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.     

Sunday, January 13, 2019

New Year's Decorations: the Kadomatsu

Examples of kadomatsu flank the entry to a trad villa in downtown Niigata City.
For a discussion of the "gate pine" and other decorative elements, see the earlier post titled The Japanese New Year.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Poet and Priest Ryokan-sama

From a 2009 post:

One morning death comes before
They can use even half their money.
Others happily receive the estate,
And the deceased's name is soon lost in darkness.
For such people there can only be great pity.

Well, I get the idea about the pity, even if it is tough to feel in this case.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Karin, or Chinese Quince

Karin (花梨) may be available at a grocery near you- or on the ground, as were the two I collected on my way to work a few days ago. Called Chinese quince in English, the fruit is used to make jams, syrups, and flavored spirits and is included as an ingredient in some throat lozenges as well.  

Monday, June 18, 2018


Japan is famously unwelcoming when it comes to refugees and asylum seekers, on par with Switzerland. The US joins that select group, with a cruel twist. Proud to be an American these days.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Weekend Cycling

Pics from June 3.

                                    Destination: Mt Sumon, Niigata,

                                               Roadside Shrine
                                         Rice paddy recently planted 
                                    Tough climb to reach the lake (700 m)