A Travellerspoint blog

The Gold, the Mad and the Uji

Another diverse weekend in Kyoto

Ok that was quite possibly the worst pun title on an entry in my blog so far (and I am hanging my head in shame), but I didn't know quite how to bring a visit to the Golden Pavillion, a Samurai Movie theme park and Uji Botanic Gardens all under one blanket title - but that was my weekend, so here we go.

The Golden Pavillion is another place I first visited 3 years ago with Nik - as you can see here.


I hadn't actually planned a return visit, but by chance I ran into Kitty and Ryan on the train. They were just about to go there with Ryan's visiting friend, Brian. So I decided to tag along. So here we are at Kinkaku-ji (as it's known here). Kitty and I were chatting and walking much slower than Ryan and Brian, so soon we were trailing behind.

Somewhat embarrassingly I'm actually wearing the same T-shirt as 3 years ago as well!!




Despite looking very old the Pavilion is actually a recent reconsruction of a much older building, the reason for that is quite interesting; Wikipedia can explain it better than me I think.

On July 2, 1950, at 2:30 am, the pavilion was burned down by a monk named Hayashi Yoken, who then attempted suicide on the Daimon-ji hill behind the building. He survived, and was subsequently taken into custody. During the investigation after the monk's arrest, his mother was called in to talk with the police; on her way home, she committed suicide by jumping from her train into a river valley. The monk was sentenced to seven years in prison, but was released because of mental illness on September 29, 1955; he died of other illnesses shortly after in 1956. During the fire, the original statue of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu was lost to the flames (now restored). A fictionalized version of these events is at the center of Yukio Mishima's 1956 book The Temple of the Golden Pavilion.

The present structure dates from 1955. In 1984, the coating of Japanese lacquer was found a little decayed, and a new coating as well as gilding with gold-leaf, much thicker than the original coatings (5/10,000mm instead of 1/10,000mm), was completed in 1987. Additionally, the interior of the building, including the paintings and Yoshimitsu's statue, were also restored. Finally, the roof was restored in 2003.

I left the others at Kyoto station and headed off to meet Haru.

Next day we headed out to the Samurai Movie park on the outskirt of Kyoto.

Unlike places like Disneyland and Universal Studios, Toei Studio Park is actaully an old (and still working) film studio.
Several ongoing TV dramas and movie scenes are filmed here, but there are also shows, exibitions and attractions to bring visitors in.

Inside, the best exhibition is the one with the hero and monster costumes from the Kamen Rider/Power Ranger/Ultra Man type shows.

So, here they are the goodies and the baddies - Oooh, who's going to win??



I have to admit I've never been a fan of these shows - but being a Doctor Who fan I can appreciate a good low rent monster outfit when I see one - and this was my personal favorite.


Outside you are quite free to wander around the historically recreated streets and some of the studio sets as well. Although it didn't mean much to me, Haru recognised several locations from shows on TV and she said she saw one famous actor as well (who had a part in 'The Last Samurai' apparently!).



Even some quite dangerous props were left laying around to be picked up.


Throughout the day various Chanbara (Sword fighting) shows are played out on stage and on the streets, between these shows actors also wander around in costume to add to the atmosphere.


Though I felt quite sorry for these paid employees of the park as they were hopelessly outnumbered and outclassed by the many amateur Cos-players wandering around. I talked to one guy (centre with a small beard in the photo below), who was an elementary school teacher from Nara, and he told me that Cos-players from all around come here just to do use the great sets for their own group photos. I was really impressed with some of the groups who had obviously put in a lot of time, effort and money into their costumes.







I'm planning a return trip sometime specifically to take more Cos-play photos and, as it's possible to rent period costumes there, maybe get in costume myself; I think Kitty and Leila would be really up for a trip like that. Haru was very tollerant of me running around taking Cos-player photos, but the Cos-play element of the park was a big surprise so I'd like to go back and really focus on that.

Our next trip was just the two of us. Actually, we should have joined another Satoyama group event, but Haru wasn't feeling too great so we skipped that (and the early start it would have required) in favour of sleeping in and taking a more personal trip to Uji botanic gardens.




Generally it was a typical botanic garden. Herb and floral gardens outside and a pretty decent glasshouse. One thing I did like was the pond; a deep crimson red from the weed on the surface which at first glance seemed to be waterless clay, though on closer inspection huge hidden fish stirred beneath breaking the surface - for some reason it reminded me of Yoda's swamp in Star Wars.


Perhaps the best thing though was the ridiculously overpowered water fountain, add an unpredictable breeze and funny follows.


And that is pretty much that, except for a brief footnote for Gavin's benefit (as I know he loves huge ugly industrial structures). So here's a photo of the dam on the river just outside Uji that we stopped off to have a quick look at on the way home.


Next time: A friend's wedding, school sports day and more scrapbook oddities.

Posted by DKJM74 17:46 Comments (0)

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.


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).


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


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.


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.



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


Though we did see a single Horseshoe bat as well.


After being weighed


and tagged,


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.


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.



Then it was time to resurface.


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.


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!


Posted by DKJM74 03:14 Comments (0)

More Golden Week '10

Part 2


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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


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)!


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.


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.



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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.



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.


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


(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.



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.



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



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.


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.


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 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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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


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


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.




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


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.


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.


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.


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.


Posted by DKJM74 02:27 Comments (1)

Tokyo Decadance

(Actually in Osaka not Tokyo!)


This entry is all about 'Tokyo Decadance' a touring club event that fuses Japan's various Fashion Tribes together with an emphasis on Alternative, Gothic and Burlesuque styles.

As such this entry contains images including some nudity, Shibari (rope bondage) performance artists and takes place in a venue decorated with religious iconography. It is my sincere belief that this is much a part of modern Japanese culture as the Cherry blossom viewing I reported on last time and as such I want to show and share this side of Japan as well - however, if you feel that the kind of imagary mentioned above isn't for you feel free to skip this (don't worry you can safely visit my blog again next time!)

So for one last time - I am serious, I don't want to offend anybody and I don't want any complaints, so you have been warned!

OK - Tokyo Decadance... What is it exactly??

Maybe it would be best if I let Adrien, French drag/burlesque/cabaret atrist and creator of Decadance describe it in his own words. That way we should get some real insight.

Or maybe not... No, I didn't understand what he said either... in hindsight maybe I should have asked him before 5am and before he drank a whole bottle of Vodka in one go as part of his act (shortly before supergluing his hands to two beer kegs)!! So I guess I'll have to describe it myself.

Tokyo Decadance celebrates the bizzare and hidden side of Japanese culture that in many ways it is best known for abroad - most people I know, when they think of Japan, do not think of the classic cluture and history but rather of the wild stories of train gropers, maid cafes and school girl panty vending machines (which I still haven't seen)!

Japan is often seen from outside as being formal on the surface and writhing with the hentai tetacles of the perverse underneath. In fact this is only a small (but important) part of Japanese culture. Actually, many of the things well known abroad as being Japanese are not so well known here; for example; Haru almost didn't believe that several of the cult movies I have actually were Japanese as she had never heard of them.

Decadance is bridgeway to this underworld, playing up Japan's kinky reputation around the world. Everybody and anybody is welcome - from the teeny bopper to the salary man. Last month they were in Russia and next month they are going to France. It was only by chance that last week I was in Osaka for Hanami and saw a flyer or I would have missed them again; like I did last November. I wasn't going to miss it again though, so I got a cheap hotel near Umeda threw on some basic black gear, Shibari'ed up my arms (it was nice to give my developing rope skills a public field trip actually) and set off for 'Farplane' for the 'Before Party'.

Farplane is actually a small sex shop and cafe that particuarly caters for drag queens and cross dressers and other performers who blur the lines. So it's no surprise that the first person who's portrait I took was Selia.


He was, I have to admit, very attractive. He is also a very good operatic vocalist; I didn't know that at the time, but I heard him singing later...

Actually, this 'Before Party' was mostly made up of performers and key people in the organisation of the event (like Selia or the girls having their bodies painted who were from the group 'Wita Sex Alice') so it had a kind of backstage feel to it.



I recognised one or two people from my previous trips into Osaka's alternative club scene, but didn't really know anybody. At first I felt like a bit of an outsider, not just because I was foreign but because it seemed like a close 'family' of people - but I soon found a good icebreaker. For some reason they had some frozen insects that they were heating up and daring each other to try as bar snacks - so I volunteered.


As soon as I tried it they were all asking me 'どう でした?’ (How was it?) - to which I honestly answered, like 'Popcorn!' which got a cheer and after that I felt much more at home. Actually everybody was really friendly and open and... well, just nice! I wish I'd taken a few more portrait photos now, as nobody seemed to care if I did and some of the outfits were fantastic - like Izumi's (the girl in the top right of the next collage pic), an art student with a thing for the Hapsburgs and rocking a masquerade style complete with this mask wrapped up in the back of her hair.



That guy obviously had a thing for fireworks used in an inappropriate way as you can see.

(You can learn some good Japanese from this clip - when I think it's done I say 'It's finished' (Owatta) but it pops off one more and then the girl next to me shouts 'That's scary, scary' (Kowai, kowai) :-)

After a while it was time to leave for the main event in Christon Cafe which wasn't so close so we walked to the tube station and hopped 3 stops across town.

The reactions to us on the street and train were priceless, it felt like being in some really 'cool' kids gang.



When we arrived at Christon Cafe it was just starting to fill up and DJ Rina Neko was playing.


The crowd was an interesting mix and the cathedral decoration of Christon cafe made for a great ambience.



I was soon having a great time flirting with girls (but staying within the acceptable flirtation limits defined by Haru before I went), meeting people like DJ Sisen and dancing with a bad toothed bug-eye crazy naked Japanese dude.


After a while Sisen took over the decks from Neko Rina bringing a darker, heavier sound in.


Then Selia came out and began singing - a wonderful blend of dark gothic dance beats and opera vocals. I was so impressed, and at the same time was kicking myself for not having talked to Selia more at Farplane before.



This clip is from a different Decadance event, but will give you a feel of the music; though the live version felt much rawer and stronger. This is one of the tracks they performed.

While I was still marvelling at that performance out rolled the next act.


The 'Wita Sex Alice' girls (who were getting painted up in Farplane when I arrived) who played out a erotic horror bondage scene. The 'undead bride' and her underlings dragged a girl from the audience (part of the team obviously) stripped her down to her thong and tied her with an admirable command of the ropes (again kicking myself for now getting into a conversation and getting a few pointers now. Though two or three people complimented me on my Shibari gauntlets!).


The 'climax' of the performance was when the bride sank her teeth into the victims neck, letting (fake) blood run down them both then discarding the body below the icon.


Though this whole undead Vampire thing obviously works quickly as a few minutes later she was up and smiling and dancing with everybody again.


There was another performance later, by Adrien, involving a card game and various dares for the losers (hence the bottle of vodka and super glue I mentioned at the start) but I didn't take any pictures of that as I was watching from the balcony and chatting to a very nice girl called Sakuma from Kobe.


We chatted and danced for a while, but by then it was almost 5am so I did one last round of portrait picures.


Made the video with Adrien and then decided to call it a night, managed to get three hours sleep in the hotel before having to get up and check out to catch a train back to Kyoto to meet up with Haru.

I think I've persuaded her to come with me to the next Decadance event - as she's very curious to see it for herself and she's seen how dangerous it is to leave me in a club like this unattended :-) Though I was pretty well behaved really!

Anyway, I highly recommend anybody who sees that Decadance are coming to a place near them to go check it out and I'll leave you with this rather disturbing image from Kyoto train station - a board announcing why there was a delay on the Shinkansen line.


Posted by DKJM74 01:45 Comments (0)

Spring Beauty

Harumi to Hanami


Three years ago I first came to Japan for a two week holiday. I still remember how amazing it was then, being in Kyoto for the cherry blossom season. The aesthetic pleasure of gardens, the blossom and the wonderful kimono clad ladies...

So it was a real pleasure to be back in Japan for the Sakura again.


To make a good thing even better, Harumi even rented a kimono! So I was also able to fulfill a fantasy three years in the making as I even had my own wonderful kinomo clad lady to escort around Kyoto :-)



I'm not joking in the least there either - it really was like a fantasy come to life. She looked so good that I almost couldn't comprehand that I was actually doing this - but I was; I was taking my beautiful, Japanese, kimono wearing girlfriend around the ancient temples of Kyoto to see the cherry blossom that would only be in full bloom that one weekend... in my world that's pretty close to being the dictionary definition of perfect!

I don't even know which temple it was we visited first, but it had really nice gardens combining many traditional elements like pagodas overlooking ponds, a zen stone garden and a small bamboo grove.





From there we made our way through some of the smaller back streets to a bigger public park.



While not as nice as the formal temple grounds, the park does have wide variety of cherry trees.


Including this one which is over 300 years old!


After that we took a late lunch, before beginning evening hanami (flower viewing).

Many places illuminate the blossom after dark and famous spots can be crowded until late in the evening. We chose to go to Kiyomizu Diera (which I last visited in September during the day). Despite the crowds the atmosphere was really special, and the subtle lighting really created a totally different ambience.


In particular the views from the observation balconies, looking down on the glowing crowns of the trees, were quite otherworldly - as were the watery reflections of the overhanging branches shimmering in the darkness.




I can honestly say that for several reasons this was a day that I'll never forget, and to celebrate that we finished off the day with a glass of champagne in a quite cafe bar tucked away in it's own private gardens below the temples.


There is something that I really like about the way in which the Japanese still take the time to mark the beauty of the passing seasons; celebrating the pink flowers and the red leaves each in their own season. It's a respect that is built into their lives through their religion, art and language - even in something as simple as a name.

Harumi (春美) literally means 'spring beauty'


Posted by DKJM74 02:06 Comments (1)

Ge Ge Ge no Road Trip!!

Yokai, Love Hotels and Sea Beasts in Tottori and Hyogo Ken


The boy in the centre with the smart black and yellow vest is called GeGeGe no Kitaro - he's dead and the eyeball popping out of his hair is his father .... Yes, you read that right!

Kitaro is a popular Manga and Anime character in Japan. Created in 1959 by Shigeru Mizuki, the series has remained poular ever since Every decade since then a new anime version has been produced. The main focus of the story is Kitaro and his spirit friends defending humans from traditional Japanese spooks and monsters collectively known as Yokai. In fact the various Yokai portrayed in the series are mostly drawn from traditional myths and legends which Shigeru Mizuki almost singlehandedly revived interest in for moderm Japanese people.

It's no surprise then (loving all myths, legends, spooks and beasties as I do) that this series has quite grown on me, it's also no surprise that that the small costal hometown of the creator has cashed in on the fame his creations - and as Haru really likes the character too, we decided to go and check out the town, Sakaiminato, and all it's yokai inhabitants.


We took the highway there and made really good time, getting there in just few hours and once there it didn't take long to get knee deep in yokai. They are everywhere in all shapes and sizes.



Including many versions of Kitaro himself.


He's even on the toilet signs.


However the most common type of yokai art on display are the small bronze statues that line the main street.






There are 134 of these in total, and for about €1 you can buy a little booklet showing all their pictures and locations, there are even places to mark several of them with rubber stamps provided by the statue - collect all the stamps and present your booklet at the tourist information office and you get a 'Yokai Hunter' certificate :-) I have to say it adds a lot fun to a stroll around the town, and add to that the 'Yokai Museum' it takes a fair bit of time to look around.

We actually split this over two days as we'd allowed three days for this trip so we could take it easy, and it would finally give me a chance to stay in a Japanese... Fashion Hotel.... Boutique Hotel... or, as they're better known, Love Hotel.

I've heard a lot about these places and have wanted to see one for a long time - these places are designed or discretion with access to their windowless rooms either direct from private garage like parking places - or through a lobby with no visible staff. Mostly once inside the doors are electronically locked and are only opened in an emergency or once payment for the room has been made to an automatic machine inside.

Now this might all sound a little sleazy, but these places are a part of everyday life in Japan with it being estimated that around 1.4 million couples, or 2 percent of Japan's population, visit a love hotel each day.

Why? Well, sure some are doing things they shouldn't be doing - but these hotels also offer very clean nice places to play out fantasies in private with various rooms equiped with... well pretty much whatever takes your fancy really.

There's a really interesting collection of 'Love Hotel' photos on this womans site - http://www.mistykeasler.com/ (Click the top left image) Though she seems to have focused on more kinky and 'exotic' rooms. The first place we stayed in was just like a nice hotel room really - though it had it's own slot machine, karaoke and Playstation 3 for free. Oh, and free condoms, poloroid camea and the sex shop equivelent of a mini-bar in case you didn't know what type of hotel you'd checked into. There was also a nice big spa bath with a TV embedded in the bathroom wall by it - which was nice!

It was actually a really nice room and a fair bit cheaper than a regular hotel; though reservations can't be made for Love Hotels and you can only check in for an overnight stay after about 10pm.

The second place wasn't so nice (my fault I chose the second one - and confess I chose it purely on the basis that it had costumes in the room.... Yes, I'm hanging my head in shame right now.) Still, at least I finally got to find out how I'd have looked if I had been burned out hippy :-)


I'm really into the idea of these hotels now and will stay in them whenever possible in the future. I'm really curious what wounderful rooms are hidden away waiting to be discovered - they often have pretty spectacular external design work too. So expect more hotel photos on the future.

After leaving Sakiminato the only plan was to take the long slow coastal road back stopping off wherever we wanted.


The weather was cold and spotting with rain, but we still braved a few beaches along the way and I even showed my British grit by getting my shoes and socks off and getting my feet wet (Cold, very cold!)



Haru actually had one more stop in mind that I didn't know about - a small Onsen town with a Marine Aquarium built along the coast.

Having already done two big aquarium blog pieces I didn't take too many photos - but I took a few of the more unique creatures they had.



For me though, this was the star attraction.



I don't actually remember seeing a walrus up close before, and I was shocked by just how massive the male was.


Wonderful creature - and a nice last stop on the trip too, from there on it was rain and roads all the way back to Kyoto where Haru dropped me off, then another hour on the train to get home. The spring feeling in the air has passed again and it's bitter cold and icy rain all round now, but it can't last much longer. Spring will come, the cherry blossom will bloom and a whole new world of travel options will open up!

Posted by DKJM74 00:42 Comments (0)

Omihachiman Fire Festival

`Tyger, tyger, burning bright`

Haru brought the car over this weekend (which was a surprise, I was sitting outside the trainstation waiting for her when she called and said "I'm sitting on your sofa where are you?"). Still it made it much easier and more comfortable to visit Omihachiman for the fire festival. Having the car means you can also take your time and stop to check out anything that catches your eye on the way - so we ended up at a bizzare fish market, just because we can't resist brightly coloured plastic fish!


The last part of that picture is 'Horse Sashimi' - but I didn't know it was horse meat until after after Haru got me to try a piece (though I confess I did have a second piece after I knew - quite tasty)!

For me the coolest thing on route though was finding two abandoned arcade cabins at the side of the road - if we had a bigger car one of these would be in my flat now I swear!

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So taking the slow route we got to Hachiman at about 3pm, first we just looked around the town a bit as it's quite famous for it's old merchant houses and canalways.


We'll be coming back here again to ride the canal later in the spring, and it should look beautiful with the Cherry Blossom!

At that time the festival was still just warming up. The Sagicho Matsuri is actually a dramatic parade and mini-war between 13 or 14 colorful Sagicho floats carried around the streets. The floats, made of edible materials mounted on a straw and wood base, are paraded along the streets near the shrine. This year the theme of the floats was 'Tigers' in acordance with the Chinese year.


In the afternoon the teams carrying the floats around on their shoulders begin to clash together in attampts to smash apart and topple over the other floats.



The damaged floats are simply taken to one side and retied and are soon back out again - after a short time the floor was covered in shedded straw rope.

While this is going on there's also a kids parade with smaller floats.


I think the kid on the top left of that picture is actually a boy - for some historical reason casual cross dressing is also a big part of this festival :-) Though the biggest feature of the festival is the burning of the floats, which we got a taster of in the afternoon when they burned one of the smaller floats for young kids who couldn't stay up for the big night burning.


After that we checked out the local shrine and the festival stalls, while the the bigger floats were paraded around and put into position for burning; with everybody from guys in business suits to girls in cat ears helping out.



By now there was a real party atmosphere, a big crowd had built up and was waiting for the flaming torches to come out.


The first few moments when the fire took looked incredible as the paper ribbons burned fast and bright sending little twisting Chinese dragons of flaming paper flying off into the night.

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Then everything went up in flames - what really amazed me was that they had four big fires going on with almost no visible safety precautions; don't get me wrong, I actually liked that sense of people being able to take responsibility for themselves it was just surprising.







Once the fire had burned down the cinders were cleared away by guys with huge beams of wood attatched to chains who just crushed them out and dragged them off.



and that was that - or was it? Actually there was going to be another round of burning and partying - but we bailed out having seen one lot of burning tigers and feeling quite satified with that.

As a kind of 'Epilogue' to this; as cliched as it might sound, after watching those fires I couldn't get the poem 'The Tyger' by William Blake out of my head. The day after the festival, I read the poem again online - which set me off on a bit of a poetry binge where I found several really nice poems and poets I'd never read before. It kind of reminded me how nice poetry can be (I haven't read much since university) - so I'm sharing the poem here in a few formats as well :-) Enjoy!


You can hear the poem being read here and I've put English and Japanese text below!

The Tiger By William Blake

Tiger! Tiger! burning bright 虎よ!虎よ!あかあかと、

In the forests of the night, 夜の森に燃えて輝くものよ

What immortal hand or eye どのような不滅の手と目とが、

Dare frame thy fearful symmetry? 大胆にもその畏るべき均整美を造りあげたのか!

In what distant deeps or skies なんと遥かな深みと高みに

Burnt the fire of thine eyes? お前の瞳の炎は照り輝くのか!

On what wings dare he aspire どのようなみ翼のもとで大胆にもそびえ立つのか、

What the hand, dare seize the fire? そしてどのような手がその炎を掴むのか!


And what shoulder, & what art, どのような肩、どのような技が

Could twist the sinews of thy heart? お前の心臓の筋肉をねじりあげたのか!

And when thy heart began to beat, お前の心臓が鼓動をうちはじめたとき、

What dread hand? And what dread feet? どのような畏るべき手、畏るべき足が命を吹き込んだのか!


What the hammer? what the chain? どのような鉄槌が、どのような鎖が、

In what furnace was thy brain? どのような炉でお前の頭脳を鍛え上げたのか!

What the anvil? What dread grasp どのような鉄床(かなとこ)が、どのような鋏(はさみ)が

Dare its deadly terrors clasp? 大胆にもこの死ぬほど怖ろしいものに留め金をかけたのか!

When the stars threw down their spears, 星々がその槍を投げおろしたとき、

And watered heaven with their tears, 天がその涙に濡れたとき、

Did He smile His work to see? かの方はそのみ手の業を見て微笑まれたか?

Did He who made the lamb make thee? 仔羊を造られた方がお前をも造られたのか?


Tiger! Tiger! burning bright 虎よ!虎よ!あかあかと、

In the forests of the night, 夜の森に燃えて輝くものよ

What immortal hand or eye どのような不滅の手と目とが、

Dare frame thy fearful symmetry? 大胆にもその畏るべき均整美を造りあげたのか!

Posted by DKJM74 17:12 Comments (0)

March Scrapbook

Hina Matsuri and Graduation Time


Hello again Japan fans!

Well, it's March already - more than half way through my first year in Japan now, and it's just gone so quickly. All but one of the new first year JETs in my town are recontracting for a second year. I include myself in that obviously, there's still so much more I want to do and see here yet; as you can see from this blog I'm pretty busy travelling around, but I've still barely scratched the surface of this country.

At the beginning of the month I got a chance to visit and stay over at Moro Sensei's home in Nagahama (on the other side of the lake). Like many young single, working Japanese people he lives with his parents still - and they have a big traditional Japanese style house. Which includes a shrine dedicated to their deceased relatives - their pictures are on the wall by the shrine where Tadasuke (Muro Sensei's first name!) kindly put on a respectful pose.


You can also see a bit of their music room on the right of those pictures with Tadasuke, his sister and good friend all making me feel very unmusically talented :-) His sister was obviously quite excited by my visit and had even prepared a short English presentation for me about the display of Japanese Dolls they had out.


These dolls are not displayed all year, and are only shown around the beginning of March as part of the Hinamatsuri - or girl's day - festival. The dolls actually represent the Emporer, his family and retinue. There's a brief outline of the festival's origins here (If you're interested) -


Actually, my calligraphy teacher also had a display of these dolls in her house, but I didn't know their significance until Tadusuke's sister explained it to me - so thanks to her :-)

The next day I had to go to a meting at the Biwako Museum (which is why I stayed at Tadasuke's house anyway, as it's much closer!) after which I met Haru in Kyoto - we had no big plan, but we did find a couple of interesting places.

Pop Quiz: What do you think this place is??


Answer: It's a second hand clothes shop - Kyoto style!

There's nothing outside to give any idea what it is and when we went in at first I thoght we'd gone into an art galery or something like that - but no, it's a huge second hand clothes shop (they even have a chipmunk in it's own private enclosure!)

We also found, by chance, a small shrine I was looking for years ago with Nik and never saw!


This houses the remains of a broken ceramic Tanuki, the broken remains were found at the point where a big fire came to halt in 1978 - locals decided to enshrine the remains of the Tanuki that had given it's life to stop the fire :-) Another testimony both Japan's quirkiness and respect for even inanimate objects; it is quite common for Japanese people to belive that anything and everything has a spirit.

Anyway, the big thing at the school over he past few weeks has been preparations for the third years graduation! In Japan April isn't just the Spring holiday - it's the end of the school year, so we've had tests and preparations for the graduation ceremony. This included rehersals, and a retrospective review of their three years in the school.



The actual day was a more formal affair with everybody required to dress up; with the four third year home room teachers even wearing full kimonos.


The main part of the ceremony was the students recieving their 'diplomas' from the Principle.


Then there were speeches, songs and a few tears.


Finally there was a less formal send off outside the school where everybody was exchanging letters, snacks and small farewell gifts.


Everybody was taking photos too and I found out that I'm apparently considerably more popular with the girls than the boys - or maybe the boys are just too 'cool' to ask for their photo with me :-) Because while the boys were happy to have groups photos like these -


It was only really girls who came up and asked for individual pictures with me -


I have to say I will miss them - the third years were the most friendly of the students and I really liked some of them. Still what I lost in students that day I gained in free sushi lunches :-)


So it's swings and roundabouts really! And that's your lot until next time when I'll be writing about the Omihachiman fire festival; and I've got some really nice pictures for you all then so stay tuned!

Posted by DKJM74 06:41 Comments (0)

February Scrapbook

Ready for Spring!!

February`s fluctuating weather has made it a bit difficult to plan much really. `Four days warm and three cold` is how the Japanese describe this time of year, and that`s about right, just when you think the cold weather is over and it`s Spring - Smack! Another cold spell hits.

Still Spring is coming and on the good days you can feel it, we`re starting to venture down to the lakeside again on good days; and I think Haru is getting excited by the prospect of a Summer spent by Biwa :-)


There`s a rare flower that grows in Imazu at the end of February, and, not knowing exactly where it grows, we joined a walk to see it. However, the walk was very officious and... well, Japanese in its organisation. Haru and I didn`t really fit in with the others - as you can see by how *seriously* Haru is taking the warming up stretching exercises before the walk :-) Once we started we were taken around the town to see interesting sights (that I pass by most days) and got small talks from local people... we stuck with it for most of the way, but once finally we escaped and used the map we`d been given to find the flowers ourselves.


After a short play on the swings, we found the flowers; called Zanzenso in Japanese.



It might not be the most beautiful of blooms - but it is very rare apparently.

Actually that wasn`t the only bit of interesting nature we saw in February, during a drive around the lake the week before we saw a mass of people standing by the lake with binoculars and huge zoom lense cameras. So we stopped and asked what they had spotted, and it turned out to be a rare White Eagle. It was too far away to photograph with my point and click camera - but they did let us use their telescopes for a look.


We had a few interesting moments at the school this month as well - best of all being the Mystery Mammal Moment!
Yes, we had a mystery mammal in the school gym that I helped to evict (by poking at it with a stick until it ran out again)! The poor thing had got itself onto the top floor of the stair well and was frightened and didn`t know the way back out again.



So it was all cowered in a corner, though it perked up a bit when I began poking it - as you can see. Later a bit of research identified it as a `Masked Palm Civet` which isn`t a native species and was introduced here about 100 years ago - so another quite rare thing to see!!

This month was also the Principle`s 60th Birthday, which means he`s retiring in April ... which will probably lead to a big staff change as well ... I`m a bit worried about that I have to confess! Anyway, his birthday also meant that we had a small surprise party for him in at the school.


The best thing about this was that he gave a thank you speech that went on for so long that the candles he should have blown out had burnt out naturally by the time he finished :-)

I also organised another mini-school trip to Kyoto this month. This time to go and see an exhibition from the Hapsburgs` art collection at the National Museum. Six second year boys signed up and Muro Sensei, Fujii Sensei and myself took them. Lelia also joined us for this trip.



The exhibition was quite nice, but very crowded and I have serious doubts about four of the boys interest in the art :-)
For them I think it was just a way to get their parents to agree to pay for them to go to Kyoto - so we let them do a bit of shopping too. Which gave me the chance to get this great picture - a girl in a Kimono looking at Manga, short of having a Samurai in the background you couldn`t get much more Japanese than that!


Posted by DKJM74 21:41 Comments (0)

Sen to Chihiro no Onsen?

Feat. xXx Rated Nudity

That's a trailer for 'Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi' ('Spirited Away') one of many wonderful films by Hayao Miyazaki
(My personal favorite is 'Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind' - I'll put a trailer for that at the end of this entry!) Anyway the reason I post this clip is that the Ryokan we stayed in after the Snow Monkey trip has a pool that they claim was one of the ones that inspired the design of the spirit world onsen resort in 'Spirited Away'

I'm not sure if that also means that they had a six armed guy working in the boiler room served by living motes of soot ... I hope so!

Anyway, onsen are a popular means of relaxation for most Japanese people and many traditional Ryokan are built around good natural springs and they are the perfect places to go to have a really Japanese experience. This, of course, includes a big Japanese style meal in the evening.


To be honest I don't know what half the stuff I ate there atually was, but it was highly amusing for Haru to watch my variously perplexed, unsure and downright disgusted expressions as I tried various things. There was some really good stuff, but there were also a few things I'm in no hurry to try again - have to say I'm not a huge fan of traditional Japanese food.

After that we returned to our room and got ready for bathing. Which means putting on out Yukata (which most people wandering about the Ryokan were wearing)


Now, onsen are usually shared baths and, as it's traditional to bathe naked, in many places they are single sex only; though there are still some mixed bathing onsen around! However, as guests we could book a session in the private onsen for just the two of us - so that's where we headed first.

The basic rule of onsen bathing is that the bath is just for soaking and relaxing, not for washing - so you have to shower and wash before geting into the bath. So, dedicated to blogging every detail as I am, here's the traditional Japnaese way of pre-onsen washing; sitting on a little wooden stool.


Then you can get into the onsen and enjoy the hot spa water.


So having taken advantage of the private onsen, we then went off to check out our respective 'single sex' onsen. Which onsen is designated to which gender changes daily. Luckily for me, that night the large outdoor pool was men only.

When I got in there were maybe 9 or 10 other guys there (all Japanese!), after soaking for a while it slowly got emptier and emptier - go I guessed that in a while I'd be able to get the whole pool to myself. So after we got out I told Haru I wanted to come back again, with my camera, in a couple of hours.

So we messed around in the room for a while, playing with the paper screens and recreating classic Bond movie opening scenes.


Then I went back, sure enough it was empty and I got to snap a few pictures - though the inside part was too steamy to capture anything.



The combination of the soft lights, whirling steam, hot mineral waters and cold snow outside made for a quite magical atmosphere.

We spent the night sleeping on futons on a tatami floor, and the next morning got a full Japanese breakfast too.


Then it was time to check out, and head back to Nagano city.


However as we had some time to spare there we decided to bring the weekend full circle by going back to the temple from the lantern festival, and seeing how different it seemed during the day.




One wonderful thing we found that we hadn't spotted during the night trip was a huge collection of small metal icons mounted in racks large frames.





Then it was time to get the first of the three trains needed to get home. Trip like this are exhausting, but worth it!

So, that's the Nagano Ken trip two part report finished, and now here's a quick trailer for 'Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind' to close as promised - though this trailer really doesn't do the film justice. Here it just looks like stuff blowing up, but the film is actually very thoughful with strong characters, emotional power and a great message as well. Highly recommended to everybody!

Posted by DKJM74 00:09 Comments (0)

Yuki Suki Saru

A trip to Nagano Ken Part 1

If you often watch wildlife documentaries then the chances are you’ve already seen the famous Japanese Snow Monkeys; lounging in the natural hot springs with a light dusting of fresh snow on their heads. I know I’d seen them on TV several times, and now having the chance to see them with my own eyes it seemed worth travelling the several hours required to get to Nagano Ken. So, with that in mind we set off about mid-day Friday for Nagano city (a local train to Kyoto, a Shinkansen to Nagoya and a Super-express train to Nagano).

The monkeys actually live another train ride out from the prefectural capital, but we were spending a night in Nagano city first to check out a local festival: for two nights parts of the old town are illuminated by candles and lanterns guiding visitors up the hill to the main temple.



Each building of the temple complex was also illuminated with huge lighting rigs in various colours; such as a strong red on the main gate or a yellow hue for the bell tower which was really atmospheric.



This was another nice example of a purely aesthetic ‘festival’, which does seem like a very Japanese way of doing things – there were also a lot of things on display recalling the time when Nagano hosted the Winter Olympics…. But having no interest in Sports whatsoever I didn’t take pictures of any of those things :-) Though I did snap a few random interesting things – like Haru getting her head eaten, a totally random London double-decker bus (converted to a small café) and a happy colon advertising… well, God knows what!


And my Patio (I didn't even know I had a Patio!).


The next morning we got on another train and headed out to Yamanouchi, which is a small place on the edge of the mountains.



Getting off the train the first thing you see is –


And you realise that apart from the hot onsen resorts and the Snow Monkeys there isn’t much to attract people here, which is why there are so many signs and references to the monkeys everywhere.


However, trains, buses and even the ‘Snow Monkey Taxi’ have their limits - and the last part of the route to the monkey park you have to walk.


As we got higher into the woods we began to see signs of both the hot springs and the monkeys.


and once you get into the actual park it’s really easy to get up close and personal with the monkeys.


The troop that goes to this onsen consists of about 200 monkeys, though I guess we saw less than half that number. They are free to roam, but come to the Onsen almost every day and are totally indifferent toward the many, many visitors; neither approaching them for food or running away unless you get really to close.

The downside of this is that the place isn’t as remote and wild as my romantic imagination had pictured it, the upside is that you can get some really good close up pictures (even if you are trying to work around all the other visitors). So, here is what you’ve been waiting for – Yuki Suki Saru (Snow loving monkeys!)




When we'd had enough of living monkeys, we had a quick look at the dead ones on display in the hut that served as ticket window, gift shop and small exhibition.


Then it was time to drive back to the hotel.... but there was a bit of snow on the car and Haru couldn't dig it out either....


... so we had to walk back again!


Luckily we had a night booked at a big local onsen resort ourselves so we could soak just like the monkeys... and I'll report about that next time :-)

Posted by DKJM74 00:34 Comments (0)

Lake Biwako Museum

Surprisingly good!

Today, just a brief update about a mini trip last weekend. I want this blogged as later today I'm leaving for a long weekend in Nagano Ken and and that'll be a big update when I get back (Festival, Snow monkeys and a nice Onsen - yay!)

So, Haru brought her car over this weekend, and I was hoping that I’d now be blogging about a full weekend road trip spectacular. However the weather was so bad on Saturday we never got beyond just peeping out from behind the curtains. Luckily, things picked up on Sunday and we managed to get across the lake and have a nice day trip at least.

One of the nice things about having a car is the freedom to stop and snap interesting things; like this small patch of land by the roadside full of elaborate stone carvings.


I’ve passed it a few times but never in a situation where I could ask the driver to stop, so I was happy to finally be able to take pictures of these. However, even Haru can’t stop for me to snap the cool road signs on the highway – so I had to do my best as we zipped past; but I did finally get a picture of the ‘Beware Monkeys Crossing’ sign (and a Tanuki crossing sign too; just about)!


The actual target for the day was the Lake Biwa Museum down in at the South-East corner edge of the lake. Despite sounding a bit uninspired (a Museum themed on the history of a lake) it’s actually a really good, well thought out place with a wide variety of exhibits.



(Yes, we are going to make the hard hat the must-have fashion accessory of the year!)

Some of the best exhibits were the display of recent pop culture history (including the original ‘Star Wars’ figures; the skinny ones I had when I was a boy, not the ones they produce now where Vadar looks like he’s addicted to steroids!)...


and there was also a really nice one recreating old style Japanese village houses.


There was also a big aquarium section focused on the watery denizens of Lake Biwa (and some other global fresh water lakes), and while they may not be as spectacular as their tropical seas cousins there were some really nice tanks.



In particular it was nice watching the lake birds diving for food and seeing them underwater.

We ended up spending a good three hours there and had a really fun time, the fact that so many things are presented in open, hands on, displays was a big plus; I poked just about everything I could. Any SHIGA JET’s reading this who haven’t been to the museum yet – I highly recommend it; they even have a nice free English mini-guide!! (I mean a phamphlet, not a dwarf who shows you around; though that would make it the best museum ever!)

There was also a nice little twist to this trip. When I got back to my school I told one of the science teachers about a exhibition of a light trap (for catching and studying insects) that I saw. It really interested me, and I want to try it in the spring with some students... making a light trap I mean, not attracting and trapping my students! Anyway, I thought Kurumi Sensei might be interested in helping me with a project like that, and he was is; but most interestingly when I finally managed to explain, with my bad Japanese, about seeing the light trap in the museum, it turns out he was actually involved in making that exhibit for the museum and is a respected entomologist!! So, come April were going to do a big bug hunt :-)

And 'a je to' (that's that) - except for one small thing; since the end of the year I've been meaning to link this video to my blog, but I keep forgetting. So, since my last day in Slovakia (back in June) I've been taking a self portrait snap everyday. So here's a condensed version of my first six months of self portraits covering everything in this blog so far; the sound track it the amazing Tom Waits... 'Big in Japan' of course :-)

Posted by DKJM74 16:07 Comments (0)

January Scapbook 2

So January has ended, and while it was a month that didn't have any big trips like December it did have some nice moments. Such as my trip to Tsuruga on the 23rd, which is a small coastal town at he opposite end of the local line from Kyoto.

The only reason for going there was that many local JETs do a monthly visit to the orphange there to play with the kids and give a bit of English exposure to kids who wouldn't get it otherwise. There are about 60 kids in the orphange and about 20 JETs turned up making for a great JET to kid ratio :-) Here's just a few of the folks who turned up -


We started off with group snow flake making activity.


But pretty soon this broke down into little groups doing different things.


And even sooner that broke down into kids climbing on you as much as they could...


I love the top right picture of Tyler being dragged away in that last one - it just begs for the caption 'And he was never seen again...' :-)

And while the kids loved the chance to play around and pose for photos...


I think the best photos from the day were the numerous ones taken by kids just running off with my camera and snapping away.


All in all it it was a fun, boisterous day that I'd be happy to do again (though next month I'll be away on the visit day.) The kids were all super genki (lively) and fun, though I did feel a bit sorry for the carers who'd have to deal with the hyped up masses after we all left :-)

The next weekend was glorious on the Saturday, which was great luck because the weather had been pretty miserable upto then and I'd arranged a hiking trip for the Saturday :-) The hike was kind of a fusion of two things I'd previously done - a walk up Hieizan to Enryaku-ji I did in August and the accidental night time hike I did with Bonnie and Connie. Though this time I was doing it all in planned and daylit manner with James and John.


The first stage was nice, easy but uneventful hiking until we made a quick stop at Enryaku-ji.



We all had a go at ringing the huge temple bell, which keeps putting out an amazing low frequency hum for ages after the inital strike - quite incrdible if you put your head close to it.



I also sneaked this photo inside the temple (where you shouldn't take pictures) - It's only of the floor, not the religious iconogaphy, but I just lowed the shadows :-)


After that the route took us past the old abandoned ski-lodge I'd seen with Connie and Bonnie, and with more light this time we couldn't resist a fuller search. The first thing that struck me was how obviously derelict it was, which hadn't been so clear in the half light before.


The roof is really falling apart in the equipment store, but the sheer volume of stuff left behind is staggering.


We also found that the other areas were open and easily accessible as well, so we saw the kitchens, dining room and offices too. Incredibly there's still running water and electricity connected though several wall calanders testify it's about 8 years since the place was in use.



Now you might thing that this is a rare occurance, and that something special must have happened to make the owners abandon this place with so much stuff inside - but barely five minutes walk down the path was saw this place through the trees -


Another building, older perhaps and more traditionally Japanese, but again packed full of skis. One side of the building was just hanging open so that the contents were clealy visible and yet there they were piled on top of each other - skis, skis and more skis!!


So if you want some free skis, you know where to go!

From there it was the same long winding path I almost died on in the dark in November. During the day it's a lot quicker and more scenic, though it did make me marvel that we didn't end up with even one broken limb between us last time.


And that was the hike - one high point was the various super cute signs warning against the dangers of forest fires...


and another was the second hand shop we passed on the way home full of all kinds of wonderful trash...


including another stuffed Tanuki; but this time as a golfer! (Well, Tanuki are suposed to have shape shifting powers and the ability to disguise themselves as humans!)


The next day was the last day of January and to finish with a flourish Haru and I went iceskating :-)


Neither of us had been on iceskates for sometime - but it kind of came back, and was good clean fun... but here's the spooky thing; remember what I said about Tanuki being able to take human form and disguise themselves as people... well maybe they still do that, and just maybe this is one who forget to hide his tail....


You never know Japan can be a spooky kind of place :-)

Posted by DKJM74 00:49 Comments (2)

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