Category: J2K12

J2K12: Izumo Taisha

(You have been warned: this is an image heavy post.)

Not far from Matsue is the city of Izumo, home of the second most scared of shrines in the Shinto religion.  (Only the shrine in Ise is considered more scared.)  As we were near, it seemed like we should go see the shrine.


Faded torii at the shrine across from our inn in Matsue (above), Matsue manhole covers (below).

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I had studied Izumo Taisha in my Japanese Art course in the spring, and hubby and I had seen an exhibition on it at the beginning of the trip in Tokyo.  We all piled into our friend’s car and headed to Izumo for the day.  (That in itself was an adventure, having never really traveled on the expressways on Japan before.)  Thankfully we left somewhat early, and were able to find a parking spot at the shrine.  While off of the usual route for foreigners, Izumo is a huge tourist spot for Japanese.  And for gods.

During the tenth lunar month (although they now celebrate it in October of the Gregorian calednar), it is believed that the 8 million Shinto gods from all over Japan gather at Izumo Taisha to discuss the upcoming year’s marriages, deaths, and births.


Above, an example of moral education that happens in Japan.  Below, the ginormous flag near the shrine.  (One doesn’t see a lot of Japanese flags in Japan.  Perhaps it is perceived as being too nationalistic?)

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One of the statues on the grounds outside the shrine.  And the ladies’ toilet sign was suitably Heian period.  (Or thereabouts.)



There’s not much to recount about visiting the shrine itself, other than the fact that the main building was closed for renovation.  The shrine was raking in the money on the day we visited, as tour bus-load after tour bus-load of Japanese tourist were ushered around on a strictly controlled schedule.  We, however, just wandered, photographing whatever caught our eye (that didn’t have a no photography sign).  Below, some of the sights from the shrine.


Above, wish tablets.  Usually, every shrine in Japan has a certain specialty; Izumo is known for marriages.   Below, one of the outer buildings at the shrine.  If the main shrine were open, you would go through this building to enter it.IMG_1173

The shimenawa, a rope fashioned from rice straw which demarcates a holy spot in the Shinto religion.  This is by far the largest I’ve ever seen.  Note the people in the photo for scale.IMG_1174 IMG_1179

Below, omikuji, or fortunes, tied to trees.  I believe it’s the bad fortune ones that are tied to trees or other structures on the shrine grounds in order to mitigate the bad fortune.  I think it’s a play on the word ‘pine tree’ (松, matsu) and the verb ‘to wait’ (待つ, matsu).  The bad fortune waits by the tree or on the shrine grounds instead of traveling home with the person who drew it.

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Strolling around the grounds, we came across a much-less frequented shrine to Inari, the fox god.  There was an offering box with coins and pencils, so this one was probably related to success in exams or schoolwork.


The main shrine building, as much as we could see of it.  Although, with the new archaeological evidence they’ve unearthed, it is woefully out of scale.  Still, impressive and beautiful.


Photo op!  With hubby being a sweetie and keeping the sun out of my eyes.


Needing a break, we headed outside the shrine to one of the several restaurants in the area.  Not fabulous, but filling.  And where I spotted this.  White cook?  Hm, I wonder what that contained?


After this, I think we were all about ready to head out, and head over to the beach, but our plans changed.  We were approached by an elderly lady who spoke to us in English.  She was one of the volunteer guides at the shrine, who simply wanted to share her knowledge with us, and practice her English at the same time.  (It was pretty good, but sometimes it was good that we understood Japanese.)  In any case, she took us to another part of the shrine grounds, where there was a festival in progress.  In fact, the day we visited was the last day.  We saw a cheezy video/live action performance of the myth of Susanoo descending to Izumo and slaying dragon Orochi.  And we saw some kagura, I believe.


By then we were tired and it had started to sprinkle.  Time to head to the beach.

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Above and below, the beach at Izumo.  We had to go dip our (shoed) feet into the Japan Sea.  The beach was surprisingly dirty, with garbage washed ashore.  It was pretty sad.  Still breath-takingly beautiful, though.IMG_1220

After that, we headed back to Matsue for dinner and grabbed our backpacks from the coin lockers in the station.  That’s where I snapped this poster about train manners.


Oh, and the (wallpaper) mural in the party room attached to the boys’ room at the inn.  I don’t know what battle it depicts, but I’m sure someone would know.


J2K12: Takayama to Matsue

(I really need to finish documenting this trip!  Here’s another installment.)

After our short stay in the mountains of Takayama, it was time to head to western Japan, namely Matsue.  I didn’t originally have it on our agenda, as it is far out of the way.  However, a friend of ours is teaching in the JET program in far western Japan, so Matsue was way to get closer to where he was and still see some sights in the Matsue area.

We strolled around Takayama in the morning and caught the 11:30 Hida Wide View to Nagoya.  (Our friend and Kodanbo on the Wide View, below.)


And what would a train ride be without 駅弁 (eki-ben, or box lunches designed for the train).  Here I was trying one of the fancy new heat and eat ones; you pull a tab and chemical magic happens below the food container, creating steam that heats the bento.  Mine was pork vs. beef.  I don’t remember which I liked better; I think they were both pretty yummy.

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The rain from our stay in Takayama was gone, revealing beautiful skies on the way to Nagoya.


Our train was arriving 4 minutes late into Nagoya, which doesn’t seem like a big deal to Americans, but it was a big deal to us.  We had exactly 8 minutes between arriving in Nagoya and departing on the Shinkansen.  That was 8 minutes before the delay.  Needless to say, we weren’t sure if we would make our Shinkansen, so we got our luggage ready, waited at the doors, and sprinted through the station (as best we could) to our bullet train.  It was just pulling in as we got to the platform, so we jumped on, then made our way to our reserved seats.  We wouldn’t be on it for long, as we were headed to Okayama, where we would transfer to another train for Matsue.  All in all, I think we spent about 5 hours on trains that day.  But that’s so much more comfortable than 5 hours in a plane.  Train travel in Japan is really civilized.

This day was Election Day back in the US, so we calculated the time difference and figured we might find out on the Shinkansen who had won the election.  They have a scrolling news ticker at the front of the cars (in Japanese, of course), so we tried to pay attention.  We caught the end of one and weren’t sure if Obama had won; we just knew that it was tight.  Our friend was just as curious as we were.  Finally we saw a headline of the message that Obama tweeted to his followers, thanking them for their support in his victory.  やった!  Hooooooray!!  We then planned to celebrate on the next leg.

In Okayama Station, we picked up some more bentos for dinner.  Mine was pork three ways; all super tasty.  And some surprisingly spicy little peppers!  I had to give them to hubby, as they were too spicy for me.


And, yes, when we celebrate in Japan, there can be only one beer.  Sapporo!  The large can.  🙂  We were happy by the time we arrived in Matsue.


From the station, we made our way to the inn that we were staying at.  Although a little run down, it was a nice place.  The owners were so nice and very accommodating when we mentioned that we needed to do laundry.  Not only did the the old man drive us, but he waited with us at a huge bookstore nearby while the clothes were washing.

Detail of my room, with some magical wallpaper.  The window below opens into the hallway.IMG_1063

The inn was right across from a shrine.  And right next to the JR line as well, so we got to hear trains rumbling in at various times.  Thankfully they take a break in the wee hours.


Matsue manhole cover.


And a statue outside the station.  I can’t remember which manga this is from.  There were posters all over for Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro, but I’m not sure if this character is from that.


The friend of ours teaching in Japan was driving up, so we waited for him in Matsue.  Once he showed up, we headed out in his car to the Matsue Vogel Park (bird park).  Not exactly “Japanese,” but a uniquely Matsue experience.  We arrived just in time to see the afternoon penguin walk.  We could get close and take photos, but no touching.  These guys were super adorable, cheeky little birds.


Shortly after that was the afternoon owl show, where we met several types of owls.  The handlers put on a nice demonstration of the owls’ abilities, most of which I was unable to capture with my camera.  (They were usually moving quite fast.)  After the show, you could pay 300 yen and hold one of the owls, and pet it.  Our friend held both of them, and the handler allowed us all to pet them.  One, the Southern White-Faced Owl, was so fluffy!!!  OMG!  Really quite a fun experience.


Then we wandered around the park, admiring the plants, the birds, and the other animals, which we discovered outside.


Below, hubby feeding the emu.  It’s a really weird feeling when they peck your hand.  Fun!


And just some of the water birds in the park.  There were tons of them.  And well-fed, too.


Some of the giant plant-life in the park.  Amazing!  (Note: our friend is a normal-sized Norwegian.  That is a flippin’ huge leaf!)


We headed back to Matsue, goofed around in a shopping center for a bit, where I resisted some One Piece fabric.  Our teacher friend had brought some sake from Yamagata, where he lives, so we all bought little sake cups and some snacks at a 100 yen shop for the drinking party once we returned to our inn.

And lastly, a sign I spotted after we had dinner.  Small store.  In English.


J2K12: Takayama & Furukawa

One of the draws for us in Takayama is the morning market (朝市場) held by the river every morning until noon.  Lots of little stalls selling produce, handicrafts, and local food to snack on for breakfast.  We headed out from our ryokan under grey skies.  It’s fun walking around the old portions of Takayama just to see the architecture.  And being there mid-week in early November meant the streets were practically devoid of tourist traffic.  Which also meant that quite a few shops were closed except on weekends.  Quite a difference from bustling fall leaf-peeping season.


Shop entrance detail on the way to the morning market.


We stopped into a couple of locations we remembered from previous visits: the dango vendor who also sells local Hida coffee milk and the egg square guy.  Egg squares… how to explain them?  They’re basically little sake-sweetened meringue cubes, grilled.  Sooooo delicious!  Well, they had been the previous two times.  This time, however, they seemed to have gained more publicity and the quality was, well, not as good.  That did save us several hundred yen, though, as we didn’t have to buy several boxes to hoard.

This cute little guy can be found along the river where the morning market is held.


Building detail along the river near the morning market; I liked the contrast of the traditional plaster and wood structure with the modern corrugated metal siding.


The market on the day we visited was very sparse.  Again, mid-week and no longer tourist season.  After we had grabbed a few yummies from the vendors, we headed to Takayama Station to catch the local to Furukawa, just up the valley a little ways.  I had read that it was a less touristy, quieter version of Takayama and wanted to give it a look.

Sign spotted on the way to Takayama Station.  An Italian what?


We arrived in Furukawa, which is definitely off of the gaijin tourist radar.  And being mid-week in early November, it seemed pretty dead.  We decided to wander around a bit and just enjoy the quiet.  We were all prepared (so we thought) in our waterproof raincoats, so the light mist that began to fall wasn’t a worry.  It also made for some beautiful shots of the surrounding valley.


At the point when I took this photo above, it had started to rain more heavily (notice the water draining from the bank into the river).  We ducked under the cover of a garage and waited a bit.  And waited.  I was getting cold and hungry, so I wanted to press on.  The rain let up a tiny bit, so we decided to head down a few more streets to try to find someplace to eat.  Luckily, Furukawa does have quite nice tourist map available at their tourist office in the train station.  After wandering down one street of residential buildings, we decided to head to a more promising “touristy” area in search of food.  And that, my friends, is when the heavens opened up.  It was like being back in Texas during a gully washer, except this one was in ~40F weather.  Unamused, we found shelter under a pavilion in a park in the middle of town.  And found this…


Yes, the robot from Laputa.  There may have been a little plaque explaining why it was there in (middle of nowhere) Furukawa, but I don’t remember.  We were cold, wet, hungry and trying to be amused with the situation.

Eventually the rain let up the tiniest little bit and I decided to head out in search of umbrellas.  I found them half a block away in a little shop… at twice the price they would have cost us at the 7-11 in Takayama.  仕方がない、ねえ。 Unwilling to spend the rest of the day dodging rain showers, we bought them and immediately continued the search for food.  We eventually found a nice place where we got Hida 牛丼 beef bowls.  Not as tasty as the beef we had eaten the previous day, but satisfying after a cold, rainy start.

The heavy rains kept away for the rest of the time we were there, so we wandered and enjoyed the town.  We kept seeing persimmons strung up outside houses and wondered why.  We didn’t learn the answer until we stayed in Yamagata.  There we learned that there are different types (their names escape me now), and the ones we had seen hanging were not as sweet as the fuyu type.  Thus, people string them up and let them sweeten up before eating.  Interesting.


Manhole covers in Furukawa, representing a festival of some sort.


A tiny canal in Furukawa, filled with carp.

IMG_1007 More persimmons.


Self-portrait in Furukawa.


On the way back to the station, we noticed (and chuckled over) this bit of advertising.  🙂


All in all, Furukawa was quite lovely.  I purchased my favorite souvenir of the trip there: a tiny, hand-carved (from yew) fox charm on a phone strap.  (I am actually using it now, and it reminds me of this day when I look at it.)  I would absolutely go back for another visit, hopefully when the rain isn’t pouring quite as much and also when fewer shops are closed for the season.  If you’re in the Takayama area, it’s worth a half-day trip on the train to explore.

Back (warm and dry) in our ryokan in Takayama, a view of the sunset beneath the heavy rain clouds.IMG_1031

That night we had reserved dinner at the inn.  And like dummies, we didn’t bring a camera to record it.  I highly recommend their traditional Japanese dinner.  There were three of us eating, and barely enough room on the table for all of the dishes that kept arriving.  So tasty, too.  And cheap!  Less than 2000 yen per person and made by local ladies at the inn every night.  Yum.  I was amused to notice that when the large covered bowl of rice was brought in by the helpers, it was placed at my side.  The side of me not next to my husband.  Dishing out the rice is still the woman’s job in Japan.  🙂

We relaxed a bit after dinner, then enjoyed the baths one last time.  The next day (Election Day in the US) we were headed from Takayama to Matsue.

J2K12: Matsumoto to Takayama

(And now back to some photos from our trip to Japan this fall.  I’m picking up where I left off, which was in Matsumoto.)

After Matsumoto, we planned to head to Hida-Takayama, which is one of my favorite areas of Japan.  We checked into the JR trains covered by our Rail Passes and, thanks to the mountains, it would have taken a good 5 hours by train to get from Matsumoto to Takayama.  So we decided to take the highway bus, instead; it would only take about 2.5 hours.  Alas, it wasn’t covered by our Rail Passes, but decided that more time in Takayama was worth the cost of the tickets.

So, in Matsumoto, the highway bus terminal in on the ground floor of a mall near the station.  Since we weren’t quite sure what to expect on the bus (would I get car sick?) the guys went to get some drinks in the B1 grocery store while I guarded the luggage out by the bus stop.  While I waited, I couldn’t help but notice this box next to me.


Oh, the Engrish!  I knew it was a fire extinguisher, but how that got to panther… I have no idea.  (We once stayed in a room in Kyoto with the “Blame Instrument” which was an emergency ladder for the window.)  When the guys returned, we all had a good laugh about this.

The bus arrived and we discovered that all luggage was carry-on; there was no under bus stowage.  Oh, boy.  Luckily it was a big bus and not crowded, so we three headed all the way to the back row, where we could stow our various bags.  Including us, there were three other passengers and the driver.


Once we got underway, I wished that the bus was about half as long as it was.  Twisting mountain passes on (to my American eyes) narrow roads…

IMG_0775Thankfully it wasn’t like that.  I don’t think we ever got going too fast; sometimes our sedate speed seemed too fast to me.  Our bus driver was a pro, though.  I wonder how many times he has made that same trip?  While we had obviously missed peak leaf-peeping time, the views were still breathtaking.  This is a route that I would love to travel again, though perhaps in a nice, ground-and-ccrve-hugging sports car instead.IMG_0791


Eventually we arrived safe and sound in Takayama.  Yay!  The (nice, new?) bus station is located right next to the JR station, so we knew exactly where we were.


We stowed our bags in con lockers and went to get some lunch.  (Side rant: Oh, how I wish we could have coin lockers in airports here in the US!  They are so convenient!)  Part of our reason for visiting Takayama is for their Hida beef.  We had it before on our 2009 trip, and the memory of that lunch burned bright.  We knew the restaurant we wanted to visit (it’s hard to miss, as there’s a large black cow statue outside), so off we went.


Cute sign on the way to lunch.


Ah, the sure sign of a Japanese vacation: drinking beer and grilling meats at lunchtime.  With some token veggies, of course. Thankfully there were mushrooms for hubby and kabocha (pumpkin) for me.  Yum!

Happy, and with one mission accomplished, we headed out to see the Festival Museum, which housed some of the floats used every year in Takayama’s huge matsuri (festival).  The floats were incredible, but most of my shots are less than stellar thanks to reflections from the glass.  Here is a view from the upper observation deck.  Just left of center is a human-sized mannequin.  These floats are tall!



Impressive as this was, better times awaited.  Entry into the Festival Museum also gets you entry into a building containing a 1/10th scale model of Toshogu Shrine in Nikko, where Ieyasu Tokugawa is buried.  Why they have this in Takayama, I still don’t really know.  However, it was amazing!  The detail was unbelievable.  And thanks to it being mid-week, it was pretty much deserted.  We had the place to ourselves and we spent a long time photographing the buildings.  The room would go from a morning light setting to an evening light setting, allowing you to pick your mood for your shot.  Very, very cool!

IMG_0885 IMG_0898 IMG_0913 IMG_0921Our friend photographing me as I photographed him.  Gives an idea of the scale of the place.

After that, tired from a long day, we headed to the station to grab our bags and head to the ryokan.  We stayed at the lovely Oyado Yamakyu, where we stayed in 2007.  It has an air of Ghibli’s Sen to Chihiro (Spirited Away).  It also features large common baths, with smaller outside baths as well.  What could be more perfect after a long day of sightseeing in chilly weather?  Not much.


Cute car spotted on the way to our inn.


Relaxing with tea and sarubobo snacks.




Going to town in Fabric Town

Or, how I went slightly nuts over fabric in under two hours.

When talking with my sister about my fabric purchases after our return from Japan, she asked how much fabric I had bought.  I guesstimated about a dozen different kinds.  I was only off by three.  ^ ^;  And that’s not total yardage, just different fabrics.

Why so much fabric buying in Japan?  Don’t we have decent stores here in Portland?  Yes, we have good fabric stores here in Portland; so much so that I never have to go to a JoAnn’s, unless I’m after craft supplies.  But there is something about Japanese fabrics.  It may very well be that the fabrics I purchased at Tomato in Nippori are available here in the US somewhere, but I’ve not seen all together under one roof.  And the prices at Tomato are hard to beat, even with the horrid exchange rate.

On the ground floor of Tomato there is a 105 yen/meter section of fabric.  It’s always a struggle to get close, then grab bolts of fabric that you’re interested in.  This time I thought I was being smart by heading to the top floor first and working my way down.  I had forgotten that you pay for your purchases on each floor.  Oops.  Thankfully I was able to skip a couple of floors: the top floor was American-made quilting fabrics, and one floor was shiny spandex and glittery evening gown fabrics that I use so much.  Not.  However, the fourth floor was Japanese fabrics: traditionally dyed, printed, designed, etc.  I ended up with a big bag from that floor, even with my excessively strong willpower.  (My mantra was, “But what will I make from it?”) And then there was the knits floor.  Oh, how I wish I could live in the Tokyo area just to have that floor of knits available!  I could have spent all morning and more money than I had with me on that floor.  In all my fabric wanderings, I’ve never seen such a great selection of knits.  Yes, I came out with a big bag from that floor, too.

Which left me only the ground floor with its bargains to tackle.  With a huge bag of fabric already in each hand.  Oh, I saw then the error of my cunning plan to start at the top.  And I saw the wisdom of some [Japanese] ladies who were rolling shopping paniers around filled with their purchases.  I felt like such an amateur.

A lot of Tomato’s bargains were out of season (that doesn’t bother me, since I rarely seem to sew in season), and many are floaty, printed blouson types.  While I seem to be becoming more attracted to prints the older I get, I was able to resist most of their offerings.  (I do think that fabric prints are going to be my mid-life crisis, however; I purchased more on this trip than I’ve ever before.)  I found two blue and white striped fabrics that I decided I had to have and headed to the cutting counter.  Which leads me to another plus of Tomato: their generous cutting practices.  When you say you want two meters of a fabric, they will measure out two meters, then add 2-4 fingers worth (or more, on the bargain floor) extra before cutting the fabric.  In the US (and in other higher-priced fabrics stores I visited in Tokyo), if you indicate 2 meters, they cut it as close as they can, which means you may very well end up with slightly less than 2 meters if the fabric wasn’t on grain when cut.  Hooray, Tomato!

Hands straining with the weight of three bags of fabric that I had purchased at Tomato, I started to head back to Nippori Station to dump my fabrics in a coin locker and join my husband for some CD & book shopping.  On the way, though, I had to (I had to, I tell you!) stop in my favorite wool shop in Fabric Town.  The two previous trips I had gotten some excellent pieces at great deals (“サービス” they told me; “service”).  The little wool shop is little; there is barely enough room for the two male employees and four customers.  Let alone a big American with huge bags of fabric.  (Talk about feeling out of place!)  I spotted a brown and cream wool plaid that was on sale for 1050 yen/meter, and had to ask the assistant to bring it to the cutting table for me, as my hands were too full.  (Japanese languages skills to the rescue!)  There, the owner cut a generous two meters and charged me less than the sale price.  “サービス”  Great wool at great prices and great customer service.  It’s no wonder I keep going back.

And now, finally, photos of the fabric…

Clockwise from left: cotton print with birds on it (I live in Portland, I had to!), pale green cotton with pattern/dress-making print, beige Nani iro double gauze with white dots, white Nani iro double gauze with blue floral print, teal linen (my most expensive purchase), white Nani iro double gauze with multi-colored floral print, donuts and coffee cotton print (how could I resist this? I should have gotten more), navy and white striped cotton shirt weight, and some heavier woven navy and white cotton.

And the rest, clockwise from left: brown and cream wool plaid, navy and white sweater knit, grey jersey knit, brown and teal flannel, winter sweater knit, fuzzy grey sweater knit (which has already been sewn into two different tops).