After saying goodbye to the Kikuchi Family and the Jinpuu staff, I headed for Tokyo Station, and took a Shinkansen to Osaka. Golden Week was about to start, and because of that, the Tanaka Family and I would travel to Shōdoshima Island.
Golden Week has a great impact on already crowded stations; everybody wants to travel at the same day, and queues are tremendous. Thank God, Kumi had helped me to send my luggage to the Tanakas, so I didn’t have to carry it!
When the Shinkansen arrived in Osaka, my sadness had almost disappeared, and I was ready to face some new adventures; we began our holiday at a sushi carousel with Mikiko, Otoosan and Ojiisan. It’s been a year since the last time we met. In the evening, we had dinner with the whole gang; I was happy to be with my Japanese family again!
61-year-old Jinpuu senior Endo and I spent a delightful day amid huge flowers at their fullest bloom. After an unfortunate flat tire we arrived at the magnificent peony garden, and for once the weather was perfect. For me this was truly a rare experience; this garden is something you cannot see in everyday life, at least if you live in Finland.
I love old buildings, so that was another reason why I enjoyed this garden so much; their super-charming thatched-roofed farmhouses from the Edo era! It makes all the difference, the balance of the garden and its untouched harmony. The gorgeous peony flowers were under waxed paper parasols because of the strong sunshine, and that made the garden look even more beautiful.
The garden is open only a short period between the end of April and the beginning of May when the Peony’s are blooming. They also have a lot of other interesting plants, trees and flowers, for example Davidia involucrata, Dove tree (or Handkerchief tree).
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.
One Sunday Jinpuu organized a bus tour for their employees. The trip started from Chiba City at dawn, and everything was pre-arranged by Kikuchi. Our first destination was Sawara, the Little Edo, which is designated as ‘Preservation District for Groups of Historic Buildings’.
Hinamatsuri, celebrated on the third day of the third month, was long gone, but the Girls’ Day’s dolls were still out in the open. Once again we had rain, and the clouds hung low when we headed for the boat parade at Onokawa River.
Next we visited the amazing Inō Tadataka Museum; this national hero spent 17 years of his life to make an accurate map of Japan. The result of walking 35,000 kilometres is the first modern map of Japan, Dai Nihon Enkai Yochi Zenzu, which was published 1821 after his death. At the museum we could compare the Dai Nihon Enkai Yochi Zenzu and map made with the latest technology; they were almost exact.
We had lunch at Auberge De Manoir KITTEI restaurant. We enjoyed a delicious meal and beverages while watching the greenery from large windows. The charming building was amid a beautiful garden, in which we took a walk afterwards.
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.
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.
From Aomori I headed to Tokyo; I wanted to spend some time with my friends Yoko and Takayuki Yamasaki before returning to Finland. This time finding the hotel on my own was impossible. After a desperate search on foot I was about to give up and take a taxi when my savior appeared; a barefooted man with a helmet on his head, pushing a shopping cart already full with stuff. He loaded my belongings to his chart and escorted me via Koban Box to my hotel. After exchanging our addresses, he asked me to marry him, gave me his umbrella and disappeared to the city.
At the first evening the Yamasaki couple took me to dinner at Italian restaurant, and the next morning Takayuki and I went to Shimokitazawa. Shimokita is a bohemian area, which is well-known for its vintage boutiques and second-hand shops. It’s the perfect place to wander around and enjoy some coffee of lunch. We ate at Magic Spice, which specializes in curry soups famous in Hokkaido. The restaurant was bright red, decorated heavily and had its own exotic vibe. Their Hindushock gift shop is full of colourful clothes, chandeliers, spices and incenses.
The next morning I started from Yoyogi Park, which is one of my favourite parks in the city. Over the years I had created a routine to take a picture of a specific place in the park every time when I’m in Tokyo. When that was done, I walked to Harajuku to check their second-hand shops before meeting Takayuki. He had planned another interesting day for me; first we visited a Christian Yogen Cafe and then his friend, a clairvoyant. This was my first time to meet a fortune teller, because they are not so common in Finland. Before we left the place, she gave me a home assignment; I should write about Japan, from my heart.
When we first met, Chihiro was a university student in Gothenburg, Sweden. Christmas holidays were approaching, which can be pretty depressing when you are alone in a foreign country, so I invited her to Finland. From that started our friendship; she has visited us several times, basically every time she comes to Europa and vice versa.
This was my first time to visit their home, which had a massive renovation during the last year. It was a stylish two-storey house in a quiet neighbourhood with a small garden and a field. The head of the family was 86-year-old Ojiisan, who cultivated the field and enjoyed his retirement days.
His son, Otoosan and his wife Mikiko worked full days, Mikiko as an entrepreneur and Otoosan at the city office. Chihiro worked at her mother’s company, and her siblings Eri and Sho were university students. Also, Eri and Sho has visited us in Finland. Despite the busy schedule of the family, they always find time to cook and enjoy food together.
One’s feelings are not easily put into words when after a long, cold Finnish winter you suddenly arrive to this; a warm breeze on your jet lagged face, pale skin exposed from beneath the winter clothes – Oh, hello, sun!
This was my first Sakura no-toorinuke. It differs from hanami mostly because of the rules: no eating, smoking or touching the flowers. The Tanaka sisters and I followed the mass of people while chatting and taking pictures.
This was the last day of the Japan Mint Bureau’s cherry blossom viewing. They open their gates to the public for a week every April at the sakura’s prime time. The garden has approximately 350 trees, and they also have rare varieties you cannot find anywhere else. The 560-meter long alley was established in 1883, and it’s certainly worth a visit.
Not just the pink beauty, there is something for the food lovers too. During the event, the street near Okawa River has all kinds of festival food to offer: okonomiyaki, taiaki, takoyaki, and choco bananas. Dishes one can only dream in Finland. And they are practically free, so you better go with an empty stomach!