Sponsor : JNTO
Four days after I got back from Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in Tokyo, I was on the plane again heading back to Japan, this time to Chubu. A sponsorship by JNTO (Japan National Tourism Organization).
Deer outside the gate at the compound of Todai-ji.
Todai-ji was built during the Nara period of between 710-794AD and is now listed as a national treasure of Japan. It was early autumn and the weather was just perfect – clear blue skies with cool breeze. The temple grounds were really busy as there were a lot of elementary and junior high school students on their school trips. We did not stay long as the places on today’s itinerary are far apart from each other.
Japanese high school girls
I was really excited bout the next stop, which was the Iga-ryu Ninja House in Iga City. I’ve always wanted to visit this place and finally I could tick this off my bucket list.
Ninjas are actually spies and assassins during the feudal period when many civil wars ware taking place. The name ‘ninja’ is derived from the martial art called Ninjitsu. Ninjitsu focuses not on the force of arms, but rather on their technique of stealth, intellectual solutions to combat, and the use of psychology and parapsychology to manipulate the enemy’s perception. And no, ninjas don’t just disappear like what the movies portray. They are very skillful in manipulating your perception, utilizing distractions and stealth. Ninjitsu has always been thought to have originated from Japan but historical facts proved otherwise. It can be traced as far back as 4000BC and this brand of spirituality was exported from India via China, then Korea, eventually reaching Japan, as early as the 6th century. Since then it has then been refined and developed into the military discipline that is known today. Throughout the history of Japan, there were many ninjitsu schools being developed but only two are considered the best in this field, the Iga-Ryu from Iga city in Mie prefecture and Koga-Ryu from Shiga prefecture.
This particular ninja residence was moved here in 1964 from it’s original location in the Takayama area of Euno city. Iga is considered the birthplace of the Iga-Ryu Ninjitsu and is home to the finest collection of ninja artifacts in the world. This village has four sections; Ninja Residence, House of Ninja’s Art, House of Ninja Tradition and the Ninja demonstration zone.
After a brief introduction, I was guided to the House of Ninja Art. This is where they house all the tools and weapons used by the Ninjas. There were approximately 400 items here, including authentic shuriken. Shuriken are the throwing stars and knifes of the Ninjas. This exhibit also details the methods used to enter and exit castles without being detected.
The House of Ninja Tradition exhibits the art of ninjitsu, techniques, the science behind them and some explanation from ancient documents.
The Ninja house looks like an ordinary farm house on the outside, but in fact, it is riddled with traps, revolving walls, trick doors, underground passages, secret compartments, and rooms equipped with hidden weapons in case of a surprise attack. It’s amazing how creative they were in their designs and engineering.
A guide demonstrating how a hidden steps are opened to allow access to a secret observation deck. Can you spot a ninja?
Secret wooden floor compartment where ninja katana are hidden.
Photos from the Ninjitsu demonstration :
Demonstrating how a ninja’s katana can be used as an aid for climbing up a wall.
Demonstration on how ninjas use their katana and scabbard to aid them in navigating a moonless night.
A ninja master demonstrating the use of shuriken.
Shuriken on it’s target.
That’s me posing with the ninjas.
Entrance fee :
Adult : JPY 700
Children : JPY 400
Website : iganinja.jp
Our last stop for the day is the SCMAGLEV and Railway Park in Nagoya. Japan is well-known for it’s advanced railway network and technology. This park is a railway museum where you get to see a huge collection of railway rolling stock as well as train driving simulator, learning and experience room, superconducting Maglev (Superconducting Magnetically Levitated Vehicle) room, railway systems learning zone and even Shinkansen train driving simulator. They have a collection of trains dating as far back as 1921 to the latest Series 700 Shinkansen prototype.
Class 995 Series 300X (left) and the latest prototype series that is still under development and testing (right).
C62 old school locomotive
E5 series (left most)
200 series (left). In service from 1982 – 2013.
“0” series (right most). In service from 1964 – 2008.
The “0” series from the 1964.
Inside the “0” series.
The dining area
The dining table
The menu. Shinkansen after the “0” series are not equipped with dining facilities anymore as the train speed is too fast so there is not enough time for the food to be prepared, served and for passengers to finish it before arriving at their destination.
This is Doctor Yellow.
Doctor Yellow is the nick name given to the specialty train used on passenger railway track for inspections. It is specially equipped with equipment for testing and monitoring the track and the overhead wires.
From left to right : 700 series, 200 series, 300 series, 0 series
Website : museum.jr-central.co.jp/en/
For more information on shinkansen (Japanese bullet train) you can read about them HERE.
When you are in Nagoya, you definitely must try their famous tebasaki (Japanese style deep fried chicken). And here we are, dinner at one of the famous tebasaki restaurant called Torikai Sohonten.
Red bean dessert
Torikai Sohonten is the name of the restaurant
Huge pachinko center
After an early breakfast, we took off from the hotel and drove up north for about 4 hours to a small castle town called Gujo-Hachiman. We will be participating in a Japanese food replica workshop. Every time I dine at Japanese restaurants, I always wonder how they actually made those food replicas which look so realistic. Today I’m going to find out and experience making them.
A cool custom bike
Harley Davidson Softtail Cruiser
And this is the rider
Met this bike during the rest stop on the highway
A view of the city from the highway
We arrived at a 150 years old Japanese “machiya” style building and one interesting feature at the shopfront was a signboard that’s literally a huge log chopped into half, the smooth flat side bearing the name Sample Kobo in kanji, which was written in Japanese calligraphy. Sample Kobo opened its first shop here in 1991 and have been the main supplier of replica food in Japan.
With the company’s president Kaneyama-san at the front of the shop.
The surroundings looked really clean and neat. Gujo-Hachiman is a small town with vast greenery and amazing fresh autumn breeze. My uncovered bald head tells me the temperature was about 16 degree Celcius. Gujo-Hachiman is a town well-known for it’s crystal clear water and for it’s traditional Gujo-Odori dance festival, which started more than 400 years ago.
Fresh water flowing down from the mountain range
I stepped into the shop, escorted by Kurosawa-san who is always in his neat suit, while his assistant Yoza-san explained briefly about the shop. The company president Kaneyama-san welcomed us with big smiles as he looked at me going nuts at the sample food, especially the huge replica crabs.
Kaneyama-san showing us some of their products.
The one on my head cost JPY 86,400 (US$ 850) while the one on my hand cost JPY 54,000 (US$ 530)
I would love to have this but it’s too expensive to buy.
Oh and I want the big one too!!!
After the introduction, he gave me an apron to put on as the instructor was waiting for us. I was provided base items such as wax prawn, pumpkin and broccoli. Those base items are pre-fabricated in their factory at the back of the shop. The interesting part is how they make the tempura skin. “It is very simple really, it is all just wax. I am going to teach you how to make replica tempura,” explained the kawaii sensei. All you need is melted wax with the exact coloring and room temperature water.
“You basically pour the wax into a sink filled with room temperature water, and while the wax is still soft, you place the prawn onto the floating wax, wrap it around the prawn gently and bath it with the water. And it’s done! Now you try it!” said the sensei.
With my kawaii food replica sensei
Pouring the colored wax into room temperature water
As the wax hit the room temperature water it starts to solidify but not completely harden
You places the shrimp onto the wax tempura skin
Then you use your hand to shape the tempura skin around the shrimp
And it is done!
So here goes! Making my first replica tempura!
Making my replica shrimp tempura
Next, she showed me how to make lettuce.
Myself (andykho.com) with Eleng Wong (The China Press), sensei and Yee Long (Guang Ming Daily)
After the workshop, Kaneyama-san gave us a tour around part of the factory.
Even the texture of the meat feels realistic.
The even have replica rice grain.
Freshly colored replica Japanese sausages
This macha ice cream looks so real!
Pix of some of the products in the shop :
Met some Japanese tourist
Here’s a video on how to make shrimp tempura.
So if you are interested to take part in the replica food making classes, here are some of their entry level/fun classes. Reservation is highly recommended for all workshops. There are no age restrictions but preschool children need to be accompanied by adults.
Sweet and tarts. 20 minutes. JPY 900 for 1 piece.
Tempura making. 3 tempura piece and 1 lettuce leaf. 30-50 minutes. JPY 1200
Ice cream in cup. 20 minutes. JPY 900 for 1 piece.
Website : www.samplekobo.com
Next, I traveled an hour north to Bokka No Sato Flower Garden and Farm. This place is located about 1000 meters up in the high plateau and is rich with flowers and farm animals. It is a nice place for families as children can play with farm animals as well as ride horses. Different species of flowers bloom throughout the year. In May, tulips are in abundance in the fields while lavenders cover the hills in July. In autumn, the fields are filled with “Cosmos”, the autumn sakura. We enjoyed a BBQ lunch. They are well known for their hida beef BBQ as well as mix BBQ, homemade gujyo pudding, as well as pumpkin ice-cream. These are available year-round.
Homemade gujyo pudding.
Pumpkin and vanilla ice cream.
It’s nearing Halloween so it’s pumpkin harvest
I didn’t get to explore this farm much as we were short on time. After lunch, they took me on a quick tour on the cruise train so I only managed to shoot through the window of the train. My next destination takes another hour’s drive north to one of the world heritage site called Shirakawa Village in the Gifu prefecture. As the sun sets about 5pm during autumn, I need to get there before I loose the light.
I arrived in Shirakawa village late in the afternoon. The village is surrounded by mountains to the west so that left me only about an hour of clean light before it is covered in shadows. My first stop was the village’s observatory at Shiroyama Tenshukaku Tenbodai. From here, I could get the bird’s eye view of the whole village. Shirakawa is a small traditional village nestled in the mountain in Ono district in Gifu prefecture with a population of about 1734 and a total area of 365.55km square. Declared a world heritage site by the UNESCO in the 1990s, some of the houses here are as old as 250 years.
Bird’s eye view of 114 gassho style houses.
After getting my shots, I requested the driver to take us down to the village where I can get closer shots of the gassho style houses. “Gassho means hands in prayer,” said my guide who actually lives in this village.
The steep roof of the house resembles two hands folded together like in prayer. This unique steep roof design has an angle of 60 degree to allow thick layer of snow to easily slide off during winter. During winter, the snow can be as thick as 4 meters.
Most of the gassho houses are multilayered. The farmers place the silkworm in the attic so the heat from the lower floor where they live rise up, keeping the attic temperature suitable for silk warm cultivation. This means they could continue to cultivate silkworm even in winter. Among all the houses, the Wada house is the largest remaining gassho house in Shirakawa and was built during the late Edo period of 1800AD. The Wada family was the wealthiest family and the village leader of Ogimachi. Today, it is open to the public as a heritage museum.
Large wooden columns supporting the roof of the house.
Inside the Wada house.
Fire fighting exercise
The back of Wada house
The roof of the gassho house is made of straw. When it’s time to change the straw on the roof, the whole village will come together and help out with the straw replacement work. It’s knows as the “Yui” communal system and has been a tradition for generations in this village.
After sunset we drove another 2 hours or so to our hotel in Toyama Prefecture called Hotel Mori No Kaze Tateyama. Mori No Kaze Tateyama is a very nice onsen hotel located by the foot hill of the mountain next to a stream.
And finally I’ve checked into my room.
All these to myself.
A suite with dining room separated from the sleeping area.
All dressed up for dinner.
This is what I’m having tonight.
A table for 4.
This is my set.
Seafood soup on paper bowl. It’s amazing the paper doesn’t burn up over the fire.
It was a really delicious and filling dinner. I’m going to need all the rest I could get tonight as tomorrow morning I will be exploring the Tateyama Kurobe Alphine Route. As shown in the photo above.
To be continued……