Tag Archives: Taita Line

Dancing Center Stage

August Abandon Afoot

More midsummer fireworks lie loaded on the launchpad, if that’s your thing – Mizunami has their display tonight, as part of their 54th annual Mino Genji Tanabata Festival (a month after most other observances), featuring teams of dancers and taiko drummers on stage for the 16th year now. It takes place Friday through Sunday in front of Mizunami Station. Everyone is invited to hop into the frenzy of the parade. There’s also a “clay objêt” Toudo Festa competition, in which teams have a frenetic 48 hours to sculpt clay into whatever their imaginations can conjur up.

You could consider Mizunami’s Tanabata fest with its dancing a warmup for Nagoya’s 15th annual Nippon Domannaka Matsuri, or Domatsuri for short, to be held from August 23rd to 25th. Some 23,000 dancers on over 200 teams from all over Japan and the world will carouse and compete for championship original folk dance honors.

The only rules, according to the official website, are “each dancer must hold a naruko, or clapper, and … a melody from a local folk tune of the participants’ home area must be incorporated in the music.” As with Mizunami’s revelry, they encourage the audience to join in the dancing as a means of cross-cultural communication, and welcome last-minute entries without reservation, so to speak.

And as long as we’re on the subject of Nippon Domannaka (the very center of Japan), it’s not just figurative talk when people speak of our central location, or the logistical benefits of relocating the national capital to Gifu to help alleviate congestion in Tokyo.

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Here’s a picture of Yasaka Station, the centralmost station in Japan, on the Nagaragawa Railway Etsumi-Nan Line. The diesel-powered single-car line, which you can use to get from Mino Ota on the Taita Line to Gujo (station photo below), also stops at the centralmost hot spring in the country, accessible directly from Manthatsamouthful Minamikodakaraonsen Station (station and spa are under the same roof). Of course the all-night trance-like dances at Gujo are for many a must-see, gotta-groove to thing this time of year as well…

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…as is, for those who can bear to watch, the bridge-jumping, river-plunging tradition on the river you may be able to view from this walkway. I think they jump from the bridge just a few steps to the left of where I took this photo.

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Now Showing

A Shot in the Arm

Well, ain’t that a kick in the head. No sooner do I do a little cheerleading and blog about a Kickstarter fundraiser, than Kickstarter comes out with its own iPhone app (free!) the same day. The LiveCode project needed something like this.

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Art in the Park

Also kicking off today is the Ishoken Graduate Exhibition. Students graduating from the Tajimi-sponsored ceramic arts school are showing their earthen theses at Ceramic Park Mino through Sunday. A hands-on ceramics lab and design course are also being offered at the facility today.

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I talked to the owner of art de vivre cafe (thanks for the kumquats, Tomo!), a graduate of the program, who said the students come from, and ultimately disperse back to, all over the country, putting careers on hold for a year to concentrate on their art. I’ll try to get up to the show for some photos.

A Shot in the Dark

Finally, a sock-soaking walk in today’s cold rain netted me just this:

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No, this Taita Line train hasn’t rudely run up against a defenseless traffic sign. It’s what’s underneath. This underpass beneath the JR Chuo and Taita lines, with a clearance of just 160 centimeters, was listed on the map below as a little thrillseeking spot (I’ll have more on the map in another post). Having run up against a closed “Honey’s Diner” (perhaps not so ironically, someone else I asked today recently had the same not-so-sweet experience, minus the rain, being, like a frustrated Pooh, unable to gain access to this purported Honey west of the station), this low point was now destined to be the highpoint of my walk. Though I’ve been there before, just for kicks, I ducked by to see.

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My mission, should I choose to accept it: while simultaneously disentangling a complex, insidious snarl of 60′s TV spy and detective drama cliches and characters, to delve into the dark depths of the subversive passageway, track its clandestine comings and goings, assess potential sources of leaks, tease out its secrets, thwart imminent threats, and generally save the planet, being ever careful to dodge nefarious puddles and sporadic dripping train fluids.

Never a second thought. I was game.

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Though the sign states a 1.6 meter limit, the actual height is higher. No need to duck. I walked under it with my umbrella overhead. And there are little side nooks to stand in if a car comes through. And yes, they do. Especially thrillseeking taxis, it seems. Beeping their horns at cold, splishing, dimly lit, umbrella-toting, thoroughly engrossed, picture-taking underpass pilgrims. I half expected Tige Andrews to come chasing after me for jaywalking. At one point I thought I was about to be cornered by an unknown agent on a stealthy new kind of Segway. You can imagine my relief when the silhouette turned out to be an obaasan pushing one of those upright personal grocery carts. Relatively unscathed, and with the security of the free world more or less assured, I eventually scampered back to the safety of Nagase Dori and a rich, hot, foamy cafe latte at art de vivre. You want thrills? I got thrills. I know of an even slimmer chute under the tracks in Toki that will keep you glued* to the edge of your seat, at least until the next Kickstarter commercial.

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*Think about it.

Color Me Jazz, Or The Basses Behind the Cuban Missile Crisis

Good live jazz last weekend at “Live the Palette,” the after-hours alter ego of Cafe La Palette in Hirai-cho, Tajimi.

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Working for the first time as one group, the Satoko Nakagawa (alto sax) Quartet performed two sets, everyone playing within their ability to lend a relaxed, mellow sound to a quiet Saturday night beside the almost toylike trains trundling by on the Taita Line. Taking the train to Koizumi Station means you can drink worry-free.

Besides a variety of standards, the four did an original number called, I think, “Loop,” some moments of whose melody reminded me of a Coltrane piece, either Equinox or To/For Her Ladyship. When I tried to say as much to Ms. Nakagawa, she seemed at a loss for words, but she may have been thinking I was referring to playing style.

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One great thing for me about Live the Palette: it’s non-smoking all the time! Who says jazz can’t live without smoke? Just for kicks, I rationalized an inadvertent lens smudge finagled a crosstar effect, and did a minimal bit of post-processing to roll my own smoke into the scene below.

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Another welcome feature: No amped-up blaring of instruments through a superfluous sound system. The only microphone was for between-song announcing titles and credits. It’s always like The Emperor’s New Clothes when you hear live (especially acoustic) music amplified in an intimate setting: Any normal person’s very first reaction to this aural assault is, “Why the heck is it so loud? It’s fine out of the horn as it is.” But thereafter everyone comes to accept the overkill as normal, as their hearing goes to pot. Be the little girl who doesn’t know any better than to speak the truth: If the hall is small, pull the plug!

I got to talk with the band members and managed to stump them with an obscure request, which I searched for on the net and played on my iPhone for them. They seemed intrigued, so it may be coming soon to a set near you. With slightly different personnel, the quartet will be appearing at La Palette a couple of times next month.

Bands of Brothers

Most of the members are Nagoya-based, playing the Nagoya scene at the usual places. Ryouta Asada was on top of his game on drums, though taking a solo only on the final song. The night’s hot bassist went by the last name of Kimata. Sorry to say, I can’t transliterate his first name. The pianist, Yuichi Hayashi, has released CDs with his trio Trispace, which includes bassist Morihiro Ohmura. Ohmura has played with the Sakake Brothers With The Acoustic Band (sic) (AKA SBAB), whose guitarist I often used to cross paths with in Chikusa. I’ve also helped a younger Sakake brother with lyrics for his own indie band. Small world. No, not those lyrics. For that unfortunately unforgettable unending gem, we are indebted to the Sherman Brothers, who also kept Mary Poppins musically afloat, among work on many other family classics. Older bro Robert B. Sherman passed away in March.

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One thing I learned today: It’s a Small World was written in the wake of and as a reaction to the Cuban Missile Crisis, that nasty bit of history that nearly ruined my first birthday ended the world, and that happened fifty years ago this October. Thank you, President Kennedy, for your gift of determined diplomacy in the face of imminent Armageddon.

The takeaway: Giving provocative superpower premiers a face-saving way out of sticky situations can prevent panic attacks and significantly reduce the risk of nuclear planetary annihilation. Use as directed. Side effects may include dizziness, prolonged or chronic ringing of cloying songs in the head, and inexplicable aversity to theme parks. Peace has a price, after all.

For the Dogs, Or Bone Appétit

Cafe La Palette is popular with dog owners as it caters to canine customers as well as their human hopalongs (Daytime only; Fido must find his own means of enjoying jazz after the sun goes down). The clip you’ll see on the floor by your table is for fastening leashes to. Just so there’s no mistaking, dogs are welcome, but it’s not a dog cafe. The food is only for people.

The nighttime “master” is an interesting man who speaks pretty good English, but not annoyingly so, as in, “Ahh, here comes another foreigner I can accost, show off my English to, and commiserate with.” The live dates are pretty numerous and varied, so you’re sure to find a day, time and artist to take advantage of this special live jazz venue right here in Tajimi. There are regular jam sessions as well. The cover charge varies. It was ¥1500 this night. Doors open at 7 pm for live gigs, with sets at 8 and 9.

Face to Face With Pigfoot – With Photographic Proof

Last night I experienced multiple firsts.  As a friend was treating another friend and me to dinner, we met at Tajimi Station to board the Taita Line.  I’d used deisel trains before in Japan, but in over seven years in Toki I’d never ridden this line.  I was told that to really get a feel for it, you should ride when there’s only one car, but this particular train had two.  In the photo you can see the button (lower left) you press to open the door, as well as the “one man” notice to the right of the door.  The distinctive rumble vibrating through the floor, the seeming lack of a cruising speed, and the occasional totally unstaffed station drove home the homey feel.  Our stop was Mino Ohta in Mino Kamo City.

The restaurant, recently tastefully remodeled, is called Okan No Daikdokoro Ten and is a short walk from the station.  The entrance is in the rear, and don’t be frightened if the neighbor’s Newfoundland dog happens to wake up and proceed to tell you and two-thirds of Mino Kamo how good he feels after dreaming about an angelic Pomeranian or an endless pristine granite curb or the mother of all hydrants.  All seating is on cushions (some with back support) on tatami mats, with leg space at the counter being inset below floor level, with a cushiony footrest to anchor yourself.  We had quite a variety of dishes, some of which I think were thoughtfully made, without making too much fuss, to accomodate my sometimes stubborn, backward, unimaginative western tastes, as the owner had been told the guests would include an American. We basically had an omakase course, leaving it mostly up to the chef beyond a few main requests.

We began with sashimi, including raw scallops, which were very, very good.  I’m not a big raw seafood or scallop fan, so that’s saying something.  There was grilled shiitake and aburaage with a delicately crisp crust and finely chopped scallions inside, a voluminous tamagoyaki fried egg roll, plump chicken wings with a salt and pepper treatment, and simply prepared but soft and pure white potatoes, topped just with chives and butter, from the owner’s native Hokkaido.  I’m told the scallops, unusually fresh, were probably from Otaru. Other items followed, and then came what I’d been preparing for since I was invited.  Tonsoku, or pig’s foot.

It’s boiled in the back room and then grilled briefly behind the counter, and in our case presented whole for visual pleasure, before being broken up by the staff into more manageable hunks, but still with everything you see here in the picture.  It’s not bad at all, especially with the whole experience of seeing it and sharing it among friends.  You eat everything except the bones and nails (claws?).  That is, meat (tastes basically porky, or some say chickeny), sinew, muscle and copious collagen, the last of which friends say repairs their skin troubles every time.  There’s no bad smell whatsoever.  This particular restaurant’s tonsoku is recommended as others are usually not up to the same standard at all.  Likewise, store-bought pig’s foot is said not to be fresh or desirable.  So just remember: leave your feet in these folks’ hands.  The dipping options were three: Sumiso (miso with vinager), soy sauce with garlic, and salt.  I preferred the latter two.  I’d say about eight feet were ordered while we were there.

Can You Stomach More?

Later items put before us included raw semmai, or the furthest stomach of a cow, which was another first for me.  Again, not as grotesque as you might think.  With the salty sesame oil you dip it in, it’s quite tasty and, like pig’s foot, a great complement for beer.  I have to admit I passed this time on the raw liver, though I sometimes have it.  I figured I’d been adventurous enough for one night.  I did have the jako salad.

Try this slightly out-of-the-way izakaya out.  It was a fun time and the prices are quite reasonable.  It’s worth the short trip.

Here’s how to find it: