Well, I’m down with the ‘flu, so been trawling through the photos. I am not one for a lot of souvenirs, but I have some excellent memories of a trip to Japan in 1999 – still as fresh as if they had been last week. I stayed for one week in Yamaguchi, southern Japan at a place called Yuda Onsen. It is said that Yuda Onsen was discovered when a white fox was seen bathing its wounds there during Muromachi Period (approximately 800 years ago). The hot water continues to run in stone streams in the town (in the picture linked above). So the very cute emblem is a little white fox. I bought a charming little memory of the place, which I have kept ever since. So I thought I’d get him out and photograph him.
I stayed in a ryokan, traditional hotel. I recall seeing hardly any other Europeans in the place, and lots of Japanese men, particularly, strolling about the town in their cotton yukata. Ladies with bicycles wore pretty white lace gloves. There were hot spring baths in the hotel, one for ladies, one for men. That was fun. I seem to recall that this little chap was in a very expensive ryokan in the town that we visited one evening. It had extensive gardens with streams and ponds full of koi carp and lovely landscaping. You get used to taking your shoes on and off in Japan, eating everything with chopsticks and being brave with some of the food. Other things that stand out for me were the number of vending machines on the streets, selling all sorts of things from cans of drink to umbrellas. And there was a pachinko parlour. I wanted to go in and look round, but as a European I felt too self-conscious.
I took this shot at one of the temples, probably in the grounds of the Rurikoji temple and Five-Storied-Pagoda, which was built around 1442 and was once known as the “Kyoto in the West”. Its scanned from a film print.
The water flows into the basin via a Shishi Odoshi or deer scarer, a bamboo device that clacks back and forward with the water. The ladle is for purification before entering the temple.
Of course, all my photos were taken with a film camera, digital had hardly arrived and was very expensive. I spent a second week in Tokyo, and went to a camera shop in Akihabara and bought a nifty ‘compact’ camera to use instead of my heavy SLR. I still have that compact today, but it doesn’t get used any more. There was, and probably still is, a little shop in a Tokyo market, called the American Market, (Ameyayokocho) if I remember correctly. I was looking for the guide book I took with me, but it’s disappeared. I found the place eventually, after saying (probably totally wrongly) “hebiya” to various people. It was a strange little store, with lots of insecure looking plastic containers outside full of snakes and lots of others slithering around in the front window of the store. I didn’t venture in, though. It is supposed to prolong your youth and vigour to drink the snake blood. Obviously the belief was still strong enough for the place to be in business. I wonder if its still there? I tried to take some photos, but I didn’t have a tripod, it was dark and dingy and what I did manage to capture was pretty poor.
One of my lasting memories is of the pigeons in Tokyo’s Ueno park. The last thing I expected to see were plain old feral pigeons so commonplace in London. Another thing was the seeming popularity of tourists, especially American. I lost count of the number of times a well dressed middle-aged gentleman would strike up a conversation, starting with “excuse me, are you American?”. They would ask if they could “practise their English” by talking with you. Friends who have lived there a while say its incredibly irritating, but for the short period I was there it was actually quite useful when going round a temple or other touristy place. It was company for one thing, and they could translate and tell me things about the place that I would never had known otherwise.
I really hope to be able to go back to Japan for another visit, this time may be Osaka and Kyoto in the spring or the autumn when the blossom or foliage is at its best.