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.
Our next stop was Boso no Mura, which is an open-air museum with its historic buildings and craft workshops. Dated back to Edo Period, Boso Village is the perfect example of the era and its lifestyle; unpaved streets with beautifully aged wooden merchant houses and tea shops along the sides.
The village is a great place for a person who is interested to learn about Japanese culture and history and its disappearing heritage as well. Boso no Mura has a lot of different activities visitors can take part: paper and tatami mat coaster making, tea ceremony and blacksmithing.
Ishikawa, the bamboo fence master of Jinpuu, had studied the craft in Boso no Mura, and he shared his experiences in the bus. The village was our last attraction, but when the bus reached Chiba City, we ended our night at karaoke parlour.
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.
On my day off I headed to see some huge birds; the Oriental white stork is also the prefectural bird of the Hyōgo Prefecture. The city of Toyooka is 70 kilometres from Ichijima, which takes less than two hours by train. The weather was magnificent, so instead of taking a bus from the station, I decided to go on foot. The 5 kilometre walk took almost an hour, and because of the stork signs, it was impossible to go wrong.
The Hyōgo Park of the Oriental White Stork’s main purpose is to restore the oriental white stork to back to its original habitation. They try to do this by organic farming; traditional farming methods bring the biota like frogs, snakes and crayfish back to the fields for storks to eat. Also, when cultivating rice fields the traditional way, the land is underwater longer, and this is crucial for the ecosystem. In Japan, the last wild population of kounotori was extinct in 1971. The park’s hard work was rewarded in 2007; after 43 years, the chicks fledged successfully in the wild.
As I arrived at the park, the big birds were sleeping under the trees behind a low fence. At the feeding time, more of these mighty birds came and circled above our heads; their prehistorical shrieks echoed from the mountains. Oriental white stork’s wingspan is over two meters, so they were a majestic sight. Kounotori is characterised as a national treasure of Japan.
There was also a hiking route which squirmed at the nearby hill, an exhibition center about the birds, and a shop full of stork items and groceries. I hiked the deserted path and its dry and rocky trail, lizards sleeping on the warm stones, until I stepped under the deep-green foliage of the forest.
Before dusk I arrived at Kinosaki, the famous hot spring town. The place was full of overwhelming small-town charm on a pastel-coloured background: people in their patterned yukatas, the weeping willows leaning over the canal, picturesque bridges and artisan shops.
This was my first time to WWOOF; back in Finland, I joined WWOOF Japan, and via their website introduced myself to the Hashimoto family. The World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farm is functioning in many countries, and it’s a convenient way to experience unique country life.
初めてWWOOFを経験しました。フィンランドに戻ってから、私はWWOOFジャパンに登録し、そのサイトを通して橋本有機農園と知り合いました。World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms「世界に広がる有機農場での機会」は世界中に事務局が設置されています。少し変わった田舎の生活を体験するには便利な方法です。
I worked five days a week for eight hours per day. First task in the morning was to take care of the chickens; I fed them and collected the eggs. Rainy days I worked at the greenhouse, but mostly I spent my time at the rice paddy. It was hard work, and I learned to respect rice in a whole new way.
My hosts Keiko and Shinji were a friendly couple, and they made me feel very welcomed. Shinji used to live abroad, so he spoke perfect English. It was a busy time for farmers, but still he practised karate every morning. On the last day, Keiko gave me her mother’s old kimono and obi as a gift. Next summer, when Chihiro came to Finland, she helped me to wear it, and I could send a picture to Keiko, like I promised.