In the Tama region of Tokyo prefecture is a town called Hinode-machi (which means city of sunrise). If it weren't for just one famous retreat, this place would be just yet another mountain town with temples, forests, good food and onsens.
But, instead, in the late 80's, when Ronald Reagan was the president of the US and Yasuhiro Nakasone was the prime minister of Japan, the town of Hinode hosted the meeting of these two political figures. The summit, or retreat, was meant to strengthen the relationships between Japan and the United States, especially in those times of the Cold War and other conflicts.
The meeting took place at the summer residence of the Japanese prime minister, Hinode Sanso, which was later donated to the town and became a memorial hall and museum. The interior was furnished in a mixed eastern-western style, like wide sofas, high dining tables and chairs, and also rooms with tatami mats, pillows and low tea tables. Glass cabinets and cupboards placed all over the house were filled with items like historical photographs, jewels, pottery, and all other items used by the presidential couple or the Japanese prime minister's family.
Visitors can walk around the two story residence, have a look at the rooms, sit on sofas and also have a sip of green tea sitting at the same table where Mrs. Reagan sat and had tea.
I ended up there thanks to a cultural activity, which one of my friends was co-organizer for. The one-day tour to discover the natural beauty and the cultural heritage of Hinode-machi was, to tell the truth, organized for retired people. But since there were places available to reach up the maximum allowed, I and another bunch of youngsters decided to participate. The trip consisted of a bus ride, strictly on schedule to Hinode-machi, a tour of the residence and the forest around it, collecting some greens from the forest like flowers and shiso leaves, then have a veggie tempura cooking class and finally rest at the town's onsen.
It was a memorable experience, which packed a lot of things into one day.
I loved the forest walk and greens picking part. Of course, as a nature lover, I was amazed by how green the plants can be and how cool the air in the forest (it was summer when I went)! Also, I could spot a lot of insects unseen before, bright blue, yellow, or bright green, and as big as my hand. I even saw a complete cicada shell attached to some grass, a sign that the insect inside it was ready to get out in the world.
When the time to pick our greens came, I was lost, of course. We were all showed the plants and flowers we were supposed to look for, but to me, amongst all that grass, everything looked the same.
Still, we managed to collect shiso leaves, and wasabi root!! Yes, I saw a green wasabi plant, and its spicy and pungent root.
Later into the day, we went to another rest area, where cooking utensils and gas stoves were set up for us to try our tempura making skills and watch the preparation of rice with mountain mushrooms, cooked inside a bamboo. Very, very interesting.
We spent the rest of the afternoon with some free time and we explored the city area, the forest, and the river side. Before heading back to Tokyo we all took a rejuvenating bath at the Tsurutsuru onsen, so much needed after a long day walking and learning.
If you want to take advantage of the good (and yet not so humid) days of spring, consider a short trip to hinode-machi and learn about Japanese history. It's worth the time.