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 hte 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 Shugenji Onsen (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 Shugenji Onsen area 

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Shugenji 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 Shugenji


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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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)

Art and Artifacts(?)

The very last day of summer, we started out for Shikoku, one of the four largest islands that comprise Japan. I wanted to practice driving on hte Expressway so I drove to Imabari! Then Hiroo took the driver’s seat and we made it to our first destination about 10:00 AM.



This man has amassed quite a collection of items from the Showa period. (1926~1989) He has everything from movie posters to Kewpie dolls! He spent an hour with us , showing us through the two buildings of fascinating things. Nakanishi-san was a news photographer and still has a small old studio wedged between the two “museums”!

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Paper dolls from 1960s?

We had a great time looking at his collection. I recommend you contact him just to be sure he is there when you g. It is only 300 yen to see the museum.



From there we went to the nearby “Hibari Shokudo” which is apparently famous for the huge pork cutlet on rice (and cheap!) People were lining up well before opening time and hte couple in front of us said it was their second attempt to be served at the restaurant as last time they couldn’t get in! It was more than we could eat.very good!

Swinging Bridges are Scary

We went on to the famed “kazura-bashi” at Iya in Tokushima prefecture. It was only 30 minutes or so from the Otoyo Showa museum. You must pay to go across and there were many tourists from Japan and abroad. I somehow made it across but it was scary! Beautiful photos don’t do it justice.



Scary enough!

That night we stayed at a hot springs in Miyoshi. We enjoyed hte breakfast in particular as they served just out of the oven pizza and also amazing French toast made with French bread!

Tobacco Trade in Ikeda

The next town, Ikeda, was a center for drying and curing tobacco in the Edo period. It was then transported down the Yoshino RIver to the city of Tokushima and from there to other areas of Japan. We stumbled on the Tobacco Museum when it was opening at 9:00 AM. A friendly volunteer guide gave us a tour and lots of interesting information.


Hiroo tries smoking a kiseru tobacco pipe at the Tobacco Museum, Ikeda-cho

As we were leaving, we happened to meet an older woman who was sweeping the road in front of her shop. A retired high school home ec teacher, she is in her 80s but very active. We went inside her “shop” and visited with her. It seems she organizes all kinds of events, makes her own posters and produces it all. Recently she put on a “chindon-ya” parade where everyone enjoyed dressing in period costumes!


We took the local highway 192 to our next stop, Daibosatsutoge Cafe” where Shima Rikita san has been continually adding to his enormous brick structure began in 1964. His son and wife operate a cafe in part of the area, but we were especially lucky to get a two hour tour and talk with this artist in his studio.




Shima Rikita, artist and craftsman





When he couldn’t get bricks at a reasonable price, he built a brick-kiln and kept going! Now he works in many mediums, carving wood, ceramics and furniture building. Probably close to 85, he still executes new ideas as soon as he gets them, now finishing up his chairs carved to represent the 47 prefectures. I definitely want to go back for his exhibition!

Best-ever inn By the Sea, Kaiyo-cho

We were so fortunate to stay at Osa inn and for a very reasonable price. Our hosts, the Hayashi’s came back to her home and re-opened this inn after retiring. She is an amazing cook! Everyone gave the food top rating and that is why I chose it..and I wasn’t disappointed. This is the best place i have ever stayed in Japan!!





They talked about ayu fishing!

And after breakfast, she served her special Creme Brulee and fruit and her husband ground fresh coffee for us! We really enjoyed the warm atmosphere and the food!

On to Kochi..

On the last leg of our journey, we headed for Kochi city where I saw the “Jiyu Minken Undo” museum. But what we enjoyed most was Makino Tomitaro Botanical Gardens!


Makino Tomitaro in his study (recreation)




Tomitaro as a young man

He was a botanist and did research on plants, the first person to produce a definitive  encyclopedia of Japanese plants. His original sketches are on display and, fortunately for me, the museum of his life and achievements had English explanations which were well done!!

Home Again

Stopping by the Kochi Castle and the nearby Museum of Literary Arts, we finally started for home. We saw so many things and met creative people who all follow their dreams. I am inspired to find a new project now! We had a wonderful time! I love Tokushima and the people there are really friendly!


Friendly Rika san at Iya Onsen

Bees and Berries

Our friend gave us a bee hive a few weeks ago. Yesterday, we arrived at the farm to find bees were finally in it! I hope we will have honey someday!.

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Standing in front of the hive!

Mr. N lives at the top of Norozan mountain because his ham radio (無線ラジオ)gets good reception there. He talks to people all over the world!

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Mr. N with baby goat “Teamo”

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He has planted over 600 blueberry trees there and now we can gather berries! (¥400 for 200g) He also has goats and chickens and ducks there! The baby goats were s cute!

I met an interesting couple there who have a farm in Higashi Hiroshima. They have an animal farm! Alpaca, donkeys, sheep, goats, ducks, and chickens! I hope to visit them some day!

Minna no bokujou can be found at

I was happy to meet people who are living there unique dream!

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Arafurue-san and wife Miho (from Minna no Bokujou)


Old Friends

This week old friends visited the farm! Mayumi was my English student in junior high and high school. I hadn’t seen her in 12 years! It was great to meet her husband and kids. They live in Sweden, about an hour from Stockholm.

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Mayumi and daughter Maya,10

I was worried for Hiroo’s sake that they couldn’t speak Japanese, but fortunately even the kids spoke good Japanese as wella s English. Swedish is their main language and it sounded strange to my ears!

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Unfortunately, it rained the whole time and never let up. But we had a BBQ anyway, under the tent and on the porch!

They were staying at the nearby Green Pier resort but without meals so when we heard that, Hiroo decided to make sushi for dinner! He went to Kurose to get fresh sashimi and make a great meal. It seems the kids mostly eat salmon sushi as that is plentiful in Sweden.

We had a great time and I appreciate guests who wash all the dishes! Maya and her Mom made rice balls ( o-musubi). Maya was good at that!

Thirteen-year-old Leo is a soccer player and studies Spanish at school. ( His 4th language!!)

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Too bad we couldn’t play in the ocean or on the beach but the whole family really got into doing “take-zaiku” or bamboo craft, making chopsticks and bowls from green bamboo.

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Good sushi, Hiroo!

We enjoyed eating and talking together and I was glad to see her Mom Kay, after so many years! It is good to see old friends!

Mayumi’s husband, Bosse, was really nice and laid back! I’m glad to have the chance to meet everyone! And honored that they took the time t come all the way to Yasuura to see us!


The Longest Trip

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Myorakuji Temple, Obama ( Fukui Prefecture)

So far, the longest road trip we have taken here is for 3 nights, but this time we set out for Noto and Kanazawa on a 5 night, 6 day odyssey! I wanted to see some temples in Obama. We got to see the Myorakuji Temple ( 妙楽時)with the “thousand-handed Buddha” statue. Each hand holds a different object, like a writing brush, prayer beads or an incense burner! The surrounding gardens were very nice and we enjoyed being the only ones strolling there!

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Senju Kannon at Myorakuji Temple

Later we found a “Showa era” shopping arcade that opened in 1936. There were several of the original stores still hanging on. I met Mr. Hideo Saito of the Dai-ei Shoe Store. He is 84 years old and still in business in spite of having back surgery a year ago and using a cane.

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Hideo Saito at the Dai-ei Shoji shoestore, Obama City

I love to see old shops from this era and hope they preserve this “Izumi Arcade” area.

The next day we went to a famous Zen temple near Fukui City, Eiheiji (永平寺)The Zen sect was brought from China in the 13th century by Dogen who then builtthe EIheiji (or”temple of eternal peace”) in  1244. Even today,  many young priests undergo rigid training here.

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Eiheiji Temple, near Fukui City

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Tiles in the ceiling of the Main Hall

The temple buildings and grounds are vast and very beautiful. It is built up about 6 levels. We were very impressed and glad we went on a weekday when fewer visitors are there.

Our next destination was the Noto Peninsula, stopping first at the Showa Museum of Collectibles and Toys from the early 20th century. Hiro wasn’t eager to pay the $7 fee to get in, but later admitted it was more than worth it. I recommend this to anyone who loves the nostalgia of pre-war days.

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Objects found in a typical 1950 home (although only a few had TVs!)

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Instructions on Using a Bathhouse (including”Don’t do your laundry here”)

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Megumi and Haruki are Gelato fans like me (Maruga Gelato, Noto cho)

After enjoying gelato and meeting these cute kids, we reached our inn, the Mawaki PorePore Hot Springs.(縄文温泉の宿 真脇ポレーポレー0768ー62-4700) This is our new favorite inn as the sashimi and the Wajima-beef steak were sooo good!

On Friday morning, we left in time to get to the famed Wajima Asa-ichi (Morning market) where fresh seafood and hand-crafted items are sold every morning! There, we met a shop owner, Mr. Kiyoshi Yatsui, who graduated from Cornell with a post-doctorate in nuclear physics! He is the fifth-generation owner of this large lacquer-ware shop on the main street of Wajima.


With Kiyoshi Yatsui in Yatsui FIne Lacquerware Shop, Wajima

Wajima lacquer-ware is famous all over Japan and very expensive!I admired a brooch but it was out of my price range! Nevertheless, we enjoyed talking with Yatsui-san and it turns out that he lived in Albuquerque and did research at Sandia base! It felt like meeting an old friend!

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Cheesecake at ASIE Cafe by Saigawa, Kanazawa

We reached Kanazawa city in the early afternoon and visited the museum dedicated to writer Muro Saisei. Then we found a great spot to rest at a riverside cafe that had great coffee and desserts!

Things to See In Kanazawa

The Kenrokuen gardens are a must-see in Kanazawa, located next to the Kanazawa castle. We also went to the History Museum.

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At Kenroku-en Garden, Kanazawa

We had lunch in the Edo-era atmosphere of Higashi Chaya Machi. We went to a restaurant recommended by this nice rikisha puller and had local cuisine, including kuruma-fu, and oshi-zushi. My crab sushi had real gold flakes on it!

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Rikisha puller and (below)Local food in old Higashi Chaya Machi

Strolling along the river, a volunteer guide spoke to me, and introduced me to another volunteer, 98-year-old Suemura Takeo (末村武男)I talked with him and heard about his experiences in a Russian prison camp after WWII. He explained how he was in Manchuria at the end of the war and preparing for repatriation when Russian troops occupied the area and he was captured. He was forced to carry heavy sacks of sugar that weighed  60 kilograms. (over 130 lbs).

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Suemura can still remember many Russian words from his 3-year captivity

Suemura-san suffered frostbite so the skin sloughed off his face. After treatment, he was sent back to work. He said people laughed and pointed at him and said something in Russian. He asked someone and found out they were saying, “He is no longer a person! Ha ! Ha!” because the bandage made a big “X” across his face.

After being released, he returned to Japan, married and had 3 children.After retiring,  he wondered what he could do to make himself useful and became a volunteer guide for tourists in his hometown.

Ikuno Silver Mine


On the way home, we stopped by the old silver mine in  Ikuno, Hyogo Prefecture. It was mainly developed under the Tokugawa in the Edo era and produced much silver. Taken over by the government around 1860, French engineers came to modernize the mine.  In 1896, it was sold off to the Mitsubishi Co, becoming one of the pillars of their operations. The mine closed in 1973.

Tatsuno and Higashi-Maru Soy Sauce

Our last stopover was in the old castle-town of Tatsuno, where we visited the old soy sauce factory museum. There are many soy sauce brands made here from 400 years ago. The video told how the barrels for soy sauce were made which was in itself quite a traditional craft. The soy sauce had to ferment for about a year before being bottled and was a very labor-intensive process in the old days.

As we left, we saw the modern Higashi Maru usukuchi shoyu factory along the river. The town itself is quite old and there are many old shops that sell soy manju and other local delicacies! This town is definitely worth seeing!

All in all, we had an amazing week and good weather. I learned a lot. I’m glad ot be home again, though. It was a very ambitious undertaking for us old people!! Hiroo drove the whole way!


Definitely eat Sabazushi (さば寿司)in Obama!!





Setsubun and Chasing Away the Demons!

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At the beginning of February, we celebrate the coming of spring , although this year we had snow up into March! The Setsubun Festival is held on February 3rd. Setsubun  means “seasonal division.” Associated with the Lunar New Year, it is kind of like a new year’s eve and thus includes a ritual to cleanse us from last year’s evil spirits.

Mamemaki (Bean-throwing)

It is customary to put on a oni (demon)mask and throw roasted soybeans from the entryway while shouting Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi! (Demons Out! Good Luck in!!) Here we see Sumiko doing that!

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Sushi Roll (We cut it! Uh-oh!)

Eating Uncut Makizushi

Around here people have a custom of eating a whole uncut roll of sushi while facing in whichever direction is determined to be this year’s lucky direction.

Another food-related custom is eating sardines and the hanging the head (or the whole set of bones on your front door. This is also to ensure good fortune and prosperity in the coming year.

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This year Itoh Mama was visiting me so we decided ot try all of these customs! Mostly eating! And I discovered that salted sardines (shio-iwashi) are delicious! I had previously thought they were a vile, smelly fish..but these salted, partially dried ones are really good!

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Hanging sardine bones on the entry brings prosperity

Many shrines hold bean-throwing rituals, also throwing mochi or sweets. I heard that people used to throw coins and children would scramble for them too!

Mamemaki in Kobe

Ikuta Shrine in Kobe, THrowing Lucky Beans!!

For more information you can look at this GetHiroshima site! Lots of fun!

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We also tried making the Cake de Sale that Namika gave me the recipe for! It has bacon, spinach and lots or gruyere cheese. Surprisingly good, it is a savory cake that goes with wine!

Finally, we did a sewing project together and made these for my bathrooms.

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Itoh Mama and me! BFF

Even though we see each other only once a year, it seems like we were never apart. Such a good sister-friend! I love  you!!




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