Thursday 22 October 2015

Mariko-juku - Shizuoka Part 2

This is part 2 of a post about a recent trip to Shizuoka city.  You can read part 1 here.

I woke up the next morning with a slightly fuzzy head and, after meeting an equally fuzzy Tetsuya, we went off and had the best hangover cure that Shizuoka had to offer......ramen!  Now my brain was yet to begin functioning so I forgot to take a photo (damn that beer.....or was it the shochu......or the whiskey......damn whatever it was!).  The place we did go to, however, was called Ichiran, a popular and good tonkotsu (pork bone) ramen chain.  It did the job, and pretty soon I was functioning.

We went back to visit the friendly ladies in the Tourist information office in front of Shizuoka station who pointed us in the right direction of the bus that we needed.  Today we were off to check out Mariko-juku and the nearby Utsunoya.  Both Mariko and Utsunoya were both old towns along the old Tokaido Highway.  

The Tokaido is one of the original 5 great highways that were built in Japan in the early 1600's.  They were built by the Great Shogun Ieyasu Tokugawa in order to increase his control over the country.  These highways connected Tokyo (or Edo as it was then know as) to other outlying areas.  The most important of them was the Tokaido as it linked Tokyo with Kyoto.

Now you might remember in July I went to Nagano to walk along the old Nakasendo Highway between Tsumago and Magome (you can find that post here).  That attempt ended in failure, unfortunately.  I had heard that there was a section of the original Tokaido in Utsunoya and my aim was to track it down.  Mariko was one of the old post towns (the 20th of 53 post stations) along the Tokaido that served as a rest stop for travellers providing food, accommodation and stables.

We got onto the correct bus and a matter of 20 minutes we arrived at our stop.

Straight off the bus we were treated to a beautiful garden.  I just can't get enough of Japanese gardens.  So beautiful and tranquil.

On our map we had seen something about a local ice cream "farm" in the area, and with both of us impartial to a little ice cream, we set off in that direction.  Pretty soon we came across a community centre so we went in to have a look.

There were various stalls selling a variety of different crafts

and coffee!

Now this guy was serious about his coffee.  He even had a timer to make sure he filtered the coffee over a specific time period!  It showed though, as the coffee certainly hit the spot!

We wandered inside where we found some people doing pottery.

Now, whenever I visit a place and walk into a pottery or ceramics shop, I rarely walk out without buying a beer cup and this was no exception.  These beer cups are great.  Put them in your fridge or freezer and when drunk out of, they keep your beer nice and chilled!

Leaving the community centre and continuing on our search for ice cream I was amazed by the rustic beauty of Mariko.  Old world buildings combined with lush green vegetation and water bubbling and gurgling along the side of the road made for such a peaceful vibe.

But the ice cream I hear you say.  Well, we found the ice cream shop

But, as this little girl was telling us.....

it was closed.

Just as we were about to leave Mariko and head off in the direction of Utsunoya we walked past an older gentleman who was pruning his hedges.  He said something to us in Japanese which neither of us understood.  Suddenly, and surprisingly, he switched over to very good English and asked us if we were enjoying our day and our walk.  We had a chat with him, and just as we were about to leave he asked us if we had ever seen inside a traditional Japanese house and then proceeded to invite us into his house!  Now this is what I love about Japan.  The friendliness, hospitality and the beautiful innocence that still exists in parts here.  Here we were, 2 strangers, who could be anyone or anything, and this lovely man was inviting us into his home as if we were family.  Beautiful! Not wanting to impose, we said that we had to continue walking as we wanted to get to Utsunoya before it became dark.  He mentioned that it was about a 4 - 5km walk and agreed that we should keep walking.

I'm going to finish this part here.  Thank you for reading part 2 of this series.  Part 3 will follow soon.  Please leave a comment below if you enjoyed reading and see you next time!

Wednesday 14 October 2015

Shimizu S-Pulse and Shizuoka Oden (Aoba Oden Yokocho) - Shizuoka Part 1

A couple of weeks ago, I went on my third short trip in as many months.  I enjoy going to watch the Australian athletes who play professional sports here in Japan.  There is one guy, Mitch Dening who plays for the Yakult Swallows baseball team and I have been to watch him and the Swallows play on many occasions.  Shizuoka is home to the Shimizu S-Pulse J League football (or soccer, but for the remainder of the article I will refer to it as football) team and there is one Australian playing on that team, Mitchell Duke.  I had decided a couple of months before the trip that I would go down and watch a game.  I decided to make a trip of it and stayed there for a couple of nights.  I told quite a few Japanese people I know that I was going there and pretty much all of them said "Why??"  Well, I was about to find out that there are some pretty special places to see in Shizuoka!

My travelling companion on this trip was to be another good friend, Tetsuya.  Now Tetsuya had never been to a professional football game so he was keen to do that.  As with the trip to Utsunomiya we upgraded our tickets to the green car.  Now both Tetsuya and I are pretty big guys (although Tetsuya is a lot more muscle than I am!) and we were grateful for the extra space the seats offered!

We arrived in Shizuoka city just under an hour after leaving Tokyo, barely enough time to nap, and went straight to our hotel.  We had decided to stay at the Shizuoka Town Hotel, barely 10 minutes walk from the station.  The rooms were tiny, maybe the smallest hotel room I've stayed in in Japan at 12 square metres, but, again, we were not here to stay in the hotel room so it suited us just fine, and for just over 5,000 yen per night, I sure wasn't complaining.

We checked in and left our bags at the hotel (the rooms weren't available until 4pm and the game started at 3pm) and made our way back to the station.  After one false start where we got on the wrong bus (and were left with a 20 minute walk back to the station......) we got on the right bus and were off toward the stadium.  I recommend checking with the tourist information office just outside the station.  They will gladly and kindly tell you which bus you need to be on to get where you need to go.  We arrived at the station and it was already starting to fill.  

The only seats available were at the quiet end of the stadium, well away from the Ultra supporters and their non-stop, pumped up chanting.  I honestly don't know where they find the energy to keep it up all game long!

The first action on the field was the cheerleaders.  Honestly, if the sport you follow doesn't have cheerleaders, you need to petition the people who control the sport because they make sport just that little bit better!

As you can see, the Ultras are obviously influenced by Liverpool and their hardcore supporters!

The game started and before too long, Shimizu were down 3-0!!

And the Aussie had been substituted within 30 minutes!!  I was hoping it was purely a tactical substitution!  We left with a couple of minutes remaining in the game and with Shimizu losing 5-1.......  We beat the crowd to the bus and made our way back to the hotel.  By this stage, our rooms were ready and our bags had been taken to our rooms.  Now we might have been paying only just over 5,000 yen per night, but here in Japan, that doesn't mean that you lose out on the customer service!  No, it is still wonderfully there.  That's one of the tings I love about Japan.

After a quick nap we decided to head out for dinner.  Before coming to Shizuoka I had found out that Shizuoka is famous for oden (assorted meat, fish cakes and vegetables cooked in a broth) and there was a small alley that consisted of only oden restaurants, 20 of them in fact!  The street is called Aoba Yokocho and we had stumbled across it earlier in the day so we went back to find a place for dinner.  

Now, when faced with 20 restaurants all crammed into the same small place, all of whom specialise in the same cuisine, how do you choose which one to go into?  I can't answer that.....we just chose one and walked in!  Our choice for the night was Ofumi.

The owner of the restaurant was a lovely, crazy (in a totally good way) 80 plus year old lady that worked the restaurant and her crowd with the energy of someone 60 years her junior.  She knew about 10 words of English but had no hesitation using them!  She went around and helped herself to a drink from each person's bottle ("your drink and my drink!" she would say).  

It was an hour and a half of absolute entertainment and we left there very satisfied!  (Although I do think we were charged "tourist prices".  Now this rarely happens in Japan, but I'm pretty sure it did here at this place.  Maybe it was just an "entertainment" charge!!)

We went back to the hotel and went to bed.  I was looking forward to the next day, there were some adventures waiting to be had!

Thanks for reading part 1 of this trip.  Please leave a comment below if you enjoyed it.  I will start work on part 2 (there should be 3 parts to this series) soon.  Bye!

Tuesday 6 October 2015

Nikko: Shoyoen garden - Utsunomiya and Nikko Part 3

This is part 3 of a trip to Utsunomiya and Nikko.  You can find part 1 here and part 2 here.  We woke up the next morning after our monkey adventure and made a quick decision to go to Nikko.  Nikko is one of my favourite places near Tokyo (this was the 5th time I have been).  I went to Nikko at Autumn time 2 years ago when the leaves are beautiful reds, oranges and yellows.  You can read about those Nikko posts here and here.

We got to Nikko (about a 40 minute train ride from Utsunomiya) and made our way to the World Heritage Shrines and Temples area.  Being that it was a weekend day, the crowds were crazy but we managed to find a nice quiet area away from the crowds to enjoy some nature and monuments to the Tokugawa shogunate.  I didn't take any photos of those as I had already done so in my previous posts about Nikko.  We then went over to a beautiful Japanese garden (that I had taken photos of at night when the Autumn leaves were present and had posted about in the above links) on the grounds of Rinnoji Temple called Shoyoen.  The garden was made early in the Edo period and is approximately 400 years old.  This post is primarily going to be a pictorial post as I think the photos will describe the garden much better than my words.  Please enjoy.

A nice pond full of carp.

A lovely old tea house.

Simply stunning...

And moss, everywhere moss!

And baby mushrooms.

It was getting later in the afternoon so we decided to head back toward the station.  Passing by the always beautiful Shinkyo, or Sacred Bridge.  Realising our bellies were rumbling, we stopped for a huge bowl of ramen on our way back.

So huge, none of us could finish our bowls!

We got back to Nikko station and wearily made our way back to Tokyo, enjoying the Green car ride again, for that extra comfort and rest!

Well, that finishes this series on Nikko.  I always enjoy Nikko, as I said, one of my favourite places and highly recommended for a 1 or 2 night trip, or even for a day trip from Tokyo.  Please leave a comment below, and if you have any questions, feel free to ask.  Until next time, Bye.