Lake Kawaguchi

My husband’s Uncle has a cabin by Lake Kawaguchi. There are a few reasons as to why¬†we decided to go on a road trip in Honshu just to visit his Uncle.

  1. Kawaguchiko is one of the five lakes surrounding Mount Fuji, which I still haven’t seen up-close after my 10th visit to Japan.
  2. He’s retired and the cabin is where he spends his time carving wooden toys, puzzles, boxes, and whatever other trinkets suit his fancy as long as they are made out of wood. A skill both my husband and I are interested in.
  3. He has two beautiful golden retrievers. And dogs are beautiful ūüôā Golden Retrievers even more.

Jakarta sucks. I can’t think of any place where I can take my dogs for a run or a swim. Sure, they can walk around my housing area. But that’s about it. Once, one idiotic kid threw ice cube¬†at my dog. His Mother was sitting next to him, saw the whole thing and did nothing. Congrats on your shitty parenting.

Anyway. Indonesians have very little regard for animal rights, or any rights for that matter. Dogs in Japan clearly are in a much better condition than in Indonesia. They have public parks to run around in.

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Like this park

And lakes to swim in.

And I’m pretty damn sure they don’t have people killing and hunting dogs just for fun. Or neighbours who kidnap your pets so that they can demand ransom money afterwards. Or restaurants that serve stolen dog stews. I can’t say much about humans eating dogs or other animals we’d rather see as pets. Meat is meat, whether whale¬†or dog or grasshoppers. Just don’t procure the meat brutally or in any illegal ways. Know where your food¬†comes from.

I originally wanted to write a post about Kawaguchiko and what’s worth seeing there, but this whole dog thing just jogged some unpleasant memories and it’s getting on my nerves. Indonesia, in general, gets on my nerves. Guess I’ll shortcut this post and just post pictures with minimum writing instead.

This one has nothing to do with dogs but the trees are majestic. Some temple nearby Mount Fuji.

And while you’re there, try Hoto noodles. It’s the specialty of Kawaguchiko. Tasted similar to Chinese Dao Xiao Mian. Comes out piping hot in huge portion. Apparently tastes better in winter.

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Hoto

And now I’m off to make myself a cup of tea. Maybe I’ll brew that really nice Longjing¬†I’ve¬†hidden in the fridge. Maybe then I’ll feel better.

Kamakura. And why I would love to live here.

According to last night’s poll on¬†some random Japanese TV channel I cannot remember, my husband’s hometown is currently ranked number 1 on Japan’s best places to live. That’s great, because the shit-hole where I grew up in is definitely one of the worst places anyone would want to raise their kids in. Unless you’re indifferent to corruption, social inequalities, child labour, radical Islamic parties and all that jazz. Then you would love Jakarta as all you desire could be achieved with money, money, and more money. And connection. Did you know¬†we caught an IS bomb-maker but due to our government’s generosity, the motherfucker will get out in 10 years time? He will be 33 when he gets out, still in his prime, perfect for a new start. Maybe someone up there thought it’s OK to be lenient, after all, only 4 civilians died in the attack. Indonesia is a big fucking joke.

Anyway. Sorry for ranting. I’m going to go back to my zen state now and talk about this beautiful coastal city in Kanagawa: Kamakura.

Kamakura is only an hour away from Tokyo, and about 30 minutes away from Yokohama. It has one of the best beach for surfing in Japan. Don’t surf? Neither do I. But¬†I still think it’s nice to see and smell the ocean. Not to mention the view. See the pictures below? I took those from my husband’s window. Enoshima on the left, and Mount Fuji in the distance.

Mountain’s more your thing? Kamakura is surrounded by hills and there are hiking tracks everywhere. Are you a temple otaku? Being an ancient capital of Japan, Kamakura has plenty of temples¬†too. Seafood? Duh, we’re by the sea. Beef? Kamakura Roast Beef is actually very well-known in Japan. But I have to confess that my favourite food in Kamakura is my Mother-in-law’s cooking.

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Like this bowl of Shirazudon
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Or this Hiroshima Okonomiyaki cooked by the neighbour

Don’t have a Japanese Mother-in-law or awesome neighbour who can cook? Kamakura also has many quirky shops and cafes. I love walking around in different parts of¬†Kamakura to see what hidden gems I could find. Usually I find one in every visit as there are always new places opening. Like this cute restaurant in Gokuraji where you can sit by the rail track and watch the Enoden pass by.

Or this old privately-owned Western-style mansion which has just recently turned into a cafe. One hectare of land 5 minutes away from Kamakura station.

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This is my dream house. One I cannot afford. One that will remain a dream.

 

I also love the tiny little details I see around the house whenever the season changes.

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Like this growing sweet potato on display to celebrate the coming of autumn

This is probably my 9th post about the city, and my 9th or 10th time in Japan. In short, I just love Kamakura. Now please pray so that I can move there before Indonesia destroys me mentally.

Ontayaki

I have a thing for pottery. I buy¬†one piece of kitchen ware for every time I visit Japan. That’s at least a piece¬†per year. I’m good at following my don’t-buy-more-than-one-per-visit¬†rule,¬†but this time, I wasn’t.

I purchased my first Ontayaki in a beautiful pottery shop in Kamakura over two years ago. I love the colour and accent in Ontayaki, so when I found out that the village of Onta is sort-of on the way between Kurokawa Onsen and Fukuoka (our last destination in Kyushu), I begged my husband to take me there. Thankfully he is also interested in pottery, and he was also on a mission to find a gift for his Mother. My Mother-in-law takes tea ceremony and kimono classes, and she is quite knowledgable in the subject of Japanese pottery. I love looking at a piece of pottery and guessing where in Japan do they come from. Even more otaku-ish, guessing what pattern they are using within the region.

Every piece of Ontayaki in Japan comes from only this one tiny village inhabited by 10 families. All 10 families are potters. The clay preparation is still done traditionally, with water-powered wooden hammer.

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Like this one

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Each family have their own shop and their own kiln. They mostly ship out their pottery to bigger cities. I think it’s very interesting that these 10 families can continuously meet the demand of hundreds of thousands of¬†families in Japan for Ontayaki.

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Kiln
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Another family’s kiln

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I have to say that although the price in Onta is significantly lower, but the selections in Kamakura or Tokyo are way better than the ones they have in Onta. I think they select the better ones and ship them off for better prices. I saw one shop selling slightly defected ones at a real bargain.

I got this bowl in Tobikanna pattern there. Anything that looks like the clay has been scraped like the one in the picture below falls under Tobikanna category.

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As you can see, the mark on the top overlaps. Ideally, it should not. 

I got this mug at a different shop. This one had a rough handle.

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In kushigaki pattern. Everything that has a bit of wolverine touch is done in kushigaki pattern. Literally means: comb scratch.

And my favorite piece during this Onta trip.

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This beautiful sake cup!

Yes, I did break my rule for the first time and bought three pieces of pottery in one go….

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But don’t they look worthy?

Definitely the highlight of my Kyushu shopping!

Kurokawa Onsen

Any trip in Japan would not be complete without a day well-spent at an onsen. For our penultimate day in Kyushu, we booked a room at Sanga Ryokan in Kurokawa Onsen area. Getting here involves changing buses, so renting a car is highly recommended. A car is cheaper than the transportation fee for a party of 3 and above.

From Kumamoto, we¬†took a little detour to Mount Aso. It should take us about 1.5 hours to get to the Mount Aso, but the road was blocked. There was some damage on the road and landslides caused by the earthquake in April. We saw abandoned houses on the foot of the mountain. It reminded me of a¬†scene my husband and I saw during our donation drive in a village nearby Mount Kelud. There were ashes everywhere, but the villagers were still living in their houses. Their cows and plants have died, but they refused to give up their home. Maybe it has something to do with their attachment to their birthplace, but most probably because they have no money to move elsewhere. Having a very incompetent government makes us¬†tough. We had a terrorist attack in January.¬†Gun shootings and dead bodies in the middle of the street. AND we had people taking selfies in the scene.¬†Indonesians are very resilient that way. Anyway, I’m now lost in my own thoughts. I should get back to my Aso writing.

So we didn’t get to see Aso, all we managed was to take photos of the surrounding area of Mount Aso.

And actually, it was a really good thing that we gave up on seeing Aso and decided to quickly get to our ryokan. Because an hour or two later, Mount Aso erupted. We didn’t even know about this until Mother-in-law called us up to ask if we were OK. Lucky us!!!

Another one of a half hour drive from that picturesque spot above, and voila, we finally made it to Sanga Ryokan! And it is way better than I thought it would be.

Sanga is nestled in a forest next to the river. Far away from the sort-of-busy Kurokawa Onsen town. Almost all of the ryokans are located downtown next to each other. I’m glad the one we picked is further apart.

And the highlight of Sanga, their beautiful rotenburo.

And your typical ryokan food! Serving Kyushu specific food items.

Compared to other ryokans in Honshu, I think Kyushu is quite reasonably priced. For 20,000 yen per person, you get to stay in Sanga, and your breakfast and dinner are already included in the price. We are only here for a night, but I think two nights would be a better choice. Ryokan has a strict 3pm check-in and 10am check-out policy, which means for the amount of money you are paying, you only get to enjoy your accommodation for 19 hours. No early check-ins or late check-outs allowed either.

Would I return? Yes! Planning to take my family here on our next holiday. Yay Kyushu!

Kumamoto

The ferry trip from Shimabara Port to Kumamoto Port was a brief 30 minutes. There’s an outdoor deck for those who prefer to be outside (that’s us!) and there’s the full AC indoor section. The deck gives a very nice view of the ferry departing from Shimabara, but, the outdoor section is also the smoking section. As long as you don’t mind the smell, then it is fine. We had seagulls following our ferry at quite close distance, and I was wondering why until I saw the couple standing in the corner with their hands stretched out. They were feeding them!

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There were many more than just these two

We only had one night in Kumamoto, so we had to be selective on what we should visit. Here’s our to-see and to-eat list:

1. Kumamoto Castle

We stayed at the Nikko Hotel which is within walking distance to Kumamoto’s main attraction, namely, the castle. Unfortunately the castle went through a rough earthquake in April, and we were stupid enough to not check whether the castle would still be open for public.

It wasn’t. It is currently under reconstruction¬†until who knows when.¬†Donations are still pouring in to rebuild Kumamoto, and the government is trying to push¬†Kyushu tourism by offering discounts and the likes for accommodations. It is speculated that the castle won’t be open for a few years at least. Which was sad, because the castle itself was going through a major restoration project, which was due to be completed in 2019.

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Kumamoto Castle wall in its current state

2. Suizenji Garden

This beautiful garden was constructed in 17th century by the Hosokawa Clan, and strolling around in it made us feel better about not being able to see Kumamoto Castle.

3. Basashi, or horse sashimi

Basashi is the traditional food of Kumamoto. Unlike whale or tuna or anything else that might come from dubious, unsustainable source, the horse meat in Kumamoto comes from respectable horse farms. So in this case, I personally think eating a horse is the same as eating chicken or cow or lamb or any other farm animals.

There are many restaurants selling horse meat in downtown Kumamoto. Head into any one of them, and they all should roughly taste the same.

It tasted a bit chewy for a sashimi, but tasted great as yakiniku. Having said that, I still prefer beef.

4. Kumamoto Ramen

The other famous food in Kumamoto is Kumamoto ramen, which was said to be influenced by Hakata Ramen.

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Thick soup. YUM!

I felt that one day was not enough to experience Kumamoto. It is a lovely cultural city and it would have been great to spend another two days there. Definitely a much better city than Nagasaki. This, would be on my to-revisit list!

Shimabara

We are due for Kumamoto after spending two nights in¬†Nagasaki. We rented a car so that it would be easier to get around. It’s only an hour and a half drive from Nagasaki to Shimbara port, then another half an hour on the ferry where you cross the ocean to get to Kumamoto port. Way cheaper than the cost of Shinkansen for 4 people. The car costs us about 4000 yen per day.¬†We got an eco car from Budget in Nagasaki, and it is very fuel efficient. Roads and regulations might be a bit tricky to follow but as long as you’ve got a good GPS, it shouldn’t be a problem.

Shimabara. Home to many samurai houses and a nice little castle from the 17th century, we thought it would be interesting to stop by at these spots before we board the ferry.

Some snippets of the old samurai district below. Those who are of a higher status would live within the castle compound, while samurais of lower status would be living in the samurai district. Some of the houses are still well preserved. Though no one is living there now, the house is open for visits. For free! Hoorah!

I find the history of Shimabara quite amusing. Apparently there were quite a lot of religious persecutions back in the 17th century. Christianity was repressed. Many tried to practice in secret, they even resort to sculpting Mother Mary to look like Kannon, the Japanese Goddess of Mercy.

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Santa Maria, disguised as Kannon

Other interesting objects shown below are: pottery showing a cross, Mother Mary carrying Jesus disguised as Japanese Goddess of Fertility and Children, and scissors with a cross mark.

Add heavy tax into the mixture, the peasants finally got fed up and the Shimabara revolution began.

This dude. Amakusa Shiro from Shimabara.
Shimabara Rebellion was led Amakusa Shiro, a samurai wearing a Christian cross.

What I found¬†fascinating was¬†how religions could always manage to sneak¬†their ways into everything and cause war. That, and the fact that there was a katana-bearing samurai walking around in Shimabara in the 1600s wearing a Christian cross. I’m learning so many new things in Kyushu!

And lastly, the view you get from the top of Shimabara castle.

Here, what you can see from the top of Shimabara castle
The ocean and what might be… Kumamoto?

I’m glad we made a¬†stop at Shimabara. Do visit if you have the time and your own transport! ūüôā

Nagasaki

Yay! I finally finished moving all my old posts to WordPress, so here I am, writing again about my current travel (yes I’m still here): Japan.

Japan is definitely my favourite country to visit. I¬†grew up eating Japanese food in the Japanese district of Jakarta (Dad was crazy about unagi) and dreaming about all the things they “teach” you in manga. So when I found the love of my life and he happened to be Japanese, it was like YAY!!!!¬†On top of that, he doesn’t mind returning to his hometown twice a year to see his family. DOUBLE YAY!!!!

This autumn though, we decided to venture out to other island we both haven’t been to. We were in Hokkaido in January, and this October, we decided on Kyushu. Our first destination? Nagasaki!

I’m just sharing some snippets about places we thought was worth¬†visiting in Nagasaki, and food worth eating.

1. Nagasaki Prefectural Art Museum.

In the beginning, I was interested in the museum just because it was done by Kengo Kuma. But it turned out that the museum was quite interesting on its own.

They have a collaboration with Prado and several other European museums. There were two Picasso paintings on loan here at the time of our visit. There was also an interesting wing filled with a collection of Spanish Art, acquired by Yakichiro Suma, who was the Japanese envoy living in Madrid during the Second World War. He bought over a thousand paintings during his stay, but most of them were left in Spain.

There is¬†one whole room dedicated to Toshio Matsuo, a Nagasaki-born painter who just recently passed away. His paintings, I thought, were beautiful and they were the highlight of my visit. Especially the huge canvas he did on Nagasaki’s night view. For 500 yen per ticket, it was well worth it.

2. Dejima Old Trading Post

This place has a very interesting insight on what went on in Nagasaki in the 1600. Dejima was a manmade island connected to Nagasaki, the only place in the whole Japan where foreigners (namely, the Dutch in Dutch East India Company aka VOC) were allowed to come and trade. But what¬†made it really interesting for me was the fact that the sugar that came to Japan in those era came from my country, Indonesia. There were also references to certain plants in Dejima garden that came through Batavia (the old name of Jakarta in that era). Also, the Dutch brought their Indonesian “servants” (euphemism for slaves) to Dejima to pour drinks, serve food, play Indonesian music and whatever else, as shown in the miniature below. And to top it off, the Japanese were instructed by the Dutch to make chamber pots out of ceramics. Which they did. And these were shipped to Indonesia to be used as… rice bowls…. Chamber pots for the VOC. Rice bowls for the Indonesians. I found that quite amusing. I also found all this very amazing, since none of these were ever¬†mentioned in Indonesian history class.¬†Learning something new everyday!

3. This beautiful clay shop located right in front of Dejima Trading Post. Why? Just because I love abandoned building. Plus, the owner was very nice. My husband spent a good one hour chatting with her about pottery. And I spent a good one hour fiddling my thumbs, lost in translation.

4. Glover Garden.

Another interesting place where you can see the whole Nagasaki. This was home to a Scottish businessman, who married a Japanese woman, and eventually became the person who imported Japan’s first ever train. Also the man responsible for the existence of Japanese beer. Interesting facts, right?

5. This Catholic Church that I did not go to because¬†I don’t like the idea that I have to pay to enter a Church. Apparently it had something to do with the Jesuits who were martyred back in the days for spreading Christianity.

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6. I’m combining three things at one now. It’s getting late, and I’m getting lazy to type.

China Town. Which is Japan’s oldest China Town. Just another China Town though. Chanpon is a famous food from Nagasaki, which is basically Chinese noodles. Having lived in China before, I did not like this mild Japanesey version of a Chinese noodle.

But do try the beef. Nagasaki wagyu won the last Wagyu Olympics (yes, there is such a thing), and their beef katsu at Keiten (śē¨Ś§©) is¬†AMAZING! No need for reservations.

The picture on the bottom right is Nagasaki’s traditional food. Namely… whale sashimi. Yes, I tried something I also deem as unethical, but I vowed to try everything once. To be honest, it tasted like a smelly rotten under-cured ham. In one word: crap. I don’t understand why this is the traditional food of Nagasaki, and I can’t fathom why people are still eating it nowadays. Had one bite and will NEVER¬†have a second one. Sorry whale ūüė¶

And that’s¬†all! Gonna stretch my back and go to sleep. Good night ūüôā