It's one of my favorites, because it provides geographical information, filtered through the eyes of our fellow members.
Here in Osaka (and all over Japan), the premier weather event, the blooming of the cherry trees, has coincided with a cold front and lots of rain. Today Tokyo had enough snow to cover the blossoms!
Last Saturday the rain let up for long enough for my wife and I to take a walk in a neighborhood park. The trees were coming close to full bloom, and as usual were glorious, but the longer I live here, the more I enjoy viewing people view the sakura.
My Sakura are well matched and more! And mine didn't last more than a couple of days, coming as they did on a half nice day between rain and wind.
Last Saturday I went with a friend to visit several sites he had recently published a paper about. These shots were taken at a place in the southwest Nara Basin that was a burial mound in ancient times, a castle in the middle ages, and a city park in our time. My friend contends that it is a royal tomb, and not the well maintained and protected smaller one down the road.
The "regular" Yoshinosakura that were in the park back home (and most other places, including the Mall in Washington D.C.) were nowhere to be seen in Nara Ken, but I did see several Yaezakura, a late blooming variety.
There weren't many things in full bloom yet. This shot on top of what once was a kofun shows, among other things, a fujidana or wisteria rack, just starting to show some color.
This shot, looking across the pond that was once part of the castle moat, shows Mt. Katsuragi (The mountain where PIT spotted the para-gliders). You can see patches of Yamazakura (mountain cherries), which are also late bloomers.
For anybody who wonders where this place is, I'm enclosing the placemark from my post Kinki Kofun: Size and Date.
A view of the Mourne mountains from the Brontë Homeland Picnic Site, Lisnacroppan Road, Knockiveagh
The picnic site at Knockiveagh is an ideal place to stop and see the rolling hills where Patrick Brontë, Father of the Bronte sisters, grew up. The picnic area occupies the ruins of a former shebeen—an illicit drinking den—and the Mountains of Mourne provide a scenic backdrop.
“I say we take off, nuke the site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.”
That is indeed a gorgeous delivery route, Ledge! I forget how much GREEN there can be in the world, living where I do...note the hill in the background.
It was a great day for a charity fund-raiser by the hunky guys of the fire department. They were actually dashing around in traffic at this intersection, holding big rubber boots up for people to drop money into. Presumably, they had special dispensation from the police dept. nearby, who ordinarily frown on jumping in front of cars. Quite a funny scene. Of course I donated, how could I not?
The pride and joy of my tiny apartment-sized garden. Ain't she a beauty? Five feet, 7 inches tall (170 cm)!
Rupert Murdoch notwithstanding, the climate here in Japan (with perhaps the most seasonally oriented culture on the planet) is certainly out of whack. We've had one of the driest Rainy Seasons this June that I (and many people who have lived here at lot longer than I) can remember, followed by one of the hottest July - August summers, and now one of the wettest end-of-summer periods. If this keeps up, pretty soon the only way we'll be able to tell that September has arrived is that school uniforms have begun to reappear in the streets.
Recently, however, I spotted a couple of traditional signs that summer was coming to an end.
Japanese Morning Glory bears no resemblance to the noxious weed I could never get rid of in my parents' garden. It's called asagoe ("morning face"), and every time I see one, I'm reminded of how the great tea master Sen no Rikyū used just one to outclass Toyotomi Hideyoshi, his philistine boss.
In August, every place I pass by that has a tree or two, has the deafening whine of cicadas Maybe it's because it brings back sharp recollections about where the trail passes through the bolder field between Six Mile Meadow and Little Frazer Lake, in the Eagle Cap Wilderness, one of my favorite haiku is:
shizukasa ya (tranquility and) iwani simiiru (soaking into the boulders) semi no koe (cicadas' voices)
I've spent many hours trying, but I've never been able to produce a haiku translation with which I was half satisfied. Here's one I just made, because I didn't like any of the many that I found online today.
tranquil afternoon cicadas' rasping voices drill into boulders
And finally, the photo, what all that noise was about, maybe the summer's last pair of cicadas (as the Japanese say) "doing H":
Nice shots, washi. I've only heard cicadas once in real life and I hope I don't ever have to hear them again. "Drill into boulders" is a perfect translation, as far as I'm concerned. Hmm, "doing H", that is unique!
What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare. - W.H. Davies, from "Leisure"
Huh? Those little fat (bleeps) are so numerous over here that two of 'em hitched a ride from Boston to Detroit in my flight bag last week. I thought they were loud in the open air, but in a cockpit they have the ability make eardrums bleed, even deaf ones. Never woulda thunk they were scarce on the west coast! Great shots Washi. Well, great shots everyone.
For the first time in three years, we are having significant snow in southern Oregon, possibly thanks to El Niño. However, in the Pacific Northwest, the influence of El Niño is unpredictable. It's possible I won't be able to get through this winter in my clogs. These are from a few days ago. There have been another four inches since then and it will be snowing off and on for a week.
Like much of the rest of the world, the global-warming-juiced-el-niño weather in Japan has been a bundle of surprises. Most of the country experienced an incredibly mild autumn, in which ski resorts remained shuttered, followed by a couple of doses of nasty winter weather, which whipped around to the south to drop snow on Kyushu and Shikoku, and even briefly in Okinawa, leaving us in Osaka chilly, but just about the only place in Japan without a frosting of the white stuff.
A friend who lives nearby has a particular interest in Shintō shrines and Buddhist temples. He goes once a month as a volunteer cleaner to a shrine in downtown Osaka, and recently he has invited my wife and me to join him at a couple of special events. Last Wednesday was Setsubun [節分 " (1) last day of winter in the traditional Japanese calendar (usually February 3 or 4); holiday for end of winter (accompanied by a bean scattering ceremony); (2) last day of any season (according to the traditional Japanese calendar")], which always comes a day or two after Ground Hog Day in America. In a way, the two holidays are related, because they both come halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Despite the best efforts of Bill Murray, the Japanese celebration is more colorful. In private homes all over Japan, people throw dried soy beans into the corners, to drive out the oni (ogres, demons, evil spirits), while chanting "Oni-wa soto! Fuku-wa uchi!" ("Out with the demons! In with good luck!"), before sitting down to a meal of makizushi, the sushi rolled in a tube of seaweed paper.
The Setsubun celebration at Namba Yasaka Shrine is rather spectacular. After the customary round of speech that precede most public events, men dressed like oni appear on the shrine's unique and dramatic stage, (it's shaped like the head of a shishi or Chinese lion), and the assembled crowd pelts them with handfuls of beans.
After the last bean has been thrown and the oni have fled back into the bowels of the earth, the real business begins. Pieces of mochi, the hard cakes of pounded sweet rice are tossed into the crowd.
The scramble that results is not so much because of the rice cakes, but because the wrappers have written on them the names of presents, and after the mochi throwing has finished, the lucky, the quick, and the greedy gather in the opposite corner of the shrine precinct to receive one or more of the many hundreds of presents that await them. The presents are all valuable, ranging from 1.8 liter bottles of sake, to fresh vegetables, to eggs, to snacks, to soy sauce. I'm guessing, of course, but I suppose the average value of the presents must be at least four dollars or so, and I suppose they must have had a total value of at least a thousand dollars. I don't recall the Methodists or the Presbyterians ever doing anything like this back home, or the shrines in my poor neighborhood, for that matter.
At some point, in this exciting evening, I finally noticed that the plum tree that I had walked past several times was (much to my utter astonishment) nearly in full bloom. Ever since I knew anything of Japan, since March of 1991, when I brought my wife's ashes to her mother, the blooming of plum trees is something that has occurred in early March, not on Setsubun, which is supposed to be the coldest day of the year. February 3rd this year was a bright and sunny day, and if there had been a ground hog in the neighborhood, he surely would have seen his shadow, and we would be in for another 6 weeks of winter weather. Which is what the professional weather foreguesstimators have also been saying all year.
It takes me a long time to write even a short post like this one, and unless you're interested in posting games and puzzles, there's just not enough of an audience to justify making the effort. But I sent a placemark by email to a friend about a visit to this same shrine on the third Sunday of January, so I might as well attach it here. The occasion of that visit was the making of a supersized rope, its use in a tug of war, and the parading of the object around the neighborhood.
The rope sits for most of the year in the center of the lion stage. The placemark is about its making.
Every year, about the time the sakura petals begin to fall, I count myself another year older, and I wonder if I will be around to enjoy another cherry blossom season next year. Kōriyama Castle, just southwest of the city of Nara, is said to be one of the 100 best places in Japan to exercise the national passion for hanami, or flower viewing. The Kōriyama Castle Festival, held two weekends and the week between in late March and early April, attracts over 300,000 visitors every year. I've been waiting for many months for some folks at a research library located inside the castle ruins to provide some help they promised me for another GEC project, so I thought if I went there to be part of the flowers, I could also perhaps remind them that I'm still waiting for the modicum of information I need to complete my other post.
A substantial percentage of the posts in the Seasons of the GEC thread are my photos of cherry trees, so this year I thought I'd mix it up a little and post a Google Earth Tour. This tour will be better if and when 3D Buildings comes to Nara, but that's apt to happen when it's too late for me to post this tour, so I'm doing it now. If I don't hear from the library staff soon, I'll probably go ahead and post my file on the history of this castle as well.
Download the attached file and follow the directions to start the tour.