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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Nine Days in Japan - 16 November 2015

Chiiori Farm, Iya Valley

Gladys Yean's report - 

Chiiori or "House of Flute" is an abandoned 200 year old Japanese farmhouse in the historic Iya Valley, a remote mountainous region of the Tokushima prefecture in the island of Shikoku. The farm was purchased and restored by Alex Kerr (an American expert on Japanese culture) in 2007. Chiiori is now a home to staff members of the Chiiori Trust, a non profit organisation based in the Iya Valley. The Trust is working towards encouraging sustainable tourism in this unspoilt and picturesque region.

The wooden farmhouse with thatched roof is perched on a hill slope. The farmhouse gave us an idea about the lifestyle of the family which owned it, decades ago. The surrounding area of the farmhouse were also leaden with clues - vegetable and fruits were being grown in little patches on the slopes of steep hill sides as there were almost no sizeable flat land. 

The areas around the other farmhouses also gave tantalising clues about the scarcity of land - gravestones were dotted all over the place - at the corner of roads, at the edges of farm lands, on hill slopes etc There seemed to be no central 'graveyard.' 

The picturesque setting of the Chiiori farmhouse

The irori is a sunken hearth in the middle of the traditional Japanese living room,
filled with sand and ashes. The hearth is traditionally made of wood and not
fireproof as in this case.

The entire tour group assembled in the farmhouse

Chow Peng, Tutu and Shona

Tania and Lee

Gladys & Shona
The Iya Valley
The beautiful Iya Valley on the island of Shikoku in Japan is supposed to be the final refuge for members of the Taira Clan (Heike) in the aftermath of the Genpei War in the 12th Century. The Genpei War is a long wrought out struggle for supremacy between the Taira Clan (Heike) and the Minamoto Clan (Genji). The Taira Clan ultimately lost the war and surviving clan members had to flee into the mountains of Shikoku, their traditional stronghold. Their descendants are still living in this region, according to local folklore.

Kazurabashi is designated as a tangible folk cultural property of Japan. Made of Actinidia arguta (hardy kiwi, related to kiwifruit, which is actually native to East Asia) vines, the bridge is suspended at a dizzying height above the Iya River. According to legend, the fallen Heike clan built bridges using vines so that they could be cut down when pursued by enemies.

Kazurabashi is suspended over the Iya River. 

Crossing this bridge borders between thrilling and terrifying!

Hotel Iya Onsen
Hotel Iya Onsen is a traditional style Japanese Hotel, located in the Tokushima. Its uniqueness lies in the fact that the onsen or hot spring bath lies in the valley below the hotel and one has to take a cable car to reach it!

A wonderful kaiseki experience to end the day:

Rich and Roger were late for dinner...

The Onsen
The onsen (hot spring bath) is outdoors and provides a wonderful view of the Iya gorge.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Nine Days in Japan - 15 November 2016

Naruto Whirlpool

The tour proper started with a visit to view the Naruto Whirlpools. This is reputedly, the world largest whirlpool which appears on a regular basis at certain times of the day, during high tide and low tide. The name 'Naruto' intrigued those of us familiar with the manga and anime character, Naruto. According to Shona, it's a condiment used in ramen; I though it meant sweet potato !!!

Anyway, the walk over the sea on the Onaruto Bridge was quite an experience. In fact, 2015 was the 30th Anniversary of the bridge...

The island and lighthouse can be identified by the diagramme on the glass window

Ryozan-ji, Tokushima City

After the Naruto Whirlpool, we visited Ryozan-ji, temple no 1, in the historic 88 Temples Shikoku Henro pilgrimage route.

The altar at the main temple is lighted with lanterns. 
Ryozan-ji is also dedicated to children who lost their lives too soon...

Awa Odori, Tokushima City

The afternoon was spent in Tokushima City, where we were treated to an Awa Odori performance. Tokushima is famous for Awa Odori, said to be the largest dance festival in Japan. The dance may have originated from Bon Odori, the Japanese Buddhist 'Festival of the Dead' and also Kumi-Odori, a lively harvest dance.

There are two versions of the dance, a restrained daytime dance called Nagashi:

And a more frenzied night version called, Zomeki, purportedly to summon the spirit of the dead:

The dancers look quite creepy in the dim light...

Towards the end, the audience was asked to participate, and Pip Panasbodi (who was dubbed 'Pipa'  by the MC) won one of the prizes!

The rarely photographed Rich Yamasaki participates in the dance

Pip Panasbodi wears a white garland

Pip is one of three winners of the audience members

Nine Days in Japan - 14 November 2015

Wakayam Castle
The morning of 14 November was spent exploring the grounds and keep of Wakayama Castle. The three of us, led by Soon Kuan and Kim Wah set off on foot from the hotel to this famous place. At the entrance, we were lucky enough to meet a Japanese gentleman who volunteered to be our guide.

The straw wrapped around the tree is supposed to keep it from freezing in winter!
One of the interesting things he pointed out to us was a 400+ year old tree, which was in fact older than the castle itself.

400+ year old Camphor tree on the grounds of Wakayama Castle.
The tree was a sapling when the castle was first constructed.
The castle was built in 1585, under the aegis of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Although fairly modest in size as castles go, it is historically important due to its close association with the Tokugawa clan.

Gladys, Shona, Tutu, KimWah, Soon Kuan and the Japanese Professor

Wakayama Castle was destroyed by bombs in World War II and most of the present building is a post-war reconstruction, made of modern building materials not the traditional stone.

The tower, (donjon) is now a museum exhibiting samurai weaponry and armor from the Edo period.

On the castle ground is the Momijidani Teien, a beautifully serene Autumn Garden, constructed by Yorinobu Tokugawa during the early 17th Century. I would have loved to linger in this wonderful place a little longer but we were short of time and had to rush off...

Awajishima Kyukamura Hotel, Shikoku
The entire group finally met on the bus in the afternoon of 14 November at Kansai Airport and Kobe. I was really surprised at how efficiently it all went - the bus driver did not miss a beat despite all the disparate locations involved...

Tania, Suan, Ann, Tze, Pip and Denny

We found ourselves at the Minamiawaji Royal hotel, where the entire group met for a very traditional Japanese dinner: served on low tables while seated on tatami mats... not the most comfortable way to eat dinner when one has grown inflexible with age.