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CALIFORNIA: SONOMA COUNTY/ MATANZAS CREEK WINERY

Founded in 1977, Matanzas Creek Winery is situated on the site of a former dairy farm in Sonoma County’s newest American Viticultural Area (AVA), Bennett Valley. Bennett Valley was formally recognized as an AVA in December of 2003, but its history of grape growing dates back to the mid-1800s.

Since its founding, the winery has built its reputation on Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot, two varieties of grapes that thrive in Sonoma’s temperate climate. In 1985, the original winery was demolished to make way for a modern winemaking facility. Since that time, the winery’s vineyards have grown to include over 280-acres and its wine portfolio has been expanded to include Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Chardonnay and a limited quantity of Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

In addition to its wines, Matanzas Creek is also famous for its spectacular lavender gardens.  Lavender has been grown on the winery grounds for over twenty years and more than two million stems are harvested every year.  The winery offers a full line of bath, body, and culinary products derived from the harvested lavender.  The high quality, all natural products are available for sale at the winery’s lavender shop and at spas throughout Sonoma County and beyond.

The bath and body products include soaps, lotions, massage oils, scrubs, masks, sprays, and bath salts.  The culinary products are comprised of lavender laced Himalayan salt, spice rubs, honey and lavender grill sticks.

The winery offers daily wine tastings and wine and cheese pairings.  Vineyard tours are available between the hours of 10:00 AM to 4:30 PM.  Visitors to Matanzas Creek can also choose to picnic among the winery’s fragrant lavender fields or participate in a game of Bocce Ball. The annual Sonoma Lavender Festival takes place in June.

So, when you are  traveling in California’s wine country, why not incorporate a visit to Matanza’s Creek and sample the offerings from Sonoma County’s newest American Viticultural Area?

Location:            6097 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa, California 95404

Web Page:         http://www.matanzascreek.com/

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New Book: A Blogger’s Guide to JAPAN

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Friends, good news! My book is now available to purchase online. Please note that if you purchase the book from the CreateSpace eStore, you can use the discount code (YVW7YCQG) to receive $3 off the list price. Worldwide shipment is available.

Further, Amazon.com is offering a special limited time holiday discount.  Use the following code to receive $10 off the list price at check out:  HOLIDAYBOOK

Thank you so much for your support!

•CreateSpace eStore: Now available
https://www.createspace.com/6595032

Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/Bloggers-Guide-Japan-Kristine-Ohkubo/dp/1539033112/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1480353733&sr=8-1&keywords=A+blogger%27s+guide+to+japan

•Amazon Europe: http://www.sysmod.com/amazon.htm

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Japan: Kyoto (Kyoto Railway Museum/ 京都鉄道博物館)

Earlier, I had written about the Tetsudo Hakubutsukan (鉄道博物館)/ The Railway Museum) located in Saitama City.  Operated by the East Japan Railway Culture Foundation, it is the largest railway museum in Japan. Today, I would like to introduce you to another amazing railway museum. It is one of Japan’s three great railway museums alongside The Railway Museum in Saitama and JR Central’s SCMAGLEV and Railway Park in Nagoya.

Located in Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto, the Kyoto Tetsudo Hakubutsukan (京都鉄道博物館/Kyoto Railway Museum) opened to the public on April 29, 2016. It sits on the former site of the Umekoji Steam Locomotive Museum, which came into existence in 1972.  The museum is owned by West Japan Railway Company (JR West) and is operated by the Transportation Culture Promotion Foundation.

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Covering an area of 30,000 square meters, the museum is divided into several exhibition areas, including a 20-track roundhouse built in 1914 and the Nijo Station Building, relocated from the nearby Nijo Station in 1997. The exhibits include 53 retired trains, ranging from early steam locomotives to more recent electric trains and a shinkansen (bullet train).  Many of the exhibits were inherited from the Modern Transportation Museum in Osaka which has since closed. Visitors will also find displays with railway uniforms, tools and other railway related items from the past.  The museum is home to one of the largest railway dioramas found in Japan.  It contains miniature trains which crisscross an intricately detailed landscape , all operated by a single skilled machinist. There are also a variety of interactive exhibits enabling visitors to drive a train via a simulator or perform the duties of a train conductor. The museum even has a restaurant located on the second floor where patrons can glimpse nice views of the passing trains along the JR Kyoto Line and the Tokaido Shinkansen.  For an additional fee of ¥300, visitors can take a one kilometer journey on a train powered by a steam locomotive.  The typical journey lasts approximately ten minutes.

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Located only 20 minutes on foot from Kyoto Station, the Kyoto Railway Museum affords the ideal opportunity for visitors to appreciate Japan’s steps toward modernization through its railway history.

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The museum is open daily between the hours of 10:00 AM and 5:00 PM. (Closed on Wednesdays and from December 30 to January 1.)

Web page:         http://www.kyotorailwaymuseum.jp/en/

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JAPAN: Manga Cafes (Manga Kissa / マンガ喫茶 )

The term manga refers to a comic book/ cartooning style which was developed in Japan in the late 19th century.  It is an art form that is easily recognized around the world today where it has enjoyed an increasing trend in popularity. As a matter of fact, many young people outside of Japan have been introduced to Japan and Japanese culture through manga.

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Even with its increased popularity around the globe, nowhere is manga more popular than in the country where it originated. As a matter of fact, Japanese people of all ages read manga as the subject matter includes a broad assortment of genres ranging from action-adventure to sports and games. Today, manga represents a major part of the Japanese publishing industry with sales over $5.5 billion!  Thus, it doesn’t come as a surprise that manga has contributed to another growing Japanese trend, the manga café.

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The manga café or manga kissaten (referred to as manga kissa by locals) is a type of café offering an extensive manga library.  Some cafes provide internet access, video games, TV, and snack and beverage vending machines as well. Patrons are typically charged by the amount of time they stay at the café.  Most cafés have pricing plans starting at ¥100 – ¥400 for the first 30 minutes with additional time charged in increments of ¥1 for each 10-15 minutes spent thereafter.

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The cafés offer two types of seating, private booths and open seating areas. The majority of these private booths are rather narrow with only enough space for a desk, chair/ reclining chair/ flatbed. There are some cafés which offer larger booths, big enough to accommodate two people.  Naturally, these tend to be more expensive to rent.

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Certain manga kissatens allow their patrons to stay overnight and have become a popular low budget accommodation option for many.   These cafes are open 24-hours and offer such amenities as showers, blankets, slippers, and free drinks for as little as ¥1,500 per night. Some even offer women-only sections.

To use the manga café you will need a photo ID or passport.  Most cafés require a membership, which you can readily obtain on the spot. You will be asked to choose your type of seating and time plan for your intended stay and given a receipt with your seating number printed on it. When it is time to leave, present your receipt at the check-in counter. You will be charged for your seating type, time spent at the café and any extra charges you may have incurred.

Manga kissatens can be found in most major cities all over Japan.  Many are located in multi-level buildings situated along the side streets near train stations. So the next time you travel to Japan, why not check into a manga kissaten and drift off into a world created by one of the popular Japanese manga artists like Hideaki Sorachi, Eiichiro Oda, or Akira Toriyama?

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Japan: Tokyo (Shinjuku Gyoen/ 新宿御苑)

Once having served as a feudal lord’s residence, Shinjuku Gyoen is one of Tokyo’s largest and most popular parks.  It is home to more than 20,000 trees, including approximately 1,500 cherry trees, which make it a popular hanami (cherry blossom viewing) destination from late March to late April. The park is also nice to visit during autumn when the leaves change. The spectacular fall colors typically appear from mid-November to mid-December.

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Shinjuku Gyoen, which spans 58.3 hectares is comprised of three different types of gardens. The oldest is a traditional Japanese landscape garden, which features the Taiwan Pavilion, constructed on the occasion of the Showa Emperor’s wedding.  During the first two weeks in November, a chrysanthemum exhibit is held here with beautiful floral displays and temporary pavilions erected around the park’s grounds. You can also find a traditional Japanese tea house here.

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The park’s other main gardens include a formal French garden and an English landscape garden. The remainder of the park consists of forested areas, lawns and several structures including a restaurant, an information center and an art gallery. There is also a beautiful greenhouse with numerous tropical and subtropical flowers on display. The park was almost completely destroyed during World War II, but it was eventually rebuilt and reopened to the public in 1949. It is not uncommon to walk around the park and find various artists creating beautiful water color images of the scenery.

Shinjuku Gyoen also has three gates. The Shinjuku Gate and the Okido Gate are both just a five-minute walk from the Shinjukugyoenmae Station on the Marunouchi Subway Line. The third gate, the Sendagaya Gate, is located five minutes on foot from the JR Sendagaya Station on the local Chuo/Sobu Line.

The park is open from 9:00 AM to 4:30 PM Tuesday through Sunday, except during cherry blossom season and chrysanthemum season, when the park is open seven days a week.

Web page:         http://www.env.go.jp/garden/shinjukugyoen/english/

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Japan: Ueda City (Bessho Onsen Resort Town / Nanakusa No Yu Onsen)

Located in the basin of eastern Nagano, you will find the former castle town of Ueda. The town was built around Ueda Castle, which was constructed in the 16th century by Masayuki Sanada, a Japanese Sengoku period lord and daimyo. The town prospered from the silk industry in the 1910s and is renowned for a traditional fabric called Ueda Tsumugi.  Visitors to the area get a sense of having traveled several hundred years back in time as the town still retains its historical look with the white walled merchant houses and walls covered with square tiles arranged in a lattice pattern known as “namako.”

Just southeast of the basin is the hot spring resort town of Bessho Onsen.  It was discovered over 1,000 years ago and consists of several hot springs, each with its own individual charm. There are several historic cultural monuments in the area also including, the three-tiered pagoda of Zenzan-ji Temple, the Kitamuki-kannon Temple and the Anraku-ji Temple. Because of this collection of cultural assets, the area is called the “Kamakura of Nagano”.

During my recent visit to Japan, I had the pleasure of spending the weekend at one of the popular ryokans in Bessho Onsen known as Nanakusa No Yu.  It is a small but elegant ryokan consisting of 16 rooms.  The room rates range anywhere from $190 – $440 including tax/ per night. The higher rate applies to peak periods.

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Upon arrival, you are greeted by hotel staff who will park your car for you as parking is very limited and carry your luggage up to your room.  The staff is very pleasant and well educated in concept of omotenashi, the Japanese spirit of hospitality and service.  Once you reach your room, a staff member will familiarize you with your room’s amenities, explain the dinning plan and answer any questions you may have.  You will also be served tea and sweets upon your arrival, to help you relax and feel welcomed.

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The room I was staying in came with a rotenburo , an outdoor onsen tub constructed of Japanese cypress. Everything I needed was available in my room including yukatas of various sizes to choose from, tabi socks, towels, hair dryer, tooth brushes, shampoo, bath gel ,etc.  Anything and everything that a traveler may need was accounted for and provided in abundance.

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The room itself was large and well-appointed.  Two comfortable beds, a couch and separate seating area, dining table, flat screen TV, lounge chair out on the patio and a large rotenburo surrounded by privacy screens.  For those who wish to sleep Japanese style, futons are provided upon request.

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The meals are served in your room by a staff member who is both knowledgeable and hospitable.  My staff member was prompt when serving my meals based on the times I had agreed upon during my check in orientation.  Dinner was served at 6:30 PM and included several courses.  Each dish was beautifully arranged and amazingly flavorful and fresh.  Breakfast was served the following morning at 7:00 AM and included several dishes consisting of local ingredients. In between, if you wished to order beverages, even alcohol, the staff was quick to accommodate your request.

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Hand Printed Menu

 

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One advantage to staying in a smaller ryokan as opposed to a large resort type of onsen hotel is that the owner visits each room making the guests feel welcome.  Dressed in a traditional kimono, the owner of Nanakusa No Yu onsen spent nearly 20 minutes in my room ensuring that my needs were met, I was comfortable and enjoying my stay.

Upon checkout, the owner was present to send me off as a staff member delivered my car to the front door as another carried my luggage to the car.  I was also given several parting gifts as I left this wonderful ryokan.

The room rates may seem a little pricey for some but rest assured that the level of service, relaxation and satisfaction you will gain from staying at Nanakusa No Yu is well worth it.

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Address:           1620 Besshoonsen, Ueda 386-1431 , Nagano Prefecture (Bessyo Onsen)

 

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Japan: Tokyo (Madame Tussauds Wax Museum)

In an earlier blog post, I had written about Madame Tussauds Wax Museum located in Hollywood, California. (https://wordpress.com/stats/insights/traveldreamscapes.wordpress.com )  During my recent visit to Japan, I had the opportunity to visit Madame Tussauds in Tokyo.

Madame Tussaud or Marie Tussaud was born as Marie Grosholtz in 1761 in Strasbourg, France.  She eventually settled in London and by 1825, opened the first wax museum on Baker Street. Today, the museum is a major tourist attraction in London, displaying life-size waxworks of royalty, historical figures, film and sport stars and famous murderers. The wax figures were once roped off from visitors but today the public can get up close and personal with the celebrities, dress up in costumes and take pictures!

If you are unable to visit the original London attraction, do not worry, Madame Tussauds has opened up branches in various countries including China, Singapore, Thailand, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Australia, the United States and Japan.

The Japanese museum opened on March 15, 2013.  It is located at DECKS Tokyo Beach in Odaiba, approximately 32 minutes by train from Tokyo Station. The museum has over sixty wax figures of world leaders, celebrities, music stars and other television and news personalities on display. You can mingle and have your photo taken with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, President Barack Obama, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Lady Gaga, you name it.  The museum also features various Japanese personalities such as Prime Minister Abe, skater Mao Asada, television personality Matsuko Deluxe and the famous rock band, XJapan, just to name a few.

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Duke & Duchess of Cambridge

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Lady Gaga

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Audrey Hepburn

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Akiko Wada

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Yuko Oshima (AKB48)

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Odaiba is accessible via the Yurikamome Line from Tokyo Station, exit at the Odaiba Kaihin Koen stop. DECKS is just a short walk from the station.

 

Web page:         https://www.madametussauds.jp/tokyo/en/

Location:            3F Decks Tokyo Beach Island Mall, 1-6-1 Daiba, Minato-ku, Tokyo