A Travellerspoint blog

December 2010

Koka: Home of Tanuki and Ninja

In the south-east of Shiga Ken there's a large area away from the lake side (that I often forget about) , the largest part of this area is Koka city.

Koka is a another one of those 'cities' (like Takashima where I live) that was formed by combining several local towns; this means that it's a mostly rural place that looks nothing like a city. Wikipedia puts the population density at 195 humans per kmĀ², which gives you an idea of what kind of place this really is.

Koka does have a couple of interesting points though; firstly, it's rich in natural clay which has lead the area becoming famous for local pottery called Shigaraki ware, and secondly, it has a historical connections with the Koga Ninja clan. That was enough to get me interested so we decided to head over to Koka for a daytrip.

O.K. If I'm really honest what really got my interest is that by far the most popular thing made by the shigaraki potters is tanuki (Japanese racoon dog) figurines - like these.

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Tanuki folklaw has interested and amused me for a while now, I actually wrote a couple of articles about them on my other blog recently (so if you want to know more about them, you can check those articles here and here). For now let's just say they are a kind of mischevious, shape shifting, happy-go lucky animal spirit that's well known in Japanese culture. So the chance to see the place that probably created most of the tanuki I've seen around here was kind of exciting - and I wasn't disappointed, there was a host of tanuki on display including giant, sumo and Ninja variations. There were even something like bizzare tanuki totems.

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Of course ceramic tanuki are generally good natured and friendly, but you should remember that they are still essentially wild pottery, so make sure you have all your injections before messing with them in case one bites you!

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In Shigaraki we also met up with Connie and Jessica, who had been persuaded (by my enthusing and the chance to hang out with Haru) to come along for the day. Once we were all in the car we set out for our next stop, the Ninja village; a kind of theme park where you can try authentic ninja skills apparently. We had it bookmarked in the GPS and set off down more country road; the park itself is actually quite ninja-like and even though you know it's getting close you can't see any sign of it - until what might be a small car park opens off the side of the road...

Let's just say the Ninja village has seen better times, and what is left now will probably be a abandoned (and a great haikyo) in a few years time. There is a small gift shop, a cafe and a trick house with trap doors and hidden passages.

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There was also a one room museum (that we couldn't be bothered to take our shoes off to enter and look around) and lastly a pond and small climbing wall to practice your ninja skills on (or not as the case may be; we saw one boy fall in the cold water). That's about it. Luckily we went on a nice November day and we saw some of the nicest Momiji (red maple leaves) that I've seen since I came to Japan.

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It was all very pretty, and it was funny seeing people wander around in brightly coloured ninja costumes.

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The only really fun thing there was the shuriken throwing range, and you had to pay extra for that! Still I managed to get a few of my lethal ninja stars to stick into the deadly paper targets thus stopping them from taking over the world (you can thank me later)!

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(Thanks to Connie for the pictures).

On the way out of the park I spotted a pair of stuffed Tanuki in the window of the shop and decided to get a couple of photos to feed my Tanuki obsession. The girls went back to the car and I went inside, where I got into an odd conversation (because it was all in Japanese and that's very tough for me) with a woman who invited me to join a Ninja training class. I said I had friends waiting and didn't have time, so she insisted that I at least pose with a katana while she took my picture - after which she gave me a certificate declaring me to be an official and fully trained Koga Ninja.

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So the Ninja clans of old may have long since been dissolved, and their drink dispensing machines may no longer work ...

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... but their legacy, the true Ninja spirit, lives on in me.

The girls said that the certificate didn't actually have any value and was just for kids... but my Ninja senses told me they were only saying that because they were jealous.

Posted by DKJM74 22:55 Comments (0)

Toji Market and Momiji in Kyoto

O.K. So November! Markets and momiji. Haru's mother wanted to meet me again (to make sure that I don't want to marry Haru just to sell her into slavery, I think) so we arranged for the three of us to meet and visit the Toji Temple market.

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This huge street market is held on the 21st of every month, and when (as in November) the 21st falls on a weekend, it is packed with bargain hunters.

I wasn't looking for anything in particular and this is the kind of market where many people only go to browse. There are many retro, second hand and antique stalls (among the food, cheap clothes and household goods stalls) with a wide range of things from the cheap and tacky to the rare and expensive.

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What really stuck me as I looked around was how many of the things on sale (sometimes for a lot of money) were basically the same as stuff I'd seen left behind in old houses on my haikyo trips. Now I see another reason why good haikyo locations can become guarded secrets - they're treasure troves full of sellable stuff. For example, these are all things from the last haikyo I visited (today).

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I was good and left all the antiques and retro toys where I found them.

Anyway, all this haikyo talk was a good point of connection with Haru's mother, she got quite interested as I kept pointing things out telling her about similar things I'd found and photographed. In the end I only bought one thing though, a complete set of 'Namennayo - cat collection' trading cards - featuring pictures of kittens dressed as Ninjas! Haru said she used to buy them when she was a school girl.

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I couldn't resist buying them, but now I don't want to ruin the complete collection and I can't bring myself to open the envelopes and look at the cards... oh well.

After we'd done with the market Haru's mother wanted to go to Kiyomizu Diera to see the autumn leaves; it looked spectacular too, the colours seem much richer this year than last.

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This was the first time I'd been here with Haru since April and the cherry blossom season, when I proposed to her; it was very cute to see her go all girly and show her mother 'That's where he asked me'! (and I have to admit it's a good place to have those kind of memories associated with). Soon the sun was going down, so we headed off down the small winding back streets of Kyoto.

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One of the things I love about Japan is how it can throw random things at you at anytime, even in places you've been many times before - like Kyoto.

Two things that evening.

First, in the middle of the city, a wild pig ran across the street right in front of me and into some bushes. It was only small and at first I thought I'd mis-seen, but a group of guys behind me all started talking about 'inoshishi', which means wild pig in Japanese so I checked with them and they confirmed it. Maybe this is the Japanese equivalent of urban foxes?

Second, we saw two girls performing a very intricate traditional dance, for no apparent reason, in the grounds of one of the temples.

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I actually think they were in training, as after the dance they seemed to be getting feedback from their 'teachers'.

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Overall, I think the day went very well and Haru's mother seemed much happier about the prospect of her only girl child being stolen away by a foreign devil - and you might think I'm joking, but seriously Japanese people are generally very friendly... but cross-cultural marriages still cause a lot of raised eyebrows and worries. Check out the trailer for this recent Japanese movie 'My darling is a forieigner'

That's all for today - and don't forget to leave a short message, let me know you're out there!

Posted by DKJM74 04:51 Comments (3)

Hike and Haikyo in November

November has been a month hike and haikyo (abandoned places) for me.

Ever since hiking over Hieizan to Kyoto with James we've talked about doing another hike, we finally managed to arrange something on November 3rd (which was a mid week public holiday). So we headed down to Takarazuka to do a walk that follows the route of an old scenic train line, including six unlit tunnels and a wrought iron bridge.

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The river valley running along side the track is very nice, but it was certainly the remnants of the railway that made this really interesting.

The walk only took about 2 hours and was easy going (though you need to have some lights for the tunnels), so after that we went into Takarazuka and visited the Osamu Tezuka manga museum. Osamu Tezuka was the creator of many anime and manga characters, the most famous of which is probably Astro Boy.

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For me, not really knowing much about his work and not understanding the information boards, the most interesting thing was the wonderful Jinglish on some of the books covers on display.

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Poor Mr.Homo.

The following weekend I found myself taking a long train ride out past Osaka to go and meet a German blogger who writes articles about abandoned buildings on his site. His name is Florian and we'd been writing for a few weeks and had finally found a good time to meet up for a spot of UrbEx (Urban Exploration). Florian had a place in mind so we set off to find the remains of an old spa hotel.

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Contacting Florian, and setting up this meeting, was a conscious choice on my part to become more active with UrbEx as a hobby.

Over the past month or so I have visited a lot of haikyo; in addition to the train line and the spa hotel, I've seen a fish farm, an electronics factory, two houses (one of which I have to go back to as it was incredible - but I didn't have my camera when I found it!), an industrial site and paid a return visit to the remains of what was Biwako Tower theme park.

I also decided that here isn't the place to write up all these ruins; I want to keep this page as a more general travel diary and avoid it getting too specialised - so I've opened another blog to write articles about stuff that interests me. There will be full write ups of all my haikyo trips added there (including links to full photo galleries) as and when I get time.

The spa hotel has alread been written up here.

Here's a sneak preview of that, and other places I'll be adding soon -

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So if you like abandoned places, UrbEx or fancy reading about the quirky Japanese things that don't make it into this blog - then please check out my new page; Total-Japandemonium.

See you there, or back here, soon!

Posted by DKJM74 01:35 Comments (0)

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