Japan summer holiday 2009.

Trip Start Apr 01, 2001
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Japan  , Chugoku,
Thursday, August 6, 2009

7 days in:  Matsue / Shimane hanto / Hagi / Osaka / Nara.
I chose these places mainly because of their historic buildings and ocean side locations.
One of the few remaining original castles with moat built in 1611, a preserved samurai & tea house neighbourhood dating from the mid-1700s, an aizome workshop.
Hi no Misaki: 
    A very small fishing village in a cove near a beautiful rocky cliff, with a hike up to an old lighthouse.  Gorgeous sunset over the Japan Sea.      I happened to visit during a small matsuri which included a local sea serpent dance and a procession of children  to the seaside shrine, at the end of which everyone passed under the mikoshi twice, pulling me with them.  Fortunate timing for my visit.
Izumo Taisha: 

The oldest Shinto shrine in Japan and second in importance only to the shrines at Ise.
A shrine has existed here for the last 1500 years.  Built in the Taisha-Zukuri style, considered Japan's oldest form of shrine architecture.   The shrine compound is surrounded by juku-sha, long shelters where Japan's eight million Shinto spirit gods stay when they return annually in August.
Hagi is a definite highlight for anyone who loves historic architecture.
It's well off the beaten track so there are no crowds and the buildings are not "overly" preserved just for tourists, so they still have all their original charm.
There is a preserved samurai quarter with lots of houses which are open to the public.  They are filled with beautifully kept antiques and the woodwork and gardens are stunning.
Outside the "official" samurai quarter, the small town itself is just full of well kept historic houses, kura, stone walls, shrines, and carp filled streams. 

Hagi is also well known for it's pottery, Hagi-yaki.  There are three pottery centres in Japan: Kyoto, Hagi and Mashiko.  One of the shops I visited had a very friendly owner who shared a bit of information about the meaning of the marks/cuts, under the cups and bowls found in Hagi.  The potters tend to put a small mark/cut in the base of some of the cups and bowls.  Centuries ago, only the upper classes were allowed to use Hagi-yaki so the potters began to make intentional mistakes so they could also use them.  They started out making one small cut on the base.  As time passed, the potters would often be drinking sake and shooting dice while working.  They came up with a game of dice where whatever number on one dice was thrown, that would be the number of "mistaken" cuts made on the bottom. 
This game was only for sake cups.
The cups with three distinct spaces in the base show a rough plum blossom design, and are meant for the tea ceremony.
The cups with four spaces, show a rough cross design, and are also generally used for tea.
The glazing techniques are also unique to Hagi.  Known for luminescent pastels and rough, thick glazes.
Authentic Hagi-yaki can be quite expensive, I saw some bowls well over $2000!  But I did manage to find some very nice bowls that were pretty reasonable, so treated  myself to a couple for omiyage. 

These were above the cheap tourist shop quality but not real tea ceremony quality.  They are a good example of typical glaze, style and technique of Hagi yaki.  These are about 12cm diameter, by 8cm. high, and are made from a rough red, speckled clay.  You can see the base has 4 cuts, as I mentioned earlier.  They should be used for serving macha, but in the shop I was served fresh summer orange juice over ice in them and it looked gorgeous.  So, I'm not going to be too particular what to use them for.

Rent a bike and explore the side streets.  This charming seaside town is definitely a hidden gem.

Nara / Imai-cho:
Spent a day in Nara before heading back home.  My focus was again, the historic buildings, and looking for something not overly touristy.  Hard to find such a thing during Obon in Nara!
There is a small preserved quarter about 30 km south of Nara called Imai-cho. 
Gorgeous Edo era machiya which escaped the fires and bombs of the past.

Spent a wonderful morning wandering the narrow old streets...gorgeous clay walled houses, wooden houses, kura, stone walls, streams, temples. 
 It is a living, working area so the houses which are open to wander through, are at the owner's discretion.  Imai-cho is a gem of a place. 
The wood used in the older houses is blackened, very similar to Hagi and unlike most old houses in other areas of Japan which tend to be common brown aged wood.  At first I thought this blackened wood was the remnants of fire, but as you continue to look around, it's clear that this is a type/style of wood used in building the original structure.  The old houses in Kyoto, Tokyo, Nagano, Akita, Kamakura, Kanazawa, did not use this blackened wood.
Imai-cho is a bit like Hagi, in that, it is a living, breathing town.  It is not just a collection of touristy cafes and souvenier shops. 

Not touristy at all and filled with well kept, historic buildings.  Well worth the time it takes to get there.

The one touristy destination on my list was Todai-ji and the Great Buddah Hall in Nara. 
 A massive wooden structure, the largest wooden building in the world! 
The present structure was built in 1709 and is a mere 2/3 the size of the original!  The bronze Buddah inside is one of the largest in the world and was originally cast in 746. 

The present statue was recast during Edo era and stands 16 metres high and consists of 437 tonnes of bronze and 130 kg. of gold. 
The photos cannot come close to conveying the massive size of this building.  It's quite an awesome sight.
Deer run wild here in Nara Park and throughout the Todai ji area.  They are completely tame and quite assertive when nosing around for something to eat! 

Even with the swarms of tourists, this place does not disappoint!  It's an awesome sight.

Spent one night in Osaka as a base for going to the sights in Nara. 

In summer, it is just far too hot and humid in the Osaka area to really enjoy oneself.  Even evenings are too hot for comfortable walking around. 

Having said that, the nightlife in Osaka is vibrant and quite a different atmosphere from Tokyo.  The food was good.  Osaka is known for kushi-katsu.  Stopped in to try some at a restaurant in the Shin-Sekai neighbourhood.

Slideshow Report as Spam
Where I stayed
Toyoko Inn Matsue Ekimae
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pedalpaddle on

Hi Dan,
I'm glad you enjoyed the stories in my blog.I learned alot from the pottery shopkeepers in Hagi.Actually, I did study pottery for 1 year in university.It's more difficult than it looks! so I have great respect for potters.Mashiko-yaki is also very beautiful in a different way.Thank you for your comments. :)

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