I'm living in Kusatsu-shi, Shiga-ken for an undetermined amount of time and teaching English as a second language at a local high school. This journal is to document my experiences, thoughts, and to stay connected with others at home and abroad.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Amanohashidatte (天橋立)

I wish I could say that I thought of this one myself, or that these were my photos. I actually lifted them from a Japanese guy––sorry! Many years ago someone (I'm guessing a monk or a drunk because no one else would be so creative) discovered that by looking at this land bridge with your head between your legs enhanced the view and made it appear as if the long stretch of pine trees were a dragon's tail bridge reaching into the sky. Absolutely astonishing! It seems that people several hundred years ago had just as much free time they didn't know what to do with as we do now! I feel a little less alone in the universe (big hug for everyone!) Looking between your legs is so popular that is has a special name (Mata nozoki=またのぞき) That is what the pair in picture 2 are performing--they are not reminiscing their more 'youthful' or 'jailbird' days.

This is Amanohashidatte, 天橋立, or the "bridge to heaven" more or less. According to tourist information and wikipedia (I am working hard you see), 天橋立 is a 3.6 kilometer sandbar that extends across a small bay, separating it from the Sea of Japan. It is located in the northernmost part of Kyoto Prefecture, but just below the Tango Peninsula. Apart from being an incredibly unusual geographical feature, and one of Japan's famed 三景 (the three most attractive places in Japan), it has between 8,000-10,0000 pine trees and a natural spring/well that dips down into an aquifer below sea level. Drinking from it was odd, because I was not salty like I expected.

For being one of the top 'tourist' places in Japan, I was quite impressed with 天橋立. Unfortunately Katie and I only stayed for about 3/4 of a day; we were a little beat from playing ultimate frisbee in a typhoon the days before. I would love to go again, take my travel bicycle and ride around the town and the Tango Peninsula for a few days. It was a quiet, laid-back place, and even on a holiday (we actually visited on Marine Day 海の日) and it wasn't too crowded. I'd love to see the day on any normal Wednesday when no one is around. Plus there are several great little Japan-style inns (旅館ーwhat other kind, this is Japan!).


Saturday, July 21, 2007

割り箸 Waribashi, aka, one of Japan's old habits that needs to step in front of a speeding Shinkansen

I'm surprised it's taken me so long to get around to writing about this. I've been pretty outspoken on the issue within the Shiga JET community; I think some people regard me as the waribashi deputy. Here's why:

Every year the average Japanese person uses 200 pairs of waribashi, one-time use wooden chopsticks.

In a country of roughly 130,000 this amounts to 25 Billion sets of wasted natural resources. And although this has been happening in Japan for hundreds of years, and despite having the modern technology to do so, THE JAPANESE PEOPLE DO NOT EVEN CREATE A WAY TO RECYCLE THESE WARIBASHI! How has this escaped reformation in a country renown for recycling (another legend that I am seeing contrary evidence of)?

The saddest part of this story is that Japan has been taking advantage of globalization (a primitive beast that needs a good whack over the head from a caveman's club), in that they have been getting waribashi from their continental neighbor, China. Japanese people love to tout having beautiful forests, but they don't have a problem taking someone else's. I've seen a few figures, and I think the number of trees leveled for Japan's waribashi is in the neighborhood of 25 billion.


Here are a few articles on waribashi and their pending survival.

"Japanese fear shortage of disposable chopsticks." What a wretched title that reveals the 'true problem': business. Who cares about the environment, without which business would be but a ant's dream? Not the Japanese. Until last year not the Americans. China's following suit with the globalization brontosaurus--it looks like they're going to test their luck eating eating paper and gold while breathing sulfur and coal dust.

See Big: Waribashi. This is a great site, much more objective and diligent than I. I go for a more hyperbolic approach, full of rebuke, conflagration, and love. But we both cheer for the environment--go earth! If you go to this site, also hit the link to BEE Japan. A cool group that cycles across Japan every year to raise environmental awareness. I'd like to participate after my time with JET is finished. I'll include a link to BEE Japan on the sidebar as well.

So now that I've spouted out the answer and all the brimstone along with it, it's time for the solution: Mybashi, reusuable chopsticks. Katie and I got a few pairs of these soon after I arrived last year and have been promoting them ever since. We even have lacquer cases and take them everywhere to avoid using waribashi. I got mybashi for all of my English teachers at Kusatsu as お土産 (omiyage-souvenirs) back in May, and they loved it. Many of them already have mybashi, but it never hurts to have a few pairs because they wear done and are easily misplaced. I keep an extra pair at school just in case I forget my usuals, and a few times I lent them to students who were searching for waribashi. They were quite baffled because I was so insistent on using the mybashi.

On the ShigaJet website I also put out a post saying I would buy anyone Mybashi who emailed me--lazy *&#%ers didn't do it however (just kidding, love you guys!).
And now I'm extending the same offer to you! If you want mybashi, email me, and I will gladly give you a pair. I am not at all joking, so please, anyone who uses chopsticks, take me up on this. I will even select a pair that suits your character and body shape as best I can. Please mail me--メールをお待たしております!

And even if you are a strict mybashi user, you will quickly discover than in Japan gypsy-eyed convenience store clerks and check-out girls will sneak pairs of waribashi into your grocery bag when you are not looking. 王将、the famous Chinese chain restaurant is notorious at tossing in between 2-4 waribashi sets with every take-out order. What to do?--どうしよう?
I leave that up to you, but here are some ideas:

1) I have kept a few that I received unawares at school just in case, because I've already been duped and there is no return policy on waribashi.
2) I use one of these pairs at school for stirring my coffee. I've never washed it and it's stained brown and I'm pretty sure the guy who sits next to me thinks it's disgusting, but I'm recycling so I don't really care.
3) With a collection of about 50 or so that have accumulated over the year (those check-out girls are sly, man, I'm telling you), Katie and I are planning on making a tree.

That's all for now, but please check out those sites because this is a pretty serious problem that can be easily avoided.


Saturday, July 07, 2007

Fushimi Inari (伏見稲荷)七月六日

This was my second trip to Japan's most famous Inari shrine complex. Inari (稲荷) is the Japanese fox deity of the harvest, and, to the best of my knowledge, is worshiped because of an ancient belief that foxes were anamorphed gods in disguise. Hundreds of thousands of vermilion (due to the fact that the red-orange color was and is associated with good fortune in China) tori gates snake up the hills surrounding Fushimi Inari. Walking through them evokes a religious experience of amazement and superstition in nature that is lost in many other temples. In Japan the norm is to have a clear, stark rock garden surrounding temples. The straight edges establish an orderly sense that many primitive Japanese were trying to carve out of the wilderness. Often meetings took place in the pebble courtyards, as well as festivals, court proceedings, and even weddings, I believe. Fushimi Inari, however, represents an entirely disparate view that lauds the mountains tamelessness and encourages more chaos. Needless to say, I love it! It is easily one of my favorite places in Japan, and anyone who comes to visit can expect a trip to Inari. Even better, it's only about a thirty-minute train ride away from my home in Kusatsu, just outside of central Kyoto.

  • Click here for the official Japanese site for Fushimi Inari, unfortunately I am not finding an English version for everyone who can't read kanji (come on, you guys are smart, you can do it!). Until I find something for everyone, there are two options. 1) Bumble around with the buttons and hope for some good photos. 2) If you have Firefox there is a tool called 'rikaichan' that can translate individual words, so you can figure out a little bit. I find my little 'rikaichan' very handy sometimes.

  • I think these two guys have been battling for centuries, and their opponents' ears mark past victories.

    This is my friend Tim looking very philosophical.

    This type of scene is common at Fushimi Inari, giving it an enticingly hypnotic allure. At night when Tim and I ran through the rows of tori gates like this one I got the feeling that I was traveling through a wormhole into mystical dimensions. It was during this transcendent moment that we decided to come back to Fushimi two weeks later and have an all-night seance on the mountain. The date with the dead is in one week from yesterday (July 22nd), so we will so see what comes of this crackpot scheme.

    Best game face ever! I want this guy on my team when the gods go to war.

    He's definitely on the team too.