Sunday, April 29, 2012

Aiki Jinja Festival

On the 26th of April the aikido community world wide commemorates the passing of the founder of aikido, Morihei Ueshiba. At the hombu dojo, this commemoration takes place in the form of screening movies of Ueshiba, followed by a gathering with drinks and speeches. So, after our regular aikido training last Thursday we watched the movies and enjoyed an interesting evening.
In the weekend following the 26th, in commemoration of his passing, the annual Aiki Jinja festival is held in Iwama, a small rural town north of Tokyo where he lived during World War II. It was here where aikido as it's practiced today came into being. While residing in Iwama, Ueshiba began constructing a shrine dedicated to the principles of aikido, the so-called Aiki Jinja. Every year since his passing the Ueshiba family gathers here and gives an aikido demonstration in honor of his life and accomplishments.

At the bronze statue of Morihei Ueshiba, O'sensei (great teacher)

This year we were able to attend the Aiki Jinja Festival and it was a very impressive event. Our day started at Ueno Station in Tokyo where we met with our aikido friends to get on the train towards Iwama. Slowly the urban environment of Tokyo was replaced by more spacious areas until our train was crossing the beautiful wide open countryside of Japan. After two hours we arrived at Iwama station, and followed the many, many aikido-practitioners visiting the festival.
The festival starts with a shinto-ceremony, followed by an aikido demonstration of Doshu and his son. Everyone then gathers together on the picnic field to enjoy a nice Japanese lunch and have some drinks. In the afternoon there is lots of time to look around, visit the Iwama dojo and take pictures of the shrine. It was our first time coming here, and it was a impressive experience seeing the Aiki Shrine and the Iwama dojo located between beautiful trees and greenery. The Iwama dojo is a big contrast to hombu dojo in Tokyo. It's crafted from wood and has many traditional elements. It breathes the authentic Japanese martial atmosphere, so to say. When we have the opportunity we definitely want to experience training there.

Gathering at the shrine
The dojo

After the ceremony the shrine was closed again

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Kasai Rinkai Park & Tokyo Sealife Aquarium

Even though our school has started again this week and we are spending our days studying, we want to give an update of our last spring holiday activity. In the last week of our vacation we visited the largest park in central Tokyo: the Kasai Rinkai Park and the Tokyo Sealife Aquarium.

The Kansai Rinkai Park is located at the outskirts of Tokyo and very close to Tokyo Disneyland. The park is a nice get-a-way from the busy city, and nice place to stroll around the various gardens, the beach and enjoy a nice view!

You can actually see the some attractions of Tokyo Disneyland from the park.

Located inside the park is the Tokyo Sealife Aquarium. A very nice aquarium showing many fish, sea-birds and penguins. The most impressive attraction is the big tuna tank. Here the viewing area is in the centre, and you stand in the middle of an incredible amount of tuna fish.

Below you can see the video I was making

More pictures at the photo album
Video's can be found here

Friday, April 6, 2012

Breakfast at Tsukji fish market

Because school is starting again next week and our days will be filled with studying, we decided to have a delicious Japanese breakfast before the spring vacation was over. So we woke up early and headed to Tsukiji fish market to find ourselves a nice restaurant for the perfect breakfast.

Tsukiji is a big fish market, where it is very busy with sellers and buyers of fish. You see lots of men driving around on 'standing cars', in order to transport the sold fish. You have to be careful when walking through the fish market to get to the various restaurants located at the side of the market. There are really lots of shops selling sushi and sashimi meals, it is a treat just to look around the different restaurants trying to decide on a place to eat! Some places are really popular and will have a big queue lined up in front of the store (or even continuing on the other side of the street!)

We chose a nice restaurant (with only a little queue) where they served our favourite fish meals: a salmon and tuna sashimi bowl served with sushi rice, pickles and miso-soup! It was really delicious, and the best raw fish meals we have ever tried. We would love to get here more often to try the different meal.

Queue to our restaurant
Salmon dish
Tuna bowl

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Hot spring paradise: Kusatsu

As you may well know by now, we really like the Japanese hot springs, or 'onsen' as they are called here. Japan is a very volcanic active country and geothermic hot water is pleasant byproduct of this volcanic activity. Because the water flows naturally from the earth, onsen are full of minerals, salts and acids that are  good for your skin and health in general. One of the most famous hot spring towns in Japan is Kusatsu, a rustic mountain village that is known for its 'yubatake' (literally a cultivated field of hot water) and public onsen houses.

Woh ist der Bahnhof? Do ist der Bahnhof!

After a three hour trip by bus we arrived at our holiday destination. Even though spring already started  in Tokyo, there was still a massive layer of snow in the mountains. A big surprise! At the bus station we were greeted by a huge sign saying 'BAHNHOF'. There are German influences all over Kusatsu: houses, street names, street lanterns, souvenirs, you name it. Even the Japanese equivalent of Schnitzel (tonkatsu) is (coincidentally?) a local specialty. The reason for this fascination with Germany can be traced back to Dr. E. Bälz (1849-1913) who declared that the sulfur rich water in Kusatsu had certain benefits to the health. This declaration by an esteemed foreign scientist gave an enormous boost to Kusatsu's popularity as a spa-resort and spurred the local devotion to the Doctor's 'Heimat'.

We stayed at a little hotel on the edge of town. Like most hotels, ours had its own private onsen for guests. It was very modest in size but it felt like great luxury to have an onsen bath before breakfast and after dinner. An onsen that was certainly not modest in size was the Sai no Kawara in the (suprise!) Sai no Kawara park. This enormous onsen is about 500 square meters and is surrounded by beautiful mountains. A real treat! In the center of town is the yubatake, the main spring well. To distribute and cool the water so it can be enjoyed in the hotels and public bath houses, the water is poured in wooden tubes. All these tubes together resemble a farm field, hence the name 'yubatake': hot water field. Around the yubatake you can find small public bath houses. These are free and open 24/7. Because they're so close to the yubatake the bath water can be extremely hot! One way to cool the water is to use the traditional peddle: by splashing it in the water it cools down. Of course there's also a special way to do the splashing. Four times per day local ladies give a demonstration of this cooling ceremony (yumomi) accompanied by taiko drums, songs and dances. Another special onsen is the 'Ootaki no yu', this onsen features a special 'health course' where you have to take five consecutive baths with increasing temperatures (from 39 to 46 degrees!). Very very hot, but we finished it and now we should be healthier.  

End of the yubatake by night

Sulfur and yubatake tubes
Taking a foot bath

Daphne cooling the water
Water splashing

Our hotel
Public bath

Outside of public bath
Outside of another public bath
Special eleven
The last picture is from a one-of-a-kind Seven Eleven. To maintain the traditional brown color of the town center, Seven Eleven was originally not allowed to open a shop in Kusatsu. Only after the convenience store company was willing to change the trademark colors (yellow, green and red), the community allowed a store next to the yubatake.

More photo's in the photo album !