Today is the 23rd December and it's the Emperors birthday. So after a rousing chorus of “Happy birthday to you” we quickly dispensed with any further mention of Royalty. This evening went to watch the spectacle that is Kagura. I think I have mentioned it before in the blogs so will only quickly recap. Kagura is a theatre event that depicts ancient plays with formalized dances, fabulous costumes, vigorous drumming and flute playing and some audience heckling/participation. There is no speaking but plenty of screeching and Japanesey noises – Aaaaiiiii Yoooooh Wahhhh Geeee etc.
This evenings performance was a very popular tale and being as it was in the Christmas period virtually a sell out. You can’t book seats – you have to queue. Once you are let in, an hour or so before the performance, you rush to grab the best seats you can. Leave various possessions that denote the seat is taken then leave the theatre to go get food or a coffee.
This play was spectacular with demons (oni) fighting with warriors and soldiers battling with spider kings. Huge streamers (spiders webs) flung into the audience to capture us and marauding demons wandering the aisles to elicit cheers or boo’s from the theatre goers.
Throughout the play the pace is controlled by three musicians whose flute blowing and drum beating modulate the proceedings on stage. It is truly electrifying and hypnotic watching the base drummer beating out a tribal tempo for many minutes at a time. Whilst dancers whirl around impossibly fast. Themselves revolving around one another and making amazing costume changes by pulling hidden ties that allowed folded garments to cover others. A feat that tricks and confuses the eye and leaves one (Rachel and I anyway) looking at one another in wonder.
We finished the evening at a restaurant called Sante whch we had often tried to get into but had always found it full. Sort of wish we had gone elsewhere since the dishes were obscure things like uterus and rectum in tomato sauce. Still. It was a bit of an adventure wondering what might turn up on our plates.
No fry up with champagne and orange juice this year. Once we had exchanged the final few presents we had under our origami tree and looked at the Christmas cards on our origami fireplace we donned warm clothes jumped in the car and drove to the Akiyoshi-dai plateau.
About two hours away the Akiyoshi plateau is an immense area up in the mountains that contains limestone karsts (pointy grey chunks of stone standing independent of one another all over the landscape). The orange/yellow dying grass covers the hills with only the occasional hardy windswept, stumpy tree to break up the vista. Still, the sun shone and as far as we could tell we were probably one of only a handful of people in the hundreds of hectares of countryside.
Our Christmas lunch of bento box for Rachel and Ham sandwich in French bread for me was washed down with squash. Our bodies sheltered from the cool breeze by the karsts which warmed by the sun, in turn, warmed us. It was really quite lovely and outdoorsy and different. The afternoon (the bit where bellys ache, headaches begin and queens spout hope to the nation) was spent several hundred metres below ground in the vast cave system. The caves are extensive, spacious and sympathetically lit. unlike any others we have visited this one has a fast flowing river cascading through it which adds a degree of excitement and, because the 1.5 km walk has got good info points and examples of natural stone formations we spent a couple of hours down there.
New Years Eve
The streets on New Years Eve were emptier than we had ever seen them. It was a damp, misty and bitingly cold evening and we very nearly opted to stay in. But since we were determined to go to the temple later on we forced ourselves out to make an evening of it. The foreign residents in Hiroshima are relatively few and since New Years Eve is not a big Japanese thing it was not that surprising that the bars were all quiet and not a mouse did stir. Molly Malones (a good ethnic crossover bar) was just about jolly and we met some Aussie girls and their mum who were on holiday. From there we moved on to the Southern Cross a very blokey Aussie pub which although held only a few people, the people it did hold were loud and drunk as were we quite quickly (too quickly for me with a swirling head and need to be left alone a bit).
About 1.00 am we rode our bikes to Hiroshima castle with Rachel first, nearly toppling in the moat, and later crashing off the pavement into a scooter (neither accident leaving her with more than a bruise and shocked expression thankfully). The castle has a temple in its grounds and it is traditional for the younger crowd to pay respects from 12 oclock onwards. There are numerous stalls selling food and alcohol (come on C of E this is surely the way forward) and the atmosphere is one of jolly comraderie. We wandered, ate, drank and spectated for an hour or so until finaly the cold started to sink in and our beds beckoned. What a great way to finish off the year. Well done Japan
A really important thing about writing a blog is that it should be written as soon as possible to the time when the events took place. They should be written as if it is the first time you have written about the thing you are seeing (not: just another sunset) and they should be written with as much passion as you felt when seeing it. Leaving the writing of a blog for a few weeks or months and trying to recapture the essence of the time is near on impossible and certainly shows in the writing. This then is my new years resolution…..I wonder whether I will last till the end of January?
Today was s surprising day. Sensui jima is a small island 5minutes from the mainland and town of Tomo. Tomo is a charming place with small alleyways and quaint old building scattered around the small port. Unfortunately time dictated that we left before much sightseeing as the ferry arrived.
Fantastic! The ferry looks like a pirate ship!! It’s just a small passenger ferry boat but someone with an eye for whimsy decided to give it redundant masts, spars, rigging and birds nest. A retractable forward bow and paint the whole thing an ominous black. I especially like it since the ferry pilot and crew member give no hint of pretending the boat is anything other than a ferry. No “Welcome aboard me hearties” from them; no fancy dress; no ruffling of young boys hair or acknowledgement of their wonder. Bizarre but quite wonderful
Arriving on the island we took a charming 2.7km path along the coast that meanders along and among the craggy shoreline rocks of many colours. It's a civilized walk with sturdy old weathered wooden fences keeping us from danger on one side and with the rockface on the
Near to the port is the main beach of the island (an island which, incidentally, is a national park so has no apparent residents). The beach has a hotel, a deserted campsite, some closed shops and an onsen in the corner of the bay. It is a rare thing in Japan but this was a mixed Onsen. Most offer hot baths for either men or women but here we could co-exist in the same waters.
We paid our entry and were given Ginger tea to encourage sweating, issued with polo shirt and shorts, a face and body towel and (the ever present in Japan) small bag in which to carry everything in. We then headed down a number of steps to the outside pools and sauna. Extraordinary. There was a chart detailing the 8 steps we were to take at our time in the onsen and these alternated between lying in the hot pools of varying degrees of heat to having saunas, to running down the beach and jumping into the icy January 3rd sea. The saunas were unlike any we had seen before. There are three each with a different aroma (all natural) one is damp charcoal smell, one is seaweed flavored and the last is pine leaves. Each sauna is entered on hands and knees through a 3ft square door that scraped the floors and had to be tugged or kicked to open or close. Thick reed mats were on the floor with troughs in in the middle containing the aroma – lumps of seaweed etc. the 3m x 2m sauna was rough hewn rock painted black and besmirched with soot so touching anything other than matting or bamboo reed left its mark. The saunas were also pitch black apart from a small flickering light. All quite spiritual.
Out of the sauna and into a pool, out of the pool and into the 2nd sauna, out of the 2nd sauna and lounge in a warmer pool with floating neck support to allow you to just drift around the shallow misty waters, RUN down beach, heart pounding and splash, dive into the freezing waters, scream, loose all feeling in your legs and struggle out to get back up the beach and into a warm pool again. People from the public beach looking at you like you are loonies. We spent 90 minutes going through these processes – interspersed with drinking interestingly flavored teas and having stilted conversations with other onsen goers. The sun shone all day, wispy clouds floated by, the sun set with pink clouds. A perfect day that even the laborious drive of 2.5 hours did not ruin due to nice music, chats and pub quiz questions on Rachels phone. Life is so good.