A couple of weekends ago I visited the massively fun Yoshiwara Gion Matsuri, in Shizuoka prefecture’s Fuji City. Like last year’s festival it was huge fun, from morning to midnight and I enjoyed ever second of it. I took these photos near the end of it, following the wonderfully decorated dashi, each crewed and representing a specific neighborhood in the city. Here’s the dashi of Sumiyoshicho and some of it’s very cool looking crew. These dashi are the pride of their neighborhoods and the people take great care of them, making sure they are in top notch condition for the annual festival. I heard somewhere that a typical prize for one of these is about 300 000 USD! Later on, walking down the street I came upon a dashi-seriai (山車競り合い), which roughly translates as “dashi showdown”! I think there were 5 or 6 of them, all drawn up in a tight circle battling it out in a very noise competition where the locals of each team tries to throw the others of their beat! They do this in any way imaginable, complicated rhythms, enthusiastic drumming, strange costumes, loud instruments, chanting… unfortunately I didn’t have time to stick around and see who won – so many things to see that evening!
Fuji City is a bit to the west of Tokyo and it takes a couple of hours on the local trains to get there but it’s well worth the trip!
One of the main attractions in the southernly town of Atami in Shizuoka prefecture south west of Tokyo and Yokohama is the fantastically extravagant Kogashi Matsuri, where on one hand youngsters from different neighborhoods team up and compete to create the most over-the-top dashi, or ritual wagon, while on the other hand much more religious and conservative teams of older men and women uphold the traditional shrine omikoshi, carrying them around town. When the two festival cultures clash spectacularly on the streets of Atami during the jam packed festival it looks absolutely chaotic. To get out of the way of the dashi train (these are huge lumbering vehicles drawn by hundreds of townspeople with scores of teenagers banging and shouting strapped tight on top) and the oncoming throngs of omikoshi I entered a side street on a whim, which turned out to be the main street of the Atami Ginza (same name as the Ginza in Tokyo due to a shared history of minting) thinking I would be able to catch my breath. After less than a minute I turn around and see the most of the town omikoshi teams piling in behind me. Out the ash into the fire! I got these shots before being manhandled out of the way completely. You can tell that Atami is an old seaside resort – these people really know how to throw a proper summer festival!
I took these photos last year and in a few months it is time again. Don’t miss it!
Few people will travel down national highway 414 in the middle of Shizuoka Prefecture’s Izu peninsula without remembering the dreaded/feared/hilarious Kawatzu Nanadaru Loop Bridge, a clever solution of how to bring cars down a 45m tall road to connect with the little road down below in as little space as possible. A double looped highway that is the bane of anyone with the slightest inclination to car sickness, the dread of any driver but probably hilarious experience for kids in the back seat! Even though the maximum speed is only 30km/h once you enter the loop it feels like three times as much as you drop 45m on 1064m of roadway in a matter of seconds. The Kawatzu Nanadaru Loop Bridge (河津七滝ループ橋) is now a defacto tourist destination! Luckily they provided us with a parking lot down below to get a few minutes of rest and to settle our heaving stomachs. Next time I will try to get a proper photo of the loop bridge before we descend!
It was finished in 1981 after the magnitude 7.0 Izu Peninsula Earthquake in 1978 destroyed the original road in a landslide and killing about 25 people throughout the peninsula. The Google Maps location is here.
When driving in rural Japan you are never too far from a roadside inn, a place to rest, eat the local produce and stock up on food to take home to Tokyo. I found this place on National Road 414 running right down the Izu peninsula to the south west of Tokyo (Google Maps here). It is a wild and mountainous area full of wildlife so naturally one of the local specialities is boar! I tried some roast boar ham with mountain vegetable soba soup and a side dish of wasabi, another local speciality. Everything used in the cooking of this (apart from salt and cooking oil I think) is produced in the local area by local people using more or less sustainable and ecological ways of farming and hunting. And it tastes great too. I am lucky to still be able to enjoy this sort of food in 2013, most of my friends in other countries have never eaten 100% locally grown meals and I hope we can keep this way of producing food for the next generation to come.
Large parts of Japan’s forested mountains are nearly impenetrable by humans so hunting in these parts are really difficult, there is no such thing as flat terrain and hunters generally rely on well trained dogs to drive the boars closer to the hunters. In the old days boars would stay hidden in the forests but as more and more humans encroach on the boar’s living space there are more opportunities to find good food on farms and cities near the forests so in the last couple of decades wild boar damage on human agriculture has increased. There’s also fewer and fewer hunters to help keep the number of boars down.