Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Sunset In Ako

03.28AkoSunset-1, originally uploaded by sleepytako.
The wonderful view from the Ginpaso ryokan in Ako, Hyogo.


I saw the original call for submissions for this Twitter sourced book of writings about the Tohoku earthquake and started to write something. Sadly, I never submitted my piece, but many writers--who are much better than I--did! 100% of the revenues go directly to the Japanese Red Cross for earthquake relief. I'm getting my copy later tonight. I hope you consider getting a copy yourself.

More info on the Quakebook blog: 
Or on twitter: #quakebook

Saturday, April 09, 2011

The tools of a pilgrim

03.29ichijoji-tools-1, originally uploaded by sleepytako.
Hair dryer for drying the ink on your tapestry, wooden block to hold the tapestry from rolling up, and sheets of scrap paper to put over the drying ink.

Ichijo-ji, Kasai, Hyogo
March 29, 2011

Monday, April 04, 2011

Ichijo-ji 一乗寺

A note to my readers: I am returning to blogging as usual in part as an effort to show to the world that the rest of Japan is getting on after the recent disaster. Our hearts and prayers are with the people in Tohoku--of course. That said, we cannot be in mourning forever. For the country to recover--mentally and economically--we need to return to normality as soon as we can in the areas unaffected by the earthquake. If there is one thing the Japanese can do best, it's their ability to bounce back after extreme trauma. Despite what you might be seeing in the foreign news media, people in Kansai and throughout Japan are living their lives going to work and enjoying this lovely time of year. Please join me in remembering the suffering of those in Tohoku while celebrating the beauty of this country that I call my home. 


Along the Saikoku 33 Temple route in Kansai there are many temples. Some of them are in, or close to, major population centers and are attractions irregardless of their designation in the Saikoku 33. Others are in out of the way places tucked into tall mountains. Some are in some not so easily accessible places. While every temple offers a sense of beauty and transcendence, I have to say I enjoy the peacefulness of the latter. Ichijo-ji in rural Kasai city is a stellar example of one of these temples.


Ichijo-ji is located not far from Kakogawa-kita IC on the Sanyo highway up a winding road and just past a newly built pet cemetery. The temple is at the end of a long set of stairs nestled into the surrounding mountains. It is said to have been founded in 650 B.C.E. The oldest remaining building is a 5-story pagoda built in 1171. The pagoda is registered as a national treasure.


After climbing up the stairs, with my smiling 10 month old daughter strapped to my chest I might add, Yuko and I removed our shoes and entered the main temple. The cool wood boards, made smooth by the hundreds of feet that have walked upon them, felt great on our feet.


Inside the cool mountain air circulated through the building and spreading the incense around the building. The calm and quiet was omnipresent. This truly is a spiritual place.

With all the sadness and suffering in Japan and the world around us at this time, taking time out to offer a silent prayer is the least we can do.

Ichijo-ji 一乗寺 Data:
Address:  821-17, Sakamoto, Kasai, Hyogo 675-2222 / 兵庫県加西市坂本町821-17 [ Google Map ]
Links: [ Wikipedia ] [ Hyogo Tourism ] [ Sacred Japan ]

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Sakuragumi Restaurant - Ako

¥3,670 sounds like a lot for a lunch. At least for me! That's an expensive lunch. As soon as we finished the appetizer plate however, we felt like we had gotten our money's worth. Everything from then--pasta, pizza, main dish, dessert, coffee--just kept on astonishing Yuko and myself.


Sakuragumi is a southern Italian style restaurant in the little seaside community of Ako. This small town is better known for the tale of the 47 Ronin and salt production--the latter being used in most of Ako's omiyage including the great shiomi manjyu sold through out the city. The seaside walk and landscape is somewhat reminiscent of Italy, and my home town of Laguna Beach come to think of it. Combine the beautiful landscape with the restaurant's location on a small cliff overlooking the ocean, and furnishings in the restaurant itself with the food and you actually might think you were in Italy. Outside and in, Sakuragumi is designed to give you the sense that you are no longer in Japan. High airy ceilings, white walls, large wooden tables all come together to help produce this feeling.


The food is just amazing. Our appetizer plate came with 5~6 different bits of seafood, vegetable and meat based delicacies. All of them very nicely arranged on a large plate for us to share. After that a pizza came, the restaurant's specialty, and a pasta made with locally caught shellfish. The pizza, like the restaurant, doesn't cater to Japanese tastes as it was heavy on blue cheese. A possible deal breaker for some Japanese patrons. The pasta was also cooked al dente--a great change from what I'm use to here in Japan. We chose a meat dish and got a pork roast with peppercorns and salad. The pork was slightly crispy on the outside while the inside the meat almost melted in my mouth. All of it was perfect.


All in all one of the top five best meals I've ever had, and at ¥3,670 a head it was a steal. Combine all this with a pleasant, friendly staff a great drink menu that included a nice list of Japanese micro-brews and you've got a real culinary delight.


Reservations are necessary. We made ours two weeks in advance and the restaurant was full the entire time we were there. They had to turn away quite a few walk-ins too. If you can't get a reservation, they seemed to be doing take out pizza. I didn't ask about it however. We also brought our 10 month old baby and they were very accommodating to her. The couples at the tables next to us all enjoyed smiling at waving at her too. A great experience

Sakuragumi website [Japanese]: