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Showing posts from February, 2012

Willer Express

So I rode the Willer Express this time around; a highway bus for budget travelers. Starting from as low as 3500 yen to 7000 yen travelers can choose their destination and luxury grade for wherever they want to go. There are many other bus companies, like JR for example which have similar prices.
The reason I went with Willer is because of the convenience. I can go to their English website and order my ticket then pay for it either by credit card or at any convenience store. I ordered using my iPhone. Access Safari then Google Willer Express then type in your information and within minute you'll receive confirmation.







At the convenience store you'll need to ask the clerk to help you print out the invoice from their automated reservations machine. Make sure you show the special code number from your email invoice, or lolli number
Willer Express bus seats are about 86cm from hip to foot, so basically if you're tall no leg rest for you. If you are fat, like …

Sake no Jin / にいがた酒の陣

The significance of this years "Sake-no-Jin" will go down in the books as a momentous occasion for Japanese sake, and the many brewers who have painstakingly held things together post 3-11.  




Just to give you a little more perspective on the magnitude of this fair.   It is the greatest sake event on earth, for two days only!  It is the coming together of all the breweries in one building in Niigata city to showcase the very best sake Niigata has to offer.   If you skip any other sake fair or event this year, then it's "ok," just don't miss this one.  Guest will be flying in from all over the world to partake in this elixir of the ancient gods.   Be there, or....Well....Just be there.



("Sake no Jin is an annual sake fair, attended by about one hundred sake producers from across Niigata, a prefecture  known for its exceptionally high quality soba, rice,and rice beer ").




If all goes well this year, Sake no jin will be held on March 16 and 17 at the Toki…

Echigo Yuzawa: Deep in Koide

Last friday I took holiday and went up to Echigo Yuzawa for a day.    It's only my umpteenth visit there, but no matter how many times I visit I always discover something new.    This time around I visited some old eats and a nice new onsen hotel.    Here, is a good preliminary.  I also stopped through to pick up a nice sake cup.   Of course, you must buy one.  The souvenir shop in Echigo Yuzawa Station has an amazing selection of fine sake ware.







Here's more train eye candy:



The thing to remember when visiting Niigata is the soba.   Sure, there are other well known local favorites, but if you had to narrow down your range of choices then you must try "hegi-soba."   Just like other soba (buckwheat noodles) the noodles are thin and delicate.   With hegi they are the same but are made with funori, a type of seaweed.    The best way to enjoy eating hegi is to go to a restaurant, not convenience store bought hegisoba.    In this picture you can see how it's arranged i…

Rant for the Nation

 [ Theme music  for this post is best enjoyed with stereo headphones :  Relax by Liquid Mind     Experience: Teach me to Whisper ]







First, let's start with the new Jukujo I met.   Her name is Shimizu-san.   Our meeting occurred on the morning of Feb. 10th at 9:30 at the Yokodai Station.    It was a brisk morning.   Since I had 25 minutes to kill I headed over to the Doutours next to the station for a cup of coffee.   I eyeball all the granny candy upon entering  the shop first.   Making sure to rub my shoes on the rug at the entrance, I remove my hat and gloves.    I approach the register and order up a medium blend.    As my coffee is being prepared I look over my shoulder and see a fairly decent looking Jukujo in her mid 40s....?   I smile.  She returns a smile.   " I'm in," I say to myself.    Collecting my coffee I headed over to where she was sitting and asked if I could have the seat next to her.   She obliged.   I sat.   I took the first nose flaring eye squinti…

Hot, Icy and Crisp

The third hotel I stayed was at the Hachimantai Heights.   Normally when you check-in to a place the receptionist hands you a pen and a form to fill-in, which basically asks for your name and address.   When I walked up to the front desk this time around, first thing they handed me was a hot fragrant  face towel.    I was impressed.  After wiping my face and hands I filled out the form and was escorted to my gorgeous room.



Let me digress a little.    Japanese girls hate it when their boyfriends wipe their faces with hot face towels. They think it's so oyaji(ish).   Another mind numbingly stupid hang up of young Japanese women.   Oyaji is a derogative term for old Japanese men.   Personally, I think it feels great when I wipe my face and hands with a hot face towel, especially after being outside all day in the icy cold winter air.   It's refreshing.   Another note, this was one of the best experiences I ever had at an onsen.  I sang and drank on the house all night.  I got com…

Southern Hanamaki: Shidotaira

Hanamaki was my first love.   That small rural town in Iwate Prefecture.   This last trip to Hanamaki only reaffirmed my love for this town.    Gentle flowing rivers;  snow clad shrubs and trees all around.
As I have mentioned in a previous post about Morioka, the capital of Iwate, that the true soul of Japan lie in  Iwate's  backcountry.    All of Tohoku, actually.


On my second night, I stayed at a hotel called the Shidotaira, a huge full on four star luxury onsen hotel.   Impressive.   I've never been a person big on super deluxe accommodation, but this hotel had me reconsidering my position.   Some onsen purest are put off by large modern super hotels,  thinking that they take away from the intimacy of a true rustic ryokan experience.     The Shidotaira is huge and feels more like a resort than a hotel.    Luckily, my room was near the spa and cafeteria areas.    The hospitality was warm as always and I didn't want for anything.

I had chosen a western-style room this…

Ode to Heian-Kyo: Esashi Fujiwara

Paleolithic35,000–14,000 BCJōmon period14,000–300 BCYayoi period300 BC–250 ADKofun period250–538Asuka period538–710Nara period710–794Heian period794–1185Kamakura period
1185–1333There are many very important periods through out Japan's long and illustrious  history.    Far too exhaustive of an account of history for me to cover on a blog, so what I will attempt to do is unfairly... condense down a couple of periods in order to highlight the theme of my post.    Before you read this though,  I highly recommend reading a post I did up on Nara.   It is well worth the read.




The periods listed above are perhaps the most significant periods historically after Kofun in the evolution of the Japanese soul and identity.  Prior to Nara, many ordinary Japanese, including the Ebisu or Emishi tribes of northern Honshu, were somewhat illiterate and had no unifying linguistic fingerprint, save the monks, the nobility and descendants of the Samurai class.     It wasn't until the Heian period tha…

Wintriness: An Onsen Exposé

I learned early on in Western academia that the forces we all struggle with the most are these things:  Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Man, and Man vs. Self.   And then there's a fourth element which is Man vs. God, but IF there really is an infinite all knowing being, then nobody has any business struggling with that being in the first place.   Besides, I have my own private gods now and I'll deal with self as I go along.  I  have no patience for the infinite.




The road up  a winding snowy mountain is no fun, yet there's is a beauty up there high up in the howling winds.   A sense of knowing that the only true struggle is with self and nature.    I have always been convinced that the best way to see and experience Japan is through its natural landscapes.   Places that are inconvenient to reach, way out in no man's land so to speak.   Here's me driving  to my destination.    



The purpose of this journey was to visit Matsukawa Onsen, a place I had visited once before way …