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Japanese Cultre at Letters from Japan

Archive for the ‘Japanese Cultre’ Category

Photography Tour to Japan #17: Highlights of Suzu   no comments

Posted at 11:40 am in Japan Photo Trip, Japanese Cultre, Suzu

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ojisan

People at a house party in Suzu

It was simply a pleasure to come to Suzu, located in the deepest part of the Noto Peninsula. We all had a great time with the local people and photographers during the two day festival and while exploring the area.

Suzu is a warm and friendly place and tourism is well received there. As Takabayashi-san, the director of the tourism department of Suzu City  put it: “people bring people, and this is the fundamental element of tourism.” This connection with the people of Suzu is very apparent in our group’s reflections after the visit.

Tom finds the interactions with the locals as something inclusive and welcoming:

Scott talks about the interaction with local photographers:

Cindy describes one encounter with a local lady:

Jeri talks about a very welcoming experience at a house she visited:

Lauren remembers a little incident with an inn-keeper at a family run B&B in Suzu:

takabayashi

Takabashi-san & Naho-san from the city of Suzu at a meeting with local photographers

Written by projectbasho on September 30th, 2008

Japan Photo Tour #16: In search of perfect Ramen   no comments

kana_ramen

The owner of Taisho-ken, Kanazawa

If you come to Japan, you will quickly understand that restaurants are quite different here. The typical American restaurant where you can get many kinds of dishes at one place is not the norm here. Many restaurants, in fact, only serve their own specialty. It might also surprise to you that the Japanese do not eat sushi or tempura everyday and that these are not even the most popular foods here.

The most popular food is, without question, ramen. This noodle soup of Chinese origin is everyday food for everyone. You can get it everywhere you go in Japan and it is nothing like the the 40 cent instant noodle you buy in US..

Ramen is so popular in Japan that there is even a Ramen Museum in Yokohama. Here you can sample many ramen shops that are representative of those all over Japan.

On our trip, I took the group to four different ramen restaurants: one in Tokyo, two in Kanazawa and another in Suzu.

img_4845Taisho-ken in Kanazawa is located only a few minutes from the Kanazawa Station. When I arrived in Kanazawa I asked the first taxi driver where to go for ramen in Kanazawa, and this was his recommendation. The store is simple and they only have counter seats. The young ramen chef, who is the third generation in his family’s ramen business, gave us a very warm welcome.

At this shop, there are only two different soup bases: shoyu (soy sauce) and miso. The menu is also simple: you can choose portion size and whether you want extra slow-cooked sliced pork (Cha-shu) on top of your noodles or not.

In the area of Nagasaki, there is another kind of ramen that is quite famous. Champon, which still retains the Chinese pronunciation as it is much closer to the mainland of China, is a rather unique kind of ramen. The soup base is creamy white made from seafood and a variety of vegetables. Champon also has many toppings such as shrimp, squid, fish cake, and vegetables. The soup is quite rich and the noodles are slightly thicker than the usual ramen noodle.

If you come to Japan, ramen is a food you simply cannot miss.

kyushu_ramen

Written by projectbasho on September 29th, 2008

Photography Trip to Japan #15: Highlights in Wajima   1 comment

Posted at 3:32 pm in Japan Photo Trip, Japanese Cultre, Wajima

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Wajima Port, Photo by Jeri

We spent three days in Wajima exploring the outskirts by van and seeing the coastal landscape and the paddy fields. During this season, the greens are just beautiful in the Noto Peninsula.

Here are just some of the thoughts our group has to offer about the experience.

Jeri shares her impressions about the ocean, zen temples, lacquerwares and more.


Cindy truly appreciated the time we spent together and expresses her gratitude about the trip:


Scott talks about his morning walk through the fishing neighborhood. We went out together one morning exploring as much as we could before breakfast:


Tom shares about his walk to the port as well as to the fishing neighborhood and about why he found this area the most inspiring in terms of photographing:


Lauren has observations about living in such a different environment. During our visit to Kami-Ozawa, she encountered  two older ladies living in a neighborhood of only 20 houses. For her, thinking about this life was simply mind-blowing and something most of us are not used to:


I immensely enjoyed photographing in Wajima. It was really refreshing to be up early in the morning and walk around the port. This is where I photographed most during the trip. I also comment on something I learned about one of the fishing villages we visited:

Written by projectbasho on September 22nd, 2008

Photography Trip to Japan #14: Sound and warmth of Takojima   1 comment

Posted at 12:08 am in Japan Photo Trip, Japanese Cultre, Suzu

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I have never experienced anything like this before in my life. I am not even sure if my description of the event will do any justice to it. Nevertheless, let me say one thing at least: spectacular.

I am talking about the Takojima Festival which takes place in Suzu once a year. This is a two day festival where 16 lavishly decorated lanterns are paraded through town in a dramatic processional. They are accompanied by drumming, the sounds of many flutes and bells, and the voices of people from all over the town, both young and old. This is a visual as well as auditory experience that you cannot recreate elsewhere. It simply is a sensory overload.

These lanterns have ornate curves all over and are coated in black with lacquer from Wajima. Each lantern is managed by the 16 different neighborhoods and each has a different elaborate drawing in the front and back. During a conversation with a local man who has been documenting the festival for many years, I learned that the construction of one lantern costs about $100,000. But those are just numbers, and the monetary value is not the way to appreciate something like this.

Kids in front of lanterns, Photo by Jeri

These large lanterns march slowly throughout the narrow streets of the town all day long and late into the night. The views of them, especially at night, are simply spectacular. They are all lit up and almost glow like fire against the deep dark sky in this small fishing town at the edge of the Noto Peninsula. Everyone is wearing very colorful Dotera, festival robes. Some actually just tie the robe around the bottom half of their bodies rather than wear them traditionally. They stitch many small bells to their robes as well. The sounds of the bells are everywhere. People are talking and whimsically drumming through the night on the lantern platforms. The kids are also sitting and staring in awe at all that surrounds them.

I have heard of this festival before, and even saw it on a DVD. Quite frankly though, they just could not do any justice to it. You just have to be there and experience this event with all of your senses. If you stand in front of this 16 ft tall lantern carried by about 30-40 people dancing along with simple and yet moving rhythm, you will feel the vibe, excitement, and joy of the people. It will surround you and you will just want to be part of this whole excitement.

What is amazing is that you can be part of it. People in Takojima will bring you into the whole experience, and they do it very well. At each household, everyone is having a party in their living room and they invite  whoever is available into the front of their houses. Some people will just walk in for a quick break and/or drink. Beer, sake, shochu and any seafood you can think of are offered for the occasion.

Literally, if you are walking in front of a house, people will grab you and bring you in to their party, feed you, and offer you any kind of alcohol available. If that is not enough, they will take you to another party across the town. There does not seem to be room for even the politest “no” in this situation, and you just have to take everything they offer. What is amazing is that they are not just doing this as a part of formality, but they are truly sincere about it.

We experienced the warmth of the people in Takojima during the festival. It was a totally serendipitous experience that is unmatched by anything we have experienced so far. This was, without a question, one of the highlights of the trip to the Japanese countryside.

Party table, Suzu, Photo by Tom

Written by projectbasho on September 16th, 2008

Photography Tour to Japan #13: What the outskirts of Wajima offers   2 comments

Posted at 12:06 am in Japan Photo Trip, Japanese Cultre, Wajima

A lady in Kami-Ozawa, Wajima, Photo by Jeri

During our stay in Wajima, we also traveled outside of the city to explore the scenery of the Japanese countryside.

One feature of the Japanese countryside in this season are the golden rice fields. The rice fields are simply spectacular now a mixture of gold and green in color and ready for harvesting. The color and texture is simply beautiful during this season.

We also explored the smaller fishing villages along the Japan Sea. The fishing villages have only about 20 to 30 houses. One village where we stopped is Kami-Ozawa, and it is a village (technically it is called a town but I think village is more appropriate) with only 20 houses. It is a very tiny place and it has a wooden fence called, Magaki, all around it to protect it from the winter winds from Siberia. These bamboo fences are 15-18 ft tall and are taller than the houses in the village. Because of this, it looks almost like a small medieval town.

We walked under a gate and came across an old lady who has been living in this place since she was born. She was born in another house in the village, which is only several houses down the alley way and when she got married she moved to this current household. She lives with her son’s family who now works in Wajima. It is amazing to think what my life would be like if I were born in a place like this.

While the Noto Peninsula offers these beautiful features from the scenery to the people, it suffered from a major earthquake last spring. When you walk around Wajima you will still see the damage from a year and a half ago. One such example is Shoji-ji. When I visited last December, the meditation hall was about to fall down, and was only standing by wooden supports.

When we visited Shoji-ji this time, they were still working on the reconstruction of the temple. The meditation hall was covered with scaffolding and cloth now, and they were actually working on the building. I talked to one lady at a souvenir store, she told me the whole process including the small details will take over 10 years.

At Jeri’s suggestion, we decided to donate one roof tile, and wrote all of our names on it. We hope the next time we come back that most of the major reconstruction will be done.

Written by projectbasho on September 15th, 2008

Photography Tour to Japan #12: A Bath as bounding experience   no comments

After a long day of exploring the countryside of Japan, what we look forward to is a trip to the Onsen or hot spring. It is a public bath and the hot spring is rich in minerals.

In every city we traveled through we had opportunities to dip ourselves into hot bath tubs at the end of the day. Wearing Yukata, a Japanese robe, sometimes we walked together to the Onsen. Even though there were those who were not used to the idea and a little hesitant at first, this eventually became a daily routine.

Strange enough, it is almost hard for me to think of this as a part of daily life at this point as I am so used to taking showers. Even though I went out of my way to find a Japanese deep bath tub for my apartment in the US, I rarely use it to be honest. But getting back to this custom was such a great thing.

In Wajima, there is even a hot spring to just dip your feet in. Literally called Ashi Yu, foot bath, this city run facility is located in the middle of town. This is, of course, one of the few tourist attractions in the city, but it is also a place where locals go. It is a locus of the community where people gather and feel very comfortable talking to one another.

One of the participants pointed out that privacy issues at the public baths are interesting and can be a little strange. On one hand, everyone is naked and seems quiet comfortable. At the same time, the sound of the ocean is pumped into the women’s bathroom to overcome the sounds of what women do in the bathroom.

There is a Japanese expression, “Hadaka no Tsukiai.” It can be literally translated to “naked relationship,” and it refers to a trusted relationship among the same sex. I would assume that it came from this tradition of going to a public bath and having conversations about the many affairs in one’s life.

This trip is about bonding with other participants as well as the locals as much as photographing beautiful scenery.

Written by projectbasho on September 13th, 2008