A Travellerspoint blog

October 2010

Omi-Hachiman Lantern Festival and Kobe

Day tripping in Kansai

A new JET work year of course means new JETs arriving as well. While I maintain only essential connections with the JET community these changes don't touch me much, but I was quite pleased that this year we got a new arrival who was older than me (previously I was the oldest; at about 10 years older than most of the JETs here).

Andrew has taken over from Bonnie up in the hills of Kutsuki, and we've done a couple of trips together recently.

Omi-Hachiman (an old merchant canal town on the other side of the lake; where the fire festival was held) was having a lantern festival as part of its bicentennial celebrations so we decided to go and check it out.

True to its name the old town was festooned with lanterns in the trees and all along the canal sides providing a nice soft light.

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Many of the towns public buildings (such as the local museum, town hall and and temple) were also open late into the evening and free to enter.

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More interestingly though, several old merchant houses and industrial buildings that aren't usually open to the public had been opened up as installations sites for local artists. In total 15 buildings had been opened like this, and the art work within was highly eclectic. I particularly liked the works that were created with the building or space in mind, and used the space as part of the work - not only was the contrast of the old buildings and the modern art interesting, but also the sense that they were unique installations that couldn't be transferred to another place because they were built into the space.

Maybe the best example of this is these bamboo spheres woven into the attic space of one building. The artist told us that the bamboo was cut on the local hills and shaped while green and then dried in place so their size and balance was specific to that room and they'd have to be broken apart to be removed. Seeing them there really made you reconsider you sense space and how you move through it. (Yes, I was an art student for two years)!

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Here are some more examples of other works from different artists in the same building.

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Unfortunately, as we hadn't known about this before we arrived, we didn't have much time to look around these buildings and only made it into 3 of them, but I was impressed with what we saw.

The second day trip was a bit further afield (out of Shiga, but not too far) to the coastal town of Kobe. The only real reason for this trip was that it was one of the few bigger local towns that I hadn't visited yet. The centre of Kobe is built around the harbour from where you can see the fun fair, Kobe tower and the interesting design work of the maritime museum (top left).

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Other interesting sites included a replica of the ship that Columbus sailed in (I was shocked how small it was) and a highly over sized figure of '鉄人' - 'Iron man'... but not the Marvel comics one, Japan's own version from a 1950s manga. Awesome! Though quite a way from the harbour (as we realised after a long walk).

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The funniest thing about it though was that Andrew thought we were using perspective to make a 'head crushing' shot when we took this picture - I'm sure you'll agree though this in infinitely more juvenile and amusing.

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Having gone to Kobe without much of a plan and having been banned from going to the scenic lookout point by Haru (on the grounds that it was too romantic to go there without her), we ended up just walking through typical residential and semi industrial urban streets for a while as we headed back to the coast. Though this did throw up an interesting collection of abandoned bicycles along the way (well interesting if you like that kind of thing, which I do)!

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Finally we ended up at Kobe's aquarium and sealife centre; having such an expanse of coast Japan is full of these places as you can tell from the fact that I've already visited similar places in Osaka, Nagoya and Wakayama. Still they're always interesting and each one seems to throw up something new, but I limited my photography to the more unique or surprising creatures - in this case some very cute sea horses and sea dragons as well as an impressive mantis shrimp (top right).

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Overall Kobe seemed nice, but a little generic. It's a place that probably deserves a second, better planned, visit and I will certainly be returning to the area as there's an derelict hotel nearby that's regarded (in urban exploration circles) as a must visit site and I'll be doing a trip there soon I hope. However that was it for my first trip to Kobe, by the time we left the aquarium it was getting dusky and all that was left to do was take a nice walk along the beach back to the train station and to go home again.

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Posted by DKJM74 06:46 Comments (0)

River Noodles in a Kayak Sandwich

It'll all make sense soon.

This is where the sense of the circle being completed (or at least the first loop of the spiral) really kicks in.

I've just finished my first year of life in Japan and an beginning my second year's contract - part of me is worried that Travellerspoint is going to come knocking on my door soon saying 'Hey, this isn't travel anymore it's turning into your life - you're engaged now and it looks like you're going to be here a long time', and it'd be a fair point.

Anyway, back to going full circle :-) My first day of work in Japan was Kayaking across Lake Biwa with the second year students, which I've just done for the second time.

As before we actually did the trip twice, the first time with a smaller group made up of members of the schools boat club to prepare for the main trip, and then again in a couple of weeks with all the second year students. The weather was wonderful again and skipping over the water, sometimes in one of he support boats and sometimes paddling my kayak, was another reminder of why I love living by the lake so much.

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For me one of the most memorable images from these trips is the birds skimming across the lake; the cormorants that live around the lake shore or on the islands flocking just above the surface.

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Having done this trip before and knowing I'd be doing it again very soon I limited the number of photos I took this time and just enjoyed the journey. So the practice run passed smoothly and pleasently.

However before the main trip there was also a chance for something new. I wanted to do some hiking and Haru suggested going to a nice place in the Kyoto prefecture (which is actually huge) but out of the city. At first it seemed like fairly typical Japanese scenery, with long winding forest trails leading to a shrine at the top of the hill.

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However this shrine is well known for its 'power point' (No not a PC slide show presentation, but an energy convergence spot). There was quite a line to stand in the circle and pray on that spot (including us of course - I quite like praying here as it involves a lot of capping and ringing bells... christianity needs more clapping and bells).

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On the way down the other side of the hill there were some wonderfully twisted trees that looked like left over props from a Tim Burton movie.

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Then there was another shrine, this time dedicated to couples - which Haru really wanted to pray at :-) You can also get your fortune at many temples and shrines in Japan, though each has a different gimmick for how you get it. Here you bought a blank piece of paper, which when floated on the shrine's pool reveals you fortune - magic ink! To be honest I can't recall if mine was good or bad - but I've neither had a terrible accident nor won the lottery since!

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The highlight of this area though was the many restaurants on the river, and I don't mean 'on' as a way of saying 'next to', I mean ON the river. There is a pretty stream cascading down the hill side and all along it there are platforms built over the water for diners to sit on and enjoy the waterfall views whilst eating. Most of these places are very expensive and serve very traditional Japanese food that I'm not very keen on, but we found one very reasonable place that did nice simple noodle dishes so we had dinner on the river.

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I really enjoyed this quite unique dining experience, and it certainly made a good date spot and nicely ended a good day out too.

Summer has been horribly hot this year, worse than last, one of the hottest locals tell me - so all these watery trips are great for keeping cool - which is lucky as it was already time for the main Kayak trip with all the second years.

What distinguishes this from the other trip is that it's a much bigger affair, with more kayaks, support boats and even one of the lake ferries helping shuttle kids, teachers and parents around.

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Again it was another fun two days where I spent a lot of time grinning and thinking 'I'm being paid to do this!'.

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Aaahh - I love my job sometimes :-)

I have a good idea of what's coming next now, I can look back at last year and have an idea of how a year spent working in a Japanese school unfolds. There will be the same key notes (culture festival, speech contest and ski trip all coming soon) but there's still a lot of new and exciting things to do, and I'm sure there are still plenty of surprises in store too!

Older, but not any wiser - here's to year two!!

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Posted by DKJM74 03:17 Comments (0)

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