Wednesday, February 28, 2018

What's in a (Business) Name? Setenta

This cafe is full of love.
Spotted in Junction 1, Puerto Princesa City, Palawan

For more amusing business names, please visit Go Random.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

A Quick Visit to Chino and Suwa

My purpose in visiting the Suwa area of Nagano was to visit a friend who I haven't seen in years. She kindly picked me up at the station and showed me interesting places in Chino and Suwa Cities.

Chino City, in Nagano, is home of Fujimori Terunobu, an architect known for his unique designs. Just 3 kilometers from Chino Station, one can see four of his creations: Jinchokan Moriya Historical Museum, Dorobune, Takasugi-an, and Hikusugi-an. All four are located within a few meters of each other. To get there from Chino Station, if you don't have a car, you only have two choices: either walk or rent a bike; there are no buses going there.

Jinchokan Moriya Historical Museum was built in 1991. This building with four tree trunks poking through the roof at the entrance houses documents (dating as far back as the 11th century!) collected by the Moriya family, a family who played an influential role in religion in Suwa.

The museum is open Tuesdays to Sundays from 9AM to 430PM. The admission fee is 100 yen.

Jinchokan Moriya Historical Museum

Dorobune or Flying Mud Boat is a tea house suspended on tension cables over four wooden posts. How does one get inside? By ladder. But at the time of my visit (October 2017), there was no ladder in sight— the tea house was not open to the public. (If I get up there, I think I'd just rock the "mud boat" and make myself dizzy.)


Takasugi-an is a tea house built on top of two chestnut trunks. The ladders to gain access to the tea house were also missing. This, too, was for my eyes only. In other words: not open to the public.


Hikusugi-an is a tea house built partly dug into the ground. In terms of height, Hikusugi-an is pretty much the opposite of nearby Takasugi-an, the too high tea house. Hikusugi-an is said to resemble a pit house from the Japanese Jomon period. My friend told me the top half of the roof can slide to the side for an open-air tea experience. (When I visited, Hikusugi-an was still under construction.)


Update: As of 2020, the three tea houses can be entered by joining a—quite expensive, in my opinion—guided tour.

Suwa City is the city just next to Chino and also the next stop (Kami-Suwa Station) after Chino Station on the JR Chuo Line. Suwa City is located on the south of Lake Suwa, the largest lake in Nagano. In Suwa City, we visited Suwakokohan Park and Takashima Castle and Park.

Lake Suwa, I am sure, is very familiar to fans of the anime "Kimi No Na Wa" (English title is "Your Name"). Lake Suwa is said to be the inspiration for the lake in the movie.

Lake Suwa

We visited Suwakokohan Park along the southeastern shore of Lake Suwa. The southern end of the park is only a 6-minute walk from Kami-Suwa Station. There were several sculptures around the park, a dock for boat rides around the lake, a footbath with a view of the lake (if you want to soak your feet in the footbath, be sure to bring your own towel), and Suwa Lake Geyser Center. In Suwa Lake Geyser Center are exhibits about filming locations around Suwa and about the fireworks display that happens in summer in Suwa. Right outside Suwa Lake Geyser Center, one can witness a geyser eruption at 930AM, 11AM, 1230PM, 2PM, 330PM, and 5PM.

A sculpture in Suwakokohan Park

A little Japanecdote. While we were at the footbath, a little Japanese boy of about seven spoke to me in Nihongo. He kept talking and asking questions. After a bunch of questions, none of which I understood, I said, "No....English...." Since I was against the light, he came closer to peer at my face. He circled me, trying to see better, then asked, "Nan jin?" I answered, "Firipinjin". He looked confused, "Firipinjin?" He paused and pondered. "Spainjin?" No. "Indo?" No. "Francejin?" No. "New Zealand?" No. "Amerikajin?" No. He can probably name all the nationalities (except Filipino!) and go on all afternoon, if not for his mother calling him.

Public footbath

Lake Suwa Geyser Center

Takashima Castle and Park is about 1 kilometer from Kami-Suwa Station. In the park are a pond and garden, playground, shrine, and Takashima Castle. Takashima Castle stands on the northwest corner of the park. The castle was built in 1592, but the castle keep that exists today is a restoration. Takashima Castle is open from 9AM to 430PM. Admission fee is 300 yen.

Takashima Castle

The pond in Takashima Castle and Park

Maido Ookini Takashimajo Shokudo まいどおおきに 高島城食堂, near Takashima Castle and Park, is a cafeteria-style eatery. This was the first time I have seen and been to a cafeteria-like eatery in Japan. It was such a delight to be able to choose from so many items. I wish I could find more places like this in my future travels in Japan!

Lots of dishes to choose from

Meals of our choice

A huge thank you to my friend, Cheryl, for taking me around Chino and Suwa. It was great catching up with her, meeting her kids, and seeing places in her second home.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Inuyama Castle Town

My plan was to spend two days in Inuyama City, but because the typhoon left me with no choice but to shorten my stay, I spent the one day I had exploring the city's castle town.

Inuyama's manhole cover features Inuyama Castle and cormorant fishing

Just a 7-minute walk from where I was staying was Honmachi-dori, the street which leads to Inuyama Castle. But Honmachi-dori is not just any ordinary street, it is a street flanked with many old, interesting buildings—a street with an old-timey feel.

Stroll along Honmachi-dori in a kimono

One of the old buildings along Honmachi-dori is the Old Isobe House 旧磯部家住宅, a restored merchant house, which is open to the public from 9AM to 5PM daily for free. This house was owned by a family who ran a kimono shop. Looking at it from the front, it looks small. But don't let that fool you. Let it fool the tax man: the narrower the front, the lesser the tax, because taxes in the Edo Period depended on just the frontage width. The Old Isobe House is narrow, but long—typical of machiya townhouses (shop and residence in one). 

The property consists of the main house, a back parlor, and storehouses. The main house is what we can see from the street. This was built sometime between 1865 to 1868. The back parlor was built in 1870, and the storehouses, which are situated at the far end of the property, was built in 1875.

 Old Isobe House

Inside the Old Isobe House

Like most areas visited by tourists, some of the buildings in Honmachi-dori have been turned into souvenirs shops, restaurants, snack stalls. But, no matter, it means I won't have any problem if I get hungry. An eye-catching one was Inuyama Inouetei, a restaurant with two very long radishes hanging from its eaves. But, too early for lunch, I settle for a stick of goheimochi at Yamada Goheimochiten instead.

Very long radishes hanging from the eaves of Inuyama Inouetei

 Yamada Goheimochiten


At the end of Honmachi-dori are two Torii gates. I go through the red one and pass by Sanko Inari Shrine and Haritsuna Shrine on my way to Inuyama Castle.

Sanko Inari Shrine includes many small shrines where you can pray for luck, for finding a husband/wife, and for money. The shrine has a pathway with rows of red torii and an area where, if you want to increase your wealth, you should wash your money. I want to have a ton of money so I could afford to go to Japan often and/or stay longer, but I do not want to bring wet money. Dilemma! Guess I will have to settle for short once-a-year trips.

Sanko Inari Shrine

The ema (wishing plaques) at Sanko Inari Shrine

A statue of a white horse in Haritsuna Shrine

What catches my eye at Haritsuna Shrine is the statue of a white horse. No idea what its significance is. If you know, please tell me.

I leave Haritsuna Shrine and its unmoving white horse behind and take the inclined pathway which leads to the gate of Inuyama Castle (open daily from 9AM to 5PM). But first, I buy a ticket at the ticket booth (the admission fee is 550 yen; combo ticket with Urakuen Garden is 1300 yen).

A friendly, elderly, smiley man, who is a volunteer at Inuyama Castle, greets me as I enter the castle grounds and offers to take my photo. I oblige: I will have at least one proper photo of myself during this solo trip. He tells me where to stand and snaps a photo with Inuyama Castle as my background.

Inuyama Castle, built in 1537, is one of the twelve castles in Japan that has survived natural disasters and wars. I enter the castle (with shoes off) and follow the designated path through all four floors (the castle is empty) until I reach the topmost floor and its wraparound balcony that offers a view of the town and of Kiso River. 

Inuyama Castle

Inuyama Castle grounds

Kiso River

After visiting Inuyama Castle, I make my way back down, passing the shrines, until I reach the main road and walk half a kilometer to Urakuen Garden (open daily from 9AM to 5PM; admission fee is 1000 yen or buy the combo ticket with Inuyama Castle for 1300 yen).

There are three tea houses in Urakuen Garden: Koan, Jo-an, and Genan. The most important of which is Jo-an Tea House, a designated National Treasure. Beside Jo-An Tea House stands Shoden-in Shoin, a study room. Both buildings were built in 1618 and were originally located in Kyoto. Both were transferred to Urakuen Garden in 1972 and the interiors can only be viewed from outside.

Koan Tea House

 Jo-an Tea House

Inside Jo-an Tea House

It was a beautiful, serene stroll through the lush greens of Urakuen Garden (although it was autumn when I visited, the garden was a still green). Once I had circled the garden and seen its three tea houses, I paused at the exit. One of the staff saw me and asked where I'm from. He happily told me he'd been to the Philippines many years ago and bid me follow him to the garden (thinking I had just arrived) where we wove our way to Koan Tea House. Outside Koan Tea House, he showed me its tsukubai, a wash basin, used for ritual cleansing before a tea ceremony. At a glance, the tsukubai did not seem particularly interesting, but upon his invitation to lean closer and listen, there the secret was revealed: a beautiful tinkling sound, like that of a Japanese Koto (a traditional Japanese stringed instrument). If not for the brief pause I took at the exit earlier and him spotting me at that moment, I wouldn't have discovered this little secret. I thanked him for his time and took my time strolling through this garden a second time.

This article is now available as a mobile app. Go to GPSmyCity to download the app for GPS-assisted travel directions to the attractions featured in this article.

Chubu Challenge 2017

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Inuyama Guesthouse Kodinmari

Inuyama is a city just 30 minutes by train from Nagoya or an hour by train from Chubu Centrair International Airport. Although Inuyama is very close to Nagoya and can be visited on a day trip, I wanted to spend two days in Inuyama and chose to stay a night there.

4-6 Nishibabasaki, Inuyama, Aichi 484-0081
+81 90 9941 5214

Why I chose Inuyama Guesthouse Kodinmari:
  • 3000 yen for a futon in dorm (budget right on target!)
  • 15-minute walk from Inuyama Station
  • 7-minute walk to the castle town at Honmachi-dori

Pleasant surprises at Inuyama Guesthouse Kodinmari:
  • the owner offered to pick me up at Inuyama Station
  • there was a basket of free snacks in the dining area
  • I was the only guest at the time and I had the room all to myself!

Photo grabbed from Agoda

Photo grabbed from Agoda

The futon was ready when I arrived!

A Japanecdote:

I planned to stay at Inuyama Guesthouse Kodinmari on the second night of my trip. But because my flight was cancelled because of typhoon, Inuyama became my first destination upon arrival.

My flight arrived at night and I left Chubu Centrair International Airport a few minutes before 10PM. I arrived at Inuyama Station at 11:13PM and 亜沙美 Asami, the owner of the guesthouse, was waiting for me at the station's exit gate—she offered to pick me up at the station because it was late; it would take 15 minutes on foot from station to guesthouse. Because I was so hungry, I asked if we could stop by a konbini and she kindly obliged. I hurriedly bought two onigiri because, as I said, very hungry. When we reached the guesthouse, which was actually her home, she gave me a bowl of curry. Hunger must have showed on my face! She told me she had been to Cebu a year ago and went to Moalboal, but having arrived in Moalboal late at night, could not find a place to stay, but a very kind tricycle driver offered to let her stay at their house. I guess her offering me food was kind of a way to pay it forward.

A bowl of curry

The following day, before I went out to explore the town, she gave me a key to the house because she said she'd be out all day and could not see me off at check out time. It just surprised me how she entrusted the key to her house to me, a stranger.

Chubu Challenge 2017

Friday, February 9, 2018

Toyota Museums: Havens for Car Enthusiasts

Toyota is one of Japan's popular car manufacturers; probably the largest in Japan. The public can learn about this titan of a company, with over 100 years of history, through its four museums in Aichi Prefecture: Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology, Toyota Automobile Museum, Toyota Kaikan Museum, and Toyota Kuragaike Commemorative Hall.  During my trip, I visited the Toyota museums which focused on cars.

Monday to Saturday 930AM to 5PM
Free admission

The Toyota Kaikan Museum, right next to the Toyota Headquarters, has exhibits about Toyota's eco-friendly approach through their hybrid cars (pretty cool cross-section models of hybrid cars!), about technologies they have developed to create safe cars, about their production process (some displays in this area are interactive), and finally, a showroom of their latest car models (including their luxury line, Lexus).

A car engine

 Fuel cell system

 i-Road with an Active Lean System

 This car won in the 24 Hours Endurance Race

 Lexus vehicles

Monday to Friday 1030AM to 1PM
Free admission
Advance reservation required (as early as three months prior to desired date)

The reason I went to Toyota Kaikan Museum was actually for the Toyota Plant Tour. The meetup point for the tour was at the Toyota Kaikan Museum. From there, a bus took us to the Toyota Plant, a 20-minute drive from the museum.

Toyota has several plants around Japan, and the plant we visited was making Prius and Camry models.

For someone who knows how to drive but knows nothing about cars, the Toyota Plant Tour was very interesting. I learned how a car is made: from stamping (steel sheets are cut and formed into automobile body parts) to welding (400 parts welded by robots!) to painting (again, by robots) to quality checks (for dents and paint) by sight and hand, to assembling (installation of all the other parts of the cars—electrical, engine, dash, chassis, seats, steering wheel, tires, windshield, etc), then inspection of the finished automobile (speed, brakes, wheel alignment, etc).

It was during assembly we got to watch them work up close. Installing the dash, the engine, the interiors, etc. Inspections were then made after the assembly. I thought it was amazing how the assembly line is not only for one car model but for multiple models. How do they not get confused? Of course they have their processes in place to avoid mistakes.

No cameras allowed during the Plant Tour, so here are dioramas of the assembly line that I saw in the Toyota Kaikan Museum.

 Diorama of the Toyota production line

Diorama of the Toyota production line

Tuesday to Sunday 930AM to 5PM
Admission fee 800 yen

The Toyota Automobile Museum is just as its name suggests: it's an automobile museum. But not just for Toyota cars! It was initially opened to showcase Japanese-made vehicles, but now it houses over 140 cars from around the world, from the 1880s up to the present. It is quite a collection! As one moves from one exhibit to another, one is transported through time, witnessing the evolution of automobiles.

Included in the exhibit are a three-wheeled Benz from 1886, said to be the first gasoline-powered car, with a top speed of 15kph; a Benz Velo from 1894, one of the earliest commercially produced automobiles; a De Dion-Bouton from 1898, a three-wheeled bicycle with a motor, which was very popular in Europe at that time. Then came the cars that looked like Archie Andrews's red jalopy! And the expensive brands like Rolls Royce, Cadillac, Daimler, Bentley, Bugatti (to name a few)...and the Japanese brands like Toyota (of course, it's the Toyota Automobile Museum after all), Nissan, Honda, Mitsubishi, etc. There were so many shiny classic cars to drool over!

 1886 three-wheeled Benz (left) and 1894 Benz Velo (right)

 De Dion-Bouton from 1898

 1902 Baker Electric. Yes, an electric car!

Does this 1909 Thomas Flyer Model L look like Archie Andrews's jalopy?

The Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 Gran Sport (1930) won many races

 1955 Mercedes Benz 300SL Coupe

Clockwise from top left: Fujicabin Model 5A (1955), Messerschmitt KR200 (1955),
BMW Isetta (1959), Hino Renault Model PA62 (1962)

These Toyota museums are easily accessible from Nagoya City via train rides:
  • Toyota Kaikan Museum — From Nagoya Station, take the JR Tokaido Line to Okazaki Station, then transfer to the Aichikanjo Line to Mikawa-Toyota Station. Toyota Kaikan Museum is a 15-minute walk from Mikawa-Toyota Station.
  • Toyota Automobile Museum — From Nagoya Station, take the Subway Higashiyama Line to Fujigaoka Station, then take the Tobu Kyuryo Line (Linimo) to Geidaidori Station. Toyota Automobile Museum is a 5-minute walk from Geidaidori Station.
This article is now available as a mobile app. Go to GPSmyCity to download the app for GPS-assisted travel directions to the attractions featured in this article.

Chubu Challenge 2017
Eating and Gawking in Nagoya
Toyota Museums: Havens for Car Enthusiasts (you're here!)
Inuyama Guesthouse Kodinmari
Inuyama Castle Town