After 21 years of living in Japan, I finally had the opportunity to visit Hiroshima. The A-bomb memorial left me very deep emotions. I feel more adult, more responsible, I feel stronger after the visit. Again, photos and videos are here if you want to visit through my eyes. https://photos.app.goo.gl/kD9QotW8YP8yLLLh9
From there is also possible to board a powerboat to Miyajima (about 45min.), the famous shrine with the orange torii emerging from the waves. You can buy the round trip ticket but if you get the one way only, you will have more options to choose from for the return trip.
Miyajima was wonderful beyond the imagination! I do not know why it took me 21 years to make it here! There are friendly but wild dears strolling around. Unfortunately, the famous torii was under restoration: an additional reason to come again.
On the island, the atmosphere is relaxed, few cars, the shrine surrounded by the sand and water is just spectacular and all the other sites and the village itself are a paradise if you enjoy taking photographs. I am an amateur photographer and just used the phone but I hope that the photos at the link below can stir your appetite… https://photos.app.goo.gl/fk3VTAUbBKxn2EHy7
This december day was blessed by a warm sun, wild clouds and the colors of the autumn maples. The only problem was the little time. I definitely want to return soon, maybe in springtime and definitely with a full day to mindlessly stroll around…
Following from the previous blog entry, after the visit at the Furuya house, we had lunch with the city hall staff and other consultants and I spoke about the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route and how many European tourists skip the beaten track and head straight to the Koya-san monasteries.
(If you are not familiar, the Kumano Kodo is a 4 to 6 days pilgrimage trail also designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Wakayama prefecture)
Wouldn`t it lead to positive results both culturally and economically to appeal to these tourists rather than opening yet another aquarium with jumping dolphins?
My comment was maybe superficial – also considering the fact that I did not yet walk the Kumano route myself. I just felt that if we had to find the Hannan hidden potential it was probably not on the tetrapods of the reclaimed shores but rather on the trails connecting Sakai to Mino and to Koya-san. This generated a very interesting conversation about Shugen-do and maybe with some potential to change the destiny of the area.
Shugendo is a syncretic theosophy, with some similarities to the shamanism of the American Indians or the celtic druidism at its base (just to add another layer of syncretism…) Shu-gen-do (literally: PRACTICE + MIRACLE + PATH) is the “path to gaining special powers as the result of training”. It was founded by En no Gyoja in the VII century and combined elements of ancient pre-Buddhist, Shinto worship of nature together with the doctrine and ritual of esoteric Buddhism (Mikkyo), Taoism, Onmyōdō, astronomy, medicine etc.
The Shugen-do practitioners are also known as Yamabushi and have to spend time in the mountains (one trip for each season, 4 times a year) and learn from nature the truth about life. Thanks to this experience, they gain knowledge of curative herbs and in the past acted as healers and were believed to have superpowers. (As a side story, many ninjas used yamabushi techniques for fighting and disguised under the robes of pilgrims.) You can find a lot of information on the internet about yamabushis: let me just add one comment (as I did not find it elsewhere) : the best definition of what “Yama”-“bushi” are can be found in the literal reading of the kanji: “mountain” + “human + dog”: in the sense that practitioners seek freedom from the control of their rational mind to become like animals a part of nature and understand its rules and power.
Shugendo was outlawed by the Meji government as the newly established Emperor was aiming at creating a simple pyramidal structure where he was the chief of a depurated Shinto religion and therefore Buddhism and Shintoism had to be forcibly separated. (Before then, most of the sacred sites included Buddhist and Shinto buildings side by side, as you can still see in Asakusa – which is now an exception). In any case, the Yamabushi continued their training in secret until they were rehabilitated after WWII. During the years of concealment, Shugen-do was mainly absorbed within the Shingon Buddhism and Tendai Buddhism influencing its present structure and rituals.
But the core component of Shugen-do is very simple and there is no sacred text or theory. You just have to walk (in silence) in the mountains and go through trials like climbing a steep cliff, meditate under a cold waterfall or walk on fire. Nature will teach you the truth about life, without the necessity for any interpretation or mediation. No theory, just do it! Isn`t it powerful?
There were hundreds of holy mountains providing the challenges and the teachings necessary to become a wise man but the most famous areas for wanderers are:
The now lost paths of Mino (north of Osaka) and Ikoma mountains where En no Gyoja, fascinated by the red maple leaves started to develop his practices.
The most famous of all times is the Omine mountain range which includes the Kumano, Kinpusen and Yoshino super-holy sites, making it the mecca of the “mountain wisdom seekers”.
Koya-san was not properly a Shugen-do site but of course distinctions were much more fuzzy in the past. It is technically part of the Kii-Omine mountain range but it is so sacred that I am listing it separately. Koya san was connected to Sakai and Osaka by a pilgrimage route.
Dewa Sanzan – the Three Sacred Mountains in Yamagata prefecture (north-west Tohoku). Mount Haguro, “the mountain representing the existing world,” Mount Gassan, “the mountain representing the past,” and Mount Yudono, “the mountain representing the future,” alone can teach you everything you ever hoped to know … and more!
Hakusan (lit. white mountain) is the collective name for a number of sacred Japanese mountains that converge along the borders of four prefectures (Ishigawa, Fukui, Gifu, and Toyama) in northwest Honshū From early on, Hakusan was known as a “mountain realm inhabited by kami” and banned to normal people.
The Isu peninsula with its ancient hot springs holy sites and Shinto-Buddist – one thousand handed Kannon statues
Mt. Ontake in the Kiso Region (Nagoya)
The Katsuragi mountain in Nara prefecture
The Ishizuchi mountain in Shikoku Island
Last but not least, Hiko-mountain in Kyushu featuring giant buddhas carved in the cliff.
The practice included some rituals before “entering-into-the-peak” (nyubu girei) but as those traditions were handed down orally, there are very few traces remaining nowadays. But most importantly (and here I am coming to the point of this long entry) each path consisted of a number of stages: practical experiences to be done in order to absorb the wisdom from nature. These stages were marked by stone tablets or kannon statues, so that the practitioners could understand where to stop and what hint to look for. The Omine path has en route 75 ascetic practice stages called “Nabiki“. Other paths consist of 33 stations, symbolic of the 33 manifestations of Kannon Bodhisattva.
And here is my idea and proposal. Did you know that the twenty-eight chapters of the Lotus Sutra were buried among the peaks in the Katsuragi range which extends from Futagamiyama (Nara) to Kada (at the gates of Wakayama)? At present only a few stations are known (#1 being a cliff in Tomogashima and #7 being a cold waterfall). Also, it is amazing that the Katsuragi route would connect to the Omine and the Kumano pilgrimage route forming a triangle. Onigashima is the island with the spectacular ruins of the Japanese Imperial Army batteries which is worth a visit alone! And there are 26 sutras that are waiting to be found in the mountains leading back to Yoshino, in the heart of the old country of Yamato, the heart of Japan.
Don`t you think it would be extremely thrilling to re-discover the forgotten Shugen-do path together with its treasures of wisdom? The location is also ideal making it easy for the visitors of Koya san to intercept at least some stations. Also, being the Katsuragi mountains quite low it would be possible to cover the pilgrimage in 2 days creating an introductory experience for those who could then decide to wander the Kumano or Omine range on their next trip. It would be culturally exciting – and I think also commercially successful to rediscover and restore in a non-invasive way the old Shugen-do Katsuragi path and all of its 28 stations. What do you think?
Giving it a try, instead of just wrapping ourselves in theoretical thinking. Learning while experiencing this wonderful World we have all for us: isn`t it the perfect antidote against the invisible force that sucks our time and confines our lives behind a virtual facebook avatar?
I would appreciate it if you let could let me know your opinion about such a project (via email or by commenting below) as I could use these data to convince the authorities to look at concrete ways to implement the project. I know, it is not an easy way but – hey! – if it was easy what is the point?
I have been invited by Hannan City, in Wakayama prefecture to participate in a committee to study ways of promoting tourism and valorizing the historical heritage. Hannan City is just east of the bridge conneting to the Kansai Airport artificial island. Since most of the traffic is westward (towads Sakai and Osaka), Hannan City – as well as Wakayama City – is cut out
It is needless to touch in this article the shadows of the whole deal: the mountain flattened to infill the airport, the abstract monument made of rocks on the beach and closed to the public by a barricade, the strategies and alliances to split the cake of the public aids or create yet another theme park with dolphin shows.
But there are also chances to save the old buildings still standing, with some compromises. One of the more notable house is the Furuya house. Boosting a 1200 uninterrupted lineage as rulers of the area, the Hatanaka samurais, at the time of the Meji restoration had to pick up a last name as a “civil” family and properly picked Furuya which means Old house (in the meaning of old lineage). The Hatanakas owned a land of about 20 cho (200 hectares). A military airport build during the WWII deprived them of 50 hectares and the Nankai trail line exprepriated some other land and left them with the about 6 hectares of the present lot. Which is still a huge lot by any standard.
From some 400 years the Furuyas have been the rice tax exactors on behalf of the government and the property consists of a kind of maze of some 10 buildings connected by courtyards and gardens. The lot has its own 500years old well and its own river: unfortunately its boulders have been cementified but nevertheless, this forested area is a paradise for the birds and kind of an unreal experience for us that are not used to hearing birds chirping. The property has 5 tea rooms and many artifacts worth being classified as important historical asset. The asymmetrical ranma transom, the sword guards used as door handles attracted the attention of the academics for the past 40 years but as there is no benefit but only burdens in listing the house as an historical property, the owners have been steering off this way. As the owner age approaches 94, I hope we will be able to do something to preserve the property: a rare piece of civil architecture left to show us the structure of the society in the Edo period and even before.
I am splitting the description of the Hannan city visit. Please check the next blog entry as well.
We’re huge fans of this beautiful country. Japan has so much to offer, from gorgeous scenery to historical places to stunning centuries-old temples. You could spend decades here and not see everything (as we can attest to).
Unfortunately, like many places around the world, Japan suffers from a new phenomenon, overtourism.
Overtourism describes destinations where hosts or guests, locals or visitors, feel that there are too many visitors and that the quality of life in the area or the quality of the experience has deteriorated unacceptably.
If you’re like us then you probably don’t love crowded places and you definitely don’t want to experience first-hand the devastation caused by overtourism (litter, graffiti and a general disrespect for the place).
But at the same time you have a bucket list with things on it. We get it, you want to see Kinkaku-ji and the Great Buddha or Todai-ji.
A photo at Fushimi-Inari-Taisha … would be epic but did you know there is an even better place to see these iconic red tori gates? Motonosumi Inari Jinja is “an impressive sight” in a beautiful location, in Yamaguchi prefecture.
Bartok design fans tell us they love Japanese architecture. While you are in Yamaguchi you must visit the Kintaikyo Bridge it is “quintessentially Japanese”.
And we all know that one of the BEST things to do while in Japan is visit an onsen hotspring. Check out these off-the-beaten-track places: JNTO onsen recommendations. Our friends in Beppu speak highly of the new Intercontinental hotel there. Oita is full of more budget-friendly places too. We wrote about that.
The Japanese Tourism promotion board is serious about welcoming wonderful people of the world to this fine country but also wants you to enjoy your trip and not have to deal with the negatives of overtourism. They’ve created this whole website for just that. We love their categories: Onsen & spa, Meditation & mindfulness … our suitcases are packed if JNTO wants us to visit 🙂
The team here at Bartok design love off the beaten path destinations in Japan. This past year we visited the Kumano Kodo sacred pilgrimage trails and the historical Nakasendo Trail. Check out our blog posts about these trips.
Tell us where you are planning to visit and why you chose that location? We’d love to hear more. If you post to Instagram tag us so we can share snippets of your trip to Japan!
In a world where it is as easy as a click of a button to start the process of a bathroom renovation, it’s equally easy to overlook where the products you’re using were sourced from and where the products you will dispose of actually end up.
It’s important to us that you know your Bartok design, wooden Japanese bathtub comes from sustainable resources and is ultimately a biodegradable item at the end of its lifecycle.
Japan is only a small country, roughly the size of the state of California. With its huge population of 120 million people, would it surprise you to learn that Japan is almost 70% covered in trees?
With such massive forests and few other natural resources, it is no surprise that trees and the wood they provide have an important place in history. Wood is the main building material used in the construction of houses, buildings and religious buildings such as temples.
Historically the five trees of Kiso were most prized. Hinoki, the king of trees, was reserved for use by nobility. Whole mountains were claimed as the property of feudal leaders and of temples in order that the wood needed for new construction and repairs would always be available.
Starting in 1600s Japan began to view theses natural resources as worth caring for and conserving, mainly at the behest of a conservation-minded feudal lord. Huge swathes of forest were designated as national parks and native species came under the protection of the lord (with severe penalties for illegal felling or even gathering wood from the forests).
We note that this is way ahead of other civilisations!
Wood remains an important material in Japan and is also viewed globally as being a sustainable material.
Of course, there is an economic motivation behind this as well as a conservation perspective. In any country, forests provide a source of income for rural areas. Our operation at Bartok design is made up of several smaller companies each taking a role in bringing your bath to you. Your purchase enables us to continue supporting our local artisans and craftsmen.
The hinoki (and other native wood) we use in the construction of our Japanese soaking tubs is generally from ancient forests. The trees are between 250 to 300 years old. Understandably we need to be careful not to overuse these ancient woods so we trust our lumberyard partners to abide by the regulations that govern the use of this wood. In most cases, as part of a healthy forest management program trees of this age either fall naturally or are part of the cull to ensure the maximum health of the surrounding trees and healthy undergrowth, which contributes to overall biodiversity in the forest.
Trees prevent soil erosion and landslides. Trees help maintain a clean supply of water, sequester carbon and produce oxygen. It’s been said that an initiative to plant just 10 million trees on earth would offset global warming in a major way.
We recognise the role wood manufacturers that play. Governing bodies accept the responsibility they have in offsetting climate change and global warming but at the same time, without a market for the wood that is grown, it’s hard to convince the private sector to take part.
When you buy a genuine Japanese wooden ofuro you can rest assured that the wood has been sustainably managed over its growing period, right through to how it was harvested and processed.
You are adding a thing of beauty to your home and are adding one less chemically derived product to the world. Bartok design ofuro are not varnished or lacquered so we do not use any unnecessary chemicals in the manufacturing process. Your ofuro will continue to breathe in your home, absorbing moisture and toxins from the air. Read more about our wood here.
Properly cared for your bath will last ten, twenty or even thirty years. When you’re finished with it you can safely recycle it into firewood or feed the pieces into a wood chipper to create mulch for your garden. The whole bath could become a planter for herbs in your garden. It’s a full circle environmentally safe product.
If sustainability is important to you then get in touch today to start designing your wooden ofuro soaking tub.
When asked to smell a piece of hinoki wood many Japanese people appear to be transported back to childhood or to a happy memory in their lives of being with family at an onsen resort or visiting grandparents.
In this video, Iacopo hit the streets to ask people for their impressions of our Hinoki Essential Oil.
A new study has shown that people feel more energized when smelling citrusy scents. Productivity increases by up to 54% according to a Japanese study.
Our interviewees overwhelmingly said they felt relaxed and they all smiled when they smelt the oil = Happiness!
There is research underway in many areas of neurology including studies into Alzheimer’s and dementia treatment, mental health, workplace happiness, the list goes on.
We’ve provided hinoki bathtubs for eldercare homes. The combination of the scent, the buoyant quality of the water and the improved circulation from being in hot water all contribute to overall health in the elderly, especially on brain function and memory.
From our own personal informal research, we have heard from our clients that the presence of a hinoki bathtub in the home emits a sense of calm and happiness. Guests will note the fresh smell when they enter the home — these are benefits without even soaking in the tub which has endless positive effects.
At Bartok design, we can build baths of all shapes and sizes, from a variety of native wood. In order to elicit maximum benefit for your olfactory system, we recommend hinoki. Sawara and asnaro are closely related scent and appearance-wise. We also supply our own 100% pure hinoki essential oil.
None of our wood is varnished or coated which means it continues to absorb moisture and give off its scent, it contracts and expands depending on the air around it. Wood in this natural state contributes to healthy air in the home. It actually absorbs and filters toxins, according to some studies.
We’ve compiled this article from a number of sources. Check the Global Wellness Summit page for more references.
Get in touch with us directly if you would like more information about Japanese soaking tubs and health benefits.
Sometimes a name keeps popping up that intrigues you but doesn’t register on a deeper level. Such is the case for the word or name Nipponia. I first came across the Nipponia Hotel in Kushimoto, Wakayama. One of the newest hotels in the chain, it’s not quite on the radar yet – watch this space!
We’re huge fans of Wakayama with a couple of our own projects in the area.
With the name Nipponia coming up more and more often I started to do some research. I immediately fell in love with the concept of this hotel group and I think you will love it too.
You may not know that Japan is in the grips of a crisis that shows no signs of abating. The problem is that of the ageing population, with 30% or more people over the age of 60. Another problem that exacerbates this is rural-urban migration. Japan is littered with small rural towns barely eeking out an existence after jobs dried up and young people moved to seek work in cities like Tokyo or Osaka.
Enter companies like Nipponia
(parent company VMG)
“… creates tourism demand through the use of old houses in Kushimoto-Cho, Higashinada-gun promotes exchanges utilizing the rich nature and food of Kushimoto-Cho and makes use of local resources for income or employment. The purpose is to make efforts to increase the number of people and to revitalize the region”
Nipponia Hotels are being developed right across Japan with a keen eye towards nostalgic stays and memory-creating experiences. Traditional homes and buildings are lovingly converted into hotels and restaurants, preserving as much of the history as possible to retain the unique charm of the era and the area.
We think a couple of months stay in Japan should be enough time to experience each of these rich historical areas. We’ve created an itinerary for you. This is an unbiased, non-sponsored post. We just love the concept and want to share it with you. With most of their resources in Japanese, it’s hard to discover these gems by yourself.
First stay near Tokyo
Start your adventure in Tokyo, flying into Narita or Haneda.
The merchant town Edo Experience, staying amid the 600-year history of Sawara.
Merchant town Sawara, which flourished by taking advantage of water transportation on the Tone River in the Edo period, has been designated as one of the Important Preservation Districts for Groups of Historic Buildings, and the Sawara Festival, which has been held since the Edo period, has been registered as UNESCO World Intangible Cultural Heritage. Sawara Merchant Town Hotel NIPPONIA portrays Sawara town as a single hotel with buildings, including at least one merchant home built more than 200 years ago, in various parts of the city. The atmosphere of Edo, which has been lost in Tokyo through the changing times, remains fresh and alive here in Sawara, with nostalgic but fresh spectacles appearing before your eyes. As you stroll through town with a fresh breeze blowing, imagine the history of Sawara and experience the culture of this living merchant town.
You’ll make your way west to Nara (by train) where you will stay at the:
NIPPONIA HOTEL 奈良 ならまち / Nipponia Naramachi (link)
Experience the charm of sake and the ancient capital in Nara, the birthplace of sake.
Nara is said to be the first place in Japan where sake was brewed using rice. Realizing the concept of a “sake hotel,” NIPPONIA HOTEL Naramachi stands in the Naramachi area in the former grounds of Gangoji Temple, in a precinct that retains distinct townscapes from the Edo to Taisho periods. In line with this concept, the hotel was renovated from a grand traditional residence and the former brewery of the Toyosawa Shuzou company, which was founded in the Meiji period. Dine at a counter in the hotel’s Restaurant Le Un in a space renovated from the former doma earthen floor part of the residence. The restaurant has an extensive cellar, including rare sakes exclusive to Restaurant Le Un and raw sakes delivered directly from Nara Toyosawa Shuzou. Enjoy to your heart’s content the pleasure of pairing sakes with dishes highlighting the local produce of Nara.
Bypassing Osaka, you will head directly to your next destination (again by train):
A town-center auberge located in the center of Toyooka.
Auberge Toyooka 1925 was renovated from the building used as the Toyooka Branch of the Hyogo Prefectural Agricultural and Industrial Bank (formerly Toyooka City Hall Southern Building). It is now modernization heritage designated a National Registered Tangible Cultural Property. Offers rooms designed to preserve the modern architecture of the early Showa period, and French cuisine prepared from local produce. The hotel also has a sweets shop and a bar. Get in touch with the history of Toyooka at Nakajima Jinja Shrine, which enshrines the sweets deity Tajimamorinomikoto and is not far away. Tsuiyama fishing port is close, so guests can enjoy the delights of seafood from the Sea of Japan, while the fertile soil has also made famous such brand produce as Tajima Beef, Kasumi Crabs, and Kounotori Rice. One of the best parts of your stay will be to stretch your wings and do a tour of the hot springs at Kinosaki Onsen. We hope you enjoy a relaxing time.
Your journey continues to take you west, this time to:
Relive the days of the “Hama-danna” in Takehara, made prosperous by the bounty of Setouchi, salt, and sake.
Takehara is a salt town that retains the beautiful townscapes of olden times when the salt industry flourished. The splendid residence of the wealthy salt farm owners, known as the “Hama-danna” (“salt magnates”), sits at the heart of the townscape today. Their scholarly attainments were extensive, they had very discerning tastes in food, and now Takehara’s food culture thrives. Thanks to the Hama-danna, the town has an extensive historical legacy of development. NIPPONIA HOTEL Takehara Salt Farm Town lets you experience the life and culture of the Hama-danna. Superior local sake made by 3 long-established sake breweries established more than 150 years ago. Produce such as seafood, citrus, and olives nurtured in the mild climate of Setouchi. Expand your gourmet horizons by combining a variety of sakes and produce with the different tastes of salts from different areas made using different methods. Experience a journey of new discoveries through the cultivated lifestyles of the Hama-danna in a city that retains this culture.
If you think you will make it as far as Kyushu (why not?!!) then the last in the chain is:
HOTEL CULTIA 太宰府 / Nipponia Dazaifu / Hotel Cultia (link)
What do you think?
What an incredible tour of the pockets of Japan. Let us know which ones you plan to visit. You could take advantage of a Japan Rail Pass for this trip!
See the entire list here on Google Maps and you’ll see how much of Japan’s magnificent landscape and history you can experience:
Hinoki Esential Oil is both calming and uplifting. Like the scent of a forest on a warm summer day, the scent of Hinoki is earthy, lemony, fresh.
Our original Bartok design Hinoki Essential Oil is the purest you will find. We extract the oil ourselves from off-cuts, shavings and wood chips – all real wood. There are no twigs, leaves or bark in our product resulting in a pure clean scent that is unparalleled. The complexity of our oils is exceptionally deep.
The Bartok design Pocket Onsen Set contains a choice of two oils:
Hinoki Cypress is extracted from trees roughly 40 years old. A ‘young tree’ used in construction, for decorative items, religious artefacts and furniture. Our bath accessories are made from this wood which gives us a good supply of offcuts from which to extract the gorgeous essential oil.
Special Reserve Hinoki 250 is extracted from mature growth trees, usually at least 250 years old. The wood from older trees is compacted tightly which makes it ideal for use in wet zones such as the bathroom. Therefore we use this wood to make our Japanese ‘ofuro’ soaking tubs. Like a fine wine, cheese or whiskey, the aged product has a complexity and depth not seen in younger wood.
*It is also possible to order a ‘compare set’ with one of each oil.
This is the third time I am going to talk about the project of starting a program to teach traditional construction techniques to japanese and foreign nationals: a “Craftsmen Academy”.
There are some organizational, legal, financial and study curricula issues to be sorted but we are finally planning to get started! We are going to start with an experimental phase, here are the main conditions:
term: September 1 – September 30 (extension is possible)
content of the course: mainly wood carpentry techniques
fee: free of charge
lodging and food: at your own expense
transportation costs: at your own expense
tourist insurance: at your own expense (compulsory)
VISA: not provided by the Academy, at your own expense
We will receive applications up to August 25 so if you are interested please hurry. If you have questions or other requests regarding the schedule etc. please contact me. We have some flexibility and I will try to accommodate your needs.
About the lodging, there are few Airbnb in Kameoka and they are quite expensive. The low-cost alternative would be to stay at a guest house in Kyoto downtown and commute by train (about 30 minutes one way)
It would be great if students find shared accommodations. I will try to connect those interested but cannot take any responsibility for the organization/jury in case of problems etc.
About the legal issues: we are not yet established to be able to sponsor students to obtain working or study VISA. Please come with a 3-month tourist VISA or a working holiday VISA if your Country has an agreement with the Japanese Government. You must make this application yourself and we are unable to assist you with this.
The experience we intend to make available at the Academy is officially an “experience tourism” program so it is not in conflict with your VISA status.
About legal issues, liability issues etc. we are preparing a simple contract of agreement that will regulate our relationship with the students.