Even though I am about as far away from Japan as possible, I am super excited about the 2009 cherry blossom season! Partly because it looks like I will be able to make it to Washington DC to see the cherry blossoms blooming in 2009! Yay! In any case, to get everyone excited, here is a short video slideshow with some of my favorite cherry blossom photos from my stay in Japan. Make sure you turn up the volume, but put on some headphones if you are at work! Enjoy!
Chalk this up in the category of bizarre Japan. This weekend I had the chance to go to Kanamara Matsuri, commonly referred to by foreigners as “The Penis Festival.” Every year Kanamara Shrine holds this festival on the 1st Sunday in April in Kawasaki, Kanagawa. According to Wikipedia:
The Kanamara Matsuri is centered around a local penis-venerating shrine, once popular among prostitutes who wished to pray for protection against sexually transmitted diseases. It is said that there are divine protections also in business prosperity and the clan’s prosperity, easy delivery, marriage, and married couple harmony, etc. Today, the festival is used to raise money for HIV research. There’s also a legend of a demon that hid inside a young girl and castrated two young men on their wedding nights before a blacksmith fashioned an iron phallus that was used to break the demon’s teeth, leading to the enshrinement of the item.
Metropolis had this to say in their article about Kanamara Matsuri:
Today, the highlights of this saucy festival include transvestites parading through the town’s streets carrying a mikoshi (portable shrine) with a humongous pink phallus on top. And, if that’s not guaranteed to make you blush as deeply as the surrounding cherry blossoms, then the spectacle of grandmas and grandpas sucking on carnal candy and sweetmeat replicas of this stupendous phallus, is more than likely to. Other attractions include locals carving penises out of daikon (radish), children and young women sitting astride penis-shaped seesaws for good luck and fertility blessings, as well as a seated banquet in the compound of Kanamara Jinja (aka Wakamiya Hachiman-gu shrine) where the phallic radishes are auctioned.
As you might expect, because of the nature of this festival, the photos and videos I have are probably not safe for work (NSFW), but neither are they x-rated. The photos and videos from Kanamara Matsuri are not for everyone; however, they are somewhat interesting, sometimes surprising, usually inappropriate and definitely bizarre. If this sounds like something that would interest you, then continue on at your own risk to see the photos and a movie.
I have been in Japan for more than 3 years now and I am very rarely surprised by much of anything anymore…That being said, I was surprised about a couple things at this festival…
See more photos and read the rest of this entry »
A little over 2 hours from Sapporo, about 1 and half by train to Asahikawa and then about a 40 minute bus ride, Asahiyama Zoo is one of Japan’s most famous zoos and is the northern most zoo in Japan. If you plan on going to Biei, Furano or more north such as Wakkanai, Asahikawa is a nice place to stay for a day/night making it easy to make it to the Aasihayam Zoo and continue with your trip. As of February 2007 you could buy a combination ticket including round-trip transportation for an express train, bus and admission to the zoo, from Sapporo for 5500 yen or 7300 yen from New Chitose Airport. If you want to go to the zoo, this is definitely the way to go as it saves you about about 1000 yen. You can purchase this combination ticket at any JR ticket service. If you are in Sapporo and ask them or the tourist information center about the Asahiyama Zoo they will be able to provide you with more information.
I have not been to many zoos in my time but I have to say I was pleased with Asahiyama Zoo. There are some exhibits that are set up really nicely to take some very interesting photographs. The two best for this are the penguin exhibit and the polar bear exhibit. If you are traveling with kids, I highly suggestion considering taking a trip to the Asahiyama Zoo, and come on, let’s be honest, who doesn’t like animals? Especially ones that you most likely will not have a chance to see real life in the wild.
A district of Sapporo, Susukino is Japan’s largest entertainment district north of Tokyo and is home to hundreds of restaurants, clubs, bars and other nightlife establishments. During the Sapporo Snow Festival, Susukino gets involved and has it’s own road of ice sculptures on display.
These ice sculptures (are maybe I should say ice advertisements because that is pretty much what they are) are cool but the best part or the little ice bars that open up at night. In 2007, there was a Baily’s, Hennessey and even a Song Park Karaoke place where you could sing a song and you get a score depending on how accurate you were and then depending on your score you would get a coupon for a real establishment of Song Park.
The 2008 Sapporo Snow Festival will be held in Sapporo (of course) from February 5th until the 11th. Basically the Sapporo Snow Festival is a showcase of huge and amazing snow and ice sculptures. I have been to many festivals in Japan and can honestly say that most of them do not live up to their hype, but the Sapporo Snow Festival is one of the few that does…if you can bare the cold weather!
I actually went a few days before it started and left on the second day because it was a lot cheaper to do it that way. I suggest doing it this way not only because it is cheaper, but also because most of the big ones are (almost) done anyway and you can also see how they are made.
The Hozu River Boat Tour is a one-way, two hour boat ride from Kameoka to Arashiyama, which is about 40 minutes to an hour from Kyoto. While it is a little expensive (3900 yen or $35 for adults) the 16 km boat ride down Hozugawa does offer some wonderful views of mountains, cliffs, gorges, rocks and the occasional wildlife such as birds and I even saw a monkey! That being said, as a photographer, it may not be worth it just because it is a little expensive and of course since it is a moving boat you can’t really take your time with your shots and people often get in the way. Now, with that being said, as a tourist, I really enjoyed the boat ride! For the most part the boat ride is fairly calm and relaxing; however, there are a few parts with some small rapids. Even with the rapids (really it is very few), I would say that the boat ride is safe for children even though nobody wears a life vest (seriously, it doesn’t appear to be dangerous at all). Here is a short video I took to give you an idea what it is usually like and how it sometimes gets a little fast.
Finding the dock in Kameoka can be a little tricky as there are no signs (in English anyway), but if you ask anyone about Hozugawa (gawa means river) they should be able to point you in the right direction. It is about a 8 minute walk from the station. Basically, after leaving the station turn left (you should be walking in the direction the train just came from). You will go strait and follow the road as it curves to your left. Crossover the railroad tracks and keep walking strait. You will then see a bridge on the right, pass the bridge (do not take it) and you will see a small road with a huge parking lot (which is kind of underneath the bridge if I remember correctly, but I could be wrong).
To get to Kameoka, you can take the regular JR line which I did, but if you have time I recommend taking the Sagano Romantic Train Ride which runs slower and less frequently but offers great views (especially of the river) and if the weather is nice has open windows. Below you can see a photo of this train hidden behind the Japanese Maple trees.
Covering about 525 acres, Nara Park is the largest municipal park in Japan and includes many of Nara‘s famous attractions, including Todaiji, Kokufuji, Kasuga Taisha, and oh yeah, about 1200 (sort of) wild deer. I recommend just wondering around Nara Park and finding your ow nice little spot, as there are plenty of them. Of course, the best time to go would be either during cherry blossom season or fall but anytime of the year is fairly nice.
A little information about the deer; for the most part the deer are really well behaved (some even seem to bow after or before you feed them–really I promise!) and pose no threat to you but there are some things to take caution about: See more photos and read the rest of this entry »
Back in August I had a photo show at the Apple Store in Sendai. Basically, it is a slide show of some of my favorite photos of Japan accompanied by shamisen artists Rika Ooba and Yuya Takahashi. If you are unable to use the sound on your computer I strongly suggest waiting until you have access or are able to use the sound, as their music is beautiful. Enjoy!