Sorry it’s been a while since I posted details of my travels. I was down on a small island in the Seto Inland Sea (the name of the straight that runs between the islands of Honshu and Shikoku) for a week with no computer. Then after a day trip to Iga it was time for my first week of work, and I immediately proceeded to get sick and spent pretty much any time not at work in bed. I’m better now, and finally feel up to doing some blogging.
First up, I moved out of my place in Tokyo, and here finally is a picture of the room:
As you can see, it’s not large, but it served my purposes. Now the guest house building it was in, that was another matter. It was totally run down, filthy and just downright unpleasant. There were 8 people living there, including myself, a mix of Taiwanese, Koreans, Americans, Canadians and Japanese. And pretty much no one seemed to care about trying to keep it clean. So due to that there were cockroaches around the kitchen, and I heard talk of a rat, but never saw it. I know I never felt inclined to keep food there or cook. I kept my room clean, which in turn kept it bug free, and I spent as little time there as possible.
The apartment I moved into down in the Nara area, is much nicer. First off, though I refer to myself as living in Nara, I’m actually about .5 miles outside of Nara city, which puts me just over the prefectural border into Kyoto. So I actually live in the city of Kizugawa in Kyoto prefecture. It’s that strange mix of suburban and rural that happens a lot in Japan. For instance, there is my apartment building, and in front of it is a factory of some sort, behind it is some nice houses (one row), and behind those are rice fields, and then train tracks. So it’s kind of a cool mix. Anyways, the apartment is very nice, and is actually cheaper than the room in Tokyo.
So I got settled in a bit, and then headed out for Shiraishi Island, home of Amy Chavez. Amy is a permanent resident of Japan, originally from Ohio, and writes a column called Japan Lite. She also was a co-host of the Planet Japan podcast for a couple years, and runs a beachside bar called the Moo Bar on Shiraishi Island with her Australian husband Paul. I had been listening to Amy’s podcast for a couple years and reading her columns for longer than that and so when I was planning my trip to Japan I knew I wanted to visit Shiraishi. So I emailed Amy back in June asking if she could help me find a place to stay for the week. She found me a room at a small Minshuku right on the beach for about 2500 Yen a night (~$25).
Shiraishi is a small island (about 5km in circumference) about 20 minutes by ferry from Kasaoka in Okayama prefecture. It is one of those areas where the population is rapidly shrinking. 10 years ago it held 900 people, now there are only 600, and maybe 30 children K-12. So first I took the trains to Kasaoka and just made the last ferry to Shiraishi.
The next morning I went on a walk/hike around the island. One of the neat things about Shiraishi is that it has like 100 little gods scattered around the island and there is actually a pilgrimage walk that you can do to visit a bunch of them, around 88 I think. I visited a few of them, but from one great point, underneath a Torii gate up on a hillside, there was a great view of Shiraishi beach:
I also found out that Shiraishi is home to several Golden eagles. I was a bit taken aback as I hadn’t seen any eagles in Japan up until now, and at first I thought they were immature Bald eagles until I got a good look at them.
I was a real hit with the locals apparently as I could speak Japanese, and I think they were used to Amy being one of the only gaijin who could. So I met a lot of great people, Hide-san (the boat captain), Hidemasa-san (a worker at San-chans, a ryokan), Johnny-san (he insisted I call him Johnny), Yuto-san (the local dentist), Akiyama-san (a local with a really nice house and outside bath), Chinami-san (from Shiraishi but lives in Okayama), and Ishii-san (president of a rubber tubing design/manufacturing company and a computer programming genius). Ishii-san and his family invited Amy, Paul and myself to dinner at Akiyama-san’s house (which they were renting for a night while Akiyama-san was away for a few days), and after dinner Hide-san had just returned to the island in his giant boat. So we parked outside Amy’s house with drinks and called Hide-san over. Then the next day I was sleeping in a hammock at the Moo bar when I hear someone calling my name, I pop up just as Hide-san hands me a drink and hauls me off into town. We visited some family of his, drank and played with the kids, and from there it was non-stop. Every day I hung out with some of the people who live on the island and had a wonderful time. I think Amy put it best when she said “Most of the people who come here to visit have the opportunity to spend time with the locals and get a feel for the island, but very few actually take it”.
The highlight of the week for the island was the Obon dancing, the Shiraishi ceremony is very old and traditional. The last night, Yuto-san (who is also an Obon dance instructor) taught me two of the dances, the normal dance, and the “Casa Odori” (umbrella dance). I had a bit of trouble with the normal dance, but really got into the casa odori. The women use umbrellas but the men use large straw hats like the ones that Buddhist monks wear when on pilgrimage.
Full Shiraishi and Apartment pictures here
Before work started I took the Sunday to visit Iga to the East in Mie prefecture. Uenoshi is the main city in the Iga valley, ancestral home of the Iga ninja. The two main ninja clans being the Iga and the Koga. The Koga were to the south of the Iga valley.
Anyways, I was going there because my sister had expressed an interest in the Iga form of pottery, so I was in quest of a nice tea cup for her birthday which was last week. I went to the tourist information at the train station and asked about cups and shopping and she kept insisting that what I “really” wanted to do was visit the local castle and ninja museum. I finally gave up and took her offered map to the castle/museum, and resolved to find the cups on my own and visit the castle/ninja.
After checking out the castle I went over to the ninja museum. It consisted of a “ninja house” complete with all the secret doors/compartments/rooms necessary, and staffed by pink-garbed kunoichi to explain and demonstrate everything. In addition there was an underground museum displaying all the various disguises and tools the ninja used. It was actually pretty cool.
But my favorite Engrish moment of the day was this advertising on a pair of ninja slippers in the gift shop.
Miracle Iga Ninja Slippers
Can try on both side.
Dosen’t make a noize(No dust.)
This be what wanted.
After that I hit the town, and almost immediately (within 15 minutes) found a shop with both modern pottery and traditional Iga style pottery. Birthday present found!
Full Iga album:
Now that I’m working I might not have as many pictures as I’ll be traveling less, but I’ll start doing some posts about life as an English teacher. Hope you’ve all had a great August!