Wednesday, February 27, 2013

It's a Wise Virtue to Pay Attention to Signs

In the countryside there is always construction going on somewhere. A landslide being mended, a road being widened, and a pork barrel tunnel being bored. It's impossible to not run into construction and as the weather improves it seems as though there are thousands of projects going on all at once. I wasn't too inconvenienced today though. The worst are hour traffic stops that snare you like a bear trap in the middle of nowhere. I often blast through roads without reading too many signs and because of that I don't often find out I'm going to have to wait till I get there. It's amazing they can keep track of all the roads and necessary maintenance. Then again they probably can't. It just looks like they are.

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There is an old forest road way up on the side of the mountains here. The white guardrail caught my eye a few years back. I have a knack for spotting them because I want to go places. Sometimes spotting a guardrail will point you in the right direction. Usually they just lead to decrepit roads that in turn lead to managed forest areas. In other words, there is only one way in and one way out. At least that is how things go in my experience. Many are actually interconnected but with no fancy GPS or mapping service to help me I don't risk it very often unless I have planned.

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I think the view from that road up there would be nice. Getting up there has been on my to do list. I know how to get up there but it's going to be one long walk or a drive on roads I don't particularly like. But roads in places they really shouldn't be just make me want to get to them even more. I have very odd motivations and addictions. Who can get so inspired by distant guardrails?

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The reservoir from the dam down stream makes a very big lake in the middle of the mountains. I try to fathom what the original valley looked like before it was flooded. Dams always kind of make me sad. I don't like them much from a natural perspective. They are commendable from an engineering view though.

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My dad often recalls the color of the water from his visit to Japan. I think about him whenever I look at it. On sunny days it's something else. Dark emerald from afar but clear close up.

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This is the bonsai seller out in the mountains. I can't imagine he has sold many in recent years. I wouldn't be able to tell anyway. I would love to try bonsai myself. I wish I had bought one. The next best thing was making myself take some pictures so I don't forget this spot.

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If you asked me why I like bonsai it would probably have something to do with the fascination I had with terrariums. I like miniature ecosystems and while the bonsai isn't exactly that, it's a self standing example of it.

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Don't hurt your eyes on that one. Then in 15 minutes I met a disappointing gate that told me the road into the deeper mountains was closed until the end of March. I saw the same sign out of the corner of my eye when I could have still gone to another spot. I had my heart set on driving through the mountains and taking a look at the frosty Shikoku peaks. Alas I had to turn back and find some other things to do to waste some more time.

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I visited here one cloudy and rainy day many months ago. It was that same day that the weather was so bad up in the mountains that I had to turn back. How fitting. I didn't take pictures last time so it was begging for a revisit anyway.

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I had to clear some boulders out of the road to get here but it was worth it. I wasn't ready to trail blaze to a waterfall anyway. This made a nice excuse to do something else.

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The buildings are very dirty inside. Yet, a lot of things remain intact. I like the feeling of stuff that was left and then forgotten.

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There are old honey combs and other bee keeping tools lying around. I'm not sure who was bottling honey up here. I'm not sure I would want to know if they were.

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Someone really needed to unwind out here.

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That's clear from inside and out.

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I kind of miss childhood though. That's the only thing I think when I see pictures this old.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Sunday Stroll

I drive along this river at least twice a week while I'm on my commute to work. Whether it's actually a commute to work is an entirely different subject however. I spend a great deal of the time lost in day dreams and brainstorms. Sometimes I'm so lost in my thoughts while driving that I don't remember how I got to where I was going. I'm glad the brain can be conditioned. Every time I make the drive I feel like I want to just stop the car and sit on the rocky river bank.

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In the late evenings on my way home I like when I round the corner and can see the Shikoku ridge rising up far away in the distance. The frosted peaks make me grin for no reason.

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Everything is slowly brushing the sleep from its eyes. The water looks more alive. The plants seem to have a new glow. They have almost said farewell to winter.

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My drive is always on the opposite side of the river. Here there are different views of an area I so often feel that I've grown accustomed to. Stepping out of the car offers a further glance at what lies behind bamboo groves and scraggly brush taking over every inch it finds on the banks.

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There is a lot of cheer in a simple flower even if it's a weed.

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And these have some of the greenest pollen I've ever seen.

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That's countryside ingenuity at its best.

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Leave the junk behind. It's not going with you and you've got legs. Spring is saying come and get me.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Mid Month Scouting

After two days of rain I heard the fellow teachers talking about the perfect weather in store for today. I wasn't about to let that go to waste going shopping or sitting under my kotatsu rotting away. I fled to the spot I had been thinking about for a week or so.

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Over yonder on that hill side is a old building that looks like a school. The river winds around the back of that little peninsula but it's hard to see that from the picture. It seems to be a rather interesting spot for some exploration. The new road cuts through the hillside on the left so there is hardly any traffic over on the peninsula. There was a gate wide open and I didn't see any 立入禁止 signs (no trespassing). But that placard was attached to the gate in a way that I didn't really see it. I was surprised to find a bunch of cars at the top after walking up the narrow road. It's probably some construction or farming business. I walked back down and hiked up through the forest to get a better look at the back of the area. There was a shed which looked like it was used for manure. A lone wheelbarrow sat near the door was in the warm light. I was too paranoid to go any farther. I'll be back on a holiday or later in the evening when nobody is around.

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Not ready to go home I continued driving just for the sake of driving. I found some new spots that are just begging for further investigation. I must be pretty lazy or I at least make the excuse that I better save it for when I get bored another day. Yes it's best left that way.

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I might be setting myself up to view glorious junk but I can look forward to the discovery of that junk. Plus, the afternoon light wouldn't hold out forever and I wanted to find out where I was actually going.

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Today felt like something very new even with scenery that felt the same. When I think I've exhausted the possibilities I continue to open up new paths. I'm never failed to be surprised in those moments.

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I temporarily ended up in an area I had been several times before. The road had become a little snowy and it was starting to scare me. No, I didn't want to be annoyed if it was so bad I had to turn around. That was the problem. Yet, today proved to be fine after all. This mysterious tunnel with a gate was actually open for a change. Then I remembered it was only for the local mining company. I wonder if it was the actual route back in the day.

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Tunnels whisper in my ear, "Enter and see where I go." Drain tunnels and whatever else always fascinated me. I've been blessed to live in a place with numerous tunnels. The only time it gets old is on the highway bus. Those tunnels make the mind mushy because they don't lead anywhere interesting.

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Whew. To get here was quite the journey. It was certainly one of the more narrow roads I had been on in awhile. It started to make me sick with all the round about turns. I just had to follow this valley and find out where it led. I knew the end point but not what lied between.

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Hundreds of terraced gardens and rice paddies. The winter is too dull on my eyes. I need some life. I made a resolution today. I will capture the fresh green in spring this year which I have failed to do so far.

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All these places have their own taste and flavor. If I only had the time to walk up and down the flights of stairs to numerous decrepit looking shrines and bridges. I always leave them for a reason to come back. Even then it doesn't always happen because I know of what disappointment awaits. It's better left in my fantasy.

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Then in a cleft and hollow of rock something stuck out. It couldn't have worked out better.

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Where else can I go for a random drive and run into a splendid water fall? I always feel a bit of guilt for having decided to leave Japan. The thing is, though, the land won't change much in my presence. I'll look forward to seeing it again after time apart.

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It can be a lonely land out here. But just like the unexpected waterfalls you find unexpected individuals who hold you tight.

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It's February. The months can only get better. Good night dear Shikoku and whatever secrets I still don't know.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Akiba Matsuri

I finally made it to the Akiba Matsuri this past week. It was on my list of things to do before I leave the area this summer. It is one of the three famous festivals here. It is rather interesting. Some people have high regard for it while others don't have the same thing to say. The festival celebrates the deity of fire prevention every year. Well, that's at least what I gleaned from the complicated description of the origins. They begin at the bottom of a hill and in a large procession of costumes, dances, and many other things, they work their way to the shrine at the top. To an outsider the festival would probably appear very strange and theatrical. I think in some way I agree with what that article above is saying and I understand it first hand living in the countryside of Japan. Yet, the criticism is a little harsh. I'm sure the people who participate in the festival once a year wonder why so many Americans pound back beers and revel in the sporting event known as the Super Bowl. Ethnocentrism at it's best I suppose.

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I see nothing wrong with people holding onto old traditions. For me, at least, I like to feel the touch of the past. In these seemingly strange customs there is a sense of longing for a life that will never come back. Time has progressed too much for anyone to ever reclaim that past though.

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Everyone at the festival was happy and having a good time.

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It was a long haul up the hill that took about 6 hours from my estimates. Once at the top they had to try to ram the Mikoshi into the entrance of the shrine many times. I guess it's an honor to carry that up the hillside and participate.

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I love the old communities snug against the hillsides. The scenery is a fantasy to me every time I see. It's nothing I will forget soon nor ever for that matter. It's the perfect back drop for this festival.

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I actually posted pictures of this location last spring. There are some beautiful flowering trees. I will be back for this very soon.

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One of my favorite parts was the tossing of these poles. I'm sure it takes considerable strength to keep them under control. The wind wasn't making it any easier as well. They do a dance together and then in an instant the pole is thrown and the opposite person jumps up to catch it. It's really such a simple thing but for some reason it's intriguing. It surely isn't common by any means.

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The best way I can describe these two characters is as clowns. They went ahead of the procession and sold miniature sticks to festival goers for 1000 yen a pop. People were buying them up left and right. I have to commend the people for supporting the event in such a way. I'm not sure anyone is the U.S. would be as generous. There might have been a promise of good luck or something so it wasn't a completely worthless deal.

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The same events are repeated at the top of the hill at the shrine. I was quite surprised that it looked like a small battle arena with seating built out of stone. It was so packed up there that it was hard to really see much. I will stop by in later spring to get some pictures of the shrine area in depth. After seeing our fill of the festivities we finally made an escape back home.

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I feel like I should have gone before this year so I could take more in. Maybe in 10 years I'll come back and relive my younger days. Yeah it could happen.