日本での一年間

February 1, 2012

Nikko

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

Sugaya Tatara Iron Town

street

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.

たかどの

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

furnace

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.

odoba

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.

odoba

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

motogoya

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

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

shrine

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.

river

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.

Mini-shrine

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

Crowds on the walk to the silver pavilion

reflection

Reflection of the pavilion and crowds in a window.

garden

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

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 17, 2011

At the Mountaintop

Filed under: Chuugoku, Domestic, Trips — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — myyearinjapan @ 5:37 am

In my last post, I walked up Mt. Misen on Miyajima island near Hiroshima. So, in this post, I have some pictures I took at the mountaintop.

statue

This disgruntled dude was guarding a temple at the top.

Misen hondo

This is Misen Hondo temple. It gets a lot of visitors considering that you need to climb a mountain to get to it.

sankido

This is Sankido temple. It's only few meters away from Misen hondo. It's just like convenience stores in Japan. In the big cities, you can find 7-elevens right across the street from Lawson station and kitty corner to Family Mart all the time. Somehow temples can also co-exist close by and not steal too many parishioners from each other.

reflection

The world below reflected in the window of sankido temple.

mountain view

Mountain vista.

crow

A crow, ready to take flight.

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.

Torii

Red Torii Gate as seen from the shrine.

inside the shrine

Inside the shrine.

courtyard

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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