The 16-kilometre stretch of the first day's hike from Tenri brings us comfortably in the late afternoon to the city of Sakurai. The concreted river is reminiscent of Kyoto's Kamogawa in the pink hues of the setting sun.
The walk towards the station is an uninspiring main road, though a quick stop-off at the local liquor store sets us up with enough cans of Ebisu to last an evening's pleasant disport in a local inn. The Kaikaro Ryokan (階花楼旅館 (0744-42-2016), a very reasonable 7,350 yen a night including Japanese-style dinner and breakfast) is nestled in a quiet side-street just two minutes’ walk from the bustling station.
It is over 100 years old, and has seen better days, but this is part of its charm. In our spacious room, the fusuma panels are faded, and yellowing calligraphy lines the walls. We hear about a Western expert in wolves, one Anderson, who visited the inn in 1905 – when the last wolves in Japan still existed in Nara. The dining room looks out on a slightly overgrown central garden, and the men’s bath is only barely big enough for two people – only to be attempted by the well-acclimatised!
Someone adds their sake to my beer, and as a bonus I produce the grapes and nashi pears that I have picked up for a song at one of the roadside stalls. We are set for an evening recounting our various experiences on the trail that day, passing on tales of friends who couldn’t make it, and discussing tomorrow’s schedule.
The night passes quickly, and after perusing maps on the handy round table in the dining room, we set off on the six-kilometre hike to Asuka. It takes us the best part of an hour to get out of the city, and the route this time is almost entirely on the road, but soon we are passing through rice fields again, and the autumn sun is warm on our backs. From the sacred hill Amagashioka (天樫丘) near Asuka you can get a 360-degree panoramic view of the entire area.
Next we meet up with friends at the Hyohyo Wholefood Restaurant and enjoy a wonderful set vegetarian lunch of seasonal vegetables for 1000 yen. The day is rounded off with a quick visit to the oldest giant Buddha in Japan at the nearby Asuka temple (飛鳥寺).
A 20-minute walk to the train station takes us past weird stone structures with colourful names such as the Devil’s Toilet. Semi-express trains are a convenient way to return to Kyoto or Osaka. I find myself nodding off on the return journey, comfortably exhausted and satiated with the sights, sounds and gastronomic experiences of the Yamanobe no Michi.
Japan Book Store Japan Hotels Nara Travel Guide Hand-made Akari Lights Yamanobe no michi Trail #1
Monday, October 30, 2006
Saturday, October 28, 2006
In south Osaka lies a slightly worn paradise for geeks, who are known in Japanese as otaku.
In the Nipponbashi section of Osaka is a shopping area famous primarily for electronics known as Den Den Town ("Den Den" comes from the kanji for electricity, said twice: 電電). The area is a mix of old mom and pop widget shops and mega stores, anime boutiques and maid cafes. The area however has clearly seen better days, with many of the largest computer and electronics stores now near Osaka Station in the northern part of downtown.
Unlike shopping at the newer stores--in shiny buildings located in more "convenient" areas, with employees who spend a bit of time on their personal grooming--Den Den Town offers several of the quintessential Osaka experiences: haggling over price, grit, and titillation.
In most of the shops, you are not bound by the sticker prices. Within reason, you can request a discount or a reduction in sales taxes. Unlike other parts of Japan, where this would be considered gauche at best, in local Osaka you can still haggle. In some of the newer shops, Chinese-speaking staff handle overseas tour groups--and haggling in Osaka dialect, Chinese, and broken English.
Though Osaka is also known for its loud clothes and loud people, flash cars and flashy jewelry--especially when compared to understated and elegant Tokyo--it is at heart a gritty working man's town. Den Den Town exemplifies this, and is a poor cousin to the capital's Akihabara. Down narrow alley ways just off the main drag, you will find shops piled high with rotating saw blades, plumbing equipment, and bales of wire. Around the corner is a beat-up shop filled with old radios and an ancient woman sitting and smoking as she reads a tabloid paper. For the five minutes I peered around the dusty shelves, she never looked away from her paper; a cat at her feet though eyed me the entire time.
Being Osaka, though, there is of course flash. In addition to Brazilian thugs tending to a fleet of shiny Yakuza-owned Benzes kept in a grubby covered parking lot, and the wild hair styles of the local young boys on the prowl, there is a massive fly in Den Den Town. Atop a nondescript building on a side street squats a metal fly. A huge decorative fly: at top right.
Last, sex. Even on the main shopping street, many stores--mainly video shops--sell porn. The stores have large display signs out front (see above left), and the rows of DVDs and videos inside the store are clearly visible from the street.
Another form of titillation can be had in the handmaidens, whom you can see in many cafes and cabarets and sometimes walking the streets going to work. These are young women dressed in an otaku's fantasy of a French maid. Very heavy on lace and suggestion, very light on actual naughtiness. A cup of coffee served by one of the lovely maids at Cafe Kurara costs 850 yen ($8).
Take the Sakaisuji subway line to Ebisucho Station.
If the weather is good, the area is within walking distance from Namba.
Books and DVDs on Japan
Guide To Osaka
Book Hotels and Hostels in Osaka
Friday, October 27, 2006
Last weekend I went on a wonderful 2 day walk in the Japanese countryside. I started out from Arashima, a village in the far east of Shimane, close to the border with Tottori.
The weather was perfect, with the low sun creating clear colors and shadows that are often lacking from Japan's rather drab and hazy scenery.
I headed up the river along the west bank, stopping at shrines along the way. Over the next 2 days I visited 33 shrines, which is an amazing number considering this is the sparsely populated countryside.
Shrines are fascinating places to visit as they are often the repository of a local history that sometimes contradicts the "national" history taught in schools and enshrined in books. Some of the shrines I visited on this walk were written about by Izumo Fudoki, a gazetteer in 720. Shrines also serve as virtual art galleries with their architecture, landscaping, sculptures, carvings, and paintings.
The photo at the top of the page is of an Inari shrine in Arashima, with the steps carved into a huge boulder.
Cattle are raised in the area meaning the smell of cowshit was everywhere, but like most places in Japan, the cows were kept indoors in pens. There are only a few places you can see cows out to pasture. The fine weather meant the gardens were being worked by the old people.
With the sun low in the sky, shafts of sunlight pierced the forest surrounding the shrines to create an almost gallery-like feel. These origami cranes left at one shrine were beautifully spotlighted. Originally the cranes were made as an act of prayer for a family member who was sick, but nowadays they are associated with prayers for peace because of their association with Hiroshima.
I spent the night on Gassan (Moon Mountain) in Hirose with some fine views down over where I had travelled. On the horizon is Mihonoseki on the Shimane Peninsular. The mountain was the site of a decisive battle in the Warring-States Period which shifted the balance of power in western Japan. NHK has made a Taiga Drama about it. Many of my neighbors were surprised that I did not encounter any ghosts of samurai.
The next morning the weather and light were once again perfect as I headed back to the coast down the opposite bank of the river to Yasugi.
If you would like to get a feel for what it is like to wander the Japanese countryside for a couple of days, please view my Japan slideshow. But be warned, it takes about 20 minutes, so make a cuppa or crack a beer, put on some suitable sounds, and sit back and enjoy.
Buy tasteful interior decoration paper lanterns.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
"Can you use chopsticks?" is one of the stock questions curious Japanese are supposed to ask foreigners. (A friend of mine even reported hearing a Japanese colleague of his ask a Chinese the same question, to which the acerbic reply - just before the guy realized his gaffe - was 'Yes, we invented them'.) Yet now the Japanese are asking each other!
The Hisata Gakuen Sasebo Girls' High School in Nagasaki will not only be asking its prospective students the chopstick question next April, but will be giving them a three-minute pick-up-the-beans test to see if they hold the chopsticks 'properly' and to check how 'smoothly' they can use them.
The rationale for this unique test is to check that the girls have basic 'lifestyle and dining manners', a requirement that the Cabinet Office Food Education Center says it's 'never heard of before'.
Buy eco-friendly chopsticks online
Japan's disposable chopstick conundrum
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
Japan is well known for its temple and shrine flea markets, and Kyoto boasts two that draw crowds from around the country: one at Toji Temple, in south Kyoto, and the other Kita no Tenmangu, in northern Kyoto. The market at Toji is called Kobo-san by locals, which refers to the monk who founded the Kobo sect of Buddhism. It is held on the 21st of every month, on the grounds of Toji. Shoppers in the know arrive very early and bargain hard. Four days later, on the 25th, "Tenjin-san" is held at Kita no Tenmangu Shrine.
Though they are both pilgrimages, and take place on religious grounds, the overall feel at both is that of a lively outdoor market. At both, antiques, clothing, statues, fabric, kimono, and fresh vegetables are for sale at booths set up early in the morning by vendors who often come long distances to sell their wares. Ceramics such as tea bowls and pots are also widely available. Pictured above left are good luck charms--mainly for driving and luck on university exams--that are sold at Kita no Tenmangu.
Tenjin-san is west of Nishijin, Kyoto's traditional weaving district, and hard by a small geisha district: Kami Shichiken. The poster at right is an advertisement for a geisha dance performance that took place at the main performance hall in this district.
The markets date back many centuries, and in addition to food and clothes and antiques they also feature games for children. There is, for example, the goldfish scoop: with a flimsy net children attempt to scoop up goldfish, which if successful they can take home. There are other card and shooting games that will be familiar to anyone who has been to an American carnival. The vendors at the games are usually young, and in many cases borderline yakuza. Count your change.
Crowds are worst when the weather is good, after 10 am, and at year's end. The smart shoppers will arrive by 6 am to pick through the best goods.
Take the Kintetsu Railway local train one stop from Kyoto Station to Toji Station. Walk two blocks west. (Tel: 075 691 3325)
Kita no Tenmangu Shrine:
Take the 59 bus from Shijo or Sanjo in downtown Kyoto.
Take the Keifuku Railways train to Kita no Hakubaicho, walk two blocks along Imadegawa Dori. (Tel: 075 461 0005)
Chionji flea market is on a much smaller scale than Toji and Kita no Tenmangu, specializing in hand-made crafts. Chionji market is held on the 15th of each month, and it is often easy to get a space on the morning of the market. The market is on the north east corner of Hyakumanben near Kyoto University.
Buses #17, #201, #206. (Tel: 075 781 9171/075 961 0005 to register)
Books and DVDs on Japan
Guide To Kyoto
Book Hotels and Hostels in Kyoto
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
The advantages to living in the Japanese countryside, as opposed to Japanese towns or cities, are too numerous to list, yet a common complaint about the countryside, often heard from women who live in the cities, is that it is inconvenient.
I'm not exactly sure what convenience is.... I know there are lots of stores in Japan that sell it... but it seems to be connected with shopping.
True enough, shops are few and far between around here, but why do you need shops when much of what you need can be had from your neighbors?
Last night one neighbor gave us a huge junk of wild boar meat. 2 days ago another neighbor gave us half a dozen fish. Everyone grows rice and vegetables, most make their own pickles, across the river is a small family soy sauce brewery, etc. etc.
Now a new product has been added to our local product list, Pon-Gashi.
Pon-Gashi translates as "popped snacks", anyone who grew up with Rice Krispies, Sugar Puffs, etc will know what they are.
Mr. Motoyama, a friend and neighbor who has a constant stream of money-making ideas, has bought a Pon-Gashi machine and on weekends sells the products from his front yard.
About half the customers are people driving by who stop in for some of the Pon-Gashi made with Mr. Motoyama's own rice, but the other half are local people who bring their own grain and have him pop it for them.
We took some of our organic rice and organic whole wheat to find out how it worked. First the grain is place in a rotating drum. It is sealed tightly and then heated by a gas burner for about ten or fifteen minutes until the pressure is right.
Then with a fearful bang and a cloud of smoke the drum is opened and a pile of puffed grain, of a mass many times larger than the drum, explodes into the waiting wire basket.
So, now we have a couple of kilos of organic whole grain Rice Krispies and Sugar Puffs, at a fraction of the cost if bought from a store.
Who needs convenience?
Buy Beautiful hand-made Obi bags.
Saturday, October 21, 2006
The area around Ochanomizu Station in Tokyo's Bunkyo, Chiyoda and Taito wards, known as Yushima, contains a number of historically interesting sights. The area was a central quarter of old Edo and is associated with education and learning. Tokyo University and a number of other colleges are now located in this fascinating district.
Starting from Ochanomizu Station on the Chiyoda and Marunouchi Subway Lines and the JR Chuo and Sobu Lines, here is a short introduction to things to see and do in the Yushima area.
Turning left out of Ochanomizu Station and walking over Hijiribashi Bridge, the first stop is Yushima Seido on your right. Yushima Seido, across the Kanda River from Ochanomizu Station, was established by the Tokugawa shogunate in 1690 as a Confucian shrine and was made a center of Confucian learning (known as the shoheiko) - one of the earliest institutes of higher education in Japan. The present building dates from 1935 and the courtyard grounds contain a bronze statue of Confucius and other Chinese sages. Turning right here will bring you to the Akihabara electronics mecca of Tokyo.
Just north of Yushima Seido is Kanda Myojin, which in May hosts Kanda Matsuri, one of Tokyo's big three festivals after Asakusa's Sanja Matsuri and the Sanno Matsuri at Hie Shrine.
Kanda Myojin is over a 1000 years old but moved to Kanda in 1616 when the shrine deity came to be seen as the protector of Edo and the fortunes of the Tokugawa regime. The shrine's present vermillion-painted main building dates from 1934 and is known for its hundreds of paper lanterns which decorate the exterior.
Walking north and to the west is Reiunji Temple, which was founded in 1691 and was another important temple in old Edo. The impressive main hall dates from 1976.
Further north still is Yushima Shrine (popularly known as Yushima Tenjin), located near Yushima Station on the Chiyoda Subway Line.
Yushima Shrine's founding in the 14th century is connected with Michizane Sugiwara (845-903), the greatest scholar of his day and is one of many "Tenjin" shrines throughout Japan - the most famous being Kitano Tenmangu in Kyoto, where students gather to pray for passing grades in exams and inscribe ema - small wooden plaques with personal wishes for success written on them.
Moving yet still north is Kyu Iwasakitei Gardens, the former palatial home of the founder of the Mitsubishi Group, Iwasaki Yataro, designed by the British architect Josiah Conder and completed in 1896.
The wooden interior of the house is done throughout in 17th century Jacobean style. There is an attached Japanese-style house and a billiard room reached via an underground passage (unfortunately not able to be passed through by the public).
Conder worked on other commissions for the Iwasaki family in Tokyo and designed the famous Rokumeikan, built in 1883 for entertaining foreign diplomats and bigwigs. The house and gardens are open to the public throughout the year and the entrance fee is presently 400 yen.
Heading north again from Kyu Iwasaki-tei is the small but interesting Sakaiinari Shrine and Benkei Well. The well is associated with the legendary warrior Benkei and his master Yoshitsune. The legend of Benkei and Yoshitsune has some similarities with the story of Little John and Robin Hood. Benkei is the simple, strong, warrior monk with unserverving loyalty to his leader Yoshitsune. Yoshitsune and Benkei meet on a bridge in Kyoto, where, at this stage of the story, Benkei is a brigand robbing of their swords people who cross the bridge.
A sword duel commences and Benkei is beaten by the more agile Yoshitsune. Thereafter Benkei pledges allegiance to Yoshitsune and embarks on a life of adventure. By the way, the plaque at the well tells of the comfort the water brought during the American air raids in World War II.
Turning west from here brings you to Koanji Temple, a small neighborhood temple, which is built in the style of a traditional Japanese warehouse or kura. The temple dates from the Edo period and the design of the temple with its thick outer walls and strong shutters is meant for protection in the event of fire.
South of here is another small temple, Rinshoin Temple, aka Bodaiji Temple, (built in 1624) which contains the grave of Lady Kasuga (died 1643), who was the wet-nurse to Iemitsu Tokugawa - the third Tokugawa shogun. The temple was hedged with trifoliate orange trees (karatachi) and was given the local nickname of "Orange Tree Temple".
Heading west again brings you to the main campus of Tokyo University in Hongo, Bunkyo Ward. Tokyo University (Todai), the nation's most prestigious, was founded in 1877 and the extensive campus grounds are a pleasant place to stroll, especially at the weekend. The campus contains some notable historic features such as Sanshiro Pond (previously Ikutokuen) and the Akamon (Red Gate).
The campus was formerly the Tokyo residence of feudal lords (daimyo) from Kaga (present-day Ishikawa Prefecture), which was centered on the domain capital of Kanazawa. Feudal lords were obliged to keep a residence in Edo and visit the capital every other year under a system known as (sankin kotai, basically so the shogunate authorities could keep a watchful eye on them. The Sanshiro Pond, was considered one of the most beautiful gardens in old Edo. The name Sanshirô comes from a novel of that name by Natsume Soseki set around Tokyo University.
The Akamon (Red Gate) also dates from the time of the Maeda estate. The gate was built in 1827 for Yasuhime, the daughter of Shogun Ienari Tokugawa, for her entrance into the Maeda household in 1828. The gate, which underwent repair in 1961, is registered as an Important Cultural Property.
The grounds of the campus are planted with ginkgo trees, known for their endurance and longevity, and the ginkgo has become the symbol of the university.
Over half of all Japanese university students study in Tokyo, and Ochanomizu is a popular place for many of these students to live. Besides Todai, other universities in the area are: Nihon Denki University, Meiji University and Nihon University. Unsurprisingly, many book stores have sprung up around them. The Kanda second hand book district is across the Kanda River, south and west of Ochanomizu Bridge. Numerous large book publishers also have, or used to have, their headquarters in the area.
Turning back towards Ochanomizu Station on Hongo-dori, the first major left turn before the Tokyo Garden Palace Hotel takes you along "Soccer Street" to the Japan Football Museum. The modern museum presents a retrospect of the 2002 World Cup held in Japan and Korea through video and football artifacts, including jerseys and other memorabilia from the successful tournament. The museum also reveals the history of soccer in Japan and includes a gift shop with official merchandise and original soccer goods of the Japan national team and J-League teams.
JFA House 3-10-15, Hongo Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo
Admission: 500 yen. Hours: Tues-Fri 1pm-6pm; Sat-Sun 10pm-7pm
The Tokyo Water History Museum is on the other side of Hongo-dori from the Japan Football Museum. A must for drainage and sewage buffs along with the Tokyo Water Science Museum in Koto-ku, which is also administered by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government's Bureau of Waterworks. The 3-storey museum traces the history of Tokyo's water system from the Edo Period to the present day. Admission is free and the museum is open from 9.30am-4.30pm every day. Tel: 03 5802 9040.
From here it is a short walk back to Hijiribashi Bridge and Ochanomizu Station past Tokyo Medical and Dental University Hospital. The bridge, built in 1928, looks its best when lit up at night, but there are nice views down to the Kanda River and of the odd passing barge from it during the day. Ochanomizu Station was one of Tokyo's subway stations affected by the Aum Shinrikyo sarin gas attacks in 1995, as the area is close to several government buildings.
Just across from Hijiribashi Bridge and Ochanomizu Station is the Nikolai Cathedral, a Russian Orthodox church completed in 1891. This Byzantine-style church with its green onion dome was another building in the area originally designed by Josiah Conder. The church is officially known as the "Resurrection Cathedral of the Orthodox Church in Japan", but takes its usual name from Archbishop Nikolai, who was the church's first administrator until his death in 1912. The church is open for services on Sundays.
Books and DVDs on Japan
Guide To Tokyo
Book Hotels and Hostels in Tokyo
Thursday, October 19, 2006
Running north-south between Kawaramachi and Karasuma in Kyoto's downtown, Teramachi Dori (street) is an ancient shopping street that is now a pedestrian arcade with a roof.
The name of the street translates as "temple town" or "temple neighborhood." It was so named in the late 1500s when the city was recovering after almost 100 years of nearly continuous warfare. Toyotomi Hideyoshi moved many temples onto the street, where, though not nearly as famous as other Kyoto tourist sites, they remain today.
Today it is not the temples that bring the masses to Teramachi; it is the shopping. It is eclectic, if nothing else. You can buy prayer beads (see below left), happi coats, hanko (a personal stamp all Japanese have that is used for official documents), and other traditional Japanese goods. Then, literally next door, is a junky trinket shop catering to the fourteen-year-old tourist market, and then a hip hop clothing store, and next to that a pachinko parlor, and then a 300-year-old restaurant.
Thanks though to the relative decline of Kawaramachi--which was a protective wall until 1868, then an elegant shopping boulevard until about five years ago, and now is nearly all pachinko and karaoke parlors--higher end stores are moving west towards Karasuma, some of which have set up shop on Teramachi. Among them is the Random Walk book store, which has a wide range of English-language books. At right is a funky book store devoted to manga and anime.
Also of interest is Nishiki Market, a narrow market arcade that runs east-west. This is Kyoto's outdoor food market and has been at this location since the Heian Period. It is wonderful for snacking and photos. The street runs from the back entrance of Daimaru Department store for four or five blocks. It features fish, local vegetables, beans, maneki neko beckoning cats, and the constant cries of the vendors.
Back on Teramachi, teenagers are still heavily represented, but well-heeled tourists and Kyotoites are quickly overtaking them. I avoided the street for many years, especially the stretch from Shijo Dori to Sanjo Dori, but on a recent swing through downtown found more and more worth seeing and doing.
Listen to the hip hop sounds of Teramachi.
Japan Bars Restaurant Clubs
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Listen to the sound of Wakamaru
The Robot Museum subsequently closed 31 September 2007
Japan's first robot museum opened in Nagoya this month. The 2-story museum occupies some prime real estate in downtown Sakae not far from the Louis Vuitton store and Softbank and just south of the TV Tower.
The site, a former import car shop, actually comprises the museum (which you pay to enter) and an adjoining robot department store - "robot mirai department", a hi-tech interior design shop by the Italian-Japanese firm Hattori Lusso and a swanky family restaurant imaginatively named "famires".
On the ground floor is an exhibition of industrial robots manufactured by the German company Kuka. You can put the impressively flexible robots through their paces by pressing a control panel and they will even draw your picture after you stand in front of a sensor screen.
The attendant explained that the robots were on vacation from their factories in Germany and were enjoying themselves in Japan. Right.
After collecting my iPod mini with explanations (in Japanese) to the exhibits upstairs, I went to have a look. The first part of the museum is a poster display of the history of robots: book covers, film posters and the like.
There are also models of early robots including Edo Period karakuri mechanical dolls. The exhibition then leads the visitor through the different stages of robot technology in the 20th Century and the representation of robots, cyborgs and automatons in art and film: Star Wars, The Terminator, Gundam, Atom Boy, Doraemon are all here in model and poster form.
The most interesting part of the museum is the final section, where the visitor can see the robots themselves in action and control some of them with PlayStation like control pads. Wakamuru shaking hands (lovely rubber grip by the way), Paro (the world's most therapeutic cyber seal), Aibo (the Sony dog), a weird lifelike talking chimp's head and even a robotic Hello Kitty.
1300 yen seems a bit steep for what you get, but definitely more fun than an import car showroom.
The robot mirai department store is certainly worth a look. It's free and includes many of the robots on view in the Robot Museum including Paro and the chimp's head. There is also a range of Gundam kits, Atom Boy t-shirts and some interesting hi-fi paraphenalia.
Admission ¥1,300 (adults); ¥900 (junior/senior high school); ¥600 (children). Mon-Fri 11am-7pm; Sat, Sun 10am-8pm
Tel: 052 957 1640
Access: Sakae subway station.
Guide To Nagoya
Buy Festival Happi Coats
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Tatenomachi Bldg. B1F
Tel: (052) 971 8888
(nearest subway; Sakae exit 3)
An elegant bar right in the heart of Sakae. With a sophisticated decor and atmosphere, MyBar is now a feature of Nagoya nightlife.
Serving a wide range of drinks (world beers, cocktails and MyBar's recommended wild Martinis) MyBar is a great place to hang out with friends or just relax to the chilled out sounds, although later at night and especially at the weekends things can start to hot up a little!
The food is good too: the extensive menu includes Italian dishes, tacos, burgers and an excellent seafood salad.
No cover charge. Also available for party reservations, sports related events, including Sundays.
Mon- Thurs 6.00pm-1am
Fri and Sat 6.00pm-3am
Easy to find in the basement of the Tatenomachi Building right at the foot of
the TV Tower on the west side, make MyBar your bar!
Japan Bars Restaurant Clubs
Monday, October 16, 2006
Japan has a long history of choosing unfortunate English names for their products, with Pocari Sweat being probably the most infamous.
Coca Cola Japan has brought out a new can of coffee that continues this trend.
Worried about feeling too good?
Try Deeppresso, and feel the waves of worry wash over you!
Ready to go to work and can't kick that relaxed feeling?
Deeppresso will get you in the right mood for the office!
But it pales by comparison with a short-lived candy bar that was, according to a reliable source, relased some years ago with the name of SNATCH.
The TV commercial featured a beautiful young Japanese woman who, holding the candy bar, implored the viewer to "Please don't eat my snatch."
Can't imagine why they pulled that product!
Buy Pocari Sweat
This past weekend I hiked two days' worth of the oldest road in Japan, which is found in the mountain range to the east of Nara basin.
The Yamanobe no Michi （山の辺の道）trail runs roughly from Tenri （天理） to Asuka （飛鳥）, the ancient capital.
It's 16 kilometres of gentle hills and long stretches through persimmon and mikan groves that are still tended by the locals as they have been for generations.
Colourful shrines and sombre burial mounds make welcome stop-0ff points along the way, and provide a source of inspiration and contemplation for pilgrim and tourist alke.
While the route has been developed to make it easier for hikers, it does not have the artificiality of some trails, and you really feel that you are guests on the properties of working farmer families.
Isonokami Shrine （石上神社）near Tenri is a good place to begin. You can avoid the first couple of kilometres of urban concrete in Tenri city by taking a taxi here.
The shrine keeps chickens, though only the strutting cockerels are allowed to wander free, as this fine fellow below was doing.
It may no longer be the Year of the Chicken, but at Isonokami Shrine it still seems to be!
Yamanobe no michi trail to be continued in my next post....
Japan hiking Tenri Nara Japan Blog Shrine
Sunday, October 15, 2006
Listen to the sound of Nagoya Festival
Just got back from Nagoya's biggest bash - the annual Nagoya Festival, which first started in 1954.
Nagoya's largest festival takes place over two days in various parts of the city including daily parades of large floats with period costume and accompanying kagura music down Otsu dori celebrating Japan's three great medieval strongmen: Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu.
Other events include: exhibitions of medieval warfare yabusame (horseback archery) in Atsuta jinja and a fighting with pikes demonstration in Angel Square just south of Nagoya TV Tower.
More contemporary-focused events include marching bands, open-car and flower parades and children's activities.
The open-top car parade was particularly fun - as the home town of Toyota Corporation (Toyota City is just down the road) - Nagoya, with its wide car-friendly boulevards and elevated highways, has a particular love-affair with the automobile.
It's been another good year for this conservative and prosperous city in central Japan - property prices are on the up and the local baseball team, the Chunichi Dragons, have won the Central League pennant.
Guide To Nagoya
Buy Festival Happi Coats
Nagoya Festival Homepage
Saturday, October 14, 2006
Dog barber is a beauty salon for the pets. Dog barber prepares variety services for pets (nail cut, shampoo, fur cut etc.). Please ask them.
the wednesday is the regular holiday for the dog barber.
Advertising blurb for Japanese dog barber.
Friday, October 13, 2006
Listen to the sound of the calling down of the Gods
There has been a flurry of activity in the rice fields the last couple of weeks as everyone struggles to get the harvest in. Mostly it is done by machine as in the photo above, but if the crop has been flattend by typhoon winds then it must be done by hand.
Now all the work has been done and its time for Harvest Matsuri.
The religious activities of the Japanese year has always been based on the agricultural cycle, but nowadays most Japanese live in cities and have only a tenuous connection to this cycle.
Out here in the sticks though, most households grow rice and so the Harvest Matsuri is the highpoint of the religious year.
A few days before the matsuri, the tall banners are erected in front of the shrine, and shimenawa ropes are strung along both sides of the village streets. Here in the Iwami area, harvest matsuri means all-night kagura.
Every weekend for the next 6 weeks there are matsuri going on somewhere within a short drive, and last weekend we visited 2 matsuris.
The first was in Shimoko, at a very old shrine on the coast near Hamada. We got there at 9:30 just as the kagura was beginning. The Shimoko shrine had a kagura-den, a purpose built stage for the kagura, so most people were sitting outside to watch. As is normal at harvest matsuri a huge bonfire kept people warm through the night.
Shimoko doesn't have its own kagura group, so one of the top ranked groups in the area, Odani Shachu, were invited to perform. This was the first time I had seen them perform, and the first word that came to mind to describe their dancing was "seamless". The second dance is always the "calling down the kami" dance, performed to invite the kami to descend and enjoy the festivities. Compared to other dances it is rather slow and ponderous, but when done well, as it was tonight, it is sweepingly beautiful.
At 11pm we left and headed into the mountains to Arifuku where another group I hadnt seen before was performing. They performed a new dance that had some wonderful demons in it. At the shrine in Arifuku we were given O-miki, the sake that had been on the altar as an offering to the gods. Usually I am not fond of sake, but I have developed a taste for O-miki, possibly because it is an instance of a genuine gift rather than a calculated, mercenary form of gift exchange that is more usual in Japan.
Buy Beautiful hand-made Obi bags.
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