I was too busy preparing for my presentation at Hitachi Construction Machinery’s headquarter that I couldn’t have time to write about my amazing trip to Kyoto – the former capital, as well as one of the oldest cities in Japan. Kyoto, to me, was magnificent, in the way that the city was beautifully surrounded by mountains and rivers with many temples, shrines and castles. Before coming to Kyoto, I expected to see mostly traditional houses. However, Kyoto was more modern and busier than I thought. Kyoto station was huge and its architecture was very impressive. This is also one of the most visited place in Kyoto!
Today began with a tour of the Tierra works factory. This was the last HCM facility that we were invited to see. This establishment had very distinct and diverse characteristics. There were many workers that ranged from local Japanese workers to foreigners from places like the Netherlands or South America. Our hosts, as always, were very kind and entertaining. Nomura-san, an employee of HCM, made the trip quite the experience by providing songs and plenty of jokes for us to hear.
After having a lovely tour of HCM’s diverse factory we headed on a train to Kobe. Thats right ladies and gents, this is the town where the legendary Kobe beef originated. Our hotel was in the ideal sport, surrounded by Chinatown, the train station, as well as an owl cafe (H00T H00T). After exploring the town for a little while we met up with an Augie exchange student, Mai. She took us around town and brought us to a rather unusual restaurant that served pallea, pizza, and ribs.
Greetings! After traveling from Tokyo, we arrived in Minakuchi. It is in the countryside, so it is very different from Tokyo. I like it. Anyway, we were taken to our hotel by some employees from Hitachi Tierra, that we will be visiting tomorrow. Then they took us to a ninja house. It is the only real, surviving ninja house in all of Japan. It was absolutely cool! The house is something like you would only see in movies or books. There are hidden passages and traps all over the house, and some of the pits are quite deep. Additionally, the house is multi-level; the second level has a short ceiling. This is because enemies can be trapped there and be unable to use long swords. Meanwhile, ninjas use short daggers, so they can still combat in the space. There are also small windows so that the ninjas could keep a look-out for enemies. Throughout the house, there are different kinds of ninja tools too, like shuriken. We got to visit a small gift shop there too, so I bought some ninja-related souvenirs. I really enjoyed the ninja house experience, and I would go back if given the opportunity.
We started our day by leaving our hotel in Ueno, Tokyo for the train station. We dragged our luggage to Ueno Station, stored our belongings, and got on the train for the mountains. As we moved out of the city, the landscape transitioned into an expanse of rice paddies and traditional homes, with the mountains standing in the background. As we traversed through the rural scenery, the mountains grew larger as we approached our destination. We made a brief stop before we transferred to our bus in a small mountain town where we enjoyed tempura and soba noodles at a traditional restaurant. We went to grab a quick snack for later, and nearly missed our bus that then took us farther into the mountains. As we rode through small towns, we were surrounded by the tall green mountain scenery. Japanese mountains definitely have a different character than any other mountains I’ve experienced. Despite how grand they are, they have a sense of humbleness which I think closely mirrors the people of Japan. Eventually, we reached our destination. Our hotel was a large traditional style accommodation. We removed our shoes once we entered the establishment, put on our slippers and were served tea as our rooms were sorted out. The lobby overlooked a beautiful, rocky, clear stream that was located just below the hotel. We were taken to our rooms that had traditional tatami mats and overlooked the stream below. We quickly put on our yukatas (a type of casual kimono) and went to the first onsen (a bath fed by hot springs).
Once we got there we stripped down and washed off before entering the bath. The first bath was constructed out of igneous rocks and had and had a door that lead to an outdoor bath that overlooked a steep waterfall and the clear stream. It was incredibly relaxing, until my heart started to race and my head was throbbing from the heat. The baths are fed by hot springs, which needless to say… were scorching. I had to take a quick water break to cool off and then tried the indoor bath, which was significantly cooler and did not nearly lead me pass out. After a while, we left the bath in search for another one. We went to the bottom floor where we found an indoor bath. Emily and I were the only two there, and in the corner there was a small waterfall decorated with rocks and a Buddha statue. The temperature in this bath was much more tolerable so we were able to stay longer. We then made our way back to the bath we were previously at and braved the hot water once again. It was amazing how exhausting sitting in hot water could be, so we passed out on our tatami mat until dinner time. Dinner was held in a private room with multiple courses and after dinner we were entertained by hotel staff with traditional dances, song, and my personal favorite, taiko drumming. After a quick dip in the bath, we went on a night time stroll through the village and then went to bed.
We woke up early to enter the onsen before breakfast… which I learned is not such a great idea. After exiting the bath, my muscles began to tense up, and I began to stumble around as my vision went black. I sat down and chugged water until I regained control. Fun tip: don’t use an onsen when you’re running on an empty stomach. I grabbed a trusty Pocari Sweat (a life saving electrolyte drink) from the gift store and felt significantly better by the time breakfast rolled around. When we were done eating, we went for a walk through the village and found a spring fed foot bath across the river. We made our way back to the hotel, caught a bus, and then we were off to another popular mountain resort area. After several transfers we arrived at Kusatsu where we enjoyed a pasta lunch. The downtown area surrounded a large hot spring that smelled of sulfur. We walked through the town,
Yesterday was an absolutely great but a little tiring day. We had a great traditional breakfast which consisted of a another broth with vegetables and mushrooms that I got to cook eggs in! I love having that fire at the table and cooking things in the soup. It’s a lot of fun!
Anyway, we traveled to a popular hot spring called Kusatsu. It is absolutely beautiful. The scenery is magnificent. In the center of the town, that is lined with shops and restaurants, there is a hot spring. Because of the sulfur content in the water, it is very green/yellow, and although it smells like eggs, it is very pretty and serene. We enjoyed some delicious pasta in a quaint restaurant. This restaurant specializes in pasta dishes and desserts, and we were lucky to get a small dessert with our meal. The dessert, which consisted of flan and vanilla ice cream, was served on cute plates with tiny spoons; it was very tasty too!
Today we traveled awhile in order to visit Shima Onsen in Gunma Prefecture. The trip has proved to be well worth it too. In case you are unfamiliar with onsen, it is a hot spring. It is similar to a hot bath with 100x better of a view and super clear, fresh water. Anyway, we traveled by train, and we arrived in the beautiful mountains. As is becoming a theme in this trip, I have never seen mountains in person before, so it was a lovely experience. They were so beautiful and green. For lunch, we went to a traditional style soba restaurant where I had soba and vegetable tempura. There were many kinds of salts to season the tempura too, which was fun to try out.
This morning was a nice change because we didn’t have to go to do any work. Instead we explored Ueno. Jenny, Sarah, and I went to Ueno Park. The park is absolutely huge and beautiful, and I can only imagine how gorgeous it would look during spring time with all of the cherry blossoms. I’m sure it would be a sight to see. Besides green and luscious trees, there are many flowers in a variety of colors, like purple, blue, and white. In the park, there are so many temples, shrines, and museums. I was enamored by the architecture. The use of color in the buildings is also nice.
We had more trips today to other factories in Ibaraki Prefecture, Hitachinaka and Rinko Works. Our day included more presentations, factory tours, and Q&A sessions. At Rinko works, we got the pleasure of seeing a completed excavator. Normally they do not completely assemble the machines because they are difficult to ship; however, they had finished it due to customer’s request, so we got to see it. At Rinko, they make very big excavators and dump trucks which are used for mining. That was pretty interesting to see them being built. We also learned that at those factories there are Shinto shrines which the managers would pray at once a month for success in their company. Again, there was no pictures inside the factories as it is not allowed.
The group went to so many different places today it feels like it was two days smashed into one. First, we started out by taking a bus to Hitachinaka and Hitachinaka-Rinko production plants. Between the two, we saw medium, large, and extra large excavators on the production lines as well as a few dump trucks. However only the medium and large excavators were assembled at the plant, the others are too large to assemble pre-shipment. Hitachi once again fed us a wonderful lunch as well as provided us with transportation throughout the day as well as back to Tokyo. The group was able to gather some good information and learn about the product in which we are studying.
On the way home to Tokyo is where the group began to have a little more fun. We had a last minute decision to stop at the beach. It was a beautiful day to enjoy the warm sand and cold water. Also, we stopped at a small fish market where many of us discovered new fish in which we did not know existed.