A Travellerspoint blog

February 2012

Underground Antics and Outsider Art

Despite being a quite out of the way spot, away from the lake and off the main train line, I've ended up in Taga several times now. Twice to help out with bat research, and once haikyo hunting and visiting Abe San at the Taga museum. Through this connection I got an invitation to join a special event in Taga, for one day only the lower levels of the cave system where the bats roost were going to be opened for a guided caving tour. In my mid teens I did a lot of potholing in the peak district (around the area where we had the wedding) and I was excited to have the chance to poke around in underground Japan.

After a brief orientation at the Taga Museum, we headed out to the cave and I finally got to slip beyond the locked door I’d seen on my last two visits here.


The route we followed after that was a mix of very narrow crawl ways and huge open caverns, and while it wasn't a beautiful as some systems I've seen there were some nice features including some cave coral, drapes and stalagmites.


In a highly Japanese twist on things after a couple of hours we everybody stopped one of the larger caverns and the guides unpacked a small stove and began brewing drinks, cooking soup and handing out snacks.


After a good chat to some university students I met there, and a group picture (above bottom left) it was time to head back to the surface.


By the time we resurfaced we were all dirty and tired but happy, and as a nice footnote to this story I got a lift back to the train station (quite a long way away) from a really nice couple I'd never met before - the kindness of strangers :-)

Actually, this was also a busy time in the calendar of events at the school with both the local English speech contest and the school culture festival coming up. Unfortunately I have to be very careful about posting student pictures so I can’t put much up here - but I will boast that out of the four kids I coached for the speech contest three of them won prizes!

And here is a small taster of the culture festival.


Including a video of me *singing* in Japanese with the PTA chorus,

and a perfectly timed photo of the moment I managed to split the back of my trousers wide open jumping to catch a frisbee - which meant I had to sneak home and change my trousers before sneaking back again.


The culture festival took up most of my weekend that week, so the following weekend Haru and I decided we should do something together. There are still several smaller interesting spots around the lake that I know about but haven't had the chance to visit yet. One of those is the Omi-Hachiman Outsider Art Museum, so we decided to go and check that out.


In fact the museum is actually housed in... well, a house. It isn't very big at all, but it has a regularly changing collection of Art Brut (Outsider Art - simply put art made by people outside the world of trained artists, this can often include art from amateurs, people with disabilities or social outsiders such as prisoners).

One of the fun things about the museum is spotting the many scattered objects from the collection that have been set in odd places, be it a bright yellow bull dog or a hand reaching up from under the stones of the path. Outsider art is quirky and unusual, but not in a self promoting kind of way, it simply is what it is because of the equally quirky and unusual people who made it.


There's often a pop art element to this type of art and that was very evident in the collections we saw with models that looked like a manga brought to life, enlarged and highly detailed replicas of collectable figures, yokai rendered out of tape and coloured paper, toy soldiers turned into twisted mutants with some kind of spray foam and a black pen.



Other oddities included a centaur that had been rudely hacked from a far more conventional carving of a horse, an army of angular pigtailed girls and a stained pillow monster.


I actually really enjoy seeing this kind of stuff, there's a lack of pretention about much of this work that helps it side step the debates about what constitutes art or the correct placement of public funds. You can't help but feel that the people who made these bizarre objects would have made them, and will continue to make them, with or without an audience or wider support. You're simply being given a glimpse of what goes on in another person’s head, what makes them tick, what excites or amuses them - and that is always interesting.

Posted by DKJM74 23:53 Comments (0)

Cormorant Fishing in Uji

Japanese traditional fishing.

Going to see the cormorant fishing, or Ukai as it's known here, is something I've wanted to do for a while now so I decided to ask the other JETs if anybody was interested in going and arrange a trip.

Despite conflicting schedules, troublesome sports days and bad weather we eventually overcame all odds and got a small group (Andrew, James, Nick and myself) together for an evening of Ukai on the Uji river in Kyoto.


The reward for our perseverance was a relaxing, interesting and very Japanese experience.

When we arrived in Uji it was still raining as it had been all day, but as it began to get dusky the rain stopped leaving a fine, fresh early evening that was far better than we could have hoped for. The area around Ujigawa is really pretty with old style tea shops and little red bridges scattered around it’s banks.


We headed down to the small island that the boats launch from, bought our tickets and found a good place to sit. Soon we’re gliding down the black river…


On the far shore they’re preparing the flaming brazier that they hang over the side of the fishing boat to attract the fish up to the surface. Then it’s about to start, the fishing boat eases its way between us and we get a brief introduction to the birds and their handlers. There are very few women who practice ukai, and Uji is proud of it’s skilled handlers - apparently the main handler works in Uji tourist office during the day and demonstrates ukai by night (like some awsome, yet very traditional, superhero figure).


She has selected five birds from their collection for fishing today. Each is tied to its own line in a way that doesn’t hamper it from using it’s wings to propel itself underwater. It also has a collar that prevents it from swollowing the fish it catches so the handler can retrieve them. The skill with which she tracks each bird, keeps them from becoming entangled with the others and recalls them if they catch a fish is incredible.



The demonstartion lasts about an hour, but seems much quicker. Then we’re being punted back to the pier.


After getting back to land the cormorants are taken from the boat in large wicker baskets and returned to their friends where they all get fed from the nights catch, and I also got to meet the fisherwomen and get them to pose for a picture :-)



As I said, Ukai is something I’ve wanted to see for a long time, and we all agreed that it was well worth going. It was certainly different to anthing else I’ve seen in Japan. Something about the dark river, darting birds and graceful talent of the handlers was very calming and I’d happily go again (maybe next year), and on the way back home we had a random encounter with a tanuki (Japanese racoon dog) by the roadside.



Posted by DKJM74 21:22 Comments (0)

Biwako Valley, Biwako Waves

A long overdue update!

Wow, it's been a long time since did an update here.

This is mostly due to the arrival of three new things in my flat - my wife (Haru finally moved in November), a PS3 and most recently a Kindle. Between them those three things have been taking up a lot of my time, but I vow to try and catch up a bit on my blogging!

To that end here's a quick report from a fun day out way back last August (told you I was a bit behind).

Rika, who invited Andrew and I to go windsurfing previously, got in touch again with another great proposal - zip lining in at Biwako Valley (which is oddly up a mountain) - of course we said yes :-)

So it was that we met Roxy again at cable car station at the foot of the mountain all excited for another adventure. Though slightly nervous of the fact that the cable just disappeared into a mass of grey clouds overhead.


Rika (above hiding behind her camera) was snapping photos already as we set off in the HUGE gondola. The scene that greeted us at the top, all swathed in mist and cloud, looked like something out of Silent Hill. Still unperturbed it was time to gear up and get a basic zip lining safety drill.


By the time we were deemed ready the weather had cleared up a bit and we could head out to the zip lining course.

Each line on the course is named after a bird that represents the length and height of the line. These range from the Blue Bird to the Golden Eagle, and true to their name you really do 'zip' along through the trees on those lines.


The course we did had a total of seven lines getting higher and longer along the way.


The final line was the Mountain Hawk. Which, unlike the others, we were strapped into Superman style and sent down face first flying over the tree tops with a panorama of the lake behind us - Yes, it was as cool as it sounds :-)


After that it was time for lunch so we hit the part of the hill that's a ski slope in winter and ride the lift up to a nice spot with a great view.


Then packed lunches with nice views (and Rika still snapping photos), a great end to a fun day!


I'm also going add a few photos from the 2011 Imazu Junior High School Kayak trip here as well.

August marked the start of my third year in the school and my third time crossing lake Biwa with the second year students by Kayak. As I am so far behind and this is the third time (and I'm not allowed to put clear photos of my students online) I'll keep this brief.

This year we started out from Imazu directly, instead of cycling to Makino first like the last two years. We also had new 2 person kayak with a sit on, rather than 'in', style.


We also had gorgeous weather and some of the most beautiful, almost ethereal, vistas I've ever seen on the lake as we headed out.


By the time we pulled the kayaks up onto the pebble beach of the small village at midday we were ready for a rest and some lunch.


In fact I've never seen the lake so calm and clear, the heat shimmering off the water. We soon found one big disadvantage of the new style of Kayak as well. Put two kids on one kayak and they tend to mess around more, plus 'sit on' kayaks may be lighter and move faster, but they also roll more easily. The number of kids plopped into the water was much higher than the last two years combined (though everybody had life jackets and was perfectly fine of course).


We reached our target, Nagahama, in good time, and stayed over night in the same hotel (I'll soon qualify for a regular customer discount or something). Next day it was time to head back again.

The same good weather continued into the return journey. Long stretches of the the lake shore were lined with white egrets and herons hunting for fish, and launching into lolloping flight when we came paddling past.


After stopping off at the same village as the first day for lunch (with extra dragon flies), we're on the last leg and I'm on a bright pink kayak paddling for home.


I can't help but smile at the fact that I now live a life where this kind of things seems normal to me. It pays to remember that these things, which for some people might constitute a once in a life time adventure, are things that are always there for me. The longer I live here the easier it is to forget that, but writing these blogs cause me to stop and consider and to remember just how lucky I am.

Posted by DKJM74 19:17 Comments (0)

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