This one might be quite personal.
I was invited into family life in Japan and experienced life in a tiny community in which everyone had grown up together.
I felt the heart of Japan when I visited Ninomiya in Kanagawa Prefecture.
Ninomiya is a seaside town with black sand by the sea. We arrived in Sakura season which offered stunning views of the pink blossom together with the sea views from a local hill called Azumayama.
The town itself is famous for peanuts and oranges. A tiny local shop sold peanuts in various flavours, all hand-grown and made. The people here were extremely friendly.
Another local shop, just around the corner from my friend’s house, was the front hallway space of someone’s home. We had to take our shoes off in the doorway to come inside.
My friend and his brother participate in the local Taiko (Japanese Drum) club here and they arranged a special meeting for us to come and learn Taiko. The other members of the group all live and work in Ninomiya, at the local korokke shop, fish shop and rice shop.
Taiko is like a dance with drums, so the participants have to be very aware of their movements as well as the music produced. There are many different types of Taiko that can be used, we had two small drums called Shime-daiko and a large one called a Chū-daiko to set the base rhythm. There are also wooden flutes called Shakuhachi and Shinobue played in this town’s ensemble.
To add to the performance, there are dancers that will act out a dance or a scene to the music. The dancers will wear these wooden masks to represent different characters.
I was lucky enough to be invited back later in the week to join their normal practice and it was nice to meet some of the school kids who were interested in this tradition. I was taught a couple different rhythms which strung together to make up songs to play with the group. It was really special to be part of this.
I have never had a bad experience at a Japanese family home, and Shunsuke’s family was no exception. They made me feel at home and we had dinner together and chatted about hiking in Japan, the local area, what England is like, and about my family.
I think that having this amazing hospitality in Japan has really helped me counter homesickness whilst I have been here. When I am around Japanese I never feel alone.
Now, I am a sucker for night views, and this view over Hiratsuka and Chigasaki, the neighbouring towns to Ninomiya, had me in stunned silence.
We drove up to a parking lot very much like in those romantic teen movies when the guy is about to make a move on the girl, overlooking a stunning city night view. The moon was so bright it made the sea shine, and the cherry blossoms were swaying in the slight breeze.
I was told that there are three incredible night views in the Kanagawa area.
We found another one the next night in Hadano, up this winding mountain road with boy racers in fast cars ripping round the corners. We had to climb an old wooden pylon-like structure to get the best views.
Unfortunately we didn’t find the third, however to be honest I think I would have burst if we had. They were awesome!
Ninomiya is about 1 hour 20 minutes from Tokyo Station on the JR Tokaido Line.
Around 1320¥ one way.
I highly recommend having a car if you would like to access the night view places in Hirasuka and Hadano.
A few famous people live in and around Ninomiya. Including famous fictional writer Haruki Murakami.