I often forget just how strange (or interesting maybe) ordinary Japanese cities can look to foreigners, so sometimes I like to play tourist and just walk around with my camera and try to see the streets with new eyes, like this are, the Yagenbori (薬研掘) district of Naka Ward, pretty much in the center of the large city of Hiroshima. Yagenbori got its name from the outer castle moat of the old feudal castle. There are many kinds of moats in Japan but this one got its name from the similarity in shape with the tool knowns as yagen, which is a v shaped trough where you roll a wheel to crush herbs for medicine. Think of it as a wheeled mortar and trestle. Usually moats have flat bottoms but the yagebori is V shaped.
Today Yagenbori is the red light district of Hiroshima, and one of the biggest red light districts of western Japan. I deliberately avoided taking photos of the seediest establishments but you can still get a feel for the area from the photos I think. During the daytime (when I was visiting) the place is almost deserted but at night it comes alive with huge crowds looking for fun or food and drink, neon signs and taxis ferrying people back and forth. One of the main thoroughfares into the Yagen district is the Nagarekawa (流川) street which is named after the river that flowed here, almost exactly 100 years ago.
One “feature” of the Yagenbori is the Poplar (ポプラ) convenience store which was born in 1974 when an old family owned liquor store decided to refocus. It is now one of the smallest but still nationwide, convenience store chains of Japan, and the only one originating in Hiroshima. It has 655 stores all over the country, 102 of which are in Hiroshima prefecture and 98 are in Tokyo. If you look hard you will find the original, first, Poplar store in one of these photos.
Yagenbori is one of those places I wish I knew more about, there are tons of sites and books dedicated to the history and back alleys of this neighborhood! In Tokyo the comparable neighborhood would be Kabukicho.
More photos from the grand Kawagoe Matsuri that took place a couple of weeks ago in the city of Kawaoge, just north of Tokyo in Saitama prefecture. The center point of the festival are the many dashi that get pulled around the city during the two day festival. Pulling them requires the strength of the entire neighborhood and to maneuver them safely require the skilled supervision of dozens of volunteers and staff members. I took these photos of one of the dashi as it was taking a break on the main street of the festival.
In the city of Kamakura, in Kanagawa Prefecture south of Tokyo I was exiting the Hase Station of the Enoden line when I noticed an odd looking post box almost hidden next to the station. It was one of several Haiku Post boxes, set up by the Haiku Appreciation group of Kamakura around the city of Kamakura, Haiku & Haiku (俳句＆ハイク, a play on words as Haiku means both the poem and the activity of hiking). Haiku are the most famous form of Japanese poetry, and always follow the same pattern of three lines of 5, 7, 5 syllables and should contain a keyword that shows or denotes one of the four seasons. I sometimes write haiku in Japanese while on the trains and subways of Tokyo. It is a good way to pass the time and exercise your brain and I think it is at least as effective as the sudoku number puzzles you see people with all the time.
The Haiku post boxes (there are about 20 of them and there are maps showing their locations but oddly enough not the one in these photos) are used to encourage people to submit their own haiku, either prepared ones or ones they write on the spot, as paper forms are available. I had no idea how popular something like this could be, but according to their homepage these very few haiku post boxes almost hidden away in a small town on the coat of Japan amassed an amazing 2621 poems during the summer of 2014 alone! You can read the best of them at their official site here.
There are rules for writing haiku in English and other languages as well, but I have never tried. Have you written one? Please share!
I love harbors and I love big ships and if there is one place to really see them up close it is at the International Port of Yokohama, the Osanbashi Pier. Last year I saw the gigantic MS Asuka II (飛鳥II) at port. It is the largest passenger vessel in Japan right now, at 241m. It has a crew of 545 and can take 960 passengers. I usually use this site to track the position of large ships but I already knew that the Asuka II is currently in port at Hakata/Fukuoka on the north coast of the island of Kyushu, in southern Japan, where it arrived about half a day ago.
The ship was launched in 1989 and is currently sailing under Japanese flag (which is unusual in this day and age of “Flag of Convenience” maritime traffic.