Friday, January 31, 2014

Visiting Gujo and Hachiman castle

After visiting Otaki cave, we visited Gujo town. 

Gujo is a small town located in Gifu prefecture and the town is best known for its GUJO ODORI MATSURI, which is a dance festival. The festival dates back to the 16th century and the festival is spread over 31 nights during the summer. The festival begins in mid July and ends in early September. During the O-bon festival in August, on 4 nights between August 13th to 16th, the dancing continues through the night. 

A stage is erected and musicians play live folk music from the stage and dancers dance around the stage. There is no distinction between performers and the cast and anyone can participate in this free dancing event. The Gujo Odori comprises of 10 kinds of dances.Apart from the dancing, an "Ohayashi"  narrates musical story telling and is accompanied by a soloist and musicians playing the traditional musical instruments -Taiko, Shamisen and Shakuhachi.  

The festival attracts lots of visitors from all over Japan and has been designated an Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property. 

Gujo Town also has a small mountain castle, GUJO HACHIMAN CASTLE, located atop the Hachiman Mountain overlooking the town. 
The castle was built in the 16th century but the current castle was constructed in 1933 and is larger than the original structure was.

Exhibits from the past including armour and weapons are on display inside the castle. The view of the surrounding area from the castle is scenic. 
Gujo town is also the leading producer of food replicas in Japan. Most restaurants and food joints in Japan have realistic replicas of the food on display so that customers can have a fair idea of what to order. Most of these replicas are made in Gujo Town. 2 of the major producers Sample Village Iwasaki and Sample Kobo have their workshop cum shops in the centre of town and visitors can try their hand at making these replicas or buying miniature souvenirs. 
Fridge magnets resembling sushi, icecreams, ramen are all popular buys. Sample Village Iwasaki is close to the Gujo station whereas Sample Kobo is close to the Tourist Information centre in the town centre.
Gujo Town also has an impressive method of maintaining clean waterways to ensure townspeople have access to pure and clean water. 
The pristine waterways are used to clean laundry, wash vegetables and rice and also dishes and at the same time, have clean pristine water flowing at all time. 
The townspeople work in cooperation to maintain clean canals and as such the waterways are clean. People from surrounding areas come her to relax along the waterways in the hot summer and also for fishing. The fact that three rivers the Yoshida, the Nagara and the Kodara meet in the Gujo Hachiman valley and ensure that water supply to the town's canals is continuous. 
There are walking trails past these canals and waterways, where visitors can get a feel of what the town is so proud of ! 
One of the canals is even full of Carps and it is a delight to walk past. The town manhole cover seems to be inspired by this. 

The drive from Nagoya to Gujo Hachiman is picturesque and makes for a pleasant drive. 

Otaki caves

Before moving to Nagoya, we had not explored much of Chubu, the central region of Japan comprising the 10 prefectures of Aichi, Gifu, Mie,Nagano, Shizuoka, Ishikawa Toyama, Fukui, Yamanashi and Niigata. The region lies between Kanto (to the west) and Kansai (to the east). The region is further divided into 3 sub regions- Tokai, Hokuriku and Koshinetsu. Spreading over a wide part of Japan's main Honshu island, the Chubu region has a lot of natural scenic beauty and attracts a lot of visitors. This region also has a lot of history and culture which are unique to the region and can be an enriching experience for the tourist.

Gifu prefecture which neighbours Aichi prefecture where Nagoya is located is one such prefecture which has a lot for the tourist to explore. Since the Edo period, Gifu had occupied a place of prime importance since it connected Western Japan to Eastern Japan through the Nakanosendo route. Moreover, Gifu prefecture was considered the centre of sword making in Japan and the best swords were supposed to be produced in the prefecture's Seki town. 

Gifu prefecture is known for the UNESCO World Heritage site of Shirakawa-go and the old preserved town of Takayama, the scenic Kiso valley and also for the unique cormorant fishing tradition among many other things. We began exploring Gifu prefecture with a day trip to Gujo.

Before visiting Gujo town, we decided to visit the Otaki cave which is a short distance away from Gujo town. The cave is known locally as Otaki Shunyudo.

Otaki cave is one of the largest limestone caves in the Tokai region and was formed over millions of years. The caves are about 2kms long of which only 700 meters is open to the public. A walking trail inside the cave takes visitors past waterfalls and stalactites. 
At 30 mtrs tall, the underground waterfall known as Otaki, after which the cave takes its name is the tallest underground waterfalls in Japan. 
It takes about 30 minutes at most to explore the cave.
Some unusual formations of stalactites have been given names which mean Decorated Cake and Leaning Tower of Pisa. 

Even in summer the temperature inside the cave is cool and refreshing. The caves have an all year round temperature of 14 deg C. 

The caves are uphill and a 'railway' carries visitors to the entrance of the cave. Visitors have to walk downhill after exploring the cave. Public transportation is available only up to Gujo town. Private vehicles or taxis are the only mode of transportation up to the cave.

The caves are a nice place to visit but do not match up to the experience of visiting the Abukuma cave and Irimizu cave in Fukushima Prefecture.

Address: Akuda 2298, Hachiman cho, Gujo, Gifu Prefecture

Phone: 0575-67-1331. 

Admission: 1000 yen (Adults) 800 yen (Junior High and High School students)
                   500 yen (Elementary school and above). 

Open: 8:30 to 17:00 

Closed : December 26th to January 31st. 

Parking: Available 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Beckoned by the cat : A Visit to Tokoname

One of the many things that have contributed to the development of Nagoya over the centuries is pottery. Ever since the establishment of Nagoya as the seat of the Owari clan of the Tokugawa shogunate, the area around it started developing and the presence of pottery towns in the surrounding towns of Tokoname, Seto and Tajimi contributed to this. 
In fact, two of the "Six Old Kins", the original kilns with improvised glazing technology, are in Tokoname and Seto. 

Tokoname is a city near Nagoya which is best known for 3 things : The Chubu Centrair International Airport( Nagoya airport), the American store Costco and the local Pottery. 

We visited Tokoname's pottery town on a Saturday in summer. Tokoname has been associated with production of ceramic ware since the Heian period and over the centuries the town flourished due to its high quality products. Remains of the ceramics from Tokoname have been excavated in various parts of Japan right from the northern Tohoku region to Kyushu in the south which proves its popularity. The ceramic ware of Tokoname is known as "Tokoname-yaki". Even today ceramic ware is the mainstay of the town's economy. 

The symbol of the town is the giant "Maneki Neko" , the beckoning cat. 
The Maneki neko measuring 3.8 meters is called Tokonyan and can be reached through one of the walking trails of the Pottery Foothpath
Visitors can walk along the Course A (1.6 kms) and Course B (4kms) past the many pottery workshops, brick kilns and little stores selling pottery which also introduce visitors to the town's history

Clay Pipe Hill  is a little hill , the sides of which are supported by Clay pipes from the Meiji period and Clay Shochu pots from the Showa period.

Baking stands have been embedded in the ground.

The Takita Family Home belonged to the Takita Family which ran a Shipping Dealer business from the Edo period to the Meiji period. It has been restored and designated Tangible Cultural Property.

The  Climbing Kiln Square  is one of the many sights that one passes by on the walking course. 

Many old kilns can be seen around the area. 

On the Course B  visitors pass by the INAX Ceramic Museums and Workshop and the Tokoname Folk Museum.

The Tokoname Post office has this cute ceramic sculpture of the mailman.  

The Tokoname Maneki Neko street is where these cute cat sculptures made by the locals adorn the wall. 

Even the Play area has a pottery theme.

Some cute sculptures that we passed by on our walk. 

Address : Aichi Prefecture 479-0839, Tokoname, Koie-hommachi 5-168-2
                (Tokoname Tourist Information Centre)

Phone: 0569-89-6561

Nagoya : Nagoya Station

Nagoya station or "Mei-eki" as it is locally known is Nagoya's one stop Railway station, shopping destination and business centre. The station ranks among the world's largest in terms of floor area. The station is also the 6th most busiest railway station in Japan.

Nagoya station first opened up on May 1st 1886 but construction of the current JR Central Towers was completed in end of December 1999. 
The JR Central Twin Towers rising high above the Nagoya station comprises of a 245 meter high 55 storey high Office Tower building and a 59 storey Hotel building and is one of Nagoya's landmark skyscrapers. The JR Towers are the headquarters of the Central Japan Railway Company (JR Central). 

The Office Tower houses a Takashimaya Departmental Store, Tower Plaza Shopping Mall and the JR Nagoya Station on the lower floors, while the upper floors are occupied by various offices. The Golden clock outside the Takashimaya departmental store is a popular meeting spot at the JR station. Similarly a Silver Clock outside the Shinkansen entrance is another popular meeting spot. 
The 55th floor of the Office Tower used to be a Observation Deck but that has been converted into a Panorama Salon comprising a Cafe, a Wine Lounge and a Beauty Salon and Health Spa, all of which offer great views of the city. 
The Hotel Tower houses a Marriott Hotel and the top floor has a restaurant and lounge which offer breathtaking views of Nagoya city. 

Following railway lines run through the JR Nagoya Station :
1. Tokaido Shinkansen (for Shin Yokohama, Tokyo, Shin Osaka and Kyoto)
2. Tokaido Main Line (for Gifu, Okazaki, Toyohashi, Hamamatsu, Maibara, Kariya, Obu and         Gamagori)
3. Chuo Main Line (for Kozoji, Nakatsugawa and Tajimi)
4. Takayama Main Line (Limited express trains running for Gero and Takayama in Gifu 
5. Kansai Main Line (For Yokkaichi, Tsu and Kameyama)
6. Aonami Line (for Kinjo Futo) 
7. Nagoya City Subway Higashiyama Line (oldest subway line connecting Fujigaoka and 
8. Nagoya City Subway Sakuradori Line  

Adjacent to the JR Nagoya station is the Meitetsu Department store. In the basement of this building is the Meitetsu Nagoya Station,the terminal of the Meitetsu Nagoya Railway.  Meitetsu line connects Nagoya to the Chubu Centrair International airport in nearby Tokoname city.
The Kintetsu Nagoya Station which is the terminal of the Kintetsu Nagoya Line.

A JR Express Bus Terminal is located just outside the JR Central Towers on the Shinkansen gate side. 
This  23 meter high metal structure stands in front of the JR Central Towers.

Nagoya's tallest building the 247 metre tall Midland Square is also located close to the JR Central Towers. 

This building was completed in 2007 and is officially known as Toyota-Mainichi Building. This building is also Japan's 5th tallest building and also houses a number of houses including those of Toyota corporation, Mainichi Shimbun and Towa Corporation. It also houses a shopping centre comprising mainly brand stores, automobile showrooms and a cinema. The building also houses Japan's highest open air observation deck. It also has double floored elevators which reach the top in just 40 seconds.
Also in the vicinity is the 36 storeyed 170 meter tall Mode Gakuen Spiral Building which was built in 2008. This building is home to three vocational schools - Nagoya Mode Gakuen (fashion, beauty and design), HAL Nagoya (animation, web designing, gaming) and Nagoya Isen (medical).