Gaijin on Getas Blog
Posted on December 26th, 2017 by Stephanie Miera
After a short bus ride from the Nagano station you will find yourself on the side of a hill with a sign depicting a monkey in water urging you upward. These signs will lead you on a short walk through a small town to a forested path that will end at the snow monkey park.The path is easy and well marked, surrounded by tall trees and vines and it is not hard to believe this is the home to the monkeys you are looking for. After about half an hour of walking you will see a geyser shooting water high into the air and a nearby onsen across the river that you are now next to. You will climb several flights of stairs on your side of the river to the small shack where you will pay your meager 500¥ to enter the Jigokudani Yaen-Koen Snow Monkey Park.
Once inside, you will follow a trail lined with warning signs about not feeding or touching the monkeys. This is no zoo with cages of animals brought to you. Instead you have come to their home so must watch your manners to avoid upsetting your hosts. The path is not long but follows a stream with some small waterfalls where you can see baby monkeys playing and trying to keep up with their parents. The path ends at a wall of large stones that the monkeys love to lounge on next to the hot spring bath. When they climb into the water and begin to relax and calm down, the monkeys seem even more human-like. You will want to join them but keep in mind they are wild animals.
While this trip will fill a day if coming from Tokyo, it is definitely worth it. Not only will you get to make your friends jealous of getting to see such a well-known Japanese attraction, but if you enjoy a relaxing hike through the woods and some beautiful countryside you will not be disappointed. For a taste of the experience a man from Google with a strange 360 camera backpack has made the trek and you can follow along with Google Street View. Then check to see who is currently in waters with a live camera feed from the parks website here.
Google street view
Posted on August 26th, 2017 by Mike Roberts
The Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage is meant to honor Kobo Daishi. Kobo Daishi, even to this day, still maintains a very high level of respect in Japan even though he died almost 1,200 years ago. (If you have visited Okunoin at Koyasan, you know he has not died, but is instead in a state of deep meditation. And you also know they still prepare meals for him.) The Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrims participate in ascetic training by following the path that Kobo Daishi walked. During the pilgrimage, to honor Kobo Daishi, you should decide to follow these oaths, commandments and general etiquette procedures. Read the full post »
Posted on August 19th, 2017 by Mike Roberts
Nyuto Onsen is a collection of seven popular and remote hot spring inns, located in the Towada Hachimatai National Park in north-central Tohoku. The name Nyuto Onsen means “nipple hot spring” and comes from the suggestive shape of nearby Mount Nyuto. With a history of over 300 years, many of the springs were visited by feudal lords during the Edo Period seeking hot-spring cures. Located deep in the mountains, and surrounded by dense beech forests, you feel far removed from the rest of the world.
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Posted on July 23rd, 2017 by Mike Roberts
Shiretoko National Park
Shinkansen efficiently transporting thousands of people every day. Concrete jungles with huge neon signs turning night into day. These are the things that immediately come to most people’s mind when thinking about Japan. However, Japan does have a natural side. Shiretoko National Park is one of those places. Shiretoko was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005, and is one of my favorite places to see nature in Japan. Read the full post »
Posted on July 3rd, 2017 by Mike Roberts
The plan for today is to visit Temples 11 to 17. We include a walk from Temples 13 to 17 on many of our escorted tours, so I have walked these temples a number of times in the past. I started the day by driving to Temple 11 (Fujiidera). From my hotel across the street from the Tokushima train station, it was about a 45 minute drive.
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Posted on June 12th, 2017 by Mike Roberts
My plan for today on the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage was to visit Temples 1 though 10. If you look at a map of Shikoku with the temples shown on the map, you will see these 10 temples are very close together, heading generally west from Tokushima.
Pilgrimage supply shop at Ryozenji (Temple 1)
I started the day by driving from my hotel next to Tokushima station to Ryozenji (Temple #1), which was only about a 30 minute
drive. After arriving and parking the car, I stopped at the shop next to the parking lot selling all the items you need on the Shikoku 88 temple pilgrimage. A long list of items is needed for the pilgrimage, and I will cover that in later blogs. I already made some purchases from online web sites in Japan specializing in supplies for the Shikoku pilgrimage, but I made a few small purchases from the shop. If you are not able to purchase anything prior to the start of the pilgrimage, no need to worry, they have everything you will need.
I will be making other posts on the proper procedures to follow at each temple, etc., but for now I am only going to write about the temples I visited that first day. I am not going to write about every temple, but will talk a little about the temples that made an impression with me.
Temple #1 – Ryozenji
Ryozenji’s (Temple 1) Main Gate
Ryozenji’s most notable characteristic is, well, it’s number 1. While it is not necessary to start here, many people do. Having said that, it is a very pleasant temple with a small pond filled with Koi and a statue of Kobo Daishi watching over the pond, a small pagoda and some interesting statuary. The main statue here is famous with high school students for promising academic success at the university level. Because it is number 1, everyone wants to visit the temple. So the temple was busy and noisy, which was not what I expected.
Ryozenji was founded by Gyogi in the eighth century on the orders of Emperor Shomu, and Kobo Daishi visited the temple in the 9th century. Like many other temples on Shikoku, Ryozenji was destroyed in the late 16th century by Chosokabe Motochika, the daimyo of the Tosa province (today’s Kochi prefecture) in the late 16th century near the end of the Sengoku Jidai (Period of Warring States).
Temple #2 – Gokurakuji
Gorakuji’s (Temple 2) Cedar of Long Life and Main Hall
It was less than a 5 minute drive from temple #1 to temple #2, but it was like a different world. While Ryozenji was crowed, Gokurakuji was very quiet with not many people. It was also created by Gyogi in the eighth century. Kukai visited this temple and carved the temple’s main diety – the diety of light. According to legend, long ago it was difficult for fisherman in nearby Naruto Bay to catch fish because of the bright light from the main statue of the temple. To prevent this, the fisherman built a small artificial hill behind the main hall to block the light. Gokurakuji was also destroyed in the late 16th century.
In the courtyard in front of the main hall is a cedar tree said to be 1,000 years old known as the Cedar of Long Life that was planted by Kobo Daishi. If you pray while touching the tree you will be granted a long life. The tree is also popular with women for easing childbirth. The temple is known as the temple that grants easy childbirth and is dedicated to expectant mothers.
Temple #4 – Dainichiji
Pilgrims Chanting Sutras (Buddhist Prayers)
The first three temples are surrounded by urban sprawl, but temple #4 is located at the base of the mountains at the edge of town with a green forest behind it. Kobo Daishi founded this temple, and has been destroyed many times, including the late 16th century. Since that time, the temple has gone through continuous cycles of disuse and reconstruction. The Main Hall and Daishi Hall are connected by a walkway where 33 Sanju Kannon statues are on display.
Temple #5 – Jizoji
Jizoji’s (Temple 5) Rakan Statues
Kobo Daishi founded this temple in 821 on the order of Emperor Saga. As with other temples, the temple was destroyed in the late 16th century. What makes this temple different is the long U-shaped building behind the main hall that houses 200 statues of Rakan (enlightened followers of Buddha). Each statue has a different facial expression, and, in keeping with Rakan traditions, are generally humorous. All 200 statues were carved out of wood by two Buddhist monks in the 18th century. There are two wells where you can hear when even one drop of water reaches the water below. One is next to the Main Hall and the other is close to the stairs after entering from the main gate.
Temple #6 – Anrakuji
Anrakuji’s (Temple 6) Nio Statue
The temple was originally founded by Kobo Daishi about 2 km north of its present location. Legend says he struck his staff into the ground creating a hot spring with curative waters. Since then, people have used the hot spring water to cure illnesses. On the temple grounds, there are 33 types of deity statues and an upside down pine tree said to ward off misfortune planted by a hunter after his father was cured of an illness in the waters here. The temple is located among numerous rice fields. To get to the temple, you have to navigate the many narrow roads between the rice fields.
The thing that caught my attention were the pair of well-preserved Nio statues on either side of the main gate. Nio statues are angry-faced, muscular guardians of the temple, and can be found at the entrance to many Buddhist temples in Japan.
Temple #8 – Kumadaniji
Kumadaniji’s (Temple 8) Main Gate
Kobo Daishi founded this temple, and the temple (once again) was destroyed in the late 16th century. The Daimyo of Awa province (today’s Tokushima prefecture) visited the temple for a moon viewing party. The main gate built in 1687 is considered to be the finest and oldest gate of all 88 temples. Legend says a band of robbers once lived on the second story of the gate. In the garden is a pine tree which looks like a dragon.
Temple #10 – Kirihataji
Temple #10 is the first introduction to a mountain temple, however, it is not far away from the city. The temple is at the top of 333 steps from the parking lot, although the steps can be avoided by continuing up the hill by car. Kobo Daishi founded the temple in honor of a girl he met while performing religious activities for seven days at a hut on the mountain. Legend states she supplied all of his needs for the entire seven days. When Kukai asked for some old cloth, the young woman presented him with a brand new kimono. The woman told Kukai she would like to become a saint and help save people. Shortly thereafter she changed into a Senju Kannon. The large tower was moved here from Sumiyoshi Shrine in Osaka in 1873.
After finishing my visit to Temple #10, I drove back to the hotel which took about 45 minutes.
Observations, Thoughts, Impressions of the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage (up to this point)
First of all, if I had to do it over again, I would not have visited 10 temples on the first day. While it was not hurried, as much as I enjoy going to temples and shrines in Japan, by the 8th or 9th temple I was starting to think “OMG, another temple.” Next time, I will break up the first 17 temples into 3 days.
I was not prepared for how busy Ryozenji (Temple #1) was. But what was even more surprising was how quiet the rest of the temples were compared to Ryozenji (except for those temples where I ran into the large bus tour groups).
I was prepared to see many large bus tour groups. However, I only ran into 3. (Two at temple #1 and another at temple #8). And none of the buses seemed to be doing what I was doing (starting with temple 1 and visiting all of the temples from there). Although, because some of the streets leading to the temples were very narrow, I would think it would be very difficult to get to some of the temples by large bus. The largest vehicle I would think that would be able to get to all of the temples are the 10 passenger vans we use on our Rail and Drive tours.
I did keep meeting the same groups at each temple. There were a couple of large vans taking smaller groups, and a number of passenger cars all doing the same thing I was doing. I talked with one of the van drivers, and he said he worked for a travel agency that specializes in providing tours for smaller groups of the pilgrimage. I took one of his cards for possible future reference. I only saw 4 or 5 people walking, and 1 person on bicycle. Although, I was surprised to see that many. Starting the pilgrimage in early June means they would probably finish before the worst heat of the summer, but it would still be hot.
The small groups in the larger vans were taking the pilgrimage very seriously. I was able to watch them at most of the temples, and they followed the same routine at each temple (I will be writing another blog sometime soon documenting the procedures) without exception, and the procedures they followed were the recommended procedures for visiting the temples. Most of the people in the passenger cars were not so diligent and serious.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It provided some quiet time for reflection, a purely “off-the-beaten-path” Japanese cultural experience and an excellent way to see the beautiful island of Shikoku. I am looking forward to the rest of the pilgrimage.
Posted on June 5th, 2017 by Mike Roberts
What is it?
The Shikoku Pilgrimage is a multi-site pilgrimage of 88 temples associated with the Buddhist monk Kukai (Kobo Daishi) on the island of Shikoku. Large numbers of pilgrims (known as henro in Japanese) still undertake the journey for a variety of reasons (if you ask 100 people why they are doing it, you would get 100 different reasons). The pilgrimage is traditionally done on foot, but modern pilgrims use cars, taxis, buses, bicycles, motorcycles, public transportation or a combination of all these. The standard walking course is approximately 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) and can take anywhere from 6 to 8 weeks to complete.
It is believed that the founder of Shingon Buddhism, Kobo Daishi, (774 to 835) either trained or spent time at some of these temples. Thus, he plays a significant role in this pilgrimage. Although there are references to people making this pilgrimage from around the 12th century, it did not become popular until the first guidebooks were published in the 17th century. Since the Edo Period was a time of peace and prosperity, most people in Japan at that time had the time and money to travel. As a result, the popularity of the pilgrimage remained high until World War 2.
After the war, most people once again did not have the time or the means to make the pilgrimage, and interest in the pilgrimage decreased. In the 1950’s, a tour bus company in Ehime Prefecture introduced the new concept of performing the pilgrimage by chartered bus which became popular overnight. And today, the vast majority of the 300,000 people per year who complete the pilgrimage do so by tour bus, and the number of people walking the pilgrimage is relatively small.
Differences from Other Pilgrimages
The immediate difference that is immediately obvious is the length of the pilgrimage. I am not aware of any other pilgrimages in the world of this length. But if you look at a map of the pilgrimage, you will see another difference. The Shikoku Pilgrimage is a circular route around the island of Shikoku. Most pilgrimages have a distinct begin and end point, and after reaching the journeys end and after a celebration of worship the pilgrim returns home.
But the Shikoku Pilgrimage is a circle with no beginning and no end. It is not important where one begins. But what is important is that one go all the way around and return to one’s starting point. One must close the circle.
There are no rules how to do the pilgrimage. It can be started at any point, and it is not necessary to complete the pilgrimage at one time. Because of the length of the pilgrimage, most people don’t have the time to do this at one time (including me). So it is very common for people to keep going back many times before completing the pilgrimage, as I will be doing.
I am a purist, especially when it comes to things like this. I would love to walk the pilgrimage, but I am not able to at this time. The best times of the year to walk the pilgrimage is during the spring and fall. However, that is our busy times of the year and I don’t have the time during those seasons. The summer is too hot to walk the pilgrimage. I walked the Kumano Kodo once during the summer, and it was very difficult because of the heat. So I have decided that I will drive. This is the second most common way to perform the pilgrimage today after the bus tours. The benefit of driving is it will take less time, and I will be able to follow the pilgrimage during the summer months.
So I hope you will follow my future blogs and photos as I make my way around the island of Shikoku.
Posted on May 18th, 2017 by Stephanie Miera
Movies can be another fun and interesting way of learning more about another culture, and this applies to Japanese films as well. Traditional Japanese performing arts, such as Kabuki, Noh and Bunraku are audio visual. There is typically very little plot and character development when compared to western performing arts. The main purpose of these entertainment forms is the strict, stylized movements and the colorful costumes and makeup. Japanese movies are typically the same, at least when it comes to plot and character development.
At times, there are often long periods of conversations during Japanese movies, making the movies somewhat slow at times. A good example of this is last year’s “Shin Godzilla”, the latest and 31st movie in the Godzilla franchise. It was the largest grossing live-action movie of 2016 in Japan. You would think, giving the subject of the movie, it would be a fast-moving and action- packed movie. I have seen the movie, and there are several parts of the movie that are 20 minutes or even longer of discussions on how to handle the problem of Godzilla, making the movie a bit slow at times by western standards. (But then, this is Japanese way for the most part, and indicative of the Japanese culture.)
As you know, Hollywood movies take years to make and have huge, multi-million dollar budgets. In Japan, movies are made in months with much smaller budgets. It is not uncommon in Japan for a director to make 3 to 5 movies in a year. Most movie theaters in Japan are owned by the movie studios. Naturally, they will feature their studio’s movies only. So, they need to produce enough movies to fill the theater over the course of a year, and have enough variety to sell more tickets.
Just as with western movies, there are many different kinds of movies. But there are some genres in Japan that are not found in the west. Here are a few of the more common Japanese film genres. It should be noted that many times a movie could be included in more than one genre.
Literally meaning “period dramas”, these movies usually take place during the Edo Period (1603 to 1868). These movies rely heavily on costumes, makeup, set design and language. They will often feature Samurai and “bushido” themes, the Samurai code for living, and often feature the conflict between “giri” (duty) and “ninjo” (personal feelings). Examples – Seven Samurai, Harakiri, The Twilight Samurai, Chushingura
These are the “sword-fighting” movies, and are really a sub-genre of the Jidai-geki as they normally take place sometime in Japan’s history. These movies are the equivalent of American westerns, with samurai playing the part of American cowboys. Examples – Zatoichi The Blind Swordsman series, Rurouni Kenshin Trilogy, Lone Wolf and Cub Series, Yojimbo
Anime is hand-drawn or computer generated animation. The name is an abbreviation of “animation” in Japanese, and describes all animation in Japan. However, outside of Japan, the name usually is used to refer specifically to animation from Japan. Japanese anime usually features colorful graphics, vibrant characters and fantastical themes. Examples – Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, One Piece, Naruto Shippuden, Fullmetal Alchemist
This popular film genre focuses on the lives and dealings of yakuza, the Japanese organized crime syndicates. During the 1960s, a sub-genre called “Ninkyo eiga” (chivalry films) became popular. These movies portrayed the yakuza as honorable outlaws torn between the contradictory values of duty and personal feelings. This changed in the 1970s when another sub-genre, “Jitsuroku eiga” (actual record films) portrayed yakuza not as honorable heirs to the samurai code, but as ruthless and treacherous street thugs. Examples – Battles Without Honor and Humanity Series, Outrage, Abashiri Prison Series
In its broadest sense, these movies include almost any film that includes nudity or deals with sex. This encompasses everything from dramas to action thrillers and exploitation films. Although, some Japanese film scholars reserve this term for movies produced and distributed by smaller independent studios. These movies became popular in the 1960s, but in the 1970s some of the larger studios such as Toei started creating another sub-genre called pinky violence films, which included violence in addition to the adult content. With their access to higher production values and talent, some of these films went on to become critical and popular successes. Examples – Female Convict 701: Scorpion Series, Female Yakuza Tale Series, Delinquent Girl Boss Series
Japanese horror is noted for its unique thematic and conventional treatment of the horror genre when compared to western horror films. Japanese horror tends to focus on psychological horror and suspense involving ghosts and poltergeists. Many movies also feature ancient folk religion stories of possession, exorcism and shamanism. Examples – Ringu, Battle Royale, Kwaidan, Audition, Onibaba, Ugetsu
Unlike the jidai-geki genre of period dramas, whose stories are normally set in the Edo Period, gendaigeki stories are contemporary dramas set in the modern world. Examples – Shall We Dance, Departures, Vengeance is Mine
Realist films which focus on the lives of common working class People. Examples – Tora-san Series, Tokyo Story, One Wonderful Sunday
This genre features monsters, usually attacking major cities and engaging the military and other monsters in battle. The popularity of these films started in 1954 with Godzilla, and continues today.Examples – Godzilla Series, Gamera Series, Mothra Series, Rodan Series
Posted on December 3rd, 2014 by Mike Roberts
- Total Elevation Gain: 1,650 Feet (500 meters)
- Total Elevation Loss: 1,300 Feet (400 meters)
- Net Elevation Gain: 350 (100 meters)
- Total Distance: 8 1/4 Miles (13.2 kilometers)
During the night it rained heavily, which meant one thing for today’s walk. It would be very humid. After having an excellent breakfast at the minshuku, I set out for Day 2 at about 8:30 for Tsugizakura-Oji.
For the first kilometer or so, the trail was over pavement, and then changed to dirt trail. For the first 5 1/2 kilometers, the trail steadily climbed past several important Oji to the former site of the Uwadaya-jaya Chaya. At about 700 meters (about 2,300 feet), this location is the highest spot on the trail between Takijirioji and Hongu Taisha Shrine. At one time, there were numerous chaya (literally translates to tea house) along the Kumano Kodo. These were places of rest, drink and food. Some chaya also offered lodging. These chaya were an important part of the Kumano pilgrimage infrastructure. In addition to a place of rest, they also served as centers of exchange between pilgrims and the locals. These chaya were not only found on the Kumano Kodo, but were also common along major highways in Japan such as the Tokaido and Nakasendo.
From here, the trail descended into a small river valley to the Osakamoto Oji. It is thought that the Oji got its name from the fact that the Oji is located at the base of what was once known as Osaka Pass. In his pilgrim’s diary from 1109, Fujiwara Munetada wrote “On the Osaka Pass, there is a tall tree on which a snake-shaped object is hung. It is said in the past, a woman was transformed into the object.” It is also thought that in the old days, at the site of the Osakamoto Oji there was an inn for lords. Read the full post »
Posted on November 11th, 2014 by Mike Roberts
I set out for my Kumano Kodo trek from Kyoto as did pilgrims more than 1,000 years ago. At that time, it was common practice to visit Jonan-gu Shrine just south of Kyoto near Fushimi. Here, pilgrims would stay for about a week and perform “misogi” (Shinto water purification rituals) and maintain a strict vegetarian diet to purify themselves before starting their pilgrimage. After leaving Jonan-gu, they would travel down the nearby Yodo River by boat, and then walk along the Kiiji pilgrimage route along the western coast of the Kii Peninsula. After arriving at the present site of the city of Tanabe, they would follow the Nakahechi along the river until reaching Takijiri Oji. I visited the Jonan-gu shrine before today, but I didn’t stay for a week, and I didn’t perform any water purification rituals or eat only vegetables. Read the full post »