Tag Archives: trains

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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Alien Life Forms

As aliens, unless we’re married to Japanese or have a permanent visa, life in Japan means getting, changing or renewing our visas from time to time. As the form-filling-out requirements aren’t necessarily consistent, and they unfortunately can’t tell you on the spot whether you need to submit more documents, the process may involve multiple trips to the Nagoya Regional Immigration Bureau (mailing is sometimes an option, but you risk missing strict deadlines if something gets held up in transit; Better safe than sorry).

Also, as the Ministry of Justice has done away with the alien registration card system, everyone will have to pick up a new resident card at the Bureau office to replace the temporary paper issued last year by your local city hall. And don’t forget to get a re-entry permit there before you leave Japan to travel – without one, your visa expires as soon as you leave. When you come back, you’ll just be a tourist on a three month permit with no right to work or study.* Anyway, it pays to know the way to the Bureau.

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From Tajimi or Toki, take the Chuo Line to Nagoya Station. Exiting through the central wickets, there’s no option, as far as I know, but to walk all the way to the west exit of the station, and then, staying inside the station, walk southward as far as you can until you get to the Aonami Line entrance toward the left.

Buy a separate ticket for ¥260 to Nagoya Keibajomae Station. Trains run about every 15 minutes. There are signs leading you to the immigration center from Keibajomae Station.

When you enter the building, there’s a general help center on the first floor to make sure your papers are in order. The main offices are on the second floor. Take a number (most likely on the right) and wait.

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On a recent trip there, I stopped at the Nagoya Station Towers, noticing that the haze made Nagoya Castle stand out (normally from there, I think it’s hard to pick out immediately). Other people took note, as well.

*Update: One benefit of the new system: In most cases, foreign residents won’t have to get re-entry permits anymore. You will have to notify Immigration any time between visa renewals (extensions) that you move or change jobs, which is different from before.

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.

Waiting Game

Waiting out a train delay on the Chuo line at Chikusa station, after taking the subway (lower case) from Hoshigaoka. I decided to grab dinner here, ending up at Subway (upper case). A good chance to remind you whenever you get a hankering for a sub and/or sliced turkey, the ‘bway can be an option. This one’s a minute from the station. I just finished a six-incher with horseradish (not wasabi, though they have that too) sauce, another thing not so common in Japan but always among Subway’s condiments (deli case). They’re even playing jazz.

A reminder: If you’re a US citizen and took the automatic two-month extension on filing your income tax return, time is running out. If you’re sending by mail (I always include a signed letter, per their instructions, explaining that I was out of the US at the time of the original due date), you’ll need it postmarked by Sunday morning (larger post offices are open Sunday till about noon for mailing), worst case. The 2011 IRS-accepted conversion rate is 79.70 yen/dollar. And with that, I guess you know how I’ll be living up my Saturday night…

Update: Now on the local to Tajimi, with room enough to actually type after Jokoji. Another update to follow, but I must say it’s been Japanese patience and sacrifice for the sake of the group at its best.

Update 2: When the first train finally arrived at Chikusa, a Nagoya station-bound, so many people just stood in wonder at the crammed people spilling out once the doors opened. Practically punch-drunk passengers gasped their relief at getting out from the stifling heat of the cars. One man said some body part or other had gone numb from the pressure. “Shindoi,” something akin in this case to “Man, I’m dead” or “That was unreal,” was heard in glorious hi-fi stereophonic sound. Inbound seemed to be moving better than outbound. The wait ended up being about two hours in any case.

As I said, both on the platform and once in the train, I was impressed and moved by how people were being unagressive, calm and even joking more than once about our predicament, in the heat, no less. The doors must have been taking ten or twenty tries to finally close (open and shut case). It’s been a while since I was on that packed a train, going back to guerilla strikes in Tokyo decades ago. For all the passivity, conformity and lack of expression some people knock Japanese for, the no-nail-sticking-out, well-oiled machinery of this society does have its redeeming value (case by case).

I don’t know the nature of the accident/incident at Kasugai station, but one hopes for the best under the circumstances. Important: These incidents can often be prevented. Act on signs you may see.

Bonus: It was actually easier to stand in the crammed car than on a normal rush-hour train because we all kept one another upright (Samsonite suitcase).

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On Track for a Colorful Fall

I don’t know how long it’s been around, but this morning while waiting at Toki station, a different train passed by that looked like it must be a limited one for tourists. It appeared to be white with blue and green stripes, with fall leaves floating about, and said “Train 117,” presumably iina, meaning roughly “that’s nice.” Maybe they even change the leaf motif with each season. I thought I’d caught a glimpse of it recently while driving, and this confirmed it. It didn’t stop in Toki.

Getting off at Tajimi station, someone seemed to be setting up some guide information for the Chawan Matsuri festival. Not sure what or where that is, but there do seem to be more tourists around town than usual today, snapping pictures and taking in the sights we take for granted.

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No sooner had I posted the text above than I stepped outside to encounter this mikoshi (portable palanquin, photos above and below) procession around Oribe Street.

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I learned the festival is, no surprise, another chance to buy pottery from local makers. Among other things, Mosaic Misuzu has another live jazz event scheduled.

Past Tracks

Pushing my recovering knee to the limit, I tried out the old train route from Toki to Dachi (?) today. Not sure of the exact route, but it’s one I’ve heard of for nigh on nine years, but never set out to see first hand, or first foot, until today.

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There used to be a railway running generally south out of Toki. It’s a walkway now. Here, two different plantings of the quintessential Japanese staple ripen under threatenting but ultimately undripping skies.  The walk was a hot one.

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I only walked the course as far as the Toki General Hospital near Oroshi, but apparently you can walk the entire original distance, imagining the stops along the narrow way. Various social groups have planted flowers to mark the old railroad bed.

At one point I heard a koto being played (could I actually be in Japan?!), as well as another koto on the return trip on the other side of (city/town; there are two, prefectural being the main) route 19. The stroll was a genteel experience all the way, with fellow traversers offering friendly hellos.

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Above, a butterfly, fleeting as it was, allowed this action shot in front of some persimmon-colored flowers. Persimmons already fallen from trees littered several spots.

This route is well suited to bicycling as well, I’d think. Try it out before eight or more years pass you by. It starts from the Toki River behind Sun Mart supermarket.

Missed It By That Much

Not exactly earth-shattering pictures. Below, just showing the irony of the “free” seats vis a vis the over hour-and-half wait I endured last night at Tajimi station, as the Chuo Line was delayed. I was anything but free after just missing the 10:40 or so train by only two minutes. That turned out to be the last train for a long while. A different train finally had to be dispatched from Kozoji. That must have been the first time I used the train in a month and a half, and naturally it had to be the one time it belied its clockwork reputation – but only after I just missed it.  The above shot I accidentally took as I sat cross-legged on a platform bench.

Of course I’m concerned for whomever was directly affected at the original point of the delay, but there’s no escaping it was horrid timing for me for multiple reasons.

We Takes Our Chances

Looking back at my January 19th entry, about menu decision-making in restaurants, made me think of something else.  People often speak of the vagueness, indecisiveness or hesitancy to commit of Japanese, and riding the train today due to the snow reminded me of such a case:  Train or subway passengers taking considerable time to decide where to sit, as if they’re trying to preserve all options as long as possible in case they end up next to a chronic cougher or otherwise annoying neighbor.  One is tempted to tell them to just pick a seat and stick with it.  Let the chips fall where they may.  If it’s a good spot, good for you.  If it’s not, well, eat the loss.  I do.  It’s a social contract, oil-in-the-machine, smooth-flow-of-traffic thing.

The same thing seems to happen at the wicket as well.  Often I’ve seen people glide toward one electronic gate, only to switch to a clearly identical one, even switching multiple times.  All have green lights, no significant numbers of passengers are coming in the opposite direction, and as I said, the gates are of the same type, not swipe only versus ticket-taking, etc..

I apologize for letting this take on the appearance of an opinion piece.  Just wanted to say not all decisiveness is opinionatedness.  Sorry.

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: