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By this Author: pokano

Shichi Go San (7-5-3) at Meiji Jingu

A Real Family Event

64 °F

November 15 is Shichi Go San (literally, 7 5 3) in Japan. This unofficial holiday commemorates the passage of 3 and 5 yr old boys and 3 and 7 yr old girls into the next stage of their childhoods. To celebrate, Japanese families often dress up the kids of those ages in traditional garb and on the weekend nearest November 15, head out to a Shinto shrine for a massive photo event. We were in Tokyo the weekend before November 15, so with our Tokyo friends, Jeff and Mutsumi DSCN1376.jpg, we headed out to Meiji Shrine to catch the action.

Meiji Shrine was erected to honor the memory of Emperor Meiji and his empress. The emperor ruled until 1912 and was basically responsible for bringing Japan into the then modern world. The area where the shrine is is covered with 120,000 trees of 365 different species, all evergreen, although as far as we could see, none were coniferous. By now those trees are more than 90 years old and create a really wonderful canopy that must be pleasantly cooling on a hot day.DSCN1308.jpg

We were not disappointed by the crowd. There must have been several dozen little girls and boys dressed to the nines, surrounded by proud parents and grandparents, many of whom also were dressed up. DSCN1305.jpgDSCN1323.jpgDSCN1339.jpgDSCN1345.jpgDSCN1412.jpgDSCN1462.jpg Even siblings who were not the correct age or whose parents decided not to put them into traditional dress were in their best clothes.DSCN1482.jpgDSCN1414.jpgDSCN1426.jpg

Some families took their own photos. Others had hired professional photographers.While some children reveled in the event or seemed at least quite confident DSCN1382.jpgDSCN1479.jpgDSCN1310.jpg, others, especially the younger ones, had a harder time dealing with the stress of being dressed up in strange clothes for the first time, with strange people taking photos of them. For example, these two sisters were having their photos taken by a professional photographer, not to mention dozens of other people who they had never seen before and never would again. DSCN1398.jpg What they really looked like at this point was this. DSCN1402.jpg After this, dad called a time out and came out to hug his youngest. This, and the professional photographer's tricks in photographing young children, seemed to work magic, and the girls--at least momentarily felt better. DSCN1405.jpg Some kids needed a parent close by to get through the photo ordeal. DSCN1357.jpg And some endured the event with resigned patience DSCN1445.jpg, although a tear or two sometimes slipped by. DSCN1449.jpg (Note: Dick took these photos with a telephoto lens. The girls probably never even saw him)

The day was also an auspicious one for weddings. A shrine official told our friend Mutsumi they were doing 20 weddings that day. DSCN1427.jpgDSCN1428.jpgDSCN1438.jpg For these expensive weddings, female guests wear kimonos.DSCN1434.jpg04322975C2D1366C9DBCC44970558B68.jpg

At the end of a lovely day, it was time for everyone to go home. DSCN1307.jpg

Posted by pokano 22:06 Archived in Japan Comments (1)

Himeji Castle

Japan's First World Heritage Site Lives Up to Its Billing

Perhaps Japan's most beautiful castle, Himeji Castle seemingly lords over the city of Himeji. DSCN0855.jpg Nicknamed the White Heron or White Egret Castle, the castle--although immense--looks like it could sprout wings and fly away.DSCN0879.jpg

We spent a day visiting the castle and its nearby attractions. This after a night in the worst hotel we've ever stayed in in Japan. DSCN0839.jpg Not only was the room tiny even for Japan, we could feel the bedsprings in the beds and hear the traffic on the busy thoroughfare below, not to mention the drunks getting out of the bars late at night. Worse and although the room was designated a nonsmoking room, all that seemed to mean was that we weren't smoking in it. The smoke from smoking rooms, however, poured in through the ventilation system late into the night.

At any event, the main attractions of Himeji are centered around the castle, so the city has wisely provided a "hop on, hop off" shuttle that circumnavigates the castle, stopping at each of the main attractions. DSCN0857.jpg We were happy to take advantage of this, since the distances can be quite long.

Himeji Castle was Japan's first World Heritage Site. With its roots in a fort built in the 14th Century, the 83-building complex was rebuilt to look much as it does today in the 17th Century, complete with moat. DSCN0974.jpg The complex has survived many attempts to destroy it. After the castle was abandoned in the 19th Century, the government included it in a list of castles scheduled for destruction, but an army officer managed to persuade the powers that be to leave it alone. Then it was sold at auction for the equivalent of $2,258, but the cost to demolish it (the buyer wanted to redevelop the land) proved to great. Much of Himeji City was destroyed by World War II bombing, but the castle survived that as well. Even the Great Kobe Earthquake, which wrought much destruction in the city (Kobe is only 29 miles away as the crow flies), failed to destroy the castle. This is amazing, since the stone walls appear to have been built using the dry stack method of masonry, i.e., there is no mortar between the rocks. DSCN0955.jpg

The castle complex covers 576 acres (in contrast, Woodland Park Zoo is only 92 acres). Signage is in both Japanese and English. DSCN0908.jpg Visitors can climb to the top floor of the main keep, which offers great views of the entire complex. In this photo, the castle property goes as least as far as the white building with the windows. DSCN0911.jpg

Posted by pokano 05:28 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Dick's Musings on Country Living and a Dying Art

So, as Pam has already written, we recently departed the magical highlands of rural Shizuoka prefecture DBE6B0A4BDE2FD795A05B3DAD46E9490.jpgfor small town Onomichi on the Seto Inland Sea.DSCN0423.jpg

While at the Yui Valley home of Hila-san and Daisuke-san, we spent some time in a nearby village, Okabe, that featured a massive field of cosmos flowers abloom. DBF0048CE7774F5A5E36F4813EE04A8B.jpg Just before we walked to the flower fields, we had lunch in a roadside soba (buckwheat noodles) restaurant and souvenir shop. What was on this little, rural cafe's sound system? Blossom Dearie, of course. Improbable? Really not; more like typical. I'd venture that almost all the public background music we hear is Western classical, American jazz, rock and roll, blues, and Motown, with the occasional cameo by Edith Piaf. Here and there we hear brief riffs of Japanese music -- electronic announcement intros on railroad and subway platforms, . . . curious electronic versions of a few bars of traditional folk tunes played over speakers set high atop poles out in the sylvan, sparsely populated countryside, announcing the beginning (9 a.m.) end (5 p.m.) of the work day. This was a bit of a surprise to me, as I associate rural routines with seasonal changes of daylight hours rather than attention to ordinal time. Pam recognized some of the tunes from childhood 78 record collection, and was charmed. I was charmed as well, the tunes were tuneful and suggested a meal and a bath in the offing, but still surprised by what I took to hint at a degree of incongruous cultural regimentation.

Shibori: One of our earliest, decidedly niche cultural adventures, while in Kyoto, was a visit to the Shibori Museum (http://kyotoshiborimuseum.wixsite.com/kyoto-shibori-museum) which documents, exhibits and teaches a traditional textile art, resist dying -- part tie-dye, part batik, all (how shall I say this delicately?) anal retentive. Visualize bunching the finest of fine fabric, tissue thin silk, for example, into the teensiest, tiniest, wee-est little twists, maybe the size of a pin-head, and then tying this off tightly with many turns of fine silk thread, and doing this perhaps 30 or 40 or 50 times per square inch at carefully, regularly spaced intervals DSCN6776.jpg, and doing this over yards of fabric, towards the end of various modes of resist dying, resulting in spectacularly beautiful designs. DSCN6800.jpgDSCN6780.jpgAlas, this is a dying art, practiced by fewer and fewer artisans. Dating from the 8th century, its contemporary practitioners are few, the modern adaptations many.DSCN6811.jpg

So we went to probably the only (small) museum in the world dedicated to this traditional art form. In Kyoto. There were only two people there, both staff I reckon. One, a young Kyoto hipster native with a cockney/Australian accent (from time spent in Queensland and England), was not a shibori artisan but rather a good-humored advocate, interpreter, and producer of the "show" of shibori. Was it with a small degree of sadistic delight that he pulled apart two pieces of fabric wed by hundreds or thousands of these minute knots . . . for our benefit. The staccato popping sound of these many knots being ripped open was stunning -- in mere seconds he undid hours of someone's work, revealing the underlying dyed pointilistic patterns intended.DSCN6774.jpg

In fact there are several main shibori techniques, each resulting in a substantially different result, but all painstakingly labor intensive, all stunning in the ways in which the dyes impact the final designs.

Posted by pokano 04:40 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Onomichi Betcha Matsuri & a Wonderful Afternoon with Family

How To Ward Off the Plague with Demons and How Great It Is To Discover the Wonderful People Who Are Family

sunny 62 °F

I always wanted to see a local Japanese festival. Little did we know that when we arrived in Onomichi on November 2, we'd walked right into the middle of one. A unique one. One that is held only in Onomichi.

It's called Onomichi Betcha Matsuri. Not "betcha" as in "yah, sure, ya betcha", but more like "beh-cha." This is a festival (matsuri) has its roots in the bubonic plague! As getHiroshima.com explains, "When, in 1808, plague was sweeping through the porttown of Onomichi, the lord in control at the time ordered local shrines to perform purification rights in an attempt to ward of the disease. The rights were to be performed over 3 days and two nights and, in addition, an omokoshi portable shrine was carried through the streets with young men dressed a lion and three demons named beta, shouki and soba at the head of the procession." So today Onomichi--nowhere else in Japan--declares a city-wide holiday between November 1 and November 3. In the old part of the city, where we stay, virtually every non-retail business that wasn't necessary was closed and some of the retailers were closed as well. Everyone was out on the streets--fortunately with sunny weather and a high of the lot to mid- 60s.

The festivities begin in earnest with the procession of the mikoshi (portable shrines), led by a Shinto priest, down city streets to the beat of drums and rhythmic chanting. DSCN0444.jpgDSCN0435.jpgDSCN0433.jpg But the real fun began when the three demons showed up, two of whom are shown here. DSCN0466.jpgDSCN0465.jpg The thought is that if the demons bop small children with a bamboo whisk or a bamboo pole, those children will be healthy for the next year. So the demons waded into the huge crowd to bop as many kids as they could. DSCN0486.jpgDSCN0478.jpg

Festivities continued into the evening at various shrines around town. Onomichi is dominated by a huge and very steep hill. Here are the steps up to one shrine.DSCN0422.jpg At the top was the requisite torii gate.DSCN0511.jpg Beyond that people were cooking festival street food. Like yakisoba (fried noodles).DSCN0414.jpg And here are sausages and cuttlefish on the grill. DSCN0418.jpg And what's a festival without music? DSCN0509.jpg

A few days later, we took a bus out to Innoshima, a nearby island, where my father's family comes from. A few years ago, we had totally surprised my father's first cousin and his wife by dropping in unexpectedly. 73160D25E08BE6A56F909EAF815B776F.jpg Because they don't speak English, we wondered if any of their children might. So after we returned to the US, Pam wrote a letter in English, which a Tokyo friend was then so kind to write out in kanji with the appropriate niceties. The letter was sent and then we waited. And waited. And waited. Finally we gave up.

Until earlier this year, when lo and behold, Pam got an e-mail from the couple's son--her second cousin. Yes, he could speak a bit of English. Yes, he was happy to hear from us. And several months later, his company sent him to Seattle to a convention. He was supposed to meet us for a day after the convention was over, before he flew back to Japan. But alas, that was the day that Pam ended up in the hospital with a bad case of vertigo. So she never saw him, leaving Dick and her aunt and uncle to entertain him.

The long and the short of it is that we were invited to have lunch with him, his family, and his parents (the elderly couple whom we met in 2014) in Innoshima. And what a lunch it was! DSCN0765.jpgDSCN0761.jpg And this photo doesn't even show all of it!

After lunch, we were invited to the elderly couple's home for tea. But before tea, the wife of the second cousin offered to dress both Pam and Dick in kimonos! It took a bit less than an hour to fit Pam into her kimono and about half that time for Dick. DSCN0792.jpg

Then we at wagashi--lovely traditional Japanese sweets with matcha tea, the kind used in tea ceremonies. DSCN0802.jpgDSCN0801.jpg737649B6F73C77A46FD8A439F7E45E79.jpg

All in all, we were treated like beloved long lost family members. It was wonderful to find out how nice our Japanese relatives are! It's a day we'll long remember (even if we did catch the wrong bus trying to get back into town and ended up circumnavigating Innoshima before we were able to catch the right bus).

Posted by pokano 04:30 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

A Country Home in Shizuoka Prefecture

Staying in a Traditional Japanese House in the Countryside

We have fallen woefully behind in our blog and apologize for that.

It had never occurred to us to visit Shizuoka Prefecture (where's that?), but when I saw the Airbnb listing for a 90-yr-old traditional home in the countryside, I bit. At the time, our hosts, Daisuke san and Hila san (he's Japanese, she's Israeli)DSCN0413.jpg were renting the house nonly through early November because it has no insulation. So we got the last of the season booking for 3 nights. Here's what the house looks like:DSCN0326.jpgDSCN0374.jpg

In addition to running this rental house, Daisuke san and Hila san grow rice and, in April, harvest wild bamboo shoots. Hila san has now been in Japan for five years. She speaks pretty good everyday Japanese and is still taking lessons from a tutor who comes once a week.

The couple refurbished the run-down house with matching funds from the government. The structure and interior are probably pretty much what they were in the early 20th Century with the exception of space heaters (no central heating), a modern toilet, a stainless steel ofuro aka Japanese bath, running water and electric lights (not sure if they existed in the Japanese countryside in the 1920s), and modern kitchen appliances. The interior was lovely as these photos show. DSCN0294.jpgDSCN0297.jpgDSCN0298.jpgDSCN0311.jpg14902941_1..hen_to_bath.jpg14859829_1..3920_o_bath.jpgDSCN0314.jpgDSCN0309.jpgDSCN0376.jpgDSCN0382.jpg

Meals were optional, so we opted for them, since the village has no restaurants. However, our hosts were unavailable to do dinner on our first night, so Dick made scrambled eggs, with sauteed Japanese mushrooms, with raw carrots and cukes on the side. Yummy, but little did we know what our meals would be like once our hosts started cooking for us. I assumed we'd get something like grilled fish, a couple of veggie dishes, rice, some pickles, and maybe fruit or ice cream for dessert. Hah! Turns out that Daisuke is a very skilled cook. On our first night he made a 10 course meal for us: thumb=http://photos.travellerspoint.com/526039/thumb_DSCN0375.jpg]DSCN0381.jpgDSCN0380.jpgDSCN0379.jpgDSCN0378.jpgDSCN0375.jpg There were fresh persimmon sandwiched together with homemade fresh cheese; a hummus/Japanese squash mixture with raisins. My favorite of the night was abura age (fried tofu pouches) stuffed with a shiitake mushroom filling served with cooked carrot, daikon, mushroom, and spinach. Really, really delicious! Also we had newly harvested rice cooked with veggies and Japanese omelet, kabocha croquette with homemade tomato salsa, and salmon with green pepper and eggplant. Not shown are tuna tataki, custardy tofu, miso soup, a tossed green salad, and homemade banana ice cream. By the time of the we got to the rice, croquettes, and salmon, I was so stuffed, I couldn't eat any more. Dick soldiered on and finished his meal. We put the rest of mine in the fridge and shared it for lunch. Everything was delicious!

Taking pity on us, Daisuke served us "only" an eight-course meal the next night: 9DB414280EC04224C4CF56A5E71E2220.jpgDSCN0411.jpgDSCN0409.jpgDSCN0408.jpg9DB18BCEBA6AD61C785BC73EE8AE8601.jpgDSCN0405.jpgDSCN0403.jpg
This meal included a mushroom/cheese stuffed omelet with broccoli in tzatziki sauce; a salad of chickpeas, daikon, wakame (a kind of seaweed), and a few other things with a tahini/ponzu dressing; minced maguro (raw tuna), avocado, and seaweed over rice, served with soy sauce and wasabi paste; a clear soup that contained clams and various veggies; kamaboko sitting in some kind of dashi (yeah, there's probably a different name for this kind of fish cake, but I don't know what it is). This one was made from sardines and was really yummy. Another dish was a mixture of Japanese sweet potato (satsuma imo), apple, and raisins, flavored with orange. And there was tempura. The eighth course, not pictured, was dessert--a perfectly ripe Asian pear chopped up and served in sweetened coconut milk. Again, all delicious.

Breakfasts were more Israeli style.thumb=http://photos.travellerspoint.com/526039/thumb_DSCN0336.jpg] They would include half a fresh cheese or omelet sandwich with fresh veggies, a few pieces of toast with either honey or jam or almond butter, a bit of "guacamole" like avocado, a small bit of omelet or hardboiled egg mixed with Japanese mayo, plus cucumbers and tomatoes.

Our first full day there, Hila san drove us around the area. Shizuoka Prefecture is where Mount Fuji is, so she took us to a viewpoint. It's kind of like watching for Mt Rainier. Sometimes you're lucky, sometimes you're not. It was clouding up, but we were fortunate enough to get a brief look at the very top of the mountain. Can you see it? DSCN0140__2_.jpg

Then she took us to the bamboo forest, located on very steep slopes. The drive included hairpin turns that were so sharp that a few times, she had to back up once or twice. The bamboo all grows wild. DSCN0151.jpgDSCN0353.jpgDSCN0360.jpg You can see the joints of the bamboo are either dark or light. The dark ones are more than 3 years old. The one that are white (see the white powder) are younger. Bamboo shoot (takenoko) harvesting occurs each April when the wild boars starting eating the shoots. The tips of the shoots poking above the ground are only about the size of small finger nail. Hila san finds the shoots and marks them, and Daisuke digs them up. They get the best price for shoots with the roots still attached and that make it to the processing plant in Tokyo on the same day they are harvested. The work is long and hard and intense. They also harvest bamboo for arts and crafts.

The area is also good for tea growing. The tea farmers had just finished their third harvest, which is of lower quality than the first two. The third harvest is used for flavoring for such things as matcha ice cream and cookies. DSCN0176.jpgDSCN0185__2_.jpg9EC3F4F9EA57AE32DC5DF38082141B75.jpgThe last photo shows a backdrop of bamboo, then tea plants that have been allowed to "go wild" (they're no longer harvesting them), and then the recently harvested plants.

We also spent some time walking around the area. One place had huge fields of blooming cosmos.DSCN0209.jpg The only purpose we could see was for tourism, but there was no charge for walking in the fields. Dick took these photos of this charming couple and their little girl. DSCN0214.jpgDSCN0218.jpg We offered to e-mail these to them, but when we tried to do it, the e-mail came bouncing back. We tried several different iterations of the eaddress we were given, but to no avail. Still feel badly about it.

There were also many rice fields. DSCN0389.jpgDSCN0388.jpg DSCN0195.jpgDSCN0192.jpg Someone was also growing kiwi fruit in a quantity that we thought was too big for just family use. DSCN0391.jpg

And of course, it was persimmon (kaki) growing time. People were hanging them to dry in the traditional way.DSCN0470.jpgDSCN0180.jpg

The village is called Tamatori. Tama means "round" and tori is "to bring." The reason for the name is that round rocks are found here. DSCN0343.jpg

We asked whether there were any other young people in the area. Hila san said there were only 2 other young couples. We also saw one school aged boy. Everyone else is elderly and, in fact, there are some vacant or abandoned homes. This, of course, is a common problem with rural areas all over Japan. DSCN0410.jpg

Our time here was one of the highlights of our trips to Japan. If anyone is interested in staying in the house, here is the website. http://www.yuivalley.com/ It's easy to get to. We took a train from Kyoto to Shizuoka city, then a local train (only about 12 minutes) to Yaizu, a bedroom town. Hila san picked us up at the station (it's also possible to take a bus), for the 30-40 minute drive to Tamatori.

Posted by pokano 02:43 Archived in Japan Tagged shizuoka tamatori country_house Comments (1)

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