A Travellerspoint blog

April 2011

The Meiji Mura Museum

Inuyama Trip Day 2

For the second day of our Inuyama trip we hadn't planned anything special, so we decided to just pick up some local sightseeing leaflets and see what the options were.

One place that caught our eyes was the Meiji Mura (Meiji Era Village), a park out in the hills that had collected historical Meiji Era (1868-1912) buildings from all over Japan and reconstructed them in one park.

We didn't have any great expectations for this place, but it turned out to be a huge park with a very impressive collection that took all day to look at. This first vista that greeted us might give you some idea of this place.


The building on the right, behind the pond, is an original Frank Lloyd Wright hotel and as tempting as that was to see, we stopped off at this smaller old photographer's store first.


One thing we soon noticed was how open and hands on everything was here, you could pick things up and look at them, sit on the furniture (except for a few cases) and generally really interact with everything. I even got to try a neck brace that would hold you in place long enough for an old glass plate photo.


One interesting point from this building was its connection with this guy.


Major Theodore Von Lerch was, although the English notes refer to him as Austrian, actually born in Slovakia. So here's something for my Slovak friends to be proud of, this is the guy who actually introduced skiing to Japan.

Next up was the Frank Lloyd Wright hotel, or rather the lobby of the hotel - as that is all that's preserved here. The original Imperial hotel stood in Tokyo between 1923 and 1967 (the Meiji Mura Museum opened a year later in 1968).

I knew the Frank Lloyd's name and reputation but had never (knowingly) seen any of his works before. I have to admit it was impressive, and we both commented on how the complex decoration reminded us of ancient South American designs (I read later that Mexican designs influenced him, though he never admitted it).


This biggest problem with blogging this place is that it is HUGE! Even though we arrived just after opening time, and were pretty much the last ones to leave, we still felt a bit rushed and had to skip a couple of buildings. So I'm not going to give too many details about each building, more of a brief over view.

In front of the hotel was a collection of 'justice' buildings, consisting of a court house and two jails from different periods.



The last couple of shots there are from a Sake Brewery behind the jail.

Just down from the brewery was another significant piece from the collection, the St. Francis Xavier Cathedral (Kyoto, 1890).


Opposite the Cathedral are the old Cabinet Library building from the Tokyo Imperial Palace and a grandiose bank foyer.


It is certainly no mean feat that these buildings have been transported from all over Japan (and sometimes other countries) and been rebuilt here. It's even more remarkable that it all stemmed from one man's desire to save these building. Tanigughi Yoshiro was so disturbed to see the destruction of the Rokumeikan (which had become a symbol of Japan's Meiji era Westernisation) that he created a preservation foundation that resulted in the creation of the Meiji Mura Museum.

Tanigughi Yoshiro's co-founder and friend, Moto Tsuchikawa, was (vice- then) president of Meitetsu; a Nagoya based Railway Company. So it's no surprise that the museum also boasts a working steam railway, a couple of old rail bridges, a nice collection of industrial pieces and a train shed housing the Imperial carriages used by the Emperor.



(These imperial trains were absolutely gorgeous inside, but with the light and reflections of the glass I couldn't get any worthwhile photos - sorry!)

Next up are a Kabuki theatre and another early Christian church. Though I was amused to note that the way the statue of Mary had been placed in a diamond crevice that she held more than a passing resemblance to some of the vaginal icons from the fertility shrine we'd seen the day before - maybe there had been a blending of Western and Eastern religious sentiments at work here.


Followed by the Japan Red Cross Society Central Hospital (1890).


One really nice service offered by the museum is the ability to send letters from this original Meiji post office, not just ordinary letters either. They have a special service you can use to time delay the delivery by ten years, so you can write to yourself in the future. This seemed like a wonderful idea so Haru and I took one sheet each and secretly wrote to each other. Both papers went into the same envelope, and, all being well, we should get them via her parents address in ten years time.... waiting, waiting, waiting....


The next area was a collection of immigrant buildings made by western settlers. My personal favourite of these was a Dutch build house with beautiful wood grain doors.



After a much needed lunch break we began exploring this street.


The buildings here mostly consisted of shops and services such as a butcher's, or this small doctor's office which Haru really liked.


And finally, about 6 hours after we'd arrived, we made it to the front gate... yes, somehow we'd come in the rear gate and gone through the whole park backwards, not that I think it makes much difference.

Near the entrance there was a nice middle school (where I got to school myself thanks to my camera's panorama mode).



There was also another very grand residential building here, though exactly what it was I don't know, by now I was tired and not taking as much notice as before.


Whoever had lived here had certainly had no shortage of money, the furniture was amazing, and again (with the exception of one chair that was almost popping its springs) you were free to sit on anything and pick up the plates, glasses, etc. It made it very easy to imagine yourself living there - welcome to our new apartment (I wish).


Several rooms here also housed more typical museum collections, including historical watches, telephones and even traditional Japanese ceramic pillows (which are much more comfortable than I would ever have thought).


With closing time fast approaching we still had one more small area to visit.


That long single storey building in the bottom right might not look like much in comparison to some of the other buildings in the park, but it has an interesting history as famous Japanese writer Soseki Natsume used to live here. That's why the (fake) cat is slumbering in the doorway, in honour of his celebrated novel 'I am a cat'.

This wasn't the only building in the park connected with a famous writer, and although we saw it much earlier in the day I saved my personal favourite until last. Lafcadio Hearn's Shizuoka summer home, where I got to come face to face with the man himself (if I bent over, I never knew he was so short)!


In the back room of this small unassuming shop Hearn had passed his summers penning the first western interpretations of Japanese traditional stories. His works are a treasury of insight into a long lost and magical Japan. Writing with an acute eye, his observations of everyday life make wonderful reading, but it's the folk tales he collected on his travels that I really love; they are Pandora’s boxes full of goblins, ghosts and other night terrors such as these.


Here isn't the place to start a detailed account of Hearn or these stories. No, the place for that is in my haikyo and yokai focused blog, and Hearn's entry can be found by clicking here. So I'll finish off this epic entry with a double recommendation. First, pick up some Hearn from your local library and try it, the best spooky stories are in a book called 'Kwaidan'. Second, if by any chance you ever find yourself with a day to spare in the vicinity of Inuyama then check out the Meiji Mura, it's certainly worth it.

Posted by DKJM74 04:50 Comments (1)

Praise the Penis: Japanese Fertility Shrines

Inuyama Trip Day 1

Today I’m writing up the first part of a trip we took on the 13th and 14th of March, which means that this happened the day after the earthquake, and subsequent tsunami, hit Toufuku. I’m not going to write anything more about the disaster, I already addressed my feelings about it in earlier post, but this will put those comments into context as here you can see what inspired me to write what I did.

This trip to Inuyama had originally been planned as a three day trip from the 13th to the 15th. You see Inuyama is home to a pair of twinned, female and male, fertility shrines which have their respective festivals on those days. Unluckily, the 15th clashed with my school’s graduation ceremony, and I didn’t want to miss that, so we cut it to a two day trip and had to miss the male festival.

As we drove north on the 13th the road was full of emergency vehicles from all over Japan en route to assist with the disaster relief work, which was impressive, depressing and admirable all at the same time.


We arrived near the shrine late in the morning and began looking around. About the first thing we saw was several small children in bright red festival clothes and white face paint. As we’d only just arrived I only snapped a few quick pictures, thinking I’d see more of them later on in the festival – but no, this had obviously been a morning event and the costumed kids soon vanished (or changed clothes)!


The shrine itself was set on a hillside amid fresh blossoming plumb trees, which scented the fresh spring morning as we explored.


Although the cherry blossoms are much more famous the plumb blossom bloom sooner and are just as beautiful.


Nothing was really happening yet so we just took a wander around the shrine to check it out.




I’ve long since learnt to always look at the small prayer boards tied up in the shrines as the image on them always tells you something about the place – in this case, a young woman with very pert breasts was the first hint of feminine fertility.


The next was his small stone gate which, if the correct ceremony is observed (which basically seemed to be waving around a stick with some paper streamers on it and saying a short prayer), can grant a woman fertility if she crawls through it.


The ‘challenges’ are quite popular at Japanese shrines and temples. I crawled through a similar sized hole in a temple pillar at Nara and in Kyoto’s Mizu Diera there are two stones that, if you can walk in a straight line between them with your eyes closed, will help you find love. Not quite sure I’d want my daughter going through a fertility passage at quite such a young age though, not because of the fertility implications, but rather because of the mass of middle aged Japanese photographers blatantly enjoying the chance to try and get photos of girl’s asses to the point of trying to encourage other girls to go through so they could get pictures.

There was more slightly pervy photographer action going on amid the plum trees. One girl in particular seemed to have become the focus of a ‘gang’ of snap happy guys. We later found out that there was a photo competition going on with prizes for the best photo of the day, and we think this girl was paid to pose for anybody in their competition photos.


Poor lass, they really didn’t seem to have anticipated how much these guys would enjoy having the chance to pose a real model and she did look a bit creeped out. I found a far nicer model for my own spontaneous snap shot.


Maybe I should have entered the competition.

It was around this time that we began to notice the massive ghost infestation around the shrine.


Quite what the point of these sheet-over-the-head ghost outfits was, I’m not sure, but quite a few women were wearing them.


With red beneath the cloth flaps and the small round faces sticking out of the top there was something distinctly vaginal about them that seemed to suit this shrine they were praying at. This was the actual fertility shrine, which housed a collection of natural vaginal effigies.


I do like this sense of fertility, sex and sexuality being integrated into the very fabric of the religion instead of being marginalised and loaded with guilt associations as it is in some cultures.


It was about time for the parade to start so we left the shrine, picked a nice shady spot a little down the road, and waited for them to come past.


(The woman's face decoration at the back of that float was also distinctly 'feminine')



Unluckily just as the line was about to reach us the police stopped them to let an ambulance pass down the road to the shrine, and as it was the only access road everybody had to wait until the ambulance came back so the road wasn’t blocked. This did give me a chance to snap a few pictures right in the line, and get up close and personal with a Tengu.



As we weren’t going to be able to stick around for the second festival in two days time we decided we should at least drive over and check out the male shrine too.


Quite an impressive phallic collection they had too, though the objects here were all carved (rather than natural) and some of the huge wooden ones must have been incredibly heavy.




My favourite one by far though was the bell hanging over the entrance, simply because of the how well it suited English penis slang – bell end personified; ding dong!


This was another one of those things that, despite seeming very Japanese to me, Haru had never seen before. I think I’ve introduce her to a whole new hidden Japan – movies, sub cultures and places that ARE Japan for foreigners, but are not so well known in their own country.

The last port of call for the day was a bit more classic Japanese culture – Inuyama castle, set on a hillside overlooking the river that forms the border between two prefectures.



A nice close to a lovely day, and let me just remind you that all this was the day after the Tsunami. What were Japanese people doing? Staying in brooding over the news? No, they were going out, like us, enjoying their festivals and the beautiful spring weather. It was easy to forget what was going on in the north, until you closed your door on your hotel room and switched on the TV. Terrible things happened that day, but I prefer to remember it this way.


Posted by DKJM74 19:30 Comments (0)

February Scrapbook 2011


That is supposedly the mummified body of a Kappa (a Japanese water imp) which is kept in Zuiryūji temple in Osaka.

Being a big fan of all creatures great and small (real, crypto zoological and fantastic) I was really excited about the chance to see a 'real' monster mummy for myself... but despite being able to track down the temple and confirm that they have the mummy I was refused entry. It's not on public display and even mentioning it resulted in us being waved away. Very disappointing - but there are others and I will try again!

Anyway, finding myself in Osaka without a plan all of a sudden I began just snapping the local love hotels - until now I've only put pictures up from inside the hotel rooms, or from the smaller haikyo hotels (Like these 1, 2), but here you can see what big business these places really are. These are big, urban love hotels, densely packed together (as they usually are in a specific downtown area or near a highway exit). One of these places even had a discount for lesbian couples, how sweet.


Even these are not the best examples I've seen, the best ones are often found by the highways where they need some really eye catching or quirky design to quickly grab your attention as you drive past. Forget castles and temples, love hotels and Pachinko parlours have by far the most imaginative and impressive architecture in Japan. Take this nice oddball example we saw on the way back from the naked man festival - a whale shaped love hotel!


A few days later I found myself at a loose end again when I ended up staying over at Haru's flat while she was at work all day, so I decided to take a wander around and see what I could find. Of course in Japan you are never more than a stone's throw away from shrine or temple so I checked out a couple of the more interesting ones nearby.

The first place I went to caught my eye with this sign, basically it's a temple dedicated to a Goddess called Benzaiten, who protects all sentient beings with magical music - what a great concept!


You can see Benzaiten working her mojo in the top right and bottom left corners below. Interestingly the instrument she is playing is called a Biwa, and it's where Lake Biwa (which I live beside) get's its name from due to its similar shape.

(A biwa and Lake Biwa)

Next, heading off up a random hillside road, I came across this place - which seems to be dedicated to horses going by the statutes and carvings dotted around. There also seemed to be a strong military connection here as well, with a huge anchor on what seemed to be a navy monument.


The link between these two things was in this small white building.


Inside it housed a small one-up-one-down museum, with an honour box to pay when you go in (Yes, I paid) and no lights unless you find the switch yourself.


The exhibits here seemed mostly connected with military history, in particular the navy and cavalry. I suspect that the officer, carved in wood along with his wife, was the main connection but who he was exactly is still a mystery to me; he certainly liked horses though.


There was also a second small side building with a room full of Daruma Dolls. I've seen these dotted around all over Japan, but never such a huge concentrated collection. I'd always considered them as toys and never knew they had religious connections before, but apparently they are modelled after Bodhidharma, the founder of the Zen sect of Buddhism. All I knew was that you buy them with no eyes painted on them and then you have to draw them in yourself, doing so brings you luck (perhaps greater luck according to your artistic skill in providing they eyes).



Anyway, by the time I finished up in these two places I was starving so I began looking for a place to eat and I stumbled across a really nice cafe - now I don't normally food blog, for me food is fuel and not much more, but this place was very nice. Very small too, just two tables in the corner of a country farm style shop, but the food was fantastic. Simple, all handmade and delicious - I hope they do well, but they deserve a better location!


The next couple of weekends, either on Saturday when Haru was working or on Sunday together, we made the most of the cold weather and returning snow to get in some snowboarding. Despite having only gone a few times myself I offered to teach Andrew as well, so the three of us ended up on the Kutsuki slopes (longer and nicer than the ones in Imazu).


I've certainly improved this year and think that I'll actually invest in my own gear next season, it's fun and living in a place with slopes all around I should make the most of it.

One other bit of oddness worth reporting from February is our visit to Maki's house.

I kind of know Maki as she worked as substitute English teacher in a local school and we spoke at a teachers' meeting once. I remember her being an unusual, adventurous and interesting individual who'd travelled across much of the world on motor bike, and spent a time crossing Mongolia on horseback following and sometimes staying with the nomadic horseman.

So it was quite nice to run into her again in the Shinasahi Waterbird Centre, which has a nice cafe with a lake view that Haru and I sometimes go to. We chatted briefly and Maki invited us to come visit her in her new house that she had built on a friend's farm land. Intrigued, we agreed and drove over after finishing lunch.

We headed up to the spot that she'd marked on the map for us, but we'd obviously got it wrong as all we could see was this plastic green house... but there is smoke coming from it! Yes, that's actually Maki's house and she lives there with her two horses - obviously her time staying in Mongolian yurts had a big influence on her.


We stayed for a couple of hours and left feeling partly impressed with her choice to live in such an alternative way, and partly thinking that I'd still need a few more creature comforts - like a bathroom of some description, which I didn't see any evidence of. As long as it was warm enough though I could certainly live this way.

Well, that's it for February - let's march onto March which will feature a trip to Inuyama with fertility shrines, castles and Meji era architecture as well as my first time off Japan's main island (Honshu) for a trip to Shikoku.

Posted by DKJM74 17:41 Comments (0)

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