Monday, September 04, 2006

Rediscovering Utsunomiya

When Scott left Japan last May, one of my favourite weekend pastimes went with him. Most weekends, for just about one full year, we would kill an afternoon or day aimlessly wandering the streets and parks of Utsunomiya. It was relaxing, it was intellectually stimulating due to our discussions and it was just plain good for the soul to be out and about. Today, in memory of Scott (who is currently at this temple in Thailand, for an intensive meditation seminar) I did a little aimless wandering. The only difference, other than the obvious point of Scott not being along, was that instead of walking, I decided to bike it. I ended up covering quite a bit of ground, and would often smile as I recognized a street\neighbourhood where Scott and I had wandered by some time ago.

My first destination was Chuo Park, where I ambled on foot for a good hour taking pictures. The day was absolutely perfect for it, sunny but not humid, with a nice breeze. Many people were taking advantage of this little oasis of green in the centre Utsunomiya to do some reading, take a snooze or a walk with the grand kids.

Most of the pictures I took were of critters of some kind. From ducks and geese to spiders and cicadas, the park is full of life... if you know where to look. I liked this shot of a dragonfly in dark profile against the sky.

Almost every bush hides a spider of some type, but this big boy was hanging between some branches and a bush, making his yellow stand out quite nicely. Unfortunately he was in the shadows a bit, but still a good shot.

I've been enjoying the dragonflies here, who are the perfect models most of the time, so long as they are approached carefully. This guy was taking a break on a tiny twig.

Of course, one of the inescapable sounds this time of year in Japan is that of the thousands of semis (cicadas) chirping away happily day and night. This guy was up in a tree, the 12X zoom of the S3 certainly comes in handy once in a while. Not a very pretty insect, but their song heralds the coming of the summer heat and they will begin to die off shortly with the cold nights we've been having.

Chuo park has a small square where a few dozen pigeons congregate to be fed and otherwise entertain passersby. Our own little version of Trafalgar Square if you will. Every time you visit the park, you can be just about guaranteed to have some kids chasing pigeons. Today was no exception and this cute little girl was hard at it, taking a short break to look at me and say and wave hello after a little prompting from her mom. As she was making her way through the square, a flight of pigeons came in for a landing, and I was able to get this, which is probably my favourite shot of the day. Yoshiko and I have an ongoing debate as to which is cuter, a little boy or a little girl... we are on opposite sides of the issue, I contend girls are cuter...

This trumpeting little boy has some company today.

Artist at work.

After walking around the park, I hopped back on my bike and decided to explore a new direction. I headed North from Chuo Park, then headed West for a while and turned back North. Travelling through quiet residential neighbourhoods, I quickly ended up crossing Keirinjo dori and into totally new territory for me. The benefits of a bike is that is certainly extends your range. In the distance, I saw this towering tower thing sticking out over a wooded area and remembering something Stacy had said about a nice temple near a water tower, I decided to head in that direction. When I got there and parked my bike, I was left perplexed. After climbing up a steep set of steps, I was at the foot of the tower, which looks totally un-Japanese in every way... especially in its lack of antennae and satellite dishes. Having had the sign translated by by lovely lady, I now know it is in fact a water tower... but a strange one. Looks like there's an observation deck at the top.

One thing is certain, they don't want anybody getting near it. This is quite unfortunate since it is surrounded by an overgrown Japanese style garden and some nice green space. And it probably offers quite a view of the city.

The strange thing about it is that the stairs look like they were made to look fancy, like leading up to a public space or park or something. There is a sad little sand covered park off to the left of the gates, but this is a more recent addition, added quite some time after the stairs\tower. Maybe it used to be part of a park that was shut down due to budget cutbacks or something?

After my little climb up to the tower, I hopped back onto my bike and headed Southwards back to the downtown core. I followed the little creek\river thing which runs through town and ended up in Izumicho, the city's red-light district. Found this interesting little street lined with tiny little Snack pubs. Behind every door is a different establishment... probably just a small bar\grill with 4-6 stools?

After a quick stop at home, I met up with Yoshiko after she was finished work and we had a coffee at Tullys and then we both went home. It's nice that she works downtown now, we can do more of these little meetings without the need for a car. When I got home, I got my second view of Nantai-san... which will be much more visible over the next few months as Fall and Winter come through. Now if only I could do away with those power lines, and that building... hmmm.

Later, I hooked up with Matt and we met Yasuko and Kanako who had just finished their Monday shift at AEON. We headed to an Okinawan place in Yatai Mura (Yatai is food stall and mura is village) and had a fabulous evening out. Ended up spending just a bit over 2 hours there, had some great food, beer, Awamori and Awamori mixed with mango or passion fruit.... really good!

Yasuko is a big fan of Okinawa, spending some time there EVERY year, so she's quite familiar with the dishes from Okinawa. One of the first things to come across the counter were these sea grapes, some kind of seaweed I believe. They were quite tasty.

These little guys on the other hand, I wasn't so fond of. The tofu was great, but I don't like crunching down on little fish like that... these are what we use for bait... to catch bigger fish.... that we can fillet and eat good fish meat from....

Here's the group, posing for a shot inside the tiny 8-stool yatai.

And a view from outside.

I would say the highlight of the evening was when we noticed a guy putting away his sanshin and we convinced him to play us a quick tune. He was still learning so a bit shy, but it was great!

After eating and drinking for a while, we said our thank yous and piled on out of there. Someone was gracious enough to take this picture of us out front.

And that was my Monday, back to the grind tomorrow. hurrah.

In blogging news, the Asia Blog Awards have rolled along and I am pleased to report that sushiandmaplesyrup has been retained as one of the nominees for top Japan blogs. Fun! If you are interested, you can check out the Asia Pundit site. My personal vote for photo blogs would be frangipani and Japan Window... both are AMAZING photographers. The others I am not familiar with... yet.

The nominees for best Japan Blog Q1 2006/2007 are as follows:

In other sadder news today, Steve Irwin, the Croc Hunter who entertained and taught millions through his dangerous antics with wild creatures was killed on a dive in Australia. The irony is that a relatively mellow creature, the stingray, was to blame for his death. Having handled poisonous snakes, gators, and other assorted nastiness, this is a surprising end to such an interesting life. I'm sure he would have wanted to die doing what he loved, and he got his wish. RIP Steve, condolences to Australia who has lost one heck of a good bloke.


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