My two videos of the Inagi Awa Odori dance festival held on September 7, 2013 from 6 pm to 8 pm. Aroud 12 dance troupes danced along the main streets and in front of Keio Yomiuriland Station on the Keio Line, not far from Shinjuku Station in Tokyo.
It’s not crowded at all, so it was very easy to shoot.
Saw the Koenji Awa Odori dance on Aug. 25, 2013, the second day. I avoided the massively crowded areas (near JR Koenji Station) and stayed on a small, narrow road where I was able to get good closeup footage. The only problem was that I was too close so the sound of the booming taiko drums that came out distorted on my camcorder. Oh well.
I watched it from beginning to end from 5 pm to 8 pm and still wasn’t able to see all the dance troupes that were there. Over 5,000 dancers from 80 dance troupes and around 500,000 spectators (or around 950,000 over the two days) jammed the streets around JR Koenji Station on the Chuo Line in Tokyo. My videos caught 53 troupes.
Kumagaya in Saitama Prefecture is famous for some of the hottest summer temperatures in the Tokyo/Kanto area. On a relatively “cool” (around 33 C) evening, I went to see the Uchiwa Matsuri of 12 ornate floats paraded around the streets until they all converged at a major intersection. It was the final evening and festival climax on July 22, 2013.
Hikone Castle in Hikone, Shiga Prefecture (next to Kyoto) is one of four Japanese castles designated as a National Treasure.
I tried to make the video as short as possible, but even so, it turned out to be 34 min. Goes to show how much there is to see at Hikone Castle. There’s quite a bit of English text which, if you read, will give you a good primer on what the castle and Hikone lords are about. Besides the castle, I cover official mascot Hiko-nyan, the adjacent Genkyuen Garden and palace, and two autumn castle festivals.
My video of the Higashi-Omi Giant Kite Festival (東近江大凧まつり Higashi-Omi Odako Matsuri) held on Sunday, May 26, 2013 in Shiga Prefecture next to Kyoto. Another one of my ongoing video series with local kids introducing the sights in English. The video also has a few cameo appearances by other local folks.
Saw the annual Takehana Festival with seven tall ornate floats being hauled around central Hashima in Gifu Prefecture on May 3, 2013. Each float puts on a performance of karakuri doll puppets or kids dancing. Although there are 13 floats, only about half of them take turns to appear at the festival each year. If you want to see all the float, you’ll have to see the festival two years in a row. At the same time, the lovely Wisteria Festival was held at Takehana Betsuin temple.
This year’s year-long, weekly NHK Taiga Drama TV series will start airing tonight on Jan. 6. Titled “Yae no Sakura,” it’s about a woman warrior named Yae Niijima (1845-1932) from Aizu-Wakamatsu, Fukushima Prefecture. Aizu-Wakamatsu is famous for Tsuruga Castle (photo) and as the site of a Boshin War battle between pro-Emperor forces and pro-shogun forces who lost. Yae was on the latter side. After the war, she fought for equality for women and mastered English well enough to write one of Kyoto’s earliest guidebooks in English. (I wonder if a copy is still available.)
Her husband Joseph Hardy Neesima or Jo Niijima had studied in the US and founded a Christian school which became the prestigious Doshisha University in Kyoto. Yae will be played by actress Haruka Ayase. I remember her in the TV series “JIN,” about a brain surgeon who went back in time to the Edo Period. She was quite good (for a former bikini idol).
Everyone hopes that this Taiga Drama series will help bring back tourists to Fukushima. Aizu-Wakamatsu is one of Japan’s best provincial tourist cities, right up there with Sapporo, Sendai, Kanazawa, Matsue, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Kochi, Kagoshima, and Naha. It has many attractions and historical sites within a small area. The tourist infrastructure is well developed and I liked the convenient tourist shuttle bus stopping at the major sights. I highly recommend a visit to Aizu. More about the drama: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/fd20130104r1.html
Congratulations to Tokyo Sky Tree and people in Sumida and Taito Wards for today’s official opening of Japan/Tokyo’s mega tourist attraction of the century. It’s going to be very difficult to top that (literally even) anytime soon.
Since I live in eastern Tokyo, I obviously have great interest in the Sky Tree. But it’s not only because I can see it from my bedroom window. It’s also because the tower is very inspiring and confidence-building to the Japanese. It produces national pride in many positive ways, not to mention economic benefits.
The indigo-white tower is actually very Japanese, from its structural design based on Japanese pagodas, to the elevators with an interior design based on Sumida Ward’s four seasons. The Solamachi shopping complex also integrates traditional shitamachi concepts.
Tokyo Skytree is a symbol of Japanese pride in their heritage, culture, and traditions co-existing with modern elements. I salute the designers/builders of Tokyo Skytree for showcasing Japan’s traditional beauty and elegance in such outstanding ways.
They expect 5.4 million visitors to go up the Sky Tree and 32 million visitors to the entire complex during the first year. Compare these staggering figures with the 7 million tourists who visit Hawaii in a year (20 percent or about 1.27 million are Japanese) and Tokyo Disneyland’s 25.35 million visitors last fiscal year (2011/12). From now on, a visit to Tokyo won’t be a visit to Tokyo without seeing Tokyo Sky Tree.
We in Tokyo were very fortunate to have fleeting breaks in the clouds during the annular eclipse this morning at around 7:34 am. It was a very cloudy sky when the eclipse began, but most of us shot or saw the ring. The photos look dark, but the sky was actually quite bright throughout the eclipse even during the 5-min. ring. I thought the sky would be almost dark, but it was still bright. I live about 1.5 km from the shadow’s center, so I had the maximum 5-min. window to shoot the ring.
The eclipse was broadcast live by a few TV stations and one place monitored the reaction of zoo animals. They were pretty normal, after all, the sky remained quite bright throughout. I feel sorry for those who didn’t because of the clouds. People on Mt. Fuji missed it since the mountain was completely fogged over. People on a ferry going from Kyushu also missed it. (The clouds were thicker toward the ocean in the south.) A few men proposed marriage or gave a wedding ring to their fiance when the ring appeared. Around 15 people in Japan, including a few kids, needed medical attention for their eyes after viewing the eclipse.
In Japanese, annular solar eclipse is called kinkan nisshoku (金環日食), literally “devoured sun with golden ring.” Last time this occurred in Tokyo was 173 years ago in 1839. The next annular eclipse in Japan will be in Hokkaido in 2030. The next annular eclipse in Tokyo/Nagoya/Osaka like today will be 300 years from now.