Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year!

Wearing scarves and caps to guard against the cold, Harahoge jizos look out towards the sea. These stone bodhisattvas on Iki Island are purported to protect the women pearl divers. But I also heard they were built during a period of plague to drive evil spirits away.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Our Kyushu Bus Guide


She was the stuff of legend, a dreamwoman basu gaido-san from the 1960's. Her style was ultra-proper with funky beribboned hat, pin curls, form-fitting pinstripe suit and immaculate white gloves. She had a perfectly modulated voice and a good command of the local history and culture. To top it off, she sang local songs and hit tunes in a voice that induced us to either sing along or fall fast asleep. I enjoyed her dramatic recitation of the Heike Monogatari as we passed the area where the final battles of Dannoura were fought. She made jokes that no one laughed at and asked questions that were met with baffled silence. Still, for three days/two nights she served as our erstwhile and ever-smiling leader.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Christmas Greetings from the Squid Lady!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Hawks over Shimonoseki

Overlooking Shimonoseki on a rainy day. Two hawks troll for prey.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Spa Resort Hawaiians

A free hula lesson for all at the Spa Resort Hawaiians in Iwaki. This place was made famous by the movie, "Hula Girls." The former coal mining town was converted into a hotsprings/ spa resort after they ran out of coal in the 1970's. We took a free bus to the Hawaiians from Shinjuku (Tokyo). Even on a weekday, the place was packed by families wanting a cheap escape from the big city. The very reasonable price of our one-night's stay included a Japanese room (sleep on tatami), hula shows, dinner, breakfast and unlimited soaking in the baths. We could have also availed ourselves to the heated swimming pool and water slides but decided not to. We did try out all 4 bath options - a stinky steel tub (rotten pipes?) in our room, a large bath down the hall, a large bath in another wing of the hotel and the outdoors bath above the gift shops. The latter was quite charming, if one endured the cold walk from the changing area to the rocky hotsprings. There was also a smallish wooden building that served as a sauna. The water was hot but felt good in the chilly outdoors. Instead of the traditional yukata (cotton kimonos), we were all given muumuus (women) and Hawaiian shirts & pants (men). Most of us wore these outfits during our stay (see above). My only disappointment was that they didn't have any postcards of the resort or of the hula girls.
We had much of the following day to check out the area until the return bus in the afternoon. We took a free shuttle to the town of Yumoto and visited the Joban coal mining & dinosaur museum. It was a modest museum but worth the trip - the first half of the museum is devoted to dinosaur bones found in the region and the second half was a "trip" into the coal mines. One takes an elevator down and when the door opens, one is "underground." There were dioramas of coal miners from the earliest period until the 1960's when mine operations closed down. Just off the giftshop was a small exhibit of the Joban baseball teams (men's and womens). It funny to see "Hawaiian" cheerleaders. We were told that this town was once prosperous but went into decline once the coal was exhausted. Indeed, other than the Spa Resort Hawaiians, there wasn't much to enjoy here.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Field Trip in Chofu

I happened upon these students on a field trip. They carried clipboards and were writing things down. It was probably a biology trip, as the teacher was pointing to the various birds in the little creek below. The wild ducks in Chofu have grown fat and lazy, finding easy hand-outs from tourists. This road leads to the Kozanji temple and to a shrine dedicated to General Maresuke Nogi (1849-1912). Nogi quelled the Satsuma Rebellion, commanded Japanese troops during the Sino-Japanese war and Russo-Japanese war, and committed harakiri, along with his wife, after the death of Emperor Meiji.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Local Train

On a local train to Nishinomiya. The trains still have the same color schemes as the 1950's - green velvet seats; beige walls, round straps, chocolate brown exterior. Nonetheless times have changed; it used to be that people read manga on trains, now it's all texting, texting, texting.