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 #3: Ezo Red Fox (キタキツネ)

Hokkaido’s third postcard features the “Ezo Red Fox” or the Kita Kitsune in Japanese. These beautiful red-colored foxes are found throughout Hokkaido and Russia’s Southern Kurile Islands. Not a lot is known about them in English, but people interested can view them in their native wild habitat throughout Hokkaido, in zoos like Sapporo Zoo, or in a “Fox Village” of which there are two in Japan (that I know of).

The more famous Zao Fox Village is actually in Miyagi Prefecture, and features a number of different kinds of foxes, but there’s also the Kitakitsune Village in Hokkaido.

Foxes are one of my favorite animals, ever since I saw one in my local city my first month or so after moving here. I was therefore so happy to see not one but two during my visit to Shiretoko Peninsula in Hokkaido!

Looking for food

More food searching on the side of the road

I didn’t have the chance to visit the fox village, but a quick search on youtube shows a lot of super cute videos. My next visit to Hokkaido I’ll definitely try to see one again!

Toyama #3: Hotaru Ika (ホタルイカ)

This postcard’s so pretty, isn’t it? The third postcard from Toyama Prefecture features hotaru ika. Hotaru means firefly in Japanese, and ika is squid. Firefly squid?! That’s right! These unique and beautiful squid are something special around March to May, as thousands of them converge along the coastline to breed. These small squid have photophores, light emitting cells, all over their bodies, and as they come close to the surface in spring to breed, we get to witness a wonderful spectacle as the water along the beach seems to glow blue!

This video, while showing just pictures, gives you a good idea of what the coastline looks like around this time. You can see them as I said above from March to May, whether along the beach, out on a tourist boat to watch the fishermen bring in a catch of them, or at the Hotaru Ika Museum (English) Hotaru Ika are also considered a delicacy, and herald spring. So even if you can’t make it to Toyama to see them out in the water, you can try some at sushi restaurants around Japan, or in the shape of crackers and other foods from Toyama.

When the hotaru ika arrive, Spring has finally come!

Akita #2 – Akita Dog Breed (秋田犬)

Akita’s second postcard is of the Akitaken, or the Akita dog breed. Similar to Shiba dogs, also from Japan, they are considered loyal and protective, and are good working dogs. Probably the most famous Akita dog is Hachiko, a dog whose statue stands outside Shibuya station. You can read more on Hachiko and Akita dogs here.

Oodate, the town where Hachiko came from, has its own Hachiko statue outside Oodate station as well as another with several Akita. When I visited, I took some pictures of the statues along with the cute Akita dog mascot used around town.

Hachiko statue in the foreground, the other statue showing a family of Akita in the back

Cute cartoon Akita around town

In Oodate, consider a visit to the Dog Museum where another statue of Hachiko sits. Of course, you can visit his statue in Oodate outside the station as well, or in Shibuya. You can even see Hachiko himself (stuffed that is) at the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo. And if you’re around Oodate in May, don’t forget to see the annual dog show during Golden Week held in Keijo Park.

Tottori #4: Mandarin Ducks (オシドリ)

Sorry for the missed post last week, I’ve been knocked down by two different illnesses in as many weeks. On the plus side, I’ve drawn up a posting list for the next three months, so watch out for new posts every Monday like usual!

Okay, so today we’re taking a trip down South to Tottori Prefecture. I haven’t made it to this prefecture yet, so I don’t have this or any other card, but it is high on my “want to see list” because Tottori is the only place in Japan with honest-to-god sand dunes. Yes, there is a postcard of them, but today I’m focusing instead on the cute and cuddly-looking creatures featured on the 4th postcard and also which happen to be Tottori’s prefectural bird, Mandarin Ducks!

These beautifully colored ducks head to the Hino River in Western Tottori for a winter rest during November to March. Tourists to this area can photograph thousands of ducks floating in the river. Locals feed the ducks, which brings them back every year. Normally these birds are not commonly spotted, being extremely shy… but in Tottori they’ll pose for the cameras!

There isn’t a lot of information in English on Tottori or these famous birds, and as I said I’ve never been there so I don’t have any pictures. But I found a really nice video on youtube here featuring a few of these ducks on the Hino River. Please watch and enjoy!

Peaches! Part 3: Okayama 1 – Momotarou (桃太郎)

Continuing our exploration of peaches, Okayama is associated with the Japanese folk tale of Momotarou, or “Peach Boy” along with being a major producer of peaches.

In this tale, an old, childless woman was washing clothes in the river, and spotted a giant peach floating down. She fished the peach out and brought it home, where her and her husband prepared to eat it. Much to their surprise, when they tried to cut the peach open, out jumped a boy! The couple named him “peach boy”, or Momotarou.

Fast forward to when Momotarou was older, the family heard of some demons (oni) wrecking havoc on a nearby island. The boy decided to help, so his parents sent him off with some food. On the way, the boy met and fed (and therefore befriended per how these things go) a talking dog, monkey, and peasant. The animals helped Momotarou defeat the evil oni, and he and his friends returned home victorious (and richer!) and everyone lived happily ever after.

Well, that’s the gist of the story. If you’re interested in a fuller tale, you can read or listen to it here, or watch the video of it on youtube here. It’s in Japanese, but pretty easy to understand what’s going on.

Now, back to Okayama.

Since it is considered to be where Momotarou took place (the island the oni lived on is thought to be Megijima), Okayama features many sights related to Momotarou. In Okayama City, look for the Momotarou statue outside the station, catch a glimpse of the unique Momotarou-themed manhole covers throughout the city, and walk down Momotarou-douri (Momotaro street) where more statues abound. There’s even a Momotarou Festival, featuring fireworks and people dressed as Oni, held just this past weekend (August 2nd in 2014).

Momotarou Statue outside Okayama station

Momotarou Manhole Cover

I went to Okayama on a Saturday, and so the postoffice by the station was closed. I was pretty disappointed, but went on to see Okayama Castle, Korakuen Garden, and other sites. It wasn’t until I finished that I realized the main Chuo Post Office might still be open… and it was! I got my postcards, but only after I’d seen everything. Oh well!

Rivalry Part 2: Yamanashi #2 – Takeda Shingen (武田信玄)

Once again if you didn’t see the last post, Uesugi Kenshin was the daimyo of Echigo province, and Takeda Shingen the daimyo of Kai Province, which are now the modern-day prefectures of Niigata and Yamanashi. I already detailed their rivalry yet honor toward each other in my last post.

Takeda died before Uesugi, and it is said that Kenshin cried at the loss of such a warrior. His accomplishments (and those of Uesugi Kenshin as well) have lasted beyond his death however, not just in the form of popular culture, but in the government and military advancements that were later continued in the Tokugaka Era and on into present day. The legend of these two warriors is not allowed to die!

There are many places around Japan to explore Takeda Shingen’s life and death. You can read about many of them here, including Matsumoto Castle which is also the subject of another card and therefore post in the future. Of these sites, I’ve visited his statue in Kofu, Yamanashi, though I didn’t have this postcard to take a picture with at the time.

Takeda Shingen statue in Kofu, Yamanashi

If you are around Yamanashi in April, don’t miss the Takeda Shingen festival and a chance to catch “Takeda Shingen” himself!

Rivalry Part 1: Niigata #3 – Uesugi Kenshin (上杉謙信)

Postacollect Gotochi postcards usually depict famous goods, foods, or places, but of the 282 current cards, 10 feature famous people from the prefectures (11 if you count the folklore legend Momotaro from Okayama).

My next posts will introduce two of these: Niigata’s Uesugi Kenshin (1530-1578) and Yamanashi’s Takeda Shingen (1521-1573). These two were both daimyo (warlords) in the Sengoku (warring states) era of Japanese history, and their long-standing rivalry and respect for one another is famous even (especially!) today. Since I’m speaking about their rivalry however, they will both feature in each others’ post, so be sure to read both!

Uesugi Kenshin was the daimyo of Echigo province, and Takeda Shingen the daimyo of Kai Province, which are now the modern-day prefectures of Niigata and Yamanashi. Their rivalry lasted for 14 years until Takeda’s death in 1573, and they engaged in many battles over the years. However despite their rivalry on the battlefield, they seemed to have held a great deal of respect for each other. It is said that Takeda sent Uesugi many gifts over the years, including a very valuable sword, while Uesugi refused to attack Takeda during a vulnerable time while he was being sieged, and even sent him precious salt, saying “wars are to be won with swords and spears, not with rice and salt”. Uesugi’s honorable conduct towards Takeda, despite their multiple meetings on the battlefield, shows his true “samurai spirit”, and the same can be said of Takeda.

Their rivalry and lives catch the imaginations people today, as evidenced by the large number of samurai movies, games, and goods that are produced for public consumption, and there are many places around Japan to learn about the history of these two figures. You can read about and explore some of these places here.

Interestingly, while Uesugi is considered to be “from” Niigata, his actual birthplace and the seat of his lands was actually in Yonezawa, Yamagata prefecture, not Niigata. I’ve been to the site of the former castle that housed Uesugi, and the shrine that now stands on the castle grounds. It is a really interesting shrine that honors Uesugi, and there is an Uesugi Kenshin festival held there every year in late April/early May, where thousands of “samurai warriors” parade through the streets. Here are some pictures from the shrine during the preparation for this festival:

These boards on the way to the shrine have information on Uesugi, Takeda, and some of the other figures of the time.

Banners with each daimyo’s name, family crest, and picture lead up to the main shrine buildings

Close up of two of the banners

There is also a museum and a mausoleum in Yonezawa containing information, artifacts, and the burials of the Uesugi clan.

Following this post is another with more information on Takeda Shingen.