Fushimi Inari

One of our guides in Kyoto is the very lovely and talented Ayako Kiyono san. Kiyono san knows her stuff when it comes to Kyoto and has shown hundreds of our travellers around the old Imperial capital. Kiyono san wanted to write about one of her favourite places….

Fushimi Inari – Kyoto

The head quarter of 30,000 sub-shrines throughout Japan, with 2.7million people visit during the three-day New Years holiday, Fushimi Inari Shrine is one of the most popular Shinto shrines in Japan.

If you can’t believe it, please come and count the number of the votive offerings. One, two, three, …hundred,… thousand,… ten thousand and more to count. By the time you finish counting, it will be already dark!

What kind of votive offerings do people make?

Several different kinds, one most popular is small votive tablets on which the wish is written, and another is Torii Shinto gate of various sizes.

A square-shaped votive tablet is the most common in many shrines, but those in this shrine are unique, they are either fox-face shape, or Torii gate shape. Those who have playful mind add some facial expressions on the fox-face votive tablets. You see smiling foxes and manly foxes. Those votive tablets cost you around 500yen to 800yen.
But if you have an ambition and want something different, why don’t you offer Large Torii Gate?

The largest torii gate is around 15meters high and your name or company name is engraved with donation date. As so many people come visit this shrine everyday, you can be very famous. That could be one of the best ways to advertise yourself!
Ayako Kiyono

Ise and the spirit of Japan

Shall I have the wagyu burger?  It`s a tough decision.  I am 5 minutes walk from the main shrine at Ise.  Strolling the back streets outside, I have already eaten a bowl of chubby Ise udon noodles, a minced pork slice and a shark meat onigiri.  Conspicuous consumption is addictive.  And fun.  So joining the spirit of the insatiable crowds, I tuck in.

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Festival fun and matsuri madness for the family!

I often get jealous of the things that our customers do. We arrange for people to have drinks with a Geisha, spend a day with a master sword smith, hike with wild bear in the alps, dive with Manta Ray in the tropics and snow board perfect powder in the north to name a few things. During the summer, Uday Kanitkar and his family travelled to Japan taking in Tokyo and Kyoto as well as travelling through the Japan Alps, but the highlight (for me!) was when they travelled to the Tohoku region for the ‘Big Three’ festivals as well as some extras.
With the region suffering earlier this year because of the great tsunami, the Kanto festival in Akita, the Nebuta festival in Aomori and the Tanabatta festival in Sendai promised to be bigger than ever. These are huge festivals and Uday and is family have been kind enough to share a few photos from the Kanto festival and have written something for our blog.
Here is what they had to say….

We returned from what some may call “A trip of a Lifetime” to Japan starting 15 July 2011 and ending four weeks later when we flew out on 13 August  leaving behind a dreamland and clinging on to a treasure of memories, souvenirs, photographs and videos of our experiences in Japan.
A self guided travel plan was put together by InsideJapan Tours for our little group of three, my wife, 15 year old daughter and me, which included a long list of things to do and places to visit starting with Kyoto and taking us through Nara, Osaka, Mount Koya, Hiroshima, Miyajima, Kanazawa, Shirakawago, Takayama, Tokyo, Akita, Kakunodate, Tazawako, Hirosaki, Aomori, Sendai, Matsushima, Odawara, Hakone, Kamakura and ending with a second stay in Tokyo.
There is just so much to share that I could write a book about our experiences, which I do not intend to undertake. Instead I shall try to limit to some of our experiences that really stand out as unique to Japan. Japan had been on my list of must visit destinations for many years now and so we choose to go while the country is still struggling to regain its health after being devastated by the triple disaster. We began with a two week visit to the central and southern parts of Honshu Island and later extended it to include all of the northern part which is Tohoku. Looking back, I am now convinced that our trip would have been very incomplete without visiting Tohoku mainly because we got to witness the major festivals of Tohoku during our visit starting with the Kanto Matsuri (festival) in Akita, Neputa Matsuri in Hirosaki, Nebuta Matsuri in Aomori and the Tanabata Festival in Sendai.
The following pictures have their own story to tell….

Me and my wife Bubbles posing with a Kanto (Lantern Mast)

The whole street is lined with Kanto Masts on both sides as far as you can see

The Masts are carried on shoulders, hips, forehead and hands in single or formations of two three or four Masts in tandem which is quite a thrilling sight to watch.

Extensions are added to the poles as they are lifted higher and higher until it the bamboo poles can take no more

Looks pretty frightening as the bamboos bend precariously to the limit. Yes and sometimes the poles break and come crashing down. No damage is done because they are made of paper and bamboo.

I tried lifting one with little success because they probably weigh between 30 and 40 kilograms. One fell straight on me leaving a few drops of wax from the candles lights inside which I still preserve on my video camera.

Just in case you are wondering what is inside the lanterns take a peak like I did. Real lighted wax candle inside.

The whole town gathers to watch the festival like this Sumo Wrestler who happened to be in our neighborhood.
We met some amazingly friendly people in Akita during the festival and as everywhere else in Japan we became friends instantaneously and had a wonderful party with our Akita friends.

My daughter Kavita was gifted a picture of a current teen Idol by the little girls in less than 15 minutes of having met these wonderful people

The evening had to end in Dinner, Japanese style at a local restaurant.

The Kanto matsuri sounds amazing – Very jealous! It is nice to see that they had a great time in Akita…..and what about the rest of Japan?! I think that this is a pretty good guide as to how much the Kanitkar family enjoyed their time in Japan along with the cultural experiences and the the people that they met. It certainly sounds as though you had your fair share of cultural experiences and the summer festival season. Thank you for sharing this with us. Now I look forward to reading about the rest of the trip….only joking of course.


Happy kanji

The Japanese language is so complicated, multi-layered and interesting, even for a novice speaker like me.  Here’s a kanji character that I like a lot:

聴く   きく   kiku  to hear; to listen; to ask

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6 months on – Part 4: Kinoya and the cans of hope

Look around you” begins Ito-san, a manager from Kinoya fish processing company as he gestures to the devastated buildings on either side . “Before the tsunami there were twenty companies here – only two have started up again and are trying to get back on their feet”. We are standing next to a shell of indeterminate industrial purpose. But this is Ishinomaki so without a doubt this building must have been dedicated to fish. Inside the barren shell, seated on piled up blue and white plastic crates are around 40 people of varying ages. Some look like fresh faced students, others are older. All are wearing rubber gloves in assorted colours – blue, pink, cream, yellow – and are diligently engaged in rinsing an endless number of glinting gold cans.

Ito-san tells his story of the tsunami

Ito-san tells his story of the tsunami and the Kinoya fish processing company

The workers are volunteers from Peace Boat, a Japanese NGO that has served projects across the globe but has for the past five months, supplied tens of thousands of hands to assist with the clean up operation in Tohoku.

Volunteers in Ishinomaki

Volunteers from Peace Boat are busy assisting Kinoya with their clean up operation

On the day of the earthquake,” continues Ito-san, “we got early warning of what was coming. We had radio contact from the fishing boats at sea. They warned us to get out, to run to the high ground”. Kinoya employed approximately 1300 people before the tsunami and all those working that day were evacuated at pace to the hillsides above the town. “I watched the waves come in,” says Ito. “I have lived here for over 50 years; I had seen tsunami, two or three metres, perhaps five. But never like this. It was ten, maybe fifteen metres high.” Ito-san’s reportage is clearly delivered. He is softly spoken but does not falter once or hesitate.

We were on the hillside for three days. We had nothing to eat. The waves continued for that whole time. Every 30 minutes a wave would arrive and then pull back to the ocean. Only after three days did the waters recede and we felt it was safe to send some people down to the town.”

There they found our cans, everywhere, thousands of them. They opened one and found it was good to eat so this is what we all ate. Kinoya cans of fish. However, since many people knew that the cans were from our factory, nobody tried to pick them up because they felt it was inappropriate to eat them without permission. So, after few days, some people living in the shelter came to our CEO – who was also staying at the shelter like the others – and asked for permission to pick up and distribute the cans to the people in the shelter. Our CEO accepted their request, and then 50 or 100 people started picking the cans up, to share with the thousand people waiting at the shelter. Afterward the newspapers heard about it and began calling them the ‘cans of hope.”

It is a catchy marketing slogan and Ito-san goes on to explain how they are trying to restart the business, little by little, recovering as many cans as possible with the help of volunteer workers before distributing to stores in the local area.

Kinoya Headquarters

The headquarters of Kinoya, the sign over the entrance newly restored to an otherwise battered building

I admire Ito-san’s fortitude and resolute determination. He sees Kinoya as pioneers, showing the way to recovery for the people of Ishinomaki; taking small but definite steps, sending the message that they will not be broken. Yet there is also a tinge of despair. “These workers have to leave by 4pm” he says. “Since the earthquake, when the tide comes in it covers this land.” The land here has dropped over one metre. “The government should raise this up again so we can work again and rebuild our factories. It is our job to raise capital from banks and investors. But we can not raise the land. The government has to do it.

And it is this final statement that makes me feel the hopelessness of the situation: This land is no longer suitable for people to live and work on. It has been claimed back by the ocean.  As I look around at the empty concrete shells, piles of debris and vast areas of wasteland, I can not see a day when Ishinomaki will again be a vibrant industrial fishing town and the houses and factories will be rebuilt.

But perhaps I am wrong. We leave, each with our own shiny gold can of hope wrapped in newspaper, a small symbol of the road to a brighter future.

Cans of Hope!

A crate full of 'cans of hope' - this picture is taken from the Peace Boat blog


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