Thursday, August 22, 2013

Gotochi Travel Blog: Hokkaido, Part I

There were many surprises in store for me on this leg of the tour. When I thought of Hokkaido, I always thought of volcanoes, national parks, snow, and the Ainu people. The gotochi for Hokkaido don't show any of those things. But, since I set out on this journey to discover Japan via gotochi, I tried to remain faithful to that. So, even though I thought I would visit Hokkaido in the middle of the summer, I went in May, so I could see the Lilac Festival in Sapporo.

Lilacs are actually some of my favorite flowers. At home, they bloom around the end of April, just in time for my birthday. It's a bit colder in Hokkaido so it takes them a little longer. This was the 55th year of the Lilac Festival in Oodoori Park, which spans the middle of downtown. There are at least 3 other festivals at Oodoori park that are more famous than this one. The lilac festival is actually a lot more than just blooming flowers, though. There were a bunch of musical performances, food stalls, tea ceremony, and even a flea market. Unfortunately, this event is so non-famous that even the official website doesn't have any decent pictures to showcase.

But! One of the things they sold at the food stalls was Hokkaido sweet corn. Naturally.

famous Hokkaido corn
Photo by Justin Cozart

Hokkaido sweet corn is called "toukibi." It's roasted and covered in butter and soy sauce.

There was one place in Sapporo I still needed to see: the clock tower.
The American-made clock tower is one of the oldest buildings in Sapporo and one of the few remaining western-style buildings there. Built in 1878, it was part of the drill hall of Sapporo Agricultural College. The clock still keeps the time and chimes every hour.

札幌時計台 Sapporo Clock Tower
Photo by Autan

Stay tuned for a bit more controversy (maybe) in the next Hokkaido post.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Gotochi Travel Blog: Nagano, Part II

From Matsumoto we went to Kamikochi, which is inside Chubu Sangaku National Park. No private cars are allowed inside the park and we had to take a bus from Matsumoto Station. The bus station had a food stall selling some yummy snacks I had never tasted before - oyaki.
Oyaki are kind of like Chinese baozi, but the dough is made with buckwheat flour and they are stuffed with all kinds of goodies. My favorite is kabocha squash!

Kamikochi is high in the Japanese Alps, surrounded by Nishihotakadake (2909 m), Okuhotakadake (3190 m), Maehotakadake (3090 m) and the active volcano Yakedake (2455 m).

Misty Morning in Kamikochi
Photo by Joi

A short walk from the bus terminal is Kappabashi, a suspension bridge over the Azusa River. A kappa is an imaginary creature said to be human-like but in reptilian skin. It lives in water and lures unsuspecting visitors in so it can eat their livers. We didn't see any kappa there, though. We mostly saw trees - deep forests of Keshou Yanagi (a kind of willow, Chosenia arbutifolia) and Japanese larch trees surround the bridge.

We hiked further in, to the tranquil Myojin Pond. We stayed overnight at a little lodge called Kamonjigoya and spent the whole next day hiking.

Kamikochi On A Cloudy Day
Photo by Les Taylor

Photo by Kazuhiko Teramoto

Vein of the Leaves
Photo by Maiko Aizawa

I was hoping to see a wild kamoshika, because the website for Kamikochi has a picture of one, and it's on one of the Nagano gotochi.
But we didn't. The English name for kamoshika is Japanese serow (Capricornis crispus). They look kind of like a cross between a goat and an antelope. Maybe next time I'll see one...

Speaking of next time, leave me a comment and tell me which prefecture you think I should visit in my next fake travel blog!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Gotochi Travel Blog: Nagano, Part I

My tour of all 47 prefectures of Japan via ご当地フォルムカード (regional shaped cards) begins in Nagano. First, we visited Matsumoto castle in the city of Matsumoto.

Matsumoto Castle is also called Karasu-Jou or "Crow Castle" because of its black exterior. Along with Himeji Castle, Inuyama Castle, and Hikone Castle, Mastumoto Castle is designated a National Treasure of Japan. It dates from the 16th century, and the keep still has its original wooden interior and stone exterior. Inside the castle is a gun museum.

Photo by Haru

During the Meiji period, the keep started to lean to one side. People said it was because of the curse of Tada Kasuke. Tada and a group of other farmers met at Kumano shrine in 1686 about an exorbitant tax increase. They brought their letter of appeal Matsumoto Castle expecting to turn it in peacefully to the magistrate, but when the peasants heard about his plan, they revolted, robbing stores and attacking the merchants. The executives of the domain agreed to lower the taxes, but a few weeks later Tada and the other farmers were arrested and executed without trial. (The keep was actually structurally deficient at the time, but the story is more interesting. Good thing the keep has since been restored, because we climbed all the way to the top!)

We went to the castle by bicycle from the train station, so I was quite hungry by the time we got back to town. The area is famous for two foodstuffs: basashi (raw horse meat) and wasabi (home to the world's largest wasabi farm). I passed on both and got a big bowl of soba (buckwheat) noodles instead, my fave. For dessert we picked up some delicious Nagano apples from the shopping arcade.

Apple cultivation in Nagano dates from 1874, when the Ministry of the Interior delivered three apple seedlings to Nagano. Mmmm.

Shinshu Ringo
Photo by jpellgen

Next stop: Kamikouchi.