Review: Hattori stationary story

Review: Hattori stationary story

A small local business that caters to all needs

In Ueno-shi, Iga and within sight of Ueno castle (review to come), is a small shop with many hankos outside of it. The shop is located next to a cram school (塾 in Japanese), and opposite the city hall and it is a brilliant place to explore.

Firstly, they do have information available in other languages so strict Japanese in not required to shop here. Upon entry, you are greeted with a multitude of products- a small slice of heaven.

When you explore further, you can clearly see the displays of traditional Japanese stationary alongside more modern western stationary. The Japanese stationary is a brilliant display of materials for calligraphy with a wide choice of inks, brushes and paper/ writing boards.

In addition to the obvious displays, the back-wall is covered with small Japanese knickknacks of dolls, kami, and calendars- ensuring that the shop caters both to the local community and to tourists alike.

This is a shop where I have spent quite a bit of money as they have brilliant sketching supplies along with a lovely selection of traditional Japanese paper which is brilliant for gifts.

If you ever get the change, please do check this place out (and they currently offer a 50 yen off ticket for your second visit), I highly recommend it.

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.

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.

Opinion: Fiore Maede Casa Florist

Here’s a little that’ll grow on you

Occasionally when you look around your apartment, it just looks a bit empty. There’s something missing- I take it you know what I mean?

I went a little out of my way this week to Aeon Town Iga Ueno (イオンタウン伊賀上野) in Iga-city and while there I noticed a florist and immediately, I knew what was missing.

I went in and there was a good selection and the arrangements were also quite spooky- it is coming up to Halloween after all. The plants (the important bit) were looked after and the attendant was extremely friendly and happy for me to take a photo (the important bit!). Additionally, it is very reasonably priced (the most important aspect).

The chain of florists are all located in Mie Prefecture (三重県―みえけん) in three cities: Matsusaka (松阪市), Tsu (津市), and Iga (伊賀)- so there are quite clustered together.

If your close to one and you have a need for a nice plant- either indoor, outdoors or flowers for a grave, please check it out- it is definitely worth a visit.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

Kintetsu limited express trains

The first class experience without the usual first class cost

There is also an additional treat coming next year, the debut of a new limited express train but what’s all the type about?

If you are travelling from Nagoya to Osaka, there are several options for you to choose from. There is the classic choice- the shinkansen on the JR line. While it is an experience I recommend doing at least once, there is a rarer choice (at least for visitors to Japan) the Kintetsu line.

The Kintetsu railway is a more local service that services trains in the Tokai region specifically everywhere from Nagoya, Osaka and Mie-prefecture to Nara, Kyoto with further destinations as well.

On this service there are local trains (sometimes ワンマン電車 or one-man trains) that stop at every station, express trains that skip smaller stop, semi-express that skips further and finally the crème de la crème the limited express. Limited express trains can skip up to 20 stations in between trips and it is mostly used for trips and foe getting to place in style.

As highlighted in the photo above, there is a base train fare that everyone pays- 2360 JPY (going from Nagoya to Osaka) and an additional limited express fair which is 1900 JPY which is normally 4260 JPY one way. Furthermore, there is the Ise-liner ( a different model of limited express trains) that offers seats for an additional 300 JPY, the luxury car.

The question remains, why do so many people take limited express trains if there is an additional cost when Japanese trains are so fast anyways?

One reason is convenience. The Kintetsu line from Ise-Nakagawa (one of the main connection/ transfer points) is skipped completely on longer distance trains from Nagoya. Additionally, trains to Kyoto usually require a transfer in Yamato-Yagi (another connection hub) which is again skipped.

Furthermore, all limited express trains have reserved seating (which you must follow) so you have a granted comfortable seat that will take you to your destination at a quicker pace than the express trains.

Finally, there are the ammonites. All limited express trains have outlets to charge your laptop or mobile device, all have toilets (western style), places to wash your hands, vending machines and for the smokers a place to smoke all while watching the world rush past some beautiful landscapes.

While I spend my life on trains and I enjoy catching all types of trains, the limited express is a special treat that always feels like the start of an adventure- I can’t ride it everyday but I’ll always enjoy riding them when I can.

There is one last temptation offered, Kintetsu railways usually offer discounts if purchased online with the added benefit of collection points to use in the future and even get free rides. But there is a dark side to point collection, more to come on this later.

I hope you enjoyed reading and happy exploring.

For more information or booking, please check out the site below (not sponsored)

https://www.kintetsu.co.jp/foreign/english/about/limited_express/

Nabari lake

Time for a bike ride, I have the spot to go to

Occasionally finding something to do in small town Japan is hard- you have no interest in the arcade, there is some tourist sites but you may encounter tourists, and if you go to the supermarket again, people might start to think you work there.

The answer to your problems is a bike rider, either type will do (but I do like to challenge myself with the hills!).

The next problem is where to go? If you’re in Nabari, try going to the lake, it’s a wonderful challenge.

A bit of background information, Nabari is an extremely hilly city- no matter where you go you’ll come across a hill. Going to the lake from the train station, there are 5 large hills to climb. But once you have made it- the views are wonderful.

The picture was taken at the viewing area near the start of the my journey- in front of a wonderful little café.

The entire course around the lake is 15 km and it goes into Nara-ken as well. Along the way, there are several viewing areas and picnic areas that would make a wonderful day out- and it is extremely popular with Japanese families.

On the way back, you’ll come across Nabari dam- quite an impressive piece of engineering where there is a road on top. All in all, not a bad way to spend a day (I may have broken the speed limit cycling downhill though).

As always, thank you for reading and happy exploring.

Iga-city, the ninja city

If you’ve got it flaunt it…well you can stop now. No, please…

The Ninja train at 伊賀神戸駅- Iga-kambe station

I travel to Iga a lot and I always enjoy visiting- mostly for work though. But there is one think that new visitors always take note of upon arrival- the city is very Ninja heavy. There are ninja dolls dotted around, souvenirs (a really good one located next to the train station- turn right as you exit and you’re there),  and even signs saying that you can explore the historic city while dressed as a ninja.

Iga is traditionally thought of the birthplace of Ninjas and as the train station would tell you- it’s the Ninja station (or Ueno as everyone else knows it). But don’t worry, to highlight this face, there is the Ninja train or the Iga-tetsudo. Even if the paint work is to be ignored, there are ninja dolls at several stations along the way.  Don’t forget city hall with its “welcome to Ninja city” sign. So I may be a bit jaded having been annoyed by tourists this summer…

But the amazing thing is that the Ninja city is also not quite true. While Ninjas do come from Iga, all initial training was done in Akameguchi, just outside Nabari (very beautiful area). This was during the foundation of the ninja- it did move later.  

So while you ‘got it’ just be aware of the small print- originally it was more Nabari rather than Iga, even though Iga became the true centre of the ninja- if we overlook Koga.

There will be more on ninja in the future including everything that you didn’t know you wanted to know, and a ninja travel guide for Iga city.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

Hibiki’s bakery, Nabari

A little bread slice of happiness

A lovely baker in Nabari, Mie

As part of my work, I travel around Mie a lot and I live in Nabari city- small town Japan. One thing that many don’t realise is that small town Japan is a different world to ‘tourist’ Japan.

If you have heard of Nabari, perhaps it is because it is the big station before Yamato-Yagi on the Kintetsu line, but regardless of this, Hibiki’s bakery is a little gem located 1.5 km from the train station and down the hill from city hall- near the MOS burger.

Why am I pushing for this place? Because it is delicious, reasonably priced and the best bread I have had in Japan. Additionally, to always seems quite and I want it to stay in business!!

In addition to this, the coffee is really good and they sell fresh sandwiches, cakes, macha muffins, and so much more. If you can and you’re in the area- check it out, its worth both the time and money to get there. Don’t worry it’s not an expensive place either.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

Ise City, cooks kitchen

When coming to Ise city, one thing that most forget is food. I know that this seems like a basic requirement, but it is often overlooked.

Just 700m away from Geku (外宮) is a small curry restaurant, which is unimpressive to look at on entry. With a tired Irrashai (いらっしゃい) a friendly atmosphere is open to you.

There is a reasonable selection of food items from shrimp, chicken, pork curry to plain old rice, the menu is not big but it is good.

In addition to excellent taste, prices are very good as well- 650 yen for Chicken Katsu, miso soup, salad, and rice.

The only problem is the lack of a drinks menu- but there is free water. But when in Rome (or Ise in this case)…

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

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