Saturday, May 29, 2010

Mukade Giant Japanese Centipede


Caught this little bugger yesterday crawling across my floor. In japanese it is called Mukade, which means "100 legs", and in english we call it Giant japanese centipede. It was mid-sized, about 12 cms long. They do get bigger, though not as big as the desert centipedes I know from Arizona. It was unusual to see it during the daytime as they are usually active at night. They usual travel in pairs, and sure enough later I caught its mate.

Found a really nice, short video about Mukade on youtube.


Mukade are venomous and a couple of years ago I woke up in the middle of the night with the feeling that someone had put out a cigarette on my face. We found a baby centipede on the inside of the mosquito net. Ive been bitten by poisonous critters many time before,.... I slept outside many hundreds of nights in the desert, but this bite was particularly painful and the pain and swelling stayed for a full 2 weeks.


The centipede in Japan is associated with success in battle, so it was adopted as a symbol by the samurai. The great samurai Takeda Shingen had one on his battle flag, and these ceiling paintings from a small Bishamonten temple had several centipedes.


On of the Shitenno, Bishamonten is known as the god of success in battle, so the connection is obvious.

Friday, May 28, 2010

105 years ago today.


On May 28th 1905 the Russian ship Irtysh ran aground on the Shimane coast just off the fishing village of Waki (now part of Gotsu).

The villagers took to their boats and helped to successfully save and bring to shore the more than 200 crew and officers.


The Russians were given food and shelter and helped in every way by the mostly poor fishermens families.

Every year, this year on June 13th, Waki celebrates a Russian festival and dignitaries come from Russia to thank the village once again for their kindness.

In the small Waki Community Center is a small museum with photos, documents, items salvaged from the Irtysh, and gifts from Russia.


The story of how the Irtysh came to its end is pretty interesting.

In 1904, without a declaration of war, the Japanese attacked the Russian Far East Fleet in Port Arthur (Manchuria). Comparisons with Pearl Harbor are obvious. So began the Russo-Japanese war.

In a bold move the Czar ordered his Baltic Fleet to sail 18,000 miles, half way round the world, to hook up with the remnants of his Far East Fleet at Vladivostock. The Irtysh was a supply ship attached to the Baltic Fleet.


In the straits between Japan and Korea the Japanese navy engaged the Russians in a great naval battle that has been equated with Trafalgar. Known now as the Battle of Tsushima, the Russians were soundly defeated, and the damaged Irtysh was seen limping away from the battle and the next day ran aground off Waki.


Thursday, May 27, 2010

A winter walk up Maruyama


Driving from my place to Iwami Ginzan, which I used to do regularly a few years ago, you pass through the village of Mihara, and as one is doing so the 480 meter high Maruyama (Round Mountain) is distinctly visible for quite a ways.

One fine January day the weather was warm and the light was bright so I decided to to find out what the views were like from the top.

I drove up the long, narrow valley that runs up from Tanijyugo, parked and headed up the forest track that climbed over the ridge and dropped down to the base of Maruyama.


Half way up Maruyama there was a clearing in the trees that offered a wonderful view over Mihara to the saddle of the ridge called Oe-Takayama. The highest point is a little over 800 meters, and behind it lies Iwami Ginzan. According to a painted signboard in the village at its base, there is a trail that goes up and along the ridge that I've always hoped to climb one day, though I suspect that the trail, like so many others around here, has long since disappeared by not having been used for decades.


The road up to the top of Maruyama switchbacks up the north side, so there was still unmelted snow.


Just below the highest point are the foundations of what used to be a castle, though fort or watchtower might be a more appropriate english word.


From the top, the view roughly south. Somewhere down in there is the Gonokawa River and my village.


But this is the view I had hoped to find. About 25k away, the snowy peaks of the volcano Mount Sanbe, at 1,126 meters the highest point in Iwami.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Kunibiki Messe


The Kunibiki Messe is a large convention and conference center up in Matsue.


Kunibiki means "land pulling", and refers to an ancient Izumo legend. Messe is the German word for "Fair".


It opened in 1992 and was designed by Shin Takamatsu.

We have a lot of buildings by Takamatsu in Shimane as he is a local man, from Nima.


It doesnt look like much from a distance, but close up one can discern something interesting inside......


Monday, May 24, 2010

Izumo Taisha


The grand torii on the road leading to Izumo Taisha, often called the second most important shrine in Japan, and often claimed to be the oldest shrine in Japan. While the first claim is debateable, the second is pure fantasy.

According to the ancient chronicles, a "palace" was built here by the Yamato to thank Okuninushi for giving Japan to them. As this happened before the Yamato descended from heaven, and as history in Japan begins with the Yamato in the same way that some believe the history of America begins with Columbus, therefore this must be the first shrine in japan.

One legend has it that the shrine was first built in the mid 7th Century. That sounds reasonable to me, as that was when several shrines were built in the Izumo area by the Yamato "emperors".


Though few question that Okuninushi is enshrined here, there is a reasonable doubt. In the sixteenth Century all buddhist buildings and images were removed from the shrine. At that time the records of Gakuen-Ji were consulted. Until this point Gakuen-Ji had administered the shrine, and the temple records go back further than the shrines. The temple records say it was Susano enshrined here. Since the beginning of Yamato hegemony over this part of japan there has been a continuous process of denigrating Susano and elevating Okuninushi.


What is undisputed is that the Honden of Izumo Taisha is the biggest in japan. The current one, constructed in 1744 is 24 meters high, but Heian period documents claim it was double that height, making it the tallest building in Japan at that time. This height was long believed to be exaggerationm but in 2000 excavations revealed the bases of huge pillars made by strapping three pillars together. In front of the entrance to the shrine is a small museum with models of what this original structure may have looked like, and at the nearby Shimane Museum of Ancient Izumo there are more models . Apparently the tall structure was not based on sound engineering and it repeatedly collapsed until about the 12th Century when its reduced size was settled on.


Running alongside both sides of the main shrine are two rows of small shrines. These are "motels" for the kami. Once a year, in the Fall it is said that all the kami of Japan meet up here in Izumo. They don't meet at Ise, and they don't meet in Yamato.

Actually all the kami don't come. It is said that Ebisu doesn't come, even though his home shrine is nearby, because he is deaf and doesnt hear the call. Other kami make all kinds of excuses not to come..... too busy, cant afford it etc. I have heard of a shrine in Wakayama that holds a matsuri celebrating that their kami doesnt go.


Next to the main shrine is the Kagura Den, adorned with the biggest shimenawa in the world. If you visit here chances are that you will see a wedding. I've heard it said that Izumo taisha is the most desired location for weddings in japan.


The groom certainly does not seem very happy. Maybe he just got the bill.

In early-modern times Okuninushi became known as a matchmaker, and now lots of young people come to Izumo Taisha to pray for a spouse.

Every time I've been there young women have outnumbered young men by a factor of 3 or 4.


In the main compound, alongside Okuninushi, are enshrined Suserihime (Susanos daughter who Okuninushi married), Tagirihime (another daughter of Susano, one of the 3 Munakata princesses, and Kisagaihime and Umugaihime, 2 female kami who resurrected Okuninushi after he was killed by his 80 brothers. All female kami.

Behind the main compound is the Soganoyashiro, a shrine to Susano.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Oldest Wooden School in Japan?


Following an email conversation about old schools in Japan I dug out this photo.

Its the Fukiya Elementary School in northern Okayama Prefecture, and it is believed to be the oldest wooden school in japan that is still being used.

Construction began in 1900 and was completed in 1909.

One hundred years later the school had the grand total of 6 students enrolled.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Vacation 2010 Day: Canalwalk, final part


By mid-morning the fog had melted away to reveal a glorious spring day.


By now the canal was busy with pleasure boaters. They move at about the same speed as me walking, but I stop often to rest my bad knee and have cigarette breaks.


Everyday (just about) where I live in Japan I notice how lucky I am to be living surrounded by beauty, but the rural English landscape is now enticing in a way it never was when I lived there.


Bridge after bridge..... many just to carry a farmers track over the canal.


A few iron bridges from the heyday of the Industrial Revolution when canal building was at its peak.


The railways eventually put the canals out of business, but I was surprised to see that there is still some use made of them for hauling goods and materials. Nice job if you can get it.


The Newbold Tunnel is 250 meters long and has had a series of colored lights installed to make a "Circle of Light". This is the new tunnel, built in 1832 to replace the much longer, and narrower, original tunnel.

Its lunchtime as I reach the outskirts of Rugby, so I stop in at a canalside pub for Sunday lunch. By the time I get to the station I reckon I have walked 20 miles. A good start to my vacation.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Asuna Kasaboko Matsuri

Went up into the mountains to a village named Asuna for their matsuri that features large Hanakasaboko.

All I have time to post right now is these 3 short videos. I will post more later.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Vacation 2010 Day 2. A walk along the canal part 2


This is a follow on post to this earlier one.

After Hawkesbury Junction the Oxford Canal begins. Soon the canal passes a hug sub-station of the national grid...... giant pylons carrying high tension power lines converge. The fog was so thick there was no color, all was monochrome greys except the sharp white disc of the sun.

The silence added to the eeriness.


A little later I passed a sole sole.... hah!

For some reason the scene reminded me of a Mizoguchi movie.....


As the sun rose it slowly began to burn away the fog, but stillness prevailed.


Bridge number 9. One of my dreams is to spend an extended period of time walking around England along the canals. There are plenty of bridges so finding a dry place to sleep would not be difficult.


The Oxford canal is a contour canal, so there are few locks and the route is long and windy, therefore the view keeps changing.


There are a lot of people living on the canals. There are also a lot of people on vacation cruising in rental narrowboats. Another dream is to have a vacation doing just that.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Omori Floral

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Up in the mountains not far from here is the Iwami Ginzan World Heritage Site, and the village of Omori is a large part of it.

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Pretty much just one long street in the narrow valley below the mine, Omori is where the samurai, bureaucrats, and merchants lived.

The slaves who worked and died in the mine lived in hovels up on the mountain.

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Omori is a pretty good showcase of Edo Period buildings, most of which have been restored, and to make it pretty for the throngs of tourists many property owners put small displays of flowers in front of their properties.

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All these photos were taken in a one hour walk along the main street one day in May.

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They are real flowers, not plastic. You need to check. I was very impressed with the flowers at Mitaki Dera until I looked closely and saw they were plastic.

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Monday, May 17, 2010

Kawado Suijin Matsuri. part 2


The procession reaches the riverbank where two boats are waiting to ferry the mikoshi upstream.


One boat carries the young men with the bamboo and banners to replace last years. The giant Onusa is taken by road. By now the young men are inebriated. Drunkeness and matsuri go together and always have. The earliest records of japan from China in the 3rd century make mention of the Japanese love of alcohol.

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The second boat carries the mikoshi, priests, musicians, kasaboko, and a couple of other village representatives.


Both boats head upstream a few hundred meters to the spot where suijin is venerated


A rocky outcropping at the base of a cliff. On the cliff above the Onusa is replaced. This one extends horizontally out from the cliff top so the Onusa is above the water below. You can just make it out in the top right of the photo. Here is also where the string of koinoburi are strung across the river in honor of Boys Day.


The young men pass up the bamboo and banners to the group above. Last years bamboo and banners are lowered down and disposed of in the river.


The priests read norito and make further offerings to Suijin.


The boats then return to the riverbank and the procession proceeds to a second spot on the Yato River. It used to go by boat,, but since the damming of the river it is too shallow and no longer navigable, so it goes by truck.

It seems to be a tradition that some of the young men end up in the river.