Monday, December 09, 2019

Tattoos and Onsen

This poorly written and researched article on tattoos exemplifies the low editorial standards at Japan Today. If you read through to the end and felt no more informed than at the beginning, the answer to 'Can onsen, swimming pools, sports clubs, and similar facilities bar those with tattoos?' is "It depends".

Public facilities may not bar tattooed patrons. Full stop.

Private facilities may do so at their discretion.  

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Matsuo Basho

In the year 1689, haiku poet Matsuo Basho departed Edo on what would be a two-year journey to the north of Japan. The collection of prose and travel verse inspired by the excursion yielded 奥の細道, or Narrow Road to the Interior. Basho spent a week at Mt. Haguro at Minamitani, or South Valley, at a temple no longer existing.

Path to South Valley

South Valley, where Basho spent a week in 1689

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

(Some of) The 2446 Steps

Pics from Haguro

Yamabushi Pilgrim

Photos from Mt. Haguro

Shrines and Cryptomeria

Mt. Haguro

Mt. Haguro, located on the outskirts of Tsuruoka City, Yamagata Prefecture, is sacred to shugendo, a belief system which is perhaps best described as an amalgam of Buddhism, Shinto, and ancient Japanese beliefs. Practitioners, or yamabushi, believe in the restorative and regenerative power of nature and of mountains in particular. Mt. Gassan and Mt. Yudono, both nearby, form a holy mountain trinity with Haguro known collectively as Dewa Sanzan, the three mountains of Dewa, the old provincial name of the prefecture. Pilgrimages undertaken to the area to experience renewal and rebirth- 生まれかわりの旅, as a sign above the entrance to the local culture museum puts it- begin at Haguro, which represents one's present life. The next stop on the pilgrimage route is Mt. Gassan, the highest of the group, signifying the past, with Mt. Yudono (the future) the last.

Sanjingosaiden Shrine, Mt. Haguro, and the largest thatch roof in Japan

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Monday, May 27, 2019

"The Truth about Wasabi", a Short Video

Highly recommended:

Izumozaki, Niigata: Basho, Ryokan-sama, and Grilled Fish

The town of Izumozaki in Niigata Prefecture has much to offer: haiku poet Basho spent a night there (commemorated by the sign pictured, which includes a haiku the poet wrote after gazing seawards from the window of his room) at "Travelers' Inn Ozaki-ya" in 1689 during the tour of northern Japan that inspired Narrow Road to the Interior; nineteenth-century poet and calligrapher Ryokan-sama was born in Izumozaki- be sure to visit the monument (shown below) and nearby museum curating his work, and the Ishii Fish Shop, which serves up local catch (from the Sea of Japan- of which there are wonderful views from the town) freshly grilled.

The haiku (inexpertly rendered):

The turbulent sea
Stretching to Sado Island
The glittering sky

Basho Memorial

Ryokan-sama Memorial

Grilled Saba from Ishii-ya

View of Sea of Japan (Sado Island just visible at right)

Monday, April 22, 2019

Black Ships and Dancing Girls

Shimoda, a city at the tip of the Izu Peninsula in Shizuoka Prefecture, was one of two ports (the other being Hakodate) opened to the outside world in 1854 with the signing of the Kanagawa Convention between the Tokugawa Shogunate and the US government. The first US consular office was located at a temple in the city and manned by Townsend Harris, who was later instrumental in negotiating the Treaty of Amity and Commerce between the two countries.

The limited express linking Tokyo to Shimoda is named Izu no Odori-ko, or "Dancing Girl of Izu", which evokes the short story by Yasunari Kawabata and its title character. I can't think of a lovelier or more appropriate name for this train.

Monday, January 28, 2019

A hand towel, a monk, and the first alpinist

Pictured is a hand towel, or tenugui (手ぬぐい), commemorating 1,300 years since Mt. Haku (2,702 m) was first climbed. Taicho, known as "The Monk of Echizen", accomplished this feat of mountaineering in the year 717: in other words, over 600 years before Petrarch (he of the sonnets to Laura in the style that bears his name) became the "first" alpinist in the modern sense (that is, climbing mountains to enjoy the views, among other things) by scaling Mt. Ventoux (1,912 m) in 1332. Whether Taicho admired the views from the top of Mr. Haku (which, by the way, straddles Ishikawa, Gifu, and Fukui prefectures and has been considered sacred from ancient times) is, well, irrelevant. In 717 there were no climbing routes, so Taicho had to blaze his own trail. In the following century three paths were established, one starting in each of the three prefectures (not then known as "prefectures", if you care about such things) mentioned above. Nice hand towel/ wall decoration.  Tenugui make good souvenirs, too.