Before the Dawn

Traveling the Kiso Road

During the Edo period ( 1600-1868), Japan was closed to the rest of the world. Only a few Dutch or Chinese trading vessels were allowed into Dejima, off Nagasaki. This all changed when Admiral Matthew Perry arrived in Edo bay in 1854 with demands that Japan open its ports to trade.


Magome Village along the Nakasendo Road (Kiso Road)

The story of how Japan reacted and how a revolution took place in the country is the subject of a long epic novel , Before the Dawn, by Shimazaki Toson.  It tells the story through the eyes of an innkeeper along the old Nakasendo road.

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Shimazaki Toson (1872~1943)

During the Edo period, the shogun in Edo kept the feudal lords in control by a system of “alternate attendance” 参勤交代 under which the lords were forced to maintain a residence in the Edo capital and  spend every other year there. When they traveled back to their domains, they had to leave their wives and families in the capital as virtual hostages.

One of the main roads they traveled on was the Nakasendo which runs through Nagano and Gifu prefectures, near the Japanese Alps. There were a series of inns built along the way to provide lodging for the lords and their retainers, as well as porters and horses to carry them to the next village, where fresh horses were provided.


Shimazaki Toson’s father was the last headman at Magome Inn. He witnessed the sweeping change and saw the end of the feudal system. This is the theme of the book which I struggled to read in Japanese for about 15 years! This year I discovered it has been translated into English.


Hiroo had always promised to take me to Kiso when I finished reading the book. Well, I’m not quite finished, but this September, we were able to make the trip. This is the farthest north I’ve ever been in Japan.

It was a bit cloudy but there were many hikers on the trail. I envy them. We met one couple about our age from Seattle at the top of Magome Pass. I was surprised to see people from so many different countries visiting there.

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Keiko and Mervin from Seattle near ShinChaya, Magome Toge

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We stayed in a very old inn, Tajimaya. The owner, Mr. Hara,  said he was the 8th generation of the family and third generation as a guesthouse. Most of the other guests were from other countries.

Hara-san entertained us during dinner by singing an old folk song called “Kiso Bushi.”

We visited the grave of Shimazaki and his father, the model for Hanzo in the book.

We ate gohei mochi, a local treat made from sticky rice with a sweet miso sauce. And we ate soba noodles at an old restaurant along the quaint street in the center of the town.

Someday, I vow to come back here and hike over the pass to the next town of Tsumago. It is a beautiful area to walk in. And there is a whole string of small villages which were the original stations along the road.

On this trip, we made several stops in other places on the way. Even though we are getting older, we enjoy driving as we can stop wherever we feel like.  This trip we started at Hikone Castle in Shiga Prefecture. It is one of the oldest castles, one of only 12 that have the original castle keep. Built in 1603 by Ii Naokatsu, it is designated as a National Treasure.

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Castle Keep at Hikone Castle

The next day we drove to Gokayama (五箇山)in Toyama Prefecture. Along with nearby Shirakawa-go, this is a UNESCO World Heritage site . The unusual construction of the roofs were to prevent them from collapsing under the heavy snowfall.


Gassho design House, Gokayama


Newlyweds from Jerusalem

We met a woman who has lived there all her life. She said about 16 people live there year-round. Here again we saw many tourists from around the world and talked to  Olga and Tomer from Jerusalem who were on their honeymoon and hiking around Japan.

From here we visited my favorite place of the trip, Nihon Kai Shokudo.(日本海食堂) It is a really retro place, a roadside cafe opened in 1965. I met the owner, Shizuko and her son, Shigeru Taneguchi. Like me, he loves the Showa era. He has collected tons of memorabilia from flea markets and auctions over the last 20 years. I had written to them before going and they were waiting for us. It was late in the day and a light rain was falling when we arrived。


With Taniguchi Shigeru At Nihon Kai Shokudo



I’m glad we made it as they were eagerly awaiting our arrival. We looked around, had coffee and sweets and felt so at home talking with them about how the restaurant came into being and why he’d started collecting.

“It doesn’t feel like we just met today.” said Shigeru. We felt like old friends. He offered to show us around the area but since we were tired, he took us to one “michi-no-eki” shop and then he guided us to our hotel.

In front of the hotel, I got out to thank him and he said, “Wait a minute!” Then he went to his car and got something and handed it to me. It was a retro set of kids blocks and an antique “oki-kusuri” medicine case.


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Antique “Oki-Kusuri” Medicine Chest

Toyama is famous for manufacturing medicine. It seems Shigeru’s father was a traveling salesman for this medicine when he stopped in a “drive-in” restaurant in Hiroshima. He liked it so well that he came back to Toyama and opened this cafe.

We also visited Takayama and saw the Showa Museum there. (高山昭和館)But meeting the Taniguchi’s and hearing about their lives was the high point of my trip and something I will always remember.

Christians in Hiding (Kakure Kirisutan)

Ten years ago, when Hiroo retired, we took a trip to Nagasaki. Many people know that the second Atomic Bomb was dropped on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. But Nagasaki has an older history. During the 300 years when Japan was closed to the West, Nagasaki was the only port open to foreign trade, limited to Holland and China.


Oe Cathedral, Amakusa, Nagasaki Pref. (大江天主度堂、天草)

Portuguese missionaries came to  Amakusa、an island in Kyushu, in the late 16th century. Most of the people on the island converted to Catholicism. However, in 1612, the Edo government issued a proclamation banning Christianity throughout Japan.


Sakitsu Cathedral Church (崎津天主堂)


The Christians were forced to worship in secret. In doing so, many of the rituals and beliefs gradually changed. Some elements of Buddhism or Shinto were included in their worship. We can learn much about it at the Rosariokan museum (天草ロザリオ館 天草市天草町大江1749 )near the  Oe Cathedral Church .


Rosariokan Museum( highly recommend!)(

The elderly gentleman in charge of this museum was very knowledgeable about the history of the Hidden Christians. He let us listen to a tape of a funeral chant used by the Christians. It sounded exactly like a Buddhist chant but the words were different. He told us about the island of Ikitsuki off the coast of Hirado island where there had been a large group of hidden Kirisutan. 



Making friends at Shimoda Onsen (ashi-yu)


View from  Oe Cathedral area

We traveled by car to Shimoda Onsen. We stayed at a family-run inn. The couple was very friendly and gave us advice. The next day we went to see the two churches and the Rosariokan. You can find a tourist map of the island here.

We were going to take a ferry to Nagasaki. It takes about an hour. However, it was very windy and thee sea was rough so the ferry was canceled. We had reservations in Nagasaki and needed to get there, so we quickly lined up to get on the car ferry for Shimabara Peninsula.


We had a long drive and needed to stop for  coffee. We met this couple who ran a cafe in Isahaya.


We made it to our hotel in Nagasaki in time for dinner. We strolled to Chinatown , just 2 blocks away for Nagasaki Chanpon, Chinese noodles with a rich, yummy sauce.


Chinatown in Nagasaki



Nagasaki Chanpon Noodles!

The next morning we walked to see the Glover House and other houses that had been used by foreign merchants in the Meiji period (late 1800s) We also saw the beautiful Oura Cathedral.



We enjoyed strolling around the well-kept gardens.of Orandazaka. (Dutch Slope) . We enjoyed coffee in a cafe there overlooking Dejima port, an historic site itself.


Hiroo relaxes over coffee at Dutch Slope


Hiroo was interested in visiting the  Bugyo-sho , residence of the official appointed by the Edo government to administer the port of Nagasaki, including the Dutch and Chinese settlements there.


Hiroo at Nagasaki Bugyo-sho

After that, we went to visit the  Ise no Miya Jinja. The Shinto priest there at the time was  Shigetada Shima. His younger brother is our good friend so we stopped to meet the priest and see the shrine. It was quite impressive. And the Shimas were very friendly to us.


Meeting Shima-san at Ise no Miya Shrine

We headed for our final stop, Hirado island. This is an amazing place if you are interested in the history of the hidden Christians. We got a late start from Nagasaki so arrived in Hirado at dusk. The next day we had a choice of seeing Hirado Xavier Church or going across a short bridge to the island of Ikitsuki. (生月 which the old gentleman at Rosariokan had told us about. We opted to do that and I am glad we did.


Ikitsuki, in museum parking lot. Hirado bridge in background. (生月)

There was a small but very good museum. I was impressed to see some real fumie, the image of Christ which Christians were forced to trample on and renounce their faith or face a painful death.

After viewing these things, we decided to drive a bit on the island. Shortly, we reached a marker by the road. We stopped read it.



Shrine to Matyred Family at Danjyiku-sama

It told how a family of 3 had Christians were hiding in a bamboo copse and living there. One day, the young boy disobeyed his parents and ran and played on the beach. He was spied from a passing ship so the family was caught and executed. There is a shrine to them at the beach. Climbing down the many steps to the beach was an experience I won’t forget.But I was glad I did.


An explanation of the Martyrdom at Danjikkusama

There was a photo of the yearly procession to visit the shrine and honor the matyrs. The “priest” leading it was dressed in the white kimono and headress of a Shinto priest. I began to realize that the hidden Kirisutan were not really Christians in the sense that we think of Christian beliefs and worship.

There are many more things to see in Kyushu that relate to the Hidden Christians. I would like to go back again. If you are going for the first time, I would definitely recommend the Rosariokan on Amakusa and visiting the island of Ikitsuki. There are many things i still would like to see on Hirado.


Actual fumi-e in Ikitsuki museum

I was disappointed by the memorial museum to Amakusa Shiro located on Kami Amakusa. It was a video recreation and too high tech. Don’t waste your time stopping there.


Grave stone in Notsu, Oita

This is an amazing trip to take. If you have time、there are many Christian graves in Notsu (野津、大分けん)Read up before you go If  you are new to the subject, you might want to read Silence by Endo Shusaku.  The history of the first Christians in Japan is a fascinating subject.


Oura Cathedral (大浦天主堂)Nagasaki Dutch Slope


Country Temples

We took a trip to Nara on Monday and Tuesday, starting with Sakurai-shi (桜井市)and Asukamura(明日香村). The city of Nara has many temples but I was anxious to see the ones in the countryside. Unfortunately, the Suiheisha Museum was closed when we were in Sakurai but i was able to see Saiko-ji and the tomb of Saiko Mankichi, one of the young men who founded the Suiheisha society in 1923 to fight against discrimination towards the burakumin people.

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We met a very kind man who graciously showed us around the neighborhood and pointed out important sites to us. He is from Kamata-cho (Sawaii-cho). We really appreciated that he did so in spite of the rain.

We were unable to visit Tanzan Jinjya (shrine) due to a landslide blocking access, so we went to the Asuka Temple instead. This giant Buddha is supposedly the oldest is Japan. His face is much more severe than the calm-looking Buddhas I am used to seeing. I also saw the place where they buried the head of Soga Iruka after he was killed in a power struggle in 645. He was assassinated at court in a coup d’état involving Nakatomi no Kamatari and Prince Naka-no-Ōe. (Wikipedia) after which the main branch of hte powerful Soga clan became extinct.

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Burial site of Soga Iruka’s head

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Asuka Daibutsu 


From there we went to Abe Monju Temple to see the most unusual statue where Buddha is seated on a shishi, a mythical lion-like creature . I really enjoyed seeing this and they serve you Japanese sweets with powdered matcha tea when you arrive. The fee is a reasonable ¥700 for admission and tea ceremony.

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Monju Buddha seated on a lion at Abe Monju Temple

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Pond and Pavilion at Abe Monju

It was starting to clear up and we headed for a smaller temple the Shorinji. (聖林寺)We met these nice ladies from Fukuoka. We aren’t allowed to take photos of the 11-Faced Buddha, but I was impressed as it seemed much taller (it is just over 2 meters high) as we gazed up at it from below. This is a carved wooden sculpture covered in gilt from the Nara period, the 8th century.

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Yukari and Naoko from Fukuoka at Shorinji Temple

I wanted to find an old Showa era bakery in front of Sakurai station and we did but couldn’t  park nearby. Hiroo waited while I went in and bought rolls and sandwiches for our lunch. Their “meibutsu” or featured item is a fried an-sandwich. An is sweet bean paste. I wouldn’t recommend this fried one though. The other bread was good.

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Retro bakery in Sakurai, Marutsu Bakery

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Fried Bean Paste Bread

Then on to our final stop of the day at Hasedera, completed around 727. Here we saw the Eleven-Faced Kannon in hte Main Hall. I had to climb the 399 steps to reach it and it I had muscle pain later! Realized how out of shape I am!!


Eleven-faced Kannon at Hase Temple

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View from the Main Hall (leaves have just started to turn)

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399 Steps

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Here  we also met Sachie from Nagoya who came here on a 3 day sketching tour. She showed us her water-color pictures.

All the temples mentioned above are in hte same vicinity and very accessible if you travel by car. I am sure there are bus tours which take you to the same places. All of the statues we saw are National Cultural Treasures.

Nara and the Treasures of Shoso-in

Finally we came to the city of Nara and I wanted to see the Senjyu Kannon (thousand-handed Buddha) at Toshodaiji temple. It was founded in 759 by the  Chinese monk Jianzhen (or Ganjin in Japanese)during the Nara Period. (Wikipedia) In Japanese, this monk is called Ganjin. I heard that he made four attempts to reach Japan in order to spread Buddhism and succeeded only on the fifth voyage. After seeing his tomb, I felt sympathy for him dying so far from his homeland and family, a fate I will most likely share.

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The Golden Hall at Toshodaiji

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Thousand-handed Kannon at Toshodaiji


Chinese monk who came to Nara to teach Buddhism(Ganjin)

This statue of Ganjin is only shown ot the public once a year in early June for 3 days.. I took a picture of a picture. And we went to eat lunch at a nearby cafe, Nodo Cafe (のどかふぇ)

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Healthy lunch with organic vegetables and rice

In the afternoon, we arrived at the Shoso-in Exhibition at Nara National Museum. There were so many people! I lost track of Hiroo and wandered around looking for him for 20 minutes!

The treasures here belonged to the Emperor Kammu who reigned from 781 to 806). Some of these were offerings to the Great Buddha at Todaiji. After the emperor’s death, his widow created the treasure storehouse, shoso-in, to house these articles.

Many items are from the Silk Road, from Persia or India. Amazing that a cloth apron from 700 could survive this long! These banners are dyed with a wax-resin process and show a ram and a tree.

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This 12-lobed glass dish is also from the 8th century and is colored with deep green shades. The design of rabbits are styled on each side.

Best Place to Stay

Definitely stay at he Cafe Pension Asuka and enjoy the fine cuisine. We chose the Steak dinner with Hors d oeurves and we totally enjoyed our meal. The room was small but adequate with a unit bath. It is located in Asuka on a shady lane! The owners are a very friendly couple who gave us travel advice and went out of their way to make us feel at home.

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a very tender and juicy steak!!

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The Matsuokas at Cafe Pension Asuka

We had a wonderful time and I hope to visit Nara again..and I will stay at Cafe Pension Asuka again too!! (0744-54-3017) or book on Jalan!

Thanks to Hiroo for driving over 1000 kilometers! We had a memorable trip!!

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Kake no Ha Sushi in Tenri-shi

Lazy Crazy Days of Summer

This year I visited Yufuin(in Oita Prefecture) and Hakata (Fukuoka Prefecture) for the first time. It was at the peak of the summer heat and reached 37 degrees C. Yufuin is in the mountains and it seemed cooler.

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Rotenburo in our room at Sakura-tei, Yufuin (湯布院の 御宿 さくら亭)

We stayed at an excellent inn where each room had its own outdoor bath (rotnburo). The separate cottages were built around a Japanese garden, giving each room complete privacy. We had dinner in the main building but in private cubicles. As I get older, I appreciate being able to sit on a chair and not tatami!

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They served a very nice Kaiseki Japanese dinner. The pprice was reasonable for this particular hot springs area. Prior to checking in, we walked around the onsengai street and did a bit of shopping.

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Shop specializing in MonChiChi Dolls (湯布院温泉街)


We found this one shop that specializes in Monchichi monkey dolls which were so popular when my kids were little. Amazing that this woman has made a whole shop based on it!I believe this is the only one of its kind in Japan.

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Historic Inn in Central Fukuoka (鹿島旅館、092-291-0746)

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Leaving the Yufuin area, we drove to Fukuoka City, locating our inn and getting a parking space across from it. This inn, Kashima Ryokan, (鹿島旅館)is a nationally-designated Cultural site builtin the Taisho period (1912-1936). We were able to stay there with a Japanese-style breakfast included for ¥5000 per person. It is very centrally located. People from many countries stay here so language isn’t a problem. They gave us maps of Hakata town in English.

We visted the Kushida Shrine which is hte center for the famous Hakata Gion Matsuri, or festival, held in July. This is just two bliocks from the inn.

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Kushida Jinjya (櫛田神社)in Hakata, Fukuoka

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At Kushida Shrine

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Hakata Gion Festival

Apparently, the Shin-Shin Ramen shop is famous for Hakata ramen noodles so we lined up for a spot! This is the second day in a row that we had ramen!! (The kids love it. ) We arrived at about 11:30 so didn’t have to wait long. But when we left, there was a long line outside the shop!

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Queuing up for Ramen

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Rob likes Shin Shin Ramen in Hakata

From here we wandered around trying to find a used clothing and nostalgia shop called “Going Bellbo-” (ゴイングベルボー、福岡市中央区大名2-2-44 092-771-6070)It was worth the trouble in our estimation! The owner. Go Kobayashi (小林ゴウ) loves the color and designs of art, fashion and objects from the ’60s and ’70s! Eri enjoyed looking at clothes and miscellaneous objects from another era! I just enjoyed looking and talking with the owner who is an artist too!

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At  Going Bellbo in Fukuoka-shi

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After buying a top and a wooden brooch, we left to meet up with the guys! It was such a hot day so Hiroo and I went back to the inn to rest.

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That evening we went to see the “yatai” street vendors , famous in Hakata. It was the first time for all 3 of us! We enjoyed the atmosphere and ordered 3 dishes as was required, I’d been told that the vendors are pricey so always ask the price when you order. You can’t order only a drink but you each have to order one dish too! I took a taxi back to the inn where Hiroo was babysitting while the kids stayed until quite late! There was a food festival going on adjacent to the line of yatai shops. They had good Korean food there and then stopped at another ramen shop on the walk back to the inn!!

The final day, we drove to Shikajima island (志賀島)to swim a bit in the sea. I was not impressed with this area and was disappointed with the “Umibe no Sato” michino eki and restaurant. They didn’t sell fresh seafood for us to take back as we had expected. The food was average.

Next time, I want to go to Daizai-fu to see the Fukuoka Prefecture Museum and I also want to visit some of the retro Showa era shopping arcades that still remain in Fukuoka! I would choose a cooler time than mid-summer!! It was fun! Still lots to see in Fukuoka!!

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An American Picker in Japan

We took a drive to Togochi in Yamagata-gun, Hiroshima. It is an old country town that used to be a booming center 50 years ago. We were told that the Hondoori area had been filled with people, shops and pubs back then, including 2 movie theaters! They were putting in the Kabe line linking Kake with Sandankyo completing it in 1970, just 3 years before I came to Japan! This is what the old main thoroughfare looks like now.


Mr. Yoshihiro drove me there. We took the mountain road through Yuki Onsen, turning off at the road for Tsutsuga Village. On the way, we stopped to get a picture of this huge gingko tree, which is over 250 years old. The protrusions that hang down from the trunk are sometimes called “chichi” (tits) as they look like a cow’s udder. This tree is designated as a natural heritage site of Hiroshima Prefecture.


筒賀のイチョウ (beside  Otose Shrine)





Gingko Leaves on the gigantic tree!

On to Togochi Town! Yoshihiro-san had told me about an 88 year-old woman who was having a “going-out-of-business” sale at her shop, everything half-price. The items were old and dusty, and things we don’t see today. Unfortunately this shop was closed today. So we went to Komoto Shoten”instead, the very last shop on the road.


The sign used to say 河本酒店(Komoto sakaten)

I wasn’t disappointed! Most of the shelves were bare but I found 3 chawan mushi cups I wanted. I had no idea if bargaining was appropriate but I said out-loud, ” I like these cups but they are a little too expensive for me.” The owner offered to mark them down, and finally made them half of hte original price.

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Today’s treasures!

I ended up getting some interesting items. My picking partner, Yoshihiro-san also bought an old-fashioned razor and shaving brush. I found a very “Showa era” aluminum kid’s lunch box, an unusual sake pitcher and the cups.

We went to another shop down the street which was basically a hardware store that also sold miscellaneous housewares. That’s where I found this cool knife and bought it for just ¥100 (about $1.00!) All new items. Here I am with owner Yoshimoto-san. She was very nice on her prices for us. I don’t think she is used  to having customers negotiate the price, but she gave us some amazing deals. I recall that at one point she said, “Well, I’ll be having a “going-out-of-business” sale myself before long.”


It was noon and we were hungry so stopped at an old Okonomiyaki shop, run by this very young-looking octogenarian, Ayako. She told us she has been there for 30 years, previously having run a coffee shop. She was really nice to us and seemed to think I was a celebrity, saying “I’ll never forget this day!” Ha Ha !

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Ayako in front of the Yamane Okonomiyaki Shop


I was very satisfied. I like her old sign outside that says “Akinai-chu”, an old phrase that meant “open for business!”

She is the one who told us that this was such a lively place back in the late sixties when construction on the railway was going on.

I am thrilled to see these places and wondered how they still hang on. At the same time, I realize they will disappear in just a matter of years.

That makes me very sad. I hope I can visit more of these shops in the countryside before they are gone forever.


Komoto-san talks to a customer

Mostly empty shelves at Komoto Shoten

Iwakuni Sandwich Shop

Today I visited a unique and very American-style sandwich shop near Iwakuni Marine Base in Yamaguchi Prefecture. My friends, Takako and Junko accompanied me there. It took about 30 minutes as we took the Expressway as far as Otake.

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The shop called Sako, has been around for awhile but the present owners took over 6 years ago. The interior is bright and cheerful. We ordered Avocado BLT and several other sandwiches from the wide menu.

Takako ordered a Coke and I thought the bottle was very retro as we don’t see these bottles in Japan nowadays!

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The owner, Missy and her husband prepare the sandwiches. Missy is fluent in English and very good with people! Missy also has quite a collection of Japanese antiques and pottery including “maneki neko”! The prices on them were quite reasonable!

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Avocado BLT at Sako, Iwakuni


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Missy in her red apron

The sandwiches were delicious and we  really enjoyed chatting with Missy and volunteer staff, Yukiko-san!

Missy and her husband decided to take on this new business after retiring even though they had no previous experience in the restaurant business! It’s hard to believe as they have created a great atmosphere and prepare wonderful sandwiches. There was a steady stream of customers!

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Masaru-san, friendly cook!

Go early as the hours Tuesday to Friday are 11:00-2:00. On Saturdays they are open until 7:30! (Closed Sunday and Monday)


Very reasonable!!

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Takako and Junko enjoy lunch!





Location: 2-chome 8-5 Kuruma-cho, Iwakuni-shi, Yamaguchi(山口県岩国市車町2-丁目8-5)

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Owner,Missy Hamano and me!

Car Trip to Izu

Omihachiman 近江八幡

We reached our first destination before noon and went straight to the William Merrell Vories Memorial Hall. Vories came to Japan in 1906 as an English teacher with the intent of telling people about Christ. Later he founded the Japanese Mentholatum company and also an architectural firm, jointly called the Omi Kyodaisha. (近江兄弟社)He married an aristocrat named Makiko Hitotsuyanagi and finally became a Japanese citizen.

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Vories Museum in Omihachiman, Shiga Prefecture



William Merrell Vories

Many buildings designed by Vories still stand here and in other cities. We saw several of them as we walked around this area. The old post office was very interesting. as was the Omihachiman Church.


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Bungo-san, guide at the Vories Museum

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Omihachiman Post Office (Wm. Vories)

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Omihachiman Church (Nihon Kirisuto Kyodan)

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Omihachiman YMCA (Wm Vories)

Walking around, we found an antique shop and, though most things were out of our price range, I bought some old postcards of Omihachiman and an old “fujin-zashi.” (Woman’s magazine. ) Here I am with the owner of Nakajima Shoten. (中島多吉商店)

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Members of the Local HIstory Research Club (地歴探訪倶楽部のメンバー)

At lunch, we happened to talk to a few of the members of a unique club based in Osaka. They visit many historic sights with a guide twice a month to learn about local history. They have been to many areas like Nara, Himeiji, Kyoto and so on. They learn about places and events that are not so well known! I thought this was a great idea and envy them! There are about 50 members in their club.

Junko-san had urged us ot visit the Sweets Shop called La Corina. (ラ・コリーナ)We were so surprised at this amazing “living” building. There were so many people even on a weekday that we didn’t order any desserts. We found a small bakery behind the main building and bought some rolls there! Amazing place to visit!

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La Corina Cafe in Omihachiman

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From there, we drove up a very winding mountain road to our inn, the Hotel Wellness at Yunoyama Onsen, Mie Prefecture. It was a kind of scary road and I was glad HIroo was driving and not me!

Inuyama (犬山市)

Our next stop was at Inuyama Castle, the only castle remaining from the Senkoku Period.  (1467~1603) It was built in 1537 by Oda Nobunaga’s uncle. It is a designated National Treasure. The Steps inside that lead up to the watchtower on top of the tenshu were quite steep for me ot climb. But the view from  the top is definitely worth it.

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View from atop Inuyama Castle

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Watchtower atop the Castle

I enjoyed the old buildings along the streets beneath the castle and ate “gohei mochi ” at a little shop there. I wish I’d had more time to enjoy the area. But I had an appointment to meet a very interesting person at the Million Dollar Cafe!

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WIth artist and cafe owner, Takeshi Ozawa,(百万ドルカフェ、犬山市)

For 50 years, Mr. Takeshi Ozawa has run this cafe. It was first a pub, then a unagi restaurant, and now it is a karaoke cafe. We ordered coffee only but look what they served us.

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Ozawa-san is an artist. He told me that at a very low point in his life he dreamed of a dragon. He had the same dream three times. Then he painted the dragon and after that he continued to paint。

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I was so glad to meet his business partner (former wife) Chitoshi. She and I hit it off. I liked her a lot and she was so friendly and easy to talk to ! You should definitely stop by this place. YOu certainly can’t miss it if you are driving by!

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Million Dollar Cafe, Inuyama

Yui Port- Mt Fuji- Izu

Hiroo wanted sakura-ebi tempura on rice for lunch so we found the Yui Port and got in line. There were tables and everyone eats outside. I enjoyed my tempura, but Hiroo got a bad stomach after eating his boiled shrimp and shirasu donburi! I don’t recommend you get that!!!

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Seafood on Rice at Yui

From there, we headed toward the Izu peninsula. ANd suddenly Mt. Fuji appeared in front of me. I’ve been here going on 44 years but never seen this symbol of Japan until now! It didn’t disappoint! What an amazing and thrilling sight!! I took over 50 pictures, I think!

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We took a central route into the Izu hanto, passing through the Shuzenji Onsen(修善寺) (or hot springs) area. This hot springs appears in Kawabata Yasunari’s novel, The Dancing Girl of Izu. We took a break and had Japanese sweets and iced latte.

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Japanese sweets at Shuzenji Onsen area

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Shuzenji Temple, Izu

I especially enjoyed the ashi-yu foot bath that is heated by the hot springs. Then we travelled on to Shimoda.

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Relaxing Foot Bath at Shugenji Hot Springs

On the way, we stopped at what we thought was a “Michi-no-Eki” souvenir shop but were pleasantly surprised that it was really a Literary Musuem. Novelist Inoue Yasushi  lived in Yugeshima near here.  He was sent to live with an old woman there from the age of three until he left elementary school. He wrote the autobiographical novel “Shirobamba” about that time.

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Two bald men at Shuzenji


There is a very old and famous tunnel nearby called “Amagi Tunnel” which is also featured in the story of the Dancer from Izu.


Amagi Tunnel from “The Dancing Girl of Izu”

I really wish we had reached here earlier in the day. I wnated to hike to the tunnel and see it for myself but it was 1.8 kilometers each way. It was already 5:00 PM so I had to give up on that.


Shimoda is where Commodore Matthew Perry signed the pact to trade with Japan in 1854. Here is the temple where it was signed. We can visit the “Kaikoku Museum” and walk along Perry Road. Many old buildings with namako-kabe walls still remain and give a special aura of Meiji era to the town.

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Perry Road with lots of little shops and cafes


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Treaty signed here at Choraku-ji

We stayed in a really wonderful hotel on the ocean called Yamato-kan. The outdoor bath ( rotenburo) on the roof has a fantastic view of the bay. I enjoyed three different hot tubs and wished my daughters were here to enjoy it too!

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The view from our balcony at Yamato-kan hotel

I wanted to eat samma-zushi (mackerel sushi) and we found the one shop that sells it at the small port of Irozaki(石廊) at the tip of the Izu peninsula. Unfortunately, they were sold out, so if you hope to try samma-zushi,  you should call ahead!

I enjoyed chatting with the owner of Fujiya sushi shop, Mitchan. She has been operating this restaurant  since she came as a bride in about 1971.

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The only place that makes samma-zushi!

The samma-zushi was a recipe that her own grandmother used to make in Shimoda using vinegared-mackerel in oshizushi style. She said to salt down the mackerel for one whole day and then put into nibaizu marinade (酢100cc+砂糖大さじ1.5+塩少々)for a day before making the sushi. SHe also puts slices of fresh ginger in the marinade. Let’s make it some day!!

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I’m still disappointed that i couldn’t eat it! Next time! ANd I’ll hike to the tunnel too!!Who wants to go with me?

We made it safely home! The new Nagoya station building was crazy! So big and so many people there as it just newly opened, it seems. I’d avoid that!

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Iwashina Gakko, Matsuzaki

The last night in Izu, we stayed at a friendly family-run inn. These women are married to two brothers, one who runs a fishing boat every day. We had fresh fish. These sister-in-laws are 77 but full of energy. We all agreed we should keep working as long as we can. They seem to enjoy running the inn!

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At Sanrakuso Pension (三楽荘、松崎、伊豆)

I met Nobuko next door. She is 90, born in Taisho 15. (1926) Although she no longer runs an inn, she seems very energetic! It inspires me!

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Great trip. But next time, I’ll plan one that is not quite so far away. Hiroo had to drive really far! I guess over 1500 kilometers! Otsukaresama!


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Yomogi Bread

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600g bread flour

9g dry yeast

9g salt

60g honey

18g skim milk pwd

42g butter

150g yomogi (cooked and chopped weight)

300-320g water

sweet natto (shonagon) as desired)

Knead 20 minutes. Let rise 40. Divide in 4!!! Let rest (bench time) 20 minutes. Roll in long rectangles. Spread on natto and roll into ropes. Roll and stretch ropes. Wind two together and fit into the greased loaf pan. Let rise 30 minutes. Bake in cold start oven 180 C(350F) for 35 minutes. Remove from pan immediately. Cool on a wire rack.

(Instead of yomogi , you can use matcha tea powder but you’ll nee to increase the water slightly.)

Sweet natto can be made, or you can substitute finely diced sweet potato cooked in sugar. Here is a recipe for amanatto.

Everyday Cupcakes


From the time my girls were little, I used to bake these versatile cupcakes, adding chocolate or lemon zest or apples and cinnamon. The kids loved them even un-iced! They are so easy as you only need one bowl and very basic ingredients. Use either butter or margarine and just one egg to make 12-16 cupcakes!




100g. margarine

1 cup sugar  (180-200g)

2   1/2 Teas Baking Powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 whole egg

1   3/4 cups regular flour  (210g)

180-200 cc milk

Cream butter and sugar. Gradually add slightly beaten egg. Mix flour with B.P. and salt. Alternately stir in dry ingredients and milk. Fill cupcake papers half-full. Add either vanilla essence or lemon.( For chocolate, melt 3 Tbsp butter and add 7 T cocoa. mix. Stir into batter.)

Preheat oven. Bake at 375F (190C) for 15-20 minutes. Cool well before icing.CookingCUpcakes

Japanese Drummers

Kaze no Saiten (風の祭典) Drummers

Yesterday my friend Masumi invited me to go and see a Wadaiko (Japanese drums) performance by young men with Down’s syndrome or other severe handicaps. Their mothers were also part of the troupe. I was impressed to see them  play the drums powerfully and with such gusto! They were all enjoying themselves so much.


Aono-san and his Mom


Kageyama (center)  really seemed to be enjoying performing. Such an outgoing guy! He even gave me a kiss on my cheek spontaneously.(Aono-kun on the left)



I thought Ms. Shintani was really good at the drums. I found out that she had lived near me when I first came to this area. She remembers me because there were few foreigners living here then.

I realized that these women formed the troupe for their sons but that it has also empowered them and created an opportunity for the family to make a positive impact.

These women must be my age or older and yet they had so much vitality and spirit! We were caught up in their joy, too!


Kageyama-san, mother and son

I hope you all keep on practicing and performing. I look forward to seeing  your show again!


Emcee, Nagai-san (who is also raising a son with Down’s)

Afterwards, we had tea and zenzai at Masumi’s house! Thank you for inviting me!



Always in a good mood! Yuki-kun, Arigato!

Yuki-kun didn’t seem to mind a house full of people!


Wajima-nuri Lacquerware (antique)

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