Review: 芭蕉翁記念館 or Basho Memorial Museum

A extremely nice outside

While walking around Iga, I saw the Basho memorial museum and decided to visit and it was an interesting visit but I need to make my first warming:

If you are not proficient in Japanese, please do not visit.

The entire museum is in Japanese, both old and modern, and it the hall offers no help for non-Japanese speakers.

The displays did show some of Basho’s writings, along with pre-modern renga and haikai literature along with giving the modern Japanese equivalent nearby and was quite interesting. The problem was the display. Tickets cost 300 JPY and there is only on room which you can enter.

The books and small items on display were extremely good, better than they had any right to be. The concept of Basho is extremely important to Iga, as he was born in Iga. The park grounds do offer 2 more basho sites, which are a lot more interesting to look at.

Final thoughts, a good place to visit if you are good at Japanese. If you are not, consider purchasing a book or item- you will get more enjoyment out of it.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

Review: Seria

A review of the 100 yen store Seria.

A brilliant 100 JPY store

Seria is a national 100 JPY store with locations from Kyuushu to Hokkaido that offers a extremely wide range of products. Each store is set up specifically for that location so there is a slight variation in products offered at each store.

They are very proud of a number of things ranging from products that are produced in Japan (which is 国産 in Japanese), listening to customers’ feedback about what products they would like, and offering their own branded products which increases quality and allowing them to be sold.

Interestingly, Seria comes from Italian which means “beginning” , which just like this post, where we shall begin.

Firstly the range of products is immense. They offer seasonal items from Halloween, summer camping supplies, Valentines/ White’s day crafts in a specially designed display to attract the eye and help encourage patrons- which seems to be a rather un-Japanese marketing strategy.

Next their range extends from storage and stationary products to kitchen supplies and food items. There is a good selection and the quality in the multitude of items I have bought has always been brilliant and I have not yet had any problems.

For those of you who love character products including main western and Japanese characters: including Disney, Anpanman, Doraimon, the yellow tick-tacks that love bananas, Snoopy etc, all for 100 JPY. These products are smaller and usually only offer a singular item (1 fork for example) rather than a set.

There is also a health and make-up which sells basic necessitates such as shampoo, eye liner, lipstick, toothpaste, toothbrushes etc. Of course, they also offer a wide range of masks as well.

In regards to their food products, they have a basic range- from oil and seasoning to snacks and crisps.

The only thing to note is that due to consumption tax increase, food items are 108 JPY and non-food is 110 JPY.

If you get chance please check it out, you may find something you’ll love.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

The accidental journey

An unintended bike ride of about 25 km does have some very beautiful views

When a quick bike ride is anything but

I had not intended to do much today- I completed my weekly chores and gone shopping and was feeling a bit bored. So, I decided to go on a quick bike ride. Over 4 hours and 25 km later I came home…this was not planned but I enjoyed every bit of it.

Let me take you on my journey from Nabari to Mihata and back again- or an accidental journey- there and back again, a journey through Nabari.

This journey started with crossing the Nabari river (名張川)and taking in the sites. Just behind the hills you see is Nara prefecture, which makes travelling to Nara extremely easy.

名張川

Just over the bridge, and at the foot of the hills lies a shrine called Sugitani shrine (杉谷神社- which means cedar valley shrine). This is the stereotypical Japanese shrine which offers all that major shrines do: Ofuda, Goshuin, Omamori etc (I’ll explain what all of these things are in a future post). But more importantly, it looks the part.

The shrine was an extremely quite place with no-one else there and to give it that authentic abandoned image (even though there is a priest living there), they offer stamps with the old Japanese imperial era name in addition to the new one- almost as if they’re trying to get rid of old stock no matter what!

After leaving, I made a mistake. I looked at the river and thought “I wonder where that goes?”. Thus my journey had began.

I followed route 80 which follows the rivers path and like many roads in Japan, it quickly goes down to one lane with a cliff on one side and a drop-off on another. In addition to this, cars seem to like speeding along this country road for some reason. The views, however, were brilliant. When there were no cars, the roar of the river drowned out everything else around. Additionally, all of this section was downhill and I may have ensured that I kept to the speed limit as well.

Route 80 seemed to come to an end and opened up to a tiny village 薦生 or Komo in English. The main highlight of this village is a post office, 3 shrines and 1 temple. I of course checked out a shrine and I chose Chuzan shrine (中山神社)which was on the road out of the village.

I had to use the phrase again so I’ll use Japanese: 伝統的な神社です- which means a traditional shrine. The small wooden box you can see in the first picture is for donations and people pray towards a Kami (or God) who is housed behind the screen doors.

I continued on wards, weaving in and out of housing estates in Kikyogaoka (桔梗が丘)which mostly consisted of scaling several hills and chanting 頑張て (do my best). Eventually, I ended up in Mihata (美旗) and I have to say, Mihata feels like old-time Japan.

Mihata has many streets with homes constructed in the traditional Japanese style. To add to this, today is a national holiday in Japan: Culture day (文化の日). Therefore, there are many Japanese flags flying and lanterns hung up on the threshold of many households stating 御神燈- which are lights used as a religious offerings called Goshintou in Japanese. This use of kanji is a bit out of date, further highlighting Mihata’s old time Japan feel. The modern Kanji for sacred light is 神灯.

The high walls of Mihata boarder the farmlands

After leaving Mihata, whilst enjoying the scenery, I decided to take another detour- I had ended up in Mihata after-all. There was a extremely small out of the way grave yard- which seemed quite an interesting thing to look at. Upon entry, there were the ever watchful guardians with fresh offerings- in stark contrast to the weathered guardians. In the middle of the grave yard was a small alter for offerings.

The journey back at this point was all uphill and took a bit of time to get back. I did however made a final stop at Kikyogaoka 10 go park (桔梗が丘 10号公園).

The park consists of small stone paths winding around, between and over the small lakes here. Autumn has not yet hit in full-force so everything still feels alive and vibrant. The paths naturally lead you onward over the lake where there are many large Koi are ever waiting to be fed.

At the end of the path, there was a small grove of trees where Autumn had seemed to have come- which was a stark contrast to the ever-green trees surrounding in. Looking back at the park, it is place I will need to check out again, in spring, when the sakura start to bloom.

It was not a bad accidental journey, mush further and longer than initially planned but extremely fun. All this on my day of “rest”.

I hope you enjoyed reading about my accidental journey and reading another longer post (an extra special treat for you on culture day).

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

The long walk

My journey from Iga-Kambe station to Ueno shi station.

The long winding journey that I cannot recommend enough

Saturday the start of the weekend and the start of my free time. As discussed, November’s theme is exploration and trying something new- and what about checking out my door step a bit further.

The journey started as a laid back one- a train journey from Nabari to Iga-kanbe station which was just a short 10-minute journey.

Upon arrival at Iga-Kambe, I exited the journey and headed straight out of the station and kept walking. Iga-kanbe is a small sleepy community with winding roads, with traditional Japanese houses scattered across the landscape. Cutting through this is the Kizu river and once I crossed it, my real journey began.

Kizu river near Iga-Kanbe station

Crossing the bridge gives a fantastic view of the river and the vast farming expanse ahead. The water was perfectly clear, fish can be seen swimming- even in November and you feel like you are in the middle of no-where even with the road behind. Just seen in the picture is a vast bamboo forest- teaming with life (it was a bit noisy). I followed the pylons into the distance.

A short bridge, and a different world

Looking back gives you an idea of how few people seem to use the bridge and be in the area- a perfect start for a hike from the edge of Iga to its’ heart. Once I continued walking, whilst being deafened by toe roar of the river to my right, and enjoying the mirror effect of the water, I took a right and found a small path with a rice paddy sandwiched between 2 railways.

An island of peace, between the Igatetsudo line and the Kintetsu line


 This path, even with trains coming and going, felt almost like being on an isolated island without another soul for miles. There was a delicious smell of rice being released while the thud, thud of my footsteps- along with nature- was my only music for the day.

Memorials to the deceased

The path came to an abrupt ending and a Buddhist temple greeted me.  来迎寺 (or raikou-ji) temple is a popular place of worship for locals and services still get a high turnout. The temple has a extremely large grave yard and more impressively, a mountain of memorial stones (pictured above).

Walking through the stone tori gate, and following the Japanese tradition of bowing, the previous carefree atmosphere was replaced by a reverent one- even the wind seemed silent. Stones crunched below my feet while I looked around. A statue of a Buddhist monk seemed to watch my movements while I walked around the court-yard, enjoying the peace and quite of the temple.

After leaving, I turned right and walked through the small community surrounding Hido station.

Hido is very much in the countryside and fields surround each settlement built in the traditional Japanese style, and in the modern-traditional Japanese design (see house in picture), with housewives rushing around while men stand and chat.

Children ran around weaving in and out of buildings and in the middle of this was a sacred stone hidden behind a small stone tori gate. The kanji was a bit too faded to see but the pond was a welcomed sight. I was something a bit different to see and to discover. Additionally, large paper dotted around- giving it an almost festive atmosphere.

An island of stone

I decided to explore the local area and while following route 422, I look a left and walked in isolation while ensuring I remained alive dodging Japanese drivers until I came across 城之越遺跡- or the Shironokoshi castle ruins. I have seen the ruins advertised on many occasions (a sign advertising it cam be seen while riding on the Iga-tetsudo line) and I finally went- initial thoughts not too bad.

The entrance to the ruins

There is nothing remaining of the building that once was located here, but it has been turned into a park- showing you what once stood there and why it was important for the local area. Additionally, there is a small museum located on the site in the car park as well. However, I cannot review the museum as it is closed on weekends. If you are interested, adult entry is 200 JPY.

The archaeologists who excavated the site have marked the load-bearing pillars of the castle with marble cylinders to give observers an idea of the scale of the castle- which is a small Japanese castle. The castle would have been similar to the one in Nisshin-shi, Aichi-ken. The rest of the site is now gardens, with each species of tree labelled- not a bad place for a picnic or drawing but not much else.

All that is in place of what once lay here

I continued on wards, climbing a small hill while enjoying the sights and sounds of nature. Along the way I was not just dodging cars, but dragon flies and praying mantises as well.

A little friend


The small winding road from the castle ruins to Uebayashi station was a long walk up a hill with the road being boarded by bamboo on both sides. On this small mountainous road, large construction vehicles seemed to enjoy speeding along.

Dragon flies fly in the rich blue sky

The shade gave a blessed relief from the hot sum overhead- it was only 20 degrees, but when walking for hours, even warm weather can feel overbearing.

The long, winding road

Just beyond this section, was a small lake and a muddy road disappearing into the distance. I had a choice- continue along the nice road or take a change to discover something new. I took a change and it paid off.

I was somewhat aware of the crystal-clear lakes near Uebayashi station- they are exceptionally hard to miss on the train, and I have always wanted to explore this area- and I got my chance.

The ninja train at Uebayashi

The lake appeared while walking along a tiny road, framed with rice fields and, strangely, electrified fences- which are quite an uncommon sight in Japan; especially for a rice field. By chance the pink ninja train was coming along, and the results of which you can see. The mirror effect of the water was an exceptionally nice thing to see.

The middle of no-where, or so it seem

Continuing along the path, the framed path suddenly opened up and gave way to some beautiful scenery. Iga is located within a valley and it is a fact that is often forgotten by note just myself- but residents of Iga as well. But as you can see by the sun’s position, I was starting to run out of time and at this point I had barely started my journey.

I started wondering again, at a slightly faster pace- my goal was to get to 四十九駅 (literally Station 19) before nightfall as this station marks the beginning of urban Iga city. I spent some time just wondering by acres upon acres of farmland, enjoying the sound of cicadas, the buzzing of dragon flies, and the thud of my footsteps. There were many people that I came across on my journey- all of whom greeted me with an almost customary nod of the head and a こんにちは!- which I responded enthusiastically to.

Once I had crossed 比自岐川 (Hijiki river), and entered a small village surrounding 丸山城跡 (The Maruyama castle ruins). The village is isolated, exceptionally quite and almost idyllic in its setting. The ruins are located on top of a hill behind the village and was quite a climb.

The path up to the ruins was quite a challenging climb- in trainers (I’ve not yet got hiking boots…),  but the smell of mud, was prevalent as was the sounds of leaves ruffling. It was a very nice climb, and it is one I recommend anyone who is physically able to do so. There is parking in the vicinity (for about 5 cars)and the climb is up a steep muddy hill.

After scaling, and descending I was really running out of time. I therefore decided to walk along route 422 to see more of the Kizu river (木津川)- which I have seen hints of on the train and that was all. This was another decision that I am very happy to say was a good one.

Kizu river, further down-stream

 Ignoring the fact time was running out fast (look at the sun), the river was beautiful. There were several storks along the banks (in November I have to add), massive sandy ‘beaches’ along the way. The entire area is a wildlife protection area and the area has certainly benefited from it. I made several stops along the way, at another Buddhist temple and at a shrine as well- but I’ll save those for another day. That was Inako (依那古) and I followed route 422 until crossing over to see the highlight of Iga- the nature.

Rural Japan

When people ask: “What is Japan like?”, this is the picture that comes to mind. I have lived in 2 places in Japan- both of which are semi-rural so this is my image of Japan. Not Tokyo (shinjyuku/ Akihabara), nor any other major city.

What I especially like is the field of flowers in the foreground which sets the perfect tone.

It was starting to get dark and after visiting another shrine near Idamichi station (猪田道駅), my goal of getting to 四十九駅 before dark was looking bleak. The road from Idamichi to Shijukyu was perilous and there was no footpath. After trying to follow the main road to Shijuku station, I gave up after fearing for my life. I crossed the train tracks and want the rural way to urban Iga- which gave way to my last photo of the day: a beautiful photo of dusk.

A close up of clouds in the sky

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Dusk, the final frontier

This area is just rice fields as long as the eye can see, and it is beautiful.

After this, my only goal was to get to 上野市駅 (Ueno-shi station), which was a 40-minute walk away at this point. The walk at this point was through housing estates (a more western style), which quickly followed to an extremely Japanese housing estate of yester-year. Finally, after visiting Iga for quite a length of time, Iga gave the impression of being a city. The walk to the station was through typical inter-city housing, department stores and shops and restaurants galore. Iga may be rural but inner-city Iga gives the impression of a much larger city than it actually is.

The final stats for this walk are: 3 hours 40 walking, 16.9 km covered. Included in this is 2 breaks, multiple photos taken and random dancing while walking (I was definitely enjoying myself). For those of you that are wondering- yes there were many, many, many more photos that I took.

I hope you enjoyed my journey of exploration today- and I hope that you will also consider taking a similar walk either in Iga or wherever you may live.

As always, thank you for reading and happy exploring.

Post in Japan

Where to post a letter

So you have a stamp and a letter, now what?

Postbox outside Nabari train station

Like many things in Japan, they are designed to be as simple as possible, but this does not work.

In brief, you have local and non-local mail in red and blue respectively, simple right? Now look closer at the picture.

The red section is for local letters and postcards, yes they are still a thing. The pager has only just become obsolete here. Anyways, if you wanted to send a local non-standard sized letter, firstly it wouldn’t fit in this specific box and secondly it’ll be in the blue section along with international mail.

Post boxes are handy things but just go to a post office, it’ll make life much simpler.

I hope you enjoyed reading and are well (unlike myself this past week),and as always happy exploring!

Typhoon 19, the aftermath

Please do as I say and not as I did!!!!

Yesterday, as I’m sure everyone is aware, Japan experienced its’ biggest typhoon in 60 years and as the counts come in- it is not as bad it could be. It is true to say that prior planning and preparation prevents poor performance.

However, there were some casualties. At time of writing, 5 people have been reported as deceased. To those families, you have my thoughts and prayers.

Looking a bit closer to home, what happened in Nabari?

The level 4 caution (which is 警戒レベル4 or keikai level 4), was cancelled by 1830 yesterday evening and since the sun had come out, I decided to go for a bit ride by the river. As a bit of advice: please NEVER do this. Nabari was still feeling the effects of the typhoon and the river was exceptionally full. In fact, the route I took led me over 2 bridges.

That’s a lot of water…

I stopped before going over the first bridge calling myself stupid (to be put politely)- but I continued. Along side the river, all emergency barriers had been raised and there was about 30cm of clearance between the water and the bottom of the bridge. Additionally, Nabari river is the outlet river for a dam, if there was an emergency release of water…well lets not go there.

A bit more than 30 at this bridge but NOT at another

In this area, there has been little in the way of structural damage- there was mostly localised flooding. On the Iga-Tetsudo line (the ninja train) several parts of the track were completely flooded and trains cancelled.

It was a bit too close…

However, train service has restarted at this time and convenience stores were open- but my gym was closed for the day- I wonder why?

Final thoughts: being prepared encase of evacuation did help- the likelihood of it was still low but possible. Please do not got out until a typhoon or other natural disaster has completely passed (unlike myself and half of Nabari it seems) and finally, be vigilant. A situation can change in a second and I have never ridden as fast or as hard trying to get back on the correct side of the river as I did yesterday.

Thank you for reading and happy (SAFE) exploring,

The calm before the storm

A strange day

The Japanese are known for having many cultural rules and procedures that they often ignore when convenient- and living in Japan I know this quite well.

One of the more known rules is the request for silence on trains “to provide a comfortable atmosphere for other passengers” according to Kintetsu that is. But today from Tsu train station to Nabari train station (which is about 60 km or around an hour by train), and including a transfer at Ise-Nakagawa it was silent. Eerily silent.

What made this slightly worse, is that all trains were packed more than usual for a Friday night- as people were travelling straight home without the customary drinking sessions. This is to say ALL trains including limited express trains.

Today, Japan is holding its’ breath. There is cancellation of train services, flights, busses etc across Japan and even lines like the Kintetsu are considering the possibility of suspending services for “safety reasons”, but what actually got me worried was the announcement of this update in English. Most information, detailed information that is, is usually kept in Japanese.

This combined with the silent eery journey on the way back- where everyone was looking worried- has caused me to double check my bug-iut bag. I’ve never felt this paranoid about a Typhoon before.

But why are so many people worried?

This typhoon- number 19 (keeping with the Japanese theme or 台風第19号) is the largest of the year so far, its is extremely strong, set to potentially land in major urban areas, and has the potential to cause country-wide problems.

Additionally, warning about it are ALL over social media, the news, TV, in stations etc. There are many companies that are suspending workdays tomorrow and are advising to only go out if needed- advice I will be following.

The cherry on top for me, was watching people taking supplies home with them. Prior preparation and planning may prevent poor performance but if all Japanese people are doing it, that just worries me- they seem to like to wing it.

Stay safe all, gather supplies and know where your evacuation areas are.

Thank you for reading and stay safe.

Health food in Japan

The world of extreams

How long does it take to spot CC lemon?

I have talked about buying protein in Japan very recently, but what I have not yet mentioned is suppliemts, more specifically added vitamins and minerals.

If you were to go to a convience store and go to the drinks section, ignoring the sugar content, there would be quite a few healthy looking options. Admittedly one of my favourites is CC lemon which it’s selling point (on the front and highlighted) is that it contains the same amount of vitamin C as 60 lemons or 200 mg. The body cannot process this amount and a lot of it is lost via urination.

You may think that is a crazy amount, but it’s nowhere near the highest amount. Available at most stores are health tonics in small glass bottles that contain upto 2000 mg of vitamin C.

To put this into prospective, the daily recommended intake for most adults is upto 90 mg a day. If that is the case, does excess vitamin C cause any ill effects?

Yes! Regular amounts exceeding 2000 mg cause gastronomic distress i.e. Diarrhoea, vomiting, cramps etc.

However Japan doesn’t just have products with excess vitamin C, there are products with excess anything.

You may buy wafers with added calcium, wafers with added iron, wilk with added calcium, health drinks with collegen etc. It’s sometimes amazing what extras Japanese producers add to products.

It sounds a bit morbid but: health warming! Be aware of what you are consuming, an excess of a vitamin or mineral for you may have a completely unintentional side affect or may cause you harm. If in doubt either do further research (scientific papers etc), ask a doctor or dietitian or simply avoid it.

After all there’s only one you (and you read my blog, so stay safe)

Thank you for reading and happy exploring

Opinion: you couldn’t make this up

Cultural experience day on 6th of October

As I am catching the train to get to work, I see a poster for Iga International friend association fair this Sunday, which seems like a bit of fun. So I pickup a leaflet and start checking it out.

Under the section which highlights some of the things you can do, there is the usual international offerings: calligraphy, making badges, wear different national costumes, smoking experience…. You read that correctly. As the leaflet was in more than one language, I make sure I understood the English correctly and the Japanese clearly states: 煙道体験 endotaiken.

Once again smoking seems to take, literally, central stage in a cultural experience. Hopefully when I go, it’ll be at least informative and not “look at me smoking, aren’t I cool?” type of vibe.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

How2: reading train fare tables

A large complex chart, for the uniformed that is

When I first came to Japan, and before I bought an IC card, calculating the correct train fare seemed like the start of a JLPT- even with the romanji. But it’s a lot easier than it looks.

We’ll start small with the Iga-tetsudo line:

Train fares for the Iga-tetsudo line

The Iga-tetsudo line like the Yokkaiichi lines are a small service with few stops, so finding the train fare is very simple. Want to get from Iga Kanbe to Uenoshi? That’s ¥370 one way for an adult or ¥190 for a child? Want a return or to go to more than one stop? Buy an all-day ticket (一日フリー乗車券) for ¥740- the same price as a return and the ticket machines are in multiple languages as well!

Now for something more complex, the kintetsu line:

So many places…

The kintetsu is a very large network and the fare map highlights this. Want some advice? Know where you’re going! It sounds basic enough but you have to be aware of train station names that sound the same (nishi Aoyama, and higashi Aoyama are a good example).

Another reason to be careful is if you are not using an IC card, and get the price wrong, you have to waste time at a fare adjustment machine before you may exit a station.

My advice for travelling in Japan is to use an app such as Japan Transit planner, which tells you the fare, train time and fastest journey.

Alternatively buy an IC card, it automatically deducts the train fare from the card and some link with your bank account, so you don’t have to worry about how much is left.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring