Manga Dog Signs @ Nagano

When I take Mr.B out to spend his pennies, apart from Mr.B himself & house keys, the most important item is a couple of sheets of kitchen rolls so I can clean up after Mr.B has done his No.2. Sadly, some dog owners in my neighbourhood have less respect to their fellow street users and ignore the mess their furry companions leave behind.

Japan is well-known for general cleanliness in pubic spaces such as town squares and parks. Despite seemingly nonexistent of street sweepers, the whole county appears to be litter free at first glance.
Are all the Japanese so public-spirited and therefore do their up most to keep the space spotless?
Regrettably, some of them are as irresponsible as antisocial dog walkers in my neck of the woods and deposit unwelcome souvenir on their trail.

Those signs I encountered during my daily walk in Nagano are all about encouraging dog walkers to pick up dog mess.

“Clean up your mess!”…

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It says “Your pet is a witness to your behaviour”.

This one says “Dog’s mess has to be dealt with!”…

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“Your good behaviour keeps our town clean”.

This one pleads “Please don’t leave it behind!”…

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“Let’s be a responsible dog owner and pick up your dog’s poo. Be careful not to harm public health”.

This sign with an embarrassed dog and his smiley owner says “Let’s take away your dog’s mess home”…

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“Let’s keep our town clean”.
The sign was posted every 30m along the way, which implied the route had a history of being abused by careless dog walkers. The irritated residents must have lobbied to the local authorities and that was why the signs were installed.

How can anyone feel good about littering one’s own neighbourhood?! Treading on a dog mess definitely ruins anyone’s day. It happened on me once and it was horrible.

It’s nearly the time to take Mr.B out and I shan’t forget paper towels for sure…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Shinkansen @ Nagano Station

For all winter sport enthusiasts, tomorrow is the day, isn’t it? As an ex-ice hockey player and skier – after all, I am from Nagano, I do look forward to the Sochi 2014 and do hope the event will finish without incident.

One of the most definite legacies of the Nagano 1998 Winter Olympic Game is undoubtedly the Nagano Shinkansen (長野新幹線) – bullet train / the Super Express Asama…

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Despite the fact that the distance between Nagano City and Central Tokyo was only 230km, the city lacked high-speed rail link such as the Shinkansen, and a motorway was yet to be extended to the city at the time of the IOC’s host city selection for the 18th Winter Olympic Game. Therefore, solving the transport problem was an utmost imperative factor in order to invite the game successfully. As the result, the very first Nagano Shinkansen ran on its tracks which were raid over the existing route on the 1st October 1997. The journey time to Tokyo Station from Nagano station was shortened from 2 hours 45 minutes to 1 hour 20 minutes…

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This reduction of travelling time was welcomed by many as it made a journey to Tokyo much easier. However, the old Nagano station which was modelled after Zenkō-ji was replaced by a bland custard yellow clad monstrosity in order to accommodate high-powered trains such as the Shinkansen and the locals mourned the loss of well-loved character from the cityscape. I suppose the Shinkansen required a much higher calibre in accuracy and engineering, therefore, integrating the existing local terrain must have been too uneconomical. Still, I can’t see why the modernisation in Japan tends to choose the path of bulldozing predecessors rather than conserving them as pieces of history…

Mum & I boarded our train around midday. Ohhh, we must buy bento-boxes for lunch…

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Next door to the bento stall was a kiosk, selling sweets, newspapers, magazines and souvenirs…

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We grabbed the ones which were the most pricy, believing they would be the tastiest…

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However, we were bitterly disappointed. The bento appeared to be packed well, but…

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Most of the contents were just the epitome of culinary betrayal…

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Two diamond-shaped brown stuff turned out to be pieces of extremely tough beef. In the left lower corner were two konjac slabs with miso paste. A pinky thing on the upper left was salmon & sliced onion, marinated in oil & vinegar. Next to the salmon was Kimpira Gobo – stir-fried burdock, tree branch-like vegetable, very common in Japan. And that yellow lumpy thing was frittered apricot! The rest of the spaces were occupied by cold taste-less rice balls. How could they charge ¥1500 for this miserable bento box? Mum & I pecked at them dejectedly while hen-pecking bitterly…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Old & New @ Nagano

What a tempestuous weather looming over us right now. An image of stormy waves washing away railway tracks in Exeter area, shown repeatedly on various news channels since this morning, is so ghastly and depressing. Apart from those awe-inspiring spectacles, such as cliffs being pounded by humongous surf or banks awash with foaming sea water from all directions, there are people who are dog-tired of laying out sandbags and having to deal with the aftermath of flooding. I desperately hope the UK will be storm-free for the rest of the winter and it will give a respite to the long-suffering local people. Weather-wise, what an awful winter for so may of them so far.

My two years absence from Nagano brought me a few surprises. The emergence of new shops was one thing, the staying power of old shops was another. During my stroll, I was glad to find that the familiar shop fronts from my childhood were still gracing along the main street…

A fruit seller near the Niō-mon. The scale and appearance of the stall was virtually unchanged for decades…

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I imagine their right to trade within the Zenkō-ji compound must be hereditary and protected from any new commercial development. Otherwise, who could survive this long without not selling much like this…

This shop in Daimon area sold all sorts of Japanese knick-knacks. Ceramic pots, cups, pitchers, dishes & plates, porcelain figurines in all sizes, materials & shapes, tea towels, woven baskets, iron kettles, wallets, small luggage, handkerchiefs, etc…

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The shop would be a godsend for anyone who ran out of the idea for souvenirs home. They stocked a variety of cute Japanese things at reasonable prices.

The placard says “From proper-fat, semi-fat to semi-skinny, we provide for all sizes”…

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This clothing shop on Chuō-douri, I had never seen anyone in there. The items on sale were perpetually the same, targeting local old people who would clad in subdued tones of browns and murky greens. I guess they must own a shop plot for generations. How do they make enough profit to keep this shop stay opened, I have no idea.

This shop by the west entrance of Gondō was filled with toys for kids of all ages…

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Their shop window was covered with their merchandise. From Japanese anime figures to posters of nostalgic American silver screen stars, the items on offer were diverse. The shop reminded me an Otaku (おたく/オタク)’s bedroom.

When it came to traditional toyshops there were a couple of them near Gondō arcade.

This shop was specialised in Igo (囲碁).

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The game was invented in China more than 2500 years ago and has many enthusiasts, especially amongst retired Japanese men. Those wooden game tables were surprisingly pricy – costed between ¥65000 to ¥190000.

Now, I know what they are made from!
Their display showed what how the game chips were made…

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They were made from shells of giant clams. No wonder they were so expensive!

The next door was Japanese doll shop…

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About these attractive objects on display with hanging figures, I had no idea what they were for. I guess they were for babies? They may be meant to amuse them while they lie in cots?

There were also a few new addition to the vicinity of Zenkō-ji.

A monument for Nagano Olympic Game stood rather forlornly…

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The XVIII Winter Olympics which was held in Nagano 1998. What it brought was not only worldwide attention to this quiet city for two weeks but also an enormous change which ended up altering the way local people lived forever. By motorway and bullet trains, the distance between Tokyo and Nagano was significantly shortened physically and mentally. However, the process made Nagano more or less like one of Tokyo’s satellite cities and diluted the city’s identity.
In a few days time, Sochi 2014 will light their cauldron. I wonder what effect will Sochi bear as the result.

Another new business I noticed was Jinriki-sha (人力車) – a rickshaw operated by two persons…

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While one rickshaw driver pulled the cart, his partner pushed it from the rear. Since the streets around Zenkō-ji were all uphill and downhill, having two personnels would make the ride more comfortable and safer. A 40 minutes ride for ¥4500 doesn’t sound too bad, does it?

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Joya No Kane @ Zenkō-ji

My nose is like a time bomb. A bout of sneezing assaults me without warning, giving Mr.B on my bed a shockwave. *SIGH*
I requested Hubbie to bring back a famed Cronut from NYC as a souvenir but was being told it wouldn’t be happening. He explained that the Cronut wouldn’t last very long as it was meant to be eaten fresh. Therefore, I will have to wait until Dominique Ansel Bakery opens another branch in London. Oh, dammit…

On the 31st of December, I was walking through the Zenkō-ji compound. It was a cold day and some snowfall was expected…

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The temple was strangely quiet. The stillness floating around the forecourt of the main hall was imbued with silent excitement. After all, the temple was facing one of the biggest event of the year, a New Year’s Eve – thousands of worshippers would descend upon the temple.
The Hondō (本堂) – main hall sat serenely under the wintry afternoon sky like a monk in meditation…

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Next to the Zenkō-ji’s main hall, there was a timber-structured belfry with a large bronze bell…

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This six-pillared belfry was rebuilt in 1853 and the bronze bell was cast in 1667.
On New Year’s Eve, the bell is to be rung 108 times.
Why 108 times? There are a few theories. But the most popular belief goes like this…
There are 36 kinds of Bonno (煩悩) – a human vice, such as temptation, laziness, lust, resentment, etc. Each 36 vices for past-life, present-life and future-life equal 108. Therefore, the bell is rung 108 times in order to cleanse those vices. The bell is to be rung 107 times during the last night of the passing year and the last 108th to be rung when the new year arrives…

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The manner in which the arrival of new year is announced, varies depending on where you are. In Britain for example, it is greeted with the sound of popping champagne corks, a chorus of Auld Lang Syne and a barrage of fireworks. It’s all merry & exciting. And I love it. However, I am also very fond of the much less raucous way in which the Japanese new year arrives.

My mum went to bed around 11 o’clock. I tidied up the kitchen and made myself a mug of hot milk. Then, I heard the first strike of the bell in the distance. The resonating sound followed by a deliberate pause repeatedly traveled over the deathly quiet night sky. I opened the window and inhaled icy cold air, savouring my first breath of 2014. Then, I visited mum’s bedroom and whispered ‘A happy new year to you, mum’. She returned the greeting sleepily. That was how my 2014 arrived.
How did yours come by?…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Mujina-Jizo @ Byakuren-bo

Since last Thursday, I can’t stop sneezing. An ordinary head cold, I thought, so carried on as normal. And it got worse. Now, I feel shivery and hot in turns and the bridge of my nose hurts. Is this a second cold I’ve had since I came back from Japan? What happened to my immune system which was hard at work in freezing Nagano? Have I exhausted it already?! When I just want to shut myself in with a duvet and mugs of Lemsip, Nurse Hubbie is in NYC on a business trip. Oh, how typical…

First time I realised the animal we called in Japan as Tanuki (狸) – badger, didn’t look like the European’s same namesake, I was very surprised.
While European badgers sport white stripes on their black fur, Japanese cousins have no such markings and instead, they resemble overweight foxes…

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Because of their humorous appearance, Japanese “Tanuki” badgers are adored by the Japanese and they have inspired numerous items to be made, honouring their popularity…

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These potteries are another common objects to be found at the doorsteps of ordinary Japanese homes, greeting visitors with their adorable gaze…

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One occasion, my dad was offered “Tanuki Nabe” – a hotpot with badger meat, traditional delicacies only available in a deep mountainous area, by his client. Dad recounted how a stuffed Tanuki with an old-fashioned braided straw hat on its back and a flask of sake held by its claws was on display at the client’s dining room. He thought this pudgy object resembled our then pet Yorkshire Terrier and lost his appetite. ‘it was a dead ringer!’, he insisted afterward. Oh dad, Minnie wasn’t that fat…

Between the Niō-mon and the south end of Zenkō-ji promenade, there was a row of Shukubos (宿坊) – lodging houses for pilgrims at Japanese Buddhist temple compounds. In front of one of the inns, Byakuren-bo (白蓮坊), there stood a pair of statues, a bold cherub-like figure with a bright yellow bib and a Tanuki badger on a small dais…

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Next to the statues, a wooden sign stated as “Mujina-jizo” (むじな地蔵). Jizo is a shortened name of Jizo-bosatsu (地蔵菩薩) and is a god whose position is subordinate to Nyorai (如来). But why Mujina, alias Tanuki was celebrated as a Jizo???

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Once upon a time, there was a Tanuki living in the mountain of Ibaragi. He was a pious Buddhist and feeling extremely ashamed of his way of living – being carnivorous, he had to kill other animals in order to survive. So one day, he decided to visit Zenkō-ji and to dedicate a stone lantern so that his troubled soul maybe saved.
In Japanese folklore, a Tanuki was believed to possess a power to transform itself. A well-trained one could fool unsuspecting humans as long as he/she didn’t display a tail – the only body part which couldn’t be disguised. Mr.Mujina transformed himself to a human and managed to reach the Byakuren-bo at Zenkō-ji. He was so pleased with his adventure and opted for a well-earned hot bath at the inn. A big mistake! His bushy tail was seen by other guest and his cover was blown. Instead of dedicating a lantern, he had to flee back to the mountain of Ibaragi…

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When a chief priest heard the story of the pious Tanuki, he took pity on him and built a stone lantern on his behalf. And the lantern still stands by the north side of the Zenkō-ji main hall.

I didn’t have a chance to see the lantern myself but found the story really charming.
A visit to the lantern will be definitely on my itinerary next time I visit Nagano…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

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