It has been just six months since I came to Japan, and being relatively new, I am really excited to have the opportunity to be here. I go by the name Sandeep Nayak , or if you prefer, サンディープ ナヤク (Sandeepu Nayaku ) in Japanese. I am from the eastern part of India.
For a long time I have loved the scenes of the countryside in Hayao Miyazaki's films. He is well known for founding Studio Ghibli and making masterpieces such as My Neighbour Totoro and Spirited Away. I wondered where Miyazaki got the inspiration to make such fine art pieces that would capture the imagination of every child who sees his movies.
For me, to be able to experience such scenery myself made me really excited me to participate in a cycling trip around the suburbs of Sendai organized by the Royal Park Hotel.
We were in total around 11 people, with 5 Japanese people from a local college, 3 foreigners and 3 hotel staff. The hotel had meticulously planned the trip as they also provided an emergency car with an extra bicycle on board, an emergency kit and space to store our belongings. I felt really comfortable with the kind of planning presented by the hotel. After few instructions on bike safety and the terrain, we hit the road for an approximately 25 km cycling trip.
While witnessing the sunlight painting the leaves with their autumn colours, I was filled with anticipation with what this trip would present me with.
The first present was this picturesque open rice field, with golden rice shooting out towards the vast sky. While most of the fields of rice were already harvested, this patch made a significant impression on me because of its colour. It fit perfectly with the entire landscape as if designed by Miyazaki for one of his works.
The path through the paddy fields led us straight to a not-so-famous shop called Taka Chou. Unusually, the shop was 137 years old, according to its owner. What piqued my interest was its history and how it became an important part of farmers' lives. A store which initially began by selling clothes ended of having all the household necessities for the farmers living nearby. It even sold futon, digital essentials, sweets, groceries, and just about everything needed by the locals. Another very important thing was that this shop had a toilet, key for a long cycle ride.
The shop owners are two cheerful old ladies who have been managing the entire shop since it was handed down by their ancestors.
From here, we trailed through the narrow roads and made an impromptu stop which became a very heart-warming experience.
The second present was this shop without an owner (chokubai shop). There is a small box where one can buy vegetables and pay in cash without anyone being there to supervise. This shop changed my entire experience in this not-so-known locality with their degree of mutual trust, something rare in my experience.
We then continued as the terrain changed from a plain to hills. The air was getting colder as we entered into a serene dense forest.
When I reached a beautiful waterfall known by name Koumyou no Taki, I thought of the old saying about whether "the destination is important or the journey"? Well, the journey is what brought me to this place, so I am grateful for both. The waterfall is hidden in the midst of the woods and the water flows down like a white stream of milk. That contrast is why its name 光明の滝 has kanji meaning "bright light."
The members of Royal Park Hotel surprised us with a local special ice cream wafer and cold tea. The cream was flavored with a local sake known as Katsuyama. It had a light sake flavour and was a perfect match for the cold tea. What moved me most was the thoughtful attitude of the park members by treating us at the location that was pictured was on the ice cream's package.
The final present was of the local farmer's festival known as Denshou Matsuri. After asking the fellow local farmers, I came to know that usually, the festival goes by the name of Omoshiro Ichi matsuri, which is held every month on the third Saturday. However, Denshou Matsuri is a special event only held in autumn. The warmth and the zeal of the people, who were basically local farmers, could give us a glimpse of how the unmanned vegetable shop could exist. There were local artwork such as wood acorn nuts, music, and food being offered.
The imoni which was being sold is quite a popular autumn hotpot made using freshly prepared with vegetables, pork and miso. The festival offered Sendai-style imoni which is essentially made using miso soup as the base ingredient. Another style of making imoni is the Yamagata-style which uses beef as the meat and soy sauce as the base ingredient. As for dessert, the locally famous daifuku mochi made from sweet mochi rice and anko (red bean) made for a delightful ending.
I asked the hotel's Managing Director, Mr. Katsuhiko Kasai, about the hotel's motivation behind organising such trips. "Being located on the outskirts of Sendai, the hotel's main focus is to enhance the tourist experience by making it a more personalized one, and making connections with the surrounding countryside," he explained. I learned there are other activities offered as well, from outdoor yoga to stargazing. Anyone can join, not just hotel guests.
I felt thankful to the hotel for organizing a cycle tour to let us closely connect with the country side and experience a bit of rural japan. And as for the 25km cycling trip is concerned, the bicycles are hybrid, so it is not so difficult. Stretch and exercise in advance and you'll have a memorable trip. While tours are done for the winter, they will start up again on April 20th, 2019.
Buy tickets for a future cycling trip online here.
See all the activities here: http://www2.srph.co.jp/en/activity
About the author
Originally from India, Sandeep Nayak is a student at Tohoku University, majoring in robotics. He holds a deep passion for art, music and exploration.
"Exploring new places and visiting places of natural scenic beauty makes me happy. That's why I search for the common as well as not-so-common destinations."
In his free time he likes traveling and writing about his experiences. He came to Sendai in spring 2018 and hopes to have many unique experiences while living in Sendai.