Monday, June 29, 2009

NTT Docomo, Chugoku Head Office, Yamaguchi City

One day in Yamaguchi City 5968

Yamaguchi City is a prefectural capital, but it is the smallest in Japan, and has a feel more like a large town rather than a city.

One day in Yamaguchi City 5970

There is very little in the way of modern architecture other than a cluster of NTT buildings.

One day in Yamaguchi City 5972

Yamaguchi City does have lots of interesting places to visit though.

One day in Yamaguchi City 5973

I've been a bit lax with posting recently as I have been really busy. The onset of the rains means I should have more time now ....

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Nichihara Town

A  walk from Tsuwano to Masuda 7124

This is the second manhole cover design from the small town of Nichihara (now merged with Tsuwano) in western Shimane. The first design is here. Nichihara is home to an observatory, built in 1985, it had one of the largest lenses in japan, but is no longer very popular.

A  walk from Tsuwano to Masuda 7131

There are lots of old. decaying buildings,....

A  walk from Tsuwano to Masuda 7132

...and the streams running into the Takatsu River are well controlled, but not home to much wildlife...

Nearby is the largest tree in Shimane

Friday, June 26, 2009

Typical Japanese Landscape 23


This is a view looking up the valley of Ato Town in northern Yamaguchi, not far from Tsuwano.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Sumo Shrine. The legendary origin of Sumo


This small shrine, located a little off the yamanobenomichi in Sakurai, Nara, is the legendary site of the first Sumo match between humans. The mythical origin of Sumo is in a contest between kami in Izumo. Izumo features in the legendary origin too, as the Sumo Shrine enshrines a man from Izumo, Nomi no Sukune, who was the victor in this first bout.

The story is set during the reign of the Great King Suinin who ruled over Yamato during the early 4th Century. There was a braggard named Kuehaya who lived over in Taima, across the Nara Plain at the northern end of the Katsuragi Mountains, who claimed that he was the strongest man in the world. Suinin heard that in Izumo was a man who was stronger, so Suinin invited Sukune to come and fight Kuehaya.


Sukune easily defeated Kuehaya, who died by having his ribs broken and his testicles smashed. I would guess that if contemporary Sumo went back to the traditional rules it would probably reverse its decline in popularity. In return for victory Sukune was given Kuehaya's land and invited to stay in Yamato and serve Suinin. Kuehaya and his fellows became the first makers of Haniwa.

Postscript: It seems there is some kind of unwritten law in Japanese media that forbids the use of the word "sumo" without prefacing it with the phrase "Japan's ancient sport of...". I guess that is to distinguish Sumo from the really, really, really, ancient sports of Roman wresting or Greek wrestling.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009



I've passed this building hundreds of times, and with its walls of blue corrugated tin I've always presumed it to be some sort of workshop, though I often wondered why it was built in a narrow cleft in the mountainside. This time as I cycled by there were banners out and I realized it was in fact a temple.


On closer examination I was delighted to discover that the temple was built to take advantage of a waterfall cascading down the mountainside.


Underneath the fall was a space for practising misogi, a type of Shugyo (ascetic practise) using water for purification.


There were statues of Fudo Myoo, so in all likliehood this was a Shugendo site before Shugendo was outlawed in early Meiji. Now the temple belongs to one of the newer 20th Century Buddhist sects that have sprung up, many with roots in Nichiren.


Up the mountainside on either side of the falls were large carvings of Fudo Myoo, and the spray from the falls worked like an air conditioner. It was wonderful to discover a delightful place so close to home, and was a reminder to keep exploring!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Down the river to the sea


A few weeks ago, before the onset of the rainy season and its attendant humidity, I took a little bike ride 20kms down the river to Gotsu.

The Gonokawa (Go River) is the longest river in West Japan, and is only 194 kms long. Now tamed by a single dam upstream at Hamahara, it is still a very pleasant river.


For most of its length there is a narrow ride running alongside the railway line, and a larger 2 lane road running along the opposite bank. The 10k from my village downstream to Kawahira is the only stretch that doesn't have the small road, so I cycled down the main road to the bridge at Kawahira.


There is not a lot of traffic, maybe one or two cars an hour, and just a few small settlements. Its not unusual to see troops of monkeys exploring the edge of the rail tracks.


Every few K there are Jizo altars, often looking the worst for wear, but still maintained by some of the locals.


Geologically speaking, the Go River is very young, and has yet to form an estuary or delta, but it does get a little wider and deeper as it turns the last horsheshoe bend before reaching Gotsu and the sea.


It was at this point that I discovered something quite remarkable, something I've driven past hundreds of times and not noticed. That's tomorrows blog.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Season of the frog


Starting in April, you can find frogs everywhere, the house, in the garden, on the roads.


I first come across the frogs in early spring when I start tilling the gardens. Unfortunately the tiller digs up some of the frogs that are hibernating about six inches underground, and more unfortunately it often injures them.


In late April, when the paddies are flooded in preparation for rice planting, the chorus really begins as thousands and thousands of frogs start their calling for mates. We live in a narrow, dead-ending, valley, and the noise at night is tremendous. My neighbor says that when his kids come back from the city for a visit they can't sleep at night because of the noise.


Saw this monster on our Katsuragi walk, in English a Bullfrog, in Japanese Ushikaeru, Cow frog. In earlier times they were eaten, but rarely nowadays.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Korean music (part 3)

This 3rd and final short video of Korean music from our trip to Seoul last weekend. This is a monk or priest playing the drum for a changing of the guards ceremony.

The drum is painted in the same color and style as the royal palaces and Buddhist temples.
Not sure whether this is a royal gate, temple, or tomb. Earlier in the day we had watched a much larger guard-changing ceremony at one of the big palaces.
I certainly recommend Seoul for a visit. It was inexpensive, the hospitality was great, and there was tons to see and do for free or for a small entrance fee.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Korean Music (part 2)

If the first video of Korean music from our trip to Seoul is high-brow, then this second one is certainly low-brow! I shot this just in front of our hotel.


These two guys were performing on the street outside a supermarket as part of a Re-Opening party. Not sure how to describe the music, a kind of electro/enka/karaoke, but it was fun.


I have to say that the drummer was not at all representative of the beauty and elegance of Korean women!


Our hotel was not in a tourist area, rather the kind of neighborhood the Japanese would call "shitamachi". Most businesses in the area were selling used cars, used car parts, car customizing parts etc.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Korean Music (part 1)

Just got from a great weekend in Seoul, my first time in Korea, and was really impressed with the hospitality. This first video was shot at Incheon Airport, where numerous areas around the airport provide glimpses of traditional Korean culture.


I'm not sure what this instrument is called, though it seems to be a type of harp. The flute the other musician was playing was very long.


After the concert there was a free class in using the korean flute, which was more like a recorder. After the class we all got to keep the flute!! A nice little extra that shows a commitment to tourism that Japan could learn from if it was really serious about increasing international tourism.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Here we go round the mulberry bush..


Mulberry trees used to be a lot more common in the old days, and most farmhouses had some planted around them. There are a few of them near my riverside garden, and now the fruits are turning black and ripe and so with stained fingers we gather as much as we can. Mostly we make jam with them, or sauce that we add to yoghurt.


Called kuwa in Japan, they were of course not raised for the fruit but because their leaves are the only food eaten by silkworms, kaiko. Almost no-one raises silkworms anymore, but in the living room of our farmhouse there are still attachments around the edge of the ceiling that supported the racks that held the leaves and silkworms (which are actually caterpillars)


A few years ago the lady who sold us our house gave us some kaiko and leaves for us to watch. She no longer raised them as a crop, just as a hobby.


The wasteland next to our house and roadsides have also been giving us a good crop of noichigo, which the Japanese refer to as wild strawberries, but seem to be more like rasberries. They are also real good in Yoghurt, and freeze well.

The rainy season is officially started, but to be honest it is often hard to tell the difference between the rainy season and any other time of the year. As usual I am late with all the jobs that need doing in the garden, but have managed to get a good layer of mulch down so I should have less weeding to do later. As well as all the planting and planting out I've started to pick the onions and potatoes and finished picking all the Lima Beans

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Minakuchi Shrine, Tenri


This small shrine, located just off route 169, next to the settlement of Shibutanicho on the Yamanobenomichi, was known as Tenno Sha until the Meiji period. It enshrines Susano and Homuda Wake, who is more commonly known by his posthumous name of Emperor Ojin, the primary kami of Hachiman shrines.


The shrine lies between 2 of the many keyhole kofun that lie in this area. Just to the south is the tomb attributed to Emperor Keiko, and this seems to be an accurate attribution based on the Nihon Shoki. To the north is the much large moated tomb officially attributed to Emperor Sujin, but most historians place his tomb some distance away.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Glimpses along the Katsuragi Kodou


On Saturday I spent a great day walking along the Katsuragi Kodou, an old road that runs along the base of the Katsuragi and Kongou Mountains in the west of Nara Prefecture. I was accompanied by a couple of other Japan-bloggers, Aurelio ( margen del yodo ), and Ted ( Notes from the Nog )


For this first post I thought I would just upload a few views through gates into private front yards and gardens. This first one was in the village of Owacho down at the south end of the trail. The gates provide a great frame for the typical Japanese gardens inside.


This one was in Kamogami, the area that was the original home of the clan that moved to the Kyoto basin and founded the famous Shimogamo and Kamigamo shrines.


These last 2 were in Nagara, a village abouth halfway along the path that is famous for its "Old streets" of Edo period buildings.


The Katsuragi no Michi starts a little east of Gose station which is about 2 hours south of Kyoto or 90 mins from osaka

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Typical Japanese Landscape 22


Most major Japanese cities, like many major cities around the world, are located on the estuaries where large rivers reach the coast. This is the Naka River runing through Fukuoka.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Small Tengu mask


My latest mask, a small version of the Tengu. There are numerous renditions of Tengu, sometimes bearded, sometimes not, sometimes black hair, sometimes white. I went for a long white beard for this one.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Tauebayashi: planting the rice

The 4th and final post on last weekend's Tauebayashi Matsuri.


The Tauebayashi Matsuri was originally a religious festival. Rice was life, and fertility was the concern of many religions. Nowadays the matsuri is kept alive as a "folk art", but the religious aspect is still vital. The 4 corners of the paddy have gohei in the 4 colors, and in the centre is a sacred tree representing the kami of the rice paddy. Ritual sake has been poured around the tree, and the bottle left as an offering. After prayers, the planting begins.


The planters were originally "saotome", possibly translated as "virgin", but also with elements of fertile maidens. Nowadays the maidens are aged up to 80 years old, and also some young men planted as well.


To the accompanienment of the song and drumming, which is supposed to strengthen the rice but also functions as a worksong, the line of planters gradually move backwards across the paddy planting as they go.


There were actually a couple of saotome in the group.


Finally a short video of the scene.