All posts by Editor of the Mikan

Hyphenated-American

I am Vietnamese-American.

I’m not Vietnamese. I wasn’t born in Vietnam. I speak the language, but only just. I’ve never been in the country of my ancestors for more than three months at a time. It’s been over 15 years since I’ve been there.

My papers say I am American; they say I was born and raised near Los Angeles, California, and I am a citizen of the United States of America. Despite that, I was taught nothing about meatloaf and hamburgers, about how to throw a football or catch a baseball. Much of what I know about “American life” was learned from TV or learned secondhand.

I am Vietnamese-American. Not Vietnamese. Not American. Not both. I am in-between, balancing two incomplete cultural experiences. To acknowledge both sides of that little line between my ethnicity and my nationality is to acknowledge and accept who I am. That line looks back at my past that makes me who I am and it looks forward to the experiences that shape who I will be. That line bridges the incomplete experiences and makes them whole. Without that line, I am a Vietnamese person without a home and country, or I am an American without a background and culture.

For me, America didn’t penetrate beyond the front porch – the moment I took off my shoes and stepped beyond the threshold, I stepped back into “Vietnam”. I spoke Vietnamese, and I ate Vietnamese food. Before I was taught to say “please” and “thank you”, I was taught to cross my arms and bow, and in order to thrive, I’ve had to become proficient in both.

However, my eastern values didn’t just exist within the vacuum of those four walls. My culture, my values, my upbringing didn’t match up with the outside world. I often find myself confused by elements of “typical mainstream American culture” because it was simply not how I was raised. Fortunately for myself, I grew up in diverse Southern California, where similarly minded friends were widely available. Despite that, there is always a sense of living between two worlds, floating between an insulated inner bubble of eastern culture and a western environment.

I am a Vietnamese-American in Japan. Being in Japan brings some comfort in a way, as if I were coming home to a home I’ve never known. It feels as if there is a resolution to the competing identities. For once in my life, my inside world more closely matches the outside. Stepping outside doesn’t mean having to don a different identity or personality. Just as my Asian skin blends more naturally in a Japanese crowd, my Asian self can blend more naturally in a Japanese society. The way I always felt things “should be” are just the way things are.

Funnily enough, it’s my American self that is sometimes at odds with my surroundings now. My most passive moments are still considered too forward, my tactful moments still too blunt. You expect to become a bit lonely when everybody is communicating in a different language, but no one tells you how absolutely crushing it can feel to instinctively reach out for a hug and receive a terse bow instead; Japanese isn’t the only language that doesn’t translate well.

Perhaps I’ll always be a bit too Asian for America. Perhaps I’ll always be a little too American for Asia. Perhaps there will never be a place I will be perfectly suited for. For certain, though, is that within me, just like within the word itself, exists a bridge between Vietnamese and American. That bridge, that hyphen, makes me… me.

By Michael Nguyen, a second year ALT and RA currently residing in Niihama

Urban Flora

As someone who has come from a very rural part of the US where plant-life can be found no matter how deep into a city one goes, the lack of grass and yards in Japan was a cause of some minor culture shock. Dirt-only parks and the playgrounds at my schools only added to this. It is almost as if Japanese urban planning is a thorough rejection of nature, even in small towns like Iyo.

However, this does not mean that  Japanese people as a whole have also come to reject the natural world. Walking down a side street will inevitably lead one past a house that has been covered in potted plants. This set of photos was inspired by these houses with their potted gardens and flowers that have been cultivated in unlikely spots, such as roses and zinnia growing along train tracks.

Words and Photo Story by Michael Haverty, a first year JET living in Iyo City, Chuyo

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Power Stones and Seishin Sekai

If you spend enough time in Japan, you will surely begin to notice the stone bead bracelets that many people seem to own or that are sold in a variety of shops, from second-hand stores to matsuri stalls. There is even a store called M’s Power Stone Shop (パワーストーン専門店エムズ) in the Ōkaidō (大街道) shopping district of Matsuyama. What significance do these little beads hold that they have become so popular? Is it just fashion? If you look more closely, you will see that these bracelets are a sign of a larger spiritual movement bubbling under the surface of Japan.

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M’s Power Stone Shop (パワーストーン専門店エムズ) in Ōkaidō (大街道)

Having studied the sociology of religion at my university in the U.S., I noticed many similarities with practices common among those whose spiritualities fall under the umbrella term of New Age Religions. Though New Age spiritualities consist of many different walks of faith that do not necessarily relate to one another, many of them do have overlapping beliefs and/or practices that are generally tolerated in shared religious spaces. One practice that has gained a lot of popularity in the West is the concept of crystal healing. This is a belief that different gems and various other stones and minerals hold significant properties outside of their material chemistry. Often, this is described as them holding energies or vibrations, attuning to the energies around them, including our own. Beyond healing, these gems can be associated with luck, fortune, fertility, calm moods, protection against harm, and a variety of other purposes.

Knowing this, it is clear that the “power stones” in Japan hold a similar significance. Most places that sell these stones and bracelets also include charts that describe what each stone/color signifies. Anecdotally, there have been stories of people using them as prayer beads, using them to repel negative energies in their lives, etc. Though many may call this simply a placebo effect, this does not delegitimize the spiritual connection these stones are capable of embodying. In fact, many associate these stones with a broad category in Japan known as Seishin Sekai (精神世界) or the Spiritual World, a term very closely approximating the category of New Age religions in the West.

However, one may wonder why people in Japan would turn to Western concepts found in minority religions when Japan has well-established mystic practices in both Shinto and Buddhism. The truth is, Japan has been experimenting with new religions for a while now. Western New Age spirituality, itself heavily influenced by Eastern spirituality and practices such as yoga, chakra, and karma, is just one of many such religious movements.

To start with, Japan has been acquiring new religions (sometimes deemed “cults” by the mainstream media) since the Meiji period and especially since the end of World War II. A quick online search shows over 40 different religious groups that fall under this category. Including small cults with few members and groups that have stayed underground, it is hard to say how many dozens of these faiths there may be in Japan.

Some scholars believe that traditional Japanese religions have not kept up with the needs of modern Japanese society. During the Meiji Period, Shinto was promoted as the national religion of Japan. However, though Shinto was a commonly practiced spirituality, until this point, most Japanese people turned to Buddhism for deeper spiritual meaning and experiences. (This can be seen today in that some religious scholars and many Japanese themselves question whether Shinto counts as a religion or not.) This led to people using Shinto in religious ways they had not before and Buddhism lagging behind society, growing more and more rigid in its traditions. Ultimately, after the Japanese defeat in WWII which included the de-deification of the Japanese emperor, a major tenant of state Shinto, Japanese people searching for spirituality and community identity found a void. This has been compounded by globalization and the use of the internet. As a result, many new religions, often off-shoots of Shinto and/or Buddhism, have formed over the past century.

Why, then, is Seishin Sekai so visible and popular? Put most simply, it’s marketable. Beginning around the 70’s but mostly in the 80’s, the term Seishin Sekai was used in magazines, bookstores, and various other places to refer to a wide variety of spiritual practices including Western forms of yoga, meditation, chakra, reincarnation, karma, and more, which fit very easily into the already heavily Buddhist country of Japan. At this time, interest in the occult, UFOs, extrasensory perception, Western folk practices, and more began to rise as forms of entertainment. These also fit with the cultural association with rituals and mysticism found in Shinto and Japanese folk beliefs. We still see remnants of this in many forms of media, especially anime and manga, including the genre of “magical girls.” Some examples that are popular today are “Puella Magi Madoka Magica” which uses witch-related terms  and “Cardcaptor Sakura,” which references Tarot cards, though neither is an accurate representation of these traditions.

However, this positive relationship with the media was short-lived. On March 20, 1995, a new religious movement known as Aum Shinrikyo (オウム真理教) released sarin nerve gas on five trains in Tokyo, killing 13 people and affecting over 1000 other commuters. This was massively devastating for Japan. After, anti-cult movements formed, and the media took on the role of gatekeepers, presenting cults and new religions in a negative light, regardless of affiliation with the terrorists. Many religious movements were forced to go underground if they wished to survive this cultural pushback.

This is another area where Seishin Sekai has excelled. Despite often receiving negative media attention, Seishin Sekai is not an organized religious movement; it is more of a loose association of spiritual and pseudoscientific practices and beliefs that fall outside of mainstream religions. In this way, individuals’ practices are harder to associate with religious organizations like Aum Shinrikyo with its organized meetings and internal hierarchies of power. Morning yoga and wearing colorful bracelets are not comparable to attending religious services. This allows people to explore their spirituality without fear of associating with dangerous and/or socially deviant cults.

Likewise, New Age religions and the category of “spiritual but not religious” are two of the fastest growing spiritual categories in the US and other parts of the West. Such influence has also added another push to the popularity of Seishin Sekai in Japan. This is especially true recently with the omnipresence of the internet and its globalizing influence.

In summary, many of today’s Japanese population have been left without a solid spiritual foothold. Rigid, traditional Buddhism had not adapted quickly enough to the contemporary needs of Japan, and Shinto, which had only recently been used as a centralized religion, had been severely weakened after WWII. This forced many Japanese people to begin searching for new spiritual outlets. Spiritual practices from the East (especially Buddhism) began to influence Western spirituality, and, in turn, these Western New Age spiritualities began to influence Japan’s Seishin Sekai. After mainstream Japan and the media pushed back against “cults” in the 90’s, the more subtle spiritual practices that are associated with Seishin Sekai allowed it to survive until today where it has become commonplace. Next time you’re in a crowd of people, keep an eye out for colorful gem bracelets; they might just be a fashion statement, but they come with the history of modern Japanese spirituality.

 Photo and words by Michael Haverty, a first year ALT in Iyo City, Chuyo 

Iyo Kasuri – The Calming Dark Blue of Ehime

立秋の紺落ち付くや伊予絣 Risshuu no kon ochitsuku ya Iyo kasuri At the start of fall, dark blue puts my mind at ease – Iyo kasuri – Natsume Soseki 夏目礎石

The famous author and poet Natsume Soseki dedicated one of his renowned haiku to the calming beauty of dark blue Iyo kasuri, a fabric  export carrying the name of Iyo Province, modern day Ehime Prefecture. But what is Iyo kasuri exactly?

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Threads dyed using the kasuri process

Often translated as “ikat,” kasuri (絣) is a fabric dyeing technique that involves tying cotton around threads before submerging them in a vat of fermenting indigo dye. After being dipped in the vat of dye many times and allowed to oxidize into a dark blue color, the cotton is untied from the threads, leaving behind undyed, white areas. Anyone who has experience with tie-dye would be familiar with this. However, unlike tie-dye, individual threads are dyed instead of an already finished cloth. Patterns are painstakingly calculated and mapped out using bamboo rulers so that when weaved together, the white and blue sections of thread create a repeating pattern. If the dyeing on the thread is off even a little, it can ruin the whole product. The resulting pattern often has a slightly hazy outline, called kasure (掠れ), meaning “blurred” in Japanese, a likely source of the name Iyo kasuri.

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Examples of clothing made with Iyo kasuri patterns

This technique came to Japan from India via the Ryukyu islands and spread throughout the country during the Edo and Meiji Periods. However, the Iyo Province version became one of the most well-known with its smooth finish and more lighthearted designs. Matsuyama native Kagiya Kana (1782-1864), considered the mother of kasuri, thought up many of these fanciful designs such as diamonds, 6-pointed star hemp leaves, hexagons, and more. According to legend, she was inspired after watching farmers change the thatching on their roofs. Over time, the bamboo had weathered and aged, but where they had been tied together, the bamboo was its original color. Besides the fun patterns, a few other elements aided in the quick rise of Iyo kasuri’s popularity. The Iyo Province already had a strong textile trade network established by the production of striped cotton fabric. Also, because the dyeing process strengthens the threads used in the fabric, Iyo kasuri was often used as durable but fashionable working clothes, a market that had been largely untapped. Furthermore, traditional hand looms used in Japan were inefficient, taking a lot of time and energy to weave with. However, Shinsuke Kikuya (born in 1773), a merchant with a store in Masakicho who was familiar with textiles, bought a loom from Kyoto and began experimenting with ways to improve it. Eventually, he invented the takabata (高機), an upright, treadle-operated loom which would allow weavers to create fabric much faster and more easily than ever before. Iyo kasuri is alive and well even today. The iconic navy blue and white patterns can be found in everything from kimono to Western-style clothes, hats, coin purses, folding fans, and more. Some dyers have even been inspired by tie-dye and have created a hybrid using Iyo kasuri dying techniques on finished cloth to formtie-dye-like patterns. Other colors outside of dark blue have also been introduced through artificial dyes, expanding Iyo kasuri’s possibilities. One place where Iyo kasuri is alive and well is Mingeiiyokasurikaikan (民芸伊予かすり会館) or the Iyo Kasuri Folk Arts Museum. Located near the Kinuyama Iyotetsu station in Matsuyama, the Iyo Kasuri Folk Arts Museum offers visitors many different experiences for only 100 yen. (You can download their app at the front desk for an English guide to the museum.)

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Iyo Kasuri Folk Arts Museum 民芸伊予かすり会館 in Matsuyama, Ehime

The first part of the museum shows the many steps taken in making Iyo kasuri. Set up like a mix between an old Japanese home (where dying originated) and a modern textile factory, visitors can walk through while seeing examples of thread preparation and design creation, tempering the thread by boiling it, the measuring and tying of the threads, dying, untying, winding the warp threads, weaving, and examples of the final products. There are also historic photos of some of the original dyers and weavers running along the wall along with quilts and clothing made of Iyo kasuri.

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A modern loom with warp threads of various colors

The next section goes over the history of Iyo kasuri, also including many examples of historical pieces including screens, clothes, and decorative panels. The designs range from simple geometric patterns to depictions of nature, such as birds and fish. A few pieces even display religious figures from Japanese mythology . After learning all of this history and walking past the very tempting gift shop, visitors enter a room filled with indigo vats and looms. For around 2000 yen, visitors can try their hand at making their own Iyo kasuri tie-dye handkerchief. Visitors can also take a turn weaving at a loom. The dyeing can take close to an hour to do, and it closes before the rest of the museum (around 2:30 pm), so I would recommend going early or calling in advance  if you want to take part in this. Along with an Ehime-themed dining areaand a gift shop that sells an assortment of Iyo kasuri goods and Ehime-themed omiyage, the  museum also houses an exhibit of Ehime folk art. At the end of the route, which loops back to the entrance, is a room filled with handmade paper, pottery, glassware, and much more including, of course, Iyo kasuri.

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Bolts of Iyo kasuri fabric along with goods made from it, in various patterns

A dark blue fabric for both the workers and the nobility, painstakingly made by inventive minds, Iyo kasuri is a treasure from Ehime’s history  that has spread throughout the country of Japan and into the present.  Smooth, durable, and decorated in fun and playful patterns, it is no wonder Iyo’s style of indigo dyed fabric was such an instant hit. It is also no wonder the sight of it in early autumn made Natsume Soseki pause, relax, and find a bit of peace in the fast-paced and quickly modernizing world of Meiji Japan.

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Iyo Kasuri Folk Arts Museum foyer with Mikyan cut-out

I would like to thank 民芸伊予かすり会館 and its workers for providing information that was used in the writing of this article.

Written by Michael Haverty, a first year JET living in Chuyo, Ehime. Michael also took the photographs that accompany his article. 

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In Shiki’s Honor- A Haiku Celebration, by ALT’s

This year is the 150th anniversary of two of Matsuyama’s most celebrated literary icons, Natsume Soseki and Masaoka Shiki. Michael Haverty has created a series of photos inspired by the late writers, depicting their impact on present day Matsuyama.

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Shiki Statue in Dogo

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Masaoka Shiki was an inspirational human being, for those of you who aren’t familiar with his work, a visit to the Shiki museum in Matsuyama is a must.  Shiki achieved many things within his short life,  despite being plagued with tuberculosis for the majority of this. Not only did he help to revive the art form of haiku and tanka, he also acted as a war correspondent during the First-Sino Japanese War and coined most Japanese baseball terminology. In honor of Masaoka Shiki’s 150th anniversary, the Mikan presents to you a haiku extravaganza featuring poetry from ALTs across Ehime prefecture. Some have been inspired by traditional haiku form, whilst others take on a modern approach, whereas some take a comedic turn, akin to senryu.


Summer Storm

Head bowed against rain

Where do you see the beauty?

Petite flower’s smile.

 

Remembering

How’s the weather?

Too hot, too muggy, too much.

I dream of autumn.

Ada Smith


si won

Si Won Yi


Wild wind whispers while

Summer sun sings sapor songs.

Wayward we wander…

くき


Osamurai-san

Long, beautiful nails;

A yukata and geta;

He arpeggiates.

 

Bugged

Cicadas droning,

Dragonflies flit and flutter.

Mosquitoes stab me.

 

ugh

Woke up late today…

Cannot… Stumbling through fog…

Fire me back to bed.

Ciaran Doyle


A tinge of yellow

on every green growing tree

Fall, what a relief.

 

Cicadas are loud

I can hear them in my dreams

There is no escape.

Kate Flake


Poetry

I envy people

Who put words togetherand

get Perfect poetry.

 

Spring

The ground awakens

“Mushi atsui desu ne.”

Bugs and heavy heat.

 

Summer

Like a sweaty hug

From that one estranged Aunty

Can’t escape summer.

 

Why

Turn the lock firmly

Faceplant in front of aircon

Summer is the worst.

 

The Cyclist

The rain god is pissed,

The heavens open heavy

Unplanned morning swim.  

 

The Cyclist Part 2

The sky has opened

Walls of water spray my bike

Where is my raincoat?

 

Autumn

Fall clings to the trees

Fog erases the mountains

Freezing wind bites bones.

 

Local

Float through cityscape

A common yet foreign sight

You, the A.L.T.

 

Students

Surprise in their eyes

As they see you in the street,

I exist here too.

 

Work

Tall dull white building,

Eerie disjointed singing,

Children’s laugher too.

Kai Dearlove


Off from work early

Still wearing my business suit

They think I’m important

 

Rain at the station

“I’ll leave when it gets better”

It only gets worse

 

Imitation sky

Paint chips off rotting concrete

It’s pacing its cage

 

Lost petals lost in

Bike pedals form a surprise

Bouquet in my spoke

 

A twenty-four hour

Vending machine inside a

Twelve hour grocery store

 

Hit a bump too hard

Groceries jump from my basket

Salt peppers the road

 

Normal, strange people

Saying thanks five times over

To an empty room

 

Hilltop children’s park

Brutalist architecture

Lost in knee-high grass

 

“Under Construction”

Laid against a chipped torii

Taut vines wrap around

 

Evening Ropeway Street

Sun dims and lights tick on

Soft jazz pianos

Tim Alley


黒いマント 星明かりのネックレス あたしのハロウィーン

 夏の夕 セミや鈴虫 ラジオいらない

Kelsey Cooknick


遠くても 潮風に向かい 同じかな

Emily Crichton


 

秋風に 吾がカールの髪を なびかせつ

Hayley Cox


Chuyo’s Top Ten Shrines

misc. Banner 1 (Ten Jinja, Masaki) Anyone in Ehime knows that there is no shortage of nature here, and no shortage of things to find off the beaten path. From the big to the small, the famous and the unknown, after spending the greater part of the last year performing jinja-meguri (神社巡り, “shrine pilgrimage”) I’m proud to announce what I consider to be the top ten shrines in all of the Chuyo region. 10. Koudono #10: Kodono Shrine and the Golden Torii in Kumakogen (久万高原町高殿神社) No. of torii: 4 Access: 300m south from Kodonomiya bus stop (高殿宮), 1 hour from JR Matsuyama. (Location on Google Maps)

Kodono Shrine is famous for its unusual golden torii with its unique design and dimensions. Quite how truly famous it is is up to interpretation, but in conversations with coworkers no one’s told me I’m wrong in calling it “the legendary golden torii of Kumakogen” yet.

The torii gate itself is the myojin style, but looks like it’s stretched vertically. The central gakuzuka plate features a circular, metal emblem of indiscernible meaning where emblems are seldom placed, but the color is its most drawing feature. Where torii are usually either concrete gray, wooden brown, or red to symbolize Japan’s Rising Sun, Kodono’s main torii is a striking gold. Whether this is simply a provocative design choice or representative of a deeper meaning is unclear. 9. Mishima #9: Mishima Shrine in Futami, Iyo (伊予市双海町三島神社) No. of torii: 3 Access: 700m south-west from JR Iyo-Kaminada Station on Route 378. Marked by the concrete torii guarding a long staircase. (Location on Google Maps)

On Route 378 is a stone torii in front of a plain, innocuous staircase that watches over the sea. This is the entrance to Mishima Shrine, but if you blinked for a second you’d miss it.

When you enter Mishima you ascend to a higher plane — in a literal geometric sense. With each step of the grand staircase you climb up the side of the hill you receive a gradually greater and greater view of the sea and valleys that surround you as if you’re no longer bound to the worldly surface. Before the main grounds is one final pole torii inscribed Meiji 13 (1880) with an obsolete, rare style of script carved into each pillar. Hollowed out, twisted and gored husks of dead trees pepper the scene.

The main hall is a standard hirairi-zukuri style building. To the right is a second hall in the nagare-zukuri style, newly constructed in searing white and light brown. The original, dark brown house nearing black, weathered by rainfall of a dozen score of years, used to be this bright color too.

There are two different shrines in Futami called “Mishima Jinja.” Make sure to go to the one near the ocean. 8. Shinonome #8: Shinonome Shrine in Matsuyama (松山市東雲神社) No. of torii: 4 Access: 500m north from Okaido city tram station along Ropeway Street, immediately after the Ropeway platform building. (Location on Google Maps)

Shinonome is located on the Eastern slope of Matsuyama Castle Hill, just north of the Ropeway chairlift. This location is a great example of a shrine immersed in nature despite being inside a major city.

Instead of the normal haiden, heiden, and honden combination of buildings that most shrines comprise, Shinonome Shrine has a unique architectural style I haven’t been able to identify. Fully surrounded by a fence, the front gate is open to poke your head through but you cannot enter. Inside is a wall-less haiden main hall supported only by four pillars with the honden unobstructed in the rear.

Shinonome Shrine is said to house Amaterasu, the goddess of the sun and universe in the Shinto creation myth. 7. Tsubaki #7: Tsubaki Shrine in Matsuyama (松山市椿神社) No. of torii: 3 Access: 2.1km directly east from JR Ichitsubo Station. Contains parking lot. Bus stop Tsubaki Jinja-Mae (椿神社前) also served by Iyotetsu Bus. (Location on Google Maps)

Tsubaki Shrine’s Tsubaki-san Festival in February is a popular attraction throughout Ehime. 1.5km of bustling street fairs, shoulder to shoulder traffic and more varieties of food than you can eat make the affair a must-see for those in Ehime. 2017’s hit debut snack was lightbulb soda.

Tsubaki’s giant, red, domineering torii may be the largest anyone new to Japan will first see. Pass through the three-story grand gate into the plaza, up the short stairs and you are in front of Tsubaki’s grand hall, possibly the largest such structure in Ehime.

The West torii famously appears to be smashing into a neighboring apartment building window. Take a funny picture and surprise your unsuspecting friends.

You can take a virtual tour of one of Tsubaki’s festivals via Google Maps Street View here. 6. Ten-Ichi #6: Ten-Ichi Inari Shrine in Futami, Iyo (伊予市双海町天一稲荷神社) No. of torii: 8 Access: 1km northeast from JR Iyo-Kaminada, just after crossing the Kaminada River. Marked by two torii rising up the hill facing the sea. Contains parking lot. (Location on Google Maps)

Ten-Ichi Inari is the main shrine that serves Futami in Iyo. Its history stretches back to 1330 when Yunami-Honzon Castle was used to garrison soldiers in Kaminada. In 1691, with the castle’s abandonment, the shrine was moved to its current location near the sea.

Despite this shrine’s small and ordinary main hall, it makes up for it with an atmosphere as a testament to its age. Ancient grandfather trees rip up the ground and tear through concrete with their roots. Five red torii guard the final ascent to the raised inner sanctum where at just the right angle they act together as one giant aperture into the sky as if a runway to Heaven.

The view from Ten-Ichi Inari lets you see all of Kaminada Port Town, other side of the river valley to the South, fishing trawlers at sea to the West, and Matsuyama all the way to the North.

You can follow the old path up Honzon Mountain to the former site of Yunami-Honzon Castle where you can still see ruins of the old castle walls. 5. Agari1 #5: Agari Shrine and the Kusu-no-kiin Toon (東温市揚神社とクスノキ) No. of torii: 2 Access: 3.5km east of Iyotetsu Yokogawara Station. Narrow roadside parking only (Location on Google Maps)

Agari Shrine is located in east Toon, past the end of the Iyotetsu line, north of the Kawakami neighborhood.

On an unnamed road in a small hamlet of maybe ten houses stands another old stone torii dated Meiji 13. Follow the path shearing through the rice paddies toward the thick bundling of trees and you enter the shrine.

The main hall is a less common tsumeiri-zukuri style building with a bright green roof, but you can’t avoid seeing the famous Kusu-no-ki, or the Agari camphorwood tree. Legend says that the first man to try to cut down the tree saw blood flowing from the trunk and he fell into a coma for more than ten days. The second man to try to cut down the tree experienced a sudden pain in his stomach and died on the spot. At a height of 36 meters the tree now towers over everything in sight. 4. Iyo #4: Iyo Shrine in Masaki (松前町伊豫神社) No. of torii: 4 Access: Take Route 214 3km east from Emifull until you reach a Y-intersection facing a Family Mart. The shrine is the forested area immediately behind it. Conbini parking lot and roadside shrine parking available. (Location on Google Maps)

A pair of torii, partially hidden by drooping branches, beckon your attention at the side of a small road. Poke your head through the first and Iyo Shrine will come into view. You can only see it at a specific angle on the road, as it will disappear if you don’t look in time.

The shrine building is in the common hirairi-zukuri style with an extra gable projecting from the forward roof face. An elderly tree adorned with Shinto shide paper streamers grows dangerously close to its side, cracking the concrete foundation with its roots. Perhaps it was never taken down for being related to the Kusu-no-ki.

Around the back and to the right is a set of four rough gorintō stone pagodas about a meter tall each, guarded by a weathered pole torii. The third son of Emperor Kōrei, the seventh Emperor of Japan, is said to live in this shrine after achieving godliness.

There are two shrines both called “Iyo Jinja” 2 kilometers north and south of one another. Masaki Iyo Shrine is the one to the North. 3. Iyo Okahachiman #3: Iyo Okahachiman Shrine in Iyo (伊予市伊豫岡八幡神社) No. of torii: 6 Access: 1.2km east from JR Iyoshi Station. Shrine grounds are an elevated, thickly forested hill you can’t miss. Contains parking lot. (Location on Google Maps)

There are bodies in this shrine. The exact number unknown, but it’s not quite as sinister as it sounds. Before the buildings existed, the hill was the site for burial mounds in the late Kofun Period. As you visit the shrines around the plaza you’ll be stepping over bodies beneath you.

In addition to the main hall at least six other shrines dot the grounds, ranging from comically small to standard, standalone size.

Beware of mosquitoes here. As far as nature is concerned you’ll be stung appropriately if not prepared, but getting stung to the point of discomfort is all part of the true Japanese experience, so heed this as you will. 2. Shouichi-i Iyo Inari #2: Shouichi-i Iyo Inari Shrine in Iyo (伊予市正一位伊豫稲荷神社) No. of torii: 43 Access: 2km south from JR Iyoshi. Pass through the giant pink torii and follow the road. You can’t miss it. Contains parking lot (follow the signs). (Location on Google Maps)

Iyo has its own Fushimi Inari in its backyard. Shouichi-i Iyo Inari features possibly the largest and most ornate hirairi-zukuri style hall in all of Chuyo. However, this shrine’s main attraction is its hillside walkway lined by 36 red torii, leading to a small, walk-in shrine at the top. It’s not quite as long as Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari Shrine, but Shouichi-i Iyo Inari provides its own simulation for those looking for the experience without the hassle of traveling to Kyoto.

Can you find all 43 torii? There’s one large Taisho 8 torii placed in a strange location most people will overlook. Anyone who manages to find them all can claim not only my highest praise, but a prize as well. 1. Isaniwa #1: Isaniwa Shrine in Matsuyama (松山市伊佐爾波神社) No. of torii: 2 Access: 300m directly east from Dogo Onsen city tram station. Follow the large concrete torii standing over the road. You can see the front of the main hall from the station plaza. (Location on Google Maps)

Matsuyama’s Isaniwa Shrine, located near the famous Dogo Onsen, is striking from the moment you see it. From its old-style stone staircase to its dazzling red and white paint job once you reach the top, Isaniwa doesn’t look like any other shrine on this list.

Isaniwa is constructed in the rare hachiman-zukuri style where the curved roofs of the haiden and honden buildings come together to form a half-pipe shape in the center. Around the central hall is a decorated covered hallway running the perimeter of the complex, filled with Meiji and Edo Period artwork and other historical artifacts.

The entire complex has been designated Important Cultural Properties by the Japanese government.

At the turn of the new year, a massively popular festival is held on the grounds starting at midnight where the line of visitors stretches down the staircase and wraps around the street. Visitors can view sermons, pray to the god Hachiman and receive mochi cakes and fortunes. Festival days or not, Isaniwa Shrine provides not only a snapshot into Japan’s past, but also a prime example of Japan’s traditions as they live today.

Written by Tim Alley, a JET Program ALT living in Iyo-Futami, Ehime from Eugene, Oregon; searching the Japanese countryside for torii gates on his bicycle.


My Japan Bucket List

I love lists. I write to-do lists every morning detailing what I need to accomplish that day. I write items on the list that I`ve already finished just so I can cross them off. Anyone else do this? No, just me? Okay, good talk.

In any case, lists help me focus and prioritize. And while I think travelling should be a more meaningful experience than simply ticking something off a list, having a travel bucket list can really help, especially in a country as richly varied as Japan. Or if you`re anything like me, by the time you`ve reached the ripe old age of 25, you`re prone to forget things unless you write them down immediately.

Disclaimer: this is my own personal bucket list, including suggestions from friends both within and outside of Japan, as well as from the Facebook group JET-setters (a great group by the way). It`s a combination of nature, culture, food, and activities that, for me, encompass the diverse range of experiences Japan has to offer. There are so many other options! I cannot express this enough – I had to limit myself to 15 because otherwise you would be reading this post forever and I`d be writing several hundred bucket list items. Are there any that you want to add? Let me know – I`d love to hear what other people recommend.

 

So, without further ado, let me introduce Japan`s finest fifteen (in my humble opinion):

 

  1. Itsukushima Shrine, Miyajima – Okay, this maybe isn`t very original, but it`s one of the most visited places in Japan for a good reason. It is of such religious significance that no births or deaths are permitted near it, so the shrine retains its purity. The famed floating torii gate is classified as one of Japan`s top 3 views, along with Matsushima Bay and Amanohashidate.
  2. Hiking Yakushima – This came up the most when I appealed to JET setters for bucket list items. Located off the coast of Kagoshima, the island is home to some of Japan`s oldest trees – many over 1000 years old – and is said to be the inspiration for the backdrop of Studio Ghibli`s “Princess Mononoke”.
  3. Shimanami Kaido bike ride – Often cited as one of the best cycle routes in Japan, and even the world. Also, I had to include an Ehime one! My next goal is to cycle there and back over two days. Shameless plug, but looking forward to seeing lots of you at the AJET event later this month!
  4. Climb Mt. Fuji – It is said that there are two types of fools in the world; those who climb Mt. Fuji more than once and those who don`t climb it at all. Whatever you do, don`t be the latter. I climbed Mt. Fuji a few years ago and witnessed the best sunrise I have ever seen in my life. I`m a fool so I may climb it again.
  5. Lake Ashiko, Hakone – If you don`t feel like climbing Mt. Fuji, how about just viewing her instead? Hakone, with its variety of hot springs, museums and views of Fuji-san, is a hugely popular destination – helped by its proximity to Tokyo. Lake Ashiko is one of the best places to view Japan`s tallest mountain, and even if she alludes you, Hakone Shrine, the pirate ships and natural beauty around the lake are sure to make up for it.
  6. Yuki Matsuri, Sapporo – Best booked well in advance before flights and hotels sell out (book now for February 2018), the Yuki Matsuri remains one of my top bucket list items. More than 2 million visitors descend on Hokkaido`s biggest city every year to see the incredible snow and ice sculptures that will put your best snowman-making efforts to shame.
  7. Watch sumo – Another まだ for me. I`ve tried to attend sumo matches twice this year alone, but was unable to get tickets (admittedly, I was trying to go for the cheapest tickets on Saturdays). This year is particularly important as it is the first time a Japanese born wrestler has reached the highest sumo rank of yokozuna since 1998 (the sport has been dominated by Mongolian wrestlers in recent years). If it proves impossible to get tickets for a tournament, another option is to visit a sumo stable and watch morning practices.
  8. Stay in a temple, Mt. Koya – One of Japan`s most sacred places, Koya-san is the start and end point of the Shikoku`s 88-temple pilgrimage. It is the place where Kobo Daishi is said to be in eternal meditation awaiting the arrival of the Buddha of the Future and is also home to Japan`s largest graveyard, which has been described as both solemn and haunting. I can think of no better place to experience a temple stay.
  9. Eat wanko soba, Iwate – The name originating from the small bowls in which the noodles are served (minds out the gutter, people), wanko soba is Japan`s ultimate all-you-can-eat challenge. The aim: consume as many bowls as you can. With 8-15 “wanko” bowls equaling a normal-sized soba serving, women apparently consume an average of 50, and men an average of 60. But why stop there? Some restaurants offer commemorative plaques for those who reach 100.
  10. Tsukiji market, Tokyo – Famous for its live Bluefin tuna auctions every morning, Tsukiji is the biggest fish and seafood market in the world. While witnessing the auctions is often one of the top picks for Tokyo, relations between tourists and buyers/sellers are strained (the market is first and foremost a business, not a tourist attraction). Instead, you`re best off heading to Tsukiji at around 9am to watch the fish being prepared at different shops and restaurants. Indulge in a fresher-than-fresh seafood breakfast – it`ll be the best sushi you ever try. Visit before the inner market is relocated (although the moving date is still uncertain).
  11. Watch Awa Odori, Tokushima – “The dancers are fools / The watchers are fools / Both are fools alike, so / Why not dance?” I personally believe this statement to be 100% true, so the Awa Odori (The Dance of Fools) sounds like my kind of festival. It is said that Tokushima city, descended upon by 1.3 million festival revelers, resounds with the sound of taiko drums and song from August 12th to 15th.
  12. Bathe in onsen, Beppu – Onsen should be an item on any Japan bucket list, and the country is blessed with so many popular hot springs spots and quaint (and not-so-quaint) resort towns. The most famous of these is Beppu, which produces more hot spring water than any other resort – over 83,000 litres a minute! Beppu also boasts sand, steam and mud bathing options in addition to normal hot water baths. Take a tour of Beppu`s “Hells” if you`re feeling brave enough (not scary, just a little tacky?). Keep your eyes on Beppu to see if the mayor comes through on his promise to build the world`s first “Spamusement park”, where – you guessed it – visitors will be able to ride rollercoasters and other attractions while soaking in the best hot spring water Japan has to offer.
  13. Bamboo grove, Arashiyama – Setting foot in Arashiyama`s bamboo grove feels like you`ve fallen right into an old Japanese woodblock painting. It`s one of Kyoto`s top sightseeing spots, but somehow walking through the emerald grove never seems to induce the same stress levels as walking through crowds at some of Kyoto`s other top attractions. Prepare your camera (no selfie sticks, please – don`t be that person) but be warned; photos just can`t capture the magic of the place (or maybe that`s just my poor photography skills).
  14. Lavender fields, Furano – Think about Hokkaido – what springs to mind? Skiing and snowboarding, Yuki Matsuri, winter is coming? But Japan`s northernmost island holds very different charms in summer, when the stark white landscape is transformed into a carpet of colours by lavender fields (other flowers are available). At the very least, summer in Hokkaido provides a welcome respite from the humidity and stickiness that smothers the rest of the country.
  15. Try taiko drumming – There`s something about the beat of drums, the most primitive of instruments, that instantly raises energy and excitement levels. Taiko drumming has not only an infectious beat, but also provides a pretty effective workout. Get those arms you`ve always dreamed of AND make great music? Sounds like a winner to me.

 

Although I`ve fully enjoyed my time in Japan so far, I haven`t experienced all the country has to offer – not by any stretch of the imagination. But you have to save something for the next visit, right? Here`s to whatever adventures the next two months (and beyond) will bring!

 Anna Tattersall is a 3rd year Saijo ALT getting ready to head back to the UK in August. She enjoys travelling, Yosakoi dance and running, and has an unhealthy addiction to Earl Grey tea.

 

Ralph Duffy-McGhie Reviews: Shimanami Kaido

The Shimanami Kaido is undoubtedly one of Ehime Prefecture’s primary attractions. Not just for cyclists, but for any tourist visiting the area. The series of bridges spanning across six islands in the Seto Inland Sea make for a stunning experience by car, but arguably even more so by bike. By cycling the route, you are taken off the expressway and down into the islands themselves. You experience firsthand the beauty of the tree covered mountains and bluffs, the winding local roads through the islands small towns and villages. Continue reading

In Gourds We Trust

In Gourds We Trust

Miriam Hemstock

At age 20, just beginning my final year of university and one of the most tumultuous periods of my life, my mother took me out for a day in London. As usual we visited one of our favorite museums, the Tate Modern, without much thought as to what we would see. At the time, a retrospective of Yayoi Kusama’s work was being exhibited. Her obsessively repetitive and mesmerizing work had a resounding effect on me, immediately hypnotizing me with its back story of her 1970s ‘happenings’ and mental health difficulties. Her narrative and her pumpkins then proceeded to shape my developing interest in Japanese art and culture. Continue reading