Monday, January 25, 2010

Hungry Koi

48 Hours. 223 of 600

Koi is the Japanese name for Carp. They were introduced from China about 500 years ago primarily as a food source.

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Around 1820 they began to breed them for color variations and there are now dozens of distinct varieties.

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A few years back our river flooded and when the waters receded some koi were left stranded in the rice paddies so our neighbor gave us one to eat, but it is not a pleasant flavor.

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Saturday, January 23, 2010

The seven bridges of Daiwa.

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Daiwa Town is a collection of villages along the middle reaches of the Gonokawa River. With the recent spate of consolidations it is now considered part of Misato-cho.

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It's a pretty area, and other than a couple of onsens there are no tourist attractions. We go up there sometimes to visit a potter friend whose work can be seen here.

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Seven bridges cross the Gonokawa within the town boundary, and these bridges form the design for the towns manhole covers.

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Here are some photos of just a couple of them.

Friday, January 22, 2010

What big ears you have!

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Pairs of fox (kitsune) statues are common throughout Japan, as they are the guardians of Inari shrines. There is a massive diversity of styles and designs, and I have seen some pretty strange ones, but never any with ears like this!

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They are at a small Inari shrine within the grounds of a temple in Takahashi, Okayama.

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Kitakyushu International Conference Center

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The Kitakyushu International Conference Center is located in the old port area a 10 minute walk from Kokura train station.

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It was opened in 1990 and was designed by Arata Isozaki.

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Isozaki was born not far from Kokura in Oita, and at 78 years old is the current grand master of Japanese architecture with prestigous building all over the world.

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This is not one of his better known buildings, but I found interesting enough with its combination of curves and angles.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Concrete Tree

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Josen-Ji, the temple from yesterdays post has a most unusual piece of art. A concrete Giant Cedar!!!

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The Hamada Expressway passes overhead, and one of the massive support pillars was built on the temple property, so they decided to decorate it. The original idea was to paint a tree onto the pillar, but for various reasons it was considered impractical, so instead they chose to cast a relief onto the pillar. The priest told me how much it cost, but I forget except it was a huge sum.

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

New Komainu, Old Dragon

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For many years I only visited shrines, not temples. I think I got into this habit whenI first came to japan and lived in Kyoto where the temples charged admission prices and shrines didn't.

I recent years I have started to enjoy the art on offer at local temples, like Josen-Ji, in Ichiki.

The main hall had been recently rebuilt, so the wood was fresh. Its unusual to see Komainu, alternatively called shishi, this color.

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The temple has one of the top 3 temple gates in Iwami, and this has old weathered wood. This is the standard dragon carvibg found on many temples and shrines.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Mt Fuji with dragons.

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I spend as much time as I can wandering the back roads of Japan exploring. I pay a visit to every shrine I pass. As well as being a place to learn about the history and mmyths of a place, shrines are also like art galleries. There are statues, and carvings, often gardens, and sometimes paintings, like this exquisite one I discovered at Ichiki Shrine up in the mountains.

The design, of dragons and Mt Fuji, is one that is thought to bring good luck.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Concrete Wabi sabi: Tetrapods part 2

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A further look at Japan's favorite construction material... concrete!

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I heard an interesting statistic yesterday from an architect who described concrete as a very environmentally unfriendly building material. He said that 10% of all the carbon dioxide emissions on the planet come from the production of cement.

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There are some wonderful sections of coastline in Japan, viewable by boat, but too much of it is concreted over. Often I am reminded of the coastal defences built along the English and French coasts during WWII.

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The entrance to any harbor is often now a maze of concrete breakers.

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The rivers too are lined with concrete making them more like drains than living rivers. There is an environmental biologist working around Lake Biwa who is responsible for concrete being taken out from the lakeside as it destroys the ecosystem.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Isotake Guro

Monday was Tondo Matsuri in my village, but it was cold and rainy so we gave it a miss. Photos from last years Tondo can be seen here.

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Instead we went up the coast a little to the fishing village of Isotake where they have a version of Tondo Matsuri that is unique in all of Japan. For their Tondo they erect a 10m wide bamboo structure called a "Guro".

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You may think it looks very Mongolian, and you would be right as it is acknowledged that its roots are from the mainland. This area has a strong connection to the mainland through the korean kingdom of Sila. A few kilometres away is the spot where Susano and his son Isotake arrived here from Korea. The shrine behind the Guro recounts how many local "kami" travelled back and forth with Susano to the mainland to learn skills.

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The structure is built almost completely out of bamboo, covered with mats. Inside fire burn and the villagers gather for the next 4 days.

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The tall central bamboo, similar to other tondo matsuris, is for the kami Toshitokujin, the kami of the new year, to descend into the guro. Toshitokujin, like much that is called shinto now, has its roots in Daoism.

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Over the fires mochi is toasted. It was freezing outside but very warm inside.

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On friday the guro, along with all the new years ornaments, will be ceremonially burned as with other Tondo matsuri's.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Omiki by the One Cup.

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Omiki is the name given to sake that is left on altars as offerings to the Kami.

At major shrines it will be donated by the barrel. At most shrines it will be donated by the bottle.

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At small wayside shrines (Hokora) or secondary shrines (Sessha) in the grounds of main shrines, the Omiki is left by the "One Cup".

Put on the market in 1964, to coincide with the opening of the Tokyo Olympics, the Ozeki Sake Company's "One Cup Sake" came in a small jar holding 180ml. Other companies soon followed suit.

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The size was based on a traditional measure of rice or sake, the "go", which was a small wooden box with an interior volume of roughly 180ml.

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Obviously, some kami prefer other beverages, like cafe au lait....

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.. or shochu cocktails.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Winter in the village

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It's early days yet, but the stinkbugs prediction of heavy snow this winter has not materialized yet. We are getting a lot of snow, but its melting pretty soon after falling. Hotei, sitting outside our front door doesn't seem to mind the snow.

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My neighbours tea doesn't seem to mind the snow either.

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The village rice paddies with my garden in the foreground. Won't be working in the garden today. I don't mind.

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My favorite viewpoint over the Gonokawa, about 1k upstream from my house.

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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Round Windows: looking in (modern)

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The last post, for a while at least, on circular windows in Japan. These are in Milky Way Hall in Gotsu.

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This one is at the local aquarium, Aquas.

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These are the doors to the Treasure House/ Storeroom of a shrine in Yamaguchi City. Gandalf or Dumbledore or Santa is being watched by a komainu

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This one is at the Contemporary Art Museum in Hiroshima City.

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And another one from Aquas

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