Any foreigner who has spent any time in Japan, and almost all of Japanese school children know of the strange foreigner Lafcadio Hearn (his Japanese name was Koizumi Yakumo, or 小泉八雲), an exceptionally cosmopolitan Irish-Greek intellectual who came to Japan in 1890 as a journalist but quickly had to change career to that of an English language teacher, a fate no doubt shared by many eager young westerners in the present times. His first teaching post in Japan was at a school in Shimane, capital of Shimane Prefecture, which later featured in his famous writings about Japan. Also featured in his writings was this little shrine, the Jozaninarijinja (城山稲荷神社), an Inari shinto shrine at the top of the castle mountain in central Shimane. On his way to school he would often stop and look at the large stone statues of foxed outside the shrine. Hence, it is in my opinion that Lafcadio Hearn generally, and this shrine in particular, could be considered the guardian spirits, or saints, of English teachers in Japan, Japanophiles and even foreign manga lovers! If you consider yourself having ever fitted into one of those categories, take a moment the next time you are in Shimane and throw a coin to the spirits of this shrine!
Japan takes it’s cartoon culture seriously! Most of the famous manga and anime characters can be found as bronze statues around Japan, mostly at the home town of the creator or where the manga takes place. Some of the most famous manga statues would be the Gundam statue in Odaiba or the Kochikame statue in Kameari, or the Godzilla statue in Tokyo’s Hibiya district. These two statues are of the 1965 comic Hajime Ningen Gyatoruzu, but everybody just knows it after the name of the main character, seven year old caveman boy Gon (hajime ningen means “first man”). This one is in front of the Matsue JR Station in Shimane prefecture, the hometown of Shunji Sonoyama (1935-1992). Caveman Gon was on Japanese TVs regularly from 1974 and I think most Japanese over the age of 40 knows some of the catch phrases of this character by heart!
If there’s one kind of blogging I don’t do well it is food blogging, as has been proved time and again. But I’m no quitter and I will give it a go again with this seafood plate that I ordered in a small izakaya (restaurant) in Matsue City, Shimane prefecture, last year. How many ingredients, fish, vegetable, garnishes, etc., can you identify? I think I know half of these myself. For this seafood set course I think I paid about 1480 yen, which is not much, not dirt cheap but very very reasonable. I think I had to order more rice though! I think I picked it because it was Today’s Special. Always a safe bet! Oh, and maybe I should offer a prize to celebrate the fact that this blog post is the 1300th published post on this blog!
Matsue Castle, which last year celebrated its 400 year anniversary is one of the very few remaining original wooden castles of Japan. After earthquakes, fires, wars and political strife, most of the hundreds of original castles have been destroyed and even the vast majority of castles still standing are concrete or modern reconstructions rather than the original building, but in this Matsue Castle is different. It is nicknamed “the Black castle” due to the color of the lower levels. It’s a tricky build, as from the outside you can count 5 stories but from the inside there’s actually 6 stories in the castle. At one point in 1875 it was scheduled for destruction but at the last minute the castle keep and and some parts of the walls were saved, but most of the vast original buildings are gone. It must have been impressive to see the original castle with all the defenses and gates still remaining. Today, like all other castles in Japan, the defenses have been replaced with a park. Another interesting fact is that the castle was only finished after the last major civil war in Japan ended, so the castle has never seen actual combat. If you ever visit Matsue city or Shimane prefecture, you’re very likely to see this castle I think! Matsue has excellent service for foreign tourists, so good in fact that some of the Japanese tourists grumbled a little bit about the unfairness. Well, sometimes it’s good to come out on top!