My husband and I visited the Kikuchi Family and Chiba once again in the winter. Kumi and Hiroto took us to see a magnificent illumination in the middle of the countryside; Tokyo German Village, which is actually in Sodegaura City, Chiba Prefecture.
This winter illumination is one of the three best illumination of the Kanto area, they have three million LED lights on the landscape, all over the fields and buildings. The theme park is open throughout the year; visitors can enjoy the illumination during winter, and the seasonal flower fields, golf course and picnics in summer. There is also German food and beverages.
The last day of my Rail Pass I traveled to Akita City, the hometown of Endo. The journey from Tokyo took almost four hours even with the Shinkansen. Cherry blossoms had already fallen, but now it was azalea blooming time, and everywhere was bright pink, aniline red and purple bushes.
Senshu Park is in the heart of the city; a luscious green oasis full of things to see throughout the seasons. It’s built to the ruins of Kubota Castle, and there still are some of those ancient buildings like omonogashira gobansho, the guard house. One of the Kubota Castle’s turret towers is restored, and open to the public.
I found this beautiful gem by accident when searching some flea market at Makuhari Messe. It was Saturday, and the garden was like a peaceful oasis in the middle of a busy city and its skyscrapers. In fact, there was only me and one of the park’s gardeners.
Mihama-en is a part of Chiba Prefectural Makuhari Seaside Park, and it’s a classic Japanese strolling garden with ponds, islands, waterfalls, streams and artificial hills. All these alluring elements combined to the refreshing quietness of the place made this garden very enjoyable. There is also a teahouse made from Japanese cedar by the pond.
Despite the artificial aspects of the garden and the skyscrapers on the horizon, there is still a strong sense of nature. The pond was full of life; tadpoles, carps and a lot of waterfowl were swimming about.
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.
The Sanyo Media Flower Museum’s indoor Atrium Garden has seasonal themes in its flowerbeds, so when I visited the place at Easter, there were a lot of tulips, cute rabbits and Easter eggs. Also, the exhibition areas followed the same theme. Surrounded by variegated and lush beds of flowers, the gazebo looked breathtakingly beautiful.
Their luscious greenhouse is a round shaped, 23 metres tall building full of tropical and subtropical plants, and it even has an artificial waterfall. The museum has a restaurant and gift shop with a lovely selection of garden-inspired items.
Outdoor gardens enveloped the impressive museum building: at the front is a wide garden of seasonal flowers, in one side courtyard and the rose garden at the back of the building. Designed by the best combination of blooming time and harmony of the beds, the gardens are magnificent.
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.
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.
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.