Monday, August 31, 2009

Monsters in the garden

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Found a whole bunch of these critters under some rotting wood.

I gave them to a friend's sons, because they ( the critters, not the boys) turn into.....

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...one of the most popular pets for young boys in Japan, Kabuto Mushi.

It's the biggest beetle in Japan, and Kabuto means "samurai helmet".

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In English we call them Rhinocerous Beetle.

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I found this monster after it had eaten half of one of my tomato plants. We get a few every year, but this one was the biggest I've seen,... it was as long as my hand. If it was in the U.S. it would become a Luna Moth. Not sure what they become here.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

2009 Ichiyama Kids kagura festival



We went over to Ichiyama last night for the annual Kids Kagura Festival. Each year there are fewer and fewer kids performing. Partly thats due to the village losing population to the cities, but a friend suggested that because Ichiyama still dances the older, slower 6-beat style that some kids from the village dance with other groups that dance the more exciting 8-beat. I think it is due to the commitments that Japanese kids have to their school clubs and brutal exam system. Japanese kids get very little free time nowadays.

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The video is from the Iwato dance. Koyane, mythical ancestor of the Nakatomi, who became the Fujiwara, and Futotama, mythical ancestor of the Imbe Clan, perform rituals, unsuccessfully, to entice Amaterasu out of the cave.

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Uzume's dance, considered to be the mythical origin of all kagura, is successful in enticing the hidden sun out of her cave.

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The arrival of the demon,... here in the Hachiman dance, is always fun!

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As usual we had a very enjoyable time.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

An umbrella at Matsuo Shrine

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Just 4 shots of a red Japanese umbrella I saw at Matsuo Shrine near Kyoto.

My favorite is the last one.

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A morning at Matsuo Shrine 4558


A morning at Matsuo Shrine 4559

Friday, August 28, 2009

Looking down on mom.

One of the reasons our Turkey trip was so cheap, I think, is because we flew with Uzbekistan Airways. After spending 4 hours in the middle of the night in the holding tank that is Tashkent Airport Transit Lounge, the leg of our flight to Istanbul flew over some amazing country.

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Not sure what they are mining here in the middle of the desert.

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Another very noticeable man-made mark upon the earth.

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Whenever I travel I spend the whole time with my nose stuck to the window. I was lucky enough to have a window seat, clear skies, and low light of the early morning.

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I think these very high mountains were in Georgia.

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Another mine, this time in Turkey

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The suburbs of Istanbul.

To see the whole sequence of 42 photos, please click below

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Izumo Dome. The biggest wooden building in Japan.

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Depending on how you define "biggest" or "largest", then the Izumo Dome is the biggest wooden building in Japan. Most sources give the biggest wooden building in the WORLD as the Great Hall housing the Buddha at Todai-Ji in Nara, but the Izumo Dome is a little taller, and has a larger base area, but because of its shape it contains a smaller volume than Todai-Ji.

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Anyway, its a pretty impressive structure. Built in 1992, and designed by the Kajima Corporation, it stands more than 49 metres high and has a diameter of 143 metres.

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The design is modelled on a Japanese umbrella, and the translucent skin means no artificial lighting is needed during the daytime. It doesn't actually get used much as there are no pro sports team in the area, and most days a 200yen entrance fee will get you inside to look around.

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Its located about 10k from Izumo Station, not too far from Izumo taisha, close the the Kitayama mountains.

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Notes on a Japanese package tour.

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Back in July we went on an 8 day package tour of Turkey. It was very much a spur of the moment thing, I've never felt any draw to Turkey, but we saw an ad in the paper and the price was so low that we took it.

I've been on a package tour before,... a 200k, 10 day trek across the Moroccan desert,... but I suspected this would be a different kettle of fish.

I was hoping for a vacation where I wouldn't have to do any thinking or make any decisions, and I got what I hoped for.

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There were 38 of us in the group, A Japanese guide who spoke reasonable English but no Turkish, a Turkish guide who spoke fluent Japanese and English, 2 young couples ( I include Yoko and myself in that definition hah!), several retired couples, a couple of grandmas with grandaughters in tow (no grandsons), but the biggest demographic group was young women. Sisters, colleagues, friends.

The tour was gruelling! More than 3,000k in 6 days, so most of the time was spent on the bus. This enabled most of the group to engage in what seems to be the prime activity for Japanese on vacation... sleeping!

We hit several sightseeing spots each day, though only a brief time was allotted for the sightseeing as the more important activity, and the one that took at least as much time as the actual sightseeing, was shopping!

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The shopping was done in State-run showrooms, and we were ushered in to airconditioned spaces, given refreshments, and then treated to a entertaining "performance" in perfect Japanese before being descended upon by a horde of salespersons, all of whom spoke japanese. The items were all expensive,... carpets, turquopise jewelery, fashionable leather clothes, etc

The hotels were all excellent, some luxury, several resort-style with mostly foreign groups, and a nice seaside resort with mostly Turkish tourists. Most hotel staff spoke a little Japanese, and of course English.

The food was fine. Most breakfasts and dinners at the hotels were buffets, so plenty to choose from and no need to go hungry. Lunches and some of the dinners were in restaurants, and the portions were rather small and tended towards the Japanese palate. I know the Turks eat rice and fish, but I don't believe they eat it as often as we were served it. My gripe about the food was that we never got to eat donner kebab, though every restaurant served it.

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One of the most striking memories was while we were visiting Ephesus. There were thousands of tourists crammed into this World Heritage site, and I lost count of the number of different languages I heard. It was a hot day, and there were lots of halter tops, shorts, and a few men topless. The Japanese group were easy to spot. Covered from head to foot, long sleeved, gloves, hats, sunglasses, amd topped off with umbrellas. No chance of any deadly rays from Amaterasu piercing through to flesh.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

What's all the noise about?

No, this is not going to be a rant about the loudspeaker vans passing through the village electioneering right now. Actually we don't get them very often, and being surrounded on 3 sides by mountains mean the slogans echo and reverberate and kind of sound like a Charles Ives piece.

And I'm not talking about the hot-dogging, top gun watching, U.S. airforce jets that scream overhead just above the trees.... though what a huge waste of resources they are......

I'm talking about these guys....

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...Cicadas, or "semi" in Japanese.

Just as the frogs quite down they are replaced by the calls of the cicada. By now they have reduced their sound to a random buzzing, but when they first start up they start up in unison. It can be quite eerie, standing in the garden when suddenly all the cicadas in a few hundred metres of forest start up simultaneously.

There are about 30 different species of cicada in Japan, and they have long been celebrated in song and poem. The sound of the cicada used in a movie ( or drawn in a manga "nim nim nim") lets the viewer know the setting is the heat of the summer.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Anasenimasu Shrine

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Anasenimasu Shrine, or Anashiniimasu in its alternate reading, is one of the oldest shrines in Yamato, and yet little is known for sure about it,... most references to it include lots of "maybe"'s.

It's located up the valley a little behind the Sumo Shrine, just off the Yamanobenomichi, and seems to be connected to Emperor Suinin.

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The 3 kami housed in the unusual triple honden are Hyouzugami, Wakamitama, and Daihyouzu. Each is associated with the imperial regalia, the sword, mirroe, and jewels.

Some sources equate the 3 with Susano, Kushinadahime, and Onamuchi, 3 Izumo kami.

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The main kami, Hyouzu is believed to be the ancient Chinese god, Chi-You, considered to be the ancestor of the Han chinese as well as the Koreans. He was a god of war with associations with metal and weapons, and to have had an Ox's head. Interesting that Susano, in Izumo at least, is associated with metal and weapons, and came to be equated with Gozutenno, the Oxhead king originally a Hindu god, but brought into Japan through Korea. Gozutenno is the original kami at the shrine now known as Yasaka in Gion.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Red hats.

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Red hats on statues are fairly common throughout Japan, and often accompanied by red bibs.

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It is said that the red caps on Jizo statues represent the amniotic sac, but the most common explanation for them is that red is the color that drives away disease and sickness.

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Making the hats and bibs for the statues is in a sense an act of prayer.

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All of these photos were taken at Mitakidera, a temple in the hills just outside downtown Hiroshima. It is my favorite site to visit in Hiroshima.

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In a rock nook behind the spring above the temple even the snake representing the kami of water is hatted.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Scarcity and surplus.

Every year the garden is different. Some veggies grow better some years than others. It depends somewhat on timing, but more importantly on that enormous set of environmental factors that we call the weather.

This year has seen some unusual weather in this area. July was the wettest July in over 50 years. It was also the July with the least amount of sunshine.

The word is that many types of vegetables are going to be pricier this year. I expect to see lots of cheap Chinese veggies relabelled as expensive domestic produce.

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Compared to our neighbors we have done well for pumpkins/squash this year. We will end up with more than 50 of them, and they store well through the winter. These are a cross between the Japanese kabucha and a butternut squash. The butternut is tastier ( to my palate) and the kabucha is bigger, so they are a nice balance. They make great soup, and of course pumpkin pie.

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The other crop that finally came on recently were the tomatoes. I plant a lot of plants and let them run wild. A lot of fruit gets damaged by the rain, and the crows take some, but still we have enough to need to process them every few days. These are jars of home-made ketchup. Incomparable to factory-made stuff. We also can a lot of pizza sauce.

The strange weather was good for one crop this year... zuccini! usuall the zuccini plants are eaten and killed by a little orange bug by the end of June, but this year the bugs didn't arrive until just recently, so I had my best ever zuccini harvest. Now if only the damn eggplants will fruit I will be able to can gallons of ratatoille.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Obon in Gion

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Just got back from a couple of days in Kyoto.

It's Obon season, and we were up visiting Yoko's family in Gion.

Last night we went up the hill behind Gion to visit the cemetery at the temple called Otani-san where Yoko has some family buried. The cemetery is all lit up with lanterns.

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About half the crowds there were visitng and washing family tombstones, and the other half were tourists taking photos and enjoying the view over the city. There seemed to be more tourists than usual in Kyoto, probably there for the Daimonji fires that will be lit tomorrow night.

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The long path leading up to the temple from behind yasaka Shrine is lined with lanterns.

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Down around the main temple buildings all the lanterns were painted by local children.

Apparently Shinran, the founder of the True Pure Land sect has his tomb here.

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