Thursday, April 30, 2009

Aimi Town, Tottori. Persimmons & Haniwa

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Aimi Town, located west of Mount Daisen in Tottori, became subsumed under Nambu Town a few years ago. The local draincover shows persimmons and a haniwa. The area is known for its large type of persimmon, and one of the highlights of the local matsuri is a persimon-seed spitting competition.

Haniwa are clay figures that were placed around large tombs, and this area of Tottori has a large number of smaller kofun (burial mounds), indicating that this was quite an important political center in ancient times.

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Many of the myths and stories connected with Okuninushi are set in this part of the country. At one shrine a a large rock is revered that legend has killed Okuninushi. Apparently he had 80 brothers (or step-brothers) known as the Yasogami, and they were constantly trying to do Okuninushi harm. In this story they told Okuninushi to wait at this spot while they went up the mountain to drive down a wild boar. They then heated a large rock until it was red hot and rolled it down the mountain. Okuninushi, somehow seeing a large red boulder as a wild boar, grabbed the rock and was of course burned to death. Not to worry though as his mother interceded with the kami and had him brought back to life.

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Further stories of ancient times links another shrine with one of the early mythical emperors, and at a shrine to this emperor there are some wonderful carved reliefs on the shrine buildings.

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I saw this rather incongruous pairing at a nearby temple that had hundreds of memorials to dead children.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Colorful Koi

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For the past week or two the Koi have been erected throughout Japan in anticipation of Children's Day on May 5th. The koi are erected by families with sons as the koi represent strength and endurance.

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Just upstream from us the town of Sakurae strings 2 lines of koi across the river at the site of the years most important matsuri, the Suijin Matsuri, which is held on May 5th.

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Most koi though can be found in small groups flying from poles outside peoples houses.

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To underscore that it's really Boy's Day, not Children's Day, some people put up banners with the koi,or sometimes instead of the koi. The banners display famous warriors and warlords. This one has Ieyasu, Hideyoshi, and Nobunaga, among others.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Typical Japanese Landscape 19

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Most Japanese have lived along the coasts or on the plains, but there have always been some who lived deep in the mountains. The above shot is near Yasaka in Iwami. Iwami has no plains, so more people have traditionally lived in the mountains, but the number is decreasing.

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This shot is from central Shikoku.

The people I have met while walking in the mountains have always been a little friendlier than most Japanese. Maybe I'm projecting, but they also seem to be a little more independant.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

April harvest. Takenoko, bamboo shoots

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It's takenoko season!! The shoots of new Giant Bamboo are now poking up from the ground and free food is to be had for the taking.

The best time to harvest is early morning following a rain. Look for shoots no more than a few centimetres in height. Any bigger and they are too tough.

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Dig out the soil around the shoots down about 10 cms and cut. Most Japanese use a Japanese pick which has a sharp blade on one side, but I used a small hatchet with no trouble. The above photo is about 20 minutes worth of work.

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Strip away the outer layers and trim the base and tips.

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Preparation should be done as soon after harvesting as possible as the shoots quickly become tough and bitter. Before cooking the shoots need some preparation. Most people boil the shoots in water with nuka (rice bran) and a few red peppers, though if you can't easily get rice bran then boiling the shoots and changing the water twice works as well to remove the acridity.

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Once drained and washed the shoot can now be cooked. Takenoko can be made into pickles, takenoko gohan, rice cooked with bamboo shoots, is also popular, but a good way is to boil the shoots in a mixture of water, soy sauce, sake, and fish stock.

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My favorite way to use them is in Thai curry,.... a little to spicy for most japanese. Tonights supper.... made with eggplants, tomatoes and peppers out of the freezer from last years garden. There is no doubt that the tastiest food is free food!!!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

NTT Docomo, Chugoku Head Office

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Located in Nishi-ku, Hiroshima City, these are the regional offices for NTT Docomo.

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I've been unable to find out who the architect is, but I have seen other NTT buildings with similar stylistic elements, so I suspect it is part of a cookie-cutter corporate design.

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Passed by there twice, and on each occasion was able to take a few snaps that pleased me.

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Friday, April 24, 2009

Gozamai. The mat dance. Izumo Kagura



I have only ever seen this dance twice, and both times it was by the Ichiyama Kagura Group at an Omoto Kagura performance.

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The dance is performed by a single dancer, and begins with the rolled-up mat in one hand and bells in the other. Later the mat is unfurled and the dancer steps backwards and forwards through it then wraps himself in it and spins around. As the dance progresses the pace increases.

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The dance originates from Sada Shrine up in Izumo, where the dance is performed once a year as part of replacing of the mats in the shrine.

Sada Shrine, one of the 3 most important shrines in Izumo before the ascendency of Izumo Taisha in the late Heian Period, is the home of Izumo kagura, one of 3 or 4 styles of kagura in Japan. It is generally believed that Iwami Kagura is derived from Izumo kagura.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Jitensha. Japanese bicycles in groups.

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The Japanese bicycle can sometimes be seen alone, but more often they will be found in groups. Rental bicycles will often be found in pairs, and it is suspected that romance is the cause.

Actually many tourist towns have bicycles to rent and they are a great way to get around. The above pair who spotted in Hagi, Yamaguchi Prefecture, a particularly good place for cycling as the tourist sites are scattered over the whole town.

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These rental bikes in Iwami Ginzan, Japan's newest World heritage Site, come with matching umbrellas, though it is now against the law to cycle while holding an umbrella.

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Foreigners riding bicycles will often be stopped by the police. This is not racial profiling, simply responding to common sense as foreigners are the main cause of crime in Japan! These rental bikes in Taisha Town, Izumo, are clearly marked with large numbers therefore informing the police that they are probably ridden by tourists and therefore don't need to be stopped and checked,... just watched carefully. *(see note below)

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It is commonly believed that japanese bicycles sleep standing up, but as this photo shows they will lay down and take a nap sometimes when in the safety of the group.

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Most Japanese bicycles do though sleep standing up, and bicycle capsule hotels can be found at most railway stations.

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However, if you want to see really huge herds of japanese bicycles, the place to go is any large shopping mall.

* note: ... sarcasm on my part. The crime rate among foreigners in Japan is slightly less than the crime rate for japanese, but the perception among Japanese, fueled by media, police, and government, is that it is much higher. I conducted an informal survey among Japanese aquaintances and they guessed a foreign crime rate of between 60% to 25%. The actual rate is 2%.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Three Lights Shrine

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This is not a mosque, but a shrine. The symbol is of the three kami enshrined at Mihashinoyama Shrine on Sangaisan, at 378 metres the highest mountain overlooking Hamada.

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The three kami are Amaterasu, represented as the sun, Tsukiyomi, the kami of the moon, and Susano represented as a star,.... the three lights.

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There are actually 3 shrines on the mountaintop, lower, middle, and upper. The middle shrine, shown above, contains the main buildings, and is in the style of the meiji era, so I suspect that the attribution of the 3 kami occurred at that time. Prior to that the 3 kami were known as Gongen, buddhist manifestations of Japanese kami.

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The most common version of the story of the creation of the 3 kami is from the Kojiki, when Izanagi fled from visiting his dead wife, Izanami, in the underworld, Yomi. While ritually purifying himself in a stream, Amaterasu, Tsukiyomi, and Susano are expelled from Izanagi's eyes and nose.

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In the Kojiki version of the myths, thats the last we hear of Tsukiyomi, and there are very few shrines to him in Japan. I've never come across another shrine where all 3 of the kami are represented in the same way as here.

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The mountaintop shrine was known as a place to view sunrise, and a place to pray for safety on sea journeys and for fishing.

There are great views looking down over Hamada as well as down the coast and also inland.

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Its possible to drive to within a few hundred meters of the shrine, and there is a footpath up the mountain that starts behind the University.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The gardens

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There is not a lot to harvest this month, a little spinach, the last of the cabbage, spring onions, and a sack of carrots. Mostly this month is planting and weeding!

The top photo is our village garden. It was constructed with landfill, and was very poor quality. For six years we have been taking out rocks, and now stones, and adding chickenshit, ash from the woodstove, compost, and ricehusks, and therefore the quality of the soil has improved. In the photo you can see potatoes, green onions, carrots, regular onions, a few peas, garlic, lima beans, and some new cabbage and cauliflower.

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About half a kilometer away is our riverside garden. It's actually our neighbors land but she is too old to use it so lets us have it rather than see it go to waste. The soil is soft and rich. a couple of years ago the river flooded and took out everything except some sweet potatoes, but in return left a layer of fresh, fertile silt. At the moment it is planted with potatoes, lima beans, onions, garlic, and very young carrots.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Spring color

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It was a nice sunny day today, so I took my camera with me when I walked to my garden.

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Friday, April 17, 2009

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