Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Naoshima Island

I am fascinated by the concept of island life. The inland sea between Shikoku and Honshu has many many islands and supposedly unused homes. Any idea where this is leading?
Naoshima Island is noted as an artistic community as well as possessing many traditional old wooden homes with very narrow streets. The islands and surrounding sea are very beautiful. Our ferry docked and the two of us walked over the hill to the artistic community on the other side. We did no have time to see the art exhibits, but thoroughly enjoyed the sunny ambience.

Please see the Picasa photographs at Naoshima Island.

Battle fatigue

We have seen so many fascinating things that it has become difficult for us to be easily impressed any more.
Every city has sites such as historical figures, castles, temples, shrines or gardens that they are proud of. Each city has a food that they are proud of.
Our memories of these distinctions have begun to blur. We have met so many interesting and hospitable people.
Last night we left the city of Tokusima on Shikoku at 9:45pm and took the overnight bus to Tokyo Station arriving there at about 8am after a sleepless night. It is following us. We cannot seem to escape it. Snow, there must be at least 15cm in Tokyo where it almost never snows, ha. We will stay at Yayoi's brother's place in Ome, Tokyo for a few days to tell our battle stories. Then we plan on checking out an unused farm house which friends in Winnipeg arranged for us and hopefully it will be suitable for us to use as a home base long term.

Ritsurin Garden in Takamatsu

Many places in Japan are rightfully proud of their gardens, but the Ritsurin claims to be better than the three usually touted to be the three best. I am not prepared to debate that, but for a garden in winter, it was a very beautiful garden. It included birds, koi (carp), unique rocks as though sculptured by water and of course shaped pine trees. Taka meaning large and matsu meaning pine, which helps to explain the name of the city. This area is one of the driest areas in Japan and therefore suitable for pine trees.

Please refer to the Picasa website for related photographs.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Nara the first political centre of Japan

Like most Japanese cities Nara appears to be just another city, but hundreds of years ago it was the original cultural centre of Japan, where the emperor would have resided. So today there is a part of Nara that still maintains old temples and shrines and of course the tourist shops that all tourist attractions have. But what makes Nara unique today is the hundreds of deer wandering around on the grounds of the ancient area. You might be tempted to compare them to Canada geese or pigeons. Stands sell senbei or crackers that tourists feed to the deer, which can make the deer quite aggressive. Even fawns will spot you and approach hoping for a handout. At the same time there are signs warning that the animals are wild and I did see one head butt a person in the rear end almost lifting him.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012


Canadian houses tend to have 200 amperes, while Japanese houses or condos may have 30-40 amperes. Canadian houses have central heating and frequently cooling, while Japanese houses tend to only heat the area they are living in at the moment. The Japanese air conditioning systems used to be a square hole in the floor with a charcoal firepit or a charcoal pot beneath a "blanket covered coffee table - kotatsu" under which you stuck your feet or legs to stay warm. Later they used kerosene heaters or more recently free standing natural gas heaters. Today's standard is the use of heat pumps usually located in one corner up on the wall with an air conditioner like heat exchanger outside. This does not function well when the temperature falls below zero, but it is something that Canadians should adopt for cooling individual rooms and heating in spring and fall. Canadian houses, especially in the colder areas are designed to conserve heat, while Japanese houses are designed to allow cooling breezes to flow through in their unbearable summers and have virtually no insulation. There are two gypsies in Japan currently or are having a hard time adapting to sleeping in rooms which are barely above freezing in the morning or entering kitchens in which you can see your breath.
There are serious shortcomings in both these philosophies and some houses being built today are incorporating a more Canadian philosophy. I am not implying that Canadian houses are perfect, as the size of traditional farm houses in Japan and the size of Canadian houses is in one word criminal. The traditional Japanese home used to mean a three generation family, but what excuse do we in Canada have?
Japanese laundry usually means hanging out to dry which North Americans seem to have forgotten how to do.
NASA accused Japan of having the brightest spot on the planet when their vehicles orbited above, but I do not understand this. Their entertainment districts tend to be bright as well as their vending machines, but government initiatives are curtailing this to some extent. I have always felt that residential areas in Japan are much darker than Canada. You can see more stars in Japan on a clear night and sometimes when they walk the streets they carry a flashlight.
Japanese park areas tend to have lights that are powered by a combination of solar and wind energy systems attached to each light standard. Large solar panel sites can be seen near freeway interchanges. Solar energy installations for homes are being much more actively promoted in Japan than in Canada. Wind turbines damage the appearance of a significant number of mountain tops.
Japan relationship with nature is well known to be different than that of Americans. Their homes are frequently open to the outside and so are many shops including winter when you can walk into a wide open front entrance of a tourist shop and have a space heater blasting heat into the interior and of course sending most of this outside.
Let's not discuss the worst curse of all, our propensity for travel particularly our love for that rubber legged quadruped when we were born perfectly bipedal.

The above photograph demonstrates the wind and solar energy combination.

Friday, 17 February 2012

The beautiful do not survive

The world heritage island of Yakushima south of Kyushu is an extraordinarily beautiful island renowned for its old "sugi" or cedar which are very similar to the sequoia or redwoods of California. About 400 years ago the shogun or ruler of Japan, Hideyoshi had a 3000 year old tree cut down to make a Buddha for a temple. The islanders who venerate their trees were finally persuaded to use some of this lumber and began making shingles. It was a lot of work to cut down a tree without tools such as chainsaws so they would sample a tree to determine its suitability for shingles. If not suitable the scarred tree was left standing. There are a number of trees which are older than 2000 years. They tend to be the less beautiful trees. We visited one 3000 year old giant named Yayoisugi.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Found my relatives in Japan

I have been hoping to see the famous Japanese macaque monkeys close up for a long time. They are quite famous in that at least one troop of them living in the snow country of Nagano prefecture makes a habit of spending time in hot spring water.
Prior to driving around Yakushima we saw a poster with one of the "saru" monkeys riding a "shika" or Japanese deer. I was sceptical, but after seeing multiple monkeys, including one less than a meter away from a deer, I believe it could happen.
It was a beautiful warm sunny day on an island that measures rainfall in meters, not centimetres or inches. We saw many monkeys in sunny areas including the middle of the road, so that we had to carefully maneuver our micro-van around them.

Pony Express

Yes, it is alive and well in Japan. They have system of post offices recognizable by a T symbol with an extra horizontal line above the T. They not only deliver mail and except for the fact that they do not transfer money from banks abroad, they are probably the best bank for foreigners, especially since their ATM machines accept foreign debit cards. They do not appear to have post-people delivering mail on foot, but rather have an army of red scooters on the road combined with a fleet of cute red vans.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Wrong side of road

One of my fears in Japan has been the thought of driving a vehicle on their narrow winding roads. Well we took a rocket ferry to Yakushima island from Kagoshima which is one of the southern chain of islands including Okinawa. Two hours later we landed on the island, had lunch, checked into a very nice eight tatami minshuku room, who arranged for a car rental company to bring a small Mitsubishi SUV style vehicle to our door. We drove it to see the interior of this mountainous area seeing a 3000 year old tsugi (cedar) tree named Yayoi-sugi. After a nice walk over rocks and steps we headed back to town on very winding mountain roads and drove to a beach on the other side of town where sea turtles come to nest and then the hatchlings swim to California and grow up ready to come back to the beach at Yakushima.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Loch Ness Monster

We all want to believe in monsters. The Japanese have been especially wishful in the past with their Godzilla movies. Anyway these monsters are merely large freshwater eels in the largest lake in Kyushu.




Southern most train station in Japan

Kyushu boasts the first train station as noted in an earlier BLOG and also the most southerly train station. Make sure you don't miss your train as it only runs about eight times a day. Doesn't it just annoy Manitobans that canola can be seen growing across the tracks in February.




When the tides come marching in...

Near the southern edge of Kyushu there is an uninhabited island to which one can walk provided the moon's positioning is correct. When we were there the zig zag pathway was halfway passable as seen in the photographs. The island is situated across from the first Japanese campground I have seen. The campsites are not very private and there were two motorhomes situated there. One of these had a license plate belonging to Fukushima, the area devastated by earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown.





Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Swirling Noodles

Arima-san seems to know all the interesting places to see in Kyushu. For lunch we went to a very scenic spot, which happened to have an obscure canyon which we entered via elevator. Here we entered a restaurant that served somen noodles in a very unique fashion. Supposedly it was invented by the mayor of the nearby town and consisted of water being pumped in circular troughs at the table into which we threw the batch of somen noodles and then allowed the swirling motion to drive them against our ohashi (chop sticks). Quite delicious as well teamed up with salty broiled rainbow trout.




Sand Bath

Yayoi's cousin Arima-san picked us up at the Kagoshima train station and drove us south to locations near Ibusuki. At Ibusuki itself which is a very touristy town, we entered a building next to the beach, picked up our ankle length yukatas and changed into these. Then we walked outside and down to the beach beneath a canopied structure.
Here we were asked to lie down with our heads on sandy pillows. Then sand was shoveled over our entire bodies except our towel wrapped heads. The heat from the geothermally heated water mixing with sea water beneath our bodies became warm enough that it almost caused burns. The recommended time was ten minutes, but the ideal was to stay until you began to sweat.
When you were tired of this you forced your way out of the sand and went back into the building to enjoy the sauna and/or the hot spring.
All sorts of medical claims were being made about the benefits of this treatment, such as turning your blood from black to a proper bright red.



Saturday, 4 February 2012

Day off on Tuesday and Saturday

Yes, it's a 6 day week in Japan. Today is Saturday February 4, but on Tuesday afternoon Arima-san took us on a whirlwind tour visiting scenic sites and parks around Kagoshima. The park portrayed here is a prefectural (provincial in Canada) park and admission is free. This park is unique in that it had large expanses of grass (albeit brown) and in one area elderly people (like us) were playing a game they call "golfu". They use wooden mallets to hit a plastic ball and attempt to hit a cylinder suspended on a steel pole (like a bell) in as few shots as possible. I would have liked to have joined them and forget the week of work ahead. Today Saturday and Sunday we will be working in Cafe Cho-on-kan. It was a beautiful day outside today especially in the sunshine. Our two Taiwanese girls left early this morning for another WWOOFer site to finish off the rest of their 36 day university holiday. Tomorrow 3 Australians will be joining us.