SYNOPSIS:  About nothing much.  A day in transit.  Nothing going on.  About the ride into the Japanese Alps.


I exchanged my 3-tatami cubicle room at the Eco Hotel in the fourth largest town, the shopping capital of neon-lit 21st century Japan, for an 8-tatami room in a traditional thatched farmhouse in the remote village of Ogimachi, which for all practical purposes, had gotten stuck in the 18th century and which has a mere 600 residents.  For a few days I replaced my carton juice, yoghurt, banana, or pre-packed sushi meals, with the home-cooked local cuisine.  The neon lights of Nagoya made room for the stars of the Japanese Alps.  And the annoying advertising trucks which blasted advertisements and sports news across town gave way to the slightly less annoying frogs which trumpet their news across the ponds.    I am not complaining.  🙂

To get here, my limited express train named Haida had to maneuver narrow steel bridges, balance along the edges of mountains and ride along in gorgeous valleys, which an English announcer at one point likened to the Rhine River.  Now there was an unexpected comparison!  For a brief moment it felt indeed like some German landscape.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


SYNOPSIS:  An ancient tradition of fishing and how it feels to watch it in the modern world as it is exploited as a money-making tourist industry.


I have raised this question before, most recently with the rebuilding of Ise, so I apologize if I sound like a broken record: how much nonsensical or barbaric behavior can one justify by either tradition or religion?  It is a question that permeates the 20th and 21st century perhaps more than any time before, as we have set worldwide standards through declarations of human rights, women’s rights, animal rights, prisoners’ rights, etc.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


SYNOPSIS:  The world of the Meiji Restoration as it presents itself in a vast open-air museum.  From a prison to the doctor’s office; from a sake brewery to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Imperial Hotel (no kidding).


There is a lot to be learned (by me) about the Meiji Restoration, a relatively short period dating from 1868 to 1912, which despite its short life, seems to have had far-reaching consequences for Japan.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


SYNOPSIS:   About a castle which still has a traditional town, and about this town and the cruel and not so cruel traditions it fosters.  Meeting a nice Japanese couple.  A few words about Japanese and the English language.


It’s a tiny little dot on the map:  Inuyama, but it’s worth a trip if you have the time.  The castle of Inuyama — yes another castle! — is the oldest in Japan.  That should count for something and it justified my visit.  And it is one of the few castles which still has a town to go with pretty much the same as it had a town at the time of its conception.  That is definitely something that counts.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


SYNOPSIS:  There are cultural sites in Nagoya, not just shopping — a castle, a garden, a museum, and a famous craft center, but no theater this time of the year.  About Nagoya’s cultural side.


By American standards Nagoya is as much a cultural hub as it is a shopping center.  Only by Japanese standards and by the standards of one American teenager does it fall short a bit.  In Okinawa, my first stop after Tokyo, I met an American guy at the hostel who had spent 6 months at Nagoya as an exchange student.  When I asked him what there was to see his answer was: there is really nothing going on there!… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


SYNOPSIS:  About shopping in Japan.  About a train station to behold!

Nagoya is known as the second shopping capital (Tokyo beats it) of Japan.  And when I arrived at the train station of Nagoya I had no doubt.  But I also know myself — shopping the way it’s understood by most:  going to the mall — is not my thing.  I get completely overwhelmed and then cranky and just can’t do it.  I will do my best and work up some courage to perhaps go department store shopping in Tokyo at the very end.  Maybe.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY



SYNOPSIS:  About the origin of the cultivated pearl industry on Mikimoto Pearl Island in the town of Toba.


First Japan turns out to once be the largest silver producer in the world, now it turns out that cultivated pearls originated from right here.  All the things I did not know…

Outside of Ise, just 30 minutes away by local train is the little town of Toba.  From the station it takes a mere five minutes along the inland bay before you reach a covered bridge announcing the entrance to Mikimoto Pearl Island.  $15 entrance fee is not cheap, but this island museum was well done and even though highly commercialized — a huge sales shop is strategically placed and an overpriced restaurant is hoping to entice you — the museum displays were fascinating, tangible and bilingual and the landscaping and layout of the island a masterpiece of Japanese garden aesthetics.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY



SYNOPSIS:  It may not be the most impressive shrine for tourists, but it is the most important Shinto shrine for Japan and one of the most austere and authentic ones, so I had to go:  About Ise, the imperial shrine.  About the question what it takes to justify unbearable costs.  And about the discipline of school children.  For some reason this is a very long blog.  I am sorry…  It’s just another shrine if you boil it right down.


Even the mighty Egyptians had to give up building pyramids at one point, most likely because the costs of creating one extravagant tomb per emperor whose construction would take decades — tying up most of the labor force of Egypt annually for four months (during flood season), and about 10% of the labor force for the rest of the year — was unsustainable.  We may associate Egypt foremost with pyramids, but in its 3000 years of existence, pyramids were only built for about 400 years.  The tomb construction at the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens that followed was sumptuous enough but could be accomplished at a fraction of the cost.  Who ultimately convinced the Egyptians of the new ways?  Were they even asked?  Was there resistance among the pharaohs?  What religious and doctrinal hoops did the priesthood have to jump through to accomplish this shift?… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY



SYNOPSIS:   Stuck in Shingu.  Another day in transit.  A few words and some images about food.

I had the choice to listen to a wise old monk who told me that the way to the Ise is to go North via Osaka, just the way I had been coming down here.  Boring but faster.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


SYNOPSIS:  About a circus that was no longer Buddhism.  Or was it?  Kobo Dainichi’s birthday.  About parades and drumming bands and a special fire ritual.

The festivities started last night and focused around the main plaza.  There was also some singing in town at various temples before the main event, but the poster I had gotten hold off was all in Japanese and not very intuitive.  And “my monks” don’t speak English.  So I went for the safe spot.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY