Nabano no Sato Illuminated Gardens Nagoya

The Nabano no Sato illuminated gardens are a ‘must visit’ when in Nagano so I figured we needed to go visit. Given it was all happening after hours, it wasn’t too hard to set aside the evening to go out and see them. The gardens are actually attached to an enormous plant nursery and they have been lighting up paths and expanding on the attraction for years. At 2500JPY per person for the entrance fee, it’s not so cheap to just wander around and look at the lights, but it weirdly includes 1000JPY per person in vouchers that you can spend inside the park…

… and there are multiple restaurants (and even a loosely German style beer hall) and gift shops contained in the park where you can spend your vouchers. It’s almost like ‘here, buy a ticket and we will give you a modest free meal with it). The park consists of acres of displays, comprised of millions of twinkly lights… or fairy lights as we tend to call them in Australia. Having read up on the place before coming out here, we arrived just before sunset and had a bite to eat- from what I’ve read and now from what I’ve seen, if you go wander through the park first if you want something to eat a bit later, you’ll be lining up for ages to get seated in any of the park’s restaurants. The place was BUSY – and the 5400 space car park was no where near full.

I had a seafood dorai dish that was like a mornay, but at the same time tasted nothing like a mornay. 🙂 Mr K ordered a park katsu curry that was served in a huge cube of bread with a miso curry and egg. The curry was really tasty… miso curry is a popular thing in the Nagano region.I also ordered some saké – because well, every time I look at a menu and there are no diet soft drink options, I think ‘I’ve gonna have the sugar, I may as well have the alcohol!’. This is the FIRST time ever that I have been served hot saké in Japan. Honestly, all the brewery and saké shops, and restaurants we have been to – the saké is, by default, chilled. With this one exception. Which got me wondering why… I actually asked for some ice to cool it down and see what it tasted like, as while it was hot all I could pick out was the heavy tone of ‘this is alcohol’… and yeah, it was not sweet, not dry, not citrusy, not floral, it was just kinda bland. So I can see why they heated it up. Through the large park is an enormous stream of hot onsen water lined with beautiful Japanese maple trees. There was a public onsen for bathing if that took your fancy, as well as further in a very popular onsen foot bath which had crowds of people using it. The stream made for some glorious opportunities for reflection photographs. But it was very hard to capture the beauty of the scene… Though I repeatedly tried to! So many photos of the same subject. 🙂 There was also an enormous lake which led up to what looked like a Christian church – an yes, you can have weddings out here, or just come out and having wedding photos taken in the park. It’s popular all year round for the autumn leaves and also for the cherry blossoms and massive begonia fields. Attempt 53 at trying to captures the reflections of the autumn leaves in the lake…

A little better…

Then there was the huge 300m long tunnel of twinkle lights which seemed to be selfie haven for visitors…It was actually really pretty which got me wondering why the hell do people like twinkle/fairy lights so much? What bower-bird like instinct is driving this?

According to WebMD – the ultimate source of reliable medical and psychological information on the entire internet (lol) – string lights or twinkle lights can make us feel more connected to one another, boosting one’s mood and make us feel more hopeful.

The reason they seem to make people feel happier has to do with the release of dopamine apparently – and is fairly heavily connected to memories of colourful holiday lights making us feel good as children. There’s actually a type of colour therapy called chromotherapy where people with anxiety and depression are encouraged to spend time in spaces with coloured or decorative lights to pump up the dopamine.So we’re not all just a bunch of nutters flocking to a Nagoya plant nursery for no reason – we’re psychologically drawn to them. 😉 #sciencebitches

At the end of the big long selfie tunnel was an enormous field with pathways meandering towards three huge pyramids. Why pyramids you might ask? Well, I know I was wondering and nothing I saw gave an answer.

Probably something mundane, like large temporary structures are more stable when they are triangular or something. 😉

I kept wondering though (because I’m ever the pragmatist and quite the glass half empty kinda gal) how crap this must look in the daylight if my neighbour’s yards are anything to go by when they have their Christmas lights up!Ahhhh… a tunnel of love hearts.In front of which you can get a professional photograph with your sweetie. Another tunnel – this time made to look like draping wisteria.But the most adorable was for last – the long flower tunnel leading back around to the lake… there were two little boys running around with us in tiny little Santa suits. Their Mum chasing them with a large camera trying to get a Christmas photo of her little darlings. They were so excited and happy and much to excited to sit together for more than a fraction of a second for poor Mum to take their photo. They were so cute!

Waiting for the lights to change making the tunnel look like it was made up of different flowers! Magical. 😛Obligatory selfie…

And then it was time to make our way out of the park. It was well worth a visit, even if it is quite the most Japanese-twee touristy thing we have done this entire trip… much better than a Robot Restaurant imo. 😉

Tokugawa Art Museum and Garden

“The Tokugawa Art Museum houses over 10,000 artifacts, with the bequests of Ieyasu Tokugawa comprising the core, and holds daimyō family treasures collected and inherited by many generations of the Lords of Owari, starting with Ieyasu’s ninth son, Yoshinao Tokugawa. The collection includes 9 National Treasures, including the Tale of Genji Illustrated Scrolls, and 59 items designated as Important Cultural Properties. The museum takes great pride in the rich variety, quality and level of preservation of its collection.

Or so reads the description of the facility on the museum’s website – however, it is one of those curated collections that 1) won’t let visitors take any photographs, and 2) has very few descriptions of objects in languages other than Japanese. Which makes for a very superficial and sad visit over all.

Honestly, I don’t mind the no photos thing – especially of delicate objects such as 800 year old scrolls or ancient paintings, but please, please, please, sell us a guide book at the end if we can’t photograph any detail. And for the life of me – why can’t we photograph things that notably all have ‘reproduction’ on the plaque beside them? :/

Two sets of armour that greet visitors at the front door… reproductions.
Traditional feudal map of the Nagoya area… could not ascertain from the description when it was created or by whom.Ooh, pretty garden visible from one of the internal passage ways between exhibition halls.

So instead – here are some images ripped off the internet of things we saw:

“This room recreates the study (shoin) and preparation area (kusari no ma, literally “chain room”) of the Ninomaru Goten, Nagoya Castle. It shows the tea utensils, hanging scrolls, and calligraphy implements that were handled there. In the case of the Owari Tokugawa, the shoin was an official space for governance. The exhibition space thus replicates its various formal, magnificent displays such as the board-style alcove (oshiita), the staggered shelf (chigaidana), and the desk (shoindoko), all of which testified to the status and authority of the Owari Tokugawa. With this history, the museum holds one of the leading Japanese collections of Chinese-style lacquerware, inks, and incense.”

Below: The Hatsune (First Warbler) Troussseau

“Princess Chiyo (1637-1699), the eldest daughter of the 3rd Tokugawa shogun Iemitsu, received this bridal trousseau in 1639, when she married Mitsumoto, the 2nd lord of the Owari clan. The motif on the matching ensemble comes from a poem in “The First Warbler,” chapter 23 of The Tale of Genji, which reads: “The old one’s gaze rests long on the seedling pine, waiting to hear the song of the first warbler, in a village where it does not sing.” The poetic design is elegantly embedded in the lacquered furnishings with scattered letters and pictorial motifs. Designated a National Treasure, the Hatsune Trousseau represents the finest example of the decorative lacquer technique of maki-e (sprinkled metal decoration) in Japan as well as the power of the Tokugawa shogunate.”

There you go – some actual information cadged straight from the museum’s website… sigh.

Hina Dolls: The Hina Dolls were special ordered for the daughters of the Owari Tokugawa family.

Sword mounting for a Tachi long sword – Edo period, late 19thC.

The black armour picture in the back of this image was an authentic extant suit from the Tokugawa family collection… can’t remember exactly what period because, no photos of information plaques. 

A Daimyo’s tea room – this thatched building is a reconstruction of the Sarumen Tea House from the Ninomaru residence in Nagoya Castle. Tea ceremony was an integral part of the social and cultural life of the Edo samurai, and their teahouses constituted a measure of their social standing. This room is a recreation of the Sarumen Tea Room at Ninomaru Goten, Nagoya Castle. It was a national treasure, but was destroyed by fire during WWII.

“The National Treasure Illustrated Scroll of The Tale of Genji (early 12th century), the oldest surviving pictorial representation of The Tale of Genji.” Below are presumably images of the originals from the museum’s website – what we were able to view in the museum were recent replicas to protect the delicate originals from light.

All up, the Tokugawa Art Museum seems to house some very interesting objects… somewhere? But most of them don’t seem to be on display, just replicas. The lack of ability to take pictures of the replicas and the lack of guidebooks at the gift shop were disappointing.

The Tokugawa-en Garden on the other hand is an oasis of serenity in the middle of the busy city of Nagoya City. The garden is a genuine of traditional Japanese garden design. It was created as a leisure and entertaining space for the demanding generals of the past. It is expansive, beautifully maintained and exquisitely designed. There are plant and flower species arranged to make each season uniquely enjoyable all year round. It was quiet even though there were quite a few visitors.

Multiple beds of irises that must look amazing in the spring.

Chasing Autumn in Gifu

Today we had a short drive from Takayama to Nagoya via Gero which was going to take us through the Gifu prefectures. I was hoping for a chance to spot some of Japan’s famed autumn colours and it turns out we were in luck. Children crossing warning signs here are slightly more fun than at home: “Be careful; jumping out!!”

Ujo Park in Gero…

I thought this would be the highlight of the autumn colours today.

One of the things I have noticed here on Japan’s roadways is the total lack of ‘lookout’ points. In Australia there are spaces on highways and roads to pull over and see nice scenery all over the place – they are quite often marked on maps as scenic or photo-worthy stops. Here, there is rarely anything like that, even though the scenery is quite often spectacular.

This was us, and several others, all stopped in a long and somewhat precarious row on a stretch of highway that followed this gorge… it really needs a handful of places where people can stop and take in the view of the beautiful trees, the still river and the mountain as. The autumn colours were simply stunning against the deep blue/green of this lake/river.

The sun is shining, the birds are singing… how’s the serenity*?*if we ignore the fact that I’m standing on the side of a highway and cars are flying past us at breakneck speed.

Just beautiful…

Made it safely to Nagoya without any navigation mishaps. Checked into our hotel, did some prep for work stuff, and went for a quick grill/sushi dinner that turned out to be quite the most ordinary meal we have had since we got here.

On the way back after dinner we stopped in briefly at ‘Liquor Mountain’… I sent these pics to the Whisky Wankers group at home. Just to taunt everyone with the selection and the prices – omg the prices! Australians really are getting reamed on island tax, and WET tax. :/

Hidatei Hanaougi Onsen

Okay, So I have travelled to over 70 different countries and stayed in more hotels, inns, hostels, ryokans, cabins, and resorts, than I could ever attempt to count… so when I say this is without a doubt my FAVOURITE HOTEL in the entire world, I have a lot of different accomodations in my past that I am comparing it to.
When I was making arrangements for this trip back in April, I had originally intended to stay a couple of nights in a more Western style hotel closer to the old part of Takayama where the transport issues are – until I saw a Japanese video posted by someone who had stayed at this ryokan. It just looked amazing and I have been looking forward to it for six months. The entrance to the hotel is fairly unassuming – perfectly manicured gardens are ‘de rigeur’ here and seem quite common everywhere. But just on the other side of those shrubberies is a world all of its own… a large koi pond featuring equally large koi. A cute little walkway over the pond which leads to and onsen foot bath (fresh hot mineral waters piped into a knee deep bath where you can remove your socks and shoes and soak your weary feets). An outdoor lounging area that wasn’t seeing much use given it was max temps of 10-11C while we were here and lows of 4C and 2C overnight.We were welcomed by a lovely young lady named Kyaka, who checked us in, brought us some drinks, hot towels and showed us through the quiet and dimly lit hallway to our room.The decor was very traditional, except for the slightly elevated futon beds. In the room waiting for us was some snacks, and green tea and an explanation of where to find things in the room – yukata and jinbei (Japanese style pyjamas) to wear, a bunch of amenities for us, and an opportunity to specify what time we would like to have dinner and breakfast etc. The bathroom was neat and all panelled in fresh cypress – it smelled amazing!

And had a traditional Japanese shower space and a large and deep cypress tub inside.But the best bit… omg! So excited – was the stonking huge granite onsen bath in our own private garden. <3 I couldn’t wait for Kyaka to finish her introduction so we could have a shower, scrub up and then slide into this amazingly beautiful bath in this cute little garden space. The bath was a steady 40-41C and was just bliss. The water at this particular onsen comes from 1200 feet below ground and is particularly high in minerals which make the water so soft it feels kinda slippery… it was so steamy as the ambient temperature was only about 8C or so.In what is now become quite our usual habit, we shared some saké acquired on our way to the ryokan and had a good soak. Love it!

After some work and another soak in the bath, it was time for dinner. Our dinners were served in a private dining room on the second floor of the hotel – and Kyaka was looking after us for dinner also.The ryokan has some lovely open spaces that guests can use if they wish, but we hardly saw anyone – in fact with the private onsen in our little garden, and having a meal in a private dining room, we could swear for most of our visit that there was hardly anyone else staying at the inn. The only give away was the shoes all lined up in the morning as people were getting ready to check out or go to town for the day. There are no shoes worn on the tatami mats here, only tabi socks. Even the staff are silently walking up and down the hallways in socks.Dinner was a multiple course kaiseki meal – starters consisted of:
– mustard paste inside a slice of lotus root
– minced fish and chicken with poppy seeds
– cooked shrim in ginger
– mackerel sushi with vinegar
– boiled quail egg boiled in persimmon juice
– grilled eggplant and yam cake topped with sesame sauce
– pickled and marinated koi

Oishi! So delicious. Matsutake mushroom soup with shrimp, pike and eel.Sashimi – roasted Hida beef with plum flavoured onion sauce. Sashimi – amberjack and mackerel.Local saké. Steam turnip with mushrooms and lily root, stuffed with ginkgo nut.Hida beef steak with vegetables.Grilled freshwater sweetfish stuffed with roe.Whipped pumpkin topped with abalone.Local steamed rice, miso soup with mushrooms, tofu and pickles.Sweet potato cake and seasonal fruits… I love the little maples leaves they are decorating our meals with seeing as it is autumn. You just know someone in the kitchen is tasked with finding the prettiest leaves for the job.After such an amazing meal, we let our dinner settle and then it was back into the onsen again… I could really get used to this. You can just feel the tension draining away from all your muscles, and even though the air temperature was quite cold, the water was so inviting that you barely noticed it.

I slept like a log! Possibly due to the very busy week we’ve had? Possibly due to the quietness of our little garden with the water trickling in the background? Possibly due to the nice firm futon mattress? Or (more likely) due to an elegant sufficiency of saké!

Woke early and opened up the paper screens to see this beautiful setting – and well, had plenty of time for another soak before breakfast, so why not?Breakfast was another lavish affair of itty bitty dishes filled with very tasty things!The menu was rather more casual for breakfast, which was excellent. 🙂

Oh wouldn’t you know it – the onsen beckoned once more before we had to head to town for the day.When we returned from doing transport stuff in the city, I had an opportunity to pop into the ladies public onsen in the hotel. Not all rooms here have a private bath like we have booked and there is a men’s and ladies onsen baths that swap over day to day so you can try the different bathing spaces. There were dressing tables for about six people, all full of amenities – soaps, lotions, shampoos, conditioners etc. A space for dressing and changing and to store your clothing while you bathed.A post-onsen relaxation space where you could have complimentary cold beverages and even try out a massage chair.And, as the onsen was unoccupied I was able to take a photograph of the baths here. The Japanese are very ritualistic about their baths – which I love, but one of their customs is that tattooed peoples re not allowed in public onsens. Some ryokan will make exceptions for their Western guests (as we are highly unlikely to be connected to local organised crime gangs) but others are very strict and ask you to cover your ink. I have no idea what the policy is here – I didn’t ask… but it was the primarily motivator for booking a room with a private bath. That and bathing with strange people who you don’t share a common language with gets pretty boring pretty fast. So we didn’t make use of the public onsen and made use of our private garden bath again! I’m so enamoured of this little garden oasis – I took so many photos. Oh more saké before dinner? Don’t mind if I do!Prior to arriving I had requested the special Hida beef kaiseki meal on our second night. It was at a small additional cost, but given Gifu is so famous for their Hida beef, we felt it would be worth it. Kyaka kept referring to it as the ‘Too Much Beef Dinner’, which we thought was cute.

The appetisers tonight were:
– small salmon sushi
– shrimp grilled with poppy seed
– apricot jelly
– Mozuku seaweed
– stewed conger eel with soy-sauce jelly
– stewed broad bean
– deep fried chestnut with fish paste

A rare selfie taken in our private dining room… the ‘glow’ is the saké, of course. 😛

Sashimi: sweet shrimp, tuna, yellowtail.
Grilled Hida beef sushi.

Conger pike dumpling.Hida beef steak

Hida smoked beef (on Sakura cherry wood) with plum flavoured onion… there was a wisp of smoked trapped under the glass bell, and it was so beautiful presented and tasty!

Hida beef shabu-shabu

Local rice, filefish soup.

Dessert of purple yam on a sakura pudding and yuzu sorbet.

The meals here are quite the experience – trying new things, sampling new tastes, preparing each mouthful to get a complimentary combination of flavours. It was quite late before we felt up to getting back into the onsen. I’m going to miss this!

For a late night snack, we had some Takayama Pudding-tei that we bought back from town with us… no word of a lie, this is creme brûlée in a jar.

Next morning, we had opted for western breakfast which consisted of ‘Way Too Much Food’! Toast, an egg to scramble on the little stove, a salad, some muesli, seasonal fruits, and not pictured – English breakfast tea. All lovingly presented and wonderfully fresh.
As a parting gift, Kyaka gave us some chopsticks as an unexpected gift. A very thoughtful touch.

So, yeah. My this is now my favourite hotel EVER! I have stayed at the Waldorf-Astoria with a view down Fifth Avenue in New York. I have stayed at the Hotel Fortuna in Rome, with a view over the Trevi Fountain. I have stayed at the Four Seasons in Sydney, with a glorious view over Sydney Harbour. I have stayed at the Grand Hotel in Prague, with an uninterrupted view of the astronomical clock. I have stayed at Samphire on Rottnest Island with the quokkas. I have stayed at an Adnaan Resort in the Maldives… so yeah, when I say that of all the hotels/inns/resorts that I have stayed at, this place is now my favourite hotel ever, I’m not kidding. It was absolutely amazing… and I look forward to coming back again some day.


Once we finished some work stuff – we got a chance to check out the cute little town of Takayama… and oh my goodness! Takayama is definitely, where I parked my car!

We started on the riverside where the morning markets are held most days from 7am (8am in winter I believe), and wandered past lots of craft stalls and touristy shops. Takayama’s Old Town district isn’t very big so a few hours is a goodly amount of time to spend wandering the streets here – unless you get side tracked.There were chop stick shops, LOADS of sweets, biscuits and lollies for sale, puddings, beef stores, fans, glassware, ceramics, and cutesy as hell Japanese kitch. Cute little glass chopstick rests… I nearly bought a set to bring home but while the chopsticks I bought home from Kanazawa back in 2015 are probably the most used and useful souvenir I have ever bought from anywhere, we tend not to set the table too fancy when we are having Japanese at home. So they probably wouldn’t end up getting used much.

A cool lantern made out of random black and red chopsticks. I guess this is the sort of thing you can do when you are buying in bulk and not paying retail! These fans remind me of the hundreds of fan shops all over Kyoto… Takayama is sometimes called ‘Little Kyoto’, as its old town district is relatively well kept. Takayama is also really well known for its Hida beef… this is a Hida beef bun – the type you usually get full of pork. Mr K felt that he just *had* to get one and it I stole a bite, it was really tasty.

This guy is a Japanese yew carving (I’m assuming that is ‘yew’, as in “IS that a yew tree? Do those trees grow like that? Dad, go stand next to Chreeis!” said in th most grating clueless loud American accent you can muster). At the end of the Edo period, an artist name Matsuda Sukenaga created original netsuke carvings using the beautiful grain of the Hida area’s characteristic Japanese yew timber – without adding any colour. They are said to be the beginnings of the art of Japanese yew carving, or a craft known as ‘ichii itto-bori’, which is a nationally recognised traditional craft of the Hida area. This guy actually represents Daikoku who is one of the Seven Gods of Fortune. This god is said to be a fusion of the mythological creator of Japan, known as Okuninushi no Mikoto, and an Indian God…. weird combo.

Across the road from this auspicious looking character is a wee little Hida beef-onna-stick shop – which Mr K also just *had* to try.
This is his, ‘I’m not working for ten minutes together, and there is beer and beef!’, face.

Then came the saké breweries and shops – which may or may not be the reason that Takayama was one of our stop overs to begin with!Why hello? This is where I parked my car!

This is a pretty typical Japanese cross-over : the red pointy legged mascot is called Sarubobbo, which means, ‘baby-monkey’ and he is usually depicted without a face… but here is a Hello Kitty Sarubobo.

Sarubobo dolls were traditionally made by others for their daughters as a charm for a happy marriage and for a smooth delivery of children.Anyway… what was Hello Kitty doing in the middle of my saké adventure, anyway? I think we accidentally wandered into saké heaven… there are so many breweries here that there are walking tours and special maps showing you which brewery is where.

I’m crying like a Sarubobo baby-monkey … so much saké and I’m only allowed to bring a limited amount home!

Okay, so that was just one Takayama saké store – it isn’t even one of their brewery store fronts! >.> This may take longer than we anticipated… Oita Sake Brewery Kamisannomachi *(I think… by the time you get to the end of this you’ll see where the confusion is creeping in!)This place was directly across the street from the Takayama Cafe…e

Funasaka Saké Brewery…This place was great – you pay 450JPY for a little cup and you can fill it 12 times from 12 different bottles in their range that are kept in a big fridge you can access.

We found ourselves a warm little space near this hearth and happened to meet a couple who live in France – Jeremy was originally from the UK and was a ski instructor for many years, Juliana is from Brazil and they had a delightful 1 year old named Charlie who was an absolute legend letting his mum try some saké without complaint. 🙂
As it turns out Jeremy and Juliana are into buying hotels and renovating them in France so they have quite a lot of knowledge and experience in French real estate… happy thought indeed.

Hamada Saké Brewery is stumbling distance across the street… and they have a different tasting system.

First, all the award winning saké and a very small, negligible, attempt at saké education…

Then you buy a 100JPY cup from a dispensary machine (it’s all very hands off as far as the staff are concerned). Then you go to a machine and put in 500 JPY for 6 saké tokens or 1000 JPY for 13 saké tokens. Once you have your tokens you just put them in the machine of choice and a shot of saké will be dispensed. The numbers on the machine correspond with bottles on the shelves and off you go! There is a description above each saké which is the sum total extent of trying to offer you any useful information on each drink! Matsuzaka Saké… So many people lining up for the token machine!It was so easy to just hook into this… $10 later and you’re really quite toasted.Quaffable stuff and well worth a stop!Ummm.. Kawashiri Brewery I think? :/ It was about this point that we decided we should get back to our accom as we had more work to do and I was rapidly ending up in a state where I wasn’t going to useful at all!
We are definitely going to have to come back to Takayama at some point – would be great to come with someone who has better Japanese skills than either of us have.

Gorgeous little town with heaps to see. And we didn’t even touch on their weird retro museums and other offerings.