Japan – Before Frida

Japan – Early April

9-10 April 2013, Nikko

We came to Japan in search for cherry blossoms – to be wrapped in a pink universe of flowers and let our minds drift away. Instead we woke up to this! It seems that also in Japan, April is a tricky lady, every other minute she likes to change her dress!IMG_8478_small

But we also came to Japan to eat and on the culinary side we had much better luck than with the cherry blossoms! IMG_8450_small

And we went to Nikko, to the mausoleums of the Tokugawa Shoguns, which are sitting in a beautiful cedar forest north of Tokyo. L1042564_small

The guards were happy to see us……L1042568_small

Some of the cedar trees are enormous and the colours are beautiful.IMG_8474_small

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Heavy chinese influence is obvious in the elaborate carvings.L1042557_small

The yak and the irbis!                IMG_8467_small

The famous monkeys, saying that the young should hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil.L1042572_small

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Onsen, Yukata, Sashimi and Fuji-San

A weekend trip to Nishi-izu, 13-14 April 2013

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Sakura and Asado

20-21 April 2013, Lake Yamanakako

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Finally we found cherry blossoms in Japan, sakura! We went to Lake Yamanakako at the foot of the magnificent Mount Fuji. Unfortunately, the Fuji-San was hidden behind a thick cover of clouds but the cherry blossoms were beautiful, they bloom a bit later here at almost 1000 m above sea level. 

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In the afternoon it started raining and towards evening the rain turned to wet snow. But this did not stop us from making an argentinian barbeque, asado!

Claudio and Niko by the barbeque.IMG_8820_small

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Central Japan

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Our photographic impressions from one week of driving through Central Honshu Island, from Tokyo to the Sea of Japan. Route: Matsumoto – Hotaka – Kisa Valley (Narai – Tsumago – Magome) – Takayama – Ogimachi – Ainokura – Kanazawa

24-29 April 2013

This seems very strange! Marco driving on the “wrong side” and not in Frida!IMG_8848_small

This requires a quick management decision! Driving through Tokyo on the expressway.IMG_8849_small

MATSUMOTO – The weather was grey when we arrived to Matsumoto, but it did not make the sixteenth century samurai castle Matsumoto-jo less impressive. IMG_8853_small

We ate a lunch which was a pleasure both to the eyes and to the tongue. It included of course the local speciality sasamushi – eel steemed in rice wrapped in bamboo leaves.IMG_8880_small

HOTAKA – we visited the Dai-o Wasabi Farm in Hotaka just north of Matsumoto, a wonderful place where they are growing the precious wasabi roots in the river bed. You can also sample a wide range of wasabi foods including quite strong wasabi icecream and wasabi beer.      IMG_8934_small

Wasabi fields in the river.                      IMG_8901_small

Tending to the young wasabi plants.                       IMG_8895_small

And finally the fresh wasabi root for sale.IMG_8940_small

KISO VALLEY – South of Matsumoto we entered the beautiful Kiso Valley with the classical Edo-era villages Narai, Tsumago and Magome. Here we are strolling through Narai early morning. IMG_8987_small

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Small stone figures at the temples and shrines.IMG_8981_small

All dressed up!                                          IMG_8960_small

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On our way through the Kiso Valley we passed these beautiful Koinobori – carp shaped flags – for the traditional celebration of the children’s day on 5 May. The flags fluttering in the wind symbolize the carps swimming upstream as an analogue to wishing the children happiness and good fortune in life. IMG_9009_small

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We arrived in Magome in the soft light of the afternoon – Magome is another well preserved Edo-era village.IMG_9040_small

Beautiful sakura by the temple.                                         IMG_9031_small

The central fireplace in a traditional Edo-era house.IMG_9045_small

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From Magome we walked along the old post-road to Tsumago, a 7.7 km hike through beautiful forest and small villages. Occasionally you are requested to ring a large bell hanging along the path: “Ring the bell hard, against bears!” 

A beautiful traditional home on the road from Magome to Tsumago.IMG_9074_small

Sakura! 400-years old weeping cherry trees in blossom. IMG_9054_small

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Safely arrived in Tsumago, we meandered through the small streets of the old village.IMG_9085_small

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Traditional wooden house in Tsumago. IMG_9091_small

A small shrine.                                                         IMG_9100_small

Japan is a pleasure to the eye. How can you not fall in love with this country!IMG_9096_small

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We stayed overnight in a small minshuku guest house in Magome. An enormous japanese dinner was included.IMG_9114_small

TAKAYAMA – From the Kiso Valley we crossed west over the Japanese Central Alps to Takayama, a town of well preserved old houses of rich merchants. Dark wood was the fashion.
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As usual, we did not miss the chance to enjoy the local food!IMG_9119_small

OGIMACHI – North of Takayama we visited the village of Ogimachi (Shirakawa-go district) with its beautiful gassho-zukuri houses, a rare type of architecture which is specialized for the very heavy snowfall in the region of the central japanese alps. IMG_9154_small

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The thick and steep thatched roofs are made of the native susuki grass and have to be replaced every 20-30 years. Here an old house with a new roof. IMG_9140_small

AINOKURA – We continued to the village of Ainokura further north to see more of the beautiful gassho-zukuri houses.
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Here at around 600 meters altitude they had not even started preparing the rice fields yet. It was close to freezing point at night. In the winter they get many meters of snow. IMG_9160_small

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There were still patches of snow leftover from the winter and the cherry trees had just started to blossom. IMG_9180_small

KANAZAWA –  We drove further west to Kanazawa which is almost down at the coast of the Sea of Japan. In Kenroku-en, one of the top three japanese gardens in Japan, we found the most beautiful cherry blossoms! IMG_9192_small

The joy of sakura!                  L1042594_small

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Kanazawa is a great place to stroll around through the old neighborhoods of the geishas. Some of the old tea houses are still preserved and here they still practice the traditional training of the geishas.IMG_9363_small

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Kanazawa is full of small interesting shops. Here a shop selling and producing japanese lamps. IMG_9361_small

And it is full of temples, shrines and small saints!IMG_9287_small

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But probably the best thing about Kanazawa is the food – fresh seafood of exceptionally good quality!IMG_9349_small

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And strange looking vegetables from the mountain regions. IMG_9356_small

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Lunch at a small restaurant close to the market – 5 different versions of cold soba noodles. IMG_9359_small

And the highlight of the day – the spectacular evening meal!IMG_9247_small

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Golden Week

3-6 May 2013

We just finished the Golden Week in Japan, a week of 4 public holidays where all of Japan goes on the move to enjoy the holidays as much as possible with the family and friends. The weather was perfect and so we joined the 127 million Japanese and went out to enjoy!

With the Tocco-Watanabe family on the train to Kamakura.IMG_9529_small

The streets were packed with tourists…some of them more uncontrollable than others!IMG_9621_small

Marco Japanese style, fully enjoying the Golden Week!IMG_9627_small

First we visited the Hokoku-ji temple. The temple is rightfully famous for its beautiful bamboo garden.

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Admiring the tall bamboo trees and the small new bamboo sprouts.IMG_9576_small

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The art of zen gardening.                 IMG_9575_small

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In the tea house inside the temple garden, the ladies were busy making matcha tea.IMG_9563_small

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Then we visited the temple of Sugimoto-dera, a very old and important buddhist temple which hosts three beautiful statues of the Kannon goddess (no photos). 

As usual, we were greated by the friendly temple guards.                         IMG_9580_small IMG_9579_small

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And finally, we visited the tranquil zen buddhist temple of Engaku-ji, one of the most important zen buddhist temples in Japan.

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The monks were out and about. Here a gardening monk.IMG_9656_small

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Offerings of sake and beer to the temple.IMG_9628_small

We also spent some time walking (and shopping) around Tokyo. Here are a few photographic impressions.

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Tokyo Sky Tree.                                                                      IMG_9500_small

Who is watching who?                   IMG_9389_small

In the neighborhood of Asakusa.      IMG_9447_small

Plastic beers…!                                     IMG_9425_small

And plastic food.                              IMG_9420_small

Yokohama China Town.                   IMG_9410_small


3 responses to “Japan – Before Frida

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