Apr 30, 2015

Fast food 4

 This is the cheapest restaurant in the area. You can get a complete lunch for under 400 yen. The food is Western style, beef and chicken, and includes a salad bar and a drink bar for slightly more money. The place is usually full of teenagers or young mothers with babies, people with little money but large appetites who want a place to talk with friends. We've eaten in there once and were surprised that the food was as good as it was. We have not been back because the place is always busy and very loud.
This is a MOS Burger, a Japanese chain that is a bit like a MacDonalds. I go there occasionally because they are the only place that I know of where I can get onion rings and reasonably good hotdogs.

Apr 29, 2015

Fast Food 3

 This rather gaudy building houses a noodle shop. I have never been in there and don't know if I will ever eat there. Although I love noodles, I gain weight when I eat them and my doctor is harassing me to loose a little a few more kilos so that it takes the pressure off my bad knee and helps keep my blood pressure down.
I think it is obvious what this is. Again I have not been in there yet, but my wife and frequently talk about trying it. They have lunches and the sign says they serve a variety of coffees.

Both of the above are within a couple of hundred meters of my apartment but are on the main road, not our back road.

Apr 28, 2015

Fast food 2

 This restaurant is not actually a fast food place. It is a sit down restaurant that specializes in pork. It is very good and we go occasionally. We can see this building from our balcony.
This is a true fast food shop. They sell takeout box lunches that are extremely cheap. The major problem is that the taste is exactly what you would expect considering the price. It is Hotto Motto and is a countrywide chain. A lot of low level white collar works eat their lunch from places like this because it is so inexpensive, and, while not tasty, the food is filling.

Apr 27, 2015

A fast food walk

On the main road that is one block south of my apartment there are a large number of restaurants, particularly fast food restaurants. The stretch of road is just over a kilometer in length and I decided to show you the various restaurants that are along it. I started from the Shinkansen tracts and walked west until I came to the intersection after which the wide straight road narrows and begins to twist and turn.

I walked to the intersection near the tunnel where the road goes under the Shinkansen tracks. On the sidewalk, I found this little display. A few years ago a pedestrian was killed in an accident at this intersection. Someone is putting out fresh offerings, including a little rabbit formed from a living plant.

 The first restaurant is a McDonald's. Since the scandal about the quality of food that they were importing from China, business as fallen off steeply and the other day the company announced that they would be closing 1200 stores around Japan. So, we are wondering if this place will still be here next year. To be honest, I have never been inside it.

Apr 25, 2015

Dirty water

I asked my friends, some of them ex-farmers, about why the water was so dirty, however, everyone was mystified. Usually the water in the canals is very clear, but on this day it was extremely muddy, reminding me of a coffee milkshake.

Apr 24, 2015

Cherry blossoms and the ground golf tournament

The park was truly beautiful, so beautiful that even the kids were fascinated.
It was time for the tournament to start. The hundred and fifty or so people gathered in a group for the open ceremony. There were short speeches by the officials and by some town officials. After the speeches were over the head referee went over the rules. They we played three eight hole rounds, one on each course that had been set up. It was not the usual group competition, but rather individual scores were added. I was too busy to take pictures, but my final score was not as good as I usually do, but I was still in the top half with a one under par score.
After the match was over, our group, which is sponsored by the Senior Club, were given free box lunches by the Club and we all ate together. The is the blue plastic tarp that some of the people sat on. I brought a folding chair so I was quite comfortable. The pink spots all over the tarp are petals that are falling of the cherry trees. At some points they were so thick that it seemed to be snowing. All and all it was a very enjoyable day.

Apr 22, 2015

More cherry blossoms

The Japanese particularly like cherry blossoms because they see them as a metaphor life. The burst into a beautiful but brief life before dying. There is also something about the cyclical nature of them returning year after year which is renascent of the Buddhist ideas about rebirth. The most common activity related to the cherry blossoms is sitting with a group of friends or co-workers under the blossoms and eating and drinking. The parks are full of drunks at this time of year. Company groups, or even groups of friends, send someone to the park in the morning. They lay blue tarps on the ground and then sit there all day reserving the space. Later people arrive with food, beer and sake. I used to go every year. Usually two or three times with different groups of people, co-workers, friends, colleagues, etc. Since I stopped drinking alcohol, I now try to walk through the parks during the day when the views are the best.

Apr 21, 2015

Cherry blossoms and ground golf

 These are the cherry blossoms on the trees covering Antoku Kofun, the 1500 year old grave mount named after, but probably not containing, the Emperor Antoku.
People are starting to gather for a ground golf tournament. Our club, where I play on Monday and Thursday mornings has 16 people entered. I've heard that there will be over 100 competitors. In past tournaments teams have competed but today it is individuals so I expect to be in the top half but no where near first place. Most of the people in the picture belong to our club. The blue plastic tarp in the center is where our team will will hang out.

Apr 20, 2015

The house next door

This is the entrance to the house next door, I think. Between my apartment building and this path there is a house that belongs to one of the oldest people in town. However, it appears that this path leads to a back entrance to that house as well as an entrance to the building on the right, so technically it is an entrance to the house next door, if there really is an entrance there.

Apr 19, 2015

Cherry buds and a strange horse

 The buds on this cherry tree are about to flower, no more than a couple of days before the tree will be covered with beautiful pink blossoms.
This is the front of a small bar near my apartment. It appears to have lights on it. One of these evenings I will have to go out for a walk and see what the neighborhood looks like after dark.

Apr 18, 2015

Along our river

 Spring is definitely here. The grass is green and the buds on the cherry trees are about to flower.
It was a nice, warm day so there were kids playing in the water.

Apr 17, 2015

School yard and a flower

 This is the local grade school, Antoku Shougakkou. Antoku was one of the early Japanese Emperors and had a lot of contact with this area, so his name is used in many of thelocal names. Shougakkou means grade or elementary school, grades one through six. Shou means small, the opposite of dai, big. A daigakkou is a college or university. Chuu, or middle, combined with gakkou gives chugakko or junior high school. High school is completely different using kou, meaning tall, for koutougakkou, the formal term, or koukou, the everyday word.
This really beautiful flower was on a tree growing beside the road.

Apr 16, 2015

Things along the way

 I do not know the name of this tree but it is very strange. The big lump at the base of the trunk is part of the tree. There appear to be sprigs coming out of it, but they appear to have been cut off, probably when the tree receives its twice a year trimming.
Again I do not know what plant this is but the yellow flowers sure looked nice after the drabness of winter.

Apr 15, 2015

More trees

 The leaves are just beginning to come out on this beautiful old tree.
The leaves are still small here, too. This shape is not natural, but is the result of the twice yearly trimming that keeps the tree, and thus the roots, small. If the roots become too big, they make bumps in the sidewalk and some times even in the road.

Apr 14, 2015

A tree

 Walking along the river bank I came to this apparently dead tree.
However, when I looked closely, I discovered that there were leaves coming directly out of the thick branches and even from the trunk. In this picture you can see a leaf in the middle of the picture. It is reddish green and grown directly from the branch on the right, just above the circular scar.

Apr 13, 2015

Spring is flowering

 In little open space beside parking lots many people put in small flower gardens, which are now springing into beauty. The Japanese tend to be very good at seeing these small spots of color and nature and ignoring the concrete and asphalt around them.
The path along the Naka River is also springing into life.

Apr 12, 2015

Views from the parking lot

After looking around inside, I left the store and walked to the side of the parking lot that is farthest from the street. It was a bit disconcerting. This is the view looking north.

This, however, is the view looking south. The store and a Shinto shrine share a border. In a way, it is probably more appropriate than it seems at first thought. In Japan, at the start of new building projects there is always a religious ceremony, usually Shinto but sometimes, I think, Buddhist. The ceremony seems to have two purposes, to introduce the local god to the idea of the new structure and to protect the building from evil.

Apr 11, 2015

Getting there

 In a space between modern housing, I found to huge boulders (the gray areas under the trees) in a landscaped lot. The boulder on the right has a piece of ceramic resting on the top. You can see it clearly in the center of the picture. This is actually the object that is used to cap the end of a ridge line of a roof. I have never seen on displayed this way but it is probably all that remains of some famous person's home. Since the faces of both boulders are flat I assume that there must be something written on them but I could not see if this was so and did not feel comfortable in climbing over the stone wall that protects the area.
This was my goal for the day. It is a newly opened store called DAISO. It is part of a nationwide chain of discount stores where almost everything costs either 100 yen (about US$1.00) or 200 yen. The little green shack sells various kinds of snacks that you eat while standing in the parking lot or sitting in your car.

Apr 10, 2015

Starting a new walk

I can't really read the characters on the stele but I think they give the name of a god, or a historical person who is treated as a god. The building on the foundation behind the stele is a Shinto shrine so I suspect that this person is related to the shrine in some way.
This is a closeup of the bottom right of the stele. I suspect that the figure on this small stele is the god referred to on the main inscription. Also, note that this is a living shrine as someone has put fresh flowers and some offerings at the base of each stelae.

Apr 8, 2015

Home again

 The flowers are blossoming and the leaves are turning the trees and bushes green again. Spring is here.
Reaching my apartment building, I stopped to take a better picture of the door to our downstairs neighbor's apartment. Now that I have seen this up close I have even less idea as to what it is. It is made from rice straw and there are still grains attached to the part that hangs down at the bottom. I suspect that it may just be a piece of art that our neighbor liked, something with no particular meaning other than its value as art.

Apr 7, 2015

Leaving the shrine

 I finished circling the shrine grounds and decided that it was time to leave. As I headed for the torii marking the sacred area, I noticed that one of the tree trunks was covered with green moss. For anyone who is interested in folklore, this is the north side where the moss is said to grow.
Leaving the lane and returning to the road, I felt something was a bit strange. Then I realized that the large wooden apartment building that had had a bad fire on the top floor was gone. (I posted after the fire pictures a few weeks ago.) In the week since the last time I had passed here, the building had been completely removed. I walked over and discovered that the ground plan for a new building was already marked out and that the power shovel was not for removing the old building but was part of the construction for the new building. Change comes rapidly. It will be interesting to see if it will be another apartment building or a private house. Considering the location, I would definitely not expect it to be a commercial building.

Apr 6, 2015

Still at the shrine

 I was a bit surprised to find cherry blossoms. Most of the trees in the area are still covered with buds.
As I walked around the main building, I noticed something. The shrine building is made from wood in the traditional way. However, the foundation is quite modern. It looks like stone but up close it seems to be some sort of artificial covering. Considering the shape it is very like that the foundation is actually made from steel and covered with this stoney looking surface. Of course, since I do not have x-ray eyes, I can not be sure. In any case it was unusual. Most shrines have a stone foundation or, if fairly newly rebuilt, a concrete base.

Apr 5, 2015

The altar of the secondary shrine

 This is the inside of the secondary shrine, the altar, so to speak. There are three relatively small stones. All of them seem to have been shaped, that is they do not look like natural shapes. The one in the front is broken into two pieces. On the left you can see three ten-yen coins. These are worth about US$0.25. On the right are some small pieces of wrapped candy.

 I find it interesting that the offerings on shrine altars and at other Shinto related places are seldom taken. The money will probably still be there the next time I visit. Around 20 years ago, however, after the economic bubble broke, there were a lot of homeless people and at that time the bottles of sake and soft drinks that people left as offerings started to disappear. So an adjustment was made, people started opening the drinks before leaving them. I asked someone about  this and was told that it was done to make it easier for the spirits to drink them. Personally, I found it telling that this change from closed to open came just at the time that people started stealing the drinks, no matter what the justification.
I left the secondary shrine and walk around to the back of the main shrine. Another problem that has started to appear as people become less involved in Shinto is that some people will actually invade the sanctity of the altar. I do not know whether this is out of curiosity or devilry but it has lead to what you can see in this picture. Many shrines now have fences around the buildings with barbed wire on the top of the fence.

Apr 4, 2015

The other shrine within the grounds

 Off to the right of the main shrine is a second shrine. It, too, has a torii, but it is much small than the other two. I have to duck my head if I walk through it.
The shrine itself is a small stone building on a stone foundation. The top of the roof is barely above the top of my head. I have seen a map that showed a name for this shrine but I could not read the kanji and have forgotten it.

One interesting thing can be seen in the second picture. Around shrines, temples, and even private homes, the Japanese tend to remove all the vegetation so that there is just bare ground. I am not at all sure why this is, but I suspect it may have had something to do with separating buildings from the natural environment, which will overwhelm a building in just a couple of years. The empty space protects the buildings in a sense. I have no idea whether or not this is true. It is simply my working hypothesis until better information comes along.

Apr 3, 2015

The main shrine

 Behind these doors there is a short flight of stairs and another set of closed doors that lead to the room in which the kami (god) resides. This roofed open space is used for ceremonies.
In the first picture you can see this painting in the upper right corner. Along the right edge of the frame the picture is dated to April 1934 and the writing on the left apparently gives the name of the character in the picture. Depicted in the painting is a samurai, his armor is in a pile behind him. He is playing a stringed musical instrument, a Japanese lute called a biwa. His music is calling forth a dragon. I am sure that there is a long story about this and that it relates to the origin or beliefs of the shrine.

The Senior Club cleans the shrine and the grounds at least once a year. I did not go last year because I was not feeling well and it was very, very early in the morning. Maybe this year I will go and find someone knowledgeable about the shrine and its history. There is probably information in the town library, too, but I have had too much going on to go an look. If I do find something, it will be in Japanese, of course, and historical writing is very hard for me to read, too much specialized language and background knowledge that I don't have. However, maybe some day I will give it a try.