Category: Japan


Mt. Tsurumi Ropeway


Located on the border of Beppu and Yufu in Oita Prefecture is this volcano towering over the hot spring town of Yufuin. Initially, we planned on hiking Mt. Yufu, but thankfully, our guide had the nerve to discourage us from doing the Mt. Yufu trek. Instead, we chose to ride the aerial lift line towards Mt. Tsurumi.

Beppu Ropeway is just a hop and a skip from the Beppu Onsen Resort (Umi Jigoku Springs) where we had our foot bath. All around, we glimpsed steam vents. And up on the cable car, we were awed by the autumn foliage rolling under the lift as the car climbed up Mt. Tsurumi. The hike offers 2 options — one either starts the trek from the lower ropeway station, or ride all the way up and then walk the last few meters to reach the summit. We were an assortment of travel buddies whose sense of adventure spans a wide range. 😊 And so we opted to climb easy, or so I thought 🙄

The youngest member of our hiking party ran up the steps while the rest gingerly climbed one step at a time. I was gasping for air and broke my climb with frequent oxygen breaks. The summit may not be that high at 1,375 meters but my lungs don’t know that. Huffing, we made it and we lingered for many posterity shots. The panoramic view at the summit takes (a few more) breaths away, even as temps dipped to 0 Celsius. Brrrrrr……We were only too happy to take the same cable car down to the station and then enjoy our foot bath in the steamy, hot springs of Beppu. That, plus an onsen adventure before bedtime and our day’s complete!

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Dazaifu Tenman-gu Shrine in Autumn


This is a Shinto Shrine in Dazaifu in Fukuoka Prefecture. The shrine honors Michizane, deified as Tenjin, a gifted scholar who drew the ire of the aristocrats. Among them aristocrats is the Fujiwara clan who sent him into exile in the southern island of Kyushu. He died young at 57 and the story goes that when his dead body was carried by an ox, the beast stopped, knelt on an area that is now his burial site and shrine.

All around the shrine complex, there are brass statues of the ox, touched by many presumably for good luck.

Our guide mentioned that the shrine attracts the young crowd, mostly students, who pray there for blessings before an examination. Perhaps because Michizane/Tenjin was a scholar, those who pray to him appeal for scholarly or academic achievements. We were also lucky to find this cute child all dressed up for shichi-go-san, a rite of passage for little girls aged 3,5 and 7, and 3 and 5 for little boys. I remember seeing many “dolled-up” children in other temples in my earlier visits (in Nara and in Kyoto). Another rite is at age 20, deemed one’s passage into adulthood.

The water was muddy but it didn’t take away the charm off the vermilion-colored arched bridge. The fall colors are evident everywhere, as if bidding adieu before the winter season sets in. I did like the landscape of autumn hues blending in subtly with the greens, making for a dreamy background to the pond and other structures. Not autumn in full bloom, no fierce explosion of colors. More serene, more relaxing. More nostalgic, if you like.

There were also monks lining up a pedestrian path. (Thanks, Angel, for this photo) Unlike their orange-robed cousins in other Asian neighboring states, these monks looked more formal. They also accepted cash rather than food, which I think is more practical. And barefooted NOT too. If you ask me, their get-up from head to toe is a winner. Even the bowl (for alms) and basket look classy!

On the way in and out of the Shrine, the path is hemmed in by quaint little shops as well as restaurants. We had lunch in one. We were also amused by a more traditionally-themed Starbucks coffee shop, side by side with Japanese traditional stalls selling umegae mochi, the local specialty dumpling, along with matcha, kimono, ice cream, snacks, etc.

If you are based in Fukuoka, and only have time for one temple or shrine, go to Dazaifu. You need not be Japanese nor practice Shintoism to appreciate this place. And while there, rub that brass ox statue for good luck. You’d never know when you need it. 😊

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The setting for the Puccini Opera “Madame Butterfly” is a house on a hill overlooking Nagasaki Harbor. Could this be the Glover House that inspired this Puccini masterpiece? This oldest Western-style wooden building in Japan was built in 1863, just some 25 years before Madame Butterfly was written in 1898. The Scottish merchant who owned and lived in this house likewise married a Japanese. Not a geisha though, as in the story, nor was the Japanese wife abandoned by Mr. Thomas Blake Glover. Rumor is rife that Glover and his Japanese wife adopted a son whose bio-mom was THE ex-geisha. And that’s where the story begins. Or ends.

Glover is credited for his significant contributions to Japan’s modernization particularly in the areas of shipbuilding, coal mining and other businesses. He lived with his Japanese wife in this famous, charming house. Today, the Garden is really an open-air museum cum park. The koi pond is on a promontory overlooking the harbor and many of the Western-style mansions have a clear, sharp view of the Nagasaki Bay especially from the second-floor balcony of the former Mitsubishi Dock House. Within this same park or garden, there is a lifesize statue of a kimono-clad Japanese lady with one hand on the shoulder of a young boy and the other hand seemingly pointing to something. For sure, this statue evokes memories of the Puccini opera.

Being a weekend, the park was teeming with visitors. Perhaps some were Sunday mass-goers from the nearby Oura church touted as the oldest wooden Gothic-style church in Japan. We didn’t have a chance to get inside this Church at the foot of Glover Garden that was dedicated to the 26 martyrs executed in nearby Nizhisaka Hill. Not among the 26 martyrs is San Lorenzo Ruiz, the first Filipino saint. San Lorenzo was with subsequent batches of martyrs. We couldn’t even take a decent shot of this church because of the scaffolding but Sunday worshippers must enjoy spending time in the park up on a hill. Don’t fret over the climb. There is a long-ish escalator to bring up park visitors.

There is a coffee and ice cream shop within Glover Garden. As soon as we spotted it, we “lost” our group. Just had to stop for that cone of Cremia goodness and milkiness. By the time we slurped the last spoonful of ice cream, we found our group. Or rather they found us! All’s well. 🍁🍂🍁

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The “hells” of Beppu offer a unique experience. Its hot springs generate so much steam you can cook just about anything. Clams, scallops, fish, shrimps, octopus, pork, eggs, sausages, corn, sweet potatoes, cabbage. First you buy your stuff to cook in the store. The man in the open kitchen made sure we saw our bought stuff laid out in the steaming pots and baskets, and advised us to claim our tables and wait 15 minutes. As he dropped the pots, hot steam jetted out ferociously and blurred my eyeglasses. I’d never make it as a cook. Not even as steamer!

Hell’s Kitchen. Very eco-friendly. But we all wished the man fished out our lunch sooner than 15 minutes. The octopus meat wasn’t so tender anymore. And the shrimps were overcooked. Rather, oversteamed. But we enjoyed our pork slices with steamed cabbage, which tasted rather sweet. Even sweeter were the corn and sweet (say that again?) potatoes. The fish was ok, so with the sausages. But the clams and scallops were rubbery. Again, oversteamed!

Well, we still managed to enjoy our lunch. Can’t resist this unique onsen cooking here in Beppu. You’d find steam vents all over the place. We were lucky to beat the lunch crowd as we came early. Heard it can be crowded. The food is just average but one must think of this as an experience rather than as an honest-to-goodness dining.

If visiting Beppu, don’t skip this experience. But be sure to tell the “steamer-chef” to steam your seafood stuff for only 7-10 minutes. I think that should do it. And yes, don’t miss the sweet corn and potatoes. Then, sit back, relax and have a beer while waiting for lunch.

Happy steaming, Happy eating!

(PS. Thanks, Iyay for letting me use your photo)

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The War ended, but at the expense of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Just 3 days apart, 2 atomic bombs were dropped on these 2 cities on August 6 and 9, 1945, sealing Japan’s unconditional surrender. In my year-earlier trip, I visited Hiroshima but very briefly stayed and moved on to Miyajima Island, just a few more minutes train and ferry ride away. Too depressing to visit Hiroshima, I thought. Yet here I am in Nagasaki, wallowing in the same depressing vibes as the bombed-out Hiroshima. The Peace Park, Ground Zero and the Museum are more than enough reminders of the city’s devastation and the people’s undeserved suffering.

The explosion unleashed a destructive force which resulted in 60,000 to 80,000 deaths. That is not counting the many consequences of the radiation exposure on the health of Nagasaki survivors. Yet more than these physical ailments resulting from the blast and radiation exposure, how about the mental anguish of Japanese survivors? Imagine a father burying his 3 children and wife after the bomb dropped. Or living through hell with missing limbs, suffering from leukaemia. How to stay sane after finding yourself alone, having lost the rest of your family? What agony!

The open spaces in the Peace Park and Ground Zero help ease the depressing thoughts. The Museum is another matter though. Film clips of the blast, tattered remains of clothing last used by atomic bomb victims, other reminders of this human-inflicted catastrophe are on display in the Museum. Not so easy to dismiss, especially after reading some haiku, essays and recorded interviews of those who came home to bury their dead. The anguish, the agony, the insanity of feeling guilt after having survived while many loved ones were lost. Just how do you even begin to share your depressing stories?

The Japanese in power during the War learned a hard lesson. Emperor Hirohito’s historic address to his Japanese subjects may have brought the humiliation of defeat, the unthinkable pain and suffering of losing dignity, BUT IT ENDED THE WAR. It also ended Japan’s imperialism and paved the way for its rebirth. All that after too many innocent lives were lost.

Today, the Museum and Park are grim reminders of the War. There are many, many war stories to tell — on victories, on defeat, but worst, on sufferings endured. May mankind’s cruelty never ever happen again. 🙏🏻

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THE AUTUMN MIST IN KINRIN-KO


“Ko” in Japanese means lake. So Kinrin-ko is really Lake Kinrin. But then again, it isn’t really a lake. More like a pond that wells up from a hot spring. So you’d find steam making out like a mist hovering over its very clear water, teeming with big golden, orange or vermilion-colored fish of the carp variety. These, along with the resident ducks and birds combine to lend calm to this place in the onsen area of Yufu.

I suspect Kinrin-ko looks most charming in autumn, but I can’t be certain. For sure, the morning fog of winter is breathtaking. And the spring blooms should likewise be beautiful. At the moment, we are enjoying the fall colors which are an attraction by themselves. Red, yellow, orange, green and brown – a symphony of colors.

After rounding up Lake Kinrin, we checked out the nearby, very commercial Floral Village which is NO flower garden or park, but simply a shopping alley catering to tourists. I couldn’t wait to get out of this tourist trap. Found a coffee, ice cream and crepe shop right outside and promptly claimed a comfortable chair there to while away the time while sipping my brew. How I wish I was doing this by the lake! That would have been nice. I would have practiced the Japanese “boketto” here — the art of staring mindlessly. Instead, I “lost” myself in the frenzy of dodging samurai-dressed vendors, sampling the wide variety of Japanese snack foods, and fiddling with my newly-bought umbrella which I used for a good total of no more than 15 minutes of soft rain.

On our way here from Beppu, I spotted a JR Yufuin Station. The walk — my guess is less than half hour — from the Station to the lake looks interesting as the road is littered with many shops and food stalls. Though I’ve been to lovelier lakes and ponds, Lake Kinrin is without a doubt, the top attraction here in Yufuin. Along with Beppu, Yufuin is a popular hot spring resort town in Oita Prefecture. I’d say the onsen experience here pairs well with a stroll around the lake. Just skip the Floral Village nearby. Frankly, I don’t understand why this shopping alley carries a European-inspired theme. I’d be quite happy with a very rural Japanese setting. At any rate, Kinrin-ko makes up for that faux pa.

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Beppu is a resort city in the Oita Prefecture. Found in the southern island of Kyushu, Japan, it boasts of as many as 4,000 onsens or hot springs set between the volcanic mountains and the lovely Beppu Bay. You know you are in Beppu as soon as you see those steam vents all over the city. Quite amazing and rather unreal to find in a city.

We arrived autumn time. The (hot) springs area in Umi Jigoku was teeming with steam vents looking even more surreal because of the autumn foliage. Unfortunately, we came on a long weekend. This Thanksgiving weekend sent throngs of locals out of their urban abodes heading for the luxury of sand baths, mud baths, foot baths, onsen, hot spring baths to be found in Beppu.

We couldn’t wait for 2 hours for the sand baths. Besides, it’s freezing cold (as low as ZERO degree in Mt. Tsurumi Summit at 1,375 meters high) and we weren’t confident we’d enjoy lying down “buried” under the hot sands for only 15 minutes, then up and go. Too much trouble. Instead, we opted for the foot baths. Still too hot for our legs and feet, but t’was fun doing this with the group before a hefty kaiseki in our hotel’s restaurant. A lonnnnng dinner, with the ubiquitous Japanese cooking utensils and dishes spread out on our long table. The plating typically teases, but the taste never ever disappoints!

We were filled to the brim with all the sumptuous food. The miso soup had an unusual, savory taste. The pickles you’d care to eat with your rice. The thin meat slices paired well with the broth with morsels of fish balls, shrimps, etc. The saba (costing ¥5,000 per mackerel) was so fresh. The tempura batter sweetish and crisp. Even the matcha gelatine-like dessert tasted sooo good.

That last photo above was sourced from our hotel’s site.

So, no worries. We didn’t snap photos inside the hotel’s onsen. Did we try it? Naturally. Beppu boasts of the best onsen experience. And so, we ended our long day on a “hot” note.

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