Tag Archives: Japan!

Everything seemed to revolve around the mountain

Well, another day home, and another day for my memories to grow murkier 

Well, right after coming down the mountain, we go to the local shrine…and there strapped to the toori (shrine gate) was a sign celebrating the recent inclusion of Mt Fuji as a cultural world heritage site. You see, it wasn’t allowed to be a natural heritage site due to pollution of some kind, but since Mt Fuji itself is worshipped as a kami (god, or powerful spirit) throughout Japan, it could be awarded cultural status.  (I’m a bit surprised that people would want to pollute the home of their god, but hey…)

That shrine was kind of special in that it had multiple stories…to be taller, and thus closer to Mt. Fuji, of course. It was also rather special in that it was the first shrine I’d visited where the main thrust was actual Shintoism rather than tourism. So there were real miko (shrine attendants)! When we first entered, one of the miko was busy with some kind of consecration ceremony for an infant.

The other, was selling omamori (protective or good luck charms) and omakuji (paper fortunes). Hanging from a tree were ropes laden with fortunes which people had tied. (I think they tie the ones they don’t want to be true, and keep the ones they do?). So laden that a lady tying hers was having considerable trouble with her knot, and I saw a few which had fallen down. …I wonder what the significance of that would be :P. Oh yes, and the wooden thingies are prayers, I think.

Out by the sacred pond, was some very pure water that people could drink-which takes 15 years to get down from the mountain! Interestingly, apparently the water in that pond has a constant temperature all year around (maybe 12 degrees?) Because our group was quite big, my half had a different guide, and when we were on the bridge over the sacred pond filled with really fat koi (carp), he told me that as a junior high schooler, he had been caught by the miko fishing there! It was a new one to me!! But apparently koi aren’t even that good to eat, so… So the only earthly reason why people could buy fish food and feed the carp was that they were sacred. Of course.

And we saw a snake swimming! It wasn’t even a water snake! Of course the guide reminded me that in Shinto lore, snakes are often messengers for kami. But I was just kicking myself to have forgotten that Japan has snakes :P.

There was also a teeny tiny little shrine with fox guardian statues, with some kind of kami for businessmen enshrined inside.

But the thing is I don’t worship Mt. Fuji, or believe in anything like animism, and apart from the “oh, this is interesting” I couldn’t get out of there soon enough! I just didn’t like the feel of the place. Go figure. It was pretty too…

We found out later, when we looked at a print from a famous tapestry, that because the kami enshrined in Mt. Fuji was said to be female, and very jealous, until not too long ago, women weren’t allowed up the mountain. The social order, wherein women were somewhere above dust, and somewhere below garbage sweepers, may have had something to do with it too.

We also found out later that eating okonomiyaki, a type of savoury pancakes and yakisoba, a kind of noodle stirfry in the same meal makes for an awesome farewell to a region. And of course I had to eat mine with the pretty new chopsticks that we’d just been given :D.ImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImage

All in all, the shrine visit made me really agog, yet again, that people worship mountains as gods. Yes, nature is spectacular and there is power there. But it’s like worshipping a signpost! Why worship a sign when you can find out what it’s pointing to?  Surely what it’s pointing to is something greater than the sign, the mountain itself!

Sorry, l just get a bit upset when people miss the point.

 

Oh yes, and incidentally, the shrine holds horseback archery competitions every year. 😀Image

 

…And on to Fuji-san!

The last few exciting things about Shizuoka pretty much revolve around Fuji-san.

We went to make washi (a type of traditional Japanese paper), which was pretty cool. First you get the bark from this bush, boil it and mash it with a big wooden mallet, then mix it with this sticky stuff. Thus far was already prepared. What we got to do was use this sieve to get several even layers of gloop (accomplished by sticking it down vertically into the gloop, before scooping it back up). I somehow managed to make most of mine fall out, so I got two gos 😛 After that, you pick the leaf or decoration you want attached, and pour some more sticky stuff on top. And then! Vacuuming it dry! And ironing it dry! And sticking it on top of a heater at ~200 degrees Celcius. 

I do wonder how they managed before they got all the technology. 

They gave us picture postcards of Mt Fuji as souvenirs :). And the washi too, of course.

Another cool thing was wandering through these old buildings-a plaster one used to keep valuables since it wasn’t as flammable as all the thatched, wooden houses-a building with lots of little firepits used to raise silkworms, I think (the staircase was very very ladderlike)-and normal paper-walled, thatched, tatami-floored houses. By the park with old houses was this rose garden (in full bloom of course, at this time of year), and a statue of this Russian guy and two Japanese men on a small boat. The boat was oddly resemblant of a Maori waka, which is what caught our attention at first. But the inscription talked about the Diana, the same boat that was sunk at Heda! Pity we couldn’t decode it all 😛

Oh yes, and this young guy from the Japanese House of Representatives visited us. The rep for Shizuoka, I think. We gave him presents from our home countries, and so the next day he came to return the gift!-With chopsticks from Mt. Fuji! 🙂 Cool guy. Makes good jokes. According to our guide this was a bit of a big deal :P. Mr. Politician is in the front left of the weird standing-in-a-circle-photo.

That night (after leaving Heda), we stayed at the YMCA. Here I was in for a bit of a surprise. I assumed that they’d have western style food (not because I wanted it, but because, hang, it’s the YMCA), and I assumed that the YMCA in Japan is as quiet about their Christianity as it is in NZ. I’m most glad to say I was wrong on both counts! The food, though plain, was very Japanese, and the bibles they had were the only I’d seen besides mine and the Gideon bibles in our hotel! (Amusingly, the hotel provided a copy of Buddhist teachings besides the Gideon).

After tea, we made good use of the space in trying to learn the words to Fuji-san, the song our regional group would be singing at the cultural festival. How do you like my wonderful co-leader Chanu’s kilt? He went from asian sensei to aussie farmer to scotsman in an amazingly quick succession. 😀

So we got up the next morning to see the mountain…foiled again. But we got to drive up and play in the snow later on, so all is good. 🙂 ImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImage

Also take note of how I’m counting down in the photo just above…Here is where we learn the golden rule: a photo montage should never have more than 5 cameras. THERE WAS A PILE.

 

Bye bye Heda! I’ll miss you!

After breakfast on that insanely eventful morning, our bus took us to -the waterfront, where we used some really low-tech fishing rods to fish! Needless to say, I was very skilled at getting my line tangled in EVERYTHING, and eventually gave up on that. But because you don’t go fishing everyday, I went and learned how to unhook fish :). You can usually remove the hook in a smoothish motion, rather reminiscent of sewing. But some fish go and bite on in really awkward ways… The worst one somehow got it attached to its eye. I’m not sure how that worked, but I was just happy that I managed to unhook it without killing the little numpty. One girl actually managed to get an edible fish! About the size of my hand, and all grey and green it was too. One of the highlights of my trip came when the old guys who’d been coming to my rescue with tricky fish joked -through our translator- whether I’d consider moving to Heda and marrying one of the local boys! Heh. I really didn’t see that one coming. Oh, and we got to throw the dead fish to a seagull :D. Because some fish are really tricky to unhook or decide they’d much rather suffocate than stay still in your hands. The seagull was happy though.

…And then the local cop came by to say hi, and we were all well-informed of his single status :P. Well done, fishing uncles, well done.

And then a few farewells, as aunties from our respective minshiku came to see us off.

And so it was that around 10 am on that hot summer morning, we drove off, frantically chased by a local car carrying glasses that someone (not one of us, it turned out) had left on the fishing platform. And we drove towards Mt Fuji :).

Look for the cop in the photos!ImageImageImageImage

Our hands smelled like fish for hours :).

Numazu City :)

Yes, I know I haven’t done part two of Heda yet. But when I find photos of our fishing, it shall be done. In the meantime…. Numazu City is a small city, at the northern end of the Izu Peninsula, a name often heard in guidebooks for onsen (hot springs), and seafood…but a name I’d never heard of until I googled Numazu for its population. Go figure 😛 Our trip to Numazu started out with a trip to an Izuyashi nut and bolt factory, something I was utterly unenthused about. But it actually turned out to be exciting! They produce self-locking bolts, a product which makes for just a little more safety in big machinery…something I’m a real fan of. And then, in touring the factory, I was really surprised to see how discrete it was. By that I mean there was a single machine for each major job. Just little machines, too, so you could easily walk between them, and keep the work area clean. Another neat thing was that the inspection process is entirely automatised, with a little computer analysing each nut from three vantage points, and sorting out the ones that weren’t up to scratch. 🙂 The factory also boasted a gym, wherein every piece of equipment was made by the factory, and the equipment was specialised to exercise the soft tissue…or something fancy and sports sciency like that. The gym even had a low-oxygen room for alpine training! Took me back to Dragon Ball days, when Goku fought up in Karin tower, and got super strong just from the high altitude :); Next on the agenda (apart from going to meet the mayor of Shizuoka, which was kind of a big deal, since Shizuoka has the same population as New Zealand), was Gyoshu High School. We were all buddied up with someone, but in true Teresa fashion, I can’t quite remember my girl’s name -_-.(She’s the one directly in front of me in the photo). In any case, I got a bit curious when I noticed that quite a few of the buddies spoke English, so my buddy told me their school has a special bilingual wing! So cool! We got to spend an hour in class-calligraphy, English, economics, Chinese history, or playing the koto (a traditional Japanese stringed instrument that you play with a hard pick thing attached to your finger). So I spent that hour writing 道, which means way, or path. And then right near the end I realised I’d been holding the brush wrong -_-. But I gather I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so it looks alright. Next up was assembly, which featured a very long string of 20 second self introductions, some in English, some in Japanese (and with understandably more applause for those in Japanese). It also featured a kendo demo, a dance demo (where a few of everyone got up and joined in :D) and a calligraphy demo, where they used a mop!!! That was super exciting :). Oh yes, and we got three-tiered bento (packed lunch boxes) for lunch! And green tea from Shizuoka, which is famous. I really don’t know anything about green tea, so all I can say is it tasted less like seaweed than other green tea, and more like fish. 😛 sealing machines factoryfactorybentoImageImage   We stayed at Heda that night, so I guess no more need be said there, ay? 😛

Welcome to Heda (つりの町戸田)

But I’m going to have to go on and on about a little fishing town  (or weird rural outpost of Numazu city) called Heda.

When we first got there, we went up to a lookout and watched the local fishing ships having a ceremony, before setting off on month-long (or longer) fishing trips. They circled the harbour, with music on top volume, and the main ship stopped in front of the local shrine to offer salt and sake-salt for purification, and sake for health and success. And all this time, beautiful brown and grey and white sea hawks swooped over the head, and Mt Fuji stood majestically in the distance, completely obscured by clouds. (Go figure).

That night, we stayed at the local minshuku. Set with tatami mats, futon beds, and slippers for every different kind of area, minshuku are little ryokan, run by a single family, where guests get to help with chores a little too. But really, between changing into toilet-room slippers, laundry slippers, kitchen slippers, general slippers, and then having bare feet on the tatami,…running through a minshuku is like some weird relay.

Seeing as Heda is a fishing town, it should have been no surprise to see the dinner table covered in fish. But it was! Sea snails, shrimps, miso soup, sashimi, fish cakes, tuna steaks…apart from the beautiful, sticky Japanese rice, it was all from the sea! Even the lemony jelly stuff we found out was somehow made from something harvested from the sea by the main minshuku lady. Wow, just

Next morning, bright and early, we walked along a tiny black sand beach that’s somehow populated by 100,000 people later in summer, and marvelled at the pink swirly stuff in the water (dead plankton, if you wanted to know). …Presumably that’s gone by the time people start using it to swim! We also got invited onto the fishing boat of a local night fisher, who’d just brought in a catch of squid. I got to hold one 😀 I had to be careful not to pick up a bunch of its friends too -_-. And down at the little museum that’s on shrine land, we saw a massive anchor from a Russian ship Diana that was sunk locally back in the day. Continuing on, we walked along a big dike, and contemplated the little light house, and the sea walls made of concrete blocks to protect the local shrine from waves that had pushed huge boulders right up against the dike in other areas… All before breakfast 😀

http://www.ocada.jp/izu/heda.php Has more details about the history of Heda :).ImageImageImageImageImageImage

I suppose there should be a part two to this post 😛

Radio silence (Drat!)

Good ol’ posts not sending -_-

In any case, Japan! I think I’ll do a series of posts…because one post would turn into a novel VERY quickly :).

So we were a little nervous the day we set out, with lovely wind gusts bending our lovely hardy Wellington trees, and flights either side of ours cancelled… But no, despite a little bit of delay, we got on the plane! And then the plane setting out swerved from side to side. It was wonderful ^^. Or terrifying. I had a brief moment of wondering if we’d just crash into the harbour before I entrusted my safety to God and got back to reading my book.

So because of our delay, we were late for our next flight-the flight to Hong Kong- except that because so many Wellingtonians were taking the HK flight, they held off departure for us! Hence getting to see Andrew for pretty well precisely 2 minutes before I had to sprint to the international terminal :P.

But hey! We got there! And it was an adventure! And it was really lovely to see someone up there looking out for us 🙂