Friday, 15 September 2017

Japan September 2017: Harie Village of Living Water (針絵:生水の郷)

One of the many waterways in Harie
Crystal clear spring water



45 min from JR Kyoto brought us to JR Shinasahi station from where it's a 15 min walk to the village. Since we only called in the morning to book a tour (available times: 9AM, 1030AM, 130PM), only Japanese tour was available. I guess if you call early enough, you can request for an English-speaking guide. The train costs 970 yen per person and the tour costs 1000 yen per person. If you have money to splash, there is also an English tour available from http://www.yutour.net/tours/002_harie.html but it costs at least 10,000 yen per person which includes 
  • English-speaking tour conductor (licensed guide interpreter)
  • Admission fee for guided walking tour in Harie
  • Fare for all transportation listed above
  • Insurance
  • Local tax

The phone at Harie community center
Our guide, Maeda San
Our visitor pass which allows us to visit Kabata in homes, led by Maeda san


Maeda san met us at the sign and brought us on a tour of the village. She explained that there are about 140 households with about 600 people. The village seemed quiet and for the entire tour, we only met the occasional elderly on a bike or walking around. Maeda san told us that the youngsters commute daily to the cities for work so at the time of our tour (1030AM), it's exceptionally quiet.

There are no restaurants and no vending machines in the village. Only a small preserved fish shop, a bean curd shop which was not open and what Maeda san described as 美人の店 bijjn no mise, shop for beauties. We spotted a Takkyubin van and Maeda san explained that they use takkyubin quite a lot due to the lack of shops in the village.

Preserved Fish Shop

Bijin no mise (Shop for beauties)
The highlight of this tour is really the waterways that run through the village and the kabata with Japanese carp, places where the villages draw fresh water for daily use. We were told that you can leave a pot used to cook curry in the kabata for a few hours and it will be clean. Amazing!!!

Kabata outside a house

Indoor kataba
The water maintains a constant temperature of 13 deg C through summer and winter. In the past when there was no refrigerator, people chilled their fruits and vegetables in the cold water.

The water maintains a constant temperature of 13 deg C throughout the year. The greens at the side are watercress which can be used in salads.
Maeda san recommended a Japanese restaurant that serves food made with the village's water but it started to rain heavily on our way there and we spotted the little Italian-style restaurant called Restaurant Hinata so we decided to step in and were glad we did. The restaurant is run by an elegant middle-aged couple and the wood-fired Japanese curry pizza was really good!





Pizza oven

Delicious Japanese curry pizza

They grow various plants in their little garden

Japan September 2017: Kurama, Kibune Nagashi Soumen (鞍馬、貴船: 流しそうめん)



I wanted very much to try kawadoko dining (dining above the river) which is only available in summer so I planned a trip to Kibune via a hike from Kurama.

To get to Kurama from Kyoto, take the Nara line to Toufukuji, change to Keihan line to Demachiyanagi then take the Eiden to Kurama, the final stop. The entire journey takes about an hour. Don't believe websites that tell you it's "30 min from Kyoto". It's actually 30 mins from Demachiyanagi.

From Kurama, it's a 2-3 hour hike to Kibuneguchi. The hike is easy and is about half ascent and half descent with toilets and vending machines nearer to Kurama side. It's possible to go both ways although we see more people going from Kurama to Kibuneguchi. This could be because there are more restaurants at Kibune area so it's nice to end your hike with a meal. Even though it's September, the hike is comfortable because it's mostly cool and some parts are breezy.

Once you reach Kibune, you will pass many restaurants offering kawadoko meals at exorbitant prices. At a minimum of ¥6500 for something that should cost only less than half the price, I feel that these are really quite a rip-off. 



For a more interesting experience, walk in about 15 minutes to Hirobun ひろ文 and get a number plate for nagashi soumen. The wait can be 2-2.5 hours so you should get a number before sightseeing around the place. You pay ¥1300 per person and they give you a fan with your number.



My main concern was people double-dipping and having to eat strangers' saliva so I prayed that I'll be first in the line of flowing soumen. My concern is actually unfounded because they actually have an excellent system (they are Japanese! How can they tolerate eating strangers' saliva!). There are 5 separate tubes for 5 groups of people, in two clusters of 2 and 3 each. The group seated on the left uses the inner tube.



From Kibune Shrine, we took a bus (¥140) to Kibuneguchi station where we made the trip back to Kyoto. It's also possible to walk (about 30 min).


Although it's a very interesting experience, I felt that the place was rather touristy and I'm not sure whether I'll come again in summer. It's kind of like a been there done that for me. As for the kawadoko, there's something for everyone but you can't have your cake and eat it too. Cheap, kawadoko, fast: 3 choose 2. You either have to wait for a long time (nagashi soumen), pay for the expensive kawadoko sets or choose a restaurant with regular prices but without kawadoko experience. But I may try coming in autumn as I can imagine the momiji will be very beautiful.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Japan September 2017: Ine no Funaya (伊根の舟屋)





This has got to be the highlight of the trip! I can't believe we only discovered this paradise now! 

All the funaya that accept internet bookings were full for our shortlisted dates so I had to make a reservation by phone to Kagiya (Japanese only). Alternatively, you can leave a message on the Facebook page and they will reply very promptly. Before boarding the bus to Ine from Amanohashidate, I had called Mina San to inform her of my ETA so she can meet us at Ine bus stop. Since we arrived at 2PM but check in is 3PM, she took our baggage and we hung around at Ine Cafe and used the complimentary bicycles to check out the nearby spots.


Ine Cafe, a rather modern and hip place

Ine cafe

Complimentary bikes around the village
Mina san came by the cafe again to pick us up for check in. Upon entering Kagiya, we were amazed that it looked very well-furnished and well-maintained despite the weathered exterior. The view from our window on level 2 was spectacular and we felt so blessed to be in this paradise. From our window, we could watch Mina san's husband and dad fishing for our dinner. 


Dining area


My Melody and Funayan
My Melody and Funayan at the boat docking area outside the dining area
Bathroom


Bathroom


Bathroom amenities

Bathroom amenities


The sink at the toilet is so cute!
Living room at Level 2

Bedroom at Level 2

Futon in bedroom
Welcome snack
Dinner was an extravagant array of sashimi, steamed fish, braised fish and fresh vegetables. We felt so bad that we could not finish the food because it was just too much. Mina San's husband is an excellent chef and I felt that the food is even better than the ones at some of the ryokan I've stayed in.


Grilled squid and fish salad

Ika sashimi. We were told that this is the frilly part of the squid

Boiled tentacles. Super crunchy!

Assorted sashimi

Mina san even drew a picture to explain the type of fish used

Steamed Amadai

Braised Aji

Lovely grapes
The next morning, we strolled around to take photos.


Nibi Valley photo spot

Nibi Valley photo spot
Breakfast was a balanced meal of salt-grilled fish, vegetables,  chawanmushi, miso soup packed with fresh mushrooms, rice




Prior to our arrival, Mina san had emailed to inform that their boat Herbie had been damaged and apologized for not being able to offer us a complimentary tour around the bay. She very kindly arranged for a neighbour's boat to take us on a tour and we paid the elderly gentleman (who spoke Japanese very fast!) ¥1000 each. I will strongly recommend going with one of these smaller boats unless the waves are choppy because you have the whole boat to yourself. There are larger sightseeing boats which are more stable but you will likely be with other tourists.



Chris enjoying it while it lasts
Mina san then drove us up to 舟屋の里公園 (Funaya no sato koen) where we can have a panoramic view of the bay. We had a snack at the restaurant on level 2 while enjoying the view one last time before going back to Kyoto.



We really miss this place and felt very touched by the hospitality of the Kagi family. Thank you for the wonderful stay!

The Kagi family



It is possible to couple this trip with a night in Amanohashidate. We have stayed at Amanohashidate twice but never discovered this Venice of Japan or what they call 海の京都 (umi no kyoto), Kyoto by the sea. We will definitely be back again and we plan to bring our bicycles and cycle from Amanohashidate across the land bridge and to Ine the next time. It will be about 19km which is very doable.

Funaya Accommodation:
Kagiya
¥20 000 per pax excluding tax, dinner and breakfast included
CASH ONLY



Access:
2 hours on the limited express Hashidate from JR Kyoto station brings you to Amanohashidate where you can hop on to a local bus to Ine. JR Pass may be used for this train but you have to pay a small sum (about 1500 yen, I can't quite remember) because part of the route runs on non-JR tracks.

Check train times here: http://www.hyperdia.com/en/

You can also check out the Tango trains which are very fun to ride. I've tried the Aomatsu and Akamatsu before and enjoyed the very pretty interior and scenic rides.

http://trains.willer.co.jp/matsu/

The bus takes 1 hour and costs 400 yen. Take a ticket upon boarding and pay when you get off. No reservations required. Take note that the buses are infrequent (about 1 hour intervals) and bus times coincide with the train arrival times so do go directly to the bus stop right in front of the station after alighting from the train. We missed the bus at Amanohashidate by 2 minutes because I stopped to help a lost couple and had to wait more than an hour for the next one but as a result, we found a nice cafe beside the station that serves affordable and tasty meals. Get out of the station and turn right you will see the cafe. It's called Jou Jou. Do not be alarmed if you see many elderly people on the bus! The mean age of the people on our bus was at least 70! Haha...

Bus route
Bus time table at Amanohashidate station
There is also an express bus that takes 140 mins from Kyoto to Ine but it requires reservation at least 5 days in advance. I am not sure how this reservation can be done. I also do not know whether there is toilet on the bus. At least I know there is toilet on the limited express train haha...