OLDER Singaporeans would remember the long-running Japanese television drama series Oshin, which was shown here in 1984. It told the story of a girl from a poor family in Japan who overcame the adversities and obstacles of her humble rural beginnings in the Yamagata prefecture, and went on to achieve success and fame.
The NHK production, which has been shown in 59 countries, was shot on location in beautiful spots in Japan such as the Ginzan Onsen (Ginzan Hot Spring) area and the Oshin Museum in Yamagata.
These, plus the many other natural attractions elsewhere in Japan, should be very refreshing and interesting for those who crave more than the bustle of cities and the lure of shopping malls - something which Singapore has a lot of.
Yamagata, on the main island of Honshu, is Japan's largest producer of cherries and pears. It is the true fruit basket of the country as many other fruits such as watermelons, apples, grapes and persimmons also abound.
Kairakuen, one of Japan's great landscaped gardens, is alive with plum blossoms from late February to March.
August is summertime in Japan and this is when the days are bright and fruits ripen. Just the ideal time to visit spots in Yamagata, such as Yamadera, where one can view an ancient temple, Konponchudo, built on the mountainside, or the Okama Crater Lake, formed more than 380 years ago, after a volcanic eruption. The special feature of this body of opal-blue water, 300m in diameter, is its colours which change several times a day, depending on the weather. That's why the Japanese also call it the Goshiki-numa or Five Colour Swamp.
After this, head for the Ginzan Onsen, where the early episodes of Oshin were shot. Enjoy the sight of the steamy Ginzan-gawa (Ginzan River) and the four-storey inns made of wood, which line both sides of the river.
While here, a visit to the Oshin Museum is a must since in the 1980s, the museum building was used as the house where Oshin and her family lived.
By now, the visitor would have begun to appreciate the monuments of ancient Japan and its breathtaking natural beauty. So the Shigoma Shrine, with a history of 1,200 years, is a must-see. In it resides the god of longevity, a deity you might want to please with a visit.
The Matsushima Bay area in the Miyagi prefecture is so beautiful that it would be a sin not to visit it. This spot, with its 260 pine-clad islets, has been hailed as one of Japan's three most scenic areas. The best way to see it is to take a boat cruise and meander slowly through this huge cluster of islets.
Since most Singaporeans who visit Japan land in Tokyo, try visiting the Asakusa Kannon Temple. This temple has a 1,300-year history and houses the god of wind and the god of thunder.
Drive through the city by bus or taxi. If you are on a group tour, your guide will give you an interesting run in this metropolis.
Go to Ginza, Tokyo's high-end shopping area for a stroll and make a stop at the Ueno Flea Market, a bustling place that sells bric-a-brac and local food. If you are in Tokyo in spring, you should go to Ueno Park to view the sakura or cherry blossoms.
In summer, there are also brilliant fireworks displays all over Japan. The Japanese call them hanabi taikai.
Seasonal colours are a feature of Japanese life and you should return home appreciating the many hues of nature even more.
This is the ninth of a year-long series sponsored by ASA Holidays in 2007.
Photos: ASA Holidays
Go on an Oshin trail
ASA Holidays brings you the seven-day Trail of Oshin, which includes visits to the filming sites of Oshin and cruising along Matsushima, one of Japan's three wonders from $1,888. OCBC credit cardmembers can save $50 per couple. The first 30 OCBC Titanium cardmembers also get to purchase the five-day Delightful Tokyo package at one-for-one price, that is, from $1,168 for two persons. Call ASA Holidays at 6303-5303 or visit the ASA Holidays Power-Packed! Travel Fair Preview Roadshow today at Marina Square Level 2, LinkBridge Atrium.