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Japanese town full of delights, including gardens, art & history

Visitors to Japan who are looking for an old-style town with traditional houses, stores and streets should head for Obuse in Nagano prefecture. Obuse is a cozy community known for its delicious chestnuts and as the home of Hokusai, the famous painter and printmaker from Japan's Edo period. About 150 miles north of Tokyo, the settlement of 12,000 sits in the northeast of Nagano Basin, nestled on the Chikuma River and surrounded by hills. Enhancing Obuse's charm are its gardens. Walking the narrow streets, visitors will see signs in front of houses here and there that say "Open Garden," welcoming tourists to enter the properties and enjoy viewing the unique greenery and flowers. So far, 104 homeowners with gardens have registered for this project. (stripes.com)

(Norio Muroi/Obuse’s Ganshoin Temple has gardens, history and beautiful views of Obuse)

Nara still boasts its ancient lure
Japan Times - May 16, 2010
News photo 
(Who's next?: Customers wait for service at a stall near Kofukuji selling kasutera sponge cake.)

In a geographical battle for the hearts and minds of Japanese people, Kyoto would win hands down as the wellspring of so much of their culture for which they feel such reverence. But while Kyoto certainly has its magnificent fistfuls of historical treasures, it also happens to be Japan's seventh-biggest city, and a journey from one of its celebrated sites to another often involves a long bus ride through cityscapes of spectacular drabness. (Japan Times)
Yomiuri - May 15, 2010

More and more people in recent years are hoping to get a taste of spiritual power at the famed Ise Grand Shrine in Mie Prefecture. The sharp increase in the number of visitors to the shrine is attributable to the recent power spot craze, coverage of which has become a mainstay in lifestyle magazines and on Internet sites. A power spot is a place known for its restorative or energizing powers. Last year saw nearly 8 million visitors to the shrine. (Yomiuri)
NPR - May 11, 2010
Monk Endo Mitsunaga 
(Endo Mitsunaga is only the 13th monk since World War II to complete a grueling training regimen of walking
around Japan's Mt. Hiei for a thousand days. Mitsunaga, who has earned the honorific daiajari as a result, is shown
here in his living quarters at the Enryaku-ji temple complex atop Mt. Hiei, near Kyoto.)

Anyone who has run a marathon knows that feats of endurance require mental discipline - a way to fuse mind, body and spirit. Perhaps not surprisingly, then, a monk at a Zen Buddhist temple in Japan has walked a great distance - roughly the equivalent of the Earth's circumference - as a form of physical and spiritual exercise. Last fall, 34-year-old Zen monk Endo Mitsunaga became the 13th monk since World War II to complete the Sennichi Kaihogyo, 1,000 days of walking meditation and prayer over a seven-year period around Mount Hiei. He walked 26 miles a day for periods of either 100 or 200 consecutive days. (NPR)

Tuna auction reopens to tourists
Japan Times - May 11, 2010

The tuna auction at Tokyo's popular Tsukiji fish market reopened Monday to the public with new restrictions following a monthlong ban leveled after tourists obstructed business. Shortly after tourists started entering early in the morning, the new limit of 140 was reached. Several other people were turned away. The lucky ones who got in were orderly and there were no disruptions, Tsukiji official Yoshiaki Takagi said. (Japan Times)

On the road to paradise: a cycling pilgrimage to 88 Shikoku temples
Japan Times - May 9, 2010
News photo
(Views from a bike: A scene on the way to Yokomine-ji Temple
in Ehime Prefecture, number 60 on the Shikoku pilgrimage route.)

The girl at the cash register of the convenience store gives me a free bottle of iced tea and wishes me "Good luck!" As I remount my bike, I pop a sushi roll she also gave me into my mouth and set off, blissfully relaxed under blue skies, heading for the next temple. At my next halt along the way, a grocer presents me with a bag of mikan tangerines, and others along the village street give me onigiri (rice balls), cans of coffee and other snacks for free. Later, even a man in a repair shop who fixes my bike refuses to accept a penny for his work. Is this paradise? (Japan Times)

By T.S. on May 19, 2010
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Author:T. SATOH