A Travellerspoint blog

March 2014

Mo' Monkeys: Arashiyama Again!

(also with extra cormorant fishing)

Just a very short update today, as I'm basically re-covering old ground again. For long time readers of my blog there isn't anything really new to see here, just a return trip to a favorite place.

I actually decided to go back again simply so I could take the new Takashima JETs (who had arrived a few weeks earlier) and show them around what I think is one of the nicest parts of Kyoto. In the end we only had four people turn out for this, only one of whom was one of the newbies (Good show, Marci). How people can turn down a chance to go and see monkeys, I'll never understand :-) Still four people is just about enough to justify the trip; not that I need that much of an excuse to go back to Arashiyama again anyway!

So, without further ado, for the third time in the five year history of this blog, I proudly re-present the monkeys of Arashiyama monkey park!




Monkeys do always make good photographic subjects, they have such expressive faces and real character. To be honest if I lived closer to the park I'd probably go even more frequently, the photo opportunities are so good. It's going to be wierd leaving Japan and going to live in a monkey free country again.

However, monkeys weren't the only reason for going back to Arashiyama we also planned to watch the display of cormorant fishing on the river that evening. Again this isn't my first time doing this, I saw cormorant fishing a two or three years back in Uji, but it was something I'd wanted to see again since then.

Unfortunately we weren't the only ones with this idea, and there was quite a queue for the boats. We'd actually come by the ticket stand earlier in the day, but had been told that they tickets wouldn't be on sale until nearer the launch time. However, when we came back it looked uncertain we'd even get any tickets there were so many people. In the end we got split up as there were two places in one boat going out which I jumped on with Marci, while Josh and Joey had to wait another hour for the next performance. Not the best solution, but at least we all managed to get aboard.

Over all I think I prefered the Uji experience more, it was a less crowded (meaning it was also more relaxed) and the chain of boats wasn't as long either; so we had a better view. Having said that I still enjoyed the Arashiyama version as well. Once we had boarded the observation boats, and waited a little for the sun to set, the fishermen came out too. They slip out of the dark, smoothly gliding over the back water in a halo of dancing light from the burning brazier they carry hanging over the sides of their boats. There is something quite myseterious about it and it must have looked quite eerie back in the days when river was full of these ghostly boats.


Once on position they pause to bring the birds out of the wicker baskets they carry them in. The cormorants are tethered in such a way that the fisherman can track each bird and bring it back to the boat, but the bird can still freely swim and dive to catch the fish attracted to the glowing lights above.

After being placed in the water the cormorants bob and dive, resurfacing with fish that the handlers gather aboard the boat. After the display most of these fish will be fed to the birds anyway, but for now they aren't allowed to swallow them now due to a ring around their necks.



The display lasts for about an hour with the fishing boats making several passes along the line of tourist boats so everybody has a chance to see and take pictures (very difficult). The cormorant fishing season only runs from the beginning of July to mid September, and can be seen in just a few places in Japan (Arashiyama, Uji and Gifu; that I know about.) If you are in one of those areas during that time, I would recommend trying to see this ancient traditional first hand.

Godo on the Kisokaido, ukiyo-e prints by Keisai Eisen (1790 – 1848)

Posted by DKJM74 23:15 Comments (0)

Okazaki Park, Kyoto

The longer I live in Japan the less frequent my trips to Kyoto become. Despite it only being an hour away by train, that two hour round trip and the train fare is increasingly off-putting. However, sometimes I make the effort if there's something I really want to see or do. So when I heard there was going to be a Cos-play and Manga festival in Okazaki Park I decided to go.

I've actually been to Okazaki Park a couple of times before, as there is a high concentration of museums and art galleries around the area, but I've never been around the gardens of Heian Shrine before. I decided to correct that oversight by buying a ticket and starting my day off there.

The gardens are fairly typical of many Japanese gardens, but they are quite big and well laid out. The mix of formal and natural elements (like the carefully shaped trees draped with hanging moss) is something I always enjoy , and with few other visitors around it was a pleasant and quiet walk.


One of the nicest features of the garden is the bridge over the main pond, which certainly looked dramatic under the glowering threatening sky. From there you can also feed the fish and turtles swimming below; I was surprised to see (along with the more familiar turtles) some rather cute soft shell turtles treading water as well.


By the time I left the gardens some of the promised Cos-players had begun to appear around the shrine, though not quite in the numbers I'd been expecting. Everybody was as friendly and as willing to pose for a quick photo as ever, so it was still fun.


This girl with the (totally natural, I'm sure) blue haired, hazel eyes was the undisputed winner of Damon's Cutie of the Day prize; also known as the not-very-coveted 'Girl I'd most likely have hit on if I were single' prize. Yes, the fact that I'm not single is the only thing that keeps me from getting these girls, none of them would have rejected me had I been free to hit on them; at least that's what I choose to believe lol.


The main Manga convention was being held in a big exhibition hall just across the road, so that's where we headed next (the shift from singular to plural being necessitated by the fact than I'd now met up with fellow JETs Terin and Marci). Together we wandered around slightly bemused and vastly uninformed about what we were seeing, none of us are really J-pop culture geeks and we only recognised a few of the characters and shows being promoted. For me the only one that got me excited was seeing a しろくまカフィ (Polar-bear Cafe) food stand, as I have actually watched that show quite a bit, and it's one of the few Japanese things I actually find funny.


The food they sold wasN7t anything special, but then food isn't really the draw of these events. It's is the cool art, quirky styles and cute girls - more blue hair ahoy! Sorry ladies, I've already given out today's prize, and I'm not that fickle.


As well as a couple arists doing live art rendering, there were also some nice galleries of pre-drawn pencil art work for animation cells which were browsing. Again I don't know any of the source material, but the simplicity, fluidity and quality of these 'production line' drawings is really impressive.



The only new show that caught my eye enough to make me think I should check it out was one that seems to be about a family of Tanuki living in a temple. Tanuki (Japanese Raccoon dogs) are reputed to have a wicked sense of humour, and magical powers allowing them to shape shift. I guess that's why each character has a human and Tanuki form. I like that basic premise and really should track this show down on DVD or something.


After we left the exhibition hall (and grabbed a bite to eat at the world food fair beside it), we went back to the main street where the 'Red carpet show' was about to start with a parade of mascots. Mascots for what? I hear you cry. I don't know does it matter, everything has a mascot in Japan. Every prefecture, most cities and towns, companies, parks, charities and diseases ... well, maybe not diseases, but there is one for blood donation!

Often the mascots are based on terrible puns, such as the one for my local ski park, which is a big orange box with cute eyes because the mountain with the park is called Mt.Hakodate; and hako means box in Japanese. Do you see what they've done there? Anyway, your guess is as good as mine as to what most of these represent, but who cares when you have an eternally smiling green felt monster asking you 'Do you Kyoto?' Just go with it.


So there you go another journey into the quirks and perks of Japan, we could have stayed even longer for some other events, but the dark sky finally decided to make good on it's earlier threat of rain and we ran for the subway. I would quite liked to have seem the street dancers, but not enough to get wet watching them.

Whenever I go to an event like this I feel like I should make more of an effort to clue myself in about the various popular shows and comics. I've read a few Doraemon stories for Japanese practice, but that's about it. Naruto, One Piece, Pokemon - I recognise them all, but don't really have any desire to watch them.

In short I really don't watch much anime at all, but I am going to put out one big recommendation for anybody who wants to watch a really good short series. Check out, 'Anohana'. I don't want to say too much about the story, except it's about childhood, growing up and what makes and breaks friendships. It is very good and very touching, but it takes a couple of episodes to start showing it's strength. Watch the whole series though and I defy any of you to come out dry eyed and unaffected.

Do a quick search for 'Anohana streaming' on google, you'll soon find a few sites where you'll be able to watch all 11 episodes with subtitles (each part is only about 22mins so it's not a big time investment really). Really recommended.

Posted by DKJM74 17:15 Comments (0)

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