Tochigi #8: Kegon Falls (華厳ノ滝)

Nikko is one of Tochigi Prefectures most famous locations for good reason… the splendid shrines and temples, the cooler temperatures even in summer, and gorgeous fall colors make it a popular place for both Japanese and foreign tourists to visit. I’ve already done a post on the Irohazaka, or the colorful winding road that leads from the shrines and temples of Nikko up to Oku-Nikko, home of nature and Kegon no Taki, the Kegon Waterfall.

Along with Fukuroda Waterfall in Ibaraki Prefecture (also a postcard), and Nachi Falls in Wakayama Prefecture, Kegon Waterfall is considered one of the three most beautiful waterfalls of Japan. Its almost 100 meter falls can be seen from a free viewing platform or a paid viewing platform, and in all seasons. In winter, the waterfall often freezes solid!

I visited Kegon no Taki many years ago during the cherry blossom season. Unfortunately, spring is actually probably the most unattractive season in the area, as the snow has already melted, but the trees haven’t turned green yet. At that elevation, there weren’t any cherry trees, so everything just looked bare and brown. But you could see the waterfall really clearly! I’d love to go back one year for fall colors, but since everyone else in Japan tends to have that same plan, it can be the most crowded season then as well. Maybe summer, like it is pictured in the postcard, is best!


Kegon no Taki
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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?

Peaches! Part 2: Yamanashi #4 – Peach (桃)

Yamanashi supplies a over a 3rd of the peaches sold in Japan, and while they grow a few different varieties, as a whole, Yamanashi peaches are sweet and juicy, and a lovely blush pink color. If you live around Tokyo or the Kanto area, Yamanashi is a fun and interesting day trip from there, and you can enjoy peach picking at many different places! Be sure to have a bite for me… I love them!

In fact, I went to shop for peaches recently at my local supermarket, and every type of peach sold there is from Yamanashi! Even the less fancy ones are good, so that’s what I grabbed:


A pair of peaches at the supermarket


Yum!

Oh, and one last interesting tidbit: Peaches aren’t the only thing both Yamanashi and Okayama share: they are also famous for grapes, and so each has a Grape Postcard as well. Grape season is around August, so look for a post then.

Peaches! Part 1: Okayama #5 – Okayama White Peach (岡山白桃)

Today I want to talk about peaches! Summer is a time when many fruits and vegetables come into ripeness, and it is a fun time to shop at local stores and farmer’s markets. Peaches are in season from around June into August, so we’re hitting the prime time to go peach picking now! Both Yamanashi and Okayama prefectures are famous for their peaches. Let’s talk about Okayama first!

Okayama is famous for its white peach variety. When I went to visit Hyogo and Okayama in 2012, it was just outside the season (very beginning of June), so I didn’t get a chance to try any. I think Okayama peaches are probably readily available at regular grocery stores in the South or in Tokyo, but out here in the country, I couldn’t find any. Too bad, I wanted a taste!

One reason Okayama is famous for peaches, is because the Japanese folktale of “Momotarou” (“Peach Boy”) is said to take place in Okayama. It is also the subject of Okayama’s first postcard, so I’ll be talking about that in Peaches! Part 3.

Meanwhile, to tide you over until my next post (I know, you’re on the edge of your seat), you can read more about Okayama’s peaches here or here. And if you’re in the area and want to grab some yummy peaches for your own, you can go peach picking at many places across Okayama. Find a farm to pick at here.

Enjoy some yummy peaches!

Tohoku Sandai Matsuri Part 3: Miyagi #2 – Tanabata Matsuri (七夕まつり)

The final major festival of the Tohoku Region’s Sandai Matsuri is held in Sendai, Miyagi. If you missed it, I posted Aomori here.

Tanabata is usually called the “Star Festival” in English, although it is also called “Seventh Night”. Usually in Japan it is celebrated in July, but Tohoku follows the lunar calendar and therefore celebrates Tanabata in August instead. Actually, all three Sandai festivals are Tanabata celebrations, but Sendai’s is the most obvious. Tanabata celebrates the one day of the year where two lovers can meet across the milky way. It is a fun and interesting event where people write wishes on strips of paper and tie them to bamboo. You can read more about it on wikipedia’s page here.

Sendai’s Tanabata festival is the grandest in Japan. Not only is the sheer number of decorations awe-inspiring (there are thousands throughout Sendai), but the level of detail for each is hard to imagine without seeing one in person. We went to this festival last, and I thought it would be boring compared to the others… there are no dances or parades or anything like that. But instead, I found that walking through the forest of decorations was calming. Seeing each individual decoration and in groups was really nice, especially up close. It ended up comparing to the other two despite my expectations!


Sign welcoming visitors to the Matsuri area


Large decorations were everywhere


Walking through them was like walking through a colorful forest!


Each was proudly hand crafted by local stores and businesses


And the level of detail is truly amazing for each.

The Tanabata Matsuri is held August 6th to 8th in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture.

So those are the Tohoku Sandai Matsuri. There are other prefectural summer festivals also depicted on Gotochi cards from the Tohoku region, but I think this post is long enough! If you ever have a chance to see these amazing festivals, you will not regret it!

Tohoku Sandai Matsuri Part 2: Aomori #2 – Nebuta Matsuri (ねぶた祭)

Next up in our exploration of the Tohoku Region’s Sandai Matsuri is Aomori. If you missed it, I already posted about Akita here.

Aomori has two festivals of a similar name: Aomori City’s Nebuta festival, the most famous of the two, and the lesser known but still interesting Neputa Matsuri held in Hirosaki. Some people get Nebuta and Neputa mixed up, but while they are similar festivals, there are some differences. However I’m not here to talk about that; instead, let’s visit Aomori’s Nebuta Matsuri. This is a fun festival for two reasons. First, the giant floats that are amazing and creative 3D masterpieces usually of Japanese legends, folk tales, and gods. You could even see a float of the battle of Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin, which I talked about in this post. These floats are pulled by a large team of men, who go forward and back, up and down, with ease despite what these things must weigh! It is a delightful sight.

The second reason is that anyone with a costume can join in. You can buy the costume all over Aomori leading up to, and even minutes before the festival. Then, just join a group! I didn’t participate this year (I was wearing yukata), but if I ever visit again, I’ll definitely pin a few dozen bells on my costume, and get in line! It looked really fun!


Crowds of both spectators and participants spill into the streets before the festival, giving the city a joyful energy.


But the amazing floats are the main draw


Getting close to the spectators on the sidelines


The detail is truly breathtaking!

The Nebuta Matsuri is held August 2nd to 7th, in Aomori City, Aomori Prefecture.

Next up is Miyagi’s Sendai Tanabata Matsuri.

Mie 3: Bankoyaki (萬古焼)

Ahhh, it’s gotten hot here in Japan. Rainy Season seems to be over, and with the end of the rain has come the heat, humidity, and what seems like droves of mosquitos. Luckily, this cute earthen pig from Mie Prefecture can help you out with that!

Bankoyaki is a sort of traditional, basic clay pottery that is used widely in Japan today. Popular items in this style include small teapots called “kyuusu”, earthenware pots called “donabe”, and this pig, called “kayari buta”.

So what does this have to do with mosquitos? Bankoyaki is prized not as much for its style, as its usefulness. This pig isn’t just decorative; as the name suggests (to those who speak Japanese, anyway), the pig actually holds mosquito coils, called “kayari”, on its inside. The smoke from the coils come out of the pigs mouth, and the pig is placed around the house near windows or doors, or right outside, to prevent mosquitos from coming in. The smell reminds me of summer!


Awww, look at that face!


Mosquito coil in the back


BEGONE FOUL MOSQUITOS! (I’ve lost the metal thing that holds the coil up so it doesn’t work as well…)

Every year on the second Saturday and Sunday of May, the city of Yokkaichi (the birthplace of Banko Yaki) in Mie has a “Banko Matsuri” where you can talk directly to creators, browse many different booths and shops for pottery, and get a good deal on a new piece. Or, tourists can join a tour that showcase some of the areas the pottery is made.

And of course, these pigs aren’t just sold in Mie… you can find them any and everywhere in the summer as people work hard to prevent getting eaten alive by mosquitos right after the rain!