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The Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage

Introduction

In the Wakayama area of Kii Peninsula, there are a number of ancient walking trails which are collectively known as the Kumano Kodo. Traversing mountains, passing through lushly forested gulleys and crossing racing rivers, you’ll see some of the most spectacular nature Japan has to offer. But enjoying nature is just a side benefit. This area is deeply spiritual and is steeped in history. For more than a thousand years pilgrims have used these trails to reach the three Grand Shrines of Kumano: Kumano Hongū Taisha, Kumano Nachi Taisha and Kumano Hayatama Taisha (source wikipedia).

We love being close to nature so took a couple of days off work during rainy season (July 2019) to visit the Kumano Kodo. Here is our account of the trip.

View of mountains in Nakahechi

Day One

My travel companion joined me from Tokyo so my first stop was Kansai Airport to pick her up. From there we got directly onto the ‘Hanwa Highway’ which is the direct route to Wakayama and the Kii Peninsula. It’s an easy drive of about an hour and a half to Nanki Tanabe Interchange which is where we left the highway.

Are you planning to drive in Japan? Here are a few things to remember:

  • the speed limit on the highways is a maximum of 80km per hour but on rainy or windy days it can be reduced to 60km per hour, this is indicated by round electronic signs reading 60 or 80. You might not see many police cars or speed cameras but this highway is patrolled by unmarked vehicles and hidden cameras so for your safety and to avoid a ticket, stick to the limit.
  • along the highway, you will encounter toll booths. If your car is fitted with an ETC machine you can drive through the electronic reader lane, usually purple signage. If you don’t have the machine you’ll need to go through the manual payment lane, indicated by a green light. You can pay using cash or credit card. The amount due will be displayed on a sign next to the toll booth after you hand over your ticket.
  • toilet breaks and snack pitstops are possible at the many ‘rest areas’ which you can enter freely without having to exit the highway. Use these because you’ll save money by staying on the highway until your final destination.

Nakahechicho Area

Nakahechi Trail Kumano Kodo
Tondagawa River

We were booked to stay at a mountainside cottage which we had booked through AirBnB. It was raining heavily on and off all day so after a quick lunch at a local noodle place, we grabbed a few groceries and headed to our accommodation.

The purpose of our trip was not hiking given that it is rainy season. Landslides and flooded rivers are a real possibility at this time of year so rather than hike we simply planned some R&R. Our cottage was just perfect for that and I highly recommend it.

It has a hinoki clad bathroom with a view over the mountains! Gorgeous.

If you are planning to hike the Nakahechi Trail and are starting at Takijiri-oji then this cottage is a great location for that. Link to more info.

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Refined Elegance: Contrast and Texture

Our friends at Nora Studios sent us a few of the preliminary photos of a recent bathroom installation. It’s stunningly beautiful. The contrast of warm wood and cool stone is magnificent.

Ofuro specs: japanese Knotless hinoki wood bathtub (quarter-sawn)
dim L1060 x W660 x H629mm (ext. dim.) 570mm(deep)
nat. oil @ apron, wood dowels. Iron brand at front side top-right
(Accessories are available from our shop)

It is difficult to understand it from the pictures as the sizes are so laser-perfect… but the tub feet are recessed in a ditch which collects the drain water as well as the overflow. Amazing detailing!

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The Nara Garden

As you know, there is nothing more soul-destroying for us here at Bartok design than to see old Japanese homes and gardens destroyed in the name of blind speculation. From time to time we hear about the impending doom before it happens, as in the case of this spectacular garden in Nara prefecture (east of Osaka).

A person I know that empties old houses has to throw away this garden in Nara…

We’ve been given the opportunity to share these pictures and we hope that with will be able to re-home some of the ornaments or even some of the plants.

We cannot say for sure how old these items are but we hope to bring more information to you soon. If you are interested in being kept in the loop please contact me via email (urgently) japan(at)bartokdesign.com

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MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA

We are deepening our relation and collaboration with the kimono designer Yoshio Jogan.
Jogan sensei is based in Kyoto and went through the long and steep path of mastering traditional kimono patterns since his youth.
But he believes that Art must always be in movement and the worship of a mummified tradition is not going to keep the Art alive.

Jogan sensei is a master in bridging the subtle traditional knowhow of kimono patterning into interior design, contemporary products and computer art. We will talk more about Jogan sensei in the next few weeks, but here I would like to anticipate a news that is also going to impact our Wakayama pre-war mansion re-branding project.

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Nestled in the Swiss Alps

With the email subject line from our client “At last the bathtub is in place” we could appreciate the hard work and effort that goes into redesigning a bathroom. Importing an ofuro from Japan takes no small effort and a huge amount of trust that we are going to get it right.

But get it right we did. Look at this stunning bathroom with it’s outlook on a mini version of the Swiss Alps (or so we like to think, since the bathtub is in its new home in Switzerland). Hats off to the designers of the bathroom who have managed to create a calm and relaxing space that I am sure the owners will love for years to come.

Can you imagine slipping into the delicious hot water after a day on the slopes?

Thank you F.H in Switzerland.


a house for the arts – idea competition

Finally, my prayers seem to have reached some sensible ears up in Heaven…!

An enlightened owner inherited a high grade and extremely well preserved house in Wakayama. The house is a 1,400㎡ (mostly 1 story, 2 rooms on the upper floor) timber frame house on a 3,100㎡ lot.

K-house is relatively new (1940) but being pre-war, it belongs to a sensibility, culture of material and aesthetic sense that unfortunately is now lost and unknown to post war architecture.

I am not being nostalgic: it is an evaluation based on the virtue of the design elements: knowledgeable but with a scent of fantasy.
If you look at the photos below (↓) you will agree that the sukiya-zukuri style in the Taisho and early Showa period is probably the highest point reached by Japanese architecture. The materials are selected with respect for their features. There is wit and irony. Nature mingles with architecture and even penetrates it as branches become railings and full moons become windows.

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The Cat’s Pajamas

Our customer James sent us a fun video of his cat contemplating diving in for a soak in the ofuro. Thanks for the giggle James! Ofuro fun for the whole family. You can see it over on our Facebook page. It’s a beautiful bath, so tranquil.

Send us your pics! We love them!! japan(at)bartokdesign.com is our email address.


https://www.facebook.com/japanese.ofuro/videos/2273150919622731/

Photo credit: Photos generously provided by James Reinke

Wandering the Nakasendo

According to the newspaper it’s popular among tourists to hike the Nakasendo trail between Magome and Tsumago post towns. We opted for the easy way – rented a car. But still, the views were stunning and having a car afforded us the opportunity to see more than just the trail towns.

The Nakasendo is an ancient foot highway that connected Tokyo (or Edo as it was known then) with the rest of Japan to the west. Follow the whole road and you will eventually arrive in Kyoto. It dates back to the 1700s.

Our interest in this area stems from two things: we enjoy learning about and appreciating Japanese history; and we are enamoured with the forests of Japan. The portion of the Nakasendo which is best preserved is in a geographic area called the Kiso Valley. In this area you will see the massive forests of conifer trees, Japanese hinoki (Chamaecyparis obtusa), sawara (Chamaecyparis pisifera ). These are just two of the Five Sacred Trees of Kiso which are favoured by bathmakers.

We started our trip in Nagoya, which is centrally located between Osaka and Tokyo. It made a convenient meeting point for our party of three. Getting an early start towards Gifu prefecture was made easier for being only an hour or so away.

Day One

We took an express train from Nagoya station to Ena station. We had arranged to pick up our car from Ena. The map showed where the rental place was but we were not sure if it was walkable or a taxi was a better idea. Calling into the Ena Tourist Information centre gave us our answer (taxi) and a whole host of other information.

Following the advice of the Tourist Info Centre, we spent the morning walking along a part of the Nakasendo that isn’t as well preserved as what we would later see, but still a nice stroll with enough interesting facts to get us excited about the rest of the trip.

After lunch, we took in the view from the Shinonomeo Bridge, which overlooks the Kiso River. With free parking nearby and quite an elevation, this was a great tidbit to learn.

You can see how high we were because look at the tiny car on the right! And this was our first glimpse at the forests!

Shinonomeo Bridge
Overlooking the Kiso River

Our next stop was the ruins of the Naegi Castle. This time we were immersed in the forests and got to experience the feeling of shinrin yoku briefly (forest bathing), although being a public holiday it was busier than usual.

The short hike from the carpark was worth it. Look at the views over the Kiso Valley! Look at the trees!

Day Two

The first post town of significance we visited was the beautifully preserved Magome Juku.

Magome Juku – these homes are between 100 and 300 years old
Magome Juku on the Nakasendo in Gifu Prefecture
A souvenir shop on the Nakasendo
It’s not a long hike between the post towns – this was about halfway, near the Odaki Waterfalls

Our next stop was Tsumago Juku. One of our favourite places was the old school – built from wood of course! It closed in the late nineties.

Kyu Nagisocho Tachitsumagosho School
Kyu Nagisocho Tachitsumagosho School
Each building and shop is decorated with flowers

A lot of effort has gone into preserving this area and piece of Japanese history. According to Wikipedia the area prospered until a major vehicle highway in the area bypassed the towns. Facing demise and economic ruin a few of the towns’ forefathers elected to renovate the old houses and buildings. In 1987 the central government granted them historic status.

This whole area is fascinating especially if you’ve come to Japan and are hoping to see some history but are feeling overwhelmed by the number of temples and shrines. The Nakasendo / Kiso Valley area is very much a piece of history with roots in commercialism – the trade routes of Japan. It makes for a nice change of pace because it’s more recent history than the temples which date back thousands of years. It’s actually possible to imagine walking along these routes, stopping for a night in a ryokan inn, grabbing a plate of local soba. I highly recommend you visit!

Sacred Trees of Kiso Valley

In my next post I will talk more about the trees, forests and how important they are both now and then, to the ofuro makers, such as Bartok design.

If you are interested in tracing our route please take a look at the custom map I created on Google maps of our stops. I am more than happy to give more information on anything. -Jacqui (Bartok design team member)

https://goo.gl/maps/wv9v81eWKyu5bu9x8

Reiwa Era: Important Notice

Important Notice Regarding Holidays & Bank Closure

As we welcome the new era! Reiwa era starts on May 1st, 2019


Please note that next week the spring holiday break called “Golden Week” will start. This year our holiday is particularly long on the occasion of the celebrations for the new emperor, taking place of the father who has abdicated. The new era Reiwa begins on May 1st.


To make a long story short, if you can make the bank transfer by April 24 (4/24) I think we will receive it by April 28 (4/28) and be able to work/ship during the long holiday period.


If not, all bank processing and shipping will happen after May 7th (5/7). Thank you for your understanding.


Bringing water to the desert

Airport shuttle bus all to myself
A limousine bus to myself!

This weekend I will be at The Hotel Show at the Dubai Trade Center bringing some much-needed ? onsen water to the desert! As I mentioned in my last post I am jumping all in to explore the b2b side of things. Orders have been increasing from hotels, bars, restaurants and spas so I thought I should come to answer all the questions about japanese ofuro in person.

You might know that our area of Japan was hit by a super-typhoon (tropical storm) a couple of weeks ago. So many flights were cancelled after the bridge to the airport was damaged as well as some flooding of the airport. It is happy for me that the shuttle bus was empty and I could enjoy a beautiful sunset as I take off from Osaka, Kansai Airport. The airport is only just resuming flights so I am very lucky.

See you on the other side! Come and say hi if you are at the Hotel Show too.

sunset over Osaka Bay
Sunset over Osaka Bay

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