Category Archives: Days Out of Town

William Merrell Vories – A 50th Anniversary Memorial Tour in Ōmi Hachiman

vorie posterWilliam Merrell Vories was a brilliant and prolific architect who was active throughout the Kansai region in the early 20th century. He is said to have built up to 1600 buildings over a 35 year career, all while leading an active life as an educator, entrepreneur and Christian missionary. Many of the buildings he designed are still standing today, including quite a few in Kyoto. This month, the city of Ōmi Hachiman in Shiga, where Vories made his home, is commemorating the 50th anniversary of his passing with a series of special events. Last Saturday, Mewby and I visited Ōmi Hachiman to take a tour of some of the beautiful buildings that Vories built there. Until November 3rd, you can get a special “passport” for 1,500 yen that will give you access to all of the buildings on the tour, many of which are also exhibiting material related to his life. Passports and maps are both available at the tourist information center at Ōmi Hachiman station. You can also download the map as a PDF here: 市内マップ&展示案内. Even if you can’t go before November 3rd, you can still visit or view many of the buildings on the tour after the special exhibition is over, but I would give yourself a good day to walk around all the sites. I really enjoyed visiting this town and would very much like to learn more about this  extraordinary man.

Here are some pictures from our day.

Mewby meets W. M. Vories.

Mewby meets W. M. Vories.

Ikeda Machi Jūtakugai (池田町住宅街), the Western residential area of Ikeda town, is a cluster of homes designed by Vories very early in his career. He had a house here himself, but that has long gone and can be seen only in old photographs. Three fine buildings do still remain though. Continue reading

Wisteria at Sandai Shrine, Shiga

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Sandai Shrine
(三大神社) is a small shrine near Kusatsu in Shiga Prefecture, with a very impressive garden of trailing wisteria. If you want to see them for yourself then you had better go soon. They were pretty much peaking when we went a couple of days ago.

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To get there, take a JR train from Kyoto Station to Kusatsu (410 yen for a 20 minute journey – see Jorudan for schedules) and then catch a bus from outside the west exit to Kitaogayacho (北大萱町). The fare is 270 yen and the bus only takes 11 minutes. From there it’s another 10 minute walk to the shrine.
Once there, join the throngs trying to get that perfect shot of wisteria glory.
strainAnyway,the flowers are beautiful and totally worth a trip out there. I actually overheard an old lady in a wheelchair saying that it was the first time in her life she had seen wisteria like this. She seemed rather moved, as was I after overhearing her…
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Kyoto by the Sea Part #2: Kumihama in Winter

This is the second of two pieces on Tango, the northern seacoast of Kyoto prefecture. In the Part #1 I recounted last year’s trip to the beach at Kotobikihama and our fortuitous view of a fireworks display at Amanohashidate. In this post: a winter trip to Kumihama, climbing a holy mountain and all the crab you can eat!

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Kumihama viewed from Mount Kabuto

In the first week of the New Year Mewby and I joined Stephen and Kazue Gill for a road trip up to Kumihama, on the Tango seacoast. Stephen had told to me that Kumihama was probably his favorite location in Japan. There was a mountain there that held a very special spiritual significance for both him and his wife. Something you had to experience personally to understand. It was also the location of fabulous crab cuisine. “You must try the crab there!” he enthused. And so together we went.

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Mount Kabuto

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Kyoto by the Sea Part #1: Kotobikihama & Amanohashidate

This is the first of two pieces on Tango, the northern seacoast of Kyoto prefecture. In this post: a summer trip to Kotobikihama and fireworks in Amanohashidate.

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Tango in the north of Kyoto Prefecture is recently being marketed as “Kyoto by the Sea”, and certainly there is a lot to recommend a trip up there besides the well known scenic beauty of Amanohashidate (above).

Kotobikihama

Last summer Mewby and I went up to Kotobikihama, which literally means “Koto plucking beach”. If the conditions are right, then the sand crystals of this beach actually make a singing noise when you walk across it. Unfortunately, the sand was too hot and dry when we went (middle of August) so we didn’t get to hear the singing sands. However, because the beach is special, it’s protected and very well looked after. It’s the first beach in Japan to have a no-smoking rule and it is really, really super clean. If you have been to other beaches in Japan, you know how rare this is, but on Kotobikihama I saw no trash at all. We stayed at a cheap minshuku type lodging house named Yakichiso (やきち荘). This was a really basic place, and a bit noisy because the walls were thin and most of the other guests were families with little kids. However, the place is perfectly situated right on the beach, and the fresh seafood breakfasts and dinners were superb. The owners were also very helpful, driving us from the station and back again whenever we needed and giving us lots of helpful advice about the area. I think most people who go to this beach though, drive there and make use of the beach side campsite. There are a few beach side eateries there too, if you haven’t brought your own supplies. The beach itself is superb: very long and pristine white. And because it is so long, it doesn’t get too crowded. There’s also a natural hot spring bath right on the beach that people were making use of, but why they were doing that in the blazing mid-August heat is beyond me. And that leads me to my main regret. At the height of a Japanese summer, the sand burns your feet and you need to stay in the shade to escape those blazing rays. I think I’d like to go there again when the weather is a bit cooler, and I would probably go by car. The minshuku owners were super helpful driving us about, but Tango is clearly a place that requires more mobility to be explored properly.

Miyazu Fireworks from Amanohashidate:

On August 16th each year there is a huge fireworks display at nearby Miyazu, with the simultaneous release of thousands of floating lanterns onto the sea. Now most people go straight to Miyazu and endure the typical Japanese experience of trying to catch a good view of the fireworks from ridiculously crowded streets. Our minshuku hosts though came to our rescue again with a really helpful tip. Don’t go on to Miyazu, they told us, get off the train one stop before, at Amanohashidate. Hardly anybody does this, but if you do, you can get an excellent view of the fireworks display from the famous sand bar and I daresay the view is even better than from close up, as you can see those starbursts of colour reflected in the ocean too. It was really wonderful and so much nicer minus the crowds!

We were only in Amanohashidate for the evening, and so didn’t get to explore it more thoroughly. Though we have been there before I would like to go back there again sometime, to stroll along the pine-clad “bridge of heaven” sandbar, take the cable car up into the hills and gaze again upon that sublime view.

To get to Kotobikihama, take the train to Amino. You can get there in three hours from Kyoto station. Check Jorudan for train times. From Amino station, it is a 10 minute drive if your hotel picks you up. It’s probably too far for a day trip, but if you do, you can take take a bus from Amino for 15 min to Kakezu and then walk 10 minutes to the beach.

In Kyoto by the Sea Part #2 I will describe our recent winter trip to Kumihama bay: the very best fresh crab meat and hiking a holy mountain!

Check out Jeffrey Friedl’s blog also for more pictures of the beach at Kotobikihama.

A Trip to Inuyama

IMG_6833Here are some pictures from Inuyama in Aichi prefecture, which we visited last month. By clicking on the spherical images, you can explore a fully immersive 360 degree view.

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Inuyama Castle is supposed to be the oldest castle in Japan: the original fort was built in 1440, and the current structure was completed in 1537. However as you can see from the scaffolding in the picture above, it still needs a bit of maintenance from time to time. Despite the metal poles and boards though, the views from atop the castle, of the Kiso river and the surrounding mountains, were wonderful. Continue reading

A Trip into the Past at Meiji Mura

IMG_6860 (Medium)In 2011 McKinsey & Company commisioned 80 writers and thinkers to contribute to an anthology rather grandly titled Reimagining Japan: The Quest for a Future that Works. I bought my own copy after browsing through it at Kansai Aiport and reading Alex Kerr‘s piece “Japan after People”.  His contribution was a wry form of dystopian projection that took various current trends, both national and local, and followed them into the far future to entirely logical yet completely absurd conclusions. His prediction for Kyoto in 2060 amused me greatly: Continue reading

Hiking & Haiku on the Uminobe-no-Michi Trail

For the last 3 years or so I have been joining the Hailstone Haiku Circle on their annual autumn hike. Always good outings, in previous years we have gone further afield to Mount Daisen in Tottori, and Tateyama in Toyama, but this year’s hike was closer to home: along the Lakeside Way (湖ノ辺の道 Uminobe-no-michi), in Northern Shiga. These are haiku composition hikes, so we take notes as we walk and at the end of the day exchange our poems over dinner and drinks. Before that though, a 14 kilometer trek along Lake Yogo, up Mount Shizugatake and along the range before climbing up and down Mount Yamamoto. Many thanks to Richard Donovan who organized this year’s excursion, and who will be posting has posted an account with the group’s haiku on the Hailstone site soon. Here I shall post my own photos of the day including some Ricoh Theta spherical images. If you click on those spherical images you can view a fully immersive 360 degree photograph.

IMG_6668 (Medium)The tree pictured above is said to be 天女の衣掛柳 – the willow upon which a heavenly maiden hung her robe. According to the story a passing fisherman seeing the beautiful maiden swimming in Lake Yogo, hid the robe from her, thus preventing her return to heaven. He then took her home with him and kept her as his wife. Years later one of her children found the robe and returned it to her, whereupon she instantly flew back to heaven leaving her husband and children devastated without her… Continue reading

Hiking Along the Old Hozu River Towpath

Last Saturday I joined Stephen Gill and Okiharu Maeda of the conservation group P.T.O. for a hike along the Hozu River. The hike wasn’t purely for the pleasure of getting out into the fresh country air though, Maeda-san and Mr. Gill were making a detailed report, with photographs of the exact location of trees on Mount Ogura that have been affected by a deadly oak disease. Even from a distance now you can see some patches of brown on the mountain (left click on these pictures twice to see them at their maximum size).

These trees are not exhibiting early autumn foliage – they are dead, and the process is quick. Stephen told me that most of these trees looked fine three weeks ago. As we moved closer to the mountain along the river, the full extent of the problem became clearer.

I think during our hike Maeda-san must have counted over 100 dead trees on the mountain. P.T.O. will submit their report to the city office and ask them to act upon it. There are methods to tackle this disease but as you can see from the damage that has already been wrought, these methods need to be implemented fast before this beautiful mountain view is ruined.

Our route took us along parallel to the old Funahiki trail that horses once walked when pulling boats back up to Kameoka. That path hasn’t been maintained at all and in places barely exists anymore so the going was a little hairy at times. Our first barrier however was this: Continue reading

Ogoto Onsen

I wanted to do something special for Christmas Eve and my friend Andrew suggested getting an onsen hotel room in Ogoto. Once infamous as the soapland capital of Kansai, Ogoto has been working hard over the years to create an alternative image as a family spa resort. You can get reasonably priced rooms there, with gorgeous views over Lake Biwa. And as it is only a twenty minute train ride from Kyoto, Andrew said, I’d be able to use the money saved on travel expenses to splash out on a really nice room. So off I went to JTB and booked the best/most expensive hotel I could find; the Kyo-Oumi.  Our room was on the tenth floor!IMG_2511
All of the hotels I looked at had rooms with their own private rotenburo style outdoor baths attached. However the Kyo-Oumi had the distinct advantage of being right on the water’s edge which means you get views like this at night: Continue reading

Cafe Millet

Ted Taylor writes…wheat

On a warm autumn afternoon, during a north Kyoto hike from Ohara over to Kurama, we came across a group of young people building a wood burning oven out of stone. Standing in front of this ishigama, we made small talk with the young couple in charge of the project. The young woman told us that the bread that this oven would bake would be a centerpiece of the cafe that had just opened here, her hand gesturing at a comfortable looking building made of wood and glass. We promised to come back again.oven

A month or so later we ran into them again in Ohara, this time as part of a larger group busy harvesting adzuki and soy, some of which would wind up that night on the table of Cafe Millet.

What at first seems like a throwback scene to the old hippie days is actually a large and growing trend in Japan. Driven by both environmental and economic concerns, many young Japanese are shunning a life in the cities for one in the soil.bread

The idea of returning to the countryside is hardly a new one. Masanobu Fukuoka’s classic work, “The One-Straw Revolution” has for over 30 years lured people back to a traditional life of farming. What is different this time is that the movement is not simply at the personal or grass roots level. In March of this year, Prime Minister Taro Aso created the Rural Labor Squad, as a way to give employment to the young while simultaneously revitalizing rural communities and their dwindling labor pool. Local farmers are for the most part grateful for the help, though some feel that the young will once again return to the city when the economy picks up. Continue reading