Twitter weekly updates for 2014-08-13 – 2014-08-19

Life size cardboard replica of a D51 locomotive

The D51 locomotive - a full scale replica in cardboard
The D51 locomotive - a full scale replica in cardboard15-Jul-2014 11:20, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 320
 
The D51 locomotive - a full scale replica in cardboard
The D51 locomotive - a full scale replica in cardboard15-Jul-2014 11:21, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 400
 

A few weeks ago we saw the full scale cardboard replica of a D51 locomotive:

Nagasaki resident and artist Shima Hideo used a total of 4,000 pieces of cardboard to create the whole piece, which is 2.9 meters wide, 12.5 meters long, 4 meters tall, and made up of over 1,500 separate parts. The exhibition is touring the country… Seeing the artwork up-close, you’ll be amazed by the detail created from cardboard.

We stumbled across it as we passed through the main hall of the 14 story IMS building, which is attached to the shopping mega-complex that surrounds our neighborhood’s Tenjin station.

Anything and everything to do with trains is a popular hobby in Japan – much more so than in the US – since trains and subways are the primary mode of transportation here.

Every time they move the train to a new location, they have to disassemble it and reassemble it. There’s a great time lapse video on the Asahi Shimbun site showing the process (unfortunately there are security restrictions on the video, so I can’t embed it here).

Note that the artist who created it, Shima Hideo, is not to be confused with the Shima Hideo who invented the world’s first bullet train, the Shinkansen, and died in 1998.

Obon Week and the Gokoku Shrine’s Mitama Matsuri

This past week was the time for Obon in Japan:

Obon (お盆?) or just Bon (盆?) is a Japanese Buddhist custom to honor the spirits of one’s ancestors. This Buddhist-Confucian custom has evolved into a family reunion holiday during which people return to ancestral family places and visit and clean their ancestors’ graves, and when the spirits of ancestors are supposed to revisit the household altars. It has been celebrated in Japan for more than 500 years and traditionally includes a dance, known as Bon-Odori.

Most companies shut down for most of the week, so people can return to their hometowns. The Wall Street journal reported that Tokyo was deserted. In contrast, our Daimyo neighborhood in Fukuoka was packed. During every weekday afternoon this past week, the streets and shops were as crowded as a typical Saturday night.

The nearby Gokoku shrine had their own Obon related festival going on this week, every night from Wednesday to Saturday:

Six thousand lanterns illuminate the shrine grounds for this festival of light, giving thanks to one’s ancestors and those who have died in war. Live stage with Japanese drumming, gospel and more, plus a mini flea market, and stalls selling all sorts of matsuri foods.

We paid a visit last night. The festival itself was modest, with about a dozen or so stalls selling food and various arts and crafts. The main attraction was the thousands of lanterns, many of which had unique, hand-painted designs.

Gokoku Shrine Mitama Matsuri
Gokoku Shrine Mitama Matsuri16-Aug-2014 17:22, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 3.2, 5.443mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 200
 
The lanterns on display at the Gokoku Shrine Mitama Matsuri
The lanterns on display at the Gokoku Shrine Mitama Matsuri16-Aug-2014 17:29, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.008 sec, ISO 200
 
The lanterns on display at the Gokoku Shrine Mitama Matsuri
The lanterns on display at the Gokoku Shrine Mitama Matsuri16-Aug-2014 17:33, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.013 sec, ISO 200
 
The lanterns on display at the Gokoku Shrine Mitama Matsuri
The lanterns on display at the Gokoku Shrine Mitama Matsuri16-Aug-2014 17:33, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.017 sec, ISO 200
 
The lanterns on display at the Gokoku Shrine Mitama Matsuri
The lanterns on display at the Gokoku Shrine Mitama Matsuri16-Aug-2014 17:28, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.017 sec, ISO 125
 

Kamakiri Udon: good udon, free beer

There may be no such thing as a free lunch, but there is free beer. It comes in a very small glass though.

Free, very small glasses of beer at Kamakiri UdonFree, very small glasses of beer at Kamakiri Udon
Free, very small glasses of beer at Kamakiri Udon16-Aug-2014 18:42, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.04 sec, ISO 800
 

We’ve had dinner a couple times now at one of our neighborhood udon shops, Kamakiri Udon:

…The noodles, which are made in-house from Itoshima flour, are soft yet resilient and retain a slightly wheaty flavor. You can enjoy them in warm bowl of flavorful broth or cold with the dipping sauce on the side. Kamakiri Udon offers the best of both the Sanuki and Hakata styles of udon. The donburi include the perennial favorites—katsudon, oyakodon and tendon—and you can also order a mini size (¥300~) to go with your udon. Last but not least, don’t miss the eye-catching “free small glass of beer anytime”. As the name suggests, you can order one glass of beer at no charge, day or night…

The small free beer, of course, entices you to buy a full glass, which we have done faithfully :-)

The udon is superb, and so is the donburi and tempura. The challenge is that the shop is very small, with only a bar counter and 4 tables, so you have to go during off-peak hours if you don’t want to wait.

The menu has no pictures, and no English, so you need to be ready to communicate in Japanese. It was a month between our first visit and our most recent visit, and I noticed my ability to read the menu improved considerably in that time. I still can’t read the kanji characters, but I was able to decipher about one-third of the menu.

For more pictures, and contact and location information, see Fukuoka Now.

Gobo tempura udon (gobo is burdock root)Gobo tempura udon (gobo is burdock root)
Gobo tempura udon (gobo is burdock root)16-Jul-2014 19:35, HTC EVO, 2.0, 3.63mm, 0.05 sec, ISO 453
 
Waiting outside Kamakiri UdonWaiting outside Kamakiri Udon
Waiting outside Kamakiri Udon16-Aug-2014 18:13, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 640
 

Something lost in translation, perhaps?

Spotted in a nearby department store, which is actually not far from this store.

Update: I decided to look this up. They actually have a cartoon Doctor mascot (it looks like that’s his face on the top of the box). It turns out the name is supposed to be short for “assembly.” But as always, the Japanese never seem to bother checking with a native speaker when they name their products in English.

Something lost in translation, perhaps?
Something lost in translation, perhaps?26-Jul-2014 16:31, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 100
 

Twitter weekly updates for 2014-08-06 – 2014-08-12

Senior glasses

I was noticing how small and hard to read the Japanese characters were in my textbook. But it’s not the book – it’s my eyes. Here in Japan, they call a spade a spade (at least with some things – definitely not with others). I have bought “senior glasses.”

“Senior moments” will be next.

The time has come for these... :-(The time has come for these... :-(
The time has come for these... :-(07-Aug-2014 15:13, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 500
 

A day in Dazaifu

A wedding procession at the Dazaifu Tenmangu ShrineA wedding procession at the Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine
A wedding procession at the Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine20-Jul-2014 13:46, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 4.0, 7.507mm, 0.001 sec, ISO 100
 
The Kyushu National MuseumThe Kyushu National Museum
The Kyushu National Museum20-Jul-2014 14:00, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.001 sec, ISO 100
 
Eidan in the Dazaifu samurai shopEidan in the Dazaifu samurai shop
Eidan in the Dazaifu samurai shop20-Jul-2014 15:16, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 320
 

We visited the small town of Dazaifu a few weeks ago (I’m just getting around to writing about it now!). Dazaifu is about a 30 minute train ride from Fukuoka, and it’s a popular tourist day trip destination. It’s most well known for the Tenmangu Shrine and the Kyushu National Museum.

About 1,500 years ago, Dazaifu was the site of the imperial office at the head of the government overseeing Kyushu, making it a major regional government center–at that time, equivalent to a national government, because Japan was not yet a unified “nation” by any means. Foreign ambassadors from Korea and China stayed in Dazaifu on many occasions. During the Nara and Heian Periods, Dazaifu became a place of exile for court nobles, including the highly regarded poet and scholar Sugawara no Michizane…

When Michizane died in the early tenth century, many natural disasters occurred, and people assumed this was his spirit taking revenge for being wronged. The Tenmangu Shrine was built on the site of Michizane’s grave, and offerings were made to him to in an attempt to prevent further calamities.

Today, because the Tenmangu Shrines are related to scholarship, many students visit and rub the heads of bull statues (said to make you more intelligent) before praying at the shrines for success in studies or examinations. The shrine is also famous for its approximately 6,000 beautiful plum blossoms, which bloom in February…

People checking their o-mikuji at the Dazaifu shrinePeople checking their o-mikuji at the Dazaifu shrine
People checking their o-mikuji at the Dazaifu shrine20-Jul-2014 13:38, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 3.5, 5.958mm, 0.001 sec, ISO 100
 

We went on a sunny Sunday afternoon and the shrine grounds were crowded. People were busy offering prayers, rubbing the bull heads, and checking their o-mikuji (fortunes). You pay 100 yen (about a dollar) for an omikuji, and if you get a bad one, the tradition is to tie up and leave it. You can see in the picture people buying them on the left, and tying them up on the right. I just learned from Wikipedia how this tradition originated:

When the prediction is bad, it is a custom to fold up the strip of paper and attach it to a pine tree or a wall of metal wires alongside other bad fortunes in the temple or shrine grounds. A purported reason for this custom is a pun on the word for pine tree (松 matsu) and the verb ‘to wait’ (待つ matsu), the idea being that the bad luck will wait by the tree rather than attach itself to the bearer.

We were lucky enough to see a wedding procession at the Shrine while we were there. After that we took an escalator up the side of a steep hill, which leads to the Kyushu National Museum. Kyushu is the southernmost of Japan’s four largest islands, and Fukuoka is its most populous city.

Kyushu has always had its own culture and traditions, and has for most of its history been governed largely as a separate entity from the rest of mainland Japan. Even in contemporary times, with modern infrastructure and unity, citizens of Kyushu have maintained a sense of pride in the region’s unique qualities. …[The] museum opened in 2005 to become the fourth national museum in Japan, and the elegant building architecture alone makes it a sight worth seeing. Because Dazaifu was historically a center of international exchange and communication with China, Korea, and other parts of Asia, the museum has made efforts to introduce the history and culture of Kyushu in a wider, Asian context.

The museum had an interactive room, where you could use traditional musical instruments, etc, which the boys enjoyed. Overall the museum is what you would expect from a high quality history museum, and they had audio guides in English, which made it accessible to me and the boys.

We also enjoyed the shopping street that leads up to the shrine and museum. It has a mix of tourist trap shops and some more interesting restaurants and shops that look like they’ve been there forever. It’s also home to the coolest Starbucks I’ve ever seen, which I wrote about earlier. We had a good lunch, and Kai got a cool t-shirt at a samurai shop. They had various shirts featuring the kamon (emblems) of famous historical families. Maria belatedly realized she committed a minor faux pas by asking if they had any for the Minamoto clan, which her family is descended from. They were a northern clan, and the north eventually conquered the south, so it’s sort of like asking for Grant memorabilia in a Civil War shop in South Carolina.

The entrance to the Dazaifu Tenmangu ShrineThe entrance to the Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine
The entrance to the Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine20-Jul-2014 13:19, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 3.5, 5.958mm, 0.001 sec, ISO 100
 
The Dazaifu Tenmangu ShrineThe Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine
The Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine20-Jul-2014 13:37, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 3.5, 5.958mm, 0.001 sec, ISO 100
 
On the Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine groundsOn the Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine grounds
On the Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine grounds20-Jul-2014 13:32, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 100
 
A woman's reaction to her fortune being revealed, by running water over the paperA woman's reaction to her fortune being revealed, by running water over the paper
A woman's reaction to her fortune being revealed, by running water over the paper20-Jul-2014 13:38, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 3.5, 5.958mm, 0.001 sec, ISO 100
 
Some of the many prayer boards people have left at the Dazaifu Tenmangu ShrineSome of the many prayer boards people have left at the Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine
Some of the many prayer boards people have left at the Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine20-Jul-2014 13:41, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 100
 
On the Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine groundsOn the Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine grounds
On the Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine grounds20-Jul-2014 13:42, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 200
 
Inside the Kyushu National MuseumInside the Kyushu National Museum
Inside the Kyushu National Museum20-Jul-2014 14:02, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.01 sec, ISO 100
 
Eidan in the Kyushu National MuseumEidan in the Kyushu National Museum
Eidan in the Kyushu National Museum20-Jul-2014 14:11, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 640
 
Eidan in the Kyushu National MuseumEidan in the Kyushu National Museum
Eidan in the Kyushu National Museum20-Jul-2014 14:06, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 500
 

Twitter weekly updates for 2014-07-30 – 2014-08-05

Drooling in Iwataya

A pyramid shaped watermelon, for about $1,000A pyramid shaped watermelon, for about $1,000
A pyramid shaped watermelon, for about $1,00025-Jul-2014 12:40, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.01 sec, ISO 160
 
The fish selection at IwatayaThe fish selection at Iwataya
The fish selection at Iwataya25-Jul-2014 12:45, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.005 sec, ISO 100
 
Eidan can't wait for his dessertEidan can't wait for his dessert
Eidan can't wait for his dessert25-Jul-2014 12:51, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 160
 

The Iwataya department store is a few blocks from our apartment. It’s one of several massive shopping complexes in the Tenjin area. I can’t be bothered with 90% of what all the department stores here have to offer: a mind-numbingly endless array of women’s clothes and shoes. But I’ve been back more than once to the high-end grocery store on the lower basement level of Iwataya. Almost everything there is very expensive, and is meant for special occasions (or for people with money to burn), but it is fun to look at. It’s actually almost hypnotic.

So this is not where people do their everyday shopping. But if you’re looking for examples of those outrageously expensive Japanese square watermelons you’ve heard about, this is the place.

We have bought some of the dessert breads, which are absolutely delicious.

Various shellfish that I cannot begin to identifyVarious shellfish that I cannot begin to identify
Various shellfish that I cannot begin to identify25-Jul-2014 12:39, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.008 sec, ISO 100
 
Most of these meat selections are around $100Most of these meat selections are around $100
Most of these meat selections are around $10025-Jul-2014 12:36, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.01 sec, ISO 160
 
A yummy selection of dessert breads at IwatayaA yummy selection of dessert breads at Iwataya
A yummy selection of dessert breads at Iwataya25-Jul-2014 12:49, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.013 sec, ISO 100
 
Some of the many, many desserts for sale at IwatayaSome of the many, many desserts for sale at Iwataya
Some of the many, many desserts for sale at Iwataya26-Jul-2014 16:04, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.008 sec, ISO 200
 
A beautiful but expensive fruit selection - most are about $16 eachA beautiful but expensive fruit selection - most are about $16 each
A beautiful but expensive fruit selection - most are about $16 each25-Jul-2014 12:40, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.017 sec, ISO 160
 
A chocolate tower at IwatayaA chocolate tower at Iwataya
A chocolate tower at Iwataya26-Jul-2014 15:41, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 800
 
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