Mt. Hiei, rising on the western shore of Lake Biwa, has long been considered an area of great spiritual significance and is the birthplace of many high priests as well as where mountain ascetics have long-practiced their rigorous training. Enryaku-ji Temple, a Tendai monastery founded by Saicho in 788, situated on the mountain's summit overlooking Kyoto and Lake Biwa, is a World Heritage Site, and its teachings have been handed down for 1200 years.
We have planned a tour to walk this mountain with the high priest, known as a Dai Ajari, who has accomplished the grueling ascetic practices here on the mountain, and have conducted a number of trial tours with him over the last year.
We will follow in the footsteps of the monks who trained on this mountain, immerse ourselves in the surrounding nature, and visit the Dai Ajari's temple to share our feelings and thoughts about the essence of spiritual practices and to take part in his unique and stirring incantation.
We feel very privileged to work with such a person and cherish this opportunity to share his experience and teachings. Please join us if you wish to glimpse and experience the essence of this Buddhist aesthetic practice and gain more insights into your own dhamma path.
There are many masters around us who make homemade food with traditional methods.
Soy sauce and miso, indispensable to the Japanese diet, used to be made at home. It may be difficult to find such people nowadays as we normally buy them at supermarket, but we are fortunate that many of our friends are very good at handwork and share with us the joy of making things by hand.
The other day we participated in a workshop on making soy sauce. We roast and grind brown wheat, mix it with soybeans and koji mold, soak it in salt water, and let it sit for a year, stirring occasionally.
The delicious soy sauce will be ready after a year. (The soy sauce in the photo is the one we made last year)
Meet our tour guides. This time, we would like to share with you Saori's message:
I think the year 2020 has been an unforgettable year for people all over the world.
It's been really tough, but for me it's also been a valuable year to obtain new awareness.
I have been given time to learn new things, to touch the soil, and to feel the blessings of nature more than ever before.
Thankfully, the majestic nature around me has always made me feel so relaxed.
No matter what happens, the workings of nature look uninterrupted.
It seems nature doesn't give up or get depressed like humans do.
I feel the most important meaning of this pandemic was to warn us against our excessive ego. We have to coexist with the earth.
In order to do so, I would like to share the wisdom of our ancestors that have been taken over for generations with you.
Meet our tour guides.
This year, our certified tour guide Shino works on brushing up her interpreting skills while taking on translation work. She was originally born in Tokyo and her family runs a public bathhouse. The old, quaint building looks like a cultural asset, and the baths are beautiful as Instagram-worthy. For Japanese people who are accustomed to soaking in hot water to recover from the day's fatigue, it is very enviable to be able to soak in a spacious bath. She travels all over Japan guiding or with her family and tried various hot springs. Why not ask her for advice on great hot springs in different areas?
In the midst of the pandemic around the world, our guide Misako received an email from England whose sender was a nice couple who joined our tour last year. It was their anniversary trip to commemorate their retirement from work. They were even interviewed by local TV and appeared on a program to introduce “good things” about Shiga.
In their email, they cared about us and mentioned that they still reminisce that day, including the experience of TV shooting. Misako was very glad to have read the warm message and thought the tour was already a long time ago even though it was just several months ago.
Since this spring, all our tours have been cancelled and we were forced to pause the routine we'd taken for granted. Misako spends more time in the rice paddies or nature feeling the changes in the seasons which made her realize that she is allowed to be alive even in this moment, and she feels so thankful for her life.
Looking back at photos of the tours she attended, encouraged by the great feedback from many of her guests, Misako now looks forward to the reopening day and sharing laughter and tears with the future travelers.
Our challenge in this year is to help our partnered farmers with their work.
Last Sunday, one of our tour conductors Keiko joined in their field.
In the west side of Lake Biwa, where we live, the mountains and lake are close together and the farmland space is limited. People cultivated the mountains and made rice paddies on the hillsides.
The natural rice terraces are a beautiful sight on their own, but for farmers, they are nothing but inefficient and inconvenient as it's not easy to manage things on the slope including the water control or machine handling.
The day's work was tilling the soil. We hand tilled the corner of the rice fields where the machine couldn’t reach and found it was hard to balance in the mud while hoeing up the soil. In old days, the entire fields were done by hand and it must have been a heavy labor.
There is a legend in Japan that if you leave even a grain of rice, you will receive a punishment of going blind by God. It teaches us that we should not treat God's precious blessings poorly which is recompense of the hard work.
Now Keiko digested the meaning of the words that her grandmother told her in her childhood.
Keiko was born and brought up in Osaka, living in Shiga for more than 20 years. She loves yoga and nature and enjoys the beautiful natural surroundings that Shiga offers. Almost every morning, she visits her favorite beachside park, takes amazing photos and indulges in conversation with the mother lake.
Although she adores Shiga, her bright and cheerful “Osakan spirit” always reminds her to entertain people and lead fun tours. Those of you whose tour leader is Keiko, please look forward to a delightful time with her!
A short program about the Mochi Making Tour was broadcasted on a local television channel. Our wonderful guest from England kindly collaborated with the shooting during the tour. The narration is in Japanese however you can see the whole picture of this tour. Join us and spend quality time immersing yourself in our local culture.
An annual event ‘Mochi Rice Cake Throwing’ was held at the shrine we visit during our Mochi pounding tour. Local villagers prepare Mochi rice cakes from early morning in order to offer them to the Shinto god in return for the perfect health and safety of family members. Afterwards, Mochi rice cakes that have been blessed by the Shinto god are distributed among the villagers.
From ancient times, Mochi rice cakes have been considered to bring good luck. Local villagers come together to receive this luck by gathering and collecting thrown Mochi rice cakes.
Not only Mochi rice cakes but also Ramen noodles and sweets were thrown, causing a lot of laughter among the participants. You may encounter such local events during the tour if you are extra lucky. We hope you will join our Mochi pounding tour to see and learn about the local life of people in the countryside.
Tour du lacのツアーでは、運が良ければ、こんな地元ならではのイベントにもご案内いたします。
HASHI-ITA bridges were used daily by people who lived by the lake until a piped water supply system was set up. Every day, they carried buckets to collect water for the washing, drinking, cleaning, laundry and for their bath tubs.
People had a rule never to wash dirty things in the lake and to throw away the used grey water in their backyards, so the lake water always remained pure.
A HASHI-ITA bridge is a fun place for children to play (they can run along and jump into the water) and is also a good safe spot for baby fish to hide under.
After a water system was set up in the 1950’s, the local government ordered that the HASHI-ITA bridges should no longer be used and they were removed from the lakeside.
In the intervening years, most people have forgotten about them. However, the cultural importance of Lake Biwa has recently been acknowledged, once again defining Lake Biwa as a ‘Water Heritage of Life and Prayer.’
HASHI-ITA bridges are valuable environment study areas where one can learn about the life around the lake as well as offering an important access to emergency water during disasters.
Our hope is to hand over the HASHI-ITA bridge culture to future generations and this is why we are presently attempting to once again bring these bridges back to life.
Cool young gentlemen from Singapore returned to our tour for the second time!
It was a lovely reunion since this January. We felt such an honor and a pleasure that the guests have come back to the same tour with his friends.
We hope our friendship will continue. We wish for their bright future!
After the tour, we received a very sweet feedback from them. We are touched by their warm gesture and would like to introduce their impressions here.
A fruitful experience of Japanese culture is what I promise you will enjoy if you are to attend the Farmer’s Tour
Want to understand more about Shinto, an ancient religion practiced by the Japanese?
Test our knowledgeable tour guide as she brings you to explore the shrine where the Rain Deity resides. My friends and I were at awe as we witness the significance of the Rain Deity in the plantation of Japanese pearl rice that the world has come to love.
You will also get your fortune told on a piece of empty white paper, mysteriously revealing the god's message only after washing it with the sacred water in the shrine.
After the introduction to the Japanese religion, you will be brought to a quint little house own by a friendly yet quirky old couple, where you will get a first-hand exposure into traditional mochi (rice cake) making. Work up a sweat and have fun getting your hands dirty as you pound the mochi which you well get to try. I can assure you that even though the process of making rice cakes between the Chinese, Koreans and Japanese are similar, they have very different taste and textures.
After you have had your fun, you will be then be treated to an authentic Japanese meal by the old couple. Be prepared to wait though as the chicken sukiyaki that you will have is made from scratch, using products fresh from the old couple's farm.
Feeling adventurous ?
The old couple may also show you their homemade soju infused with snakes or wasp, caught from the wild. You can still try out these fermented exotic creatures. From what I was told, the larvae of the wasp apparently taste like cream cheese. If you are not used to food like these, it is perfectly fine to turn the couple down on their offer.
To conclude, my friends and I truly enjoyed ourselves and would recommend you to try it. I would also advise you to check when the rain festival is as it will definitely be a sight to see. However, as it is only conducted once a year, be warn that to view this festival, it will be during a peak period.
Thank you, gentlemen! We feel as if we have got a great spokesmen.
He is from the UK and has been living in Australia these past 4 years. His family are originally from Jamaica, so he has a global outlook. He says "I very much enjoy being in the outdoors and seeing the worlds natural beauty, and get involved in some type of physical activity". It was just the right tour for him and he had a wonderful time together with our host family after zen Pilates. He enjoyed preparing for Japanese cooking with some organic food from host`s' vegetable garden, too. We all had an awesome time!!
We had a lovely couple guest from Singapore for our Kimono & Photo shooting program. They looked so beautiful wearing antique Kimonos that have been carefully looked after by the house's family, who have lived here for seven generations.
Our special guest from the US yesterday, very energetic, active, and smart wonderful lady who is turning 91 years old this month.
Her wonderful friend also joined our tour. They just met each other in Kyoto few days ago! (Thank you for joining us together!!)
They got very well together and had really nice time at the local farmer's traditional Japanese house!
He is a roof craftsman who dedicate his lifework to preservation of renowned temples and shrines in Shiga, Japan.
Look how fast he drives nails with a magic hammer! Amazing!