A Weekend Diary: The Backwoods

Once upon a time, there was a sporadic blogger who disappeared. She was found a year later, quietly rotting away from overwork and self-imposed stress. If you listen closely, you can hear the tapping from the keys on her laptop and the frantic clicking of her mouse. She now serves as a living reminder to the young and carefree to not be so serious about life.

Just kidding.

Really, though, where has the time gone?! I suppose the stars have fallen from my eyes after almost two years of living in Japan. The adjustment time has ended. The urge to visit the places I saw in anime and other kinds of pop-culture has vanished and has been replaced with a desire to explore locally. As a challenge to myself, I will attempt to detail my weekend adventures instead of trying to remember everything I do on actual vacations. Mom, Dad! I’m sorry I’m such a failure!

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First, I have to say thanks to Niantic for bringing out PokémonGo. When I first moved here, I thought my area was a PokéStop desert – nothing to be seen or gotten. The oasis was an hour’s bus ride away if I wanted any action. So, having had a falling out with running, I decided to put my worn-out shoes back on and start walking. Luckily for me, my town has proven to be decently laden with Stops.

After passing through the local shrine a couple of times and seeing11325043_1559328200989984_1491583606_n a sign for “Hosoe Park – Welcome! Let’s walk together!” I got curious about what was actually up there in the woods. As a side note, I’m terrified of closed in spaces because I have no idea what will jump out and get me. The desert is much kinder and kills you faster.

Walking up the damn mountain was a bitch. After 5 minutes, I was huffing and puffing my way through dense foliage, rugged concrete paths, and glory-seeking spider threads. A glimmer of white finally greeted my vision and… wait! Is that a place to rest?! Do I spy a water fountain?! I’m SAVED! (‘cause, y’know, I’m a dummy like that and don’t hydrate). Oh… no. It’s just an observation deck with sour water.

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The view from the observation deck. You can see Lake Hamana on the far right side and the Miyakoda River leading to it under the landmark bridge.

As I continued trekking, I realized I’d come across a municipal hotel. No, joke, that’s what 国民宿舎奥浜名湖 translates to. Japanese lesson, go!

Japanese Lesson 1

I remembered an acquaintance told me there was a restaurant up here (coupled with seeing signs – am I psychic?!), I braved the front doors. As I walked in, unsure if the place was open to public patronage or not, I was greeted warmly and allowed to look around. Of course, in traditional Japanese capitalist fashion, a small shop dedicated to the local foods and souvenirs drew me deeper into the depths of a broke life. In case it wasn’t mention before, Hosoe is famous for tangerines (i.e. mikan), eel, and miso products. As it is March, there were also seasonal treats available. Anyway!

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My lunch. Rice, pickled vegetables, dipping sauces, red miso soup, a salad and fried shrimp.

I spotted a book titled “The Town’s Princess Road.” In Japanese, it’s 姫様道の町 (himesama dou no machi). Hosoe’s top festival is the Princess Road Festival and this book details important locations within the town that are relevant to the history of the area. Naturally, I had to have a copy despite the need to translate it.

This leads me to my next discovery: The Dual-Weight Saint. Thank you again, PokémonGo, because this place was listed as a gym. My original goal was to get to it and put a Pokémon in. (Tangent: the one I placed there stayed there for 2 days. No one battled it out.) But instead, I found a small shrine with a bunch of red-dressed monk statues commonly called Jizo* there. One in particular was singled out and protected with a bunch of origami cranes. Coincidently, the book I had purchased told the story of this place. Fast forward two days and here you go!

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The Dual-Weight Saint. It has since been enshrined.

おもかる大師
昔、おきぬという信心深い老婆が木の実を拾おうと気賀の裏山をさまよっていると、萩の下にお地蔵様のような形をした変わった石を見つけました。
「これはこれは、御大師様だ。何かのご縁に違いない」と、おきぬは、その石を近くの木の下に据えました。
その後、おきぬは毎日水や花を持ってお参りに来ていましたが、ある日、道順の良い所へ石を動かそうとしたところ、重くて動きませんでした。ところがある日、急に雨が降り出してきたため、石が雨にぬれてしまうと思い、動かしてみると、今度は軽く動くので、大きな松の木の下に移してやりました。そのうちに、おきぬは、この石には重い日と軽い日があるのを知りました。
この話が人々に広まり、多くの人が参けいに訪れるようになりましたが、願いをかけてそれが叶う時は軽く、叶わない時には動くて持ち上がらないことから、いつしかこの石は「おもかる大師」と呼ばれるようになりました。

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Jizo’s true appearance. He holds a wish granting jewel in his hand. (Props to you Inuyasha fans who get the reference.)

The Dual-Weight Saint
                Once upon a time, an old devout woman by the name of Okinu was wandering around the backwoods of Kiga when suddenly, she came upon a stone under a bush of clover in bloom. It looked like the saint, Jizo!
                “This… this is a saint!” she said, as she placed the figure under a nearby tree. “This must be fate, make no mistake.”
               After that, Okinu brought flowers and water for it every day. It became a ritual for her, when one day, she decided to move the stone to a better place. Upon trying to lift it, she discovered she couldn’t! Suddenly, the rain began to fall and she hurried to get it out of the way. It was light! She could move it! Quickly, she placed it under a pine tree. It dawned on her that the stone had its heavy days and its light days.
               The story became widely known by the townsfolk and they visited with their wishes. If the stone was heavy and they couldn’t move it, their wish wouldn’t be granted. If the stone was light, however, they could rejoice! Their wish would come true. It was from then on, it was called the “Dual-Weight Saint.”

I didn’t try to move it.

**According to Wikipedia, Jizo is a Buddhist deity. His original name is Ksitigarbha. He guides people through the 6 Realms of Existence. More information was found in The Japan Times article “A guide to Jizo, guardian of travelers and the weak.” Because Jizo is a protector of those who travel, he is often found at boundaries, physical or spiritual. Dressing and caring for this saint allows the soul to accrue karma for the afterlife.

 

 

Long Time, No See

みなさん、こんにちは!元気ですか。長い間休んで、ごめんなさい。数ヵ月、色々なことがありました。旅行の後、学校に来て、忙しくなりました。私はALTをしていた学校の卒業式を準備しなければいけなし、英語の授業を練習しなければいけなかったです。

そして、最近、御殿場市から浜松市北区まで引っ越しました。御殿場市に比べて、このエリアは何もありません。御殿場はマクドナルドがありますが、ここに一番の近いのはバスで40分ぐらいかかります。マクドナルドがあまり好きじゃなくてよかったですね。

(Translation: Hello, everyone! How are you doing? I’m sorry I took such a long vacation. Many things came up after travelling and I became extremely busy. I had to prepare for graduation and review my English classes.

Recently, I moved from Gotemba to Hamamatsu’s northern ward. Compared to Gotemba, there isn’t really anything here. At least Gotemba had a McDonald’s. The closest one to here is about 40 minutes by bus (that I know of). It’s a good thing I don’t really like McDonald’s.)

I’m sure you were wondering whether something happened to me, but I promise you I’m very much alive.  During the last few months, I have been travelling. All places are listed below and will be addressed in their own posts (if I ever get around to doing them):

  • Yokohama
  • Odawara
  • Kamakura
  • Shizuoka
  • Mishima

Thinking now, I’m overwhelmed with the amount of writing I need to accomplish in the coming days. Thank goodness for the pictures I take or else I’d have trouble remembering the places I’ve seen and the food I’ve eaten.

Backtracking, my turmoil began back in November when I planned what I thought was a harmless visit back home. It was my little secret, cloistered away in the depths of my heart. It was days before I could wipe the smile off my face; days before I could stop daydreaming of my parents’ reactions to my popping in unexpectedly. In the meantime, I was blissfully ignorant of the fact that Fate has its own agenda and I was helpless to stop it. Cue the last ALT meeting.

Surrounded by that tacky, office building interior with chairs that were too high, my trainer ominously beckons me over in that subtle Japanese way. “How would you like to move to Hamamatsu?” he asks.

“…what?” I blinked once, twice. What did I do wrong? What aren’t my teachers telling me? So many what-ifs flew around in my head. I was suddenly nervous.

“Yeah, we can’t keep you in Gotemba anymore,” he explained.

I handled the news quite well and, like a seasoned businesswoman, I asked, “Will the company pay for my moving expenses and will I have to come up with another apartment deposit?” Naturally, all my fears were laid to rest. Plus, the moving date wasn’t until the end of the school year.

I had nothing to worry about (or so I thought).

Reality came crashing down over my head when my credit card bill showed up. That meant time wasn’t waiting for anyone; including me. My secret was abruptly brought to light and it was imperative I tell someone in order to avoid any possible late fees. Who could I call? Who in my family wouldn’t bat an eyelash to help me…? Ah! Grandma!

How terrible of a granddaughter am I to rely on an old lady for financial assistance? Cynicism aside, she agreed and I was on the fast track to giving myself a heart attack. Without the absolute knowledge of my moving date or even where the hell I would be going, I was uncertain of whether I should start packing earlier or later. Even then, shoving things into boxes was double-duty. Not only did I have to make sure I was ready for my trip (without forgetting anything), I had to make positive I had my other things set up for the move (without forgetting anything).

Fast forward to Oh Shit Day and I was on a plane back to the desert. I thought I would be more excited to see home, eat Mexican food, and sleep under my glow-in-the-dark-star-dotted ceiling, but I wasn’t. I easily slipped back into the routine I was once a part of. My father even got some breakfast!

After a week of hanging out and being a fatty, I revved up my engines and went back to Japan. With the time difference, it was March 29th by the time I landed on the soil I’m quickly coming to call “home.” The rest of the week went something like this:

  • 29th: sleep in apartment
  • 30th: load up the moving truck, change addresses with the appropriate authorities, stay in hotel in Mishima
  • 31st: be homeless, register with the proper companies, and bum it out with a friend
  • 1st: attempt to locate the new apartment via Google Maps, get lost, have a breakdown

The day I got lost was the day I had never felt more foreign. Stuck in the middle of an area I knew nothing about, while it rained, with no knowledge on how to say, “I’m lost” was the most depressive state I’ve ever been in. I kid you not when I tell you my phone almost ended up in the gutter. Fear. Worry. Hunger. Hopelessness. It was all there in this ugly, knotted up thing lodged between my ribs.

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The Miyakado River. It used to be totally fresh but is now contaminated by the ocean after a large earthquake destroyed the natural dam that held Lake Hamana in.

Aside from a few odds and ends, I’m pretty much moved in and comfortable. There are other ALT newbies in the same apartment complex and I’ve been about as rude as I can be. So far, my only conversation with the lot of them has consisted of, “Hello. My name’s Ashley. Nice to meet you.” This love-hate relationship I have with people is going to see me as an unmarried spinster with plants and dogs clogging up my house in the future, watch.

I’m only sorry that I’ll be moving again after this school year.

…wait. What?

My new home is situated in Hamamatsu’s northern ward, quietly nestled in a field of rice paddies, surrounded by trees. The Miyakado River separates my apartment from my school and already, I’m enjoying having water close by. As the sun sets, I can see and listen to the fish jumping from the water. What’s incredible is that the waterfront is lined with cherry trees. This spring, I’ll have my chance to witness the epitome of Japanese culture every day I leave my apartment.

While my particular spot is famous for its oranges, Hamamatsu itself is famous for its gyoza, eel (うなぎ, unagi), music industry, and manufacturing. It was highly recommended to me to visit the unagi pie factory. They’re these crispy wafer-like cookies that are absolutely delicious. They’re often purchased as souvenirs.

Established along the Tokaido highway, Hamamatsu flourished with the constant flow of people coming and going. If you want to know more about the things that came out of this area, please visit the city’s website.

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An old photo. This is an older photo showcasing some of downtown Hamamatsu.

Recently, a drama was filmed here about a woman called Naotora Ii. Her original name was never recorded or never found, but she’s famous nonetheless. Born during the Warring States era and promised to her cousin Kamenojo (later named Naochika) in her youth, she was the only child in her family and unsuspecting of what life would give her.

As the political atmosphere heated up, Naochika was spirited away to protect his status as a potential heir. Because Naotora was left out of the loop, she thought he was dead and proceeded to be a nun. Over the course of 10 years, Naochika grew into a man of means, married, and had a male child: Naomasa.

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Promotional poster for the drama filmed last year.

This child was much beloved by all until his father was accused of rebellion and his family executed. Before the government could take Naomasa as a hostage of war, Naotora came out of seclusion, was declared lord of her clan and raised the boy. She sees him succeed as heir to the Ii clan before dawning her robes of religion.

The temple in which Naotora spent the majority of her childhood is about 20 minutes from here by car. It’s called Ryotanji. Every weekend, I can see the tourists gather at the Cultural Museum to get a gander at the historical artifacts… and buy some oranges. I’m sure they make their way up the hill at some point.

Overall, this is a town built for the quiet life and I’ll relish it (and the mosquitoes) until it’s time for me to start the next chapter in my life.

Chichibu-no-miya Memorial Park

Are you fond of nature?

Do you like to take big whiffs of that fresh mountain air?

Does your throat freeze with overwhelming emotion?

Your heart is light when you think of the wind making the leaves giggle, the brooks babbling to each other, and the creatures making their chitter-chatter. You want to play with the deer and antelope and be euphoric!

Do you also like to scavenge and scrounge; to escape the light and purity to muck around in the damp earth?

Do you take pride in your humanly power when you hear Mother Nature cry out under your harsh feet?

You are shrouded in malice as you find monstrous treasures under the centipedes and pill bugs. You want to make a cave your hideaway and be forever a grungy hermit. Who needs society anyway?

But isn’t there a part of you that trembles at the magnificence of it all? Of trees so tall that you swear it would take years to climb their branches?

Chichibu-no-miya Memorial Park (秩父宮記念公園, chichibu-no-miya-kinen-kouen), often shortened to simply Chichibu Park, is such a world that elicits much feeling from me. I visited this place back in September when I saw an advertisement there was a craft fair. Being a crafty person myself, I couldn’t resist the charm of the local talent. Also, there was going to be snack stalls and I can never say no to food.

Before I knew there was a free shuttle that would transport me to the park without much effort, I trekked the half hour up the hill. It’s funny how, when you return, the trip goes so much faster. Winding my way through the side streets, I chuckled at the clash of old and new houses, marveled at the smallness of the streets, and enjoyed my walk overall. Upon arriving, I was greeted with a wall of towering pines and a giant sign saying “Handmade Crafts!”

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Walking down to the wide pathway, I was in awe. I felt I could have been a princess in a fairy tale. Never having really experienced a forest before (unless you count dried up ol’ Mt. Charleston), my mind couldn’t help comparing it to Rumiko Takahashi’s Inuyasha. There was such glory! I was immediately humbled.

All too quickly, I was brought back to reality with a handful of fliers being shoved into my hands: pamphlets describing the booths, amenities available in the park, and a map (thank goodness for those). Too afraid to venture far from civilization, I stuck close to the booths. Having gone there early in the morning (apparently I’m too early for even Japanese standards), there weren’t that many open for business. They were all still at some stage of preparation.

The first things I purchased were cookies and a handmade bag. The cookies were more like shortbread than anything and the bag was required when I found out my little purse wasn’t going to cut holding everything. Amongst my paraphernalia were magnets (one for my mom and one for her friend) and two crafted owls (one for my mom and one for my dad). As I’m writing this, I should have purchased one for myself. They were awfully cute.

Giving my wallet a break, I decided to look around. This is where I give you your history lesson.

Gotemba’s characters (御殿場) stand for “palace place.” You see, Gotemba is only 2 hours away from Tokyo, formerly known as Edo. This area was a prime location for His Majesty and his entourage to vacation and rest on their way to the capital. It also proved to be a handy spot for daimyo and their families while they traveled. Because Edo was a time of peace, the Tokugawa shogunate wanted to make sure there were no uprisings so a hostage situation was arranged (参勤交代, sankin koutai). The conversation probably went a little something like this:

Shogun: (surveys the area) I see you have a large amount of land and your fief respects you.
Daimyo: Yes, sir.
Shogun: I also see you have a beautiful wife and two sons. Your daughter is rather pretty.
Daimyo: (starts to sweat) …yes, sir
Shogun: To show your loyalty to me, you will hand over your family. They will live in the capital with me.
Daimyo: But…!
Shogun: (hand pompously flies up for silence and with a stern expression) They will live in the capital with me. You will remain here for two years. Once your time is up, we will exchange your person for your family. Understood
Daimyo: (near to begging) Your Highness, I can assure you I will remain loyal! Please, don’t take my children! They are so young!
Shogun: You will heed my order. They will be well taken care of. The money will come from your coffers. (with finality) There won’t be any problems.

All expenses accumulated were to be paid by the daimyo. We all know war costs money and without it, there was no way for them to rebel. I digress.

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There was a typhoon swinging through the area that day.
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Bomb shelter.

The main house in Chichibunomiya still stands in its original form although the inside has been gutted and maintained as a sort of museum. The information pamphlet takes pride in it being 280 years old.

The last royal to stay there was Prince Chichibu and his wife, Masako. The son of Emperor Taisho, he was the second son and took up a successful life in the military. He was also an avid traveler and the royal villa in Gotemba became his favorite place to escape. Dying before his wife, Princess Masako made sure to detail in her will that the house be given to the city for preservation. I originally thought this to be a good gesture on her part, seeing as she and her husband never had any children, but there may have been a more selfish (or selfless) reason. The princess may have been avoiding taxation (酷税 or 国税, kokuzei) and by selling off the land to the city, she saved herself and any future holders of the house from being indebted.

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Prince Chichibu looking out towards Mt. Fuji.

Not only is the house interesting, but so is the nature. There are plants on the premises that bloom every season so you have something to look at while you’re walking around. Also, you wouldn’t be in Japan if there wasn’t a cherry tree. Those are scattered about as well. I happened to be there when the spider lilies were opening up.

Before I left, I popped into the gift shop/rest stop by the front gate. I was aware there were some workshops going on as part of the fair and thought I’d look around. In a far corner were some children playing with pressed flowers, arranging them on a paper lace background. The women running the shindig were welcoming and were eager to get me to join in. Between broken Japanese and selective listening, I was able to participate. Luckily for my wallet, my inspiration to do this as a hobby was short lived. I wouldn’t have even known where to get the materials.

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For ¥200, I took home a unique souvenir that I’ll always be able to treasure. The women also treated me to an arrangement already made. It now hangs above my bed with my collection of pinecones.

See you next time!

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