More family festival fun

An earlier post featured Uday and his family who travelled to the Tohoku region in summer to witness some of the biggest festivals in Japan. After supplying some great photos from their time at the Kanto festival in Akita, Uday has followed it up with a look at the Neputa festival  in Hirosaki – not to be confused with the Nebuta festival in Aomori….which they also went to!
Here is what he had to say;

After having a great time in Akita enjoying the Kanto Matsuri and a day trip to the Samurai town of Kakunodate and Lake Tazawako a little further up we left for Hirosaki further up north to witness the Neputa Festival – a scaled down version of the bigger Nebuta festival featuring large paper figurines on giant floats.

Hirosaki is a nice little town worth visiting for a couple days. The town is known for its Castle and Park where we spent a few hours just taking in the beautiful garden and what remains of the historically important castle – Although much was destroyed by fire, One of the two castle gates is still well preserved and worth visiting. Just a short walk away from the castle is the Fujita Kimen Tei-en house and garden which is well worth a visit for its well kept garden and traditional Japanese style home interiors.

The Neputa Matsuri floats were being prepared for the parade as we walked back to our hotel.

Later that evening all we had to do is step out of the hotel and stand by road side to watch the parade in full procession right in front of the hotel. The parade begins with giant size Taiko drums, followed with wooden floats of different shapes and sizes.

People of all ages participate dressed in all kinds of costumes. There was even an Elvis with one of the floats.

While we stood there, as (what has now become) usual, Japanese hospitality had to surface and extra chairs popped out for us to sit on. There we met Yoko who was very friendly, spoke English well and went to great lengths of explaining the meaning of some of the colorful characters on the wooden floats.

The hospitality had to extend into dinner at a noodle place right after the festival was over with Yoko and her friends and once again we returned to our hotel quite amazed at the free flow of hospitality and friendliness as in other parts of Japan.

After another day of festival fun, the next day we were booked to go to Aomori to see the much bigger Nebuta Matsuri…

I continue to be jealous of Uday and his family adventures of some of great festivals of Japan, but we hope that there will be another installment featuring the aforementioned Nebuta festival and the Tanabatta festival in Sendai to come soon. It is great to read about their adventures in rural Tohoku and hear about the random acts of kindness that fortunately happen all over Japan, making it the best country in the world to visit. I can’t think of many other places in the world that you would be taken out for a meal by a  stranger and more to the point,  where they expect nothing from it apart from your enjoyment of their country. I am very happy to hear that Uday and his family were able to experience it…..aaaaah…..Japan…what a great place!

Extreme Sports Japanese Style – Synchronised Walking!

The Japanese are great at teamwork. No one goes home until the boss leaves the office; the team is more important than the maverick individual on the baseball field and so on. I think the Japanese are also great at making every day things a bit special; anyone seen those roadworks barriers that are in the shape of frogs, rather than just plain old plastic? Or the pictures of the local flower/food/animal/landmark that are painted onto a long stretch of white railings as you drive through small provincial towns – love  em! Anyway, I thought that this video combined these two great Japanese traits; teamwork and the ability to make something special out of something mundane. Well done Japan!

Anyone else got any good examples of Japan making the most out of the mundane…?

Crabs, stags and the sweet monk: Walking the Kumano trail

It started with an onsen and finished with a waterfall.  The two-day hike in the hills, from Yunomine Onsen to the waterfall at Nachi, frequently took my breath away.  Fortunately, there was an abundance of fresh air around to revive me.

I spent around six hours on the trail each day.  I didn`t need climbing skills, which is fortunate, as I don`t have any.  A half-decent pair of walking shoes and a half-decent pair of lungs were enough to get me up and down the hills.

View looking out to Koguchi village where I stayed on the 2nd night

Rare sign of human life in the morning mist at Koguchi.

The path took me along the Nakahechi trail, part of the old Imperial Route traversed by Emperors making a pilgrimage south from Kyoto.  Two days trekking led me up and down the high hills of the Ogumotori-goe and Kogumotori-goe sections – the route is illustrated on this excellent Kumano website.

I had plenty of company, but little of it was human.  I stepped over tiny red forest-crabs, met 3 perky pensioners picking wild mushrooms, chatted with the birds and insects – I had trouble with their accents,  startled a stag or two and passed a couple of speed-marching foreign tourists.

I can`t really describe the variety of trees, I literally can`t, except to say the colour tones, shapes and sizes were distinct on each section.  I soon filled a memory card anyway.  Perhaps I will spend the Christmas break learning the difference between a cedar, a cheddar and a cider.  Should be fun.

The series of typhoons in September left loose branches scattered across the trail, otherwise the ancient route survived the freak weather virtually unscathed.  Japanese tourists have been temporarily put off, so I had the birds, trees and old tea houses all to myself.  At one point, I must have been the only human being for miles in any direction.

Signs posted in Japanese and English drip-fed me stories of the old Kumano.  Approching Nachi, I came across this entry hinting at the pilgrims` diet:

“An 18th century pilgrim`s diary stated that the Hatago [inn] where he stayed was very hospitable, but unfortunately, because monkeys and deers had raided their garden, there were only dried ferns to eat. Another Hatago attracted business from weary pilgrims with this simple but effective sales pitch: `We have Tofu. Bath is ready`. ”

Thankfully, Kumano cuisine has more bite to it these days.  The locally caught tuna, raw and cooked, was a particular highlight.

Twigs and leaves carpeted the trail in places

Bento lunch with view out to Nachi and the Pacific Ocean

Kind Nachi minshuku owner who gave me a reason to flee my futon at 4am

Each night, the friendly welcomes, hot baths and cooked dinners made for memorable experiences.  At Mitaki Sanso, the minshuku by Nachi waterfall, the kind owner even organised for me to participate in the morning Buddhist service at Seigantoji temple.  At the time, I did not think the owner was kind – the service began at 4:30am – but I have had two weeks to recover since then.

On reflection, the intimate service was well-worth the early rise.  I particularly fondly recall the moment when I got up from the tatami ready to leave the temple.  The Head Monk came towards me through wafts of incense smoke, smiled and handed me a packet of, “Japanese Sweets”.  Faith has its rewards.

This hike on the Kumano trail forms part of the new for 2012, Emperors` Footsteps small group tour.

Walking with Emperors: The Kumano trail

Peaks and ridges of the Kumano.

Stop, look and listen: an ocean of green-topped hills; nothing in sight, except blue sky, green forest and the moss-matted trail; no sound except, birdsong and your own panting breath; no thought except, why have I not done this before?

The secluded Kumano rises to the south of Kyoto and Osaka.  An estimated 3,600 peaks and ridges line its horizon; the heavily-forested hillsides make a great home for wildlife – and the Gods of ancient Japan.

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