Japan Cultural Highlights and Japan Alps Tour August 2012
2012 has been a surprisingly good year for Quest Japan and Hike Japan walking tours; our longer trips have all been fully booked with nine or more people in each group. We've also had several shorter, tailor-made itineraries. I'm particularly delighted as this follows a very difficult year in which Japan suffered the catastrophic Great East Japan Earthquake.
It has been the hottest summer in Japan since 1975. I remember spending some of that heady summer on the beach in Shimoda! The American family members on their Cultural Highlights and Japan Alps Tour were overwhelmed by the heat, even though they lived in California. We had to adapt the itinerary several times to escape the hottest part of the day. In doing so we discovered some excellent museums. The recently re-opened Palace Hotel in central Tokyo where the group stayed proved to be another pleasant oasis.
The trip started in Tokyo, before heading for Matsumoto and the Japan Alps. Overcoming jet lag was helped by a couple of days at Myojinkan Ryokan, a luxurious spa retreat in the mountains. This was our base for some sightseeing in Matsumoto and cycling around Azumino. We then headed for the higher mountains. After hiking to the top of the Norikura Plateau, we stayed in Shirahone Onsen, famous for its milky white, natural hot spring baths. Visits to onsen are a good way to survive summers in Japan. The Japanese dinner at our ryokan was one of many delicious meals.
Our journey then took us, via Takayama, to the village of Shirakawago, a World Heritage site. We spent the night there in our usual thatched farmhouse. Members of the group loved the wholesome, local food. Especially the breakfast featuring the rich, flavoursome hoba-miso . The thatched villages of the Hida region are well worth exploring, and I'd like to include more visits and stays in similar villages in our future trips.
From Shirakawago we drove to Kanazawa. Our local guide took us to the castle and around Kenrokuen Gardens, before we fled into the cool whiteness of the 21 st Century Museum of Contemporary Art. Whenever I'm in this circular building, walking around the corridors and in and out of the different sections, I feel I could be exploring a mandala. Myoryuji or ‘Ninjadera' (the ‘Ninja Temple'), on the other hand, was dark and uncannily hot. We then had another great supper at our favourite kushiyaki grill. Steve, the unofficial family group leader, loved the kushi (tasty morsels skewered and grilled) so much that he later chose the Japanese character kushi as the design for the T-shirt he dyed in Kyoto!
Five senses delight
In delicious perfection
‘Food fit for a king' a haiku by Sam Caram
A trip to the local morning fish market, where he had sushi, opened our eyes to how good the local seafood is.
Herons and egrets
Hayden and Ryan arrive
Haiku poem by Bob Heffill
Our journey continued by train to Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Tokyo. Highlights of our stay in Kyoto included a geisha party (see photos) at a tea house in one of the old geisha quarters. This, surely, lays to rest, once and for all, any doubts about my ability to find these extraordinarily gifted women, as expressed in the following poem by Martin, a friend on a tour in 2003 -
Bob san is the man
He knows all about Japan
But can't produce geisha
Haiku poem by Martin Thompson
Another special experience was our early morning visit to the important Kamigamo Shrine to experience a rarely seen, sacred Shinto ceremony.
In other life
A colourful kimono
Draped my peaceful soul
A haiku by Laurie Content
The culinary adventure continued, too, with some traditional Kyoto Kyoryori cuisine.
Sometimes hard to swallow
Gloopy, jelly, slimy sauce
Gimme a break, please!
On from Kyoto to Hiroshima on the bullet train. High tide at Itsukushima Jinja Shrine on Miyajima enhanced the beauty of this famous beauty spot on the Inland Sea. A good number of the local oysters were consumed at lunch.
Hungry for the bright lights we bulleted east to Tokyo where the group stayed in the very comfortable and conveniently located Palace Hotel. During our stay in Tokyo I was happy to introduce, amongst other marvels, a fantastic teppanyaki restaurant run by a good friend.
It was a real pleasure to travel with such a charming family group.
Your love of Japan shines through
Bob-san, our sensei
A haiku poem by Alex Brown
As I write this I'm making final preparations for our autumn Mountains of Central Japan tour which starts soon.
For more haiku from this tour click here .