Hitchhiking Kyushu

Jamie and I will be starting out on a 6 day hitchhiking trip from today, planning to reach all of the prefectures in Kyushu. Supposedly this is a friendly competition with several teams from all over Kyushu doing the same thing in order to raise money for charity, but I’m doing it because it sounds like a great way to spend Golden Week.

Packing list:
Jansport backpack,
assorted tools and maps,
tent and sleeping bag,
a towel

Expect another barrage of posts when I return on the 5th of May. Until then, I don’t think I will see many opportunities to get online. Over and out.

The Oita Coastline

Despite for all of the problems with this composite photo, I decided to post it. I know that the shot on the right was overexposed, and that all three of the pictures do not match up nicely (argueably I only need to use two of the photos, but what the heck), but I am learning from my mistakes. This is merely me experimenting with a new format, and any suggestions you may have dealing with a technical nature would be appreciated.
I found this post at luminous-landscapes.com especially helpful for explaining what the histogram function on cameras should be used for. Slowly I am learning how to properly use my camera.

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A Few Diving Pics

These were taken at Zamami (jima, I think) at Dragon Lady point.
Have you ever seen a sea cuke eviscerate? Not pretty…
These pictures were taken by our guide, a cute 24 year old Okinawan. This one is of some kind of grouper. I want a pet grouper one day that will live under my private dock.
These small silver fish moved as if controlled by some hivemind. Seeing them move as one really hits home the elegant simplicity of the lateral line. Their mass coordinated movements look so complicated, yet are controlled by a really primitive organ that senses differences in the pressure of the surrounding water.

Saga In Bloom

If you have read The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, then you will immediately notice that this picture is bursting with multilayered feminine symbolism. On a side note, I enjoyed reading The Da Vinci Code, but I didn’t think it was as good as everyone said it was. For some reason I was expecting the cryptography to be roughly on par with Cryptonomicon. I had a hard time accepting that the “codes” were so easy to solve. I mean, it’s not a very good code if I can come up with the answer on my own soon after I read it. Writing a riddle backwards??? I mean, I everyone knows that Da Vinci wrote backwards sometimes, but how could you not immediately recognize this? Especially if you have watched Buckaroo Banzai.
It’s not that I don’t think that an ultra secret society such as the Priory of Sion wouldn’t use riddles to test the knowledge of others inducted into their ranks to preserve their secrets. I just think that they would ALSO use at least a 4096-bit encryption key to protect the comparatively easy riddles. And the cryptex just sounds like some glorified bicycle lock to me- something that would hack it in Da Vinci’s time, but surely not today. Some crafty cutting could open that thing up no problem without cracking open the vile of vinegar.
OK, getting back on track: The roses (the symbol of Mary Magdeline, or the wife of Jesus Christ according to the book) are arranged in a pentagram (again, according to the book Venus, originally Aphrodite- the goddess of femininity- draws a perfect pentacle across the night sky every four years which the aincent Greeks decided to commemorate with the Olympics). But since this is Japan, Amaterasu is shining away in the center for good measure. There is so much feminine power in this picture that merely looking at it might cause some women to ovulate!

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This post is for Uncle Rocky, who requested me to put up some pictures of nanohana. Merin sent me this first picture, which I think was taken somewhere in Kansai. The fields of nanohana evoke memories of mustard back home.
However, the best views of nanohana I have encountered have been down in Kagoshima, during the Nanohana Marathon. In the next picture, you can really see how vibrant this flower really is. Keep in mind that this picture was taken indoors under scant flourescent lighting.
This is Akari-chan, one of my pre-school students. She reminds me of Merin because she is usually serious and stubborn on occasion. Only recently has she started smiling and laughing frequently. She is also really good at traditional Japanese dance, at only 5 years old.

Late Snow Hike

As you can probably tell, I have a lot of stuff that I want to post, and not much time to do it. That’s why I’m finally getting around to this hike, which I did on Sunday, April 4th- two days after my birthday and one after our fire drills. I woke up at 6:00 to the sound of heavy rain, and thought that Hieda (Tomoya) sensei would want to cancel due to the weather. To be honest, I was hoping this because I hate waking up early, especially if it means enduring freezing rain and exercise. Fortunately, he was game to proceed as we had planned. As we drove North on the Yamanami Highway onto the plains of Kuju, we noticed that the peaks of Kuju, which were brown and bare just yesterday and had been for the previous three weeks, had been covered in a thick layer of snow over night. We ascended the peaks, and started up the trail. No one else was there, which was very strange for this time of year. All the way up, we treaded through thick, virgin snow, each foot fall producing a pleasant sound that was half way between the squeak of squishing styrofoam and the crunch of pea gravel.
The weather took a turn for the worse, and it started blizzarding. The strong winds slowed our progress, but we made it up in about an hour. At the top, we stumbled upon an emergency shelter, and Hieda sensei made us some ramen and udon with his mess kit. I can’t imagine a better tasting meal, with the wind howling and the snow devils swirling about.
On our descent, we were surprised to see who was climbing the mountain in such weather. About 50 people were climbing up, half of them were groups of retired Japanese, mostly old women decked out in the latest climbing gear. The other half responded to my “Konnichiwa” with a “Ahnyoung-haseyo”. It was really strange practicing rudimentary Korean (just one word, really) in my corner of Kyushu on a snowy day in April.

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Kannon no Taki

Located North of Saga-shi and Yamato-shi in Saga Prefecture is the picturesque village of Nanayama. This place is almost as country as Ubuyama, but more beautiful.
The local river cascades down seven waterfalls, and was believed to have healing powers. From what I gathered, a woman who was favored by Hideyoshi was stricken with blindness. After she came to Kannon no Taki (the waterfall of Kannon) and splashed some of the water on her eyes, she could see again.
This waterfall is Kannon no Taki. I like how many of the sites in Japan where miracles are said to have occoured usually just involve Nature and Humans. God or Gods are credited with the miracles, and many times, memorials and statues are erected in their honor in such a way that they blend in with the environment. What you don’t see is the “Jesus in a tortilla/tree branch/window reflection/etc” attractions (at least in Kyushu). I never understood why people would want to spend time looking at these quasi-amusing anomolies. How exactly do those qualify as miracles? All I know is that I often feel invigorated after communing with nature if nothing else.
Right now, all of the plants in Kyushu are growing at a phenominal rate and everything is green. It was strange to see some red momiji (maple) scattered around the forest. I didn’t expect to see them change color until the Fall.
If you are around Saga though, try and hit the natural areas including the beach, the waterfalls, and the jinjas. They really are spectacular. It seems strange to me that I had such a hard time finding things to do and places to see the Friday before I headed out to the Fatherland (that’s where my Grandfather’s family is from). If all else fails, you can go watch movies at the Aeon Cinemas.

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Snake Season

In the past four days, I have already seen 3 snakes. One I spotted on the road, smashed (most likely when it was sunning itself) and attracting flies. I saw two yesterday in Saga-ken. The first one I saw when I was visiting Kannon no taki (Kannon waterfall) in Nanayama-mura (Seven mountain village). I jumped over a rock, and it quickly slithered away under some dead branches. Not feeling quite Irwin enough, I decided not to reach in the tangled foliage and to let it be. Instead, I checked out the awesome waterfalls. If you are passing through Saga-ken, this place is worth a visit.
Anyhow, Kuniko spotted this snake (at Kashibaru Shikken, or Saga Marshlands, North of the Nagasaki Expressway on a small road that shortcuts the 323 toward Nanayama. if you can make it here around August, you should be able to see a beautiful flower called the Sagisou that looks like a bird in flight. this is a prime wetland habitat, a rare find in Japan and the biodiversity is much more apparent and colorful than the vernal pools of Santa Barbara), that remained absolutely still, well camoflauged among the dried foliage. I was able to get really close to it, and finally learned how to use the macros function on my digicam (thanks for the prodding, Justin):
Kuniko thought it was dead, and so I was obligated to show her otherwise. I grabbed its tail, and it whipped its body two feet away from me in a split second. After I grabbed it again, it started rattling the dried leaves with the tip of its tail in the manner of a rattle snake, and then bolted into a well concealed rathole. I don’t think this snake was poisonous, but can’t say for sure since I was not bitten.
According to the Japanese snake guide, this appears to be a Japanese four-lined snake, or Shima-hebi. I don’t know why I have this compulsion to play with the snakes that I encounter. All that I can say is that it’s fun (until I get bitten/envenomated I suppose).

My Dog, Shisar

These dogs are Shisar, the guardians of the Ryukyu (Okinawan) Islands. You see them all over the place in Okinawa, on keychains, t-shirts, and anything else that is sold on the Kokusai-dori (the main tourist street in Naha).
Of all of the Shisar statues that I encountered, I especially like these. They remind me of our Pekingnese dogs, especially Jane. That was one cool dog.
I just watched Kill Bill vol. 1 two days ago for the first time, and spotted Shisar in two different scenes. When Black Mamba is purchasing tickets for Okinawa (one way) a pair resides on the back shelf, over the shoulder of the booking agent. The more obvious scene, of course, is when Hattori Hanzo’s steel is unsheathed for the first time. That’s Shisar, imprinted on that legendary blade.
On that note, I am looking forward to part 2. I think I may have to brave first night crowds tomorrow, because I don’t want to wait to see it!

Okinawan Sign Language

I usually find signs that I like when I travel to foreign places, especially if the populace has a less than perfect command of English. I’m sure that the locals were wondering why I was taking picures of the mundane icons that are filtered out of their focus. My choice of subjects to photograph most likely flagged me as a tourist, to the locals who were trying to get me to purchase their assorted omiyage. Okinawans are a true breed of hustlers, and it was painful watching my companions getting fleeced. But that’s the topic of a separtate post.
This picture is of a dental clinic in Okinawa. A couple of thoughts popped into my mind when I first saw this, such as:
“No way!”, “Ouch!”, “Has to be two different sets of teeth!”, “I wonder if the same set of pictures accompanied by English appears in England?”, and “That dentist must be a friggin’ god/butcher!”.
I have seen some pretty bad teeth in Japan, but many people are now wearing braces and taking better care of their teeth than before. This picture makes me cringe when I think of the pain that the patient had to endure. How many cc’s of lidocaine was injected into that gaping maw?
This next picture is the Japanese equivalent of the French Metro Bunny. On a side note, I feel responsible for contributing to the widescale spread of American tourists stealing those stickers. In 97, after returning home and showing a friend the mementos of my trip, he thought it was such a cool sticker that he did it, and everyone else who went to study abroad with Orange Coast College that year followed suit. It became a tradition, and soon there was a shortage of stickers on the metro (and a sharp increase of people getting their hands caught in the doors, I like to imagine). So this time, instead of stealing a physical copy, I captured one on my camera.
If I had a problem with my ears, nose, or throat, this is the doctor I would want to go to. For some reason, these images evoke a feeling of trust for this doctor, even though I have never met him.
This last sign was taken in the domestic terminal of the Okinawa Airport. I understand the need for explicit directions, but this goes a bit further than necessary. I mean, did someone try to argue “but officer, I didn’t know that it was wrong to stash my guns and drugs on top of my bag filled with decomposing decapitated heads that I was using to feed my pet weasels. Oh and don’t worry, the pipe bombs aren’t really dangerous because I didn’t insert the fuses yet. You know, someone should really put up a sign to make it clear just what exactly IS acceptable to keep in these lockers! They didn’t seem to mind up in Kansai.”?