It’s been a long time since I last did a Japan travel post, so I thought I’d tell you about the most beautiful place I’ve ever visited in Japan (so far): Miyajima Island.
All photos were taken by yours truly, which is pretty rare for this blog!
Miyajima Island is considered to be one of the most spiritual places in Japan. It is home to the giant ‘floating’ torii gate, so-called because it appears to be floating when the tide is in. When the tide is out, you can walk right under it! Beyond the torii gate is Itsukushima Shrine, which is also built over the water. Torii gates mark the entrance of Shinto shrines, and people come to pay their respects to the resident kami gods and pray for good luck. To reach Miyajima Island, you must take a short boat ride from Hiroshima. It’s a site to behold when the floating torii gate comes into view for the first time.
Shortly after stepping off the boat, you’ll meet the friendly four-legged locals. The wild deer on the island have become accustomed to humans over the years, to the point that they will jump up at you and go rummaging around bags hanging over push chairs.
Beyond Itsukushima Shrine is Mount Misen, the place where Buddhism was first believed to be practiced. Kobo Daishi, the founder of the Shingon sect and one of Japan’s holiest religious people, meditated at the summit and lit a flame at the Reikado (Hall of Spiritual Flame) which still burns today. A short distance from the summit is Misen Hondo, one of three places where Tantric Shingon Buddhism is taught, as well as a few other shrines and temples where you can pay respects to the kami and purchase an omamori charm for good luck.
There are two ways to reach the summit; either follow in the footsteps of Kodo Daishi and hike 529.8m above sea level, or cheat and take the ropeway and take a still rather hilly but much shorter fifteen minute walk to the summit. When I went with my mum in September, we decided to carry on beyond the summit and ‘explore’ the steep pathways but the heat and terrain soon beat us. At one point it looked like we were lost but we found our way back to the ropeway station, enjoyed the world’s most rewarding icecream and took the easy way back down to the town. If you’re a hardcore hiker, however, there are the Seven Wonders of Mount Misen to look out for:
Kiezu-no-hi: The sacred fire at the Reikado that has burned for over 1,170 years.
Shakujo-no-ume: Kobo Daishi’s plum staff where he left it and sprouted roots and leaves. If the staff-turned-tree doesn’t bloom its double blossoms in the spring it is considered a bad omen.
Mandala Rock: A large rock into which Kobo Daishi carved Buddhist sutras in Sanskrit and Chinese.
Kanman-iwa: A rock with a hole which is said to be filled with salt water during high tide and drain out during low tide.
Shigure-zakura: It is always damp under this cherry tree, so a perfect resting spot for hikers.
Ryuto-no-sugi: Ryuto is a phenomenon where lights appear on the sea, and it is best viewed from this cedar tree.
Clapping wood sound: At night, you can hear the sound of wood clapping on the mountain. It is said to be the work of a Japanese Tengu goblin clapping wooden clappers.
After all that walking, you’ll want to explore the rest of the island. One of the most beautiful structures in the town is the five-storied Tahota Pagoda, which sits on a hill rising behind Itsukushima Shrine. Nearby is Senjokaku, the pavilion of 1000 mats, so-called because it is the size of approximately 1000 tatami mats. Toyotomi Hideyoshi, one of the three great unifiers of Japan, commissioned the hall for the purpose of chanting Buddhist sutras in 1587. However, he died before it was completed and was succeeded by Tokugawa Ieyasu rather than his heirs, so it was never finished. Although it has neither ceiling nor a front entrance, it is still impressive to see.
The Daisho-in is also an essential viewing place. This temple is located at the bottom of Mount Misen and features various buildings, statues and religious objects. The most impressive place is a cave filled with 88 buddhas representing the temples of the famous Shikoku Pilgrimage. I recommend visiting Daisho-in at night when the staircase is lit by candlelight. You’ll need to stay in a traditional ryokan inn for at least one night in order to see the island in all its glory in both the light and dark.
There are so many breath-taking views and secrets hidden down the alleyways of the town. In many ways, it feels other-worldly. The best way to experience Miyajima is to see it so, for now, I will leave you with some more holiday photos and urge you to spend some time on this beautiful island.
You may have seen this video floating around on my Facebook and Twitter for a few days. I am running a Q&A session and a winner will randomly chosen to win a copy of The Otaku Encyclopaedia. Questions will close on Sunday 11th December and a video response will be posted some time before Christmas. PLEASE ASK AS MANY QUESTIONS AS YOU WANT – so I have a variety of things to work with!
Also, I’m going to be doing another ‘Top 10′ feature in a few weeks, so here’s your chance to vote on what it should be!
News Story of the Week: Japan’s supercar crash
One of the world’s most expensive car crash occured on the Chugoku Expressway in Shimonoseki on 5 December. A 60 year old man was driving over the 80km per hour speed limit and lost control of his red Ferrari when he tried to switch lanes on the wet road. He skidded, crashed into a guardrail and triggered a 14-car pile up which included several Ferraris, Mercedes and a Lamborghini.
Fortunately, nobody was killed in the crash although 10 people were taken to hospital. As can be seen from the photos, the cars are all in a very bad state and are likely to be written off. The man who caused the crash faces prison charges for dangerous driving.
A used Ferrari can cost as much as £63,000, so it is unsurprising that the estimated cost of the damage could be as much as £1m.
I’ve actually been to Yudanaka, so I can finally talk about a Japanese town from my own personal experiences! Yudanaka is a small mountain town in the Yamanouchi district, accessible from Nagano, and is best known for its snow monkeys that live in the valley. In winter, they bathe in the natural hot springs to combat the snowy cold.
There are nine hotsprings in the Yamanouchi district, Yudanaka being one of the most famous, owing its geothermic activity to the nearby volcanic Shiga Koben. Bathing in the nine wooden baths in the Shibu Onsen here is said to ward off evil. This nostalgic ryokan (traditional inn) town is famed for its narrow streets and you can expect to see people wandering the streets in their yukata in the warmer months. Its history stretches back to the 1300s, when Buddhist priests discovered the healing properties of hot spring waters. The famous warlord Takeda Shingen was known to bring his armies to Shibu Onsen to help them recover from battles and, during the Edo period, it was used as a relaxation spa by the Sanada clan.
Yudanaka is worth visiting for its unique onsen and ryokan experience, as well as the close encounters with the snow monkeys. Be warned, they aren’t as friendly as the locals! Check out this website for a video of them terrorising the town.
Meaning ‘a monk for just three days’. In other words, giving up at the first sign of difficulty. Being a monk takes years of preparation and discipline, so obviously you cannot actually be a successful monk for a mere three days. I challenge you to work this into a conversation either to scold someone else or yourself.
The Môri family were intrinsic to Japanese history, particularly towards the end of the Sengoku and Meiji period, and Motonari is the leader who prepared them for such prominence. Family members served as vassals to the Toyotomi and assisting Hideyoshi in the Kyuushu campaign (where he was seen to achieve control over all of Japan), as generals in Sekigahara and, finally, in the revolt against the emperor in the Meiji period.
Motonari was the second son of Môri Hiromoto at a time when the clan was facing invasions from the Amako, Oûchi and Takeda (not to be confused with the more powerful one led by Shingen). When Hiromoto died, he was succeeded by his eldest son Okimoto who died ten years later in 1516. Motonari acted as guardian to his son, Komatsumara, although he died in 1523 and was succeeded by Motonari himself. Both of these deaths were unclear and a number of historical accounts suggest that he was behind their deaths.
Motonari’s most famous and telling military feat would be the Battle of Miyajima. By this point, he had retreated from court intrigue to immerse himself in China trade and studying history and this gave one of his retainers, Sue Takafusa, the opportunity to betray him. No doubt furious, Motonari bided his time and expanded his holdings and made an alliance with the Murakami, essentially a family of pirates in the Inland Sea. Miyajima Island was, and still is, a sacred island in Japan on which no birth or death are to take place. Any military plan involving this island would have sat uncomfortably with Motonari and his advisers but, in 1555, a deliberately weak fort was built by Itsukushima Shrine. Not long after, Sue arrived with his troops and easily defeated the Môri, or so he thought. Sue believed he had obtained a strategically important island but he became complacent and had left himself dangerously isolated. Motonari rallied his naval troops and attacked them from behind in the dead of night, regaining control of the area in just one week. Sue’s army fled and Sue himself committed suicide. The Battle of Miyajima was Motonari’s landmark military feat, in which he proved himself to be maliciously calculating, given the religious symbolism of the island and original naval tactics.
Motonari was also a philosopher and patron of the arts, and actually faked his own death so that he could retreat and write his family history but the tumultuous Sengoku era made this quite difficult for him. He is perhaps best known for the ‘three arrows’ parable that is still taught in Japanese schools today, although it quite possibly never actually took place. In this parable, he gave each of his sons an arrow and told them to break it. He then gave them a bundle of three and said that, whilst one may be broken easily, three united as one were much stronger.
I couldn’t find a decent actual image of Motonari, so here he is as portrayed in the Sengoku Basara anime. He’s an absolute ass in the show but they still get the tactician thing quite right.
The internet’s had Legend of Zelda fever over the last few weeks because of the new Skyward Sword game that’s recently come out on the Wii. In the spirit of the series, here’s a bento with its main character, Link.
Psychic Detective Yakumo (Shinrei Tantei Yakumo) is a novel by Manabu Kaminaga, which has inspired an anime series, live action series and stage play. I’m going to focus on the anime, which was released across 13 episodes in 2010, as I have been unable to locate the live action version or novel online.
Psychic Detective Yakumo is about the high school student Saitou Yakumo who can see and communicate with ghosts through the use of his left red eye. He’s pretty miserable and cold (as all dark protagonists are) and is the polar opposite of our heroine, the bouncy and bubbly Ozawa Haruka. The series begins with Haruka approaching Yakumo, who is rumoured to be a psychic, asking him to help her best friend who has been possessed after entering a haunted abandoned mansion.
The next few episodes present various ghostly mysteries that the police, particularly the middle aged detective Gotou Hazutoshi, ask Yakumo to assist them with. It soon becomes clear that all of these cases are connected and building up to the overarching mystery of Yakumo’s missing mother and a mysterious man who seems to be the puppeteer of a string of murders. The ending is conclusive and impressive, so you don’t need to worry about the infamous ‘open-ended ending’ that leaves so many questions unanswered.
Whilst I enjoyed this series, I did have some complaints but I believe that they can be explained by its short length. Yakumo’s character barely developed and he was forever portrayed as moody and aloof and, even though I managed to sympathise with him, he felt rather two dimensional. Second of all, the love aspect between him and Haruka did not really progress until the last few episodes and it was left to the audience to decide what would happen next. That said, if the series had stretched over 26 episodes it probably would have felt too drawn out.
Rating: 7/10 (I enjoyed this for the overarching story, which was refreshingly dark, but the lack of character development left me wanting more)
Purikura, or print club, machines are large photobooths that originated from Japan (of course) and have a big hit in the western world. There are even one or two in London, which is impressive considering how Britain doesn’t seem to have many of Asia’s ‘scene’ electronics.
Purikura are anything but ordinary photo booths. Typically, a group of friends or couple will take a number of pictures and can then decorate them using a tablet screen before printing. Usually, these images are very small and passport-sized but, in many cases, there is an option to email the larger versions of the photos to yourself. A good number of young Japanese people have Purikura photos as their profile image for various websites.
The first Purikura machines appeared in Japan in 1995, developed by Atlas and Sega. They have developed over the decade and there are dozens of different kinds of machines, from standard ‘sticker’ ones to special themed ones. There are even anime and video game-inspired ones! Below are two different photos – one of some actual Japanese people doing Purikura properly, and another one of me and some friends acting like absolute tourists in a special Sengoku Basara themed one.
Yeah, I don’t think there’s much competition between the two.
Recipe of the Week: Kyuuri salad
Here is a nice and easy recipe (all of the ingredients can be bought in your average British supermarket!) for cucumber salad taken from Japan Food Addict. It’s worth exploring the site as it has dozens of various recipes!
Ingredients (serves 4):
3/4 lb cucumber (cut into 1/4″ slices)
2 tbsp sesame seeds (ground)
1/2 tbsp sesame oil
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp soy sauce
1) Massage salt into cucumber slices and chill in refrigerator for 10 minutes.
2) Remove from fridge and drain water from the bowl.
3) Add sesame oil, soy sauce and sesame seeds, mix and put it back the fridge for 3 minutes, or until you are ready to eat.
I’ll leave you this week with a truly amazing video I came across earlier this week. If you’re a big Zelda fan, there’s a good chance you’ll have already seen this but I urge you to watch this video by Lindsey Stirling. This is a beautiful violin medley of one of the biggest video game series to emerge from Japan. I have been listening to this all week and, good news, you can buy the music as well!