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  • Writer's pictureNigel

Firemen and Udon Noodles 消防士とうどん

Updated: Dec 13, 2022



Germany: 🌧


Japan 日本 : "So who is on the team then?" (昼ご飯の間、家族がイベント について話していた日)

This was one of the few sentences I managed to extract from the fast conversation across the lunch table at Shonenji. In my experience foreign languages are always difficult to catch during around-the-table conversations. What sort of team? (どんなチーム) I wondered - football? Baseball? How was I meant to recognise the word 綱引き (tsunahiki)? I had never covered it in my lessons. Of course I hadn't. My text book is full of words for the business world - meetings, catching trains, the office party etc. etc. Turns out that the family were discussing a tug-of-war. A tug-of-war? why on earth....no stop....don't ask why...just accept. It was be held at a local town, Hinokage, as part of an "Ebento" イベント ...an event in other words. No, not a "Matsuri" (festival), just a sort of happening. I had no idea what was going on, especially as an Onsen (thermal bath) was also part of the chat. Everybody was too busy to explain, so in the end I just jumped into a car and let it unfold. I'll bring you straight there with this: https://youtube.com/shorts/7QLQ8H1aUBw (Welcome speech ......"Hello everyone..how are you doing?..") This event had been cancelled last year because of corona...(昨年はコロナの影響で中止になっていたイベント…) now, in this little town they were determined to go through with it (I think they still had the budget reserved for it)........

消防士...Hinokage

........... So........"go Daddy go!!!!!...".....https://youtube.com/shorts/kiwyWi60w8E 五、四、三、二、一…… five, four, three. two, one.......🤣

I think our team had some success at this point, but were no match for the firemen in a later round. Anyway, none of this really mattered, because everybody seemed to be enjoying themselves, and there was plenty of warm Sochu available.......

暖かい焼酎

with delicious Udon noodles for only 500 yen...(too cheap at €3.50) The ポテト (chips I assume) quickly sold out.

Udon, Chips, Onigiri, Edamame peas, and Motsu.....(tripe)

The younger family and friends found a table and some chairs........I found some Udon noodles....

....and as darkness fell.....

....It was the time for the Hanabi 花火 .....yes, the kanji symbol for "flower" followed by "fire"........fireworks....https://youtube.com/shorts/OPKKBSJoFjY?feature=share

And the Onsen? Oh, that was very handy - around the corner. We all popped in there between the end of the tug-of-war and the fireworks. This is how to enjoy life.


 

As a volunteer at Shonenji Temple I was asked to lend a hand with all sorts of jobs. For example, planting daffodils.....

水仙を植えました......

However soon after the tug-of-war evening I was led to understand that there was a big meeting coming up at the temple. Could I lend a hand folding leaflets and preparing a sort of "welcome" pack? Soon I was in the "conference hall" surrounded by indecipherable programme notes and calenders. Fifty elders from the Buddhist community had been invited - a sign of how important the temple was in the area (I only hope I am doing them justice in writing this blog). I could see that this temple was a community focus point, both on a practical and a spiritual basis. It had been on this spot for 450 years, and, though resting on its traditions, seemed to be evolving- now welcoming foreign guests in the lodge - a self-catering unit nearby. It was a privilege to work there. Here I am, with two guests Ryo and Elizabeth, preparing to get packing and folding.......私は会議の報告書の準備を手伝いました

Head priest Junsho-san takes everything in his stride........

Even if sometimes the work seemed unending.....

....at the end of the day.....一日の終わりに

Fifty happy familes left the temple, piling into their K-trucks, complete with a complimentary sushi bento boxes.


 

Ryo-san was a Japanese who lived in Minnesota, and was back in Japan visiting his mother. Now for me Japanese ex-pats are an interesting bunch. They have usually lived abroad long enough to understand a "western" perspective of life, and have a good command of English. So it was great to do a day's sightseeing with Ryo, who was an easy companion.

Our temple was very near the town of Takachiho. Now mention this name to any Japanese person and they will say ...."Ah!....Takachiho...the Gorge!". Well, yes, it does have a dramatic gorge. The problem is that a typhoon in September had demolished all the walkways along this famous gorge, leaving a visit very limited. You can however look at the rowing boats from a high bridge......

But I would recommend a visit when they have repaired the typhoon damage.

Instead, Ryo-san and myself headed up a nearby valley to investigate the site of the birth of Japan. The birth of Japan? I mentioned this to my younger Japanese friends and they knew nothing about it. So is it left to foreigners to unravel these mythological mysteries? According to Japanese mythology, Takachiho is the land where Ninigi descended from the heavens, sent by Amaterasu, the sun goddess. It contains the Ama-no-Iwatoshrine which is, according to myth, the location of the cave where Amaterasu hid until Ame-no-Uzume lured her out.

O.k. , let's have a look at this first hand. We negotiated the windy road in Junsho's car and eventually landed upon a parking lot. It was the starting point for a walk up a gorgeous valley - at the end of which lay the mythical cave. The whole area is dripping with Shintoism - that ur-religion of Japan. Walking under the Tori, the gateway.........

We found ourselves at a shinto shrine......parents are bringing their children here for a blessing......子供たちへの祝福

We followed the path up the wild valley, over a bridge.....

and finally arrived at the Amano iwato cave.....the shine itself had been damaged by the recent typhoon. 最近の台風で輝き自体がダメージを受けています。This idyllic river had become a brown, angry mass at the time, at least 10 metres higher than its usual level. It had ripped off the top of the Tori gateway...an extraordinary sight. A ray of midday sunshine illuminated the cave, hinting at its mythological history......

日光が洞窟に入る - 魔法

of course a tourist shot was called for......

Photo Ryo

It is indeed a strange place. Thousands of little stone piles adorn the cave entrance....

I find it humbling to see how a country marks its history, past stories, and current struggles. Who am I to pass judgement on this mythology? I have a smattering of Japanese history at my fingertips. But one thing is clear. We Europeans tend to lump all Asian countries together. However each has a distinct culture. I have been lucky to experience just one so far.....


After this journey through a mythological past, hunger called. In Takachiho we found a humble eating place.........高千穂で小さなレストランを見つけた…………

But it was so popular that we had to wait outside for a free table. The wait was worth every mouthful......Kyushu beef on a bed of rice.....😋

Whilst Ryo-san was keeping my place in the queue I had walked down the road to investigate Takachiho's famous Shinto shrine . What always strikes me at Japanese shrines is that you see all generations visiting. Families with young children, old grannys and grandads, teenagers and young adults. It is a steep climb up to a quiet, serene cedar grove......

Shinto priests are to be seen drifting around.....people wait for their turn to approach the shrine; toss in an offering; clap their hands to summon the deities, and pray. Ryo-san had showed me how to do this, which was useful....リョウさんがやり方を教えてくれたので助かりました....

The massive cedars reminded my visit in 2019 to Nikko, north of Tokyo, resting place of Toshugo Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate. 2019 年に東京の北にある日光を訪れたことを思い出しました.....

Prayer messages are posted with hopes attached......now whatever your opinion of any religion, this can be a pause for thought......omikuji....おみくじ.

Continuing our sightseeing tour of the Takachiho area, we took a ride on the Amaterasu railway. This is a part of a railway line which once connected Takachiho to the Miyazaki coast, but which was irreparably damaged by a typhoon in 2005. Bridges across the Gokase river were swept away, and landslides destroyed sections of track. It is a sad story....here is a link https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Takachiho_Railway It was too much repair work even for government funding, and the Takachiho railway was closed in 2009. What remains is a small stretch of the line, rescued by a local initiative. Little open carriages carry you through cuttings, tunnels, and over a very high bridge.......

Photo: Ryo

from which I took this video.....https://youtube.com/shorts/1j8snsjHEkw ....the little carriages had glass floors...httかsひゃs://youtube.com/shorts/pA4vaszCeUU . Here are some laughing, happy tourists.....😄

As if we had not enough of these gorgeous views of the Takachiho area, my companion had a further place on his "to see" list. That was a viewpoint above Takachiho called Kunimigaoku. It is a sort of park with an almost 360° view of the surrounding countryside. A peaceful place with no tacky vending machines. A tablet depicts North South East West - or rather, in Japanese: West East South North - 東西南北 (とうざいなんぼく – touzainanboku). I remember learning this in Reno Kato's calligraphy course back in Germany! Here it is literally set in stone. Europe feels very far away. ヨーロッパがとても遠く感じる.

view from the park.....

A "I was there" portrait was necessary. Thank you Ryo-san!

On an old post I was delighted to recognise at least one Kanji - "Happiness" - how apt.....I was indeed happy 😊.

Whilst there we discovered this little fellow.....

a praying Mantis....かまきり.....with a complicated kanji : 蟷螂

Whichever way you looked the view was "awesome" (= fantastic in British English).......

Using the language: As on many days in Japan, I was filled with a sort of wonder that ordinary local people actually understood some of the sentences I was using. More than once I have been tempted to give up learning Japanese. It is so damn difficult. But I can't "give up" now. It is a project without end. Every time I come to this country I understand a little bit more. And every time I return I see this country (Germany) with fresh eyes.


 

Thanks for taking time to read through this! I send out this blog pretty randomly to whoever I think might be interested. Some of you have subscribed (if you are on your mobile then open the menu at the start), which means you get a deluxe notification via email. Thank you! If you don't want to be sent this blog, don't hesitate to tell me and I shall take you off the list (well, there is no list as such!). No problem.

この投稿を読んでいただきありがとうございます。 新しい投稿のお知らせを受け取りたい場合は、上部の購読フォームに記入してください。 ありがとう!Nigel.😊



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終わり










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