(No.6, Vol.8,Dec 2018-Jan 2019 Vietnam Heritage Magazine)

The World Heritage Ainokura Gassho-style Village, September 2018

The iron hearth in the middle of  the living hall of the over 300 year-old house at the Ainokura Gassho-style village

Mask by washi paper

Washi Japanese paper making workshop at the World Heritage Ainokura Gassho-style Village.

Wooden art work hanging in the Yokamachi street of Inami town, Toyama Prefecture

Kokiriko dancer and a visitor with sasara at the Museum of Sericulture, Folk Handicrafts and Photographs Yusuke.

On the Doraemon tram at the hometown of the manga author Fujiko.F.Fujo, in Toyama Prefecture.

Waterfall at Digital Art Museum

Robot receptionist welcoming at the Henn Na Hotel Tokyo Asakusabashi.

Shopping street on the way to the Sensouji Temple, Tokyo.

Sensouji Temple, Tokyo.

This is the second part about the journey on the New Golden Route of Japan via Hokuriku by Le Thanh Hai from Vietnam Heritage

Leaving the Kenrokuen Garden of Kanazawa, we headed to the mountain and arrived at the World Heritage site – the Gokayama Ainokura Gassho-style village – around 8pm. Outside, the shape of the mountain was just visible in the dark, and dim light from the windows revealed the slow-falling rain. An older woman took three female members from our team in her small car and drove us to her house. Her long, thatched-roof house was built over 300 years ago and her family has been living there for generations. In the middle of the house, there was a hearth with some fish on skewers and a boiling pot. Her house had a simple interior with tatami mat, a TV set in the corner and sliding doors to the sleeping tatami rooms. We had a home-stay night at this house, with warnings not to walk to other neighboring houses or gardens, out of respect the privacy of each owners.
The home owner had prepared dinner for us in the Japanese tradition with wild vegetables that her husband picked up from the mountain, tofu and rice of the region and the fish grilled on the fire. While we ate, she went around silently making up the sleeping mats for us. 
The next morning, I couldn’t help but run up and down the small roads of the village and around the neighboring houses. I had never seen such beautiful surroundings. The magical setting of the village stole my heart. The fresh rice fields were greenish yellow and the houses on the small curving roads with time-colored, thatched roofs were like something from mythology. A garden by a neighboring house had lots of big yellow pumpkins reminding me of the approaching Halloween.
At breakfast, I learned that Gassho-style housing was born from the wisdom of people who live in the snow. The steep thatched roof covering the house was designed to ensure space for sericulture as well as provide ventilation and daylight, and more importantly, the snow piled up on the roof will easily slide down.
Some of the Gassho-style houses in Gokayama are over 400 years old. How have these wooden buildings survived for so long? Gassho-style housing always has an Irori hearth for cooking and warmth. The smoke rising from these fires repels insects and prevents the aging of the building.The ingenuity and wisdom of Gassho-style housing really represents the lives of the Japanese who have lived in harmony with nature.
We visited the Japanese handmade paper (washi) workshop in the village and had a 15-minute experience producing our own paper art with the owner of the house.
Washi is one of of Japan’s most fundamental artistic products. During 1,300 years of its production, it has formed the backbone of many other Japanese art forms. In fact, washi paper is so ingrained in Japanese culture, there are literally towns build around washi paper making
Because Japanese paper-making depends on natural materials, the production of washi paper became a seasonal activity. Winter was typically considered the best paper-making season, as the weather was too cold for farmers to be out in their fields doing other work. Most washi paper uses kozo, and mitsumata, two shrubs that are generally cultivated, and gampi, which is typically wild. The plants are boiled and beaten, to get the fiber for paper pulp substance.
A mat is swirled gently in water with paper pulp four times to get the desired thickness of the paper sheet. The sheet  then gently taken out and put on a heating machine to remove extra water and dry. We put some paper flowers on to the sheet and another round for a second sheet to put on top, keeping the paper flowers in between.
In the shop, there were lots of souvenir items made with washi paper. 
However, there are only a few families in the region who still make traditional washi paper.
We also visited the Museum of Sericulture, Folk Handicrafts and Photographs Yusuke. The special thing about this Museum is the house (Gashho-zukuri House, built in 1868) has a pin-connected structure, using no nails but only ropes! The first floor of this farm house was built by carpenters specializing in temples and shrines; the second and third floors were made with the cooperation of villagers. You can see the internal structure of this traditional farmhouse, learn the history and customs of Ainokura Village through photographs and drawings with description panels and watch the ancient Japanese folk Kokiriko dance. The dancer plays a sasara, which consists of 108 wooden pieces and sings a cheerful melody. It is said that Kokiriko was introduced to Gokayama from the ancient capital 1000 years ago. It was sung at religious ceremonies to pray and appreciate good harvest.
“If you want to dance, let me hold your crying baby while you dance. The sasara is near the window, so why don’t you pick it up and dance?” (Kokiriko lyrics).
We didn’t have much time to linger at this Unesco World Heritage site, as another destination awaited – the wood carving town of Inami in Toyama Prefecture.
Built around Zuisenji Temple 600 years ago, this town is home to approximately 200 of Japan’s finest wood carvers. Wood carving workshops line the stone-paved Yokamachi streets, with everything from bus signs to doorplates artfully chiseled out of wood. We walked with appreciation of the chance to be in Japan’s best wood-carving town.
The birth of Inami Town originates back to 1390, when the Emperor Gokomatshu ordered a Buddhist priest, St Shakunyo, to build Zuisenji Temple. Since then, this town has been developing as a town blessed with Buddhist prosperity. Many carpenters from other parts of Japan moved here to work, built the Zuisenji Temple and stayed on. There was a legend about the main gate of the temple; in 1879 when a fire broke out from the main hall and the gate was about to catch fire, a wooden dragon got out from the gate, swallowed water from the deep well and put the fire out. The main gate which the Japanese call the San-mon is designed an important cultural asset
The main hall is the 4th largest wooden building in Japan. It is 40 meters wide, 45 meters long and has the floor space to fit 450 tatami straw mats. Inside the hall are 86 towering columns made from the wood of the keyaki (zelkova) tree.
On Yokamachi Street from time to time we saw girls in beautiful traditional kimonos. There was  a kimono tour on offer, with Yukata (summer kimono from July to September) and kimonos from September to March with hair styling service optional as well. The price for 4 hours rental of kimono plus lunch and Shogawa River cruise is from Y7200 to 7800 and reservation is required (at www.tabi-nanto.jp/nantabi/tabi/ kimono_tour.html).
Toyama is the hometown of Fujiko F. Fujio, one of the two authors of the famous Doraemon manga. I remembered my son’s eagerness to get hold of every new issue of the book in Vietnamese and how he was happy when I decorated his room, cases and desk with Doraemon the magic cat. I traveled with joy on the Doraemon tram with images of the characters of the manga painted all over. It seemed that we all reporters turned kids again when we took lots of group photos together on the tram. I believe the energy of the magic cat was the real influence. It was a pity that we didn’t have time to visit Fujiko F. Fuji’s Hometown Art Gallery. It would be interesting to know more about him, the author with an imagination for the 22nd century.
From Toyama to Tokyo, it took us just 2 hours and 8 minutes ride on the Hokuriku Shinkansen. Spacious, convenient and smooth bullet train with every seat fitted with its own power socket. Excellent! Getting out from the JR Station in Tokyo, we met a totally different world, full of lights and high-rise buildings, busy traffic and beautifully lit western classic  architecture. We headed for the Digital Art Museum, Odaiba.
I didn’t expect much until I entered the corridor as black as ink. Butterflies appeared and I had the urge to touch them, although there was a warning at the entrance: If you touch the butterfly it will die and disappear. The more I walked, the more butterflies followed and took the lead, and all around me were the flowers and leaves and waves of butterflies. I walked into the forest, seeing flowers booming and moving, plants growing, water falling…what a sensation!
The art is dynamic and constantly in motion. In just a few minutes, you can experience a complete change of scenery. Step back into that same flower forest a little later, and you’ll find that the seasons have changed!
The museum combines science, art, technology, design and images of the natural world with simulations generated by 520 computers and 470 high-tech projectors. With over 107,000 square feet of space, the museum has 50 interactive displays that blend into one another over five different zones. The exhibit’s “borderless” name encourages breaking down barriers  between one piece of art and another, art and its visitors, and one person and another.
After experiencing some of the space that seemingly never ends, we had to leave to check in at Henn Na Hotel Tokyo Asakusabas. Greeting us were two female robots in nice uniforms and who were able to nod! Everything was operated online. While it is very convenient and comfortable, I still wished to have human interaction at hotels.
My last day in Tokyo, I explored the Edo Tokyo Museum, the Sky Tree Television Tower and the shopping area at Sensouji Temple. 2018 marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Tokyo. On July 17, 1868 an imperial edict was issued changing the name of the capital of Edo to Tokyo and Tokyo Prefecture was established. The city of Tokyo which made its start amid the chaos of the Meiji Restoration, was destroyed repeatedly by earthquakes and war. The exhibition, “Tokyo: 150 years at the Edo Tokyo Museum” shows Tokyo at its origin and captures how it changed over the 150 years through photographs, films and maps.
Tokyo Sky Tree is a broadcasting, restaurant  and observation tower in Tokyo. It became the tallest structure in Japan in 2010 and reached its full height of 634.0 meters (2,080 ft) in March 2011, making it the tallest tower in the world. The base of the tower has a structure similar to a tripod; from a height of about 350 m (1,150 ft) and above, the tower’s structure is cylindrical to offer panoramic views of the river and the city.There are observatories at 350 m (1,150 ft), with a capacity of up to 2000 people, and 450 m (1,480 ft), with a capacity of 900 people. The upper observatory features a spiral, glass-covered skywalk in which visitors ascend the last 5 meters to the highest point at the upper platform. A section of glass flooring gives visitors a direct downward view of the streets below.
After learning the history of Tokyo and having panoramic view of the whole city from the Sky Tree, we did some shopping along the road full of souvenir and bakery outlets leading to the Sensouji Temple.
Sensouji, also known as Asakusa Kannon Temple, is a Buddhist temple located in Asakusa. It is one of  Tokyo’s most colorful and popular temples. The legend says that in the year 628, two brothers fished a statue of Kannon, the goddess of mercy, out of the Sumida River, and even though they put the statue back into the river, it always returned to them. Consequently, Sensouji was built nearby for the goddess of Kannon. The temple was completed in 645, making it Tokyo’s oldest temple.
Following other temple visitors, I made the Omikuji : I put Y100 into the box, and thought of a wish while picking a wooden stick with a number that give fortune readings. If the reading promises positive future people take it with them, if it reads negative things, people tie the paper on the racks, to leave the bad luck there.
I wished I have the chance to explore more of Japan, and to take with me my beloved family members. And the readings encouraged it !
Seeing is believing, I highly recommend you to explore Japan soon to let yourself enjoy your existence among breathtaking nature scenes, authentic art and rhythm
of culture evolution that is beyond imagination.

The trip is supported by GCP