Sayonara Japan

December 29, 2019  •  2 Comments

Before we left Osaka for our trip to the Hiroshima Prefecture, Florence put us in contact with a friend of hers, Kazuko, who lives in Osaka. We stayed in touch via email and got together the first day we got back to Osaka. We learned a great deal from Kazuko and really appreciated how she took us under her wings and introduced us to unique Japanese cultural activities that we would not have experienced on our own. Osaka We took an early train from Himeji so we could drop off our luggage before meeting Kazuko at the train station. The destination was Kumatori, south of Osaka, to see the Danjiri Festival. The Kumatori community gets together mid-October to give thanks for the season’s good harvest and praying at the shrine for the next harvest. We were told that more than 140 years ago a new custom developed with vehicles called Danjiris. The deity inhabiting the shrine is paraded through town in its Danjiri which is pulled by long ropes. The Danjiri is made of wood with intricate carvings and weighs several tons. Inside the car are several people playing music with the traditional instruments: the Taiko drums, Fue flute, and Kane bells. Danjiri musicians Danjiri carvings Before the raceWay better than the pope mobile! To make it extra fun the Danjiris are also used in a race. Each Danjiri is pulled by about 100 people and they practice every day for a month in preparation for the race. In Kumatori they had 11 Danjiris and we watched a few races. The oldest Danjiri was made in 1889 and we were told they last about 100 years. It was very fun to see all the excitement and learn about its history. Danjiri raceNote the people crashing as they take the corner On the same day, with Kazuko and her friend, we went to Mozu to visit the Sakai City Museum. At the museum, we got some information about the burial mounts, known as Kofuns. The Kofuns are giant keyhole shaped burial sites built in the Tumulus or Kofun period (ca. 250 – 550 CE). The Daisen Kofun is Emperor Nintoku tomb and the largest Kofun in Japan. It measures 457 meters in length, twice the length of the base of great pyramid in Giza. The mound is 35 meters high and nobody knows the location of the burial site in it. The Daisen Kofun was built in the mid-5th century and by one estimate it took 2,000 people 16 years to complete. There are several smaller keyhole-shaped kofuns surrounding it. Since the Kofuns are so large, the best way to see them is from above. Our new friends took us to the City Hall which has an observation deck on the 21st floor, but even from there the Kofun looks like a city park. Daisen Kofun All business Another nice view we had was from the upper floor of the department store, Abeno Harukas. The city goes as far as the eyes can see. Harukas comes from the Japanese word “harukasu” which means “to brighten or clear up”. The area of Osaka where Abeno Harukas is located used to be a seedy run-down place. When completed, it was the tallest building in Japan with 300 meters (984 ft) in height, but soon after a newer skyscraper in Tokyo surpassed it. Abeno Harukas from Sakai city hall observatory Osaka view from Abeno Harukas at night For a change of the city scenery, we went one hour southeast on the train to Asuka to see rice terraces.  Asuka was the capital after the Tumulus period which ended with the introduction of Buddhism in the mid 6thcentury. After Asuka, the capital, moved to Nara and later to Kyoto before it finally moved to Edo which became Tokyo. The rural scenery around Asuka is beautiful! We skipped the historical sites and took a long walk through the countryside. The rice harvest was progressing, and it was interesting to see the different stages. We also came across a large display of scarecrows that were funny, scary, artistic, strange and cute. Asuka Asuka Harvested Get off my property or I'll put a spell on you! Chilling Asuka sunset Another day, we went to Kobe with Kazuko. She took us to a traditional Japanese comic theater, known as Kyōgen. It was developed in the 14th century; it’s often about 10 minutes long; it includes movements and dialogues that are often exaggerated and comical. Even though we didn’t understand the language we got the gist of the plays and the thundering voices sounded poetic and the comic was entertaining. KyōgenThe monk and his servant are captured by the crab spirit trying to cross a bridge Afterwards, we went to the Takenaka Carpentry Tool Museum. It is an excellent museum showing the building techniques, materials and tools used by the Japanese carpenters. Traditionally, houses were built without the use of nails and the wooden joints are like 3D puzzles.  Takenaka Carpentry Tool MuseumThe architecture itself is worth a visit The same evening, we met up with our friend Midori from the Tourist Center. She showed us a small museum in an alley way in Namba. There were newspaper clips and pictures of Osaka before and after the WWII bombing. On the bottom of a wall, she pointed out a small mini torii gate. She told us that the Torii gate made the wall a holy place and hence people would not piss there!  Don't piss on mePerhaps something Paris could adopt Museum alleyOsaka We had a fantastic dinner together, and she introduced us to a few new food items and shared wonderful stories. She told us that after the war, as people were rebuilding the country, the mindset was “do your job, don’t worry about the money. Quality is more important than the income”. Today, that’s still the mentality but it is slowly changing. For example, tipping is not part of the culture because they will provide the best service they can whether you tip or not, but it is changing with the new generation. Dinner with Midori During the three months we were in Asia, we tried to eat and drink only local food. So, in Japan only Japanese food and drinks which means no wine unless it’s produced in Japan. One day, we encountered a store with Japanese wine and decided to try it. We had a pretty good dry white wine from a Kobe area winery established in 1983. Another night, in a small bar on our way home we found a “Sapportlandia” beer made in collaboration by Sapporo and Portland in honor of the Sister Cities 60th anniversary. When we inquired how the Sapportlandia made it to Osaka, it turned out that the best friend of the owner of the bar was a beer maker and distributor from Sapporo. Whether his friend took part in making the beer was lost in translation. Kobe wine October 22 was an official holiday in Japan. It was the “Enthronement Ceremony” for the new Emperor. A new era has begun! It was a beautiful fall day and we spend the day at Minoh National Park, 1.5 hours north of Osaka by taking three different trains. The start of the trail was a bit crowded but then we met a local guy who recommended that we go up the stairs and loop around through the forest. It was a great recommendation! We enjoyed a nice hike through the forest with very few people and we still made the main attraction as the trail came out close to the Minoh park waterfall where the crowds were headed. We walked the 2.8 km back on the main trail and enjoyed the early sign of the fall colors.  In Minoh park they also have Japanese macaques but we only saw one in the distance. Minoh park is also famous for the local specialty - deep-fried maple leaf tempura, a tasty treat with a definite maple flavor. Minoh park Frying maple leafs Tasty treat Minoh water fallNot the main one but the prettiest The next day, we went to south Kyoto to hike up Mount Inari. At 233 meters (764 ft), the grounds all belong to Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine. It was a Wednesday and it was super crowded!! The trail is well-known for its hundreds of orange torii gates that are donated by individuals and companies. We stayed on the right and at one point turned right on a dirt path. Suddenly, we were the only ones on the trail and enjoyed a quiet hike up on a different trail. On our way up, we saw a huge bamboo forest, a mini waterfall, more shrines, cemeteries, a few residential homes, maybe six people and a big mantis. On the top, there is not much of a view but a shrine, a cemetery and an over-priced small shop. The way down the stairs was easy and quick. Crowded Torii gates Wild orchid Mantis The same evening, we met up with Kazuko for our last outing together. She took us to a Kendo practice. A good friend of her teaches the classes and she allowed us to come and observe. We felt honored! She let us try on the uniforms and practice with the bamboo swords with a couple of students. It’s hard! The foot and arm movements are very precise, you must have the right timing, you must be at the right angle, and you can only slide back and forth. Both of us were assigned a student that we were allowed to hit over the head with the sword. They said that it did not hurt. Kendo practice Kazuko Our last full day in Osaka, we checked out the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan, one of the largest aquariums in the world. Another crowded destination but the marine life was fascinating: whale shark, black tip shark, hammer shark, variety of sting rays, eels, lots of colorful fish, penguins, and more. It was a great way to spend a rainy day and the Ramen we had on our way home was one of the best we had while in Japan. Osaka Aquarium Our final destination was 5 days in Tokyo which went by very fast as we connected with friends. One day we explored Yokohama, south of Tokyo, on our own. Thanks, Yuri, for the recommendation. Then we had the pleasure of meeting a friend a day: Chika, Sachiko, Nigel and Susan. We shared wonderful meals, chatted up and exchanged some fun stories.  One afternoon, we enjoyed a nice stroll in Hama-rikyu Gardens with Chika. How we met each person is its own fun story we’ll happily share in person.    Yokohama In Tokyo with Chika Hama-rikyu Gardens In Tokyo with Sachiko In Kamakura with Nigel In Tokyo with Susan Tokyo On the eve of Halloween, we flew to Bangkok for one night and the next day back to Europe. We left Tokyo, it was 16C (61F), Bangkok was 32C (90F) and Sweden 0C (32F). We are slowly adjusting to the temperature difference. Iconic We absolutely loved Japan and definitely plan to go back again one day. Even though we explored a lot around Osaka and the Kansai region, we feel like there is still a lot more to be discovered. We are extremely greatful for the new friends we met and the old friends we got to reconnect with. A big and special thanks again to Byron that made a contribution and enabled us to extend our trip in Japan.For now, we are in Sweden enjoying the winter and family time!

Happy Holidays!

For more pictures click here: Osaka and Tokyo


*mouse over image to read captions.


Allison Mudrick(non-registered)
Wowie! What an adventure you two have had in Japan. The contrasts of the city and the countryside are amazing. I chuckled out loud when I saw the
scarecrows, especially the little mouse. I don't speak Japanese either and enjoyed the play along with you. Their poor ears must have ached by the end of the performance. And now I have something new to try using the maple leaves from my backyard next fall, maple leaf tempura. Thank you for sharing all of your pictures, new and old friends, and the beautiful country of Japan.
Great pics as always! I assume the last pic is Mount Fuji. Question about Japanese architecture: most of your city pics show generic-looking modern architecture, unless it is a temple or shrine or monument that appears to be many centuries old; this makes me wonder whether are there many buildings from the more recent past, say, the 18th or 19th centuries? In Paris, for example, many of the buildings people live in today were built in the 18th or 19th centuries; is that also the case for Japan or do people mostly live in modern buildings, and the old buildings are just monuments?
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