Aomori #4: Garlic (にんにく)

Aomori is the number one producer of garlic in Japan, and you can find Aomori-grown garlic at supermarkets across the country. In fact I usually always buy Aomori garlic because while there are usually fewer cloves on a head, they are very big and therefore easy to use for cooking!

Along with regularly grown garlic Aomori also produces fermented “black garlic”, a milder variety whose growth is a closely guarded secret among its producers. Apparently this kind of garlic has a lot of health benefits, and is preferred by people who find the usual white garlic variety too strong. As a lover of garlic myself, I love regular white garlic, so I’ve never tried black before, but I’ve seen it in stores. Maybe the next time I catch sight of it I’ll get some and post how it is!

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Hokkaido #4: Corn (とうきび)

Hokkaido’s 4th postcard features corn, one of the leading exports of Hokkaido. Corn is called “toukibi” in local Hokkaido dialect, but in the rest of Japan is known as “tomorokoshi” which is quite the mouthful to say! On my trip to Hokkaido I didn’t have the chance to try any (harvest is usually late August), but I’ve eaten Hokkaido corn bought from my local grocery store multiple times. A specific variety is white-kerneled and extremely sweet, but even the usual yellow variety is really good!


A cute hand-made sign proclaiming corn is for sale at this small shop near Lake Toya

I’m definitely looking forward to grilled corn this summer, how about you?

Miyazaki #4: Legends of Old Japan (手力雄命)

Okay, I’ll admit it. I’ve been putting off making this post forever because it is going to be a LONG one! Most postcards on this blog are pretty easy to explain. They often represent a place like a shrine or temple, a food like fruit or vegetables, or a person famous from the area. However this particular postcard isn’t that easy because it takes a bit of background knowledge on Japanese history and legends to understand just who the guy on the postcard is, and why he was featured. But today, I’m rising to the challenge!

Let’s start at the beginning.

The oldest books in Japanese history are the Kojiki and the Nihon Shoki, in which the myths and legends of Japan are written. It is said that Izanagi and Izanami, after creating Japan (and I guess the rest of the world), created three children as well: Amaterasu, the goddess of the sun; Tsukuyomi, the god of the moon; and Susanoo, the ocean and storm god.

Amaterasu didn’t exactly get along with her siblings, but in her defense, Susanoo especially seems like he was a bratty little brother, even throwing a flayed horse at her while she sat quietly weaving. In a rage (and probably in defense as well), she hid herself in a cave, denying the world of her light. The other gods and goddesses were concerned as the earth began to die, but no amount of pleading could bring Amaterasu out from her cave. Finally, the goddess of laughter, Ama-no-Uzeme started dancing wildly, and the other gods and goddesses laughter finally brought the curious Amaterasu peaking out of her cave. The god of strength, Tajikara Onomikoto, took the giant rock used to block the cave, and threw it all the way to what is now Nagano Prefecture, where you can see it today somewhere near Zenkouji. (Look, that’s the legend okay, I just report it how it is).

So in Takachiho we’ve allegedly got the cave where Amaterasu hid herself, the cave where the other gods and goddesses met to discuss what to do, and the origin-place of a rock that is now in Nagano.


Tajikara Onomikoto’s statue in front of the Amano Iwato Shrine


A bit clearer of a picture


The ema of Amano Iwato Shrine showing Amaterasu emerging from the cave.

The Amano Iwato Shrine’s inner shrine is actually the cave where Amaterasu hid. You can ask the priests at the temple for a view of it, and they will explain the legend and take you to the look out area to spot the cave, but no pictures are allowed of the viewing platform or the cave itself, which you can’t actually go in. However you can see the cave where all the gods met, which is down a river path about 5-10 minutes from the shrine.


The cave in which the meeting was held by the other gods to discuss what to do about Amaterasu

At the Takachiho Shrine, nightly Yokagura dances are held to explain the story. There are actually 33 dances, but the whole story is only performed on weekends in winter. During the rest of the year, a shortened version of the story is performed.


The goddess’s dance which made the other gods and goddesses laugh, and Amaterasu curious


Tachigara Onomikoto about to move the giant rock from the cave


The shrine during the day is a really beautiful place as well

So there’s the story. Around Takachiho there are many statues and sacred places, and I wish I had had more time to explore, but it was informative in even the short time we stayed. It is a bit difficult of a place to get to, but you can check here for some options.

Whew!

Iwate #4: Jodogahama (浄土ヶ浜)

Iwate’s 4th postcard is of Jodogahama beach, near Miyako City. I had the chance to stay in Miyako, so I visited Jodogahama for about 2 hours. It’s a very nice beach, but the weather was kinda gloomy, so the pictures didn’t turn out so nice. I think with the sun shining the water turns a beautiful color. Maybe I’ll get the chance to visit again!


Standing on the beach


The view from the lookout point at the restaurant on the beach… not the exact angle still! I couldn’t find the exact viewpoint, but I suspect it was up in the trees where there was a “no entry” sign. I am totally not above ignoring those signs, but there was a ton of people there so…


Jodogahama Sign


Detailing some of the lookout points


A high view point on the other side of the beach


And the water!

Kagoshima #4: Ibusuki Sand Bath (砂むし風呂)

Kagoshima’s Sand Bath from Ibusuki was a unique experience for me, and I really enjoyed it a lot! It is supposedly the only place in the world to enjoy being buried up to the neck in hot sand, on purpose. It is very much like spending time in a sauna, and a brochure lists many health benefits of sand bathing. A nearby volcano provides the heat that comes up through the earth and sand, and the regular water-style onsen in the area also use water heated by this volcano.

Although many onsen facilities around Ibusuki provide the chance to try sand bathing, I chose the most popular one called Saraku. Upon entering, you pay around 1000 yen, which includes a small towel you can take home, and a rental yukata. You can also rent a large towel if needed.

From there, you visit the locker room to change into your yukata and stash your stuff, then head outside to the bath. During low tide and good weather, you are buried right on the beach. During high tide and/or rainy weather, you are buried further up the beach under a canopy. I went during high tide, so was under the canopy.


Heading toward the sand bath in rental yukata


Workers preparing the beach for low tide


I asked for a picture from this group, and the worker helped by sticking the little umbrellas in to make it more like the postcard!


Nice shot! Thanks for your participation, everyone!

As I said, it feels like a sauna with the added pressure of the heavy sand on your body. You stay in the sand about 10-20 minutes, while workers generously take pictures of you if you have a camera or smartphone to hand them. Then you get out, brush off, and head indoors to disrobe and wash the sand off before finally heading into the regular onsen.

I’m so glad I was able to experience this, and I wholly recommend anyone heading to Kagoshima to try it! You can find out more about how to get to Ibusuki and the facilities with sand baths here.

Niigata #4: Hegi soba (へぎそば)

Soba is buckwheat noodle, famous around the country and available in every prefecture across Japan. What makes Niigata-style noodles unique is in two ways. First, pure soba flour is difficult to work with, so most use about 80% soba flour and 20% something else, usually another flour. Niigata style adds seaweed called funori instead of another flour to help the noodles bond together. The second way is how the noodles are served. Much like Iwate’s Wanko soba, Hegisoba is also served in bite-sized portions, but with a large number on a platter called a hegi.

Hegi soba can of course be eaten all over Niigata, but there are restaurants that also serve this specialty in Tokyo, including Hegisobakon in Shinjuku. If you have the opportunity, try these noodles and enjoy!

Kagawa #4: Konpira Grand Theater (旧金毘羅大芝居(金丸座))

The Kanumaruza (Konpira Grand Theater), in Kotohira City, Kagawa Prefecture, is the subject of Kagawa’s 4th card as well as the oldest kabuki playhouse. What’s kabuki? Great question! Read here all about this traditional style of theater.

If you’re interested in catching a show and are in Shikoku right now, you’re in luck! The theater holds 1 month of performances, usually in April, and this year is no different, with performances through the end of April. If you are visiting in off-season you wont be able to catch a show, but you can instead explore backstage, dressing rooms, and even the basement to see how the stage is rotated. This amazing piece of Japanese history is certainly worth a visit both during show month and outside as well.

Nara #4: Mt. Yoshino Cherries (吉野山の桜)

Also featured in the most recent postcard element post, today we’re in the Kansai region to look at Nara’s Mt. Yoshino, famous for its cherry blossoms in the spring, which currently are in full bloom! This is actually Japan’s MOST famous spot for sakura, eclipsing even Ueno Park’s popularity.

Mt. Yoshino also offers a great chance to see the blooms for a long period of time, due to the different elevations of the trees. From when the trees bloom at the bottom to when they bloom at the top can be a week or more difference, offering tourists a great chance to see them regardless of when they visit!

Well, outside of cherry blossom season you’re out of luck, but there’s more to Mt. Yoshino than its cherries, even if they’re the most famous part! There’s also several shrines and temples in the area to satisfy the traveler spiritually, and enough nature to give the weary a rest. If you’ve got some time, oh… now, head to Nara to see Japan’s most famous cherry blooming spot!

And take some pictures for me… I’ve never been!

(For more information in English I recommend clicking here!)

Cherry Blossom Season

Ahhh, Spring has sprung! A number of exceptionally warm days has heralded the start of the sakura (Cherry Blossom) season, and blooms have popped open on trees like popcorn, seemingly overnight! It feels like only yesterday it was cold and miserable, with the plums barely starting. Now it is a huge change!

Today I bring you another Postcard Element Post, this time highlighting everyone’s favorite flower! It seems to be postacollect’s favorite too, as we have a whopping 6 postcards featuring or containing sakura!

Aichi #4: Inuyama Castle (犬山城)
Nara #4: Mt. Yoshino Cherries (吉野山の桜)
Shizuoka #6: Mt. Fuji Hongu Sengen Shrine (富士山本宮浅間大社)
Aomori #7: Hirosaki Castle (弘前城)
Fukushima #7: Miharu Waterfall Cherry Tree (三春滝桜)
Kyoto #7: Ryuuan Temple Rock Garden (龍安寺石庭)

And a close up of the real thing:

I hope you can enjoy these beautiful flowers!

(Also, apologies for posting this a day late!)

Chiba #4: Tai (鯛)

Sea Bream, called tai in Japanese, is the subject of Chiba’s fourth postcard in the series. In March and April, these fish turn a beautiful reddish color, and are considered as having the richest flavor of any other time. Because this season coincides with cherry blossoms, they are sometimes called “cherry blossom bream”.

Tai is a special-occasion fish; that is, it is eaten for special occasions and not every day. Even if the actual fish isn’t eaten, tai-shaped foods are still common; tai-yaki, a cake made usually with red bean paste in the center, is shaped like tai. And one of the 7 Gods of Fortune in Japan, Ebisu, carries a fishing pole and a tai under his arm. If you find his likeness with two fish, it is considered extremely lucky!

Tai is Chiba’s prefectural fish, and of course can be caught along the coastline, though the tai caught in Hyogo are considered to be the highest quality. Chiba is, however, famous for its Tai-no-Ura, where you can see wild tai up close. The bay is protected so no fishing is possible, but of course there are other areas where fishing is available!

To read more on tai, it’s history, and Tai-no-Ura, I recommend this site for further reading.

Edit 2015.11.13: When I visited Choshi, a small picturesque city in Chiba, I had the chance to visit a fishing port where many different types of fish were being unloaded on the docks, including some kinmedai, a type of tai called Splendid Alfonsino in English. I also spotted this interesting and unique shrine with a giant tai on the torii gates! I didn’t have the postcard with me, but have a few pictures anyway:


Kinmedai being sorted by weight into bins


Checking the sorting machine


This amazing torii gate I spotted and managed to get to


Dinner! Yum!