If you spend a lot of time attending Awaodori festivals in and around Tokyo you are bound to grow fond of a few certain dancers or teams, all of us Awaodori fans have our own favorites! Here’s one team – Kikusuiren 菊水連 – that has more than their fair share of dancers with perfect smiles! The fantastically gorgeous woman in the first photo has a smile that is right up there in the Awaodori All Stars! And what about the otherworldly pose I managed to catch her in? Marvellous! And just look at the intensity of the young guys – they are going to go far! Especially the guy giving an excellent almost spring-loaded low stance just to break out in what almost looks like a ballet pose! Fantastic. Seeing people like these is one of the reasons I can never tire of this fantastic country!
One of the things you see a lot of in Japan are the old tiny stores selling traditional things. Here’s one gloriously over stocked hakimonoya, a traditional foot wear store that I passed in Omiya city in Saitama prefecture north of Tokyo. The Japanese merchant custom of putting a lot of their wares on the street is naturally due to small spaces and the fact that Japanese shops, restaurants and cafes love having huge menus, lots of choices to pick from. All kinds of Japanese stores have huge choices! I have never been in the market for these kinds of traditional footwear so I wouldn’t be able to identify half of these items or the prices, but it’s great to see these hold out stores in local neighborhoods.
Last week I was in Omiya, the center of Saitama prefecture just north of Tokyo. Saitama prefecture has a population of only 7.2 million people but if it was a country it would be about the 40th biggest economy in the world, just above the UAE in the Middle East, but it is much smaller even than the territory of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. Amazing. Every time I visit Omiya (which is famous among Tokyoites for the great railway museum) I try to visit the large Hikawa Shrine, the mother shrine of all the Hikawa related shrines across Japan. In Tokyo most wards have one of these shrines. Naturally they also had one of the giant ema (votive plates) to celebrate the year of the dragon, but when I took a closer look at the regular ema I noticed a large proportion of ema that had been decorated with little drawings and anime characters! I’ve never seen this at any other shrine and the reason turns out to be very simple, Omiya city is the home of a major anime business college and it’s also one of the centers of the Japanese anime industry. The stuff you learn from just being curious about ema!
Around Tokyo there’s a score of small and relatively unknown places to see animals. Behind the huge Hikawa Shrine in Saitama prefecture’s Omiya, there’s a tiny zoo barely known even to locals and yesterday I was in the area so I went there to have a look at the flamingoes. It was biting cold and just a few days earlier I had seen ice along the rivers of western Saitama prefecture so I was hoping to see something I have always imagines: flamingoes hanging out in snow! Sadly enough for me but lucky enough for them there was no snow nor ice yesterday, but I still enjoyed seeing these gorgeous birds. The zoo itself is really old and run down but they have some interesting animals, a trio of Hyena for example, and until a couple of weeks ago, a talking crow who showed his temper by greeting visitors to his cage with a hoarse “bye-bye”! Sadly though, the crow recently passed away.
Best of all the zoo is free to visit! If you are in Omiya with nothing to do, you can impress your Japanese friends by taking them to a double treat of the beautiful Hikawa Shrine and the mini-zoo!