Toyama #1: Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route (立山黒部アルペンルート)

Two weeks ago, I traveled the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route to view the famous Snow Walls at Murodo. The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route is a series of many different modes of transportation taking you from Nagano’s Omachi area to Toyama through some of the spectacular mountains of the Japanese Alps. I began my journey waking up at 3:30AM and leaving my home at 4:00AM, driving to Nagano, and beginning the ascent up to Murodo on the first available departure. The Route starts with a trolley bus, then a cable car, a ropeway, and another trolley bus up to the highest point of the route. Heading down towards Nagano, you ride on a regular bus then a train, although I returned back the way I came to Nagano. You can read more about the route and my experience here.

Being a total idiot, I forgot the folder which had the postcards for Toyama and Nagano ready to go. So there are no postcard pictures this time. In my defense, it was EXTREMELY early when I left, so I was just a little tired.

Bus and people and snow walls

Past the pedestrian walkway

The highest point was 13 meters, not very tall this year unfortunately

Still, if you aren’t used to snow, it is pretty cool

Official information

Rather disappointing altogether, to be honest. Maybe I’ll get a chance to go back in a year when there is not only more snow, but also nicer weather!

Fukuoka #1: Mentaiko (めんたいこ)

Mentaiko is salted cod fish eggs marinated in chili sauce, and is a Fukuoka specialty. It originated in Korea, and is now popular all around Japan, especially in pasta or as filling for onigiri rice balls. I’ve had mentaiko in pasta before, and it is sometimes used as a topping for sushi rolls, but on the whole I’m not a big fan, so have never tried a big chunk at once like is popular in Fukuoka food stalls. My husband doesn’t really like it either, so I can’t count on him to eat it if I bought some for a picture, hence why I don’t have a picture for this blog. Maybe one of these years I’ll make it down to Fukuoka to take some pictures!

Hiroshima #1: Oysters (牡蠣)

I have a confession: I don’t like oysters. I want to like them… I’ve tried to like them…but I just can’t seem to convince myself that they’re good no matter how I try them. I’ve had them raw, both plain and the New Orleans Acme Oyster style with tabasco; I’ve had them fried, baked, cooked… yeah, it’s not going to happen.

My parents happen to love oysters, however, so I still had plenty of chances to photograph them when I visited Hiroshima with them last year. Of course, this card is retired, so I wasn’t able to buy it directly from the post office… I found it on Yahoo Auctions instead, but didn’t have the postcard to take pictures with the oysters themselves.

An oyster restaurant with oysters actually growing before our eyes!

Fried oysters from the above restaurant

My parents’ grilled oysters from dinner. They reported deliciousness.

Actually, this past October on my tour, I had the chance to explore oysters in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture. These oysters from Miyagi are often sent to prefectures like Hiroshima to seed their oyster industry, which made the 2011 earthquake and tsunami all the more devastating, as it didn’t just affect the Tohoku oyster industry, but that of all over Japan. You can read more about that here.

Kumamoto #1: Spicy Lotus Root (辛子れんこん)

Anyone familiar with Japanese food knows of wasabi, the spicy but yummy paste made from a variety horseradish root ground. But wasabi isn’t the only spicy paste that is available here; the second type is called karashi and is a spicy hot mustard paste. This stuff can clear your sinuses just as quickly and effectively as wasabi, and is… dare I say it… maybe even MORE hot that wasabi! This spicy paste is stuffed into the holes of a cooked lotus root, and served as a local specialty in Kumamoto.

I tried a small piece fried like tempura and really enjoyed it, but I was cautioned ahead of time to take SMALL bites… just be careful if you do have a chance to eat it. It is yummy, but HOT!

I didn’t get a picture of the one I ate, but here’s a place selling some near Kumamoto Castle

I felt a bit bad about trying to take a picture without buying any, so it’s not a very good picture. But that’s just an excuse to go try some yourself, right?

Miyazaki #1: Mangoes (マンゴー)

The production of mangoes, Miyazaki’s first postcard, started in 1985 but took several years to show success. Miyazaki has a sub-tropical climate and lots of sun and rain, which is good for mangoes. I love these yummy fruits, but the Miyazaki brand-name ones come at a VERY dear price in my cold corner of Japan. The best of the best can go for 300000 yen! Wow! Even the more moderately priced mangoes at my local supermarket are still more expensive than most fruits, so I don’t get to eat them often. Still, there are lots of mango-flavored products for sale in Japan, so even if the fresh fruit is too expensive, there are other ways to eat it.

We brought home some mango-flavored jellies from our Kyushu trip which were delicious.

Real mangoes for sale, 1800 yen for one!

More reasonable-priced mango flavored goods for sale at Miyazaki Station

Mango ice cream, yum!

Have you eaten a mango today?

Oita #1: Hell’s Valley Hot Springs (地獄谷)

The bubbling, brightly colored hot springs of Beppu Onsen in Oita Prefecture are collectively called the “8 Hells” of Hell Valley. The hot springs are too hot to bathe in, but are nevertheless entertaining for visitors to view. Although I’ve never been to Oita, anyone interested in onsen have heard of these famous pools!

Most famous perhaps, or at least the most memorable, is the blood-red pool of Chinoike Jigoku with its vibrant contrast to the green foliage around it. Others, such as the pretty Umi Jigoku or the mud-bubble Oniishibozu Jigoku are also interesting. You can read about each of the hells, and how to get there and see them all, here.

Aichi #1: Shachi (鯱)

What are shachi exactly? Well, the exact translation depends on who you’re talking to. Many call them “orca” or “dolphin”, but they’ve got the head of a tiger with the body of a carp. Traditionally, they’re placed on the corners of castle roofs to bring good luck and to protect from fire. In Aichi, the ones on Nagoya Castle are covered in gold-leaf, making them the shiniest and most famous shachi in Japan.

Shachi on top of Nagoya Castle in Aichi Prefecture

More sedate shachi, these displayed at Kagoshima Castle

I enjoyed this display from Himeji Castle in Okayama, showing the progression of style in different eras, Edo, Meiji, and Showa.

Shachi can be found on even the smallest castles around the country, but I thought Nagoya Castle’s were quite impressive!

Kyoto #1: Maiko (舞妓さん)

As I wait impatiently for my epic trip through Northern Japan next month, I’m having trouble thinking of postcards to talk about right now. I’m sure I’ll have plenty of new material for the blog during and after my trip, but right now is kinda… slow. So I checked The Collection page for prefectures I haven’t talked about and… wait… Kyoto, really?! I haven’t done a Kyoto post yet?! WELL! Here we go!

Kyoto’s first postcard is the completely predictable Maiko-san, apprentice Geisha (or Geiko as they’re called in Kyoto). Geiko are entertainers, masters of traditional Japanese dance, at least one traditional Japanese instrument such as shamisen, and conversation. Some Westerners think they are prostitutes, but that is COMPLETELY false! These fascinating ladies start to learn the arts from a very young age, going through 5 or more years through the ranks until they are considered good enough to “graduate” to geiko status. Maiko and Geiko aren’t unique to Kyoto, but they are the most famous.

If you visit Kyoto, you may have the chance to come upon some women dressed up in bright kimono with flowing sleeves…

I was having some tea when I spotted this group


…but actually these aren’t maiko at all! They are tourists dressed up for the fun and to take lots of pictures! (But would you have known if I hadn’t told you?) It seems like a neat opportunity, but I think I’d be a bit embarrassed to do it.

But fear not! Dedicated people might spot true maiko or geiko around dusk walking to and from teahouses in the Gion area! They will probably be surrounded by lots of people with expensive cameras. If you see one, please don’t mob them… they’re working!

You can also see them at performances throughout the year, or by booking an extremely expensive session with them.

Poster for the Miyako Odori, one of these chances to see a performance

If you have the chance to see a maiko or geiko perform, you are lucky indeed! I saw some maiko once, but not in full formal kimono… they were in regular kimono waiting for a train in Osaka!

Okinawa #1: Shisa (シーサー)

It has been raining a lot recently. This is not unexpected, as we are currently in tsuyu – or rainy – season. Still, it’s a bit tiring when it’s gray and wet everyday. Recently we’ve been planning a trip to the Kyushu area, and I’ve been wishing we don’t have to wait until August for it… we could just get up and go now. Some other friends are in Okinawa, and I’m very jealous!

Because of that, I thought I’d visit Okinawa with you today. Okinawa’s very first postcard from way back in 2009 is of Shisa (Shishi on mainland Japan), a guardian lion-dog from traditional Okinawan Ryuukyuuan culture, which is a variation of the Chinese-style “fu” dog. These statues, sometimes cute and funny, sometimes fierce, are placed in pairs on rooftops or gates to ward off evil. Traditionally, one dog has an open mouth, the other closed.

While the main element to this postcard is the Shisa, two other Okinawan symbols are present: the red roof tiles that are a traditional element to Okinawan houses, and a bright hibiscus flower, which grows all over Okinawa. My first (and only ;_;) trip to Okinawa, I saw all three!

Funny shisa with the red roof tiles in the background

Bright hibiscus flower – I bought some hibiscus tea as a souvenir!

This picture is one of my favorites!

Shisa are popular souvenirs in Okinawa, and can be found at many shops in various sizes, shapes, and colors. My husband opted to buy a pair in traditional style, while I chose a brightly colored pair:

Kenji’s pair

And mine. I call them “Smiley” and “Sunshine”!

Ahhh. I’d give a lot to be in Okinawa right now… hope you all can get the chance to go to Okinawa soon, and pick up this postcard plus a cute souvenir while you’re there!

Tokyo #1: Asakusa Kaminari Gate (雷門)

This is Tokyo’s first postcard from back in 2009, and depicts the Kaminari Gate to Asakusa’s Sensouji Temple. It’s popular with tourists, foreign and domestic alike, because of the big lantern and the statues on either side guarding it. Through the gate you find a long street filled with vendors leading to a second gate, and finally to the temple itself.

Postcard and gate

The Kaminarimon during my first visit to Asakusa

Through to Sensouji

A “must-see” for anyone in Tokyo!