A Travellerspoint blog

May 2010

To the Batcave!

Bat Research Trip in Taga

A while ago now I sent an E-Mail to a Professor at Nara University, Maeda-San, who specialises in bat research. At the time he was preparing to retire from his post in Nara, but promised to contact me again after that.

Well, he kept his promise and in May I was invited to join him and a small team on a research trip in Taga. The objective of the trip was to update the group's information about a colony of bats in Taga's caves that they have been monitoring for some time now.

We met at Taga museum; a small, but nice, building shared with a local library. From there Abe-San, a researcher from the museum, drove us up a narrow winding river valley to the park where the cave is located. Although I seem to say this a lot on this blog, the scenery was really beautiful and the last part of route walking along the riverside in particular was wonderful.

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We stopped a little short of the cave entrance and had lunch on some rocks by (and in) the river. Then we got ready to go down into the cave (You can see us, with Maeda-San on the left and Abe-San on the right, outside the entrance on the bottom right of the picture below).

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The entrance was quite small, but it soon opened out into a large centeral cavern with a few small, short side passages.

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We got to work quickly picking lower bats off the wall by hand, and using long padded sticks and nets to catch those roosting higher up.

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It was a great chance to get up close, and have a great encounter with these amazing animals. Before going Haru wasn't sure about the idea of meeting bats, but as soon as we got there she quickly got really excited and eager to get hands on and hold some bats herself.

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Most of the bats were a rare species of Tube-nose bat.

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Though we did see a single Horseshoe bat as well.

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After being weighed

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and tagged,

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they were set free again.

We spent about 3 hours in total inside the cave, though it really didn't seem so long. Everybody was so nice and friendly it was a great experience and we both really enjoyed ourselves. I think that Maeda-San was happy to have a new interested people to talk to. Haru says he was full of interesting stories, but my Japanese wasn't good enough to follow what he was saying.

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We recorded information for about 70-80 bats altogether. The last one proving the hardest to tag as he had hidden himself away in a very small space we couldn't reach inside. However, with some rock climbing, a pen and a pair of chopsticks he was finally extracted from his little nook.

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Then it was time to resurface.

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We drove back to the museum with Abe-San and then there was a behind the scenes tour of the museum's collection - which I missed because I didn't relise what they were doing! Then we headed into Taga and had a look around the old shrine there.

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Taga is another of those places that without having worked to make contacts, and having Haru willing to drive, I doubt I would have been able to see - but I'm very happy we went.

Next week there's going to be a rice planting festival there and the research group mentioned a firefly and bat research trip coming up soon (which I think we've been invited too) so it looks like we'll be back in Taga soon.

Well, my next report will be about gold, Samurais and cos-play :-) But for now here's one last bat for you all - bye!

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Posted by DKJM74 03:14 Comments (0)

More Golden Week '10

Part 2

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I recently joined a gym here. Those of you who know me will know how remarkable that is - but I have to confess I never intend to workout there. No, I just joined for the free mountain bike and snowboarding gear rental members get; I even negotiated a special rental only membership rate.

So with access to a real bike (as opposed to the one with a nice basket I ride to school everyday) I decided it was time to try and do a full circuit of the lake.

I set out on Thursday morning and headed north enjoying the nice weather and beautiful scenery.

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I made good time and was pleased with my progress despite a strong wind against me, whipping up waves on the water, that made it tough going.

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However, things started to get tougher around Nishiazai. Firstly, I went directly into the small village.

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Which turned out to be a dead end, though it was quite interesting with lots of cormorants lining the lakeside on the point past the end of the houses.

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I think I saw a bear as well - it was only for 3 or 4 seconds, but I'm pretty familiar with the types of creature you're likely to see running off in the woods and this certainly wasn't a deer or a wild pig. From the movement, size and clearly round ears I briefly saw I'm pretty sure it was a bear - they certainly aren't uncommon in that area.

Anyway, when I realised I couldn't get through I backtracked and took the next road which again was a bit of a mistake as I ended up on the road nearest the lake, but that was the blue winding path of over the rocky hills as opposed to the easier main road that went around that.

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With a combination of riding and pushing the bike I made it to the top, but was dripping with sweat by the time I got there, though I did get nice views over the lake and the village below.

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There was also a rest stop at the very top with an odd collection of model animals and a dinosaur.

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Unfortunatley the long hard uphill wasn't matched on the otherside and the downhill stretch was much shorter, but I'd rounded the top of the lake. The wind was getting stonger and already this no longer felt like fun but just a challenge to beat. I began to stop less and just tried to cover as much distance as possible passing late blooming cherry trees, Holy rocks in the water and a couple of dangerous road tunnels (scary)!

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The first day I was out for about 10 hours and covered just over 100km, stopping by the East side of Biwako bridge and spending the night in a Christmas themed Love Hotel.

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The next morning I was quite rested and eager to get started again, but due to love hotels being discreet places with no easily openable windows I had no idea what was waiting for me outside - which was some of the worst rain I've seen since I moved here.

Having no choice but to carry on, I braved it - but I cut the intended route short be crossing the bridge and heading home, instead of going through Otsu on the lower part of the lake.

I had a light rain coat, but it was no match for the heavy rain and soon I was soaked to the bone all over - as my 'not happy' face and wrinkled fingers testify.

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Water was pooling and running down the road making it even harder going, but in roughly 2.5 hours I cover the last 35km to get back to the Gym and return the bike... only to find it closed, as my 'even less happy' face here will testify.

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With a quick call to the owners I arranged to leave the bike there for them to collect later, and went home where I was still too wired too relax so I ended up having a huge cleaning session after drying out.

So, what did I learn from this - well, nothing new really. The best laid plans of mice and men... and that maybe I should pay more attention to the weather forcast (e.g. actually bother looking at it) before planning something like this. Still I'm pleased with myself for pulling through and besting some of the worst weather I've encountered on a trip like this, and if nothing else I've got a fine sunburn on the back of my leg, where I forgot to put cream, that should last a good few weeks - bargin!

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Posted by DKJM74 16:43 Comments (0)

Golden Week '10

Golden Week '10 Part 1

Golden Week is every Japanese person's favorite time to travel, a couple of bank holidays, a weekend and three more holidays all packed close together giving many people at least a week off work. I took an additional couple of days paid holiday to bridge the gaps and got 11 days off in a row.

Unluckily, Haru had to work a lot of those days so we didn't go far (Golden Week is also a very expensive time to travel in Japan, with all the prices cranked up for the tourist influx) so we stayed local and explored some bits of Kyoto and Shiga we hadn't seen yet.

The first day I was on my own as Haru working in Uji (a suburb of Kyoto), but Uji is quite a famous place in it's own right so I rode in with Haru and checked it out while she worked.

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Like most Japanese towns and cities there's a big river running through the middle of Uji, though this one is wider than most with small islands mid stream linked to the banks on both sides with small foot bridges.

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Again, like many places in Japan, what it's really famous for is its temple - this one known as the 'Pheonix Temple' as it's built with a shape like a bird with outstretched wings overlooking a pond.

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It also has connections with the writing of 'A tale of Genji', which is widely considered to be the first true Japanese novel, written in early 11th century, by noble woman Murasaki Shikibu; whose figure is dotted around the town in various forms.

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Over all Uji seems like a nice and pretty, but quite typical, Japanese tourist place; we will be going back later in the year, as this is one of the few places where you can see traditional Japanese fishing with cormorants.

Our next trip was back to Arashiyama (home of the first monkey park I visited) but this time we'd booked tickets on the 'Romantic Scenic Railway' which runs out of Arashiyama and winds along the river valley. We booked the seats about a month before, and I was glad we had as the train was packed and getting a seat without a ticket would have been impossible.

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The train ride was nice and indeed very 'scenic' though with so many people in together there wasn't much chance of it getting 'romantic'. The main reason for taking this trip though was to get to the launch station for the boats that can take you back to Arashiyama along the river itself - these are older style boats, like long punts, guided by pilots with long bamboo poles.

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The weather was perfect for a nice glide along the river, but it was slightly marred for me by the older man steering our craft who made several comments (in Japanese) about the 'American': A) Getting my nationality insultingly wrong and B) assuming I didn't understand.

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There were small bits of white water here and there, but nothing to worry about, and lovely views all around, along with a nice selection of turtles, cranes and ducks. The best thing though was the floating cafe, that pulled up along side us as we got back into Arashiyama, serving drinks and snacks - that really amused me.

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It was really nice to have the chance to explore Arashiyam a bit more and see the really nice bamboo groves again.

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(I love this picture - the 'adoration' is very funny I think)

The next few days were split between domestic duties and driving around the lake just exploring and taking in the scenery with varying degrees of sucess. We did find a very nice lake side shrine on the South East coast of Biwako, though to reach it we had to climb 808 steps first.

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I had no idea what would be at the top, and was quite curious considering the untended state of the bamboo on the lower part of the hill and small ruins further up.

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However the actual temple was really well kept, pretty and nicely worked into the hillside.

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Other trips weren't quite so successful, like the one where I slipped and fell in the water soaking my shoes, socks and trousers. Meaning I had to sit in the car in my boxer shorts and, thanks to all the Golden Week tourists everywhere, I couldn't get out of the car at any of the nice scenic view points we stopped at - which is why this is the only picture I have from that day.

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Haru only had one day more day off work now, so we just spent that by the lake in Imazu relaxing. Which really reminded me that we don't have to get so exhausted running around the whole prefecture to have a nice time on a beautiful lakeside beach.

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I still had a my extra two days off, and I had a plan for that - to finally cycle all the way around the Lake Biwa.
So I'll write about that next time.

Posted by DKJM74 17:07 Comments (0)

My Satoyama Life

WHERE THE MOUNTAINS MEET THE RICE FIELDS

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Where I live is north of Kyoto and the small cooling difference in temperature that causes is enough to make the cherry blossom bloom later here. So I was able to make the most of a free Saturday afternoon to cycle up through Makino and enjoy the wonderful sakura on the lake as well.

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Though even here the petals are already dropping and floating away - soon it will just be a few late bloomers left and we'll have to wait another year for the full splendor again.

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Time passes and I think I'm more aware of that here than I ever have been anywhere else as each change is celerbrated and venerated, but still allowed to pass with no remorse. It's something that I'm always reminded of everytime I find places like this one in the woods above the cherry trees.

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Places where time has just been allowed to take over, abandoned places - haikyou as the Japanese call them. I've mentioned them before on this blog - the ferris wheel in Katata, the Ski Lodge on Heizan - but I've seen so many more; apartment blocks, hotels, pachinko parlours, just left to time and nature. They fascinate me, I've even bought a book about them and I hope to visit some of the more spectacular ones around Japan.

This is part of something that has been building over the last few months as I've settled into life here; I've been finding my Japan! I've been finding what interests me here, and it's not classic things (sumo, sushi and samurais) that have caught me, neither is it pop culture really (manga, anime and videogames). No, my Japan IS in part cosplay, love hotels, shibari and goth clubs (all of which I think are great), but it's also local people and nature. It's water and wood. It's satoyama; the places between the mountains and the lake where the farmers and fishermen live and work... and I'm really trying to understand it better.

For that reason I've been trying to make connections with people and get involved with groups that can deepen that understanding. Through the Biwako museum I met Kusuoka-san (the guy with glasses rubbing his chin two pictures below) who runs a Satoyama interest group, and was invited to join one of their kids 'experience' groups.

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The main purpose of this group was to teach kids about the local environment and also for the participants to identify and collect eidible plants, which we then cooked in batter (leaf-tempura) and ate.

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It was really fun (and tasty!) I also got to meet another Satoyama enthusiast, Yoshii-San, (Grinning and holding a leaf on the right of the picture above) who has invited me to another event in May which I hope I'll be free for.

Satoyama is really everywhere around me here.

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These rice paddies, located right next to my school and which I pass everyday, have just had their earth turned and been flooded in preparation for planting. They might not look like much but the way they are intergrated into the very fabric of the town (squeezed between the buildings and linked with a complex system of canalisation) really impresses me. So I persuaded Leila to join me for a cycling trip with the objective of photographing the rice paddies in the hills behind Takashima.

Though, as ever when we get together, it ended up being a bit wierder than planned - playgrounds, cemeteries and more haikyou all kind of getting in the way.

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We also found an area full of small flat square surfaces covered in random bright colours with ladders overlooking them.

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So we had fun using those as canvases for some works of 'human' art.

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Though my personal favorite has to be - 'Shot to the head'

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We also got to see the Gulliver model village that was closed when we came this way for the waterfall hike a few months ago - and it wasn't a disappointment; it was just as odd and creepy as every other dillapidated model village I've ever seen.

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This figure in particular has an expression which has taken on a whole new meaning since she lost her foot.

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However, all this didn't distract us from our mission and we got some good rice paddy pictures as well. Here the fields, which have been build in a series of terraces, are in various states of preparation, but none have been planted yet.

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This shows how the canalisation is used: here a water wheel is being used to drive a mechanism which I guess is for threshing rice, also the water is run along side the fields where farmers can open or close a sluice to flood each field individually.

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It really is a miracle to me that Japan doesn't sink, there is so much water on it's surface; pouring down the mountains, bubbling out of the ground in hot spas, flowing in waterways beside every road, collecting in rivers and lakes. So much water, it shapes everything... but sometimes man shapes the water too.

April had one last rice field encounter for me. Knowing I was interested, Kurumi-Sensei invited me to join his Tanbo (rice-paddy) conservation group after school one day. The group has taken a resting rice paddy (one that will not be planted for a few years) and redirected the water course to run through it and create a wetland habitat. At one end cold mountain water is dammed and runs into the paddy where it spreads, slow and shallow. At the other end the water, now warm, rejoins the watercourse and creates what Kurumi-Sensei called a 'water-smash' where the two meet. Detecting this warm water lake fish follow the flow up jumping, like salmon, to get into the paddy where the conditions the group has created are perfect for laying their eggs.

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We arrived at a good time as the fish were teeming to get in and were jumping up (right where I'm standing in the picture above), even a few small catfish which was very interesting to see.

I've also been invited to join this group again, so my nature, ecology and conservation network is certainly growing (and in two days time I'm going to meet a Japanese bat expert I contacted over the internet and help out with some field research; catching and tagging bats in the cave where they roost - very excited about that!)

If anybody is interested in knowing more about the local eco-system there's a great 'Satoyama' documentary (narrated by David Attenborough) on Youtube that was filmed one 4-minute train stop away from where I live. It's in 6 parts - here's a link to the first.

Enjoy!

Posted by DKJM74 02:27 Comments (1)

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