2012/01/02

Ending 2011 On A High Note

Friday we took the car on an hour and a half journey west, while Bluesette crew member Martin rode the train two hours eastbound, to meet up in the town of Ushiku, Ibaraki as a way to celebrate the end of 2011.

First we visited the Ushiku Daibutsu, a steel framed bronze statue of Amida Nyorai - Buddha of infinite light and life. The statue, built by Higashi Hongwani (lit. East Temple of the Primal Vow) and completed in 1993, stands 120 meters (394 feet) tall from ground to top and 100 meters (328 feet) from head to toe.

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Comparison of Ushiku Daibutsu to the famous budda in Todaiji Temple in Nara, the Statue of Liberty, and of course Gojira (Godzilla).


It is more than merely a landmark as the interior has several floors of exhibits which tell the history and teachings of Buddhism. At chest level there are windows allowing one to glimpse a view of the surrounding countryside. As the weather was very clear, we were able to see Tokyo Sky Tree and Fuji-san which is 95 miles to the West.

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Here's Martin ringing out 2011


After coming back down to earth, we were famished so headed for the *NEW* Doki-Doki restaurant. I have mentioned the original Pocket Farm Doki-Doki, which is closer to Lake Hinuma, in previous posts. Martin blogged about it here: Five Stars For The JA Ibaraki Pocket Farm Doki Doki Restaurant. The restaurant/farmers market was started by the JA Ibaraki - the farmers association - to provide an outlet for locally grown produce and meat. They offer a huge selection of fresh, local foods, prepared using the favorite recipes of farmers and chefs. All you can eat. It's always a great experience.

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Round one for me - all vegetarian except for a piece of fish. Kimie tried the pork "shabu shabu" with her fist tray. We all went back for 2nds and 3rds.


After the leisurely lunch, in spite of feeling like a nap, we headed for Chateau Kamiya. This is the site of the Japan's first winery, built in 1903. At the time, they had vast vineyards and VIPs would come out from Tokyo for "secret" parties. The building was designed by a French Architect and the vines were brought from Bordeaux. The brick buildings are now a National important cultural property.

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Chateau Kamiya


The vineyards were gradually sold off for development decades ago and the ownership changed. They no long make wine there. Instead, they make a local beer and import wine from France (mostly) which they re-bottle. Martin tasted some and said it was awful. With good wines from France, Germany, Chile, Argentina, the USA, and Australia readily available in Japan, one wonders why the Chateau Kamiya would bother trying to sell sub-standard re-bottled wines. Seems a losing marketing strategy to me.

There appeared to be some earthquake damage to the clock tower of the main building. Only the shop was open - the museum, wine making room, and restaurant were all closed. Might have been a great place to visit at one time, but I can't recommend it as we saw it, other than to view the buildings for their architectural historical value, and this lovely Iigiri tree with its bright red grape-like bunches of berries in the main courtyard. The Iigiri is native to China, Korea, Japan and Taiwan.

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Then it was time to head home. While the Chateau was a disappointment, the Daibutsu was uplifting and the meal at Doki-Doki a delicious feast. An interesting monument, delicious food, and friendship - a great way to celebrate the end of the year.

So long 2011.