Miyazaki #6: Chicken Nanban (チキン南蛮)

Miyazaki’s 6th postcard is the popular local dish Chicken Nanban, fried chicken breast with a little vinegar and a tartare sauce topping. The exact ingredients tend to differ from eatery to eatery, so its pretty easy to find a version everybody likes. I had the chance to try the dish in Miyazaki City, and liked it a lot!

Dish and postcard

I totally got one of these pre-packedged sauces to take home, but it wasn’t very good…

There’s also lots of recipes floating around if you want to try making it yourself, without any pre-packaged stuff. My favorite Japanese recipe website, Just One Cookbook, has a recipe that I’m hoping to try soon. You can find it here, and if I end up making it I’ll report on how it was!

Akita #6: Kiritanpo (きりたんぽ)

Akita’s 6th postcard features the delicious kiritanpo, cooked rice pounded and formed onto skewers, then either grilled on a fire, or cut and added into soup like dumplings. I got the chance to try both types when I visited Akita, and really liked both. Definitely grilled and slathered with sweet miso paste was my favorite, however!

Nabe and postcard

The ingredients, including the kiritanpo

Close-up in the soup

Grilled with miso paste… yum!

A local specialty I definitely recommend!

Okinawa #6: Taketomi Island (竹富島)

It’s December, and it’s cold. It’s going to get colder. During these cold times, I like to pretend I’m in the tropical island paradise of Okinawa. I try to remember what being warm felt like, and envy anyone living in or visiting a warmer clime. Since my mother and brother live in Florida, that’s pretty much every day.

Anyway, enough whining. Okinawa! The sixth postcard features the picturesque ox-pulled cart plodding through the quaint white-sand streets of the tiny island of Taketomi, part of the Yaeyama Island chain south of the main islands. I visited these three islands, consisting of Ishigaki, Iriomote, and Taketomi my first year in Japan waaaaaay back in 2009. Taketomi can be explored in a half-day, and a popular way are these ox-cart rides. The guide talks about the local sights and plays the sanshin, a 3-stringed instrument native to Okinawa. When my husband and I went, we explored the island by bike.

Taketomi combines white sand roads with high shell walls and red-roofed houses. Flowers bloom seemingly everywhere, and the cute shisa greet you from every gate. It must truly be paradise to live there!

And ox cart from around the corner

The ox has a cute little sunflower, awww!

Looking out onto Taketomi from the highest point on the island

Sign and shisa

Inside the ox cart

Although I could have sworn we rode in one, I can’t find any pictures or videos, so I guess my memory is going with my old age (I turned 30 this month, ugh). But I found a cute youtube video that shows it quite clearly, so take a look, then book your flight there… you wont regret it!

(By the way, the very first postcards came out in 2009, but I didn’t know about them until later, and this card came out only last year. So no postcard pictures until I go back again!)

Miyagi #6: Mt. Zao’s Crater Lake (蔵王御釜)

Miyagi’s 6th postcard is the spectacular crater lake on Mt. Zao. You might recognize the name, as I’ve posted about Yamagata’s Snow Monsters before, which are also located on this mountain. Mt. Zao lies on the border of Yamagata and Miyagi, so both prefectures share it.

From Yamagata I drove the Zao Echo Line, a really beautiful road up to the mountain to the peak of Kattadake, from where you can view the crater as well as visit a small shrine at the top. There are a lot of hiking trails to take in the area, but unfortunately, you can’t actually approach the crater lake.

I’m not sure exactly where the view in the postcard is… nowhere I tried seemed right. It was also alternating cloudy and sunny, so my photos don’t really do it justice, but I tried!

Postcard and lake… this view isn’t exactly right though, which bothers me -_-;

Sunny, cloudy, sunny, cloudy… it was hard to get a good picture! I had to wait a long time for this one

Here’s another view, but it didn’t look right either. Oh well!

You can read more about the crater here.

Iwate #6 – Morioka Sansa Dance (盛岡さんさ踊り)

Last year I posted about the Tohoku Sandai Matsuri, the 3 great festivals of the Northern Tohoku Region: Aomori’s Nebuta Matsuri, Akita’s Kanto Matsuri, and Miyagi’s Sendai Tanabata Matsuri. This week I want to explore two more festivals in this area, starting with Iwate Prefecture, Morioka City’s Morioka Sansa Odori.

The festival, which features over 10,000 taiko drummers and dancers parading through the city, is held on August 1st to 4th every year. Because of the large numbers, it’s even listed in the Guinness Book of World Records! “Odori” means dance in Japanese, and that’s exactly what happens. Legend has it that the festival began when a demon, being punished for his evil deeds by a priest, was made to pledge to no longer be evil by placing his hands on a rock and imprinting them there. That’s actually what “Iwate” means… rock hand!The locals rejoiced that the demon would no longer bother them by dancing around the rock. And that’s how the festival came to be! Of course, it’s grown just a bit since then…

I haven’t been to this festival, as it was over by the time I swung around to Iwate on my Sandai Matsuri trip, but I’d really love to see it live one day. It is very close to Morioka Station, near the castle, so tourists can get there easily, even from Tokyo. I urge anyone with time to visit there to see the show!

Hiroshima #6: Momiji Manju (もみじ饅頭)

This week’s post is on one of Hiroshima’s famous foods, momiji manju! Momiji is the Japanese word for maple leaves, and is Hiroshima’s Prefectural “flower”. Manju is the general word for a sweet that is a castella-like outside with a cream or paste on the inside. The most popular type of filling for manju is usually koshian style anko, or red bean paste mashed through a sieve so the paste is a smooth consistency.

On arrival to Miyajima and checking into our traditional Japanese inn, we received several momiji manju along with green tea. I have to say… well, they aren’t my favorite (laughs). A lot of famous Japanese sweets I think actually aren’t that good, but they’re famous so everyone buys them.

Luckily, I found a way I DO like them… deep fried! Aww yeah, my Southern’s showing! Hot from the frying oil is definitely the way to enjoy these sweets!

Postcard with our ryokan’s gift

This way is DEFINITELY better!

About to enjoy a hot treat!

You can enjoy momiji manju anywhere in Hiroshima; indeed, even my local grocery store here in Gunma sells “Hiroshima-style manju”. The fried kind, however, might just be a local Miyajima specialty. If you land on Miyajima, just follow your nose – and the crowds – to the fried manju stand. There are multiple places to buy the regular kind as well, and try all the different fillings. Take your pick and find your favorite!

(You can see a youtube video on how the manju are made 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!)

Saitama #6: Iwatsuki/Girl’s Festival Dolls (岩槻人形(雛人形) )

Iwatsuki, a ward in Saitama City, Saitama Prefecture, grew famous in the 17th century as a major producer of hand crafted dolls because of the large amounts and high quality of the kiri (paulonia) trees that grow in the area. They became most famous for producing the special dolls displayed during Hina Matsuri, or the girl’s festival held every March 3rd. Saitama’s 6th postcard celebrates this long tradition in the “doll town” of Iwatsuki.

You can read more about the origins and traditions of Hina Matsuri here, and all about the dolls and what they stand for. There are up to 7 levels of dolls, and it is common in Japan for grandparents to buy their granddaughters a set (or at least the top two main dolls) to display at this time. I have seen many of these dolls, though I don’t have a set myself, and each one is beautiful and unique!

A town I lived in until recently has an annual display of Hina Matsuri dolls, with local collectors and owners lending the dolls to be displayed in town.

My town’s Doll Festival display

A close up of the upper levels. Most girls have at least the top two dolls, representing the emperor and empress.

Iwatsuki is the main producer of Hina dolls in Japan, so any retailer selling around the country is probably selling dolls from Iwatsuki! But if you’d like to get up close and personal to the dolls and makers themselves, Iwatsuki is an easy trip from Tokyo, and there is a lot to do in the town.

Of course, if you can visit on March 3rd, that is the best time to see not only the dolls, but a real life procession, and other fun events. However the two museums, Tougyoku Dolls Hall and the Tokyu Doll Museum are open to visitors year-round. Moreover, with a walk around the area it is easy to spot workshops and stores around the area.

Enjoy girl’s day and these beautiful dolls!

Kagoshima #6: Izumi Cranes (出水のツル)

Kagoshima is famous for the droves of cranes that call Izumi, a city in the northwest corner of the prefecture, home during the winter. These cranes migrate from Siberia and China in huge groups, and the area can see upwards of 10,000 cranes during the peak in February. The cranes begin to arrive around late October into November, and begin leaving from the end of February through March, so can be seen at any time during this period.

The Izumi Crane Park Museum is a good place to start if you are interested in learning the history of the cranes in Izumi, and about the conservation efforts of the city since the 1950’s to increase the safety of the area for the cranes’ benefits. However the real jewel is probably the Observation Center, which is where you can glimpse the thousands of cranes as they search for food and do… you know, crane stuff.

For more information, please visit the wikipedia page on the migration grounds. This article by the Japan Times is also great reading, as it details the reporters visit to the area and gives an idea of what to expect. Finally, up-to-date information can be found on the Izumi City website. The page is in English.

In my area, we get a lot of swans, but not many cranes during the winter. I guess they’re all chillin’ in Izumi!

Tochigi #6 – Irohazaka (いろは坂)

Lots of the postcards represented in the collection are seasonal, whether they’re depicting a once-a-year festival, a product that is harvested during a certain time, or flowers that have a growing season. Some have general seasonality, or don’t have anything specific that gives me a time period to say one season or another, but I’d say the majority of cards do. But what surprises me about the collection is that only one postcard features what I consider to be one of the highlights of Japan: fall colors, called “kouyou” here.

Just one! Okay, I know the cherry blossoms are better known (and you can bet I’ll be having a posting ball with that once spring comes), but I’d think the fall colors would have a little bit more representation!

So the one card that depicts the beautiful reds, oranges, yellows, and fading greens of fall is Tochigi’s sixth and most recent postcard showing the winding road of the Irohazaka in famous Nikko. The two roads that make up the Irohazaka connect lower Nikko with the higher elevated Okunikko, and have a fabulous and fun 48 hairpin turns together, hence the name “Iroha” which comes from the name of the Japanese alphabet which has 48 characters plus “zaka” for slope.

There’s not a place where you can see the roads as depicted on the cards, but an observation plateau on the upward road does give some views of the road curving down. We visited Nikko and Okunikko one busy fall weekend two years ago, and it was as crowded as it could be. Cars were taking a good three hours to make it up what should normally take maybe 20 minutes… luckily, we were on a motorcycle and could bypass a lot of the traffic, but it was still bad. We skipped the plateau in order to make it up to the top as soon as we could, but we did stop to see the waterfalls on the way down, so here are some pictures of those:

I have mostly videos of the crowds on the up road, this is the only picture, but those cars are stopped.

Beautiful colors on the way down!

The two waterfalls together

By the way, I would wholly recommend going to Nikko during the fall colors, but not on a weekend as the Irohazaka can get unbelievably backed up. If you must go, try to go up as early as possible; down’s usually not as bad. You can read more about the Irohazaka over at Japan Guide here, as well as the most recent report of the color status at Nikko here. Colors are early this year, so go soon if you’re going!