Miyazaki #2: Prefectural Government Building (宮崎県庁舎)

Miyazaki’s second postcard features the prefectural government building in its unique style. It is built in the Neo-Gothic style which was based on castles and buildings in Europe. It was built in 1932 and is the fourth oldest government building in Japan still being used for its original purpose.

When I was in Miyazaki due to time constraints the only chance I had to visit was at night, so the picture isn’t terribly clear. It is also Miyazaki’s retired postcard, and I didn’t think to actually bring the postcard with me on the trip, so there’s no card in the picture either. Sorry!

Miyazaki prefectural government building

Next time I’ll go in the daytime, and remember to bring the postcard with me!

Hiroshima #2 – Rice Scoop with Carp Mascot (しゃもじ withカープ坊や)

WOW, long time no post! Sorry for seemingly abandoning the site… after coming back from my trip to Europe, I was both extremely busy with work, and waiting impatiently for the 8th set of postcards to come out. Work is still busy, the new cards still aren’t out, and here I’ve gone half a month without posting anything. So I’ll be doing a post a day for awhile to show I’m not dead! Here to begin is Hiroshima’s second postcard, combining rice scoops (shamoji) made in the area with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp Baseball Team’s mascot, Carp Boy.

Shamoji are said to have been developed by a monk living on Itsukushima, better known as the famous Miyajima near Hiroshima City. Now, these rice scoops are a household item throughout Japan, often of plastic these days, but also sometimes the more traditional wood. I guess just the rice paddle was too plain of a card, so a picture of carp boy was added. Hiroshima’s baseball team is… well, they’re not that good (sorry, Hiroshima). Mostly the reason is that they are actually the only team that’s not majority owned by a company, so the team is always short of money!

Anyway, when I visited Miyajima, I could see the giant rice paddle commemorating the humble beginnings of the shamoji:

Here we go… wow its big!

Without the postcard

You can take home one of these smaller ones. It’ll fit in your luggage better, for sure!

I probably should have bought one, but I don’t actually have a rice cooker so…

Kagawa #2: Olives (オリーブ)

In 1908, olive saplings were imported to Japan and planted in three places around the country thought to have the right conditions to grow them. The only one to survive was in Kagawa Prefecture’s Shoudo Island, and thrive it did in the sunny hillsides, so much so that now Kagawa is Japan’s number one producer of olives today. There’s an olive shrine on the island, a working olive grove, a museum, shops, restaurants, and even a bath house! There’s also an Olive Harvest Festival from October to November every year. If you like beef, you might try “Sanuki wagyu”, cattle fed on dried olives. And don’t forget to pick up some olive face oil when you visit! Mmmm, olives…

Shizuoka #2: Eel (うなぎ)

A few years ago I visited Nagoya City in Shizuoka Prefecture for a long weekend. I had the chance to eat a very nice (and expensive…) eel dinner during my trip, and as a big fan of eel it did not disappoint! Unfortunately, unagi is getting harder and harder to find at a good price due to high demand and overfishing, so I was glad to have eaten it when I did. I always look for eel when I eat sushi, but usually it is absent. It has a more common cousin called anago that is usually available, but on the whole I prefer unagi to anago (unagi are fresh-water eels and anago are salt-water eels by the way).

Eel over rice

Eel mixed with seaweed and onions. You can eat it like this, or pour a clear broth over it and enjoy it that way too.

Ok, now I really want some eel!

Chiba #2: Rapeseed (菜の花)

While the many springtime flowers of Japan are overshadowed by the famous cherry blossoms, March and April is the blooming period of another beautiful flower called “nanohana” in Japanese. In English it is called rapeseed, but you might be more familiar with canola, as in the canola oil used in cooking. I prefer the Japanese name. Nanohana are common flowers not just in Chiba Prefecture, but all around the Kanto area. I often see them growing underneath cherry trees, and their nice yellow provide a beautiful contrast to the pink sakura.

Close up of a nanohana flower

Kawazuzakura and nanohana

Nanohana at sunset

Hokkaido #2: Ainu Bear Carving (木彫りの熊)

Hokkaido’s second postcard features a carved bear with a fish in its mouth. This is a traditional carving made by the Ainu people of Hokkaido; however until the modern age, it was rare for the Ainu to carve figures like these. Usual Ainu designs were made of shapes and geometric designs, because to carve a recognizable figure was to invite a spirit into the carving, and these were used only in religious or cultural ceremonies. During the 20th century, however, the Ainu were being forced to assimilate to Japanese culture or face discrimination and oppression. Many Ainu faced extreme poverty, so the figures began to be sold to tourists, and became more and more popular as tourism increased. At that time, to sell figures that had spirits in them was surely difficult for many of the woodcarvers, yet their economic situation made it necessary.

I had the privilege to visit Nibutani on the Japan Guide We Love Japan Tour and learn about the Ainu directly from the people themselves. You can read more about my experience here. Nibutani is home of the Nibutani Ainu Cultural Museum, and has the highest percentage of Ainu living there in Hokkaido. I visited a master woodcarver’s shop to try my hand at making a coaster, and caught sight of a few bears he had made.

Postcard and carved bears in a master woodcarver’s shop

Close up of the bears

These bears are in a small museum dedicated to Kayane Shigeru, an Ainu scholar who wrote the first Japanese-Ainu Dictionary

I was also able to meet in Nibutani an expert of the Ainu language and culture who worked at the museum. I asked him specifically about the bears, and how people nowadays feel about carving and selling them. He said that now, modern Ainu no longer believe in the old religion, and that young Ainu don’t think anything negative about carving the figures. Although there has been a resurgence in Ainu culture recently, and young people are beginning to take pride in being Ainu, a lot was lost during the past century, and people no longer follow the old ways or have the old beliefs.

On the one hand, I felt that in order to write about the bears on this blog I wanted to make sure they are not a source of pain for the Ainu people to produce, and was a bit relieved to hear that. Yet I was also saddened, as despite the best efforts of cultural experts and the Ainu elders, so much has been lost to time and assimilation. I still didn’t feel comfortable buying a bear, but was instead drawn to the beautifully carved and intricate serving boards at the museum. I got one of these as a souvenir instead.

Mine isn’t near as nice as these… there’s no way I could afford one!

Despite my reticence about the bears, it doesn’t seem like most people feel the same. I caught site of these ridiculous “gacha gacha” machines in Shin-Chitose Airport:

Bear vs. Fish! Who will win?!

I found them funny, but I hope that even through lighthearted things such as this, the Ainu connection and culture is not forgotten. Postacollect makes no mention of the Ainu in their official Japanese description of this card, which is unsurprising and very typical… as if to ignore the origins makes all the problems go away. I hope that anyone who collects these cards or follows my blog can enjoy the card but still understand its background and why its a bit problematic.

Anyway, sorry about the long post! I’m a bit of an anthropology buff, so discussing culture is kinda my thing. I hope you found it interesting!

Yamaguchi #2: The Kintai Bridge (錦帯橋)

Hi everybody! I’ve been neglecting this blog, which I apologize for, but for a great reason! In October I will participate in the We Love Japan Tour 2015 put together by Japan-Guide.com by blogging along the Northern Route. I’ll travel the entire month of October from Hokkaido down to Niigata, and of course, I’ll be collecting postcards along the way and posting about them here! I hope that anyone interested will follow along with me, both here and on Japan-Guide.com.

Meanwhile, let’s take a look at the opposite side of the country to Yamaguchi Prefecture, home of the Kintaikyo. This beautiful bridge crosses the Nishiki River in Iwakuni City, and is made entirely without nails! You can read more about it here!

When I went it was a Saturday, and around the Shin-Iwakuni shinkansen station there were no open post offices, so I visited the bridge, and then found a post office where I could buy my cards. Here are some pictures of the bridge:

The bridge with the castle on the hill in the background

Getting closer

Looking at it from the other side of the river

I like this one!

Kintaikyo is definitely worth a visit for those in the area!

Kumamoto #2 : Kumamoto Castle (熊本城)

During my trip we were able to visit Kumamoto Prefecture in order to see the famous castle. For castle fans and regular tourists alike, this castle is one of the best in the country! You can read more about the castle and how to get there here.

Upon arrival and climbing through the gates, this was my first view of the castle:

As you can see, that’s not exactly like the postcard

Still, it’s a pretty neat view!

This is the view from the top of the main keep, looking out over Kumamoto City.

We also visited the beautifully reconstructed Honmaru Goten Palace

From there, we headed out a different way we came in, turned around to get a last glimpse of the castle, and…

Oh! Here we go!

The final shot

This is the Niyo-no-Ishigaki, the stone wall of two styles. Although it isn’t easily obvious in the picture, the closer wall is made of a more reddish-colored stone, while behind it is slightly grayer. To get here, head toward the Hazekata gate either on your way in or out, and you’ll find this spot!

Yamagata #2: Flower Hat Festival (花笠まつり)

Along with the previous post on Iwate’s Morioka Sansa Odori, here is the last Great Tohoku Festival: Yamagata City’s Hanagasa Matsuri! “Hanagasa” means “flower hat” in English, and is the main feature of this festival. Dancers wear straw hats covered with artificial flowers of Yamagata Prefecture’s flower, the safflower. In groups wearing the same costumes, dancers dance to the unique music as taiko drummers and other instruments play. The parade is led by flower floats, and over 10,000 people may join in!

The festival is held near Yamagata Station, from August 5th to 7th. You can find more information here. Along with Iwate’s festival, I didn’t get a chance to visit here when I went, to my disappointment. It’s definitely on the list to see next time!

Edit: 2015.11.13: I didn’t get a chance to see the actual festival when I visited Yamagata in October, but I did get to see the dance performed and try it out myself, and I even got the flower hat as a gift!

My flower hat and the postcard

Performing the dance

Okinawa #2: Goya (ゴーヤ)

My apologies for the lateness of this post and the lack of any recently… I’ve been fighting a battle with my computer and photo software. I lost this battle, and as a result, my photos, while all there, are a total mess. I can’t find anything! Frankly, even opening the program again was a bit daunting so I’ve put it off and as a result got way behind. Sorry! I’ll be posting one post a day until I’m caught up.

Anyway, May 4th was “Goya” day (5-4) in Okinawa, celebrating Okinawa’s second postcard and famous produce, a bitter melon called goya. Goya wasn’t a vegetable I was familiar with before coming to Japan, and it isn’t one I prefer to eat now. It tends to be quite bitter, but full of vitamins. It is a sun-loving vine, and is therefore popular for people to plant for shade as much as the goya itself.

When I went to Okinawa I had goya champuru, which is a popular dish made with the melon. It wasn’t bad! It may be more of an acquired taste.

I have pictures of goya, both growing and of the Okinawan chapuru, but I can’t find them now. I’ll add them to the post when I’ve finally organized my pictures well enough to find them again! Meanwhile, this is a great site all about goya, including how to grow it, and recipes. Go check it out!