Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Golden week holidays - part 5

On May 02, after enjoying sightseeing in Azuchi town of Shiga prefecture, hubby and I went to my hubby’s ancestral home in Ichinomiya city of Aichi prefecture. The next two days hubby, father-in-law and his wife went for playing golf, while I had a nice time with my sister-in-law and her family. Hubby was kind enough to write about his experience of playing golf in the previous post. Today I will write about my stay in Ichinomiya on May 03-04.

On May 3rd, my hubby, father-in-law, and his wife got up at an unearthly hour of 4.00 am, got ready, and left home at about 4.30 am to go for playing golf. All of them really love the sport. However, I am not much interested in golf, and so I preferred to stay at home and relax. I was going to meet my sister-in-law later in the day. So I spent the entire morning lazing around. I read a few pages of a novel, drank several cups of tea, and watched television.

My sister-in-law and her family live nearby in Ichinomiya city itself. She came home with her kids at about 12 noon. It was fun playing with my nieces. They are so cute. Older niece made a home using building blocks. Kids are so intelligent and innovative. I did not even realize that it was supposed to be her home until she told me. Younger niece jumped and ran around the house for almost half an hour. I played with her and was too tired after 30 minutes of continuous movement! Kids have a lot of energy.
Older niece made a home using building blocks

Younger niece running around the house

While I played around with my nieces, my sister-in-law made okonomiyaki for lunch. Okonomiyaki is a Japanese pancake containing a variety of ingredients like flour batter, water (or dashi-stock), eggs, shredded cabbage, green onion, pork, bacon, squid, shrimp, and many more things. She used the ingredients I have mentioned here. It was a simple but very delicious lunch.
Sister-in-law making okonomiyaki for lunch


All having lunch

After lunch and a bit of chatting with my sister-in-law, we all went to Omiya Shinmei shrine nearby. The shrine had a lot of trees, cool shade, and open space. So the kids could play around a lot. Older niece found a large black butterfly and ran about merrily trying to catch it. Younger niece is just 1.5 years old, but she usually wishes to do whatever her older sister does. However, startled by the unusually large black butterfly, she just froze in place. It was so funny to watch the surprised expression on her face. We relaxed in the shrine’s premises for an hour or so. After that we went to a convenience store and bought some cold drinks and snacks, and had them after returning home. After a whole afternoon and evening of excitement, the kids were rather tired and sleepy. So my sister-in-law and kids went back to their home at about 6 pm.
Omiya Shinmei shrine

Another building of Omiya Shinmei shrine

Nieces playing in the shrine premises

Younger niece surprised at seeing a large black butterfly (butterfly not in photo)

At about 7.30 pm, my hubby, father-in-law, and his wife returned back home after a long day of playing golf. They already had dinner on the way home. Father-in-law and his wife went to sleep within ten minutes of returning home. Hubby and I went to visit my mother-in-law’s grave to offer our prayers.
Hubby offering prayers at his mother's grave

Later we had dinner at a restaurant named Curry House CoCo Ichibanya. Hubby had already eaten dinner, but seeing the menu he had dinner once again! This restaurant served typical Japanese style curry. We ordered sausage curry and fully-ripened tomato and asari clam curry. The food was simple yet delicious.
Our dinner

We returned back home at about 9.30 pm. Hubby went to sleep and I watched television for some time. One of my favorite television drama (soap opera) was being aired and I enjoyed it very much. Later I read a few pages of a novel and fell asleep while reading it.

Again on May 4th, my hubby, father-in-law, and his wife left home at about 4.45 am to go for playing golf. I got up at 9 am and had several cups of tea. Later I read a few more pages of the novel and watched television until 11.30 am. At about 12 noon, my sister-in-law and her family came home to pick me up for lunch at a nearby restaurant. My sister-in-law’s husband also accompanied us. We had lunch at an Indian restaurant named ‘Bindi’, which served authentic Indian food with too many choices on the menu. So it was challenging to decide what to order off the menu as everything sounded good. Finally, we ended up ordering a lot of food. We all relished our lunch. All the food items were mild in spite of the fact that they were cooked with a lot of spices. That day both my nieces made their debut of eating Indian food. It was nice to see the happy faces of the kids eating Indian food.
My nieces and sister-in-law's hubby eating Indian food

I and sister-in-law eating Indian food

Younger niece very happy to eat Indian food

Older niece surpised but happy with the taste of Indian food

After lunch, we all went to a nearby park named Asano Park. This park was the site of an old royal palace that belonged to the feudal warlord Nagamasa Asano. The park was created in 1916 from the volunteer efforts of local residents. We all had a leisurely walk and chatted a lot in the park. There were more than 1000 azalea (tsutsuji in Japanese) shrubs with red, pink, and white blooms. All the azaleas were in full bloom, which made a wonderful sight. We took several photos of us near the fully bloomed azalea flowers for keepsake. We walked around for about thirty minutes and then sat on two cement park benches under a pergola. As soon as we sat there, we got a whiff of very lovely and superior fragrance. We all looked up and saw many white Chinese wisteria vines (wisteria sinensis Alba; shina-huji in Japanese) with spectacular hanging flowers in full bloom that gave off such lovely smell. Nearby was a small pond full of lotus plants and many blooming lotus flowers. The park was a perfect place to walk, sit, relax, and chitchat. At about 3.30 pm, we all left the park and went back home. It was hubby and my last day in Ichinomiya city and I was a bit sad to say bye to my sister-in-law and her kids.
Asano park

Younger niece in the park

White and pink azalea flowers

Pink azalea flowers

Sister-in-law with azalea flowers

I and azalea flowers

Hanging white Chinese wisteria flowers

Many lotus plants and flowers

Lotus flower

Hubby, father-in-law, and his wife finished playing golf much earlier as compared to the previous day, and they returned back home at about 4 pm. Hubby was too tired due to playing golf on two consecutive days. So he took rest for an hour. I packed our baggage. At about 5.15 pm, my father-in-law gave us a ride by his car to Komaki airport. Hubby and I dozed off on our flight back to Akita. On reaching Akita airport, we took a limousine bus bound for Akita railway station. We had our dinner at a restaurant named ‘Hanamaru udon’ at the station area, and then took a taxi to reach Akita seaport where we had parked our car for the onward journey on April 30. Finally, we reached back our home at about 10 pm. We really enjoyed the golden week holidays this year. Now our life has returned back to normal routine.
Hubby playing with Rubik's cube in the limousine bus bound for Akita railway station

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Guest post: Golden week holidays - part 4

My name is Kazuo Nagata and I would like to thank my wife Manisha for inviting me to write in her blog. I will write about my experience of playing golf with my father and his friends during the golden week holidays this year.

I started playing golf about eight years back but usually cannot practice as much I would like to. Akita is a very cold snowy place and all the golf courses are closed for almost five months in a year. So I was eagerly looking forward to playing golf during the golden week holidays.

On May 03, I went to play golf with seven more people including my father, relatives, and father’s friends. We held a competition at a golf course named Lions golf club located in Kameyama city of Mie prefecture. It was a shiny day and best weather condition for playing golf. I was very happy to play golf. However, my performance did not match my enthusiasm, and I scored lowest in the competition. I have to regularly practice golf to improve my golfing skills.
Eight of us at Lions golf club (I am in black shirt)

Eight of us at a restaurant of the golf club

For the sake of my pride, I forced my father (sponsor) and a few others to play golf again the next day. On May 04, my father, his wife, two of their friends, and I played golf and held a competition at a golf course named Sunclassic golf club located in Kani city of Gifu prefecture. I was anxious and felt a lot of pressure to perform well. Due to this I could not show my original ability and talent in playing golf. Yet again I scored the lowest in the competition. Does my reason for again playing so miserably sound like a good excuse? I guess so! I think I need a lot of deliberate practice to improve my skills and play better golf more consistently.
Sunclassic golf club

My father (center) chatting with others at the golf course

Father and his wife at their golf cart before the start of play

Another view of the golf course

I am taking a swing

My uncle (left) and father's friend in front of a cafeteria at the golf club

These days I am watching the video ‘Legend of Tiger Woods’ and practicing golf a lot to hone my skills. Due to too much golf practice under hot sun, I got a very uneven tan on my hands and face.
Uneven tan on my hand

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Golden week holidays - part 3

As I wrote in the previous post, Hubby and I did sightseeing in Obama and Tsuruga cities in Fukui prefecture on May 01. Next day we did sightseeing in Azuchi town in Shiga prefecture and then went to my in-law’s home in Ichinomiya city in Aichi prefecture. Today I will write about our visit to Azuchi town.
On May 02, Hubby and I woke up at about 7 am and had scrumptious buffet breakfast at hotel Toyoko Inn. After that we packed our baggage and left the hotel at 9 am. We bought railways tickets to go from Tsuruga city to Maibara city in Shiga prefecture. All the trains were fully booked due to the golden week holiday rush and we had to travel in an unreserved compartment. Since it was only a 50 minutes ride, we sat on our baggage near the train door and enjoyed the outside view. It was fun. At Maibara railway station, we changed train and after about 30 minutes of travel we reached Azuchi railway station.
Me at a platform in Tsuruga railway station. Bye bye Tsuruga

Hubby sitting on our baggage in unreserved compartment of the train bound for Maibara

Hubby peering out of the train window

1. Azuchi town
Azuchi is a castle town with the most impressive medieval flavor and great historical heritage. Azuchi town is favored with natural beauty, water, and greenery. There are Mt. Azuchi, Mt. Kinugasa, and Mt. Mizukuri standing in a row. The town also has rich rural landscape spreads including Lake Nishinoko, the largest of Lake Biwa's inner lakes.
A platform in Azuchi railway station

Azuchi railway station

1a. Plaza in front of JR Azuchi railway station
In front of north exit of Azuchi railway station, there is a plaza with the flavor of the Rennaisance in the medieval atmosphere. A statue of Oda Nobunaga is placed in the center of the rotary in front of the railway station. Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582) was a major daimyo during the warring states period called Sengoku period of Japanese history. He was the second son of Oda Nobuhide, a deputy military governor (shugo) of Owari province, the modern day Aichi prefecture. Nobunaga aimed at the unification of war-torn Japan in the 16th century and lived a life of continuous military conquest, eventually conquering a third of Japanese daimyo before his death. His successor, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, became the first man to conquer all of Japan. Nobunaga revolutionized military and implemented and developed modern tactics such as three-step loading of a gun, long lances, and iron war vessels. Nobunaga was thoroughly logical and reasonable because he promoted even a person of low birth to his vassal if he considered that person capable. He instituted a specialized warrior class system and appointed his retainers and subjects to positions based on ability, and not based on name, rank, or family relationship. Furthermore, Nobunaga was much advanced in the aspect of economy. He abolished ‘sekisho’ (a barrier or check-point by the officials) and initiated the ‘raku-ichi-raku-za’ (open guild and free markets) system. Finally, Nobunaga had an international perspective. He authorized the preaching of Christianity and introduced various cultures and techniques from the West. Oda Nobunaga died in 1582, committing suicide at Honnoji temple in Kyoto after being betrayed by one of his vassals, Akechi Mitsuhide.
Statue of Oda Nobunaga

The influence of the architecture of European countries is still clearly seen in various buildings of the town.
This building near Azuchi railway station has distinctive medieval European architectural flavor

1b. Azuchi castle museum
After enjoying the plaza in front of Azuchi station, we went to see Azuchi castle museum which was located adjacent to the railway station. This museum housed materials of mostly medieval Azuchi. There was an exhibit of Azuchi castle, which was reproduced to the scale of one over twenty. Besides this, there was a 1.5-meter high and 22-meter long folding screen type mural in ceramic tiles showing the trip of a group of four Japanese Christians who went as youths in 1582 on a mission to Europe. They visited Pope Gregory XIII and presented him with the painted folded screen of Azuchi castle which had been entrusted to them by Oda Nobunaga. Also, the museum had books and materials related to the period of Oda Nobunaga.
Azuchi castle museum

Exhibit of Azuchi castle

Inside view of Azuchi castle exhibit (one side)

Inside view of Azuchi castle exhibit (another side)

Mural painting depicting a village near Azuchi castle

Mural painting depicting the mission to Europe of 1582 sailing from Nagasaki

Materials related to the period of Oda Nobunaga

Some more materials related to the period of Oda Nobunaga

1c. Ruins Azuchi castle
Azuchi castle was one of the primary castles of Oda Nobunaga. It was built from 1576 to 1579, on the shores of Lake Biwa in Omi province. Nobunaga built it close to Kyoto so that he could watch over and guard the approaches to the capital, but being outside the city, his fortress would be immune to the fires and conflicts. Azuchi castle was not solely a military structure but was a lavish mansion, which was supposed to impress and intimidate his rivals not only with its defenses but with its lavish apartments and decorations, and flourishing town and religious life. The keep called tenshukaku, rather than being the center of the defense of the castle, was a seven-story building containing audience halls, private chambers, offices, and a treasury, as though it were a royal palace. It was the first Japanese castles with a tower keep. Nobunaga's boldest statement of his professed status in the world was perhaps made in the octagonal fifth floor representing heaven, and the quadrangular sixth floor representing the thoughts of Taoism and Confucianism. In addition, the facade of Azuchi castle was colorfully decorated with tigers and dragons.
There were several distinguishing unique features of Azuchi castle. Azuchi castle was a massive structure with the walls of the castle ranging from 18 to 21 feet in thickness. The castle made predominant use of stone. The walls were constructed from huge granite stones fitted carefully together without the use of mortar. The castle had a high central tower called donjon, which allowed for increased visibility for the use of guns against an opposing force.
In 1582, just after Nobunaga's death at Honnoji temple, the castle was attacked by the forces of Nobunaga’s betrayer Akechi Mitsuhide, and the castle was set aflame and razed to the ground. All that remains of the castle today are the stone base, massive deep stone walls, a lot of cornerstones, stone images of Buddha used for lining the paths, and the remaining Ninomon wooden gate. The castle ruins site is nationally designated as a special historic site.

As we started our climb up Mt. Azuchi, we could see some of the old castle stones amidst the foliage of Mt. Azuchi. These castle stones have survived for hundreds of years.
At the beginning of our climb up Mt. Azuchi

We were surprised to see that the old castle stone walls surrounding the steps at the entrance of Azuchi castle ruins were in almost perfect condition.
Entrance of Azuchi castle ruins

The ascent path of stone steps was very steep and we had to stop frequently to take rest.
Me standing on the stone steps

Hubby standing on the stone steps

One imposing factor of Azuchi castle was that the main ascent passed between the residences of Nobunaga's top generals, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Maeda Toshiie. A stone marker indicating the ruins of Toyotomi Hideyoshi's residence was present on the left side as we climbed up Mt. Azuchi.
Ruins of Toyotomi Hideyoshi's residence

As we climbed further up we saw what is known as Butsu-sokuseki or Buddha's footprints on a stone, which was a form of Indian Buddhist art. The Buddha's presence at any location was often shown indirectly in several forms including this type of footprint. This stone from Azuchi castle dated to the Muromachi period (1333-1573) and was used in one of the stone walls.
Butsu-sokuseki on a stone

It was a rather hot day with clear sky. I was very tired due to climbing the steep stone steps. I had a walking stick which I used as a support while climbing up the steps. Also, I had wrapped the cotton parka on my head for protection from heat and direct sunlight. Quite a few visitors climbing up or going down the steps were very amused to see me as I might have looked very funny!
Me holding a walking stick and covering the head with parka

After climbing more than three-fourths of the stone steps, we reached a ruin site called Ninomaru. It took us almost forty minutes to reach this site. This site is also known as Nobunaga honbyo. Some of the structures here seemed to have survived several hundreds of years. The cenotaph of Oda Nobunaga is kept behind a wooden gate-like structure. Similar cenotaphs exist at Honnoji temple of Kyoto and at Mount Koya in Wakayama.
Ninomaru ruin site

Wooden gate structure at Ninomaru ruin site

Cenotaph of Oda Nobunaga is kept behind this wooden gate

After seeing the Ninomaru ruin site, we started climbing the stone steps again. After about fifteen minutes of climbing, we reached the main tenshukaku ruin site. Only the base of the tenshu (donjon) and several foundation stones are all that is left of the greatest castle in Japanese history. The stones represent the original foundation of the castle tenshu and gave us a good idea of how the foundation stones were arranged.
Main tenshukaku ruin site

These are original foundation stones of the castle tenshu

I was happy after climbing all the way up Mt. Azuchi

There was a notice board that showed the layout of the tenshu foundation stones which are still visible today. Hubby tried to visualize the tenshu at the ruin site.
Hubby standing next to a board showing the layout of tenshu foundation stones

Hubby and I were extremely tired from climbing the steep stone steps up Mt. Azuchi. So we took rest at the top of the mountain near the tenshu ruin site. We got a superb view of Azuchi town from the top of the mountain.
Me relaxing at the top of Mt. Azuchi

Hubby relaxing at the top of Mt. Azuchi

Beautiful panoramic view of Azuchi town from the top of Mt. Azuchi

After taking rest for fifteen minutes, we started climbing down the steps. Just looking down from the top of Mt. Azuchi, we could see how menacing and steep the path of stone steps was. It took us about 25 minutes to climb down the stone steps.
Hubby posing at the starting point of our climb down the mountain

Somewhere at the middle of our climb down the stone steps

Almost reached down Mt. Azuchi

After reaching down Mt. Azuchi, we bought two ofuda (talisman) as souvenirs from a nearby shop.

Hubby and I were very happy to have visited the ruins of Azuchi castle, which is one of the most important historical sites of medieval Japan. However, we were surprised that not much publicity information is available for this important piece of Japanese history. In fact, until we reached Azuchi railway station, we were not even sure whether the ruins of Azuchi castle actually existed or not.

2. Izutsuya shop at Maibara railway station
We returned back from Azuchi to Maibara railway station at about 3.30 pm. We bought tickets and then went to the platform for the train bound for Ichinomiya city in Aichi prefecture. At the platform, hubby saw a shop called Izutsuya selling ekiben (lunch boxes), ramen, and udon. Hubby was rather hungry as we had not taken any lunch that day. So he ordered a bowl of hot udon and ate it. Izutsuya was a typical platform shop and there was no seating arrangement at the shop. It was funny to watch hubby eat a big bowl of udon and drink the broth while standing at the shop.
Bowl of steaming hot udon

Hubby about to start eating udon

Hubby slurping his udon

3. Ichinomiya city
Hubby and I reached Ichinomiya railway station at about 4.30 pm. My father-in-law was kind enough to come to the station and give us a ride by his car up to the ancestral home (jikka). After reaching home, we kept our baggage in our room and took rest for an hour or so. Soon it was time to go out for dinner at a sushi restaurant nearby. My sister-in-law and her family, who live nearby in Ichinomiya city itself, also came for the dinner. A private room for seven of us was reserved in the restaurant. While having dinner, we all chatted a lot as there was a lot of catching up to do. My two adorable nieces and I got to have some bonding time and later played together for some time. Afterwards, my older niece wanted my hubby to read to her from children’s storybooks. Hubby modified the stories so much that she got very interested and told him to read for almost an hour. My father-in-law was busy reading a story to the younger niece. Although my communication skill in Japanese language is not at all good, yet somehow I managed to chat little bit with my father-in-law’s wife as well as my sister-in-law.
My hubby, father-in-law, and his wife having dinner

Father-in-law and his wife

Father-in-law, sister-in-law, and her younger daughter

Me with my younger niece

Father-in-law reading a story to my younger niece

Hubby reading a story to my older niece

Older niece very relaxed and enjoying the story read by hubby

It was 9.30 pm by the time we left the restaurant. As soon as we reached home, we retired for the day. Next two days (May 03-04), father-in-law, his wife, and my hubby went for playing golf. They all left home very early in the morning (before dawn) and returned back at night. I had nothing much to do during those two days. So my sister-in-law and her kids came home the next day and we had a nice time. The day after that, I went out for lunch with her family. I will write about these two days in my next post.