Regular readers of this blog know that I’ve been working with Kanagawa Prefecture for over a year to design short tours for people like me: foreign residents of Japan who enjoy learning and getting out of the to discover lesser known but eminently worthwhile destinations. To date, I’ve brought groups to four great spots in Kanagawa: the lovely Manazuru peninsula, fascinating Oyama (“Edo’s Disneyland”), the Tanzawa mountain range and most recently, to Ashigara to see mounted archery, plum blossoms and sake making. Well, I’ve got another little goodie in the works, and I’m posting advance notice so those interested can save the date: Saturday, November 12.
This time, we’ll venture to Minami Ashigara at the western edge of the prefecture, over towards Mount Fuji. It’s a place of real natural beautyーcitrus trees dotting steep green hillsides, green valleys amid mountains and small-scale farms and rice patties, yet close enough to Tokyo and Yokohama for an easy day trip. In keeping with Kanagawa’s effort to promote the western part of the prefecture as the natural place for healing, this time I’m incorporating Japanese-style wellness into my usual mix of culture, fun and exploration The goal will be to stimulate the mind and senses while relaxing and refreshing the body and soul.
First stop: the tiny village of Yagura (pop. 280) which solved its twin problems of wild boars and isolation by planting zarugiku, the wonderful poofs of chrysanthemums you see in the photo above. Now some 10,000 people visit during their annual flower festival. We’ll be visiting when the festivities are just over and things are quiet and peaceful again, but the flowers are still in merry bloom. It’s a lovely place in a beautiful valley, and a few of the villagers will give us a guided walking tour so we can hear their interesting story.
Then we’ll hop onto our bus and head to Saijoji, a 14th century Zen monastery built deep in a virgin cedar forest. It’s very much an undiscovered gem — even most Japanese haven’t heard of it. We’ll get a taste of life there — first with a lunch of authentic “shojin ryori” (Buddhist vegan/vegetarian cuisine), then by walking the beautiful grounds with an English-speaking monk who will answer our questions and tell us about the many legends associated with the temple.
I’m always looking for ways to quiet my over-active mind, so naturally Zen meditation is something I’ve wanted to try. But for all my years in Japan, I never have. It just seemed so..well, intimidating. The lotus position…monks patrolling with sticks. But Saijoji makes it easy to dip your toes in the water. Nice clean space. Comfy pillows that facilitate sitting cross-legged, and stools if your knees can’t take even that. Just 20 minutes, and our English-speaking monk will explain how to breathe and what to do when your mind wanders. And no one will get hit — I promise! If you like it, you’ll know where to come back for a weekend workshop or even an overnight stay. Truly, there’s no need to travel all the way to Koya-san for an authentic Zen experience — it’s right here in our back yard!
Finally, for that total refresh and relax experience, we’ll head over to the to “Only Y0u” hot-springs resort. (Did you notice the pun? “Yu” means “hot water” in Japanese). It’s got indoor and outdoor baths (segregated by sex). Feel the restorative power of lots and lots of warm water and all those minerals.
Even if hanging out naked isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other ways to relax here. They’ve got lots of decks, all over the place looking out at the trees, with both friendly group areas and quiet out-of-the-way spots for introverts and those who want to catch some winks. Cafe snacks and drinks are available for purchase. And if you’re interested, while we’re there, you can take a free health check developed by the prefecture in cooperation with doctors and scientists, based on principles of Oriental medicine. It’s interesting, kind of fun, and can be done on your own phone or the provided tablets. They’ve even translated it for into (sort of) English. You should be able to take away personalized, specific suggestions for improving your health naturally. (I need to eat more purple foods.)
The cost of this day-tour is just 9,400 yen, which includes lunch, all transportation during the tour, the cost of the Zen meditation workshop, a gift bottle of local sake, guide fees and use of the facilities at the onsen hot-springs resort including towel, locker, hair dryers and pajama-like lounge wear. Signs up will begin Tuesday Oct. 4 at 5 pm — I’ll tell you how and post the relevant links here and on Facebook as soon as I have them, but to be honest, that might not be until the day before, on Monday. We’ve only got space for 25, and based on signups for the last tours, this will probably fill up the same evening registrations open, or maybe the following day. Please mark your calendars, and check back. I really hope you can join us!
Here’s some fine print for those who like details earlier rather than later:
Meeting place: We’ll start and end at Odawara Station (on the JR Ueno-Tokyo Line, the Shinkansen Tokaido Line, and the private Odakyu Odawara and Daiyuzan lines), meeting up in front of the Starbuck’s at the west exit at 8:45 so we will depart by 9:00.
How to get there? A no-change regular JR Ueno-Tokyo (Tokaido) Line train bound for Odawara departs Tokyo station at 7:09 (Shinagawa 7:19; Yokoyama 7:37) and arrives at Odawara at 8:34. One-way fare from Tokyo is 1, 490 yen (Shinagawa 1,320 yen; Yokohama 970 yen). If you buy a Green Ticket before boarding, you can upgrade to the first-class Green Car for 700 yen one way. From Shinjuku, for 1,770 yen (which includes 890 yen for a reserved seat) you can take the luxurious Sagami #57 “Romance Car” super-express on the Odakyu Line which departs at 7:10 and arrives Odawara at 8:27. Or save by taking the regular Odakyu Line express (kyuko) departing Shinjuku 7:０1 and arriving Odawara 8:37. One-way fare is 880 yen. It’s also possible to take the Shinkansen bullet train, catching the Kodama #637 bound for Shin-Osaka that departs Tokyo Station at 7:56 (Shinagawa 8:04, Shin-Yokohama 8:16) and arrives in Odawara at 8:31. Fare from Tokyo including an unreserved seat is 3,220 yen one way (Shingawa 3,050 yen, Yokohama 1,950 yen).