Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Some pretty things

September 9, 2009

After leaving Tokyo and before getting to the temple-rich earth of the Yamato Plain, I took relatively few pictures.  But those I took turned out surprisingly well.

The second night after leaving Carol’s place, I stayed at a youth hostel at Omaezaki. In modern Japanese Omaezaki (御前崎) means, oddly enough, something like ‘Cape You Scumbag’: ‘omae’ is a once exceedingly polite second-person pronoun (literally something like “O honorable one before me”) which has become equally rude through devaluation and repeated sarcasm.  This was one of several nights where I tried and failed to get to my destination by dinnertime.  I called ahead, and the guy told me that I wouldn’t make it and that I should buy my own dinner, which I did.  This was insufficient, though, so I ended up going for a late-night (8:30 was late for me) walk around the cape in order to find a convenience store.  I could hear the waves beating against the rocky shore; it was good.

This was the bathroom mirror in the youth hostel.  As I was leaving in the morning I remembered to photograph it, since of course I didn't have my camera when I was bathing.

This was the bathroom mirror in the youth hostel. As I was leaving in the morning I remembered to photograph it, since of course I didn't have my camera when I was bathing.

After I visited the shrine at Ise, the sun set and I happened to be there.

The line across the sky is a mystery.  It was certainly there though.

The line across the sky is a mystery. It was certainly there though.

More of that sky.

More of that sky.

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Photos: a bit more Tōkyō

September 8, 2009

I’ve left out the parts I posted when I was there.

Photos: Nikkō

September 8, 2009

I ran out of batteries less than halfway through the complex, sparing the world many pictures of roofs.  You were mostly not allowed to photograph inside, and at this point my camera still had the disease where it would pretend to run out of batteries whenever I tried to zoom, so all the pictures are fisheye and therefore most of them aren’t very good.  Still, I’ve tried to include a representative sample of this nonsense.

Photos: Miscellaneous Tōhoku II

September 7, 2009

This is when I was still occasionally taking photos.  Later I would give up for a week at a time.

Photos: Kakunodate

September 7, 2009

Kakunodate (角館, “angular (?) building” — that first character has lots of meanings, even just when it’s pronounced ‘kaku’) is a small town whose claim to fame, or at least touristiness, is a number of well-preserved old samurai houses.  I’m really confused as to how people survived in these houses: this area gets meters of snow every year, yet the walls are flimsy paper screens and there doesn’t seem to be any effective heating.

Photos: miscellaneous Tōhoku I

September 7, 2009

At first I couldn’t help an ironic attitude towards everything in this country, and was rather annoyed that this was happening.  Of course as a foreigner it’s easy to see silliness and inconsistency in another country’s habits and traditions, but that’s not the point, ne?  But everything was so beautiful and everyone was so kind that eventually something clicked and I could see things without a shard of mirror in my eye.

Photo dump 3: Grave of Christ

September 5, 2009

I’d wanted to visit the Grave of Christ for its only-in-Japan sort of bizarreness ever since I learned about it from the BBC.  Wikipedia can describe its origin better than I can.

Photo dump 2: Osorezan

September 5, 2009

I reached Osorezan towards the end of the first day, after an exhausting headwind by the sea and an exhausting climb.

I was so happy when I got over the pass and caught a glimpse of the lake, I had to stop and take a picture.

I was so happy when I got over the pass and caught a glimpse of the lake, I had to stop and take a picture.

Osorezan (恐山, “Mount Dread”, though the name is a mutated Ainu one) is an active volcanic crater with a lake in it.  The formations are similar to those at (for example) Lassen: sulfurous smell, bright yellow stains, sickly-gray-turquoise water, pools of boiling water.  Lassen is more outlandish, but not as beautifully green.

In Japanese, such things are called 地獄 jigoku, Buddhist hells, and are sacred to the Buddhists; Osorezan, particularly so.  The legend goes: a monk had a dream that told him to go east and find a place surrounded by eight mountain peaks (for the eight virtues) and one-hundred eight sulfurous pools (for the one-hundred eight sins — count ’em!), build there a shrine to the bodhisattva Jizō.  So he did.  Now there’s a pretty big temple complex there.  Since it’s really out of the way, there are more actual worshipers than tourists.

I like this guy.

I like this guy.

Some roped-off sulfur.

Some roped-off sulfur.

A view of the lake.

A view of the lake.

Finally, a photo dump (Hakodate)

September 5, 2009

As I’ve mentioned before, I stayed for a day in 函館 Hakodate (“Boxy Building”) before I started cycling.  The first thing I did in the morning was find the terminal for the ferry to Ōma.  On the way back I saw this nicely postapocalyptic lot:

picturesque dead car

See William Carlos Williams

Eventually I got to the downtown harbor:

A monument to squid, to commemorate their economic importance to the city of Hakodate.  It represents three squid flocking together.  Do squid really do that?

A monument to squid, to commemorate their economic importance to the city of Hakodate. It represents three squid flocking together. Do squid really do that?

A view of the harbor.  The hill with the cluster of antennas is Hakodateyama.

A view of the harbor. The hill with the cluster of antennas is Hakodateyama.

After this I decided to test my hill-climbing ability on Hakodateyama.  I didn’t have enough water and it was pretty hot, so I reached the top half-dead.  There were lots of crows along the way.  The crows on Hokkaidō are very black and gaunt and have voices that are simultaneously oddly human and oddly mechanical.  Here’s a panorama of the view from the top (thanks, Eric):

全函館

全函館

After drinking some water and marveling at the number of soft-drink vending machines and the amount of milk-based products sold at the gift shop (I bought some red wine-flavored caramels (!) that got progressively smashed in a pannier later in the trip) I descended and immediately alighted upon a shrine.

$5 to pray for success in business, $10 for success in marriage.  I later got used to this sort of scam, but at this point it was fresh and amusing.

$5 to pray for success in business, $10 for success in marriage. I later got used to this sort of scam, but at this point it was fresh and amusing.

Asakura-san is praying for a scholarship.

Asakura-san is praying for a scholarship.

An owl.

An owl.

Moving on, I encountered this sign:

Lets return it with friendship and understanding.  Im too lazy to read the massive kanji-dump in the middle.

"Let's return it with friendship and understanding."I'm too lazy to read the massive kanji-dump in the middle.

(My atlas claims to represent all Japan, so of course on one of the plates there was a nice inset which contained a low-resolution and detail-less map of these three islands, with “日本” sprawled across it in huge characters.)

Next, I came upon the three churches in Hakodate, all in the same place:

The Methodist church...

The Methodist church...

...the Russian Orthodox church...

...the Russian Orthodox church...

...and the Catholic church.

...and the Catholic church.

The 19th-century residents of Hakodate loved the Russian church and called it “Gangan-dera” for its melodious bell.  Because Hakodate was the closest to Russia of the first three open ports in 19th-century Japan, there was quite a bit of Russian influence.  Even now, the tourist signs were quadrilingual in Japanese, English, French, and Russian — the more usual combination is Japanese, English, Chinese, and Korean.

I wandered around some more after that, but only took one more picture, in an abandoned-looking Buddhist temple.

A tree all in bloom with strands of white flowers.

A tree all in bloom with strands of white flowers.

The next morning, a ship like a great white cave took me away.

The next morning, a ship like a great white cave took me away.

Poems from Nikkō

August 24, 2009

I’ve been meaning to post these for more than a month already, but things kept happening.  I wrote this one after escaping from the main shrine/temple complex to a secluded bit of forest.

Red tipped with gold and crossed with turquoise bands,
Out twists a dragon, here,
And there, a snarling demon or a duck?

If all seems startlingly familiar,
As in a dream, in this
Exuberant parade of fleeting images —

(Each one I try to capture sweeps away,
A twirling dragonfly,
To yield to others heavying the air —

A hundred leaps and darts, and all in vain —
Exhausted, I
Stare blankly as an ant crawls down a mossy wall)

So is familiar what outshines the rest,
Spreads clarity throughout,
As though a bud whence blossoms an Idea:

So nearly missed among the gaudy gaggle,
A little sleeping cat,
White.

Then I looked around and all I needed to say was

The cicadas are
(when it is their turn to sing)
louder than the stream.

More photos, well, eventually.  For now,

The sleeping cat in Nikkō
This is what I’m talking about.