Sunday, November 13, 2005

Yakuza, Japanese fighter planes, Oya stone and an anniversary...

Difficult to find all-encompasing titles for these posts sometimes... so I don't bother... lol

First things first... anniversary... This afternoon at 2PM, as we were driving to lunch, my cell phone chimed up with an important reminder for me. Exactly 6 months ago, my plane was landing at Narita International airport and this great adventure was officially on it's way! The verdict after 6 months? Fantabulous! Life here is good and I am enjoying myself thoroughly. I can't believe it's already been 6 months, though there are days when I can't beliebe it hasn't been 6 years!!! I've been through and seen so much since I got here that my brain must be having trouble processing stuff... and of course it's not going to slow down any time soon, what with the trip to China coming up and such... so there you go, happy anniversary to me (And the 10-14? folks with whom I arrived for training last May 13th.

OK, so one down... next on the list is Oya stone... what is Oya stone you ask? Well by the end of this post, you will know... and what does Oya stone have to do with the Yakuza and Japanese fighter planes? Well, good question... read on...

So last night after work, I rushed home, showered and changed and hopped into a waiting getaway vehicle which whisked me away to a wonderful home-cooked meal (puffed rice, curry, salad, pudding), and watching "Coyote Ugly" which was followed a few hours thereafter with an equally wonderful breakfast (Rissoto, yogourt and Maple Tea) which then lead into an excursion slightly to the West of Utsunomiya to explore Oya.

Oya is semi-countryside which is just about but not quite integrated into the megalopolis of Utsunomiya.... I guess it could be considered a sleepy suburb, but with a definitely strong countryside feel. Oya has been the source of Oya-ishi (Oya Stone) for quite some time now, and this stone has been used extensively throughout Tochigi, and definitely gives this region a certain unique feel. It seems everywhere you turn in Utsunomiya and elsewhere, you encounter a fence, storehouse, lantern or other building\sculpture which is made from Oya stone. Oya stone is a aqueous rock which was created by lava and ash being mixed with water about 20-30 million years ago. Oya stone is easy to work with and can withstand heat well, and so it has been used in construction and public works projects for quite some time. In fact, Oya stone has recently found a following in the West, as can be seen at this website.

Luckily for us, a mine which was in operation since the early 1900s recently (1980s) shut down and was openned to public viewing... this mine was the main purpose of our visit to Oya today. First though, we ran into this lovely statue of the Heiwa-Kannon, which was carved out of this cliff side in the 1950s. This statue is devoted to the "eternal peace of the world and to the happiness of the souls of those deceased in" the Second World War. The statue is 67 meters tall and measures 10 meters accross...

You can get a little better idea of the scale of the statue in this shot. Oya wasn't that busy, I just happened to snap a shot when a tour group was coming through.

After checking out the statue, we started walking around aimlessly, hoping to run into something interesting at some point. Spotted these lovely flowers and thought I would give the macro features on my camera another go at it... pretty pleased with the results.

We also ran into this gentleman who was busy removing the bark from branches for some unknown (to me) use... using my Bond-like camera skills, I was able to get a shot of him doing his thing.

As we started heading in the direction in which we thought the museum was (it was a pretty mellow expedition, what with the lovely sunshine and the lack of crowds) we came upon this example of nature reclaiming it's rightful place... who knows how long these have been siting there collecting dust... may as well collect some greenery while you're at it.

Finally, we come to the Yakuza section of the story... while we were in fact heading in the right direction as it turns out... my travel companion thought it would be wise to consult with some of the local townsfolk as to the exact location of the museum which we sought. After going inside to get his cigraettes, a friendly old man told us he would take us to the museum, showing us the famous countryside helpfulness which we've become accustomed to living out here. After a few perfunctory questions about who I was and where I was from, he launched into a diatribe of sorts, which I couldn't grasp at all. Thankfully, the gist of it was translated for me and I discovered that our guide was Yakuza in his younger days and still sported a large white dragon tatoo on his back, though he is currently in the process of having it surgically removed. I thought this guy was quite a colorful character, and he kept rambling on and on about stuff in Japanese which I thought was fine until I noticed some discomfort on the part of my little lady... after the gentleman grabbed his crotch a few times, I decided to subtly change my position so that I was in between them. He kept chattering away, and eventually did lead us to the museum, for which we thanked him and went about our business. When I enquired as to the subjects he was discussing, I found out that he was in fact a rather dirty perverted old man and that he was constantly discussing sex with my girlfriend knowing full well that I couldn't understand a word. Subjects included but not limited to pearls which were somehow implanted into his "member" to enhance sexual pleasure and the girth and length of foreign men's "appendages"... and how she must be quite pleased to have such a satisfyingly large "appendage" to keep her company. Had I known the subject matter, I would have asked him to move along, even if he was drunk (which from the smell, he definitely was)... but it certainly added a little spice to the walk to the museum! Here's the bugger in question should anyone run into him in their travels to Oya... snapped this picture of him as he was asking for my girl's phone number... sheesh!!! I know she's totally hot and all, but calm down a bit, her substantially large boyfriend is standing next to you!

After saying our thanks to our Yakuza-perv-guide, we made our way into the visitor's center and then down 30 meters into the cave where the temperature hovered around 8 degrees. The first thing which struck me was the sheer scale of the mining operation. The area open to the public is only about 20% of the mining complex, and it was huge nonetheless. Unfortunately, due to the lack of light and my crappy camera skills, it's difficult to get a feel for the scale of these rooms, but here you are nonetheless.

These are some of the stairs we took down into the cave. An interesting historical fact here is that these mines were used as hidden airplane factories to build the amazing Mitsubishi "Zero" figher which was used extensively during the Second World War.

It is rather interesting to draw a parallell between that time and now. 60 years ago, machines were being built to kill people in these mines... today, they serve as an art gallery, and as a venue for special events. The lighting effect and subsequent shadowing is what made most of the pieces in here interesting...

Another interesting tidbit of information is that a further 30 meters below this mine is another mine still operating...

AND due to the constant year round coolness down here, it serves as a perfect place to store some BEER!!! There were dozens of these crates full of beer.... mmmm.

Back out into the sunshine, we headed a different way then we had come, exploring the countryside a bit... Here's a run down old shack I thought looked kinda neat. This is the Japan that most people unfortunately miss... it still holds a great deal of character.

Fallen ginko leaves with an Oya-stone warehouse in the background.

Small Shinto shrine with fallen leaves.

Finally, we quickly dropped in to the gardens at Ohya-ji temple for a quick look around... lovely little pond...

After Oya, we headed to Cafe-du-Blue for a great lunch, nice little place... and then back home for some rest and to watch a movie, "Training Day" with Denzel Washington... quite good. 'twas a lovely day, too bad it couldn't have been longer....

So tomorrow I believe I am meeting up with Scott and maybe Alex for a trek out somewhere... and then back to the grind on Tuesday...

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Anonymous Christian said...

nice pictures man, when u come back home u should think about being a photographeryrer majig lol as a second job. so r u going to extend your contract, if yes how long? talk to yah later.

10:16 PM  
Anonymous Yakuza-perv-guide said...

Woody-san, I'm going to steal your girlfriend! LOL

Very nice trip Mophone, great pictures.

Funny how a guy who is surgically trying to remove ink from his body decides to write on his hand though.

11:54 AM  
Blogger Michel Lafleur said...

Christian - extend contract? I will be asked soon, and yes... 3 months.

Yakuza-perv-guide - We didn't give him our numbers, he was just doing hand gestures so I would understand part of the convo... we said we had new phone numbers which we didn't remember and didn't have our cell phones with us to check... would have been quite embarassing had one of our phones started ringing at that exact moment... lol

8:17 PM  
Blogger Schutty said...

Hey there Buddy, I can't imagine where you find time to WORK, with all the travel. Great pictures and stories though. So it will be a while before we get to put away a couple pints will it. Have ya set a deffinate date to come home, what about a visit?

Take care Bud, Later...............

10:28 PM  
Blogger Schutty said...

Hey Smee, great job on the CARE package. Well done man.

10:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did you pay attention on how to reach Oya? I found that it's one of the better areas to aimlessly bike around. You're bike will make it ok, although there's definitely a few spots where you'll have to add a little more "funk power."

I imagine if I plan on doing that in Nagano, I'll actually need a mountain bike. Do they make those with baskets on the front?


8:22 PM  
Anonymous stele said...

hi there,

came across your blog while looking for info on the oya stone museum. got more than i bargained for here, what with your very interesting blog on the whole trip :). Nice pictures indeed! Always hoping to go to Japan one day~ :P

10:25 PM  
Anonymous stele said...

hi there,

came across your blog while looking for info on the oya stone museum. got more than i bargained for here, what with your very interesting blog on the whole trip :). Nice pictures indeed! Always hoping to go to Japan one day~ :P

10:40 PM  

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