February 1, 2012


Nikko is a city in Tochigi prefecture, north of Tokyo, famous for several well-known shrines and temples. 2 shrines and 1 temple are collectively a UNESCO world heritage site.

At Tobu Nikko Station. In early December, there was still a surprising amount of fall foliage to be seen.

The first stop on my World Heritage tour was Rinnoji temple.

Outside Rinnoji temple.

Rinnoji temple is currently being restored, so there is a plastic shell with a picture of what the temple will look like covering the real temple. You can still go inside during restoration.

More pictures after the jump (more…)


October 17, 2011

Autumn Festival

This year, I was invited to see a local fall festival (秋祭り). It was held in a small neighborhood nestled deep in the mountains. In good weather, this neighborhood is a 20 minutes drive from the nearest store. Once the snow falls, it takes even longer. The festival involved bringing a large object from the elementary school to a local shrine. (The school only has 5 students and will be shut down at the end of the school year.)

On the bottom left is the object that will be transported. The building on the right is the school gymnasium. The blue jacket like things that everyone is wearing are called Happi. They say 祭, or festival, on the back and are a very common sight at any local festival in Japan.

Everyone had interesting outfits for the festival.

I thought this guy was pretty funny. He had a bunch of daikon raddies and he kept grating them in a menacing way throughout the day. He would go up to small children, scare them with his creepy mask, and then hand them a piece of candy. The confusion on their faces was priceless!

It took 15 or 20 men to carry the heavy...thing. (I'm not really sure what to call it...) They had a lot of trouble keeping it steady.

More pictures after the jump (more…)

March 24, 2011

Sugaya Tatara Iron Town

Filed under: Domestic, Interesting, Iron, Trips — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — myyearinjapan @ 12:09 am

Back in January, I wrote a post about seeing Tatara Iron making. Turns out that the Tarara iron making I saw wasn’t the real deal. Well, some people don’t consider it the real deal. The furnace they used was considerably smaller than the furnaces they used to use for Tatara iron making. Real Tatara iron making didn’t take one day and one night, like the process I witnessed. The process took 3 days and 3 nights. It wasn’t until the 4th morning that the iron was ready. I visited the last extant iron furnace (I visited 3 times in the past month, actually), which was last used to make iron in 1921. It is located in Yoshida town in the Okuizumo area of the Chugoku mountains. The Iron town is called the Sugaya Tatara Iron Town.

I explained in my last iron post a little bit about how they make the iron, but here’s a quick refresher: Iron sand is taken from nearby rivers and local mountains. The iron sand, along with charcoal, was put into special furnaces made by layering sand and charcoal and heated to extreme temperatures. To build and use the furnace takes over a week. Special foot bellows were used to stoke the fire throughout the process. The iron produced with this method is supposedly of very high quality and is used to make Japanese swords, knives and other things. One important quality about this iron is that it can be manipulated at much lower temperatures then iron made by other processes.

As I mentioned before, this iron town was the basis for the iron town in the movie Princess Mononoke. In the movie, women work the foot bellows. When I visited the iron town, I asked if women ever worked the foot bellows here. The guide looked at me like I was crazy and said, No way, this was really hard labor!


Sugaya Tatara Iron Town


A street in the iron town. People still live here, just as they have for hundreds of years. It snows a lot in winter, so they essentially get cut off from the outside world for a few months a year.


This is where the magic happened, by which I mean they made the iron here. This building is called the Takadono (高殿).


This is the furnace used to make the iron. On either side are the bellows, which were once foot bellows and were later replaced with a water wheel system. The wooden planks in front of the furnace are covering underground tunnels. They would light a fire on one side of the tunnel and use the other side as a chimney to naturally dehumidify, so the furnace didn't explode.


This building is called the Odoba. After making the iron, and cooling it in a small pond (which I couldn't get a picture of because it was covered in snow), they took the meter long iron lump here. They would drop that big metal rod onto the iron to break it apart. Sounds pretty dangerous. I apologize that the picture is blurry. There was very little light.


The outside of the Odoba, where the big metal rod was used to break up the big iron lump.


The smaller pieces of iron are then brought to this building, called the motogoya. This building is where the big boss lives. He was in charge of administrating the operation and counting the money. Also, right across from him, in the same building, people sort the iron and prepare it for shipment. There were also blacksmiths who worked in a building next door, but that building no longer exists.


Tools used in the motogoya so sorting, packing, etc.


A little shrine dedicated to the god of iron. The Murage (村下) was the head of the factory, so to speak, and was in charge of the actual iron making, Before they started the iron making, the Murage would come to this shrine to pray.


The Murage would also purify himself in this river.

March 23, 2011

Local Waterfall

Filed under: Domestic, seikatsu, Trips — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — myyearinjapan @ 12:01 am

Not to far from where I live is a waterfall. I’ve been driving by the sign for the turn off to the waterfall for months and I finally went to check it out. Turns out that you need to drive for another 20 minutes or so past the sign for the turn off to get to the waterfall.

The trees in the real nature. The waterfalls aren't near anything.

River leading to the falls

30 meter waterfall.

Closer-up view of the falls. By the way, 30 m=98 ft.


February 23, 2011

New Years Eve at Kyoto’s Silver Pavilion

At New Years, it is tradition to go to a shrine to pray for the new year. Many people flood into shrines at midnight and for the next few days, major shrines are packed with people.

So, while staying in Osaka around New Years, my friends and I decided to go to Kyoto for a day. It’s only about half an hour train ride away from Osaka. very close. We figured if we went the day before the new year, we would beat the crowds. We were also planning to visit temples, not shrines. (Temples are Buddhist. Shrines are Shinto. )

But we failed in our attempt to beat the crowds. Everywhere we went was packed with people. Even though it wasn’t the traditional time or place to visit, it was still a time when most people had vacation from work and there were tons of people taking the opportunity to travel. Also, unlike Osaka, which had relatively warm weather, Kyoto was cold and snowy. We got caught in a snowstorm there. In this post, I have pictures from the first temple we visited, ginkakuji, the silver pavilion (銀閣寺). I visited this temple before a couple years ago in the springtime. You can see those pictures here.


Crowds on the walk to the silver pavilion


Reflection of the pavilion and crowds in a window.


Usually you can walk through many paths that go through the beautiful garden, but most of the paths were closed because of the snow.

silver pavilion

The silver pavilion with a blanket of snow.Why is it called the silver pavilion? It is said that they originally had plans to cover the exterior in silver leaf. (Emulating the Golden Pavilion, which is covered in gold leaf. ) But although the never did, the name stuck.


Bamboo covered in snow.

snow rabbit

My friend made a snow bunny! And then she found some berries for the creepy red eyes. Pretty well done, right? As soon as she put it down, tourists were stopping to take pictures of it.

February 18, 2011

Torii Gate at Low Tide

Filed under: Chuugoku, Domestic, Trips — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — myyearinjapan @ 2:07 am

In a couple of previous posts, I put up pictures of the 16 meter (52.5 ft) tall floating red torii gate at Miyajima island. You may have been thinking, how in the world did they get that big gate out in the water? Answer: low tide.

Although the Torii gate is not reachable when the tide is high, during low tide, you can walk out right next the gate. The gate has been there since 1168, but the current gate is from 1875 and is the 8th gate. The keep the gate grounded, it has heavy stones at the bottom to weigh it down. The idea is that it should be able to withstand typhoons and it seems to be doing so swimmingly. Also, each side has 4 helper columns, keeping it steady. Another thing that prevents it from being totally destroyed by the elements is the materials. The gate is made of camphor wood, which is slow to rot and strong against bugs.


With people to compare it to, the gate seems much, much bigger.


All them tourists gotta get up close to the torii and take some pictures.

looking up

It seems that I proceded to copy the guy in the picture above and take the exact same photo as he did.

bottom of the torii

The bottom of the Torii looks a bit dirty, doesn't it?


The sun has set and my day in Miyajima has come to an end.

I would feel like a day at Miyajima was incomplete if I didn’t see the Torii at high tide and low tide. It gives you 2 different perspectives on this amazing piece of architecture and both are necessary to get a full sense of how amazing it is.

February 14, 2011

Itsukushima Shrine

Filed under: Chuugoku, Domestic, Trips — Tags: , , , , , , , , — myyearinjapan @ 1:26 am

Miyajima literally means “Shrine Island,” and the shrine in question is Itsukushima shrine. The famous Torii red gate that floats in the water is actually part of this shrine.


Red Torii Gate as seen from the shrine.

inside the shrine

Inside the shrine.


Courtyard inside the shrine.

Noh stage

A stage for Noh (traditional Japanse theater) inside the shrine.

Torii from shrine

Another view of the Torii gate from the shrine.

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