Archive for November, 2007


November 14, 2007

I was hoping to finish off my overly long account of my summer trip around the country, but I haven’t had much time to write, so I’ll do this in two posts after all.


After Kamakura, I headed deep into the mountains to the city of Nagano, in the prefecture of the same name. Nagano was of course the host for the 1998 Winter Olympics. There isn’t much to do or see in the city, but it makes a convenient base of operations for travel in the surrounding area.

Nagano’s one famous spot is Zenkō-ji, the temple that the city formed around.

Nagano Zenkou-ji

Zenkō-ji guards what is claimed to be the first statue of Buddha in Japan, brought from Korea in the 6th century. The statue was held in various locations around the country until it became the object of a squabble between two clans and was thrown in a canal. A man named Honda Yoshimitsu later rescued it and the empress had Zenkō-ji built in 644 to house the statue. She gave the temple it’s name by taking the characters for Yoshimitsu (善光) and using their Sino-Japanese pronunciation. It makes a good name for a temple, since it means something like “light of goodness” or “shining virtue.”

The temple has burned down several times in its history and the current main hall dates from 1707. In an unusual arrangement, Zenkō-ji is nondenominational and is jointly administered by an abbot of the Tendai sect and an abbess of the Jōdo sect.

And that’s the only interesting thing in the city itself.


Just outside of Nagano is Obuse. Once a prosperous center of commerce located at the crossroads of several trade routes, Obuse is now a quiet town of 11,000, known for growing chestnuts. It’s biggest claim to fame is that the woodblock artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) spent his later years there. Hokusai’s works include the “Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji” series, of which The Great Wave off Kanagawa is especially famous.

Beyond some fields, at the edge of the mountains, is a small temple whose ceiling was painted by Hokusai. Photography was forbidden, but I scrounged up this picture online.

Obuse Ganshou-in Ceiling

The walk itself was pleasant, too, and I saw some of Obuse’s other produce.

Obuse Grapes

Each bunch of grapes has its own protective pouch. That’s one way to thwart the birds, but it seems terribly labor intensive.


I made one more day-trip from Nagano, this time up into the mountains to Togakushi Shrine. Togakushi is divided into an outer, middle, and inner shrine, with several miles separating each location. The middle shrine is in a small town, also named Togakushi. Some distance outside of town, a 2km long avenue of sugi (aka Cryptomeria) leads toward the inner shrine.

Togakushi Okusha Sugi

The avenue is followed by a lot of steps . . .

Togakushi Okusha Steps

. . . and then the shrine itself.

Togakushi Okusha

Not the best photo, but there isn’t much to see anyway. Definitely a case of the journey being more rewarding than the destination.

On my way back down the mountain, I detoured and took a hiking trail to the town. It was clouding up, but I got to enjoy the scenery for most of the hike.

Togakushi Lake

It was rather idyllic . . .

Togakushi Butterfly

. . . until right after I captured this photo-op, at which point it started raining and the trail became a river. Naturally, when I made it back to town, the rain let up.


Hard to Top

November 4, 2007

When I ate at Imobou Hiranoya, I was thoroughly impressed that the restaurant was 300 years old. While I still think that’s pretty cool, I recently had lunch at a place that makes Imobou seem young.

On Saturday I ate at Honke Owariya, a noodle shop in Kyoto that was founded in 1465.

Kyoto Honke Owariya

I had “hōrai soba,” pictured on the website’s menu between “Specialties” and “Rice Bowls.” Age isn’t everything, but then again, when a business is around for that long they’re clearly doing something right, and the food was indeed very good.


My reason for being in Kyoto in the first place, meanwhile, was to see a special exhibition at the Kyoto National Museum.

Kyoto National Museum Kano Eitoku Exhibit

They were showing works by Kanō Eitoku (1543-1590), a distinguished member of the Kanō school of painters. Eitoku created the “taiga” style of screen painting (大画 – literally “large picture”), seen in the ad above, which is pretty close to the size of the original. In taiga, the size of the painting itself isn’t necessarily larger than in previous styles, rather the name comes from having one or two large figures that dominate the picture. My favorite works were his Chinese style monochromes, though.