Japan Scene


A Whisper of Silence to Beloved Japan

By Denis Plamondon

The March 11th 2011 disaster, following a massive earthquake and tsunami, destroyed away many lives and disrupted the existence of millions more. This devastation has triggered sorrow in our hearts and found its way to the core of our souls. We are astonished by the inconceivable images reported in the media, feel powerless and weighed down by profound sadness. It is with great concern that we offer our sympathy to all victims of this terrible tragedy. For those who perished, may you rest in peace. We keep silence in our hearts, you will be remembered.

This brief article focuses on Matsushima (松島), a town located 30 minutes from Sendai, famous for its natural beauty. The 9.0 earthquake’s epicenter was located nearby. We still don’t know the state of this marvel of nature, but we hope this icon of Japan will be revitalized and attain a new serenity. Visitors to Matsushima often take a boat tour to travel through an archipelago of 260 tiny islets just of the coast. One of the islets bears an image, carved by mother nature, with a striking resemblance to the map of Japan. We cannot help but wonder if recent events have altered this signature and transformed the social fabric of the Japanese people, but we can be sure that now more than ever, nature has reached a new level of deference.

Did the physical and spiritual map of Japan changed?

Now it is time to help. The Japanese need immediate attention, especially in northern part of the country. Please refer to the links down below to see what you can do.

How to Help:

Relief efforts:

Hope International Development Agency-Japan: A reliable organization involved in many relief efforts around the globe. They have personnel on the ground in Northern Japan to bring immediate relief to the victims.

Doctors Without Borders: Present on the ground moments after the catastrophe, their intervention is crucial to saving lives and treating injuries; always an excellent idea to donate to this organization.

Japanese Red Cross Society: You can be sure that the Red Cross will do exactly what they are all about, supplying well-needed medicine.

The Shelter Box: Clear destination for your help.

Five ways you can help Japan: A few more options to choose from.

You can also turn towards artists’ special funds:

Lady Gaga Japan Earthquake Relief Wristband: The bracelet costs only $5, but it will make a difference.

Local concerts, fashion shows, special events have been organized all over the world. Keep your eyes and heart wide open.

Check locally your telephone company for donations. For example in Canada, Rogers, Fido and other wireless customers can text ASIA to 30333 to donate $5 to earthquake relief efforts. 100% of all donations will go to the Canadian Red Cross Japan Earthquake/Asia-Pacific Tsunami fund.

Pets and Animals Rescue:

Japan Earthquake Animal Rescue and Support (JEARS):

Animal Refuge Kansai:

World Vets – Japan Animal Disaster Relief:


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Yabusame Shimogamo Shrine Kyoto Archery Cavalier in action

Yabusame Shimogamo Shrine Kyoto Archery Cavalier in action

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Yabusame Photo Interlude

Photos by Sandra D’Sylva and Denis Plamondon

Japanese traditional horseback martial arts are still very much alive and well organized. Check the following all year round schedule to see where and when you can watch these performances. Today, we propose a photo report of one of these events that occurred in the forest of  Shimogamo Shrine in Kyoto. These photos were taken on May 3rd, 2008.

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Cavaliers at the Yabusame Contest in Shimogamo Shrine in Kyoto

Cavaliers at the Yabusame Contest in Shimogamo Shrine in Kyoto

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Musicians at the Shimogamo Shrine Yasubane Contest, in Kyoto

Musicians at the Shimogamo Shrine Yabusame Contest, in Kyoto

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Yabusane Organizers dressed in traditionnal costume, Shimogamo Shrine, Kyoto

Yabusame Organizers dressed in traditional costume, Shimogamo Shrine, Kyoto

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Yabusame Shimogamo Shrine Kyoto Archery practice

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Yabusame Shimogamo Shrine Kyoto Archery under a Gate

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Yabusame Shimogamo Shrine Kyoto Archery Arrows transfert

Yabusame Shimogamo Shrine Kyoto Archery Arrows transfer

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Yabusame Shimgamo Shrine in kyoto Archery

Yabusame Shimgamo Shrine in Kyoto Archery

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Yabusame Shimogamo Shrine Kyoto Archery fully extended horse legs

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Yabusame Shimogamo Shrine Kyoto Archery

Yabusame Shimogamo Shrine Kyoto Archery

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Reflexion of spectators in a glass Yabusame Shimogamo Shrine

Reflexive glass of Yabusame spectators at Shimogamo Shrine

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Enormous blue demons welcome you in Oyako kisou, Noboribetsu Onsen, Hokkaido

Enormous blue demons welcome you in Oyako kisou, Noboribetsu Onsen, Hokkaido

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Date Samurai Matsuri: Hokkaido

By Denis Plamondon

Photos by Sandra D’Sylva and Denis Plamondon

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Opening of the 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri

Opening of the 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri

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Memento of the Bushido (The Way of the Warrior)

There are many festivals in Japan and finding one in Hokkaido isn’t hard! Japanese enjoy celebrating past events and observing important anniversaries. Hokkaido is no exception to this fervor. When planning a trip to Hokkaido, consider that many events run during the peak summer season, thus the next question on your checklist may easily read: are their festivals worth the effort of traveling so far a field?

This is a question we asked locals at Lake Toyako about the Date Samurai Matsuri (1-2 August 2009). Some responses were uncertain and unenthusiastic. One senior lady we met said with a quiet smile: “when you’ve seen it once …” Nevertheless, trusting a good recommendation and our own intuition, we set-off by train for the town of Datemombetsu … and, we were pleased with the outcome of this 2-day festival. The events of the first day conveniently took place in front of the Datemombetsu JR train station, from 6 pm onwards. Citizens, visitors and contributors alike were greeted by the organizers in typical festival fanfare during the opening ceremnoy, including a sacred blessing and sutra from a visiting monk. A representative from each of the 10 participating floats gregariously introduced themselves to an equally receptive crowd. As the procession of floats, dancers and performers paraded down the town’s main street, onlookers were treated to the usual aromas and resonances of summer in Japan – whiffs of yakitori on the grill, the drum beat of taiko 「太鼓」 – always a great way to stimulate the senses and nourish the soul.

The following day consisted of a historical re-enactment of a samurai procession preparing for battle. The event was short from about 3-4 pm, and held in a large park called “Date Rekishi no Mori” (伊達歴史の森) some 20 minutes walking distance from the JR station. (Nonetheless, it was prudent to arrive early to secure a good spot.) This colorful and imposing production involved as many actors in traditional costume as there were spectators. Armies of samurai (侍) and heavily armored cavaliers paraded across the makeshift battlefield to congregate atop a hill, while an array of banners and flags fluttered in the background and gunmen on bended-knee fired shots into the air from vintage weapons. A contingent of samurai warriors, wearing outfits from the “bushido” (武士道) era, followed with their squires and fabulously adorned horses. Each took a turn to enter the arena and demonstrate their respective skills. The ceremony reached its climatic finale with the lighting of a bonfire and cries for the triumphant return of samurai armies from the supreme commander known as the sodaisho (総大将)or shogun (将軍).

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Order of cart presentation in the parade of 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri

Order of floats in the opening parade during the 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri

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Pushcart at the 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri in Hokkaido

Pushcart-float at the 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri in Hokkaido

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Black and white banner at the 209 Date Samurai Matsuri in Hokkaido

Colourful banners at the 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri in Hokkaido

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Warriors with their red banner at the 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri in Hokkaido

Warriors in vibrant red at the 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri in Hokkaido

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Archery at the 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri in Hokkaido

A group of archery apprentices choreographically take aim with the grace inherent to this sport. 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri in Hokkaido.

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Re-enacting old gun shooting at the 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri in Hokkaido

Re-enacting gun shooting at the 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri in Hokkaido

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Personalizing the "Bushido" or "Way of the Warrior" in the 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri in Hokkaido

Personalizing the "Bushido" or "Way of the Warrior" at the 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri in Hokkaido

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A proud and young samurai? 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri in Hokkaido

A proud and young samurai at the 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri in Hokkaido

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Cavalry and ground army presentation at the 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri in Hokkaido

Cavalry and ground army presentation at the 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri in Hokkaido

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Inspection and presentation of orders at the 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri in Hokkaido

Inspection and presentation of samurai sections at the 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri in Hokkaido

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Please share your comments with me:

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Next article: Discover the Geothermal Region of Noboribetsu

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Datemombetsu Samurai Matsuri

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Archery Demonstration at the Date Samurai Matsuri, Datemombetsu Hokkaido

Archery Demonstration at the Date Samurai Matsuri, Datemombetsu Hokkaido

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The town of Datemombetsu held a colorful annual festival in early August. The Date Samurai Matsuri enacts scenes of the Bushido era and it is worth the journey. Please come back soon for a report on this particular event.

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Craters of Toya:

Nishi-Yama Hike in a Disaster Safari!

By Denis Plamondon

Photos by Sandra D’Sylva and Denis Plamondon

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Nishi Yama Crater near Toyako, Hokkaido

Nishi Yama crater near Toyako, Hokkaido

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We were enjoying the scenic view of Toyako from our lakefront Japanese style room at the Kawanami Hotel while reminiscing about last night’s fireworks. The sun was a little shy in the sky, but the clouds were dispersing and the day seemed promising. We had several options to spend the day, some contingent on the weather. Viewing Mount Isu is said to be spectacular from the summit on a clear day, where you can hike across a ridge to witness Isu’s active fumes, and admire Lake Toya, Mount Yotei and Uchiura Bay from an observatory.A local bus that takes you to Mount Isu and Showa-Shinzan volcanoes, is conveniently located from the main road in town in front of major hotels, including ours. If your journey starts at JR Toya train station, you can take the Toyako onsen bus and get off at the Nishi Yama bus stop.

Unfortunately for us, a sea of clouds came rolling in at the last minute! So we opted for nearby Nishi Yama, to the west of Mount Isu, instead. Nishi Yama last erupted in 2000 and left a scene of devastation that local authorities have kept untouched for a better appreciation of the power and danger generated by this natural phenomenon. You approach the crater along a long sinuous path, adjacent to a national highway that once crossed the site, now ripped apart and staggered at various heights. The path continues through a small nearby village, now mostly buried under a landslide triggered by the eruption. Scattered remnants are left as is to preserve the authenticity and eeriness of the devastation – chunks of asphalt, fallen electric posts and road signs, abandoned cars, collapsed houses and a daycare that was evacuated in time. The path is easy to walk, mostly paved or covered with old wooden railway planks. This is indeed an interesting and educational venture for all members of the family as it is for any advance hiker.

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Keeping the fire active while cooking Eggs on a BBQ in Nishi Yama, Hokkaido

At the outset of our one-hour hike, we were greeted by vendors at an outdoor farm BBQ with whole eggs and potatoes, a welcomed boost of energy. Nishi Yama, Hokkaido

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Wooden Sidewalk along Nishi Yama's craters, near Toyako in Hokkaido

Wooden path along Nishi Yama's craters, near Toyako in Hokkaido

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Collapse Road caused by Nishi Yama's volcanic activities in Toyako Machi, Hokkaido

Collapsed national highway caused by Nishi Yama's volcanic activities in Toyako, Hokkaido

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Electric post and road signs left behind after Isu eruption on its west flank in year 2000, Hokkaido

Electric post and road sign left behind after Isu eruption on its west side in year 2000, Hokkaido

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Part of Natinal Highway collapsed in Nishi Yama,, Toyako Hokkaido

Part of highway collapsed in Nishi Yama. Lake Toya, Hokkaido

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Remnants of a collapse house in Nishi Yama, Hokkaido

Remnants of a collapsed house in Nishi Yama, Hokkaido

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All roads go to.... from Nishi Yama Observatory, Hokkaido

All roads go to.... from Nishi Yama observatory, Hokkaido

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Warned by early volcanic activities and land elevation, inhabitants seeked refuge in safer area.

Warned by early volcanic activities and land elevation, inhabitants took refuge in safer area.

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Scallops at the Yakitori no Ippei restaurant were absolutely delicious, Lake Toyako, Hokkaido. Particularily, after a day long hike in the surroundings

Scallops at the Yakitori no Ippei restaurant were absolutely delicious, Lake Toyako, Hokkaido. Particularily, after a day long hike in the surroundings

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Supplementary information and  photographs for Nishi Yama and Lake Toya:

Toyako Onsen Tourist Association

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Excursion sacrée entre Kurama et Kibune

Par Denis Plamondon
Photos par Sandra D’Sylva et Denis Plamondon
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Se perdre dans la nature au dessus de Kurama

Se perdre dans la nature au dessus de Kurama

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Si vous voulez profiter au maximum de votre séjour à Kyoto(京都), l’exploration de ses environs pourraît consolider la fabuleuse expérience que l’on attend d’une visite dans la capitale de 1000 ans. À part l’incontournable préfecture de Nara (奈良), reconnue pour  ses célèbres temples Tōdaiji (東大寺) et Hōryū-ji (法 隆寺), trésors de l’humanité qu’ il ne faut surtout pas ignorer, la ville de Kyoto est entourée de plusieurs destinations faciles d’accès. De telles visites vous procureront d’enrichissantes découvertes. La ville de Uji (宇治) cache l’un des plus beaux temples bouddhistes du Japon: le Byodo-In (平等 ). L’éloge lui vient de la finesse de son architecture et de l’élégance de ses formes. Profitez de ce périple pour visiter une fabrique de thé et goutez à la délicatesse du Macha. À la nuit tombée, vous pouvez aussi embarquer sur l’un des bateaux qui partent à la pêche au cormoran munis d’une perche à laquelle on suspend une cage de feu afin de naviguer dans la nuit. À l’ouest de Kyoto, se trouve la petite ville d’Arashiyama (嵐山)et une multitude de temples éparpillés dans une forêt de bamboo. Au nord, le village de Ohara (大原)vous permettra de découvrir le temple Sanzen-In (三千院)et son impressionnant jardin. Mais le secret demeure une petite course en montagne entre Kurama (鞍馬) et Kibune(貴船)

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Randonnée Kurama-Kibune:

Niô-mon, la porte des gardiens

Niô-mon, la porte des gardiens

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Je vous propose aujourd’hui une randonnée dans la montagne de Kurama qui se trouve à peine à 12 kilomètres au nord de Kyoto. La compagnie de chemin de fer Eisan opère un petit train à trois wagons qui part de la gare de Demachi-Yanagi et termine son trajet à Kurama-Yama, 30 minutes plus tard. Le village, célèbre aussi pour son festival du feu (鞍馬の火祭り) le 22 octobre, – voir l’article sur le Festival de Feu de Kurama – est encastré au fond d’une gorge que traverse la rivière Kurama-Gawa (鞍馬川). Au retour de votre promenade en forêt, suivez la route qui longe le cours d’eau et profitez de l’un de ses onsen(温泉). Il n’y a rien de plus charmant que de relaxer dans un bain thermal en plein air tout en admirant les arbres célestes qui se dressent dans le flan de la montagne, surtout après les efforts de la marche.

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Les moines au départ de la randonnée

Les moines au départ de la randonnée

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Dès que vous sortez de la gare à Kurama, vous vous engagerez dans les escaliers qui vous mènent à la Porte des Gardiens (Niô-mon) 「二王門」. La structure est imposante. Une fois affranchis de votre contribution de quelques centaines de yen, vous emprunterez une longue suite d’escaliers, de sentiers, de ponts et croiserez une multitude de petits hôtels shintos, de temples bouddhistes et des statuts de toutes dimensions. Le chemin zigzague dans la montagne et la nature vous réserve un accueil surprenant avec ses arômes, sa fraîcheur, ses ombres et la curiosité de ses formes. L’aménagement forestier respecte à la lettre l’esthétique japonais: Atteindre l’harmonie tout en évitant de niveler jusqu’à la perfection! Cette randonnée vous donnera en outre l’occasion d’observer d’étranges manifestations de la nature. Entre-autre, l’imposante stature de plusieurs de ses arbres donne à la forêt ses lettres de noblesse.

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Les charmes de la montée entre Kurama et Kibune

Les charmes de la montée entre Kurama et Kibune

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Taille impressionnate des arbres entre Kurama et Kibune

Taille impressionnate des arbres entre Kurama et Kibune

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L'eau de la purification près du Temple de Kurama

L'eau de la purification près du Temple de Kurama

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Le temple Kurama 「Honden-kondô」 (本殿金堂), situé à mi-chemin du sommet de la montagne, fut fondé en 770 suite à l’illumination de son fondateur, le moine Gantei – (Voir information complète ). La montagne sacrée préserve les trois symboles de l’âme universelle, soient le pouvoir, la lumière et l’amour. Tous les cultes visent à vénérer la manifestation de ces trois éléments dont la Trinité représente la divinité suprême : Sonten (尊天). La Trinité de Sonten se traduit aussi par les concepts suivants:  L’âme de la vie, l’âme suprême de l’univers et l’activité de l’âme. Après 1239 ans d’histoire, on ne s’étonne plus de trouver autant de reliques du passé religieux à cet endroit alors que la dimension sacrée du lieu explique l’aspect intact de sa nature.

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La montée entre les temples de Kurama à Kibune

La montée entre les temples de Kurama à Kibune

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Plus on monte, plus le panorama s’ouvre jusqu’à ce que l’on atteigne le Honden Kondô. Sa terrasse alors offre un spectacle magnifique sur la vallée. L’originalité des objets religieux vaut le déplacement.

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Le pavillon adjaçant avec ses espaces ouverts près du temple kurama

Le pavillon adjaçant avec ses espaces ouverts près du temple kurama

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Le cône de pierres fines près du temple Kurama

Le cône de pierres fines près du temple Kurama

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Si vous ne voulez pas marcher cette longue partie sinueuse, une autre option s’ouvre à vous. Grâce au funiculaire situé à la base, près de la Porte des Gardiens, il est possible d’accéder directement à la Pagode Tahô-tô (多宝塔)quelques mètres à peine au dessous du temple de Kurama. Un peu plus haut, vous pouvez vous arrêter un moment au musée dont la collection est voué à l’environnement. Il existe même un étage contenant des reliques au fort contenu historique pour Kurama.

Que ce soit les racines qui s’étalent au dessus du sol, les temples au bois naturel comme le Sôjo ga dani Fudô-dô (僧正が谷不動堂) ou Maô-Den (魔王殿) qui attireront votre regard inquisiteur ou encore la forme en lambeaux de l’écorce des arbres, cette promenade dans la montagne sacrée ne vous laissera guère indifférent.

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Une pause près d'un lieu sacré: le Sôjô ga dani Fudô-dô

Une pause près d'un lieu sacré: le Sôjô ga dani Fudô-dô

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Lieu de culte en montagne: Maô-den

Lieu de culte en montagne: Maô-den

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Racines en surface Randonnée Kurama-Kibune

Racines en surface Randonnée Kurama-Kibune

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Sôjô ga dani Fudô-dô

Okuno-In Maô-den

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Étrangeté de la nature. un arbre s'habille d'un châle

Étrangeté de la nature. un arbre s'habille d'un châle

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Au cours de votre descente vers Kibune, vous souhaiterez peut-être refaire le chemin inverse. Le joli village de Kibune continuera de vous épanouir par l’authenticité des ses restaurants, l’ordonnancement de ses commerces et la simplicité de ses maisons. Les piétons et les voitures qui circulent dans les deux sens se partagent l’unique rue étroite, car le village est coincé entre la petite rivière et l’autre versant de la montagne. Au cours des longs mois d’été, on installe des planchers temporaires (Yuka / 床) au dessus de la rivière afin de créer de l’espace pour des restaurants.

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Manger sur une terrace au desus de la rivière à Kibune

Manger sur une terrace au desus de la rivière à Kibune

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Profitez-en pour vous restaurez et commandez le Shabushabu (しゃぶしゃぶ), une sorte de pot au feu que l’on prépare devant vous et que vous mangerez au son de l’eau qui gicle entre les pierres de la rivière.

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Serving ShabuShabu in Kibune sr le "yuka" au sessus de la rivière

Serving ShabuShabu in Kibune sr le "yuka" au sessus de la rivière

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Si vous voulez laisser un commentaire, veillez retournez au début de cet article et cliquez le lien “Comment”. Vos impressions seront appréciées.

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