the mountains were particularly tall, and all the steep areas had stairs. It would still have been nice to have a walking stick though. It was a bit annoying that it wasn’t like a ridge walk, and you had to go all the way up and then all the way down all three peaks. There were also a few people on the trail, not only fellow pilgrims, but also locals out for some exercise.

One thing I love about hiking is being in nature. Japan has really lovely scenery, quite different from what I’m accustomed to in Australia. Day 3 was mostly hiking through cedar forests, which have this mysterious air to them I think. And there were a few bamboo groves along the way as well as a great view of the river basin that I walked across the previous day.

Arriving at Shosanji was a little surreal. It is a very pretty temple, but the contrast between the natural forest on the trail and the not-so-natural scenery at the temple was a little disconcerting. Or maybe it was running into all the bus pilgrim crowds. Shosanji has an interesting story about it’s foundation, apparently a dragon was terrorising the mountain, but was contained in a cave by Kobo Daishi, thus saving the people of the mountain.

My accommodation for the night (Nabeiwa-so) would have to be my favourite place I stayed the whole trip. It was really really lovely, and also probably the best value for money. I think the building was somewhat new, but built in a rustic style, and even smelled of fresh cut wood. There were about 8 Henro staying that night (mostly older retired men, but also one other woman), so dinner in the dining hall was a very lively affair. Oh, and dinner was really yummy, fresh greens, rice, miso, and tempura!

The mix of people I met this day was very interesting. It included a two local men who were out for some morning exercise by hiking the first mountain. A couple of young university students from Kansai doing a few days on trail. A woman from Shizuoka doing the trail a few days at a time. Another man from Tochigi who was planning on doing about 2 weeks. And also an older man who was doing the trail in reverse, and for the 5th time! They say doing the trail in reverse is something like 3 times harder than the regular way.

So, finally, here’s a picture of me, just to show you how I was kitted out. I’m wearing the pilgrim’s white coat, but my little bag of supplies was in my backpack that day. I also ended up wearing my rain jacket under the coat quite frequently as I found it to be a good wind breaker. Apart from that I was wearing just a long sleeve t-shirt, hiking trousers, trail runners and a head sock or cap. Although you can’t see it, my pack looked big, but was only about 6kg, and on the waist strap I have my camera bag. Not going to win any beauty contests with this outfit, but it was really comfortable and functional.

Kulinary Kansai (food.foto.spam!)

6 05 2011

One of the best things about travelling in Japan is trying the local specialities. So here’s a round-up of what I sampled on my last trip to Kansai!

Firstly while just getting to Kansai there was Ekiben (station lunchbox) of fried rice and wontons –

And arriving at Osaka I had to eat the classic Takoyaki (octopus balls) with a bit of a different spin, served in a light broth –

The Takoyaki was from this festive shop along Dotombori –

Eating out in Osaka also included Kushiage (fried things on sticks) –

Mexican with a friend –

Mystery Chinese –

And a Yum Cha set –

And moving from Chinese to Chinatown in Kobe, I had some Cha Siu Men –

Before stopping for some fruit tart from a french cafe near Kobe’s old foreigner’s quarter –

And continuing with sweets, in Kyoto I found soft serve ice cream with Yatsubashi (a hard cinnamon cookie) –

Shu cream (cream puff) made with real vanilla and sprinkled Yatsubashi on top –

And Mizuame (water candy) which is very similar to corn syrup according to wikipedia –

And finally some Unagi-don (eel rice bowl) served with sesame tofu at Mt Koya to keep up my stamina –

Yes, I think I did gain 5kg on this trip….

Where in the world???

25 04 2011

Am I? Well, back in Brisbane actually.

So, firstly I am so sorry that I have been a totally slack blogger and haven’t posted regularly for months. But a lot has been happening and I haven’t felt like doing any writing. And so. yeah. slack. Sorry m(-_-)m

Let’s see, since my last post I’ve been to Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Wakayama and then back to Tokyo. And Brisbane. So yeah, my life in Japan has come to a conclusion. And I have very mixed feelings about that.

It’s been great to see my family and friends again, but moving back to Australia ahead of schedule means I haven’t really planned anything. at all. But I’m working on my resume, and I have big plans, we’ll just have to wait and see if it all turns out.

I’m sad to have left Japan, I managed to see a lot of my friends before leaving, but there were a few which i just couldn’t arrange to meet, which was even more saddening. But it’s good to be away from all the earthquake craziness, and actually, not having a job really doesn’t agree with me. At least in Australia I am working towards a goal.

I have so much to blog about, so do expect more posts shortly. Even a few more posts about hiking around Tokyo (although I still would not recommend going hiking in the Tokyo region just yet…). So keep an eye out, I hope to be back to posting at least once a week from now!

Not your regular Abominable Snowmen…

28 02 2011

No, these are ICE MONSTERS!  Or Juhyo in Japanese.

At the top of Mt Jizo, at the coldest time of the year, they gather under the full moon~

Okay, yeah, so they aren’t actually alive…  But they can look really creepy!  Literally like a huge group of icy monsters gliding along under the moon, ready to converge on the light…

Actually, the Juhyo are trees that have a build up of super cold snow and rime.  It doesn’t happen in many places in Japan, the conditions have to be just right, but at Zao in Yamagata you can see theses beautiful natural sculptures every year.  And go skiing on some fabulous slopes, soak in natural milky white hot springs, and eat delicious beef dishes made from beef raised in Yamagata itself.

It’s pretty famous within Japan, so it’s always busy, but it’s also so beautiful!

The best season for the Juhyo is in February, but they can also be seen in January and March.  Weather although is much harder to predict, with strong cold winds (-10 deg C when we went!) and high altitude, it changes very quickly.

As always, more photos of my visit to Zao can be seen on flickr!

Brisbane Bites Take 2

31 01 2011

It’s been over a month since I returned to Japan after having a lovely few weeks in Brisbane for Christmas, and my lovely summer tan has finally disappeared under coats, scarfs and gloves. So, it’s about time I shared some photos of my Bris-Vegas adventures.

As always, a fair amount of my time was spent eating the things I don’t usually get to eat. Firstly Lauren took me to Guzman Y Gomez, a mexican (somewhat upscale) fast food restaurant chain from down south. It was beef nachos and margaritas all round!

And no trip to Brisbane is complete without a visit to the Pancake Manor on Charlotte St. I thought I could get through a regular stack, but my stomach had had too much pancake-y goodness 2/3rds through. Such a shame to waste good pancakes.

And of course there was the traditional (well, my family’s) Christmas day lunch of cold cuts of chicken and ham, smoked salmon, prawns and salad! The prawns were to die for!

Between eating I spent most of my time with family, meeting a couple of friends, looking at the sky (it’s sooooo pretty in Australia!) and even managed to go to the Gallery of Modern Art.

Unfortunately only a few weeks after I left, Brisbane and a lot of the state was flooded. Thankfully none of my friends or family were badly affected, but the long term effects are going to be difficult for everyone. In fact, financially it will affect the majority of Australians, so if you can spare, please donate to the flood appeal!

Yahiko, Niigata and Aizu Wakamatsu

19 11 2010

While my maternal unit was visiting in October, we were lucky again to win a draw from Japanican, which was for a free night at a selected list of Dormy Inn Hotels. Unfortunately we didn’t get our first pick, but we did get a night in their Niigata hotel. So it was off to Niigata for a long weekend!

Also at the time, JR East had a special 3 day rail pass for tourists, so my mother’s train fare for the trip was only 10,000 yen! Sometimes I wish I were only a tourist!

Yahiko Park

After doing some research I wasn’t sure there would be enough in Niigata city to occupy us for a full two days, but I did stumble across the website for Yahiko – a Leafy Village Full of Smiling People (according to their website…). And it certainly was a lovely little village. We first walked through Yahiko park, which is well known for it’s autumn colours. Unfortunately we were a little early, and the leaves had only just stared to turn, but it was pretty none-the-less.

Sauce Katsudon

Next, it was lunch of Sauce Katsudon (Pork cutlet dipped in sauce and served on a bowl of rice), which is an area speciality, and was also the best Katsudon I had ever eaten. And then a quick walk through Yahiko Shrine, where we saw a traditional wedding party, followed by riding a ropeway up to the top of Mt Yahiko. From the summit you could see a wide view of the Echigo plain, the largest rice producing area in Japan, and on the other side was the Sea of Japan. You could just make out Sado Island on that day, which is the 5th largest island in Japan.

Yahiko Shrine

So after spending half a day at Yahiko, we then caught the train to Niigata city and went to our hotel for the night. Niigata city has been a port town for around 300 years, but it’s history dates back to the Jomon period (14,000 BC to 300 BC). Despite having a long history, it’s a small city, but quite charming and the people were really friendly.

Echigo Plain

The next day we found the tourist information centre at Niigata Station, and were given some great recommendations for how we could spend our day in Niigata city. The city runs a loop bus which stops near most of the tourist attractions. Our first stop was Hakusan park, which was the first municipal park in Japan. It also has a shrine and an old merchant’s house called Enkikan. The park itself was quite lovely, and well established, being over 100 years old. When we went to Enkikan a local Tea Ceremony Club was having an annual meeting, so we weren’t able to look at the house, but they did invite us to participate in a tea ceremony with them. It was a first for mum, and she found it quite interesting. It was also amazingly nice of the club to invite us like that to join.

Tea Ceremony cups

Next we caught the loop bus to a private residence and garden that had been converted to a Museum. It was a lovely house that had been added to over the years, and was quite a mix of Japanese and Western styles, but with quite a number of charming little Japanese things in every room, like calligraphy, screens, and motifs. And the garden itself, although small, was beautiful, and an excellent use of space. The lady at the museum also had a bit of a chat with me and recommended some other places around the area, but unfortunately we didn’t have the time to visit anything else in Niigata, because we needed to catch the train to Aizu Wakamatsu.

Japanese house and garden

Japanese house and garden

We arrived late into Aizu Wakamatsu, so we got some dinner and went to bed to be off early the next day. Aizu Wakamatsu has a loop bus as well, so we caught that to the castle. Unfortunately we didn’t know that the castle was being re-roofed and totally covered in scaffolding, but the museum inside was still open. It talks all about the history of the region, which is probably most famous for being one of the last stands of the Shogun’s supporters in the Boshin Civil War, and a group of youths called the Byakkotai who commited suicide when they had thought the castle had fallen.

Aizu Wakamatsu Castle

After exploring the castle and it’s grounds, we walked a little way to a Sake Brewery. Inside the Brewery was a museum which explained how sake is made. There was also free samples, but it wasn’t even lunch time yet, so we only had a cup~ We then caught the bus to a traditional shopping area, which is said to be in the ‘Taisho Romantic Style’. There were lots of traditional buildings and warehouses which contained shops selling all kinds of goods, from pottery and lacquerware, to candles and red cows (all things of which Aizu is famous for). All in all, it was very atmospheric, and my favourite part of town.

The Sake Brewery

And finally, after 3 days of travelling, we caught the Shinkansen back to Tokyo, and back to normal.

Photos can be found on flickr, as always~

Six Months (and not counting)

18 10 2010

Well, it’s official. I’m moving back to Australia sometime next year. I’ve decided not to sign a new contract, so from April I’ll be a free agent. I can’t tell you how much I look forward to not teaching (the little sh*ts).

Actually, my job is still pretty good, and the holidays are still brilliant, but it’s time to move back to the ‘real world’ and get a career. I never wanted to be an English teacher for the rest of my life, and so, I need to start trying for what I want.

Living in Japan for a long period of time has been great. I came (this time) with 3 goals in mind – travel as much of the country as I can, climb Mt Fuji, and pass the Japanese Language Proficiency Test Level 2. I’m pretty happy to say I’ve achieved the first two, and I’m going to make my final attempt of Level 2 in December.

But there are still things I have yet to do. Like go to Ueno Zoo, or Shikoku even… So I made a list (If you haven’t noticed, I like to list things). My 6 month list has a lot on it already, so I won’t bore you with the details, but most things I’ll post about over the next 5 months or so will be things from the list.

For example, the other week I went to the Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum. I’ve been meaning to go there for years, and I just lucked out in that on the day I went it was free admission.

The museum is in Kogane park, and contains a number of buildings from Tokyo over the last 200 years or so. In particular, I wanted to go because some of the buildings were used as inspiration for the Studio Ghibli movie Spirited Away. Like the Public Bathhouse –

And the Stationary Store –

But the thing that really struck me was how much I’m going to miss the little details when I leave Japan, like shaped windows and rice paper –

bamboo –

lattice work –

carvings –

and of course gardens –

Although it wasn’t the best examples I’ve seen, the museum was a pleasant day out.  And just enough to satisfy my taste for the Japanese aesthetic.  Check out my other photos on flickr!