ABC Cooking Studio Singapore and The Council of Local Authorities for International Relations (CLAIR) kindly brought me and 5 others from ABC Cooking Studio to Kagawa Prefecture 香川県 for 4 days to experience the best that summer in Japan has to offer.
Readers of Hungry Bird should all be very familiar with ABC Cooking Studio by now, but for those who are not familiar with CLAIR, they are a government organization in Japan:
The Council of Local Authorities for International Relations (CLAIR) was established in July 1988 in response to rising concern for local-level internationalization in Japan. CLAIR was created as a joint organization of local governments to promote and provide support for local internationalization.
CLAIR’s headquarters is located in Tokyo with seven overseas offices set up in Singapore, New York, London, Paris, Seoul, Sydney and Beijing.
CLAIR Singapore was set up in October 1990 and we conducts activities in the 10 ASEAN countries (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam) and India.
- Promote local level exchange between Japan and ASEAN countries as well as India.
- Support Japanese local governments’ activities in ASEAN countries and India.
- Conduct research on local administration and finance systems as well as the various policies in ASEAN countries and India.
- Introduce Japan’s local administration and finance systems as well as its various policies to ASEAN countries and India.
CLAIR was the organizer of this trip to Kagawa and the objective is of course to let the beauty of Kagawa Prefecture be known to the people of Singapore!
I was super excited to learn that it was Kagawa that we will be visiting, because not only will this be my first trip to Kagawa, it is also my very first time in the Shikoku region! Thank you CLAIR for giving me this opportunity!
The country of Japan is made up of several islands and among the major islands, Shikoku is the smallest one. Four prefectures makes up the area of Shikoku – Kagawa, Ehime, Tokushima and Kochi. I have always wanted to cover all 47 prefectures in Japan so Kagawa and all of Shikoku was definitely somewhere I wanted to visit. It’s my 20th prefecture unlocked so far, and I am really thankful for this trip because I ended up getting to visit Shikoku earlier than expected!
You see, Shikoku region is a whole island on it’s own. It’s not as easily connected by (high speed) rail as the Prefectures in Honshu (main island of Japan). When I travel in Japan I usually go free and easy and I like getting around by trains. To get to Kagawa by train, you’ll have to get on a JR Marine Liner train from Okayama (which crosses the inland sea on bridges via many little islands). The journey from Okayama to Takamatsu, main city in Kagawa, would take around 40 minutes at the quickest. Add in the time taken to get to Okayama from the nearest international airport, you would figure that it’s actually better to just take a domestic flight in! They have many domestic flights via Tokyo Haneda (ANA, JAL) or Tokyo Narita (Jetstar) and the flight is only 1h 15mins.
I mentally planned that I would fly in to Shikoku one day and explore all four prefectures via rail (JR Shikoku) at once, but I’m not complaining that my chance to see Kagawa came earlier!
It is also my first time experiencing summer in Japan. This trip is full of “firsts” and that makes the whole experience so refreshing.
Being received by a life size moving prefecture mascot, Ao-oni-Kun upon arriving in Takamatsu is definitely a first! We were given these super cute Kagawa Udon Trip tote bags full of goodies by Ao-oni-Kun as a welcome gift. By the way, Kagawa is known unofficially as the Udon Prefecture. Every prefecture has their iconic food product and for Kagawa, it is Udon. The second most iconic food product would be olives.
These little coloured balls are called Oiri おいり, another food product unique to Kagawa prefecture. It is often used as a wedding gift during wedding receptions to the guests. I love anything full of colours!
The first attraction for the trip was Ritsurin Garden 栗林公園, a big Japanese landscape garden said to be the best attraction in Takamatsu City. Admission for adults cost ¥410.
It is summer right now so the there’s a lot of green. The landscape will look different in all seasons I think I would really love this garden in fall.
Pine trees are the majority in Ritsurin Garden. I love how Japanese gardens makes me feel calm and serene. Some people like to visit shrines in Japan, but if I had to choose a cultural attraction, I would choose garden. Whenever I plan my Japan trips and I see Japanese garden, I’ll try to slot it in my itinerary if possible.
They offer matcha experience in their tea house and matcha with wagashi is ¥700 for adults.
You need to turn the bowl twice before drinking the matcha, and then turn it the other way round before placing the bowl back down. I’ve had matcha experience in Himeji’s Koko-en and Ibaraki’s Shunpu Barin-so before but I still love doing it.
However, this matcha experience was different because the host of this session was the Governor of Kagawa Prefecture, Hamada Keizo 浜田恵造 ! It was his gesture of welcoming us to Kagawa Prefecture and we were so honoured to be his guests. He even gifted us Kagawa lacquer ware chopsticks as a welcome gift to Kagawa!
Our exchange with the governor was even published in Kagawa local newspaper the following day!
There are lots of photogenic spots in Ritsurin Garden. This rock is clearly a hot favourite.
Meet my new friends! Kesslyn (@kesslyn_hyl), Valynn (@vanillyn), Doris (@dorisgoz), Charlotte (@charlottekiew) and Sonia (@sonia_abccookingsg). 5 of us are paying members from ABC Cooking Studio Singapore, while Sonia is a cooking instructor at the studio.
The heart shaped bush allegedly grew into it’s shape on it’s own. How?!?!
The gift shop of Ritsurin Garden, Ritsurin-an 栗林庵 is said to be one of the best in the areas as well. They sell really unique local products like locally made handicraft, local food specialties and also all sorts of souvenirs. I SO REGRET not getting a few pieces of locally made jewelry which I loved. They were inspired by the colourful balls of Oiri and is very much exclusive to Kagawa, made in Takamatsu. Thankfully I managed to trace it online and order it once I got back or else I would really try to plan another trip down soon-ish, but really, do not make the same mistake! When you see something you like in Japan, just buy it. You may not come across it anywhere else in Japan!
1-20-16 Ritsurin-cho, Takamatsu-shi, Kagawa
Thankfully, I managed to trace the creator the local handmade jewelry I wanted, and I ordered them online! These are Oiri inspired, something very uniquely Kagawa. I love it. This probably wouldn’t be very special on it’s own, but it has significance to me because it is a memento from my trip to Kagawa. It does look like the Oiri in the box of real edible Oiri from the welcome pack!
So if you’re wondering how I managed to get them to ship this to Singapore, the answer is they don’t. Or at least, officially they don’t and I didn’t ask. Instead, I just had my package mailed to an address in Japan and have the package forwarded to Singapore!
And the best part? The international shipping cost like $5???
Well there were many online shopping forwarding companies shipping parcels from Japan to Singapore, but most of them are pretty expensive and they count by volumetric weight, which does not make sense for items that are super light, like these jewelry. A few examples are VPost, BEX and Buyee. In my previous trip in April this year, I had some items I didn’t manage to buy while in Japan so I bought them online and shipped via BEX and Buyee. Let’s just say the cost of my international shipping was alarming and I don’t want to think about it. I probably spent around $100 – $200 total on shipping charges, but I just wanted my items ASAP because they were limited edition. So anyway, I realised I was missing out when I discovered Buy and Ship.
Buy and Ship runs a little different – they have overseas warehouse in Japan, Korean, Taiwan, UK, US, China and Hong Kong, and you can buy from any and several of these countries! All parcels received in these countries will be forwarded to Hong Kong, and in Hong Kong you can consolidate the parcels no matter where they came from and have it shipped together to Singapore using UPS or other courier service, straight to your doorstep. The cost is just $5 for the first pound (~454g), and $4 for every subsequent pound. And they use actual weight.
If you do know of any cheaper shipping methods do let me know, but this was probably the cheapest I know of for shipping from UK as well! I first used their service to purchase shoes from Zalando. It was significantly cheaper than using VPost at least.
For my parcel of these jewelry, they were really light and weighed less than a pound. If I had shipped these alone it would be just $5! (I had other items as well so I combined.) The only thing is this service isn’t the fastest and it took about a week to come, but still fast enough for me!
If you would like to use this service, signing up (free to sign up!) through my link will give you $3 of credits which you can use. Remember to enter my Friend Referral Number 4254276752 when you sign up!
Anyway, back to my Kagawa trip…
This is Alice in Takamatsu, a restaurant on the 30th floor of a building near Takamatsu Port. This is probably the highest you’ll get in Takamatsu and it gives the best view! There are views of the city as well as the harbour.
Takamatsu is a small city and it is nice to see that most of the buildings are uniform in height. Dinner with this view is amazing. I’ve a thing for high rise views.
Just when I thought the view couldn’t be better, we were greeted with a beautiful rainbow! Note that it wasn’t even raining all day. It must be magic.
This beautiful restaurant was the venue for our welcome dinner with CLAIR.
Alice in Takamatsu serves French inspired cuisine, using Japanese ingredients. I’ve had this kind of cuisine in urban areas of Japan like Tokyo’s Narisawa or Osaka’s Hajime and they use French techniques on ingredients from all over Japan. I loved those meals and they were one of the best in my lives.
On the other hand, Kagawa has plenty of agriculture and they produce almost everything here – oil, meat, fish, veggies, fruits, even rice! Hence, most of the ingredients used in my meal are actually locally sourced from Kagawa prefecture itself which means that everything on my plate was super fresh and of good quality. Having the gift of good ingredients means the chef doesn’t really need to do much to alter anything -he just needs to bring out the naturally good flavours. This is something we definitely cannot experience in Singapore since we have close to no agriculture at all.
And the food did not disappoint! You know me, I am very particular about standards of food. I care more about taste than looks of my food. My favourite course would be the fish course, but everything else was so good I polished every thing off my plates, on all 5 courses!
This 5 course dinner with bread and coffee or tea would cost ¥5000+tax (S$60+) and I think it is really good value given that it has the ambiance, the food quality and the presentation. What kind of French meal can you eat with S$60 in Singapore?
Alice in Takamatsu
Maritime Plaza Takamatsu Tower Building 30F, Sun Port 2-1, Takamatsu, Kagawa Prefecture
Takamatsu is generally a peaceful and quiet place but still equipped with some urban infrastructure. While there wasn’t a lot of shopping options near Takamatsu station, where we stayed for the night in JR Hotel Clement Takamatsu, there are 2 big malls in the city – Youme Town and AEON Mall, where you can find all the shops you want in one place and surprisingly the former operates until 10pm daily. It was a pity I didn’t get to hit the malls this time, but I’m sure I’ll come back again some day! I called it a night early to get charged up for Day 2 in Shodoshima and Mitoyo City.
To be continued…