Then we came up to lake Sewa, which is a very pretty place to stop at the service area over looking the lake. We came here for one night this time last year and thoroughly enjoyed a wonderful hotel and the lake side. The route here is a bit up and down and the poor car was tired by the time it reached here. We had some food for which the region here is well known, can't say it was so super special, but different.
Onwards from here, plenty of mountain views through the Japanese alps of Nagano, I like mountains. Somehow being surrounded by tall peaks is very comforting somehow, not quite sure why.
Paused in the night at another service area waiting for a traffic jam to clear, it always jams here on the way into Tokyo. Finally reached Tokyo to discover a typhoon on the way for tomorrow. Holiday well timed to avoid it it seems.
Last day, and the journey home to Tokyo. First we stopped in Mino to drop off two boys, whose holiday is going to be two weeks longer with their hand parents.
Mino is in the foothills of the Japanese alps on the Gifu side of the mountains. Somehow it's hotter among these hills than further out towards Nagoya, not quite sure why. We had an outdoors lunch with added dripping sweat, before letting the boys enjoy the next part of their holiday.
18 August 2016
A return visit to Mikiyama Shizen Kouen 三木山自然公園. Partly to let the boys let off steam, partly to add to our growing knowledge of the places in this area.
The boys discover various bits of wildlife, Meanwhile, Hijiri is the wildlife when he reaches the stream.
17 August 2016
Then last thing in the evening, with the neighbouring family, 花火 fireworks, the translation is literally fire flowers.
Pictures look a little bit like a gang preparing to blaze someone's house down, but they are really hand held fire crackers and hand-held, reverse rocket like things. Very traditional. And I've not seen street fireworks like this in Tokyo at all.
スイカ割り there's no reasonable translation for this traditional summer game's name, it literally means cracking a watermelon. The photos will tell you how to do it. The watermelon was eaten later in the evening.
Local amusement park. Literally, up the hill and you're there. Inside is a rather extensive swimming pool with flumes and tidal pools. Boys loved it. Spent six hours here in all.
Hijiri came along in the afternoon and was mesmerized by all the strange sights as he floated mysteriously around the tidal pool (being held by me).
16 August 2016
Hijiri plays with a new friend from next door.
Today is a rest day. But we still managed to get the kids to a park briefly to catch Crayfish
A willing little worker.
15 August 2016
We came here and ended the day with a happy mess of food food food, food all over they place. Looks like Hijiri knows the water from the already beer then!
Came riding back in the evening to catch up with boys who have been enjoying a day out near Himeji. They've been waiting at this popular sushi restaurant for an hour, when e turn up the wait is still 40 minutes. Yes, it's always that popular, there are always people waiting to get in.
We quickly gave up and moved on to another nearby restaurant.
The English tea specialist tea shop
We visited the town hall, and then came here for a quick drink on the town hall's suggestion. This business opened only this year, it's an English tea specialist tea shop.
The owner said they were a bit nervous serving me, because I might know a thing or two about tea, but I'm a novice compared to the owner. This is the best blend of English tea in the whole of England, in Japan! Yea was poured and immediately there was a really good tea aroma, and the taste makes even the teas I can get my hands on from the UK seem lacking. Wow what blend was that. Cake was moist and with substance, compared to the washing sponges we can usually eat here. And the scones, it came with blueberry and rhubarb jam. Now rhubarb I'd nearly unheard of in Japan, but someone here grows it and makes it. The owner hand makes these things, the best I've ever tasted, I couldn't hope to match the quality! (Wish I could for scones though!)
More views across the valley from the ruins. The tiny little bridge with arches in this picture is the highway. It gives you an idea of just how vast the mountains can be from the top.
I really like Asago, it's got a deep country feel that I miss, and a of services available in the area that I didn't expect to see. Young business people are here, the city seems well focused on making their future an age sustainable one with a clear and professional view of the future. It's got a lot of varied landscape, and it's stunningly gorgeous. A little inconveniently placed for some of our regular destinations though.
Came to Asago 朝来 which is in the northern part of Hyogo Jen and new territory for me. Deeper into the mountains and houses with roofs designed for heavy snowfall, about 20cm.
We came here as it's on our list of places to think about if we had the chance to live somewhere else. First we came to the site of the ruined castle here. About the same age as Himeji castle. But unfortunately only foundations left. It's known as the Japanese Machu Pichu.
Of course it's bright burning sunshine when we travel but as soon as we turn up we stuck in the car park for 50 minutes while a storm stakes up the mountain side.
After rain, a bus journey, and a step walk to the top. It looks like Hijiri walked the whole way here, but actually he has energy because he was carried, it was a long steep route. The views from the top of this beautiful valley are stunning, and I guess would be worth coming back for in 100's of different kinds of weather.
14 August 2016
Hijiri being taught Japanese and English by Tomoko's dad. Sheep in Japanese is hitsuji 羊 and apparently in English it's Meh-eh-eh-eh, I learnt something new that time then.
Local village matsuri 祭り lots of little stores selling little things or doing something fun.
This one got rained out by a sudden thunder shower. Luckily we knew it was on its way via our app.
Went to nearby restaurant for meal with Tomoko's grandfather. Came out after the thunder had passed.
The park is very large. Who says Japan doesn't have any space for anything, that's a Tokyo thing that is. And who says grass doesn't grow in Japan, here it is in a plenty!
Nice place, lots of facilities nearby the park too.
Boys come to a very large park in Mikiyama where there was a natural crafts workshop happening. They made some very interesting things.
13 August 2016
We return in the afternoon after volleyball (rest) for watermelon. Hijiri loves watermelon. Afterwards the pieces are thrown into a nearby rice field! I'm sure that's normal, but I can't help wondering how the farmer would feel at harvest time (uk farmers would point their gun at you for such a thing)
Ah but in the evening light here, this particular corner of this village reminds me very much of a childhood haunt I used to go to on my many bike trips into the Kentish countryside. It's got exactly the same sense of calm and ripeness as I experienced then, no other location has ever reminded me of that childhood place before today.
Nagashi soumen 流しそうめん. Neighbours invited everyone to share before they joined us for volleyball tournament part two in the afternoon (That I didn't do, I was resting to recover my health a bit).
Nagashi soumen is cold noodles run down bamboo (traditionally) or upvc piping (here) with running water, and caught with chopsticks and eaten with some sliced ham cucumber, pickles, egg. The kids love it. I'm wondering why all my photos seem to have only Thomas featured in them....
12 August 2016
Birthday pressies and birthday cake!
... The staff status there was a staff only toilet on the ground floor. We reached the ground floor and were dragged off by another staff member who had been radioed of our predicament, (Martin still clutching himself between the legs, with so many stairs it was a wonder he made it!) And they got us to the special location.
Thanks to Martin,i had the opportunity to see a corner of the castle no-one else saw, it was quiet and opened onto a courtyard, there was clearly a lot more to this place than is available to the immediate public.
The woodwork in the building is amazing, the metal work in the doors makes you realize it's a war machine and jewel at the same time. The stonework in the walls makes you wonder just how many people it took to make a place like this.
3 hours of adventure over we went of for some well deserved food.
It wasn't a quiet day. It wasn't a cool day. We had brought the baby and push chairs weren't allowed in. So we bought our tickets, bought an excessive amount of water at the machine (cheaper than people selling further up the hill) and entered the building.
The building shape is magnificent, sort of reminds me of the bath house in spirited away, but more orderly.
The number of people were huge and the huddle soon became a queue. The queue saw a sign saying from this point 1h45 wait. We shuffled forward in the baking heat. The next sign said there were no toilets inside the keep (sometime a little Japanese knowledge is a dangerous thing), I looked at the children guzzling their water supply in the heat. 6 floors of shuffling later, we finally reached the top, and within a minute Martin, with a pained expression said he needed the toilet.
Martin Samuel and I were rushed to the down route by staff and we made our way down thankfully a more sparse line of people.
Himeji castle. We came here for Thomas' birthday treat.
Apart from the castle there are lots of other interesting large sized places to see surrounding the castle too, time wise it would take a couple of days to see everything. We parked in a car park around the back that had loads of space, maybe it would be so busy today we thought.
Himeji castle is also known as white heron castle because of its white mortar on the roof tiling, a rare feature in Japan. It's only recently been able to look like this, before 2009 it was as grey as anything, spent four years in restoration and cane it last year shocking ask the locals as to how bright it looked.
11 August 2016
Collecting the stamps. A map showing just how easy the route was (placed at the bottom of the climb). A stick insect we discovered on getting back to the car. And a warning not to wear too much when you climb, even when it's cooler at the top, which it was.
Btw, we didn't make the gellato place before closing time, we'll have to come back on another day.
The temple grounds. Extensive. After a long climb we're exhausted to find yet another set of steps in the quest for ink stamps. Unfortunately we got to the top at 4.30, and the man at the desk said they closed at 5... we couldn't connect all the ink stamps but we did manage 6, and had a quick look round too before heading down.
The top of the climb! ... The end of the path...
Here began the proper climb up some steps. And then another set of steps and one more set of steps, and to make sure you really reached the temple there was a fourth set of steps. At least they were stone steps. Altitude 560m. Not so high, but a fair climb. 2km trekked but it took maybe 45 minutes.
We stop for drinks at what we thought was half way... it wasn't. At 30 degrees the climb was a little hot. Still better than the 35 degrees in the valley below.
While Tomoko meet her friend, we hiked up a small mountain. Coincidentally today was the first national mountain day.
This one had a large temple at the top. The aim was to get up there, collect the ink stamps the children enjoy and come back down for gellato at a nearby well known place (very tasty btw). We started the climb in good health, the car parked at an altitude of 250m (Tojo sits at 90m)...
Went to a really large social and natural history museum near Sanda this morning. Took an age to find the place, sat nav left us on the nearby by pass!
Boys enjoyed and roamed freely... Hijiri soon understood the freedom and took it upon himself to explore by himself too. Looks like ancient dinosaurs would have swallowed him like a sugar cube.
Gerehardt returns to Germany today. His schedule has been very different from ours, but it had been nice to catch up with him. First time in two years.
10 August 2016
We went to the onsen. It was also Hijiri's first time to enter the hot spring.
This is by far the best onsen I have yet been to. The water is refreshing and every time I come here I feel remade.
Can't take photos inside of course, but here are a few silly photos from outside and the location.
Swimming at nearby open air swimming pool. Boys waiting for return journey.
9 August 2016
Yesterday we played volleyball and in the evening we ate together as a family. Hijiri's cousin Kazumasa took a keen interest in Hijiri, he wanted to hug Hijiri but Hijiri really didn't like it.
The cinema survived the boys, so we came to the local primary school to see if we could trash that place instead, this time with the annual family volleyball gathering.
I've hurt my back, so I'm playing all strapped up and trying not to bend down. Struggled to put my shoes on.
Also recovering from pneumonia, so coughing fits a plenty on coming back to the house afterwards.
Maybe shouldn't have played, but my working pattern is do desk bound these days...
Meanwhile we ran away to a coffee shop and Hijiri helped himself to a nice cooling drink.
Boys watch a film all by themselves.... Will they be ok I wonder?
8 August 2016
Arrived early in the morning. After a rest, came to Sasayama city about 45 minutes away. Primarily to consider places we might think of as a home should the chance to return to countryside ever proffer itself.
Quiet country city with many old looking buildings. Quite a few needing repair. Some with very thick walls which were built as protection against fire. Some nice ice creams here, made with local specialist black beans.
We arrived early in the morning in Tojo. As everyone was sleeping, Hijiri immediately got playing with a new toy.