This past summer my mom visited me in Japan and our schedule was action packed to say the least. Although we had a great time travelling around western Japan, there is one particular experience I wanted to highlight, which was our journey up Mt. Rokko and to Arima Onsen in Kobe. Although I have been to Kobe several times, this trip out of the city is something I have never ventured to do and was excited to try with my mom. Mt. Rokko (931 meters or 3054 feet) is the highest peak in the Mt. Rokko mountain range and provides a scenic green backdrop to the city of Kobe. At its peak, a beautiful panoramic view of the city of Kobe can be captured from its observatory deck. In addition to its observatory, various small tourist attractions can be found on Mt. Rokko, including: a botanical garden, a music box museum, a pasture with flowers and sheep, Japan’s first golf course and the Rokko Garden Terrace, a complex of a few restaurants and shops. On the opposite side of the mountain accessible by ropeway lies Arima Onsen, a famous hot spring town with a history of over one thousand years. Arima Onsen is considered one of Japan’s oldest hot spring resorts and is a fixture among the top in onsen rankings. The town has two types of hot spring waters which spring up at various sources around the town: the Kinsen (“gold water”) is colored brown with iron deposits and is said to be good for skin ailments and muscle pain, while the clear Ginsen (“silver water”) contains radium and carbonate and is said to cure various muscle and joint ailments. My mom and I chose to visit Taiko no Yu, the only onsen in town that offers both experiences. Be aware travelling up Mt. Rokko and to Arima Onsen is no short of a journey and will require you to board or be boarded by nearly every form of transportation from Sannomiya Station in order to get there, including: trains, a cable car, busses, a ropeway; and even possibly yourself if I happen to get tired and require a piggy back ride.. 🙂 This experience is a must do if travelling to Kobe, Japan!
For information on onsens near Seattle see Seattle Met article: Hidden Hot Springs Near Seattle
Recently, I went to Kochi City to see the Yosakoi Festival for the second time. Not too far from Tokushima, Kochi prefecture is home to another dance festival called the Yosakoi Festival. Unlike the Awa Odori Festival in Tokushima, Yosakoi has a relatively short history dating back to 1954. During the 1954 recession in Japan, the festival was proposed and promoted mainly on the initiative of the local Chamber of Commerce as a means of dispelling the gloom and encouraging the local people. Every year for four days from August 9-12, the Yosakoi Festival dancers swarm the city of Kochi. In the local dialect “Yosakoi!” means “Come on over tonight!” Each of the participating groups orchestrates their own dance performance at various places in the city’s downtown commercial districts. The festival currently features roughly 15,000 dancers in about 130 groups.
Dance groups must follow two basic rules that state the participating teams must use the Yosakoi Naruko Odori Uta, or the dancing song, which is based on “Yosakoi Bushi,” the traditional local folk tunes and that all the dancers must perform while holding clappers, which makes a sound similar to a castanet. Teams are free to wear whatever costumes they like and any style of dancing is allowed. In recent years, young people have begun incorporating other musical genres into their performances, including rock, hip-hop, samba, and reggae. This was a fun festival to watch and it was clear that all the dance groups had worked hard on their performances – however, when the Awa Odori dance festival is in your backyard, it’s hard to appreciate the differences. The Awa Odori dance festival dates back over 500 years, where as the Yosakoi recently celebrated its 59th anniversary only. Also, there are many opportunities for spectators to try the basic movements of the Awa Odori dance with various dance groups. However, with no traditional dance style, Yosakoi is purely a spectator festival it appeared. Despite having to be compared to one of the largest dance festivals in all of Japan 3-hours away in Tokushima, the Yosakoi is definitely worth checking out! But bring some earplugs if you want to catch the action up close, because each group is led by an massive van that blasts music at a deafening volume!
This Golden Week holiday, I took a drive around to some of the many beautiful swimming beaches in Tokushima! Here are six of the many popular swimming beaches within the prefecture – each photo I took is captioned by the name of the beach I visited.
In the spirit of Culture Day (文化の日, Bunka no Hi), a Japanese national holiday held annually on November 3rd celebrated for the purpose of promoting culture, the arts, and academic endeavour; the kindergarten I teach at put on an English play entitled “The Big Pumpkin.” The Big Pumpkin is our Halloween version of the “The Giant Turnip” or “The Enormous Turnip,” a children’s fairy tale of Russian or Slavic origin. The story was first published in 1863 in the collection Russian Folk Tales, edited and published by Aleksandr Afanas’ev. It is a progressive story, in which a grandfather plants a turnip, which grows so large that he cannot pull it up himself. He then asks the grandmother for help, and they together still cannot pull it up. Successively more people are recruited to help, until they finally pull the turnip, or in our adaptation the pumpkin up from under the ground. Sit back, relax, and press play to watch our off-Broadway, I guess way off-Broadway and way-overseas showing of The Big Turnip, with a special appearance by U.S. President Barack Obama! Please don’t mind the early heckling by the younger 4-year old students, we were able to quiet them down eventually!.. haha!
The United States and Japan have reached the final of the 2011 Women’s World Cup in Germany! An improbable journey for both countries, as both teams were dealt with enormous challenges to make it to the final two of the most prestigious tournament in women’s soccer. In the case of the United States, the team appeared finished when entering into an extra time period trailing Brazil by a point, only to score in the closing minutes to even the match and eventually win in a dramatic penalty shoot-out. As for Japan, no one expected this team to have reached it this far, and having already beaten the host country and favorite, Germany in the quarters to advance, one could say they’ve already won their Superbowl. However, Japan, nor the United States were content with their quarter-final success. Both teams have shown an incredible grit and will to win that continued through the semi-finals as the United States defeated France, while Japan upended Sweden’s dreams setting up this weekend’s final. As an American, I will be rooting for Team USA to win, but living in Japan, I understand first hand what this country has endured in recent months and realize how a win on this stage may be the spiritual lift this country desperately needs. Despite who wins, it’s been an amazing ride for both teams who have provided some very exciting soccer, even to someone like myself that had to Google ‘penalty shoot-out’ just to make sure I referred to it correctly! Regardless of your level of soccer enthusiasm – if you live in the United States or Japan, it’s time to get your fish and chips ready, break out a sports towel, even it says Seattle Sounders or Seahawks on it, wave them around in the air like you just don’t care, and ask yourself and all your rowdy friends, “Are you ready for some fooooooty?!!”
The Ring of Fire is an area where large numbers of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur in the basin of the Pacific Ocean. In a 40,000 km (25,000 mi) horseshoe shape, it is associated with a nearly continuous series of oceanic trenches, volcanic arcs, and volcanic belts and/or plate movements. The Ring of Fire has 452 volcanoes and is home to over 75% of the world’s active and dormant volcanoes. About 90% of the world’s earthquakes and 80% of the world’s largest earthquakes occur along the Ring of Fire. Ten percent of the world’s active volcanoes are found in Japan, which lies in a zone of extreme crustal instability. Moreover, Japan dangerously lies at the intersection of four tectonic plates; the North American Plate, the Eurasian Plate, the Pacific Plate, and the Philippine Sea Plate. These plates all meet on the island of Honshu, the largest of the many islands that comprise the country of Japan. Thus the reason why the country is extremely vulnerable to earthquakes. There are approximately 1,500 earthquakes recorded yearly in Japan, and magnitudes of four to six on the Richter scale are not uncommon. Minor tremors occur almost daily in various parts of the country, causing slight shaking of buildings. Unfortunately for me, even if I was still living in Seattle, Washington, the situation may not be any safer. A message of caution to my friends and family living in the Pacific Northwest of the United States who are unaware, the Juan De Fuca subduction zone is the only significant fault line on the Ring of Fire NOT to have experienced a major earthquake in the last 50 years. Please take precautions as natural disasters as in Japan can occur at a moment’s notice.
A short note to my friends and family, Tokushima has not been effected by the earthquake, tsunami, or any radiation and I am fine. This blog is to provide a somewhat detailed chronological summary to what is occurring in Japan. As many in the world are now aware of, on the morning of March 11th there was a massive 9.0 magnitude earthquake that hit off the eastern coast of Japan. This is said to have been the largest earthquake in Japan’s recorded history. The result of the earthquake triggered an incredible tsunami up to a record 38 meters high (124 feet) which devastated numerous towns beyond recognition. In terms of where the earthquake occurred, the Tohoku region was the hardest hit. Tohoku means northeast in Japanese, and includes Fukushima, Yamagata prefectures and Sendai City, the capital of Miyagi prefecture which was only 130 km (80 miles) east from the epicenter. Tokyo, 373 km away from the epicenter also felt the lengthy quake and its many aftershocks that still continue. Life has hardly returned to normal for the over 12 million living in Japan’s capital city as transportation remains inconsistent, and food and water has been limited.
Moreover, a second and serious nuclear power plant explosion occurred on March 15th at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant operated by a private company, the Tokyo Electric (Daichi) Power Company (TEPCO). The explosion was followed by reported fires, which created an already apprehensive public to fear the spread of radiation. The Japanese government has evacuated residents living up to 20 km from the plant and advised residents 30 km away not to go outside, or voluntarily evacuate themselves. The U.S. Embassy in Japan is advising Americans living within an 80 km radius (50 miles) to evacuate the area and the State Department strongly urges U.S. citizens to defer travel to Japan at this time and those in Japan should consider departing. On April 11th, the Japanese government expanded its current 20-kilometer evacuation zone around the nuclear power plant in Fukushima prefecture to include several additional highly radioactive hotspots. On this same date one month after the initial earthquake, the Japanese government’s nuclear safety agency decided to raise the crisis level of the nuclear power plant accident from 5 to 7, the worst on the international scale. Level 7 has formerly only been applied to the Chernobyl accident in the former Soviet Union in 1986, however, the volume of radiation released from the nuclear plant in Japan is one-tenth that of Chernobyl, according to the agency. Japan’s chief cabinet secretary added, unlike the Chernobyl disaster, the Fukushima case has caused no direct health problems. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) supported the Japanese government’s analysis by adding, in Chernobyl the reactor exploded while in operation, but in Fukushima the reactors stopped when the earthquake hit and the pressure vessels housing them did not blow up. On March 18th, one week after the massive quake, the Japanese agency initially declared the Fukushima trouble a level 5 incident, the same as the accident at Three Mile Island in the United States in 1979. Unfortunately, the situation has worsened, especially for Tohoku residents in Japan. It is uncertain whether the nuclear plant is under control, if a major nuclear meltdown is eminent, or what the potential repercussions will be for the entire country. To make matters worse, on March 15th one of the nuclear reactor containers was discovered to have been damaged, indicating that radioactive steam was spreading outside. The government played down the extent of the initial damage and has been conscious not to over excite the public. On March 16th, in an attempt to console and encourage the nation, Japan’s emperor gave an extraordinary nationally televised address telling the country to never give up hope and expressed he was deeply concerned and stated the situation is critical. An inspiring address, however has fueled the public demand for more immediate answers regarding the true state of the situation from its government. The monitoring of radiation levels in the surrounding cities continue, including in Tokyo where radiation levels have increased; however, not near the level of concern yet, according to the governor of Tokyo. Despite these attempts to reassure the public, the nation is becoming increasingly worried. Japan’s science ministry has finally begun publishing radiation levels monitored nationwide on its website, with the information also available in English, Korean and Chinese. The ministry’s website (link) began showing the data on March 19th, with the prefectural information updated twice a day.
Despite an initial evacuation of 700 workers from the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant where only 50 heroic workers stayed, there are now 180 plant workers at the site working to avert a nuclear catastrophe at the expense of their own health and lives. On March (more…)