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Takayama Matsuri Day 2

On the second day of the festival, I decided to avoid the crowds at the marionette show, and wander around town instead.  The sun was out and made for some nice photos of the canal before heading over to the Shunkei Kaikan (Lacquerware Exhibition Hall) (飛騨高山春慶会館).

One of the key differences of shunkei lacquerware compared to others in Japan was the grain that shows in the pieces, something I had seen in some items in the local stores.

After wandering around the exhibition hall, I headed back into town did a bit of shopping for some lacquerware bowls in the local style to add to the pottery I had collected thus far.  Afterwards I came across this interesting metal works shop, which had some really great pieces I couldn’t resist photographing.

  

Unfortunately, the larger pieces (tables, chairs) weren’t for sale, and the staff didn’t know where they were made.  But I could definitely see a use for the bar stools if I ever find them somewhere… 😉

        

Late in the day, it was getting a bit overcast.  I wandered around the float displays before they started putting them away (rain not being good for them, obviously) before finally heading back into the centre of town where the three floats participating in the marionette shows were, and the final events of the day were to take place.

It was getting late in the afternoon, and about that time to find a train to Nagoya, my next stop.  Without a ticket, I was looking at unreserved seats and was lucky to find a spot on the train before it filled up with people filing out of town after the festival had ended.  Busy indeed, but thankfully I wouldn’t have to change trains on my trip to Nagoya.  A very busy but good two days.

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Takayama Matsuri Day 1

A 7am departure from Kanazawa and I was on my way to Takayama to attend the Sanno Matsuri (Takayama Spring Festival), one of the most popular festivals in Japan, with accommodations typically booked up a year in advance.  This year was no exception, however with the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear worries many people had cancelled their trips to the area.  After initially being told that the festival had been cancelled (like many had been), I was happy to find out it was still occurring and lucky enough to find a room at a local ryokan which presumably had been freed up by a cancellation.

Having been to Takayama on my first trip to Japan, I knew my way around.  On my previous stay I had enjoyed sampling the sake’s in the old part of town and intended to do the same again, however the balance of my stay would be spent photographing the local festival, floats, and parade.

I arrived mid-morning and headed to the ryokan (notably, the same one where I spent my previous trip), to drop off my luggage.  My room was ready, which was surprising, so I had some tea, organized my camera gear for the day, and headed out.

It was still before lunch, so I headed across the canal and down along the morning market towards the centre of town where the marionettes were set to do one of four shows this weekend.  The floats, normally on display in rotation through the year, come out twice a year – one for the spring festival, and one for the fall – and three of them were setup to do a show.

After the marionettes show, I did my best to avoid the hoards of people and headed into the old part of town where I sampled some of the local food and sake.

Another marionette show in the afternoon took place, and I worked my way into the crowd to try and get a different/better perspective which provided difficult.  Too many people, in too small a place – it didn’t help that people were trying to move through the crowd, bumping people as they went.

Following the second show, I found my way over to the afternoon parade route and captured some images of people in traditional garb as they made their way through town along with the festival floats in toe.  One of the challenges with the floats is their inability to steer – so much muscle went into forcing them in a particular direction, and that left their mark on the stone road.  The procession stopped very often to allow for the floats to be realigned, and served as an opportunity for people to take a rest.

After the parade I wandered around town for a bit, sampled some more sake, and then headed back to the ryokan for some dinner.

In the evening, the highlight of the festival was to take place – a parade through town of the floats light up.  After dinner I headed out snapped some photos of people enjoying the street food before finding a good spot to watch the lit floats go by.

I moved around a fair bit to try and get the best perspective, before deciding to call it a night and walked back towards the ryokan, along the street of food stalls, again snapping some photos of the various delicacies.

Last day in Kanazawa

With today being the last day in Kanazawa, I decided to head to Ōmichō Market (近江町市場) for an early lunch, and enjoy the local speciality, donburi (seafood served over a bowl of rice).  The market wasn’t very busy today for some reason, with many of the shops closed, so while the weather wasn’t good earlier in the week I was glad I went and got the photos I did.

After lunch I headed out with a plan to look for some local pottery, but decided to take my time and stop along the way at Ōyama Jinja, and take some photos.

    

On the grounds of the shrine was a pond with some coy in it and a few benches, so I took a bit of a break.

While there, an older couple came through with a tour guide and when they decided to take a break I ended up chatting with them for a bit.  They were from england, and had decided to keep their travel plans rather than cancel and even with everything happening in Tokyo and Fukushima still not settled, were enjoying their vacation thoroughly.

I was headed out to the Teramachi District (寺町 next to explore the local pottery at the Kutani Kosen Gama Kiln.  It took a bit to find even with multiple maps, which might explain why I was the only visitor that day.  They gave me a tour and I was able to see a number of pieces in various stages of firing and painting.  I picked out a couple of items and then made my way back to the hotel to prepare for an early morning departure to Takayama the next day.

Today, with the weather more cooperative, I headed out.  The first stop was Nagamachi Buke Yashiki (長町), the Samurai district.  A number of old and well preserved houses and business establishments make up this area, some turned into stores while others are now museums (the rest being upscale residential quarters).  I toured a couple of the houses, and one building which has once upon a time been a pharmacy.

After wandering the area for a while, I headed to Kenroku-en (兼六園), the highlight of Kanazawa and one of the “three best” gardens in all of Japan (I’ve now been to two).  As part of the festivities this week, it turns out that the park was open to the public (free entrance), which was a nice surprise but probably encouraged larger crowds, and that made taking pictures a little tricky.  In any event, the garden itself was impressive.

    

And while the cherry blossoms where not in full bloom, there was enough that was to keep me occupied.

I wandered around for three or four hours, taking my time and snapping photos as scenes appeared – which happened often.

Tired, I decided to finish the day by heading to Higashi chaya-gai (東茶屋街), the Geisha District).  On my way, I stumbled upon some destructive construction going on, and had to stop and watch.  I think the construction crew was more amused by my interest than concerned for my safety.  Why is it always fun to watch things being destroyed?

After taking in the destruction, I finally found my way to Higashi, and wandered the old streets with the wooden slated front doors/windows.  Most things were closed, or closing, unfortunately, but I was able to take in a museum.

Shima, a former geisha house dates from 1820 showcasing combs, musical instruments, and other items from days gone by, and I wandered around inside.  The lighting was awful, which made pictures difficult, but I didn’t seem to mind too much at this point in the day.  Or perhaps I just took this “engrish” sign a little too literally….

Leaving Higashi, I headed back towards the hotel to find a place for dinner.  A full day of walking had helped work up an appetite.

    

I had planned my trip to Kanazawa to coincide with the Sakura Matsuri festival which was supposed to take place this week.  My timing, unfortunately, wasn’t the best – the sakura hanami were not in full bloom yet, and little sign of a any festival along the shores of any waterway actually existed.  It didn’t help that it rained most of the first day I arrived.

Walking up to my first day in Kanzawa, I headed towards the train station a few steps away from the hotel, and took a couple pictures of the impressive station architecture and “water” sign.  Yes, the sign which welcomes you to Kanzawa actually writes in water, rotating between the city name, the time, and “welcome”.

From the station, I decided to head towards Ōmichō Market and wander around.  A pile of tea was offered at one establishment, something “sticky” at another, while seafood was offered at the majority in one state of preparation or another.

After wandering around for a while and snapping some photos, I grabbed some sushi for brunch at one of the Conveyor belt sushi (回転寿司 kaiten-zushi) restaurants.  It isn’t the same as Tsukiji (築地), but with the sea close by it’s just as fresh and tasty.  And for those concerned (not me!), nowhere near Fukushima.

I wandered towards Kanazawa Castle Park, and promptly got caught in the rain, which even with an umbrella made for a wet and camera unfriendly time.  I decided to try the  21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, but they were closed for the day (Monday).  I had forgot most things are closed on Mondays – given the weather and the prospects of finding something else to do, I decided to head back to the hotel and end the day there.  I needed a break anyways…

Inuyama-jō 犬山城

With the rain finished and the sun shining bright, I packed up my things and dropped them off at the front desk of the Ryokan (旅館) before heading out to see what Inuyama was known for – the castle (-jō).  The blossoms were out and at their peak as I headed across the bridge towards the castle, along the sakura covered pathway.

Inuyama-jō originated from a fort in 1440, and is Japan’s oldest intact castle, with great views.  The Inuyama Matsuri (festival) took place last weekend, but events were still taking place and the way up to the castle was packed with people.  I’m sure the sun played a part in getting everyone out.

    

  

As with most Matsuri, the street vendors were out in force, and business was booming.

I walked back through town mid-afternoon, looking for something to eat, of course forgetting that pretty much all restaurants close at 3pm and don’t open up again until after 5pm.  I grabbed some junkfood from the local combini near the station and walked to the sakura covered street next to a canal, found a bench and ate.  And took some photos while I was at it.

Late afternoon, I headed back the way I had come along the water towards the bridge which would take me to the ryokan and my luggage – and finally, off to Kanzawa this evening on a four hour train ride.

  

I was fortunate to arrive in Inuyama at the height of Sakura Hanami, and the small town and well planted waterways made for some great pictures.

After six nights in Kobe, it was time to plan the final two weeks of my trip.  My time in Kobe was memorable, and much more relaxed than the first three weeks.  The next couple of weeks had originally been planned, but with the cancellation of the naked festival (see previous post) in Furukawa, I had to revamp my plans.

Rather than end my trip hopping from place to place, to finally land in Tokyo, I decided to spend it in Osaka.  I had originally planned a couple of days there after Kobe, but now would spend the better part of my last week instead.  So, what to do with the time before that?

With Osaka now pushed out, I decided to head to Inuyama, which is a small town about 30 minutes outside of Nagoya.  I could have made it a day trip from Nagoya, but there were a few things in the area that merited a couple of days, and I happend to have the time.  I booked the hotel late, and as  result didn’t have a lot of choice – I ended up in a Ryokan Hotel.  A bit upscale but not too expensive – a far more than I had expected.  A (very) large tatami mat room, and large indoor AND outdoor onsen on the water.  The only thing it didn’t come with was meals – which was to be the painful aspect of the trip.

For those who don’t know, Ryokan typically come with meals – dinner and breakfast – and you pretty much have to work your schedule around their marginally flexible schedule.  While that increases the costs, if you factor the cost of your dinner into your day it’s actually a good deal and a much better quality meal than you’ll find at your local restaurant.  In this case, I hadn’t been given that choice, so after arriving at the Ryokan and dropping my stuff off, I headed out for dinner to try and find something open.  Did I mention it was raining?

Inuyama, as it turns out, tends to go to sleep early.  There isn’t much happening in this town of 75K residents, and not many open restaurants to service them.  The main train station in town seemed a likely bet, but even with two pachinko parlours there just didn’t seem to be anything open past 7pm.  After walking around for a while I managed to locate a yakitori place that seemed reasonable, and had a few customers.  More importantly, it was open.

I headed in and got to ordering a bunch of stuff.  Having been in Japan for a while, I was getting used to figuring out what stuff was, or just guessing and being surprised.  The one item on the menu I happened to guess wrong was the scallops wrapped in bacon – which in fact turned out to be fish sausage (I think) wrapped in bacon.

Fish sausage is not something I’m particularly fond of.  It’s an acquired taste, and not one I’ve made an attempt to acquire beyond what I might end up getting accidentally covered in tasty sauce so you don’t notice you’re eating it situations.  This time, I’d have to say it was undercooked, and didn’t taste much like anything.  And for the next week, I’d be regretting eating it.  Maybe I was due for stomach problems, given all the stuff I’d been eating – maybe not.  Maybe it was the fish sausage, and maybe it was something else.  Can’t say for sure, but it was painful and certainly drained my energy for the week.

Anyways, you didn’t come here to read about that, now did you?

The next day I was headed to two shrines, a short train ride away;  Ōgata-jinja 大縣神社 and Tagata-jinja 田県神社.  Ōgata-jinja is a 2000 year old shirne dediced to the female Shintō deity Izanami, while Tagata-jinja is the male counterpart.

I stopped by Tagata first, as it was the furthest stop, and wandered around the town for a bit getting lost while looking for the shrine – let’s just say the guidebooks directions of “west of the station” left a lot to be desired.  It did allow me to stumble upon some cherry blossoms which made good subjects after the rain the previous day/evening.

The shrine itself had a whole lot of “no pictures” signs, so I took what I could from a distance.  Using your imagination, I’m sure you can figure out the imagery.

The next shrine was Ōgata, a train station and 20 minute walk “southwest” – again, not very accurate, but I smartly asked for help this time and was pointed in the right direction.  This shrine was away from the town, a good walk up a large hill (small mountain?), and on larger grounds than the Tagata.

The fertility objects in this case were, as you might expect, the opposite of the male one.  Again, you can probably figure out the imagery in the pictures below without much guidance.

Between the shrine and the station there were several houses that appeared to be growing plum trees, and they happened to be in bloom.  Some flowers were also up and about after the overnight rain.

An autoshop that apparently feeds off of twisters:

And don’t do whatever this sign is saying not to do (large fine):

On my way back, I headed over to the local sake brewery for a tasting, and picked up some items for drinking and importing.  The brewery also made beer, so I decided to give that a try with dinner – which, in this case, would be pizza.  My stomach being what it was, and having passed by this little italian take-out/delivery place on the way to the brewery, I decided to keep it simply (and cheap) tonight.  I grabbed a small pizza for take-out, and headed back to the Ryokan for dinner.

I couldn’t resist a  few photos of the Cherry Blossoms in full bloom over the water, however, before packing it in.

Kobe Oji Zoo

Today was mostly a lazy day – got up late, wandered around the shopping district in Kobe near the main downtown train station, and tried to find a Bic Camera store.  Never did find one, but I did find an electronics store in the  Sannomiya Center Gai.  Why was I looking for an electronics store, you might ask?  Well, I needed a screen protector for my (now broken) iPhone 4.  Yes, in four trips to Japan I have in some way ruined 3 iPhones.  Must be a record.  Anyways, I found a screen protector and case that at least prevent me from getting glass splinters when using it (no problems using it, thankfully).  It only fell off the bed about 1.5f (onto a ceramic floor tile, if we’re being completely honest).  Rather annoying.

After passing by, but not entering, China Town, I headed back to the hotel to change lenses an get ready for the evening.  Tonight I was headed to Oji Zoo for some cherry blossom viewing at night.  The lights were shinning up on the trees, lighting up the blossoms giving a completely different effect than that during the day.  The route was shortened this year, probably to conserve electricity given the growing crisis in Fukushima and rotating blackouts around Tokyo.

Tomorrow I would be off to Inuyama, near Nagoya, for a couple of days of sightseeing.

Engyoji Temple

I decided to head to Himeji today, to see what shape the famous castle was in, but primarily to visit Engyoji Temple, a 30 minute bus ride away.  As expected, the castle was under construction, and the majority of it was covered making for a lack of photo opportunities.  Given that Engyoji was to take a half a day at least (including the bus ride to/fro), I decided to skip the castle.  I can always come back in 2014 when it’s finally done.  😉

As with many sites in Japan, Engyoji Temple was on a mountain, Mt. Shosha, and was reached by cable car (five minutes or less, on the Shosha ropeway).

Engyoji Temple is about a 1000 years old, and today is made up of several buildings, spread out over a few kilometers of up and down trails, narrow roads, and very limited vehicle traffic.

          

I wandered around for almost 3 hours, taking everything in and heading down a few hiking trails when the opportunity presented itself.  Parts of the movie “The Last Samurai” were filme here, and one of the monks was only too happy to explain as much in Japanese.

Himeji is west of Kobe, so on the way back I decided to stop off and see the Akashi Kaikyō Suspension Bridge, the longest suspension bridge in the world at 3910m.  The sun had just finished setting when I got there, so no sunset pictures unfortunately.  I waited around until it got dark and got a couple of interesting perspectives.

Back to Kobe, and off to bed.

Kobe Blossoms

Today was a busy day.  It started out at Ikuta Jinjya, which happens to be behind the hotel in downtown Kobe, and on my way to the Sannomiya train station I decided to have a look.

The shrine happened to include a large pond and some flowers nearby as well.  Overall, it was rather well kept for a shrine in the middle of the downtown core of a major metropolitan city – one that even had security at night! a first for me, anyways.

I was off to see some cherry blossoms today, and after a bit of research on the internet had located a spot that was rated one of the top 100 in all of Japan – Shukugawa Park, in Nishinomiya, just east of Kobe.  The blossoms were not quite full yet, but were quite impressive nonetheless.

The cherry trees line a canal for a few kilometres, and there were many people out enjoying them considering it was a weekday.

The food-stall vendors were also busy serving up an assortment of afternoon snacks.

A few more shots of the cherry trees over the water, and some people enjoying themselves in the sun.

That evening I found myself in Harborland, taking some photos at night with longer exposures.  Harborloand is a popular spot for tourists, but on this evening there wasn’t a lot going on.  Made for some nice pictures, though.

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