Nur Syahiidah Zainal
Going on a road trip in Japan during the fall season is not unlike savouring a good bowl of warm miso soup to me. Both experiences may appear unassuming at first, but they deliver similar warm feelings that spread through me, leaving wonderful lasting memories.
Last autumn, I joined a group to explore three prefectures along the Sea of Japan — Fukui, Ishikawa and Toyama.
The trip was balanced with equal parts of jolly good fun with activities galore and relaxing sightseeing tours that will appeal to nature buffs.
Fun in Fukui
Other than the magnificent views of beautiful cliffs and other rock formations along the Echizen Coast, ancient dinosaur fossils in the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum in Katsuyama were a feast for our eyes too. Home to more than 40 complete dinosaur skeletons on display, the museum is sited near the Lower Cretaceous strata of the Kitadani Formation of the Tetori Group, where a number of dinosaur fossils and various aquatic life and land plants were excavated.
I was amazed to learn that more dinosaurs have been found in Katsuyama than anywhere else in Japan, Watching specialists clean and preserve recently excavated fossils at its Fossil Preparation Lab was especially exciting, as that was when I was hit with the realisation that fossils are being discovered in places close to home, and not just far-flung, inaccessible areas.
After the fun yet educational visit, we had more fun at Mikuni Minato Kitamae Street where it still retains its quaint retro streetscape. But this time, it came with an element of artistry. You could paint your own mini Chochin lantern and bring it home as a souvenir at Itoya Studio, or make your own glass souvenirs such as cups, plates and vases using molten glass at Watari Glass Studio.
I made a glass dish in shades of my favourite colour (purple), which now holds my beloved jewellery. The crafting process was quick and fun, with friendly instructors directing us on the right way to press on the molten glass so that our handmade items would not have unsightly lumps when they hardened.
The quiet charm of Ishikawa While I found Fukui generally fun with many hands-on activities to participate in, Ishikawa was where I slowed down my pace and found peace and calmness.
As we neared Hiyou Town, our eyes were met with tall cedar trees that were said to be hundreds of years old — and covered in many different varieties of moss. This is the Forest of Wisdom, also known as Koke-no-sato or Moss Village.
It is cared for by the residents of Hiyou Town which comprises just seven families.
Together, they grow and replace the moss, as well as keep the forested area healthy, to continue the legacy of their ancestors.
As we were led into a moss green garden and shrine within, surrounded by beautiful cedar trees, I found the serenity of the quiet environment comforting, like a soothing balm to my whole being.
The other time I felt so calm and free of life’s worries was at the 2,000-year-old Keta Taisha Shrine in Hakui.
Except that unlike most other young adult visitors there, I was not looking for romance. It is believed that a deity Ookuninushi-no-Mikoto resides within, and can offer help to those looking for love and marriage.
Visitors can buy ema, or wooden plates, on which they can write their wishes on and leave at the shrine.
This shrine — the first that I have ever visited — is the Ichinomiya, or the highest ranking shrine, in the Noto Peninsula.
The main shrine, worship hall, Shinmon Gate, and auxiliaries, Hakusan Shrine and Wakamiya Shrine, have been designated as important cultural properties by the national government.
Temples of Toyama
The peace and quiet that we experienced during the later part of our trip continued in Toyama, home to some of my favourite spots on our itinerary.
Located in Nakaniikawa district, the Mount Ganmoku Ryusen Temple is famous for the practice of Soto Zen Buddhism.
It was established in 1370 by priest Daitetsu Soryo and worshipped as a holy mountain.
Approaching the temple felt like a religious experience in itself: to reach it, we had to walk along a long and leafcarpeted avenue lined with astoundingly tall toga trees. It was such a beautiful moment that I could not but linger along the broad path, snapping countless photographs and entertaining several thoughts of what it must feel like to live in a spot so tranquil.
Another must-visit spot for me was the Oiwa-san Nissekiji Temple. The complex houses numerous temple buildings and other memorable sights within its grounds, including the Oiwa-san Nisseki-ji Stone Buddha which is a national historic site; the Oiwa-san Nisseki-ji Magaibutsu, a Buddha carved into a rock face; three-storied pagoda, temple gate and six waterfalls.
A unique experience that you can try at the temple is taki-gyo, or waterfall meditation training, to purify and strengthen the mind, body, and soul. All you need to do is stand stoically under the rush of cold waterfall while meditating.
It sounds easy, but under a blast of icy cold water? No thanks.
While I did not try it, my travelling companions said that it did not take too long for their minds to clear and focus solely on their breathing, even though getting in contact with the cold water was shocking at first. They also noted how the experience left them feeling clean, refreshed and at peace, and recommended everyone to try it at least once.
Nonetheless, I did not feel that I had missed out on anything. This trip helped me to slow down my usual frenzied pace and truly appreciate being present in the moment at new places — and with new friends.
So just like a good bowl of hearty soup made with the perfect ingredients, this trip is one that I will think about fondly for a very long time.
• I flew on ANA from Singapore to Narita International Airport in Tokyo, before taking a bus to Haneda Airport to catch an hour long flight to Komatsu Airport. From there, it is about two hours’ drive away to Tojinbo, Fukui.
• For convenience, rent a car to travel across different regions in Japan. Leading car rental companies include Toyota Rentacar, Nippon Rentacar, Orix Rentacar, Times Car Rental,Nissan Rentacar and Ekiren. Most companies have online reservation systems or contact numbers for reservations in English.
• For tourist information on various attractions in the three prefectures, visit:
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