You heard me. My “adoptive” Japanese grandmother took me on a hina matsuri (girl’s festival) mystery tour today! I had no idea it was going to last all day and that we would be on a tour bus for the greater part of it. However, that wasn’t the mystery… the mystery was that the tour itinerary had blank spaces where there were supposed to be the names of our destinations.
It was interesting to see how some people choose to spend their time off, and I did get to go to some interesting out-of-the-way places with my cool grandma-friend!
First, we went to a sake distillery in Sawara. I was like.. wait a second.. why are we going to a sake distillery? What does this have to do with hina matsuri?
As it turned out, the distillery had a massive collection of hina matsuri dolls on display in the big rooms up above the gigantic tanks of sake. Like, full sets of antique dolls. It was pretty awesome!! As some of you may know, I have my own little collection of dolls, so it was pretty cool to see all of these awesome handmade dolls on display. They’re so amazing! The details on the faces and in their clothing is so perfect down to the last little thread. The designs change ever so slightly from year to year, and you can usually tell when a set of dolls was made by the design of the clothing they are wearing and the female doll’s facial features, which happen to change according to whatever is considered to be fashionable at any given time.
Then we walked down the road to the river and went for a little boat ride! The boat was outfitted with a charcoal kotatsu, which was really nice, since it was kind of cool and breezy, despite being sunny. The woman steering the boat told us that Sawara’s main industry used to be food production, namely soy products, such as soy sauce, miso, natto, etc. However, the factories have long gone and have given way to a small tourist trade. Sawara was also the home of a man who apparently walked the length of Honshu and made some of the first almost completely accurate maps of the country. You can visit his house if you have time, which we unfortunately did not!
Then it was back on the bus! We drove towards the town of Narita-san, which is of course near the airport. We stopped at a restaurant and had a pretty no-frills lunch, everything was simple, but good! There’s a huge temple at Narita-san, called Shinsho-ji. It’s an old temple that has recently been ENTIRELY rebuilt, and it was very different from the old temples up in Nikko or Kyoto that I’m kind of used to visiting. It was almost surreal to go to a temple that was this new.
The main reason for visiting was to see the plum blossoms blooming behind Shinsho-ji. They were really pretty, and they smelled nice too (*´ω｀*)
After taking a walk around the temple to see the buildings and the flowers, we walked around the little town, bought some omiyage, and some snacks, and were once again on the bus for another two hours or so. Our last stop was a massive indoor farmer’s market near Ushiku, but I didn’t have a chance to look around because we were halted by another obaa-san who talked to us for like 30 minutes about her dog (which was adorable, she showed us photos she keeps in her wallet) and like.. oh I dunno…I’d been listening to Japanese all day so I kind of lost interest after she stopped giving me the usual 20 questions and stopped talking about her dog and the neighbor’s cat. Sorry…(；´∀｀)
After we had talked to this lady for like.. foreverrr… it was time to get back on the bus!! So we had to run to the restrooms and back to the tour bus. I was really not looking forward to sitting on the bus for 3 more hours… but we had a nice bento of tako meshi and we finished watching the silly movie that we started watching on the way to the farmer’s market, so it wasn’t all that bad. I guess maybe I’m just not Japanese-sized enough for Japanese tour buses (ー_ー;) At least not for the entire day, anyway.
I guess I don’t ever really go on group tours, I usually travel alone or with at least one other person. Big groups kind of drive me nuts, I hate time limits... and I don’t quite care for being on a cramped tour bus for more than half the day!! If you’re the kind of person that’s into set tours, Japan has plenty of them to take advantage of, and it does take a lot of the thought and hassle out of traveling. You can book them through any Japanese travel agency, and there are always ads in newspapers and travel brochures you can pick up pretty much anywhere.
However!! Even though set tours aren’t really my style, I was happy to spend time with my grandmother-friend, she’s so lovely and wonderful and such a sweet, thoughtful human being!!! I also got to eat some really nice food, and see some beautiful things in some hard-to-get-to places. All in all, I’d say it was a pretty good day.