Thursday, 30 September 2010

Outer suburbia and upper hell

I accidentally deleted the photos. Will endeavour to relocate them.

A Sunday shopping trip to H&M Shin Misato was never going to be a whole lot of fun.  Shibuya, Shinjuku & Ginza all have H&M - so far the only place in Japan where I can get jeans that fit - and are all closer, but the trek to outer suburbia seemed reasonable since odds on the store there would be less crowded.  

It wasn't that crowded and I did get my jeans.
We took a wander around the complex and ventured into what could generously be ranked as being located in Dante's upper hell, but a convincing argument could be made for it being in uncharted depths that Dante didn't find.

I'm not quite sure where my wowser genes came from - it's very "unAustralian" to be thoroughly indifferent to the Melbourne Cup.  Wowser aside, this was a den of vice. Gambling is illegal in Japan - except for Horse racing, and boat racing, and bike racing and pachinko - though that is a bit grey zone and because people win (or lose which is more likely the case) - chips that are transferable for money rather than money perse it's not exactly gambling by Japanese definition. 
The place we stumbled on was a games centre. Athough there are lots of game centres in Tokyo, I'd never ventured into one like Shin Misato where it  was so big and such a family affair.  Parents sitting with their children essentially playing pachinko encouraging their kids to be pouring tokens through the machine. In some cases children with grandparents.  Parents sitting with kids watching simulated horse races encouraging them to be betting on the horses.   Utterly retarded parents putting 100Y coins into machines and being really excited when their 5 year old wins a chocolate that you can buy for 20Y at any convenience store... So excited that they put in another 2 x 100Yen in to win ..... another 2 chocolates....  300Y to get 30Y of chocolate.......evidently not the sharpest tool in the shed.... my friend Jenny reminds me that I should remember that 100 is the average IQ of the population...

With the pachinko and horseracing type games, apparently the winnings are not transferable for cash. Hiro is adamant that is the case - that the pachinko parlours have a lot of political clout and maintain political pressure to ensure game centres can't  transfer points to money - though they can be exchanged for time at karaoke or playing 10 pin bowls - in the same game centre.  I find this very hard to believe... where there are points there will be exchange....

I will confess to being a wowser ... but it really doesn't inspire much confidence in the future of Japan... or perhaps I just don't understand the culture yet...

20 yen chocolates - if you are lucky you might
win one if you spend 100Y...
Hard to understand spending so much money trying to win ugly,
cheap quality stuffed toys, when you could just go and
buy a nice one...for the same money.
I guess I don't understand the
thrill of winning...

A model of parental responsibility - keep feeding through
the tokens....won't be long before he graduates to

I don't think I would know what to do with an oversized
Hello Kitty...
How many 100Yens does it take to win a 200Y icecream? 

Individual  seats for horse racing bets

Betting on simulated races - buy your tokens from
the Medal Bank in the background - take your children and their friends.

A proud father proving his skill to his family.
After 5 attempts that we saw - 500Y -they won a Doraemon doll.
A memorable achievement.

I'm not sure I understand anyone wanting to win the character on the left.
It could be a valid alternative to a print of Munch's The Scream.
Hiro told me who it is, but I forget.

An oversized stuffed orange snake is not very high on
my shopping list.

A Japanese courtesy

I love this about the Tokyo Metro.
Chilled water available on tap, free, on the platform. Sparkling clean bubbler (water fountain) - no cigarette butts in the bottom, no left over chunks of vomit, no grungy bits that make a person recoil  with fear of communicable diseases.   As part of my eco endeavours, I'm taking my water bottle almost every time I go out.  Great effort Tokyo Metro, may others follow suit.

Friday, 24 September 2010

The long hot summer is over

The summer has been long and hot.  Usually by the end of the third week of August the edge has gone off the heat, beginning a gentle slide into autumn.  Not this year. The heat continued into September, the few signs of autumn include the maple leaves on the beer cans, the abundance of apples and sanma (saury) in the supermarket.
The day before yesterday was another 35 degree day.  A few days ago I pulled a blanket from the cupboard - as the evening temperature dipped below twenty...

Yesterday, the universe shifted gears.  One day 35, the next day 18.... This kind of variation can happen in Sydney as the oppressive crescendo of heat and humidity is stopped in its tracks by the southerly buster....  But in Tokyo...

Beer season is over and mulled wine season has begun.  Hiro will wear short sleeves for the remainder of the week and then they will go to the dry cleaners to get washed, ironed and wrapped in plastic till next June - a neat way to keep them.  "Aki guchi"  autumn tastes have consigned the somen noodles to the cupboard till next summer, and today I wore a second layer as I went out...  My Japanese teacher was talking about autumn melancholy last week, and I felt puzzled.  Today I don't.  The steady slide to winter has begun....

Shirakawago, Takayama, Matsumoto, home

Just a heading for the time being.

Gassho zukuri houses Ainokura

From Kanazawa we headed back into Toyama prefecture on our way to Gifu. Both Toyama and Gifu are home to the UNESCO listed gassho-zukuri  (steep thatched roof wooden) houses.  We knew where  the gassho zukuri villages were, but beyond that we didn't know much - I was interested to stay in one, but we didn't have information to book it... The tourist office in Kanazawa told us they deal with Ishikawa prefecture, not Toyama, and the michi no eki (farmers market meets souvenir shop) that we passed also had no accommodation information. It was pretty poor planning on our part as it's a courtesy when staying at minshuku (B&B type accommodation) to ring the day before, or at least in the morning. 
Driving on windy roads and through tunnels that removed the need for winding, we passed a sign for Ainokura village, where we spent the night.

To be finished later

Kanazawa, the castle, samurai district, and the Oyama Shrine.

We made a decision in the morning to stay only the one night in Kanazawa.  We had been thinking about a second night but weather reports showed a typhoon approaching with a path that would take it directly over Kanazawa.  Since we were travelling by motor bike we took heed.  
From Kenrokuen we walked across the road to the Castle Park where the castle has been restored with great attention to detail. From there we went to the old samurai quarters and onto the Oyama Shrine before heading off to towards Shirakawago via Toyama prefecture.

The samurai district with its prominent canals reminded
me in someway of Suzhou, China.

The Samurai district

The Oyama shrine - the stained glass in the window is a feature
point of the shrine.

The garden within the shrine precinct.

Kanazawa - Kenrokuen

Kenrokuen, a legacy of the Maeda clan, is Kanazawa's premier tourist attraction.  Along with Kairakuen in Mito, Ibaraki and Korakuen in Okayama it is said to be one of the three most beautiful landscaped gardens in Japan.  Such lists are common place in Japan (in East Asia actually), and stimulate a modicum of cynicism - in part because once a list becomes considered a truth no amount of time enables additions or subtractions to it.
But... Kenrokuen is beautiful;  so lush and green, such a variety of different scenes and atmospheres.  It is also big, much bigger I think than Tokyo's Korakuen or Rikugien. There were armies of workers weeding, sweeping - including sweeping dirt built up on the stones in the streams, trimming and generally keeping things spick and span. It was also very busy with tour groups and getting there early in the morning or late in the evening may make for a more tranquil experience. That said though, you don't have to wait long for a tour group to pass through.  

sweeping mud from the stones

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Idiocy reigns... time to re read Kafka

Interrupting this trip report for a whinge...

Today I was chastised at work for putting rubbish in the rubbish bin.

I kid you not.

A see through plastic bag with the offending rubbish was waved under my nose  as I was told - this is your rubbish  - my name clearly visible on exam papers (university requirement that our name goes on the test paper).

There are 2 bins in the staffroom.  One is burnable, one is cans/ bottles.

I put 3 unused exam papers, 2 unused test papers and about 8 pages of summer holiday homework sheets in the burnable rubbish bin on the last day of last semester.

They were all blank, no student names, no issues of privacy.
There was no issue with the naughty foreigner disrespecting the rubbish sorting regime.

The issue was - I put rubbish in the bin (there is no recycle paper box). Period.  A paper cup and tea bag were retrieved from the bin and in a separate bag (couldn't be pinned on me definitely & I didn't let on that they were mine....)

I politely suggested perhaps if we can't use the bins, it might be worth removing them from the staffroom so as not to confuse people.    The suggestion wasn't appreciate.

To be fair to the person charged with chastising, he also was somewhat bemused with the directive - particularly after I asked where I should put rubbish in future. (Take it home ? )

It's time to reread Kafka.

Monday, 20 September 2010


Kanazawa is lovely city,  and probably one of Japan's most liveable. A  castle town that was favoured by the Tokugawa Shogunate, it was fortunate to have a daimyo (feudal lord)  who appreciated arts and culture.  Though since the daimyo's  wealth came from the rice crop of the peasant class, it's quite likely that the local peasantry were less enthusiastic about the Maeda clan's refined tastes.  Although the castle has gone,  much of the old town remains, notably the samurai district, Kenroken garden and the Higashi Chaya (tea shops) area.  According to a volunteer attendant that we spoke to  Kanazawa was fortunate to be spared major fires - the last major one in 1759- which would have destroyed the old wooden buildings in the city.   Like Kyoto and Nara, it was spared American bombing during World War Two on account of its heritage value.

History is integral to Kanazawa's identity and charm, but the city has also forged a modern face.  Tourist information about Kanazawa from non Japanese sources,  often seem to describe it as a backwater, far from Shinkansen lines and of minimal relevance.  While it's a relatively small city - about 400.000 people, 'backwater' is myopic. Admittedly here was a surprising lack of chain fast foods in central Kanazawa, but I don't see that as such a bad thing and shudder to think that modernity would be judged by the number of  KFCs and Yoshinoyas!    The history and architecture is well preserved and a sightseeing loop bus makes getting around  very simple.   The modern highlight of Kanazawa is undoubtedly the   Museum of Contemporary Art,  reported to be among the best in Japan  (anfortunately we were there on a Sun afternoon / Monday when it was closed - a great pity),  also the Castle Park area.  Ishikawa Prefectural Government has taken over the  Castle area, formerly the site of Kanazawa University  and has turned it into public parkland.  There is a positive vibe in the city and it was no great surprise when Hiro said  Ishikawa regularly tops the list of 'most satisifed with my prefecture' surveys.

Sushi shop near the railway station
Good and not expensive, on the sushi scale.
The highlight was flounder with a dipping sauce with
flounder liver.  On looking at it, it was apparent it was an
eat first, ask later dish.

Kanazawa's impressive railway entrance

Higashi Chaya district

Higashi Chaya district
Chaya's kanji mean tea shop - I was surprised to see it
translated as Higashi Geisha district - though the tea house
do have a strong association with geisha.
Overlooking Kanazawa from Honsenji in Higashi Chaya

Pocket park in Higashi Chaya

I was impressed with the underground watering system to thaw the snow in winter
I am not sure how they stop the water from freezing in the pipes though.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Noto Hanto - and down the other side... to Kanazawa

The pictures that follow are of the Kongo Coast down to Chirihama driving beach.  The Kongo of Kongo Coast according to an information sign there gets its name from Mt Kongo in North Korea because of geographical similarities.  Since Mt Kongo in North Korea is inland bordering China, I am curious to know more about the similarity.  Alas there aren't a whole lot of North Korea photos on the internet to find out...

Kongo Coast



Food stalls on the beach

Chirihama beach.
This is a beach and road.
I expected it to be grotty, and expected that having cars driving
along a beach would give me ecological angst...
but it was remarkably pleasant.  It was late afternoon of a
hot Sunday and there weren't many people. But the
people who were there had driven down and were having
BBQs on the beach - all with mochikaeri (take it home with you)

Sunset in Kanazawa

Noto Hanto - across the top

Near Rokkozaki  lighthouse

Salt making is one of Noto Hanto's traditional industries

Window rock
Biking along

Onions outside a home in Wajima machi
Rice harvested and hung to dry

Senmaida stepped rice fields on the north coast of Noto Hanto.
Noto Hanto is very hilly with few large flat rice fields, making
it hard to plant and harvest by machine.  Hand farming is great for
tourism, but a tough life.  I wonder how much of it will remain in twenty years.

A settlement in Wajima machi. Conspicuous concrete reinforcement on the
coastlines gets a lot of flack from foreigners.  The construction companies have an
undeniable vested interest in making concrete jetties, and seawalls. The
number of concrete toori (gates making a Shinto shrine) in the water
left me wondering if there was a god of concrete... undoubtedly.
That said though, driving through these low lying villages that
are only just above sea level,  I think I would feel safer in a storm knowing that
there was a sea wall barrier set out 50m from the coast.
One such seawall - built in the centre of the bay it gives protection to
boats and to the village.