View Full of Aso on the 45

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Click the image to see a larger version.
This is my most recent attempt at a panoramic collage. I live ten minutes from this beautiful vantage point, perched along the Yamanami Highway in Northern Aso. People say that these mountains look like a sleeping Buddha. The Eastern (in the left of the picture) peaks of Neko-dake are the head, and the feet point to the South.
You can tell by looking around that this is a special place. If you imagine what must have happened on a geological timeframe to create the largest caldera in the world (the towns of Ichinomiya and Aso below in the valley lie in this caldera), and what forces must have erected the proud mountains in the middle it sends shivers down your spine. If you are interested in geology, seismology, or fields related to these I think that you would enjoy visiting Japan, bust especially Aso-gun in Kumamoto-ken.
I really like this picture, so I included a larger version below that I layered differently. A tip on photographing around Aso- the air is much clearer the day after it rains hard, like the day that I took these shots.

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Kyushu Hitching Pics

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Hitching at night time was difficult. I would not want to pick up someone who looked like this, but surprisingly people almost always stopped for us regardless of the time or the place. If you get stuck out in the country at night, though, you may have to set up camp.
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This is my hitching partner, Mr. Jamie Mackay of Georgia. For some unknown reason, I prefer to introduce him as “James” (no one ever calls him that) to Japanese people.

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There And Back

These past 5 days are stretched across my mind like a speedo straining to cover a bulging German tourist. Yes, I’m back safe from hitchhiking, and it was a great experience. However, three full days of rushing around getting picked up by kind strangers were enough for us. I will write more on this later.
Two days ago, we got back to Kumamoto, partied in the city (it was kind of cool because all of the gaijin that we saw were not our familiar locals. being incognito at home is interesting). The next day, we got back late to Aso and headed out to a music festival on the mountain. It was held at a huge clearing in the forest, and it was raining off and on. People had come from all over Japan and had set up a commune of tents, yurts, tee-pees, and other forms of mobile habitation. It was amazing seeing so many gaijin in Aso, along with Japanese hippies and little kids running around amid this strange environment full of the sounds of djembes, dijaradoos, jews harps, reggae music, and a shakuhachi (I only knew what it was thanks to Zachary Braverman’s posts on the subject, and I had a feeling the old dude was good because his beautiful songs sounded like a floating/effortless/improvisational jam session).
I had a great time talking with the people at this festival. Everyone was friendly and it was easy to communicate with them in Japanese or English. The bands were pretty good too, and most of the people at the concert played at least one instrument well. This is the group of people that Taro would be partying with, if he were not married right now.
Last night was the second night that we camped over on the mountain. It had been raining the past couple of days (one of the reasons for truncating the hitchhiking trip), but last night a typhoon rolled over us. I was in my tent thinking about how great my tent was, how it had always been an extremely reliable piece of equipment, and that it only cost 2000 yen. Until last night, it performed flawlessly. However, the winds picked up, gusting across the camp ground, laying waste to our shanty town. The hippies got excited and started to pound on their drums, climaxing when the torrents poured down at their most furious. It blew my tent so hard that the support rods were slapping me in the face and feet. At times, the tent wrapped around me and I felt like I was returning to the womb. I compensated by placing my bag next to the rod that was punching me, and was able to fall asleep in the middle of a raging storm. I remember thinking that the sheets of rain that the wind was driving against my tent’s rain cover was eerily similar to the turbulance portrayed in the Twilight Zone episode “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”- you know- the one with the gremlin tearing apart the airplane wing and William Shatner! I sure do miss the old school episodes of The Twilight Zone). And then I woke up abruptly when the wind finally tore the cover off of my tent, exposing the windscreen (remember, water and wind can pass through a windscreen, but not a windshield) to the blowing downpour. The experience was similar to gunning through the hypothermic chop in a whaler when the hull smashes into a huge wave which is then blown directly into your face. SMACK! “Fuck this! I live close to here, and I want to sleep in a warm futon tonight!” was my immediate resolve. I woke up Jamie (who was still sleeping somehow), and we made a hasty retreat with some other friends back to his place, coming in from the cold. Many others decided to leave the grounds as well, and it was crazy witnessing the devistation amid the campsite. It seemed as if the fog of war had descended upon our hippie commune, and God was punishing the wicked hippies and gaijin. Most tents were clearly not made to cope with such adverse conditions and had collapsed. Only the yurt and teepees stood proudly, taking everything that the storm was throwing at them.
When we were driving back, I could not help but wonder how the other hitchhikers were faring. We were close to home, and so we just headed back to shelter when conditions got insane. Any hitchhikers caught in the middle of nowhere that might have been forced to camp will no doubt be feeling pretty wiped and soaked right about now. Traveling funk is inevitable, tolerable, and not necessarily a bad feeling, but soaked traveling funk does not sound like fun. Anyone picking up a soaked hitchhiker is indeed a kind soul, because that car packed with soggy gear and soggy gaijin is bound to smell like a wet sheep dog.
The Circuit
Day 1
1. Uchinomaki to Mashiki (thanks to the fireman who spoke super-thick Higo-ben
2. Mashiki to Fukuoka (thanks to the computer salesman and his two sons from Fukuoka, on their way back from a soccer game)
3. Tenjin to Karatsu (Walked 20 minutes towards Saga and got picked up by soapland enthusiast in fixed up black Odessey)
Crashed at Luke’s house and met Joe. The “Joyfull incident”.
Day 2
Started off from 3:00 at onsen near Karatsu.
4. Karatsu to Sasebo (thanks to the old painter)
5. Sasebo to Takeo (thanks to the two college dudes. Jun, maybe we’ll make it out to Nagasaki or Fukuoka sometime!)
6. Takeo to Ureshima (thanks to the electrician who fixes security systems. thanks for offering to let us crash in your van for the night)
Set up tent near the expressway in Ureshima
Day 3
7. Ureshima to Omura (thanks to my Japanese dad, Mr. Tanaka, who lives in Karatsu. I dug your old integra- reminded me of my old legend.)
8. Omura to Nagasaki City (thanks to the bus driver driving the bus to pick up rent-a-car customers. Props for dropping us off right in front of the atomic bomb museum)
9. Nagasaki City to Ariake (we walked out of the city towards Unzen for half an hour in the rain, past the expressway entrance. a salesman, one Mr. Hamasaki, who was closing up his used car lot took pity on us, and told us he would take us to somewhere where we would get picked up, but then decided to drive an hour out of his way to get us to the ferry in Ariake. we had a very nice chat, and he was very embarrased to accept a 5 dollar bill as a memento of our ride together. Mr. Hamasaki called up the ferry, and got us to the last one bound for Kumamoto. While en route to Taida, a port 45 minutes North of the city, he called the ferry to make sure that we were all right! Thanks for helping us out with so much- you were by far the most awesome person that we met on the trip.)
Taida to Kumamoto city- train ride. There was no traffic heading towards the city.

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,
toiletries,
clothes,
assorted tools and maps,
camera,
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

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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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Saga In Bloom

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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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Nanohana

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.
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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.
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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.

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.
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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.
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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.
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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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Colors Of Spring

I love all of the seasons in Japan. Summer is great because Ubuyama is up in the mountains, and so we escape the oppressive heat that brings gallons of sweat trickling down the faces of those who live in the city. Summer also means going to the beach, and trying to avoid the jellyfish (kujira).
Fall is great because the heat and the humidity gradually decrease into the most comfortable zone of the whole year. The Cosmos flowers come into full bloom at the Higothai Koen and Kuju Hana Koen, and young couples flock to all of the makeout points around Aso. Also, areas that are densely packed with deciduous plants turn amazing colors (my favorite area during this time is Kikuchi Gorge). Towards the end of Fall it starts to get cold, and so the kotatsu table is dusted off and perpetually switched on.
Winter is very cold, but it means that I can go snowboarding again, and practice driving in the snow. During these cold months I cook things that are hot and warm the body from the inside out. This past winter I was able to tweak my nabe to new heigths of deliciousness, with new layers of flavor.
Spring means Hanami, and also means that I can return to wearing shorts and short sleeved shirts. This is my favorite time of year, because life returns to Aso. The insects pupate, hatch, and otherwise appear again, and so I pull out the flyswatter and keep the pesticide ready to put the hurt on any centipede unlucky enough to find its way into my home. The days last longer, and everyone is in a good mood and ready to enjoy the good weather.
The three flowers that mean spring to me in Kyushu would have to be sakura (cherry blossoms), daffodils, and nanohana (rapeseed flower). Unfortunately, I forgot to take pictures of nanohana, so you will just have to take my word for it- they are beautiful. The fields of nanohana are reminiscent of the fields of mustard back home, but the stalks are thicker and more of a luscious green, and the flowers are larger and make the yellow of the mustard look muted in comparison.
I don’t consider myself a “plant person”, and any plant that I have ever cared for in my house has died or come very close to it. However, seeing these vibrant flowers and feeling the change of the seasons has made me develop an interest in flowers. You can’t know what I’m talking about unless you have experienced it, and my descriptions will probably sound overly sentimental. Well, maybe pictures will convey what my clumsy verbage can not.
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The sakura is percieved by many as a metaphor for the fleeting nature of life (if you have taken any classes on Japanese culture or even watched television programs on the Discovery Channel, specifically ones on Ukiyo-E, then this should sound familiar), but I just like to look at them and to sit underneath the sakura as they flutter down around me. These blossoms last only about 2 weeks, and many times strong winds and rains can expedite the process. If you are planning on coming to Japan, I would recommend coming during Hanami season if possible. Trust me, it’s worth it.
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Around the same time that the sakura come into full bloom (mankai), the nanohana and daffodils show off their yellow petals. I like this picture because the daffodils behind the barbed wire is symbolic. I don’t know what exact symbol it is but trust me, there’s some symbolism to be found here.

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Animal Mimics And An Ample Supply Of Venison

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These animal-plants, sitting along the side of the Yamanami in Ubuyama, remind me of the work of Edward Scissorhands. They sit alone, with a small shack to the right, a pen full of mangy deer to the left, and the Aso mountain range in the distance. I have no idea if the person who maintains these sells them, or if they are just someone’s privately owned topiary garden.
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I thought this (what do you call these things? I’ll just use the word…) sculpture was pretty skillfully trimmed. I want to come back here on a night when the full moon is out and take more pictures.
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Though these deer are not the primest of specimens, at least they’re not as dirty or mean as the deer in Nara. They are most definetely not afraid of people because just like in Nara, people buy bags of sembei (rice crackers, that are sold for 100 yen) to feed them.
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Dunno why, but visiting this crappy petting zoo made me want to eat venison. I think its because I know that the small pen that these deer are kept in has probably made their flesh nice and tender…