Early in the morning we drove to Kobe harbour, and to ferry; our destination was three hours away, the gem of the Seto Inland Sea. Shōdoshima is one of the Inland Sea’s 3000 islands, and famous for its olives and soy sauce.
The ferry ride was pleasant, we had breakfast and played cards on the floor among other passengers. When we arrived in Shōdoshima, our first attraction was Nijushi no Hitomi Movie Village. It’s the actual shooting place of the Twenty-four eyes (Nijū-shi no Hitomi), filmed in 1954. After soomen lunch we fed the big carps on the canal and played on the beach. The weather was perfect for outdoor activities, sunny and bright.
We also visited a soy sauce factory and last, the Angel Road. It’s a narrow pathway which connects the mainland and few other small islands; it appears twice a day during low tide. Angel Road is a magical place; the sea and its waves had sculptured the rocks and softened the sand, and emerald green seaweed covered the rocks on the shore.
Our next destination was Mitsuishiyama Kannon-ji, which was one hour drive away from Kasamori Kannon. When we arrived at the temple, it started to rain again, so Ishikawa held the umbrella like a true gentleman, and I took pictures from underneath it.
This temple is a famous power spot to pray for marriage, and it got its name from the three stones on the back of the building. The place was astonishing; the small temple looked like it was about to crush under the huge stones. The location is quite high, and in clear weather it’s possible to see Mt. Fuji.
Ishikawa, another Jinpuu-colleague, took me for a hike one rainy Sunday; our first attraction was Kasamori Kannon. Surrounded by mountainous forests, this unique temple is a perfect place to visit for a nature lover like me.
Maybe because of the weather, there were only a few other visitors when we climbed the steep wooden staircase to Kannon-do. The hall is 16 metres from the ground, and on top of it opens a panoramic view to the forests above.
Near the temple gate is the sacred Kosazukenokusu; a crooked tree, which has a small hole in its trunk. It’s believed that when children go through the hole, they receive fortune, but if a woman crawls through it, she will get pregnant.The famous Japanese ukiyo-e artist Utagawa Hiroshige has captured this majestic temple to one of his prints.
Our boss’s wife Kumi took me, Kochan and Kanchan, AKA The Noisy Boys, to a road trip, and we dashed through beautiful mountainous landscapes. Our first stop was at the Marine Restaurant Seagull, which was a mixture of Italian food and Japanese atmosphere; we had lunch inside a tatami matted private room.
Kumi kept driving until we arrived at the seashore where we parked the car and continued by foot. On the dock was a small rowing boat and two old men, who took us to our destination: Niemonjima. The island was breathtaking, full of bird singing and exotic flowers but none visitors; we were the only ones.
We criss-crossed the landscape, walked on the rocky shore and dived inside lush jungle-like vegetation. Here and there were small eye-catchers: a big rock with carved poem on it, a stone statue or weathered shrine. On the island was also a gift shop where we could buy some souvenirs, like postcards and a fishing net.
This charming place was my ultimate dream-come-true work site! And not only for its serene beauty but also for our tea and lunch breaks; the treats provided by the head priest and restaurant Chao were an everyday joy for us.
The Fukujuin Temple had recently undergone massive changes: the old temple was now unoccupied and all the action was at the brand new buildings. Thus now was time to update the garden; we made several bamboo fences, planted hedgerows, and groomed the old pine trees of the yard.
Every day the head priest served us tea, and Ogiu, Ishikawa and I enjoyed it on the temple’s wooden steps. The place had a magical atmosphere; the old temple with its detailed wood carvings stood on a small hill under a giant cherry tree, stone statues guarded the garden buried with soft moss. Some days we could hear the owl’s cries from the bamboo grove.
We had to postpone hanami because of the rain and go for indoor activity instead; Mai, Yamamoto, Endo, Ishikawa and I headed to the Kawamura Memorial DIC Art Museum. For garden maniacs, this can be especially interesting because of its location. All around the building is greenery: not just forest but 10 hectare park area with its green lawns, pond and flower gardens.
The park’s 250 cherry trees were almost in full bloom, and when the rain eased, we could enjoy the scenery. This park – like many others in Japan – is a perfect place to visit during all seasons; there are always different flowers blossoming, and not to mention the autumn foliage.
This park is one of Japan’s 100 best places to experience sakura. My timing obviously wasn’t the best; when I visited the park, only two of their 2 850 cherry trees were blooming. But the bright side was that there was only me and four or so other people far on the horizon enjoying it.
Even without the cherry blossoms there is a lot to see; the serene Lake Benten with its carps, lazy turtles and various birds, cinnabar-red lacquer bridges, early spring flowers and enough benches to study them or just to sit and relax.
The landscape is versatile; you can walk around and over the lake, or have more intensive hike through the paths on the hills. From the top of the hill opens a nice bird’s-eye-view to the park and the surrounding residential area.
We took a water taxi from Arguineguín to Puerto del Mogan; once again we were lucky, and the boat was completely empty. The ride took a little over an hour, and we could admire the rocky island from the sea. When we arrived at the town, we wandered through its narrow alleys until it was time to eat lunch. From Puerto del Mogan to Playa del Cura we traveled by bus. It was a wild experience; the driver sped full speed on the narrow serpentine road which squirmed at the hillside.
Keen to explore the island’s unfamiliar flora and fauna, we headed for the Botanical Garden of Maspalomas. The garden was free, and we had a nice picnic there amid colourful butterflies, flowers, cactuses and birds. Short distance from there was Maspalomas beach and the sand dunes, so we visited them as well. The dunes are protected Nature Reserve Space.
The Canarian Islands have the perfect winter time weather for Scandinavians; the temperature during daytime is around 20 degrees. The islands are very popular among Finnish, Norwegian and German retired citizens. We too like the quiet life, nature, fresh fruits and seafood.
We rented a flat with a kitchen and a big balcony from peaceful Playa del Cura. Every day we walked nearby marketplace, where we bought a lot of delicious organic fruits: oranges, pomegranates, grapes, avocados, papayas, coconuts and melons. Lunches and dinners we ate at local restaurants, which menus were full of seafood; our favourite dish was fishplate with Dover sole, swordfish, salmon and squid with salad and Canarian potatoes.
At the evenings we watched the sunset and enjoyed our balcony. Playa del Cura resembled amphitheater: the surrounding hills were filled with buildings, and in the opposite was the sea. Our flat was high on the hill, and we had a beautiful view. We also had a new friend, when Eurasian collared dove visited our balcony to eat some breadcrumbs.
I purchased the JR East rail pass from Haneda Airport, and I hopped to a Shinkansen from Tokyo Station; this time my destination was Aomori Prefecture. After almost three hours of train traveling, I arrived at Hachinohe. Next morning a local train took me to Ottomo Station, where I met my host, Yuki.
My first impression of Aomori was pleasant; not too hot, but perfect summer weather. We arrived at Ashita No Mori and Yuki introduced the place. He lived there by himself with a cat, Akaminto. Soon we got company; Bilig from Philippines started his summer job, and also Yuki’s friend Kishi from Tokyo arrived.
It was time to have my first Japanese hot spring experience; in the evening we went toTohoku Onsen, which was near Ottomo Station. The onsen was exceptional because of its mineral-rich black water. I was nervous, jet lagged and the only woman in our group, so I had to enter the spa area by myself. The water was hot and very relaxing; a perfect way to end a day.
Ashita No Mori had guests almost every evening; Modashi, a local musician, sculptor and scientist was a regular visitor, but also other people who were interested in this kind of alternative lifestyle. Together we planted trees, worked at the field and in the greenhouse. Every night ended with some live music at Modashi’s lead.
Kishi and I went hiking at Asamushi Onsen Forest Park, which is one of Japan’s top 100 best places to take shinrin-yoku, a forest bath. The 10 kilometre hiking route was hard; it felt like rainforest, and we were soaked wet from the first climb. This was my first time to experiencing a hot and humid Japanese summer.
They presented the original, black and white Godzilla at the Aomori Korona Cinema World, so Kishi and I went to watch it. The ‘Gojira‘ had its premiere in 1954 and was topical again because of the power plant accident at Fukushima. There were no English subtitles, but Kishi explained the plot to me while watching.