Encounters with the Unexpected

Since I was in the hospital the  last month, I didn’t have a chance to tell you about the exciting things we discovered on our trip to Wakayama in September. Now I am in the pink and eager to share our special finds in Wakayama and Nara.

The first day, we visited the Yosano Akiko Musuem in Sakai, Osaka. The city of Sakai is known for forging superior knives and swords from the Edo period. On the second day we traveled south to Tanabe on the toll road. Leaving the main highway at Ki-Tanabe, we took  Route 311 into the mountains,arriving  an hour earlier than expected at the Kitaoka Farm. We had reservations for a farm-style lunch there.

Counter area at Kitaoka Farm Restaurant

Outside Toilet

I had heard about the Farm and hand-built restaurant run by the Kitamuras in the Naka Heishi area of Wakayama. Located near the ancient Kumano Kodo stone road, they serve a homegrown organic lunch for 1500 yen, with omelets from their own fresh eggs. We wandered around the farm and various buildings and saw their rice field, chicken coop and woodworking shop.

The lunch was delicious and included “komai” rice, and fresh vegetables, mini- hamburg steak.

The Kitaokas are a very friendly couple who bought this land about ten years ago and moved form Osaka to begin farming.He built the restaurant including the counter and all the chairs and the cute outdoor flush toilet. He also built a separate bathhouse and another sauna bath.

Toshihiro and Ikuko Kitaoka

When we arrived, Kitaoka-san was working on making a table. He accepts orders for handmade furniture. He set aside what he was doing to chat with us and show us around. I feel this place is not widely-known but ought ot be. If I lived closer, I’d certainly be going back again and again. This is the kind of place Hiroo and I often talked about creating and they have actually done it!!

While we were talking, they mentioned a bakery which was in the mountains about 20 minutes further on. We decided to visit the Mompei to Kuwa brick oven bakery and try some of their bread. This area was called Ryujin Mura and there were many craft shops, galleries and cafes scattered through the mountains. We finally arrived at our destination and went inside.

Brick-Oven Bakery Mompei to Kuwa

We met the owner and were enjoyed talking. Soon, her husband was taking loaves of  freshly-baked sourdough bread from the oven. All organic and made from their own bread starter, the bread has an exceptional taste and texture! They have been living in teh mountains and doing this for 19 years. We bought a loaf of French bread to take home and several rolls to enjoy at the inn.

All Natural Whole Grain Rolls

The Shimoyamas(Hidenori & Mami)

Nearby we hiked on the ancient road to Nara, Kumano Kodo.

Hiking an Ancient Road ( Nat’l Treasure Kumano Kodo

We spent the night in a mountain hot springs inn. I chose this place for the “retro” feeling in the hot springs town. One highlight was taking a private bath in the “tsuybo yu”  next to our inn. It is located in the middle of the river. A natural hot spring flows into the hut, making the water over 60 degrees C. Needless to say, I had to add a lot of cold water before getting in. It is 750 yen to use the bath for 30 minutes. Hiroo decided to pass on it so I went in alone!! It was a great experience!

Tsubo-Yu Hut (Bathhouse at Hot Springs)
Yunomoto Onsen

The next morining, we set out for Nara via a winding and steep road. Forced to take a detour because of the severe damage from flooding and landslides last year, we happened upon this beautiful waterfall coming out of the top of the cliff.

Juni Taki Waterfall

Continuing on, we braked quickly when we saw this suspension footbridge! I was a little frightened to cross it but it was a cool feeling to be so high above the river.

Crossing the Suspension Bridge

Approaching Nara, I happened to see a very small sign that said ” Suiheisha Museum.” I shouted and Hiroo stopped the car. We turned off the main road and drove about 6 kilometers but saw no other signs. “Are we on the wrong road?” , we began to wonder. I saw an elderly man and we stopped to ask him. We asked the right person! He knew exactly where it was and we were almost there!

Suiheisha Hakubutsukan Museum in Kashiwamura, Nara

Why does the Suiheisha mean so much to me? Well, this is the location of my favorite book.. one that changed my life forever when I was 37 years old. “Hashi noNai Kawa” is the story of the founding of the “Suiheisha” movement to combat prejudice against he burakumin minority in Japan. This event took place in 1924. Although it is a work of fiction, the characters are closely based on real people, especially the 2 young men who were at the center of starting this movement. I was able to see the home of Saiko Mankichi, the Saikoji temple. Located just across from it was the museum. It was open! (although there were no other visitors.)

Saikoji Temple, childhood home of Saiko Mankichi

It was exciting to visit places we never planned on or knew existed and to meet people with different and challenging lifestyles. Seeing the Great Buddha in Nara and Alphonse Mucha’s art in Sakai, Osaka was wonderful, but these unplanned side-stops are what made this trip so memorable.

Monpei to Kuwa Bakery 0739-78-2124  645-0415 和歌山県田辺市竜神村西258

Nagorian Kitaoka  0739-64-1145  菜心味庵 和歌山県田辺市中辺路小皆400-2


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Vividhunter
    Nov 09, 2012 @ 10:32:03

    Great account! I’ve lived in Wakayama for years, but am doing the Kumano Kodo for the first time at the end of this month~


    • leahmama1eah Smith
      Nov 10, 2012 @ 00:29:18

      That’s great! I really recommend you visit the Kitaoka’s for lunch. It’s closed on Tues and Wed I think, and you need to make a reservation ahead. You can find them on Tabelog.. Hongu Onsen especially Yu no Mine Onsen was very nice. Let me know what you do there!! I’d be interested to hear..
      Nagomian Kitaoka TEL 0739641145 菜心味庵 きた岡 田辺市中平地小皆400-2


  2. beckynielsen
    Nov 09, 2012 @ 13:12:25

    Dear Leah, So happy you are back! And this was a wonderful journey with you! Loved reading about these places, seeing the pictures. Is the book that you loved so much available in English? Boy, you and Hiroo have the best adventures!


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