A Travellerspoint blog

March 2010

Ge Ge Ge no Road Trip!!

Yokai, Love Hotels and Sea Beasts in Tottori and Hyogo Ken

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The boy in the centre with the smart black and yellow vest is called GeGeGe no Kitaro - he's dead and the eyeball popping out of his hair is his father .... Yes, you read that right!

Kitaro is a popular Manga and Anime character in Japan. Created in 1959 by Shigeru Mizuki, the series has remained poular ever since Every decade since then a new anime version has been produced. The main focus of the story is Kitaro and his spirit friends defending humans from traditional Japanese spooks and monsters collectively known as Yokai. In fact the various Yokai portrayed in the series are mostly drawn from traditional myths and legends which Shigeru Mizuki almost singlehandedly revived interest in for moderm Japanese people.

It's no surprise then (loving all myths, legends, spooks and beasties as I do) that this series has quite grown on me, it's also no surprise that that the small costal hometown of the creator has cashed in on the fame his creations - and as Haru really likes the character too, we decided to go and check out the town, Sakaiminato, and all it's yokai inhabitants.

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We took the highway there and made really good time, getting there in just few hours and once there it didn't take long to get knee deep in yokai. They are everywhere in all shapes and sizes.

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Including many versions of Kitaro himself.

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He's even on the toilet signs.

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However the most common type of yokai art on display are the small bronze statues that line the main street.

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There are 134 of these in total, and for about €1 you can buy a little booklet showing all their pictures and locations, there are even places to mark several of them with rubber stamps provided by the statue - collect all the stamps and present your booklet at the tourist information office and you get a 'Yokai Hunter' certificate :-) I have to say it adds a lot fun to a stroll around the town, and add to that the 'Yokai Museum' it takes a fair bit of time to look around.

We actually split this over two days as we'd allowed three days for this trip so we could take it easy, and it would finally give me a chance to stay in a Japanese... Fashion Hotel.... Boutique Hotel... or, as they're better known, Love Hotel.

I've heard a lot about these places and have wanted to see one for a long time - these places are designed or discretion with access to their windowless rooms either direct from private garage like parking places - or through a lobby with no visible staff. Mostly once inside the doors are electronically locked and are only opened in an emergency or once payment for the room has been made to an automatic machine inside.

Now this might all sound a little sleazy, but these places are a part of everyday life in Japan with it being estimated that around 1.4 million couples, or 2 percent of Japan's population, visit a love hotel each day.

Why? Well, sure some are doing things they shouldn't be doing - but these hotels also offer very clean nice places to play out fantasies in private with various rooms equiped with... well pretty much whatever takes your fancy really.

There's a really interesting collection of 'Love Hotel' photos on this womans site - http://www.mistykeasler.com/ (Click the top left image) Though she seems to have focused on more kinky and 'exotic' rooms. The first place we stayed in was just like a nice hotel room really - though it had it's own slot machine, karaoke and Playstation 3 for free. Oh, and free condoms, poloroid camea and the sex shop equivelent of a mini-bar in case you didn't know what type of hotel you'd checked into. There was also a nice big spa bath with a TV embedded in the bathroom wall by it - which was nice!

It was actually a really nice room and a fair bit cheaper than a regular hotel; though reservations can't be made for Love Hotels and you can only check in for an overnight stay after about 10pm.

The second place wasn't so nice (my fault I chose the second one - and confess I chose it purely on the basis that it had costumes in the room.... Yes, I'm hanging my head in shame right now.) Still, at least I finally got to find out how I'd have looked if I had been burned out hippy :-)

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I'm really into the idea of these hotels now and will stay in them whenever possible in the future. I'm really curious what wounderful rooms are hidden away waiting to be discovered - they often have pretty spectacular external design work too. So expect more hotel photos on the future.

After leaving Sakiminato the only plan was to take the long slow coastal road back stopping off wherever we wanted.

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The weather was cold and spotting with rain, but we still braved a few beaches along the way and I even showed my British grit by getting my shoes and socks off and getting my feet wet (Cold, very cold!)

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Haru actually had one more stop in mind that I didn't know about - a small Onsen town with a Marine Aquarium built along the coast.

Having already done two big aquarium blog pieces I didn't take too many photos - but I took a few of the more unique creatures they had.

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For me though, this was the star attraction.

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I don't actually remember seeing a walrus up close before, and I was shocked by just how massive the male was.

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Wonderful creature - and a nice last stop on the trip too, from there on it was rain and roads all the way back to Kyoto where Haru dropped me off, then another hour on the train to get home. The spring feeling in the air has passed again and it's bitter cold and icy rain all round now, but it can't last much longer. Spring will come, the cherry blossom will bloom and a whole new world of travel options will open up!

Posted by DKJM74 00:42 Comments (0)

Omihachiman Fire Festival

`Tyger, tyger, burning bright`

Haru brought the car over this weekend (which was a surprise, I was sitting outside the trainstation waiting for her when she called and said "I'm sitting on your sofa where are you?"). Still it made it much easier and more comfortable to visit Omihachiman for the fire festival. Having the car means you can also take your time and stop to check out anything that catches your eye on the way - so we ended up at a bizzare fish market, just because we can't resist brightly coloured plastic fish!

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The last part of that picture is 'Horse Sashimi' - but I didn't know it was horse meat until after after Haru got me to try a piece (though I confess I did have a second piece after I knew - quite tasty)!

For me the coolest thing on route though was finding two abandoned arcade cabins at the side of the road - if we had a bigger car one of these would be in my flat now I swear!

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So taking the slow route we got to Hachiman at about 3pm, first we just looked around the town a bit as it's quite famous for it's old merchant houses and canalways.

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We'll be coming back here again to ride the canal later in the spring, and it should look beautiful with the Cherry Blossom!

At that time the festival was still just warming up. The Sagicho Matsuri is actually a dramatic parade and mini-war between 13 or 14 colorful Sagicho floats carried around the streets. The floats, made of edible materials mounted on a straw and wood base, are paraded along the streets near the shrine. This year the theme of the floats was 'Tigers' in acordance with the Chinese year.

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In the afternoon the teams carrying the floats around on their shoulders begin to clash together in attampts to smash apart and topple over the other floats.

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The damaged floats are simply taken to one side and retied and are soon back out again - after a short time the floor was covered in shedded straw rope.

While this is going on there's also a kids parade with smaller floats.

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I think the kid on the top left of that picture is actually a boy - for some historical reason casual cross dressing is also a big part of this festival :-) Though the biggest feature of the festival is the burning of the floats, which we got a taster of in the afternoon when they burned one of the smaller floats for young kids who couldn't stay up for the big night burning.

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After that we checked out the local shrine and the festival stalls, while the the bigger floats were paraded around and put into position for burning; with everybody from guys in business suits to girls in cat ears helping out.

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By now there was a real party atmosphere, a big crowd had built up and was waiting for the flaming torches to come out.

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The first few moments when the fire took looked incredible as the paper ribbons burned fast and bright sending little twisting Chinese dragons of flaming paper flying off into the night.

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Then everything went up in flames - what really amazed me was that they had four big fires going on with almost no visible safety precautions; don't get me wrong, I actually liked that sense of people being able to take responsibility for themselves it was just surprising.

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Once the fire had burned down the cinders were cleared away by guys with huge beams of wood attatched to chains who just crushed them out and dragged them off.

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and that was that - or was it? Actually there was going to be another round of burning and partying - but we bailed out having seen one lot of burning tigers and feeling quite satified with that.

As a kind of 'Epilogue' to this; as cliched as it might sound, after watching those fires I couldn't get the poem 'The Tyger' by William Blake out of my head. The day after the festival, I read the poem again online - which set me off on a bit of a poetry binge where I found several really nice poems and poets I'd never read before. It kind of reminded me how nice poetry can be (I haven't read much since university) - so I'm sharing the poem here in a few formats as well :-) Enjoy!

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You can hear the poem being read here and I've put English and Japanese text below!

The Tiger By William Blake

Tiger! Tiger! burning bright 虎よ!虎よ!あかあかと、

In the forests of the night, 夜の森に燃えて輝くものよ

What immortal hand or eye どのような不滅の手と目とが、

Dare frame thy fearful symmetry? 大胆にもその畏るべき均整美を造りあげたのか!

In what distant deeps or skies なんと遥かな深みと高みに

Burnt the fire of thine eyes? お前の瞳の炎は照り輝くのか!

On what wings dare he aspire どのようなみ翼のもとで大胆にもそびえ立つのか、

What the hand, dare seize the fire? そしてどのような手がその炎を掴むのか!

 

And what shoulder, & what art, どのような肩、どのような技が

Could twist the sinews of thy heart? お前の心臓の筋肉をねじりあげたのか!

And when thy heart began to beat, お前の心臓が鼓動をうちはじめたとき、

What dread hand? And what dread feet? どのような畏るべき手、畏るべき足が命を吹き込んだのか!

 

What the hammer? what the chain? どのような鉄槌が、どのような鎖が、

In what furnace was thy brain? どのような炉でお前の頭脳を鍛え上げたのか!

What the anvil? What dread grasp どのような鉄床(かなとこ)が、どのような鋏(はさみ)が

Dare its deadly terrors clasp? 大胆にもこの死ぬほど怖ろしいものに留め金をかけたのか!

When the stars threw down their spears, 星々がその槍を投げおろしたとき、

And watered heaven with their tears, 天がその涙に濡れたとき、

Did He smile His work to see? かの方はそのみ手の業を見て微笑まれたか?

Did He who made the lamb make thee? 仔羊を造られた方がお前をも造られたのか?

 

Tiger! Tiger! burning bright 虎よ!虎よ!あかあかと、

In the forests of the night, 夜の森に燃えて輝くものよ

What immortal hand or eye どのような不滅の手と目とが、

Dare frame thy fearful symmetry? 大胆にもその畏るべき均整美を造りあげたのか!

Posted by DKJM74 17:12 Comments (0)

March Scrapbook

Hina Matsuri and Graduation Time

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Hello again Japan fans!

Well, it's March already - more than half way through my first year in Japan now, and it's just gone so quickly. All but one of the new first year JETs in my town are recontracting for a second year. I include myself in that obviously, there's still so much more I want to do and see here yet; as you can see from this blog I'm pretty busy travelling around, but I've still barely scratched the surface of this country.

At the beginning of the month I got a chance to visit and stay over at Moro Sensei's home in Nagahama (on the other side of the lake). Like many young single, working Japanese people he lives with his parents still - and they have a big traditional Japanese style house. Which includes a shrine dedicated to their deceased relatives - their pictures are on the wall by the shrine where Tadasuke (Muro Sensei's first name!) kindly put on a respectful pose.

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You can also see a bit of their music room on the right of those pictures with Tadasuke, his sister and good friend all making me feel very unmusically talented :-) His sister was obviously quite excited by my visit and had even prepared a short English presentation for me about the display of Japanese Dolls they had out.

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These dolls are not displayed all year, and are only shown around the beginning of March as part of the Hinamatsuri - or girl's day - festival. The dolls actually represent the Emporer, his family and retinue. There's a brief outline of the festival's origins here (If you're interested) -

http://gojapan.about.com/cs/japanesefestivals/a/japanesegirlday.htm

Actually, my calligraphy teacher also had a display of these dolls in her house, but I didn't know their significance until Tadusuke's sister explained it to me - so thanks to her :-)

The next day I had to go to a meting at the Biwako Museum (which is why I stayed at Tadasuke's house anyway, as it's much closer!) after which I met Haru in Kyoto - we had no big plan, but we did find a couple of interesting places.

Pop Quiz: What do you think this place is??

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Answer: It's a second hand clothes shop - Kyoto style!

There's nothing outside to give any idea what it is and when we went in at first I thoght we'd gone into an art galery or something like that - but no, it's a huge second hand clothes shop (they even have a chipmunk in it's own private enclosure!)

We also found, by chance, a small shrine I was looking for years ago with Nik and never saw!

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This houses the remains of a broken ceramic Tanuki, the broken remains were found at the point where a big fire came to halt in 1978 - locals decided to enshrine the remains of the Tanuki that had given it's life to stop the fire :-) Another testimony both Japan's quirkiness and respect for even inanimate objects; it is quite common for Japanese people to belive that anything and everything has a spirit.

Anyway, the big thing at the school over he past few weeks has been preparations for the third years graduation! In Japan April isn't just the Spring holiday - it's the end of the school year, so we've had tests and preparations for the graduation ceremony. This included rehersals, and a retrospective review of their three years in the school.

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The actual day was a more formal affair with everybody required to dress up; with the four third year home room teachers even wearing full kimonos.

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The main part of the ceremony was the students recieving their 'diplomas' from the Principle.

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Then there were speeches, songs and a few tears.

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Finally there was a less formal send off outside the school where everybody was exchanging letters, snacks and small farewell gifts.

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Everybody was taking photos too and I found out that I'm apparently considerably more popular with the girls than the boys - or maybe the boys are just too 'cool' to ask for their photo with me :-) Because while the boys were happy to have groups photos like these -

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It was only really girls who came up and asked for individual pictures with me -

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I have to say I will miss them - the third years were the most friendly of the students and I really liked some of them. Still what I lost in students that day I gained in free sushi lunches :-)

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So it's swings and roundabouts really! And that's your lot until next time when I'll be writing about the Omihachiman fire festival; and I've got some really nice pictures for you all then so stay tuned!

Posted by DKJM74 06:41 Comments (0)

February Scrapbook

Ready for Spring!!

February`s fluctuating weather has made it a bit difficult to plan much really. `Four days warm and three cold` is how the Japanese describe this time of year, and that`s about right, just when you think the cold weather is over and it`s Spring - Smack! Another cold spell hits.

Still Spring is coming and on the good days you can feel it, we`re starting to venture down to the lakeside again on good days; and I think Haru is getting excited by the prospect of a Summer spent by Biwa :-)

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There`s a rare flower that grows in Imazu at the end of February, and, not knowing exactly where it grows, we joined a walk to see it. However, the walk was very officious and... well, Japanese in its organisation. Haru and I didn`t really fit in with the others - as you can see by how *seriously* Haru is taking the warming up stretching exercises before the walk :-) Once we started we were taken around the town to see interesting sights (that I pass by most days) and got small talks from local people... we stuck with it for most of the way, but once finally we escaped and used the map we`d been given to find the flowers ourselves.

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After a short play on the swings, we found the flowers; called Zanzenso in Japanese.

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It might not be the most beautiful of blooms - but it is very rare apparently.

Actually that wasn`t the only bit of interesting nature we saw in February, during a drive around the lake the week before we saw a mass of people standing by the lake with binoculars and huge zoom lense cameras. So we stopped and asked what they had spotted, and it turned out to be a rare White Eagle. It was too far away to photograph with my point and click camera - but they did let us use their telescopes for a look.

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We had a few interesting moments at the school this month as well - best of all being the Mystery Mammal Moment!
Yes, we had a mystery mammal in the school gym that I helped to evict (by poking at it with a stick until it ran out again)! The poor thing had got itself onto the top floor of the stair well and was frightened and didn`t know the way back out again.

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So it was all cowered in a corner, though it perked up a bit when I began poking it - as you can see. Later a bit of research identified it as a `Masked Palm Civet` which isn`t a native species and was introduced here about 100 years ago - so another quite rare thing to see!!

This month was also the Principle`s 60th Birthday, which means he`s retiring in April ... which will probably lead to a big staff change as well ... I`m a bit worried about that I have to confess! Anyway, his birthday also meant that we had a small surprise party for him in at the school.

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The best thing about this was that he gave a thank you speech that went on for so long that the candles he should have blown out had burnt out naturally by the time he finished :-)

I also organised another mini-school trip to Kyoto this month. This time to go and see an exhibition from the Hapsburgs` art collection at the National Museum. Six second year boys signed up and Muro Sensei, Fujii Sensei and myself took them. Lelia also joined us for this trip.

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The exhibition was quite nice, but very crowded and I have serious doubts about four of the boys interest in the art :-)
For them I think it was just a way to get their parents to agree to pay for them to go to Kyoto - so we let them do a bit of shopping too. Which gave me the chance to get this great picture - a girl in a Kimono looking at Manga, short of having a Samurai in the background you couldn`t get much more Japanese than that!

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Posted by DKJM74 21:41 Comments (0)

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