Sunday, July 1, 2018

Revisit Hokkaido 2017 三回目の北海道の旅 - Farm Tomita ファーム富田

Visited 28.10.2017 (Sat)
Previous post:

Pride of Furano. Farm Tomita is analogous to Furano and whenever someone mentions about Farm Tomita, lavender comes into my mind automatically. The story of how lavender was successfully cultivated in Farm Tomita, thereby elevated it to become an icon of Furano today continues to be an inspiring one. When I visited Farm Tomita on my first trip to Hokkaido in 2012, it was during the peak summer season in July when the park was packed with tourists. Despite that, I did not get to tour the premises extensively due to poor weather conditions then. This time round, though I managed to avoid the crowd at Farm Tomita, I missed the best time to see the carpeted lavender fields. It is hard to get the best of both worlds at times.

The slope of Choei Lavender Park covered by blooming lavender flowers in July.
Was lucky enough to capture a clear view of Tokachidake mountain range on the day of my visit! 
A close up shot of the snow-capped mountain.
Familiarity. However, this recent visit to Farm Tomita has affirmed that this well received sightseeing spot is still worth visiting during its off-peak season. Walked from Nakafurano JR Station to Farm Tomita after a satisfying lunch at Chevre. Along the way, I passed by Choei Lavender Park, another popular lavender sighting location in Nakafurano which I have visited on my first trip to Hokkaido. During summer, the slope is fully covered with blooming lavender and visitors can make use of the chairlift to gain enough elevation to capture a spectacular view of surrounding Tokachidake mountain range decorated with lavender flowers in the foreground.

As expected, Farm Tomita was so much quieter during an off peak season without the usual sighting of buses ferrying groups of tourists here. All the shops within its premises, except for Hanabito House 花人の舎 and Dried Flower House ドライフラワーの舎, were already closed for the year. In Hanabito House, visitors can bring back home Farm Tomita's huge array of lavender related items, such as fragrances, cosmetic products, food and stationery. At the cafe located within the same building, I could not resist not getting a lavender flavoured soft serve cone to relish (the feeling is like something I had to tick off from my to-do list). Love the smooth texture and rich milky flavour, infused with the signature soothing scent of lavender. This is definitely a delectable dessert that should not be missed during a visit to Farm Tomita or even to Furano in general.

Greenhouse. Though there were no vibrant flowers sighted in the outdoor fields, a completely different outlook awaits in this small greenhouse situated in the center of Farm Tomita. Here, beautiful lavender flowers blooming out of their bushes can be enjoyed all year round. The indoor scenery certainly pales in comparison to the flower carpeted fields which will make everyone be wild about during summer. But think otherwise. Due to less facilities/attractions to explore in other parts of the park at this time of the year, visitors can spend more time admiring these enthralling stalks of flowers closely and carefully instead. This is something that is difficult to accomplish when the flower park is packed with tourists. I had the luxury to take numerous close up shots of these endearing flowers and the bees buzzing around the bushes, without much disturbances. Apart from lavender, I was also greeted by beautiful white and pink coloured Geraniums planted at the sides of the greenhouse during the time of my visit.

In conclusion, despite not being able to witness the rainbow fields again, I felt that I enjoyed myself more thoroughly at Farm Tomita this time round...


Farm Tomita ファーム富田
071-0704 北海道空知郡中富良野町基線北15号
Free admission.

How to get there?

(1) Approx 20 mins walk from Nakafurano JR Station 中富良野駅.

(2) Approx 7 mins walk from Lavender Farm JR Station ラベンダー畑駅, a temporary train station which is only opened when Furano-Biei Norokko Train 富良野・美瑛ノロッコ号 is in operation.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Chugoku Sanyo, San-in 中国地方山陽、山陰 - Izumo Taisha 出雲大社, Zenzai ぜんざい

Visited 21.04.2015 (Tue)

Good relationship. Izumo Taisha is a symbol of Izumo-shi and a distinguished place of worship in Japan. People from different parts of Japan come to this sacred place to wish for good "en 縁" or relationship, an essential element in everyone's life. Whether is it family ties, friendship, love life or rapport with colleagues, it is part and parcel of our lives to embrace the dynamics of relationship. There is no perfect, one structured solution to every issue we encounter in lives and sometimes spiritual boost is needed to overcome these challenges or eliminate the haunting uncertainties at the back of our minds. Establishing good relationship with people around us is paramount and meeting the right people can sometimes make a huge difference to our lives. Okuninushi no okami 大国主大神, the deity enshrined in Izumo Taisha, is well known as the deity of happiness, good fortune and relationship. Therefore, this shrine became a popular place of worship for people who want to be blessed with such virtue.

Overlooking Shinmon-dori from Seidamari no otorii. Can you spot a gigantic white torii in the background?
This was the highlight of our stay in Izumo-shi. After an overnight stay here, we set off early in the morning to first pay homage at Izumo Taisha before heading for Tamatsukuri Onsen later in the afternoon. From Izumo Taisha mae Station, we strolled along the stone paved street of Shinmon-dori, lined with shops and restaurants on both sides, before arriving at Seidamari no otorii 勢溜の大鳥居, the main entrance of Izumo Taisha.

From Izumo Taisha mae Station, turn left and walk straight to see this huge white torii made of concrete.

Background / Highlights:

- Count the number of rabbits! From Seidamari no otorii, there are two rows of beautiful pine trees leading all the way to the main compound of Izumo Taisha. Worshipers/visitors are supposed to walk on either side of this path as the center is dedicated to the deities. Along the way, you will spot numerous adorable stone figurines of rabbit in its premises. This depicts the white rabbit of Inaba 因幡の白兎 which is said to be the matchmaker of Okuninushi no okami and Princess Hachigami. In fact, there is a shrine built and dedicated to this rabbit as well. The shrine is Hakuto Jinja 白兎神社 and also a popular place of worship situated in Tottori city.

- Haiden 拝殿, located just in front of Honden, is the main place where worshippers pray to Okuninushi no Okami. In Japan, it is a common practice to use a 5 yen coin as offering. Reason being the pronunciation of 5 yen in Japanese, "go-en", sounds similar to another phrase which means relationship "縁". As mentioned previously, everyone hope to encounter/experience good "en" in different aspects of their lives, it gave rise to this practice exemplified during praying in a shrine/temple in Japan. In Izumo Taisha, the way to worship is slightly different from other shrines/temples I have visited before in Japan. First, put some coins into the offering box; followed by bowing twice and clapping four times (instead of the usual two times). Make a wish and bow once more to complete the entire procedure. 

Prayed in front of Honten.

Symbols to indicate where the pillars supporting the previous 48 m tall Honten are located in.

Could only see the roof of the honden behind the fence.
- Honden 本殿, is the main hall where Okuninushi no Okami is enshrined in. It is a pity that visitors are not allowed to enter the main hall as it is quite difficult to fully appreciate this majestic wooden building while standing outside the fenced up area. Standing at 24 m tall and a large roof beautifully covered by bark from cypress trees, the Honden was built in 1744 and was designated as a national treasure in 1952. It was said that the main hall was actually twice as high (48 m) in the past! Though it is hard to believe whether such tall structure could be built in the ancient days, the authenticity of this myth was somehow validated when remains of wooden pillars from the main hall, dated all the way back to 12th century, were unearthed from the grounds in 2000. The locations where the wooden pillars were deep rooted in are now being marked by symbols on the ground.

- Kaguraden 神楽殿, otherwise known as the sacred dance hall, is where Shinto rituals, prayers and marriage ceremonies are held. Located on the west side of Honden, there is one other unique feature to this ceremonial building. An enormous sacred Shinto straw rope, known as Shimenawa しめ縄, measuring 13.5 m long and weighing 4.5 tons, hangs in front of the building. This is the definitely the biggest Shimenawa I have ever seen in my life (in fact, the largest in Japan as well). Shimenawa is typically found at the entrance of such building as it divides the space between the sacred area where deities are enshrined in and the outside world.

Zenzai - Sweet red bean soup with two mochi, pink and white in colour. 
Zenzai. One food that many people will head for after praying at Izumo Taisha is zenzai ぜんざい. In the ancient days, zenzai was used as an important offering to the deities during the month of October of the old lunar calendar. This is the month when all the deities from different parts of Japan would come together to Izumo region, therefore also known as Kami ari tsuki 神有月. Along Shinmon-dori, there are many shops offering this sweet red bean soup served together with mochi. After visiting Izumo Taisha, we religiously came to Izumo Zenzai Mochi 出雲ぜんざい餅, a shop located in Goen Yokocho ご縁横町, to savour this popular sweet red bean soup dessert too!

Izumo Zenzai Mochi is located on the right. 
Goen Yokocho ご縁横町:


Izumo Taisha 出雲大社
Operating hours: 0600 - 2000 hrs
Free admission

How to get there? 

(1) By Ichibata Densha 一畑電車
Board the train from Dentetsu Izumo-shi Station 電鉄出雲市駅 and alight at Kawato (川跡). Transfer to another train at a different platform heading for Izumo Taisha (出雲大社) via Taisha line. Alight at the terminus station, Izumo Taisha mae Station 出雲大社前駅. Upon exiting from the train station, turn right and walk straight along Shinmon-dori 神門通り. Approx 7 minutes walk to reach Izumo Taisha.
One way train fare = 490 yen (adult).
Izumo Taisha mae Station:


Video: An excellent promotional video on Izumo Taisha produced by Japan Tourism Agency.


Commemorative stamps:

Chugoku Sanyo, San-in 中国地方山陽、山陰 - Mizuki Shigeru Museum 水木しげる記念館, Gegege no Yokai Rakuen ゲゲゲの妖怪楽園

Visited 20.04.2015 (Mon)

Yokai exploration. This is a museum dedicated to Mizuki Shigeru 水木しげる, the late artist who created Gegege no Kitaro ゲゲゲの鬼太郎, the popular manga series depicting ghosts and spirits (otherwise known as yokai) in an amicable way. To be frank, I have limited knowledge about Gegege no Kitaro which originated way before I was born (first released in 1960) and have at most come across the main character, Kitaro, only a few times in my life. Therefore, this trip to Sakaiminato city, a place where Mizuki Shigeru spent much of his adolescent days in, was a great opportunity for me to better understand the background of this manga series and how influential it has been all this while.

Yokai vs Human. Close to the end of Mizuki Shigeru Road is where the museum is located. Upon entering the museum, visitors can welcomed by a figurine of Kitaro and Medama Oyaji, and a beautiful picture showcasing a caricature form of Mizuki Shigeru and his yokai creations. The exhibition hall is divided into sub sections, each with its own theme. On the second level, the characters of Gegege no Kitaro are represented on standing cut out boards and there are interesting display boards put up to provide a good overview/trivia of Kitaro and his family members. For example, an explanation on the process of how Medama Oyaji evolved to become a walking eyeball, an introduction of yokai no mori (yokai jungle), the place where Kitaro lives in, etc. A excellent bibliography of the late Mizuki Shigeru, documenting his life, the hardships he went through during WWII (during which he lost an arm) and contributions to the manga world, can be reviewed in one of the sections. Visitors get a glimpse of Mizuki Shigeru's workroom which is replicated in the museum; featuring his drawing tools and precious manuscripts. There is a Monsters' Cave, an enclosure where numerous figurines of yokai that have appeared previously in the manga series are displayed. Though the displays are all presented in Japanese, there are foreign language audio guides that can be rented by tourists to facilitate comprehension. And if you are lucky enough, you can even meet Kitaro and his friends, either loitering outside the museum or patrolling along Mizuki Shigeru Road. Do grab the chance to take a photo with them and they are more than willing to fulfill this request!

Send a postcard back! Here, visitors can find a specially designed postbox (like a straw hut) situated in Yokai Teien 妖怪庭園. An exclusive postmark featuring Kitaro are stamped on all postcards delivered through this postbox. To facilitate this, the ticket counter here sells both postcards and stamps, and there are even stationery supplies provided at the entrance hall for visitors to pen their thoughts on the postcards. Personally, I always find postcard an excellent souvenir / momento to bring back home from a holiday.

Yokai playground. A stone throw away from the museum is Gegege no Yokai Rakuen ゲゲゲの妖怪楽園. Here, visitors can take photos with more figurines depicting characters from the manga series, such as Kitaro 鬼太郎 and Nekomusume ねこ娘, in its outdoor compound. Apart from that, there are stalls set up in its premises where old school target and ball games can be played at a stipulated fee (300 yen/game). Though there is an overwhelming number of shops offering original Gegege no Kitaro merchandise along Mizuki Shigeru Road, there are some exclusive character goods available only at Gegege no Yokai Rakuen. Being a nanoblock fan, I set my eyes on the exquisite nanoblocks featuring Kitaro, Nekomusume and Medama Oyaji 目玉おやじ and bought them all back without much hesitation!

Completed nanoblock figurine of Kitaro!
Yokai Latte featuring Kitaro and Nekomusume.
Break time. Gegege no Yokai Rakuen also housed a cafe where light snacks and drinks can be enjoyed. Fancy some Yokai Latte 妖怪ラテ? You may wonder whether it is some exotic flavoured coffee just from its name, but it is actually normal cafe latte presented in a different way. You can choose from a handful of pictorial stencils (Kitaro, Nekomusume, Medama Oyaji, Ittan Momen 一反木綿 and etc) to be imprinted on the surface of your cuppa latte with cocoa powder. Ordered pancakes which has a small picture of Medama Oyaji stamped on the center, to go along with our Yokai Latte. In my opinion, I will consider the food to be more photo worthy than tasty.


Mizuki Shigeru Museum 水木しげる記念館
Operating hours: 0930 - 1700 hrs
Admission fee = 700 yen
* Discounted fee for foreigners = 300 yen

Gegege no Yokairakuen ゲゲゲの妖怪楽園
Operating hours: 0930 - 1800 hrs
Free admission

How to get there?

(1) By foot. Approx. 10 mins walk from Sakaiminato JR Station 境港駅.


Video: Mizuki Shigeru Museum was featured in Taiwanese travelogue program "嗨 Let's go".


Commemorative stamp:

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Revisit Hokkaido 2017 三回目の北海道の旅 - Farmers Cafe Fudo ファーマーズカフェ風土

Visited 03.11.2017 (Fri) 

Luck. During my stay in Higashikawa-cho for a month, I stayed out on most weekends to visit nearby places such as Furano and Biei. At the back of my mind, there was one food in this quaint countryside which I longed to eat - the famous omu rice from Farmer's Cafe Fudo. However, to accomplish this mission, some luck is required. What makes it difficult for me to visit Fudo is its operating hours. It is only and usually opened on weekends; infrequently on Fridays and Mondays. When I decided to stay put in Higashikawa-cho on my second Sunday in, Fudo was coincidentally not opened for business that weekend. And when I came to terms that I would most likely not be able to relish this before I depart from Hokkaido on a Saturday morning, I leap for joy after finding out from their blog that it was opened on Friday (the day before I leave)! On that particular day, I pulled along a classmate and we cycled to our destination which was about 2 km away from our dormitory. I even timed it such that we were first in the queue and to beat the lunch crowd. When the clock struck 11 am, there were already three groups of diners including ourselves waiting eagerly to "bash" into the cafe.

Background. Cafe Fudo opened 1 year after Mr and Mrs Nitta-san 新田さん shifted from Wakkanai to Higashikawa-cho in 2007. Mr Nitta-san decided to settle down here to carry out organic cultivation of rice. On the other hand, as their kid is allergic to chemical additives in food, they wanted to foster natural style of living and it started with rearing their own chickens, using carefully chosen poultry feed which comprised of Higashikawa's rice fragments and wheat produced from nearby areas. Chickens reared here are not subjected to any form of hormonal or antibiotics injection, therefore the harvested eggs are not only safe for consumption, it also eliminates body burden. There is even an exclusive name given to the eggs produced by Farm Rera ファームレア (the farm owned by Mr and Mrs Nitta-san) called “Daisetsu na tamago 大雪なたまご” and the best way to savour these eggs is to pay a visit to Fudo to eat the omu rice prepared by Mrs Nitta-san herself.

Best omu rice. As Mrs Nitta-san handles everything in the restaurant, from taking the orders, cooking to serving, all by herself, the seating capacity in Fudo is limited to only 9 people. Waiting time could be longer than expected since each plate of omu rice is cooked upon order. There are two types of omu rice to choose from the menu (Fuwatoro Omu Rice or Fuwatoro Omu Curry). Apart from omu rice, patrons can also wrap up their meals with pudding made from Daisetsu no tamago as well.

- Fuwatoro Omu Rice ふわとろオムラス [950 yen]: The term "fuwatoro" is actually made up of two words "fuwafuwa ふわふわ" and "torotoro とろとろ". The former means fluffy/airy, while the latter means lava like; and the combination describes how an excellent omelette should look and taste like. The soft and fluffy omelette is laid over fried tomato rice and the dish is completed with a ladle of lightly flavoured homemade sauce poured on top of it. I have to exclaim that this is the best omu rice I have ever eaten to date; it was so delicious that I could not bear to finish the very last bit. The aromatic eggy flavour and smooth texture felt so satisfying to my tastebuds and this is truly a soul food which will win the hearts of many, regardless of age.

- Fuwatoro Omu Curry ふわとろオムカレー [980 yen]: The tomato rice is replaced with normal white rice and this omu rice is eaten with curry cooked using spices, vegetables and beans (the colour resembles that of dhal curry). Both set meals are served together with soup and salad. My classmate had the omu curry and he like it very much too. 


Farmer's Cafe Fudo ファーマーズカフェ風土
* Normally opens on weekends, infrequently on Fridays and Mondays (if it happens to be a public holiday). Please check their blog to find out the days of operation. Usually the owner will post relevant information 1 or 2 weeks before its actual days of operation.
Operating hours: 1100 - 1600 hrs; last order at 1530 hrs

More about Daisetsu no tamago from Farm Rera:

How to get there?

(1) Bus 66 from Asahikawa Station Bus Terminal 旭川駅バスターミナル Platform 9 or from Michikusakan 道草間, heading for Asahidake 旭岳. Alight at Higashi-4-go 東4号.

* Instead of taking Bus 66 from Asahikawa Station Bus Terminal which will make a detour to Asahikawa Airport before arriving at Michikusakan, you can take Bus 60 and 67 (which have more regular services) from Asahikawa Station Bus Terminal (Platform 10) to Michikusakan, followed by transferring to Bus 66 here.

Bus 66 schedule:

(2) By rental bicycle from Michikusakan.
For greater flexibility (and if you can ride a bicycle), you can rent a bicycle from Michikusakan for 500 yen/hour. From Michikusakan, turn left and cycle along the main road towards direction of Asahidake (National Route 1160). Takes approx. 10 - 15 mins. Keep a lookout for Farmer's Cafe Fudo on the left side of the road when you arrive at Higashi-4-go 東4号.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Japan Autumn Nov 2017 一人で日本の旅 - cafe Tati sweets カフェタチスイーツ

Visited 14.11.2017 (Tue)

Lunch. Wrapped up my day trip at Ito with lunch and dessert at cafe Tati sweets. Reached the cafe slightly just before it was opened for the day and was surprised to see another person who did the same too. Tati has been featured in several travelogues that I have read and being a person with a sweet tooth, I was definitely looking forward to this visit. While standing outside to wait for the clock to struck 11:30 am, I was already attracted to this 2 storey, white coloured and cute looking building which Tati is housed within. Upon entering the shop, I was immediately dazzled by the beautiful and delicious looking sweets arranged neatly in the display fridge.

Cafe Tati sweets is a family operated cafe and patisserie, located near Matsukawa Yuhodou 松川遊歩道. While the husband is in charge of the shop front, the wife, who is a pastry chef, handmade all her creations wholeheartedly. The interior of the cafe is also nicely done, with a modern country style outlook. Found a corner seat and sat down to read the menu. There are two set lunches available on the menu - (1) Saba fish, harvested in Ito, minced and cooked in miso, served with onsen tamago and rice, (2) homemade sandwiches with three different fillings to choose from (egg, curry and pork). Chose the latter because I had something similar like the former (but in ochasuke style) during breakfast in Kai Ito.

Sweets rule! The set lunch comprised of egg sandwich タマゴサンドイッチ as the main and accompanied by soy milk and vegetable soup, salad with pasta, dried fruit, biscuit and coffee/tea. When my meal was served, I was slightly disappointed by the outlook of the egg sandwich which was prepared beforehand (rather than upon order), wrapped with a plastic sheet and kept in the cooler until it is served. The egg sauce filling was actually quite delectable and tasted better than it looked. However, it still fell short of my expectation as I would have preferred it to be served warm. Made my way to the front counter to choose a dessert from a good variety available to make up for the slightly mediocre lunch. Glad that I did not give up on their sweets - had a maccha cream puff and it was so good that I wanted to order another! The cream was smooth, rich and aromatic, with a subtle bitter aftertaste that is distinct to maccha which I like alot. In fact, there are many other sweets (that are very photogenic as well) which I hoped I could savour, especially after the excellent impression derived from the maccha cream puff. This totally brightened up my day again!

For the delicious sweets, I am quite sure I will make a return visit to cafe Tati sweets again.

- Egg sandwich: 280 yen + 600 yen to upgrade into set lunch
- Maccha cream puff: 230 yen


cafe Tati sweets カフェタチスイーツ
 〒414-0023 静岡県伊東市渚町2-6
Operating hours: 1130 - 1830 hrs; closed on Mondays

How to get there?

(1) By foot. Approx. 12 mins walk from Ito JR Station 伊東駅.