Posts Tagged With: Shirakawago

Roadtrip To Shirakawago – Matt’s Trip To Japan

Saturday morning I woke up a little sleepy but otherwise ok after our karaoke & drinking adventures the night before. Matt and Tim however, they were a different story…poor things.

Nomihoudai’s are a bit like running marathons. The the more you do in your lifetime the better you are at pacing yourself, knowing your limits, and recovering afterwards.  When you’re new to them though, they just hurt soooooo bad afterwards and you wonder why you ever thought doing one was a good idea. I let them sleep in as long as I could before forcing them to get up, get ready, eat a little toast before we piled back in my tiny car Tim’s bags in tow.

We said our goodbyes to Tim at the Fukui train station, waved goodbye as he walked away, and then hopped back in the car. I took a chug of coffee to fuel up, turned on the tunes to get us excited (and keep Matt awake) and gave Matt a high-five! ADVENTURE TIME! Our mission: get ourselves to Shirakawago!

There’s nothing quite like roadtrips to catch up properly with people. It’s about a 2-hour drive to this tiny gem nestled in the mountains which gave us some quality time to talk things out. Matt and I chatted a lot about things that were new in our lives, future goals, reminiscing about our amazing family holiday in Maui and agreed how exciting it would be to have me back in Canada very soon! I’m really proud of him. We talked a lot about his new job. He snagged himself an incredible engineering job at an amazing company right out of university. He’s such a smart cookie, and a really hard worker, so it’s no surprise that not even 2 years later he got a huge promotion! His trip to Japan was a celebration of sorts with his time off before he starts his big new position.

IMG_5024 IMG_5010 IMG_5011 IMG_5027Matt really, really liked Shirakawago. I knew he would! We big sisters make excellent tour guides, don’t-cha-know! It was super easy to plan Matt’s trip, all I had to do was take him to places in Japan I love. We have pretty similar interests and have traveled together as a family for years, so we operate on the same wavelength.

I love Shirakawago a lot, somehow I never feel bored returning to this quaint village, tiny as it is; so it was nice to come one last time! It’s a nice place to putter, walk around and simply enjoy the atmosphere. The sun was warm…we were having fun…life was good! (For more detailed information about Shirakawago: visit my old post about my snowy winter adventure there here.)

Before we left I insisted we climb to the top of the village hill, so we could enjoy a majestic view. Lovely isn’t it?

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After that it was time to go home. I knew Matt was tired by this point of the trip (traveling non-stop for 2 weeks is tough!), and definitely feeling tuckered out after yesterday’s wild karaoke night. We cancelled our dinner plans in favour of a quiet night at home in my apartment. One of my favourite memories from the whole trip actually ended up being this night, even though all we did was make a healthy salad (aka: veggie-overload) for dinner and watch a mutual all-time-favourite movie How To Train Your Dragon. Classic!

Just goes to show you that being with the right people makes can make even what sounds like a quiet-boring night in *magical* simply because you love their company! how to train your dragon

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Categories: Life in Japan, Travel | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

I’m One Lucky Duck: 2013 in Reflection

2013 was unbelievable! Possibly even one of my best years yet, so let me just begin this post by saying I am one very, very lucky duck!

I’m stealing this idea from a good friend of mine’s blog. It may be almost February, but it just seemed like such a fabulous chance to look back at the past year and feel grateful for all the wonderful things that did happen I couldn’t resist! It was guaranteed to put a spring in my step as I prepare to put my best foot forward in 2014!

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2013 began with an amazing two-week vacation to Cambodia and Singapore. Which, for a girl who loved pretending to be Indiana Jones when she was little, was a dream come true. Also, speaking of dreams, my stomach is still dreaming of the amazing cuisine of Singapore (a.k.a. The Land of Foodies). Dearest Singapore, I’ll be back one day, to eat more of your delicious food, that is a promise! cambodia singaporeAt the end of January, right in time for Valentine’s Day, my friend Tomomi and I traveled to Kyoto to attend Salon du chocolat which is an international chocolate festival. I basically died and went to heaven because I ate some of the most delicious chocolate my stomach will ever taste, I was surrounded by the most beautiful chocolate my eyes had ever beheld and I even had the honor of meeting both Jean-Charles Rochoux and Pascal Le Gac (2 very famous luxury chocolate makers!)salon du chocolateIn February I released my inner snow queen and went on 2 fun winter adventures: a 3-day snowboarding trip to Hakuba, Nagano and a weekend getaway to the quaint & picturesque town of Shirakawago.nagano shirakawago 1 shirakawago 2

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As the snow melted, the best adventure was waiting right around the corner. My parents came to Japan, and I couldn’t have loved our time together more! We 3 musketeers spent two weeks traveling around Japan creating beautiful memories to last us a lifetime. I will forever remember our good fortune that the cherry blossoms decided to say “konnichiwa!” to my parents too by blooming an uncharacteristic, never before heard of, 2 full weeks early!!! So my parents actually got to experience the most beautiful side of Japanese spring season! It was a once in a lifetime trip!

momanddad2 momdad6 momdad7You would think life would calm down after such a whirlwind vacation, but it just never seemed to. Adventures waited every time I tried to stop and catch my breath! Life just got better and better!

A beautiful hike up Mt. Aoba with good friends…aobayama1 …I walked across burning hot coals with my bare feet in a firewalking ritual at a Fukui temple…walking on fire…and participated in a day long prefectural-wide scavenger hunt with a KarRally team dressed up as Madonna throughout the ages! (That’s me second in on the left if you can believe it!)Kar RallySoon after this, came the unfortunate and busy time when good-byes had to be said to old friends as they left Fukui to pursue their dreams, and say hello in greeting to the new ALTs who came into my town to take their place. There’s never a dull moment in my life and this was my last summer in Japan so I lived every day with a carpe diem mindset.

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Two weeks road-tripping throughout Hokkaido lived up to my 2013 New Years Resolution to be more adventurous. I had never undertaken such a large holiday initiative before and I had my hands full juggling all the necessary research, planning and budgeting all by myself. It was also a personal test of sorts, designed to push me out of my traveling comfort zone because I had never done such a long trip, alone, in a foreign country before.  I learned a lot about myself during those long scenic drives and saw many breathtaking views that made me wonder if I had somehow wandered out of Japan and into a fairytale!

Such as at the Furano Lavender Farm, with purple blossoms stretching as far as the eye could see…hokkaido1…The mysterious turquoise waters of Lake Biei…hokkaido2….the wild splendors of Shiretoko which stole my heart. Seriously everyone, you’re lucky I decided to return to civilization after this place. I was sorely tempted to become a modern day Japanese Tarzan living in the wild…hokkaido3 hokkaido5 hokkaido6Reflecting on my photos of Mt. Rausu which I summited in the heat of summer – with a messed-up knee no less! – I couldn’t help but smile and think to myself “Damn, I am pretty badass!” I’m very proud of that hike in reflection! hokkaido 7And finally I went up to the beautiful Rebun Island which no one I know has ever done before, for 4 memorable days of hiking in wild flower paradise!
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I returned home to Fukui exhausted but happy as a clam. In need of rest and relaxation I traveled with my friends to the Earth Celebration at Sado Island. There is nothing quite like good friends, good food and summer music festivals in my opinion. Our inner hippies rejoiced as we let our inhibitions go, camped on a beach, went swimming in the ocean every morning to wake-up, and lay out every night gazing wistfully up at the constellations that were clear as diamonds. The pounding taiko drums at the Kodo music festival made my blood pound along in harmony and my soul soar as traditional Japanese music echoed across the field under a starry summer sky. I felt in that moment ready to take on the world. Sado Island is my personal paradise and I simply know I’ll remember that trip until I’m old, with grey hair and many more years under my belt. sado island

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My favorite season Autumn was lovely and relaxing with plenty of hikes, include a hike up the famous Mt. Hakusan which is one of Japan’s 3 most holy mountains. Watching sunrise dawn at the summit of this mountain with a best friend on each arm, I knew that right then and there was exactly where I was supposed to be. Choosing to stay a 3rd and final year in Japan had been the right choice!hakusanIn November, I was spoiled absolutely rotten when my friends Robin, Denea and Kim came all the way from Canada to visit me! (*Insert here the appropriate and necessary squeal of joy!*) Robin has insisted that 3 years is much too long for me to be gone, and insists I return home as promptly as possible. In the meantime, much to my delight, she couldn’t resist visiting! We had so much fun and I haven’t laughed so hard in years! Especially the maiko dress-up experience, none of us are going to forget that any time soon!i08cUQWmDSC_0001

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As Christmas drew near I was blessed with the ability to pop down to Kobe to see the Kobe Luminarie, an extraordinary Christmas light display which filled me with Christmas cheer…IMG_2323…before jetting off to be reunited with my amazing family and spend our first Christmas together in 2 years! I was glowing with happiness, and radiated perpetual joy every single day I was able to bask in their love and the tropical Hawaiian sun!1522230_10100844383650401_413116668_n 1486826_10100846565128701_1229695093_n 1504063_10100846565153651_800997576_n

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Finally, let me end this post by saying that I am grateful for the opportunity in 2013 to have been living my dream. I am still stunned sometimes when I remember the fact that I am living in Japan. I live in JAPAN and that is awesome!

Living here is so much more than simply amazing, it’s one of my biggest dreams come true. Thank you to all the amazing people in my life, you mean the world to me, which is funny because quite incidentally you do happen to live all around the world!

japan living in japanAs 2014 starts my heart is full to the brim with love and I’m eagerly awaiting whatever wonderful adventures this year has hidden in store!

XOXO, Jessie

Categories: Life in Japan, Lifestyle, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Snow-overload in Shirakawago

The first step to dealing with an addiction, supposedly, is to admit to one’s self that the addiction does in fact exist.  I am taking the first step therefore, in admitting I am addicted to my kotatsu and it probably should end….

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A  kotatsu (ko-tat-su) is a small Japanese floor table with a heater on the underside and a blanket over the top). It’s a marvelous, cozy invention that helps survive the cold evenings in your apartment. Japanese houses lack insulation so despite my best attempts at using heaters I still love my kotatsu best.  Other older ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers) warned me of the dangers of the kotatsu but I was young and a little cocky and thought I had nothing to fear.  That over-confidence came back to bite me in the butt.

The problem is that once I nestle myself under all those toasty blankets at my kotatsu I don’t want to move…even to pee. Leaving the warmth of my kotatsu, to battle forces with the wicked cold air of my kitchen, can take minutes of mentally working myself up to sprint to the toilet, sprint to the kitchen to grab another mug of tea or a cookie, etc….. Thus, as a result of this addiction to my kotatsu, I’ve gotten quite plump this winter. *gulp*  If there is one thing I have learned after my most recent relationship with my kotatsu is this: never ever allow yourself to start hoarding your snacks near the kotatsu….they will disappear faster than cookies in a kindergarten! Uh-oh!

My life every night can pretty much follow the plot of this little story:

If Jessie sits at her kotatsu she’s going to want a cup of tea, and if you give Jessie a cup of tea she’s going to want a cookie, and if you give Jessie a cookie…

It was a bad habit and it needed to be kicked, fast!  About 2 weeks ago I vowed that it was imperative for my sanity and my waistline that I stay as far away from my kotatsu as I could for one weekend in order to lessen what felt like a gravitational pull into a black hole of doom.

Enter superhero Lizzy, best friend and superb travel-planner! She suggested, and coordinated, a trip to the very cute town of Shirakawago and I couldn’t agree fast enough! Shirakawago (she-rah-kawa-goh) is a small remote village in the mountains between the prefectures of Gifu and Toyama.  It is a UNESCO world heritage site which is most famous for the traditional thatch-style farmhouses.  Some of these houses are more than 250 years old!

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Firstly, let me just say that these pictures do not do the village justice, the houses are beyond adorable! I was very happy we had followed our co-workers’ recommendations to go in winter because it was magical.  It felt like we had been transported to the North Pole and were walking around a Christmas town.

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Walking around the snowy village you could catch glimpses of the traditional houses as they played peek-a-boo with you through the trees. It was like nothing I’ve ever experienced!

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The name of this style of house in Japanese is “Gassho-zukuri” (Gah-shou zoo-curry) which when translated into English means “constructed like hands in prayer”.  This is because the farmhouses’ steep thatched roofs resemble the hands of Buddhist monks when pressed together in prayer. Isn’t that just so sweet?  The downside to receiving so much snow is that in the winter months now many owners of the gassho-zukuri houses have taken to “helping” their homes by getting up on the thatch and shoveling snow off. It was terrifying to watch!

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A man shoveling snow off the roof. Terrifying to watch!

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Snow-loving Lizzy

I traveled to Shirawakawago with my friends Lizzy and Zoya.  Both Zoya and myself hail from snowy countries so we weren’t as astonished by the towering height of the snow in Shirakawago.  Lizzy however, was absolutely ecstatic over how much snow there was! She made me laugh with her desire to fall backward into the snow.  We ever got into a minature snowball fight. たのしい!!!! For someone who never grew up with winter she had wicked aim with those snowballs.  I was tempted to ambush her with an unsuspecting snowball often throughout the rest of the trip, however, I had learned my lesson and didn’t quite dare.

We travelled to Ogimachi by bus from Kanzawa, it’s the the largest village and main attraction of this style house. If you visit Shirawakawago in the winter I would 100% recommend taking a bus, the roads can be terrible with all the snow.  It is far safer and far more relaxing to take the bus.  Tickets were 1,600yen one way to the village from Kanazawa.

Also, if you have time to spare I would also highly recommend staying the night in Shirakawago at one of the numerous Minshuku.  Minshuku (me-n-shoe-ku) are Japanese style bed and breakfasts, which are usually family operated. They offer visitors a good opportunity to meet a a local family and experience the traditional Japanese lifestyle. (For a full list of Minshuku in Shirakawago click here!)

We decided to stay at a lovely little minshuku called Nodaniya.  It was a traditional style Japanese room, with sliding doors, tatami floors, a kotatsu (OH-NO! haha epic plan to avoid one ruined!) and futons to sleep on.  My favourite part of staying at a minshuku is the food!!!!! OM NOM NOM NOM! If you stay at Nodaniya they will serve you a delicious set meal dinner full of local specialities and a lovely Japanese-style breakfast in the morning.

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Dinner of local Shirakawago specialties. My favourite part was the hida beef (top left corner) which is very famous in Japan. Melt-in-your-mouth delicious! I will admit to being a little scared to eat the fish, but I figured it out in the end, and it was tasty too!

After dinner we decided to hit the onsen for a relaxing bath. For 700yen you can enter the onsen at the lovely Shirakawa-go no Yu minshuku. It’s about a 5-10 minute walk from Nodaniya and absolute bliss after a chilly day. After the onsen it was time to crawl into our futons and slip away to sweet dreams.

We awoke early the next morning, breakfast was at 7:30am sharp. Easy to do surprisingly when everyone in the room is a teacher used to getting up at 6:30am to get to school on time. Breakfast was fantastic! Another lovely Japanese tray heaped with small portions of various Japanese foods. I ate everything except the egg. Most memorable was when the owner of the minshuku served something I had never tried before and just about died with happiness eating. The name of my Japanese breakfast kryptonite: Hoba Miso.

Hoba Miso

Hoba Miso

This Hoba Miso is a regional specialty and is traditionally served as follows: a nice big spoonful with shallots, and perhaps a few mushrooms, on a large ho tree leaf (a type of magnolia) which is then rested over a charcoal brazier to heat until aromatic.  It’s eaten at breakfast time with rice.  It was the best miso I have ever tried, hands down! My stomach is growing just looking at that picture. If you visit Shirakawago you MUST try this!

After an incredibly tasty breakfast, Zoya, Lizzy and I decided to brave the blizzard that had descended upon the tiny village.  Everything was covered in about a fresh foot of snow and freeze-your-nose-off cold. The upside of all the snow: double the magic! The fresh snow made the village look even more beautiful, something I didn’t think possible.

IMG_2137Something super interesting to do when you go is to tour the inside of one of the thatch houses. We chose to tour the inside of the the Wada family’s home, this family was one of the wealthiest families and village leaders of Ogimachi. Their former home is the largest gassho-zukuri farmhouse in the town, and is now open to the public as a museum.

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We still had quite a bit of time to kill after we finished touring and souvenir buying (I picked up some Hoba Miso for mom and dad to try when they visit! Hope they like it!). Our feet were frozen by this point and so, when Zoya mentioned a really cute cafe she had visited last time we made a beeline there.  Sipping on a piping-hot, cinnamon-dusted cafe latte (oooh such a good idea) gave my mood an immediate boost.  We chatted and read our kindles until 2:00 rolled around and it was time to return home.  
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We also discovered, while talking with a few locals, that Shirakawago has a very fun-sounding sake festival in October.  Only 300yen for all you can drink sake, hello trouble! Lizzy and I both agreed that coming back sounded exciting. Shirakawago, it’s safe to say you haven’t seen the last of this Canadian. She’ll be back soon to enjoy your cozy atmosphere again in no time!

Categories: Travel | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

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