By Mandy Bartok
Almost every town and neighborhood in Japan has some sort of hidden 'treasure' - a place a little bit off the beaten path, not well advertised, but well worth visiting. The Kyu-jogakko-ato, or 'remnants of a former girls' school' near the Aso Shrine and Monzen Shopping Street is just such a place.
In 1902, the first 'school for girls' in the area was established here. It lasted until 1977, and weaving was done in the facility for a number of years after that. The collection of traditional buildings is now a lovely complex filled with unique shops, galleries, and a couple of cafes.
If you start at Aso Shrine, walk down the shopping street to the end. Turn left and walk a short distance. At the next road, turn right. Water will be running along the street here on your left. Follow the road and soon, on your left, will be Kyu-jogakko-ato.
As you enter the compound, walk straight to the light green Western-style building. Inside are a couple of shop/galleries, both of which sell a very interesting mix of items including antiques, organic food, natural clothing, the work of local artists, etc. If you'd just like to relax, the shop in the back, 'Little Eagle & AOtsuki' has a small sitting area around an old-fashioned stove. I believe you can order something to drink here.
In the building next door is the 'cafe et brocante Tien Tien'. The decor is very inviting, and the food is delicious. The special winter menu when I visited consisted of three choices: a) Beef in a red wine stew with vegetable soup, coffee or tea, and dessert for ¥1900. b) Vegetable Special Plate lunch, with vegetable soup, and coffee or tea for ¥1500. c) Vegetable Gratin (rice casserole) - vegetables, bacon, and sautéed shrimp in a Jersey milk cream sauce over saffron rice, with vegetable soup, and coffee or tea for ¥1500.
Just outside of the cafe is a small gallery. It seems to hold different exhibitions, and was hosting an artist with lovely photographs when I visited.
Directly between the buildings mentioned and the main street is Kanzarashi-no-mise 'Yui'. In the front part of the building a fantastic collection of pottery and antiques are for sale. If you enter from the back (near the other buildings), it is 'open-air'. A bit cold for dining in the winter, but in warmer seasons it is a great place to sit and enjoy cold somen noodles (sliding down a bamboo tube for you to catch!) or a dessert of shiratama -pounded rice balls served with black honey syrup and kinako (roasted soybean flour). It is especially nice to sit here in the summer as cool natural spring water is flowing everywhere - just the sound alone will cool you down.
Almost everything in the complex is open from around 11am to 6pm, and is closed on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
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