A good scrub and a relaxing soak at a real onsen highlights why I love Japan. It is a clean and quiet country, populated by courteous and respectful (mostly) people who have created an orderly and artistically beautiful environment. The foods, smells, colors, and designs all satisfy me in a way I could not have imagined. Certainly I have a biased view. Tokyo can be congested and noisy. But show me a sprawling city of 20+million people that survives with the civility that this one does.
This trip is designed in the reverse of most – R and R followed by work (a course and some meetings). Isamu, one of our instructors here, had one of his partime employers arrange everything but travel. We will be squired around in turns by our 3 Japanese work colleagues and Chizuru, Taks wife. We flew into Nagoya rather than Tokyo/Narita. The airport is efficient, clean and interesting. One of its cachets is food. There are lots of options plus interesting shops. After a surprisingly good night sleep, D and I took a train to Tokoname for the morning to tour around until Toyota (a person and a car) came to fetch us. His English is much better than our Japanese but it will be a struggle through which we will prevail using humor and patience.
Tokoname has been a center of ceramics for centuries. It is also the home of the welcome/lucky cat or Maneki Neko. There are countless iterations of the later here and around Japan. We followed tourist a trail through one of the ceramics district. It took us past little shops selling contemporary pieces and some historic sites. There are a variety of old kilns that demonstrate some creative engineering. Along the path they have used sewage pipes and casks as bulwarks of retaining walls used to hold back slopes
Toyota picked us up mid-afternoon and drove to our next stop, Takayama. It is one of several restored/recreated towns along the Kiso Road. This road is part of a larger inland trail dating back to 600 AD. It was conceived to connect Kyoto and Tokyo, the respective homes of the emperor and the seat of government. There wasn’t much going on the first day because of the convergence of 2 typhoons in the area but the next day was quite nice. The streets are cobbled walkways; no cars allowed. There were many small shops to delight Dharmasuri. While here we stayed at a ryokan, a traditional Japanese guest house. Our single room had paper-thin walls, sliding doors, and tatami floors. We shared bathrooms and showers/tubs with other guests and slept on futons on the floor.
We then went to Matsumoto. To our surprise we were given a room for 2 nights in a traditional Japanese luxury hotel. It has been a unique experience. Once checked in, nearly all of the guests shed their clothes and donned robes and slippers for the entire stay. Our suppers were served to us in a private room. The first night was traditional fare, difficult to identify but really tasty and satisfying. We were also treated to a private onsen, complete with thermally heated mineral water. The tub would have fit 6 people comfortably. This is quite the life.
The rest of our R and R trip is probably better described visually through Dharmasuri’s pictures. You may access them here.
One of the highlights was the Utsukushi-ga-hara-kogen Higlands museum, outside of Matsumoto. This expansive outdoor gallery contains acres of sculptures, all modern and made of a wide variety of materials. They were at turns massive, subtle, abstract, very real, colorful and some, unfathomable. It was wonderful. We also attended an early hour service at a large Buddhist monastery in Nagano presided over by the senior monk and then the senior nun. This is an unusual place because they are essentially non-denominational. The devotions used at all of the major schools of Buddhism are chanted here each morning. That would be like Catholics, Methodists, Baptist, Unitarians, Episcopalians etc praying together under one roof. Finally we went to see a series of Buddha statues lined up on a wall. Each was different but all wore red woven caps and a red bib-like garment. The color red symbolizes compassion, concern and love for all children. This is a common theme in Japan
We saw much more. One added bonus has been that our hosts had never been to many of the spots we visited.
Isamu and Tak
Tak and Chizuru