Tohoku

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: Iwate (Kitakami/ Tensochi Park)

With over 10,000 cherry trees planted alongside the Kitakami River in Tenshochi Park, Kitakami City is one of Tohoku’s best three cherry blossom viewing spots.

The trees are in bloom for only 1 – 2 weeks during late April, but visitors flock to the area in droves to stroll under the canopy of white blossoms that cover the 1.25 mile path which runs through the park. Additionally, there are sightseeing boats that depart from the rest house located at the south end of the park allowing visitors to view the cherry blossoms from the river. The boat ride lasts approximately 20 minutes and costs ¥1,000. A limited number of bicycles are also available for rent at a cost of ¥300.

The park hosts the Kitakami Tenshochi Sakura Festival from mid-April to early May.  The path and the park are illuminated in the evenings between the hours of 6:00 PM – 9:00 PM enabling festivalgoers to view the blossoms in the evening. In addition to the beautiful cherry blossoms, there are scheduled performances and numerous food vendors to enhance the festival experience.

Next to the park you will find Michinoku Folklore Village comprised of thirty preserved farmhouses and other structures from different historical periods. A majority of the buildings are open to the public and display various household items and tools that give visitors a perspective into what traditional life was like in Tohoku. Located near the village’s entrance gate, the Kitakami City Museum displays an assortment of cultural and historical artifacts, as well as various examples of Buddhist art. Entry to the museum is included in the admission fee to the village.

It is not necessary to plan your visit to Tensochi Park during the festival, there are plenty of things to do and see throughout the year.

Kitakami City is accessible via the Tohoku Shinkansen from Tokyo, exit Kitakami Station. The one way journey takes approximately 3 hours and is covered by the Japan Rail Pass. From the station, the park is approximately 20 minutes on foot.

 

Address:             Tachibana, Kitakami 024-0043, Iwate Prefecture

JAPAN: Akita (Kakunodate)

Kakunodate was a small town located in the Semboku District of Akita Prefecture in Japan. Although it was merged with the town of Tazawako and Nishiki to create the city of Semboku in 2005, the area still remains remarkably unchanged since its founding in 1620.

The town originated as a castle town with two distinct areas, the samurai district and the merchant district. Although Kakunodate Castle no longer exists, the city still has some of the best examples of samurai architecture in Japan. The samurai houses are located along Bukeyashiki Street (Samurai House Street) and some are open to the public for viewing. Among the houses open to the public are the Aoyagi House, the Ishiguro House, the Odano House, the Kawarada House, the Iwahashi House and the Matsumoto House. These houses are free to tour with the exception of the Aoyagi House and the Ishiguro House which charges a nominal entrance fee. Touring these homes is fascinating as doing so gives the visitor a fascinating insight into the life of the samurai.

Kakunodate is also famous for the hundreds of weeping shidarezakura (cherry trees) which attract large crowds to the city around late April and early May. These trees were imported from Kyoto and as a result the town was sometimes referred to as the little Kyoto of Tohoku.

The town plays host to several festivals as well. In February there is the Kamifuusen Age (the Paper Balloon Festival). Dating back to more than a century, the festival features large decorated paper balloons that are lit and allowed to float off into the evening sky. Also in February, the Fire and Snow Festival takes place during the course of two days. It is a purification ritual of types where people twirl flaming pieces of straw on a string above their heads.

If you yearn to get a glimpse of feudal Japan, please do make a note of visiting Kakunodate. It is relatively easy to reach Kakunodate using the Akita Shinkansen Komachi from Tokyo. The journey takes roughly 4 hours but please note that seats on the Komachi trains are all reserved and must be booked in advance.

 

Aoyagi House

Aoyagi House

Ishiguro House

Ishiguro House

Iwahashi House

Iwahashi House

Kawarada House

Kawarada House

Matsumoto House

Matsumoto House

Odano House

Odano House

 

Japan: Miyagi ( Naruko Gorge / 鳴子峡)

Japan is a beautiful country to visit all year round, but particularly striking during spring when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom and autumn when the momiji (Japanese maple) leaves change color. There are countless settings throughout the country to see these breathtaking events but one place that is very special during autumn is the Naruko Gorge in Tohoku. Located just 43 miles from Sendai, the capital of Miyagi Prefecture, the gorge transforms into one of the region’s most popular spots for observing the brilliant autumn colors from late October to early November.

The best spot for viewing the fiery colors is an area that stretches approximately one and a quarter miles east-west near the Naruko-kyo Rest House. There is an observation deck located next to the rest house from where you can see the Ofukazawa Bridge, the most photographed location in the area. Those of you who are more adventurous can elect to follow the Ofukazawa Walking Trail starting from the bridge and ending at the rest house. The path will take you through the forested side of the valley and will require approximately 45 minutes to traverse.

The town of Naruko is also known for its kokeshi dolls. Located at the eastern end of the gorge, you will find the Japan Kokeshi Museum, exhibiting numerous dolls from the various prefectures in the Tohoku Region. For a small fee, visitors can try their hand at painting their own kokeshi doll, which makes nice souvenir to bring home from your visit to Naruko.

After your tour, you may consider soaking in one of the many affordable and high quality onsens (hot springs) that dot the area. Most are open to the public until 10:00 PM.

You can easily access Naruko Gorge from Tokyo via the Tohoku Shinkansen exiting at the Furukawa stop and changing to a local train on the JR Rikuu-to Line to Naruko Onsen.

 

JAPAN: Regional Dishes (Shikoku)

In our previous posts, we covered the regional cuisines of Hokkaido, Tohoku, Chubu and Kansai and now we move into the Shikoku area, the smallest and least populous of the four main islands of Japan.

The name Shikoku means “four provinces” and includes Ehime, Kochi, Tokushima and Kagawa. The region is most famous for its 88 temple pilgrimage, Japan’s most famous pilgrimage route and Awa Odori, a dance festival which takes place in Tokushima Prefecture during Obon (Augist 12-15th). Awa Odori is the largest dance festival in Japan drawing over 1.3 million visitors annually.

Part of the 88-temple pilgramage

Part of the 88-temple pilgrimage

Awa Odori

Awa Odori

If you are interested in visiting the region to take part in one of these events, be sure to sample the Udon that it is famous for. Udon is a thick wheat flour noodle often served hot in a mildly flavored soup. The simplest form is known as kake udon featuring a broth known as kakejiru, consisting of dashi (soup stock), shoyu (soy sauce) and mirin (a type of rice wine similar to sake but with a lower alcohol content). The most common form of dashi or soup stock used in Japan is derived from boiling kombu (kelp) and kezurikatsuo (shavings of katsuobushi – preserved skipjack tuna) then straining the resultant liquid. Kake udon is often served with thinly chopped scallions and can include other toppings such as tempura (prawn), kakiage (mixed tempura fritter) or aburage (deep fried tofu seasoned with sugar, mirin and shoyu).

Kake Udon

Kake Udon

Kezurikatsuo

Kezurikatsuo

Aburage

Aburage

Kakiage

Kakiage

Another type of udon dish is known as Sanuki Udon which is produced in Kagawa Prefecture, previously known as Sanuki Province. This type of udon noodle is characterized by its square shape and flat edges.

Sanuki udon

Sanuki udon

In the Kochi Prefecture, you will find that Katsuo no tataki is very popular. This dish involves skipjack tuna or Katsuo that is finely chopped and mixed with spring onion and rice vinegar. Outside the Kochi area, the fish is sliced and seared. Another regional item you will find in the Kochi area is Sawachi Ryori, sashimi or sushi served on a huge plate called sawachi.

Katsuo no tataki

Katsuo no tataki

Sawachi Ryori

Sawachi Ryori

Finally, in the Tokushima area, you will find that Sudachi is quite common. This is a small citrus fruit similar to a lime that is grated and added to dishes to give them a distinctive taste known throughout Tokushima during the summer months.

Sudachi

Sudachi

So that covers it for the Shikoku region. Stay tuned as we introduce you to the regional dishes of the Kyushu and Okinawa regions next!

JAPAN: Regional Dishes (Tohoku)

Continuing on with part two of our adventures with kyodo ryori (郷土料理) / Regional cuisine, we visit the Tohoku Region, an area which comprises the northeastern portion of Honshu, the largest island of Japan. The region consists of six prefectures: Akita, Aomori, Fukushima, Iwate, Miyagi and Yamagata. Known mostly as a remote, scenic area with a harsh climate, the region did not benefit from the tourism industry until the 20th century.

Unfortunately, on March 11, 2011 the area suffered a devastating earthquake and tsunami where the waves reached heights of 133 feet. The earthquake is often referred to in Japan as the Great East Japan Earthquake (東日本大震災 / Higashi Nihon Daishinsai) and is also known as the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake.

Today, as the Tohoku Region continues to rebuild, the Japanese tourism authorities are reporting that inbound tourism has returned almost to the level it had been in 2010. The region continues to promote itself and one way in which they attempt to get tourists interested is through their regional cuisine.

Tohoku kyodo ryori features: Ichigo-ni (a clear soup with sea urchin and abalone associated with Aomori), Jappa Jiru (a fish gut and vegetable soup associated with Aomori and Akita), Senbei Jiru (a soy based soup with baked rice crackers and vegetables), Wanko Soba (soba noodles served in small bowls which are refilled repeatedly and associated with Iwate), Morioka Reimen (a variation of the North Korean cold noodle soup), Harako Meshi (rice cooked in a salmon and soy stock and topped with salmon roe/ ikura), Kiritanpo (pounded rice wrapped around a skewer and grilled. It is typically brushed with miso and eaten or put into chicken and vegetable nabe/ stew) and Gyutan (beef tongue typically grilled but can also be served sashimi style. )

Ichigo-ni

Ichigo-ni

Jappa Jiru

Jappa Jiru

Senbei Jiru

Senbei Jiru

Wanko Soba

Wanko Soba

Morioka Reimen

Morioka Reimen

Harako Meshi

Harako Meshi

Kiritanpo

Kiritanpo

Kiritanpo Nabe

Kiritanpo Nabe

Gyutan

Gyutan

There are so many things to see and do in Tohoku, including onsens, temples, castles, parks, etc., why not plan a visit? While there, sample the kyodo ryori too!

Japan: Osaka (Abeno Tennoji Illuminage)

Just next to the Tennoji Station in Osaka, you will find an urban oasis similar to New York’s Central Park or London’s Hyde Park, called Tennoji Koen or Tennoji Park. It was first opened in 1909 and is home to the Tennoji Zoological Gardens, the Chausuyama Tomb and the Osaka Municipal Museum of Art.

Annually, beginning in early November, Tennoji Koen hosts the Abeno Tennoji Illuminage, a light show featuring three million colored LEDs. The highlights of the light display include a 320-foot rainbow promenade (a tunnel lit up with all seven colors of the rainbow) and a 55-foot tall Christmas tree, called the Wonderland Tree. The illumination event supports the reconstruction efforts in the Tohoku region following the Great East Japan Earthquake, a devastating 8.9-magnitude earthquake, which ripped through the area on March 11, 2011.

The Abeno Tennoji Illuminage, which runs through January 31 draws large crowds and is popular among young couples as it offers an ideal dating spot this time of the year. The lights are switched on at 5:30 PM and remain illuminated until 9:30 PM.

The park is just a 10-minute walk from the JR Osaka Loop Line Tennoji Station. Admission to the park is ¥1,000 for adults and ¥500 for children (Children under 3 are admitted without charge.).

So if you happen to be in the Kansai region, why not stop off at Tennoji Park and enjoy some winter time magic? Not all large scale illumination events are restricted to Tokyo and her suburbs.

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