Thursday, December 30, 2010

Takachiho Gorge

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This manhole cover is one from the town of Takachiho in Miyazaki Prefdecture, Kyushu.

Takachiho is famous as being the place where the myths of Japan have the ancestors of the Imperial family descending from "The High Plain of Heaven" and beginning their invasion and subjugation of Japan.

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The design of this draincover shows the Takachiho Gorge, cut by the Gokase River through the volcanic basalt rock.

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In the middle of the gorge is the Minainotaki waterfall that drops 17 meters into the river.

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It is possible to rent little rowboats, 1,000 yen for 10 minutes, and paddle around in a tiny roped-off section of the river, but it does allow the best views of the falls.

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The place is very, very popular with a constant stream of tour buses arriving and disgorging thousands of tourists. When I got back I learned from friends that Takachiho is considered a "Powaa Spotto".

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One may think that this equates to what we might call a Power Spot, but with a little research I found something curious about Japanese Powaa Spottos. I would think of a power spot as say Sedona, Lourdes, the Pyramids,... places connected to the earths energy that transcend the country they are found in. But is seems for the Japanese it is a little different. Many of the Japanese powaa spottos; Takachiho, Izumo Taisha, Meiji Shrine, etc, are all places intimately connected with the State and Emperor System. Places that do no transcend the country they are in. They are political. As if Abraham Lincolns grave was a power spot, or the beach Columbus first landed on.

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Anyway, Takachiho Gorge is really quite pretty. especially when the sunlight penetrates the gorge and illuminates the spray from the falls.

There is a path that runs along the gorge for about 600 meters.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Ketsuwake Shrine

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Ketsuwake ( or Kitsuwake) Shrine is located at the head of a valley running east out of Asuka in a village called Kamura.

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The area is known for an old legend concerning Kamatari Nakatomi, who, after having his rival Iruka Soga assassinated was chased by Soga's disembodied head. For some reason he believed that he would be safe here. In the mountains above the village is Tanzan Shrine, the site of where the plot against the Soga was hatched.

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There are 2 hondens at the shrine. The larger one belongs to Ketsuwake no mikoto, who would be the local village god. The second honden was built in the Meiji era and is a branch of Kasuga Shrine, enshrining Ame no Koyane, the mythical ancestor of the Nakatomi clan who since Kamatari were given the family name Fujiwara.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Fukuoka Dome

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The Dome in Fukuoka was renamed after a prominent internet company, but I don't see why I should give them free advertising so I use its original name of Fukuoka Dome.

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Built in 1993 as the first of a planned pair of domes it was the first dome in Japan to feature a retractable roof, and with a diameter of 222 meters it was also the biggest indoor stadium in Japan.

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The dome is home to the local pro baseball team "The Hawks" as well as hosting large scale concerts.

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The twelve thousand ton retractable roof only opens after a win by the home baseball team and takes a full 20 minutes to completely open.

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The Dome is located on the seafront in the Hawks Town area and is situated next to the Seahawk Hotel, which will be the next architecture post.....

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Hanya Masks of Kunisaki

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I did manage to find a few example of Hanya masks at the shrines on the Kunisaki Peninsular in Kyushu. Male demons were far more common though.

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I have written earlier about hanya masks and what little is known about their meaning.
That, and some earlier posts with my hanya masks are here

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I was fortunate to quite by chance meet up with a mask maker while there. He carved his masks in the traditional way and the standard hanya was one of his mainstays.

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Giant Japanese Toad

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I nearly trod on this when I went out to check some seedlings a few weeks ago.
It made no attempt to flee so I went inside to get my camera....

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It was huge, half a kilo I would guess. I am almost certain it is a female Western Japanese Common Toad, Nihon Hiki Gaeru, Bufo Japonicus Japonicus.

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Yoko reckoned it was an Ushi Gaeru, a Cow Frog, but that is the name of the American Bullfrog that was introduced into Japan in the early Twentieth Century as a source of protein.

A photo of one of those can be seen here

Monday, December 20, 2010

Vacation 2010 Day 12: Paddington Station

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After a day in Cambridge I headed into London to catch the sleeper train down to Cornwall from Paddington Station.

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Built in 1854 and designed by the great Isombard Kingdom Brunel who designed much of what used to be called the Great Western Railway. At night the place looked pretty impressive, though I'm sure caked in soot like it used to be in the age of steam it would look somewhat different.

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I was looking forward to the sleeper. As far as I can remember I have never been on a sleeper in Britain, though I did spend a night on a Russian sleeper from East Berlin to Sweden and had enjoyed that.

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I used to catch this same sleeper train every week from Exeter down to Truro but just had a seat for that short, last leg of its journey.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Monkey Stones

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These 4 statues, located now at the tomb known as Kibitsuhime Kofun in Asuka, are known as Saruishi, Monkey Stones, as their faces somewhat resemble monkeys.

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They were dug up in a field next to nearby Kinmei Kofun in the Edo Period, and may be what a 16th Century book referred to as demon statues located on the kofun.

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There are numerous theories as to what they are and what they mean, but the bottom line is nobody knows.

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They do bear a similarity to some other statues on the Korean peninsular, and the area around Asuka was known to be settled by many immigrant clans.

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Their are many other mysterious stone objects in the Asuka area which also are unknown in their meaning or origin.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Oharetsu Mountain shrines

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When I am planning my walks I usually spend quite a lot of time studying maps. I usuallu use a combination of Google maps and the Japanese geologic survey map

One of the things I look for are shrines that cannot be reached by car. For some reason I think that such places are likely to be more traditional, less likely to have been modernized, so some years ago when I was planning a walk in the Asuka area I was intrigued by 3 shrines up the northern slope of Mount Oharetsu.

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The path begins off a narrow mountain road between the settlements of Kitayama and Imaidani which lie in the mountains east of Asuka.

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The red color of the Torii is intiguing. Red torii usually indicate either an Imperial connected shrine or an Inari shrine. Usually, but not always. I have seen Atago shrines and Ebisu shrines with red torii.

There was nothing at any of the three shrines to indicate Inari, and if it was an Imperial shrine it would probably be listed in the Engi Shiki, a tenth century document, and I could not find them listed. There was no signboards or nameboards at any of the three, so I know absolutely nothing about them

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This is something I have never seen before. Cutouts of tools used by forest workers. Obviously the people up here made their living from the forest, and as tools, until recently anyway, are considered to have their own spirit, they are obviously used in some ceremonial or ritual way. If any reader can shed any light on it I would appreciate it.

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The path still existed and was not too overgrown, so the shrines were not abandoned, but probably not visited very often.

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As can be seen from the photos, the forest on this mountainside seems to have been planted no more than 30 years ago, and is a typical post-war tree farm.

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Friday, December 17, 2010

Japanese Camels

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Well of course there is no such thing as a Japanese Camel, and as far as I can find out there never has been.

These first two photos are of the Bactrician Camel, now native to Mongolia and part of China, though their prehistoric origin was probably North America.


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These live in neighboring Tottori at the prefectures most well known tourist site, the Tottori Sand Dunes, where they give tourists short rides in the sand.

Before I came to Japan, knowing how much I loved the desert my wife tried to convince me that Japan did in fact have a small desert. Tottori sand dunes is what she meant!

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There was also a Dromedary or Arabian Camel.

When i was a kid we used to ride camels at the zoo, and one time some years ago I did get up before dawn and ride a camel out into the Sahara to watch sunrise from the top of dunes similar to the ones here in Tottori.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Okayama Castle

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Okayama Castle was originally built between 1575 and 1597.

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The main keep (donjon) was destroyed by bombs in 1945.

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The current concrete reconstruction was completed in 1966.

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With its black color it earned the nickname Crow Castle.

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Kaminoseki Bridge

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This draincover is from the town of Kaminoseki, a group of small villages scattered over a small peninsular on the south coast of Yamaguchi Prefecture. The bridge depicted connects the peninsular with Nagashima one of the small islands included in the town. The fish do not appear to be happy.

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The bridge was constructed in 1969 and is 180 meters long and sits 23 meters above the sea.

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Nagashima is where a new nuclear power station is under contruction, against the wishes of most of the local inhabitants. Iwaishima, the small island opposite the construction site is very opposed to the construction and for years the old fishermen of the island been practising non-violent civil disobedience using tactics similar to those used by Sea Shepherd in the campaign against Japanese "research" whaling in the Antarctic.

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Whereas the Sea Shepherd campaign gets plenty of media coverage in Japan, instances of civil disobedience within Japan is virtually ignored by Japanese media. More information can be found here

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