Revenge traveling back to Japan
It has been three years since the pandemic began and since I’ve traveled to another country, with Japan as my latest destination. As we all stayed home most of the time during the pandemic, the yearning for traveling abroad had grown fonder as the unforgettable experience I had in Sapporo and Otaru left an indelible mark in my memory.
Luckily, as travel restrictions began to open up, I was invited to a five-day Arts and Craft familiarization tour by the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) before last year ended. There I was, back to Japan, this time bringing us to the central part of Japan covering the Aichi, Gifu, Toyama, and Ishikawa prefectures before ending up in Tokyo. With me was my eldest daughter Justine whom I recommended to experience the tour as well and take the chance to have a father-daughter bonding in a country we both admire and love.
We were flown from Manila to Nagoya by All Nippon Airways through a code-sharing flight with Philippine Airlines. Flying to post-pandemic Japan is now a breeze upon arrival. By securing the QR Codes for Quarantine, Immigration, and Customs via the Visit Japan Web, you can practically walk through these requirements that used to require a long queue and waiting time, as most airports do.
First on our itinerary was a visit to Legoland Japan Resort in Nagoya, which opened in April 2017 and is the second Legoland Resort in Asia. All the seven areas are now completely open to explore, including the Sea Life aquarium and Miniland, which replicates the famous tourist attractions found in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, and Nagoya, where 10.5 million Lego bricks were used to recreate the said cityscapes.
We didn’t stay long in Nagoya as we traveled right after to Mino, an Edo-style city in the Gifu Prefecture known for its “Udatsu” townscape and its production of the traditional Japanese paper called “washi.” We were accommodated in Nipponia, a very interesting boutique hotel that used to be a washi factory and warehouse. The hotel showcases the Mino art culture with a gallery that features paintings, sculpture, furniture, and home accessories created with washi.
On our first day, I got a glimpse of how Justine behaves outside our family circle and friends. For someone who is basically reserved and often keeps things to herself, especially at home, it was pleasing to know how my 20-year-old daughter carries herself well and easily gets along with new acquaintances, not to mention that some of the people in our group came from the same college she studies at. What’s more surprising was how fluent my daughter speaks conversational Nippongo! She has been fascinated by Japanese culture, but I never knew that fascination led her to learn the language during the pandemic.
The next morning, we walked around the town to enjoy a closer look at the houses of Mino, which, amazingly, have been preserved over centuries. No wonder it has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. Mino used to be a lively merchant district during the Edo period and each house is clad with Udatsu roofing tiles, which are a rarity in Japan; they were once utilized to protect houses from fire and thieves.
From Mino, we were led upland to another World Heritage site in Shirakawa-Go, a mountain village situated in the Ono district of Gifu Prefecture. With a population of only 1,630, its traditionally thatched houses are built on a building style called gassho-zukuri.
The gassho-style house is made of timber that’s sharpened at the edges and bound by rope. Its thick, sloping roof is not fixed, which is why the natural forces within and outside the house are dispersed, making it sturdy enough to withstand earthquakes and strong winds.
We ended our second day by spending the night at Rakudo-An, a beautifully quaint boutique hotel nestled in the middle of Tonami’s rice fields. This experience is called “dotoku,” which is expressing morality with oneself in relation to others and nature. The interiors of the hotel were carefully curated, with furniture that reflects the traditional and modern Japanese lifestyle, and from different cultures as well. This blend somewhat evokes the dotoku ambience that our gracious host and owner, Sari Hayasiguchi, wishes to achieve. We were welcomed with a traditional tea ceremony, and got to taste the best-tasting matcha tea.
I was up for an unexpected challenge as we set off our third day with a session to experience Zen meditation conducted by Buddhist monks at the Kokutaiji Temple in Takaoka, which comes from the Rinzai sect of Buddhism and has a history of over 700 years. After an orientation on its premises and a quick demonstration of “Unryu Binding”—which is a special way of tying a monk’s waistband—we began with a five-minute warm-up before undergoing a 20-minute “endurance” meditation session.
Our presiding Zen adviser reminded us that their students undergo meditation for seven days with sleep and food as their only breaks. For someone whose DNA is more inclined to hyper, fast-paced activity, meditation has been a great challenge for me. Since I was with my daughter, I wanted to show her most that I could do it, and completing it was an outright achievement for me. My motivation while undergoing the meditation was Steve Jobs, who was influenced by DT Suzuki, one of the Temple’s famous advisers.
Nousaku is a 107-year-old company in Takaoka that crafts copper, brass, and tin into home interior products, tableware, and medical equipment. In recent years, tin has become a major contributor to Nousakou’s product portfolio owing to the company’s experience and cultivated techniques. Its soft and malleable features enabled them to produce kago, a flexible tin basket that has been popular not only in Japan but in the US and Europe. To appreciate the casting technique, we were invited to create our own sake cup made of tin. It was laborious but fun!
From Takaoka, we headed west to Kanazawa, the capital city of Ishikawa Prefecture. It is a relatively modern city, characterized by the very sleek Hyatt Centric where we stayed overnight, but has still kept its centuries-old traditions. One tradition is the preservation of the geisha, whose art and spirit of hospitality have been passed down for generations. In one of the famous houses in the Chaya (teahouse) district, we were treated to an evening of music and dance while merrily drinking endless sake and light food. Unlike in other famous geisha spots in Japan, Kanazawa is more sympathetic to its geishas: a geiko is still allowed to work in the geisha house even if she decides to marry.
Another tradition that continues to thrive to this day is the art of kimono-making. The Kaga Yuzan Maida Kimono Factory has been Kanazawa’s pride, where each kimono could cost over a million pesos. This is because of its painstaking process, from the selection to the dyeing and hand-painting of the textile. Its curing is also unique, where the garment undergoes a similarly meticulous process. The Maida kimono is well known throughout Japan, often worn by its high society and celebrities.
I was somewhat surprised how the bamboo has also been preserved in Japanese culture, as we went to visit a bamboo craftsman, Chifuyu Enomoto, and his wife’s home on the outskirts of Kanazawa. His body of work is impressive, showing more art in the function of his creations. We were invited to weave our own bamboo basket under his and his wife’s guidance.
Kanazawa’s modern side is well represented by the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art. Opened in October 2004, The 21st CMCA has four goals: democratization of contemporary art, diversity in polyphony or many voices in harmony, taking on the challenge of creating the future in a more sustainable way, and synergy and understanding the connections we have created. There are many unique and Instagrammable art installations in the museum, which feels more like a park at times, such as the glass swimming pool and the open-ceiling room. Perhaps the best representation of the essence of the museum was the recordings of the voices and activities of autistic children set to music in its media lab. Diverse as it sounds, the unique collaboration produced a remarkable impression on me.
On our last day, we were taken to Mitsukoshi Mall in Ginza to witness the visually captivating Art Aquarium, which showcases how to creatively house all your goldfish amid eye-captivating art installations. The multimedia installations are truly awe-inspiring. I wonder if there’s any chance that this can be brought to the newly opened Mitsukoshi Mall in Manila? Our last activity was an indigo dyeing workshop experience in Hibiya Okuroji provided by the Mizuno Dyeing Factory, a dyeing shop based in Asahikawa, Hokkaido since 1907.
As we flew back to Manila, my daughter and I couldn’t help but wish for more time to discover and rediscover Japan. We couldn’t be more thankful for our five-day tour—more than enough to fill our craving for travel that had been denied for the past three years. Since then, our Japan fever hasn’t cooled down one bit. My playlist is still filled with JPop (my favorites are Keyakizaka 46 and Perfume) and my cravings still involve ramen, sashimi, and teppanyaki. Can’t wait to go back once again.