Monday, March 31, 2008

Okazaki Koen

The cherry blossoms reached full bloom or mankai in Nagoya over the weekend according to the Japanese Meteorological Agency's sakurazensen or blossom forecast.
Taking advantage of a day off I ventured to Okazaki Koen,a slow 45 minute,590 yen Meitetsu train ride from Kanayama Station in Nagoya.Once you arrive at Meitetsu Okazaki Koen Mae Station its an eight minute or so walk to the Castle grounds.
Reportedly,the park in the grounds of Okazaki Castle is rated as the best in the Tokai Region and is one of the top 100 viewing sites in Japan.Plus I'd never been there before.

The castle that currently occupies the site only dates from 1959 and is a five floor, triple roof reconstruction of the original.Entry is 200 yen for individual adults.
According to the signboard outside there has been a castle there since the early 15th Century.Okazaki has special historical significance as being the birthplace of Ieyasu Tokugawa and cradle of the Tokugawa Shogunate.
With the arrival of the Meiji Restoration however the old castle was demolished in 1873-1874.
The present castle has displays on three floors that depict life back then and various exhibits of clothes,guns and armour are on show.On the fifth floor you can walk around on an enclosed outside deck.You can get a birds eye view of the grounds down to the river and over some of the flowering blossom trees which are the areas main attraction at this time of year.
Its unfortunate that the castle grounds are now in a built up suburb.Nearby apartment buildings,electricity cables and telephone lines detract from any sense of history.However what really ruined the ambience for me was the Japanese recorded music playing through the castles public address system.To compound this noise pollution the music was constantly interrupted and drowned out by a high pitched womans voice screeching out various public service announcements.I was just pleased the wind tended to blow most of this unnecessary noise away.

There are some 1,700 cherry blossom trees in the grounds which slope down from the castle towards the local river banks.There are various paths lined with cherry trees,a pond and areas suitable for hanami parties.There are lots of photo opportunities and many people were taking photos of family and friends framed by the fragile flowers.

There were many stalls set up to provide food and entertainment for the crowds who were present.For despite it being a Monday,it is Spring vacation for schools so there was a fair smattering of school aged kids and family groups.

The usual choco-banana and fried octopus stalls were in evidence.As were the okonomiyaki and giant hotdog stands.Entertainment wise there were the usual goldfish scooping and dart throwing tents.One diversion I havent seen before was this large tent structure,a Japanese version of a ghost or horror house attraction.
Apart from my annoyance about the unnecessary noise intrusion Okazaki Koen is a pleasant place to relax and share a meal or drinks with friends under the cherry trees in Spring.Just sit downwind of the Castle.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Friday Flash..Spring Confectionery

A selection of confectionery Ive recently seen in the shops.Each season sees a new range of products often only available for a limited time.
The new offering from Haagen Dazs features cassis which I believe is blackcurrant and orange.An interesting mix of tastes

A mini pack that features some pale yellow coloured caramel flavoured KitKats.Quite sweet and sticky.

The KitKats above come in a box that contains a double pack of English tea flavoured wafers coated in dark brown chocolate.I found the tea flavour quite mild.

The final shot above shows the most recent KitKat flavour Ive seen recently.Again the hazelnut kitkats come in a small rectangular box containing four sticks in two packs.
The hazelnut filling in the wafers was quite thick compared to other flavours and a rich "peanuty" smell and taste.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Spring Countdown 2008

Well its almost cherry blossom viewing or "hanami" time again.It seems everything suddenly turns peach or pink be it drinks or postage stamps.
The Japanese Meterological Agency announced Saturday cherry blossoms had bloomed in Tokyo and Shizuoka and Kumamoto Prefectures.

Here in Nagoya the first cherry blossoms can also be seen.I took this photo in Tsuruma Park early this afternoon.(Monday 24th).In Nagoya the average year on year date for the first blooms to appear is March 28th so these are around 4 days or so earlier than usual.
The blossoms reach their fully bloomed state or mankai about a week or so after kaika the date on which the first blossoms appear.
Obvivously its difficult to predict when and how quickly the buds will blossom and bloom due to such factors as unseasonable and changeable weather.Cold weather and warm temperatures can affect the flowers.Wind can also play havoc with the tender petals.

Another shot over one of the areas in Tsurama Park where hanami parties are held.There are lanterns and electric cords already set up for the parties.I did note however that a thick dark mulch or compost has been spread under the trees in the area.I presume the mulch has been put down to reduce the stress on the trees roots as the soil gets compressed by partygoers.I just hope that the mulch dries out.Sitting there isnt an inviting prospect at the moment despite the fact that Tsurama Park ranks as one of the top 100 viewing spots in Japan.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Friday Flash..More Flower Dome Photos

Some more photos from the Flower Dome 2008 at Nagoya Dome last week.Above is an exhibit of cacti and other succulents.

A colourful display of gerberas.These flowers are very popular and can be seen in florists year round.

Another of the eye-catching floral displays made by one of the florists companies competing in their professional competition.

There were many chrysanthemums being exhibited by both professional growers and amateurs.Many different striking colours and styles were on show.

Some of the fruit and vegetables on show at the organic gardening stand.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Flower Dome 2008

Billed as Japan's largest annual flower show,Flower Dome 2008 is currently on in the Nagoya Dome until March 19th.Nagoya Dome,which is the home of the local professional baseball team the Chunichi Dragons, is also the venue for various events such as trade shows, concerts,exhibitions and monster garage sales.The photo above shows the layout of the Dome with the flower show taking up most of the baseball field below the stands.
As well as various orchid competitions,there were displays involving growers of other flowers such as chrysanthemums and carnations.Florists also vied with each other in competitions involving bouquets and larger displays.
There were also stands of cacti,an eco friendly gardening stand and various trade stands selling plants and gardening goods.

There were a number of competitions and displays,not least some very large orchid displays.Some of the orchid exhibits included water features such as streams and waterfalls.

This teddy bear made from small succulent and cactus like plants caught my eye and attracted the interest of many small children at the show

There was a competition for gardens in baskets and various containers that could be mounted on a wall.There were a number of colorful and original entries including this one using old tin tomato cans to grow herbs.

This photo above shows an example of the orchids that were on display.This particular one was at least two metres high and covered at least a couple of square metres with a colourful display of orchids,moss and accompanying plants in a natural setting

Unpaid Wages

Finally following a torturous paper trail and numerous visits to obscure government departments I received my unpaid wages following Nova Corps demise.Eighty percent of two months or so salary as prescribed under the law.A welcome addition to my bank balance and timely too as the yen strengthens against the US dollar which dropped to 95 yen its lowest point in the last 12 years according to tonights NHK news.Im just hoping that the kiwi dollar continues to drop against the yen so its more worthwhile sending some of it back.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Friday Flash..White Day 2008

Friday March 14th here in Japan is celebrated as "White Day".A completely bogus commercial venture to sell confectionery especially marshmellows,biscuits and confectionery.Instead of the free for all flower and chocolate frenzy of St Valentines Day that occurs in most countries where both sexes give and receive gifts,in Japan only women give presents on February 14th.
March 14th is payback day where those men receiving presents have to return the favour.The problem for me,as I imagine with most,is trying to remember back a month ago and recalling who actually gave you anything.The other thing is that most of the confectionery,biscuits and gifts available for White Day seem to be a little more expensive than the single bar of chocolate you got.The dilemma then is whether you spend more money or somehow manage to overlook the fact that you got anything at all.
The photo above shows some of the gift options available at my local convenience store.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Nagoya Auto Trend 2008

Having had my fill of culture recently,I decided to join the throngs and head off to see the annual car show.It was the first time I'd used the Aonami train as well as visit both the car show and the Port Messe Nagoya complex.The Aonami line begins at Nagoya Station and ends some 25 minutes and 350 yen later on the industrial commercial side of the Port.Port Messe is a sprawling complex of exhibition halls and conference venues.
The Nagoya Auto Trend show ran for three days and displays spread over three huge halls.
As well as the major local Japanese car manufacturers being present a number of luxury foreign car makers also had displays such as BMW,Audi and Mercedes Benz.

There were a number of F1 racing cars on display including this vehicle.
Its the first time Ive tried to take photos at a car show and I encountered a number of problems.
The first problem was the different light levels round each display.Spotlights and coloured lights,flashing indicator lights and glare from all the metal on show made it difficult to get a clear shot.

Another issue that I hadnt thought about was the presence of the models who posed demurely with the vehicles.Their appearance led the normally placid camera bearing locals(predominantly men in their twenties) to jostle and push for the best vantage point.There were plenty of staff on hand to ensure no-one was crushed in the scrum.
As for the photo above a Hummer for sure.

The other problem with having the models present apart from the obvious distraction they caused me was that they often get in the way of the shot.I didnt have the heart or the necessary Japanese vocabulary to say "Get out of the way I cant get the car in if you stand there!"
To be fair it must be a tough job and the pay cant be more than an English language teachers wages at best.

This Merc and its matching partner were one of the more extravagant custom built vehicles on display.I dont think they were encrusted with real diamonds but they certainly glittered.Even the twin exhaust pipes were covered with the jewel like stones.The interior was decked out in what looked like gold plate and mahogany or teak timber lining.

Another obliging model who patiently posed for a crowd of admirers including one of the many family groups making a day of it.Apart from the cars and accessories on display there were a number of trade stands selling all sorts of automotive gear.

Tamiya,the well known model company had a big presence in one of the exhibition halls.As well as selling its radio controlled vehicles at a large stand it also had a huge race track and competition running which attracted a large number of competitors and onlookers.

This new model BMW on display drew a big crowd of onlookers.It looked suitably Teutonic with its impressive grille and sweeping graceful lines.Its just the fact its got such a horrible mustard yellow paint job that puts me off purchasing it.

As well as featuring the latest cars there was also an area devoted to older vintage or veteran cars such as this early model Skyline.It provided a useful reference point and contrast to the newer cars on display.Its amazing how quickly they have evolved in terms of shape,size and mechanical advances.

This colourful Mitsubishi rally vehicle caught my eye where it was parked along with several other similar race cars.

I have absolutely no idea what she has on her feet.I noted that the stand promoted various panels and accessories.I also noted that the Mustang behind her is sporting spoilers and various additional body panels so perhaps that accounts for the footwear.

As well as providing the public with a chance to see the latest models available Nagoya Auto Trend also showcases other associated automotive products.There were a number of wheel rim and hub companies on site as well as a small area devoted to four wheel or quad bikes.A Harley Davidson motorcycle was on show as well as was what appeared to be a kitbuilt custom sportscar.

An interesting and amusing day out.Despite the fact that there were a lot of people,the size of the complex meant that it wasnt uncomfortable.Unless,that is,if you got caught in a scrambling photo horde.And even if one was only vaguely interested in a motoring sense there was enough variety to prevent any onset of boredom.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Friday Flash...Bentos

A couple of bentos or boxed lunch sets that Ive eaten recently.The one above contains more meat and less traditional ingredients than the one below.There is a noticeable absence of seaweed and pickled vegetables in the upper bento which also includes pasta,egg salad and a small helping of coleslaw.
The bento below is more traditional in the sense that it has pickled vegetables such as beans and lotus root while there is also a small sampling of seaweed.Instead of meat this lunch box contains grilled fish and a generous amount of rice.

Monday, March 03, 2008

March 3 2008 Girls Day

Once again the traditional day to pray for the safety and health of younger members of the fairer sex rolls around.Of course Im referring to Girls Day which is celebrated today.
Many supermarkets and food outlets had displays and food on sale to mark the day.

The photo above shows one such bento available today.It has very colourful contents as is the custom of the day and comes in a diamond shaped container decorated in the traditional colours of the festival,i.e red,white and green.The diamond shape and colours of the container mimic that of the hishi mochi biscuits that are also part of todays festival.The diamond shaped hishi mochi are placed alongside the hina dolls that are traditionally displayed in homes prior to March 3.

As mentioned briefly last week I went to the Tokugawaen Gardens and the adjacent Tokugawa Art Museum.
The Tokugawa family was one of the powerful and influential ruling families during the Edo period(1603-1867).The museum has a number of exhibition rooms which display such things as the garments,art,furnishings and armour owned by the various generations of the family.
I was particularly taken by the swords and suits of armour.Early firearms and small cannon are also on display.Other exhibits include kitchen utensils and equipment such as sewing kits.All beautifully made and bearing the family crest or seal which consists of three hollyhock leaves.
However the real purpose of my visit was to see the annual display of hina dolls owned by various generations of the Tokugawa family.Even though it was 10:30 am on a cold blustery Sunday morning I wasnt the only one taking the opportunity to view the large collection.
There were a number of sets of hina dolls on display.The larger sets not only included the obligatory Emperor and Empress dolls that sit on the top of a stage like affair and below them at different levels their retinue of courtiers,musicians and guards but also furniture and pet dogs.
While some of the dolls had what appeared to be porcelain heads and hands as well as scaled down silk clothes there were a number of paper mache animals such as dogs still bright and colorful despite their age.
Nowadays due to lack of space and time most families only display the two main Emperor and Empress dolls on a table.
One also has to bear in mind that a set of hina dolls(which are given by grandparents)are expensive.Judging by the prices at shops and from what Ive been told a simple set runs anywhere from 200,000yen upwards depending on the quality and number of dolls in a set.
Based then on the evidence of the sets of dolls on display,their number and quality as well as the detailed household objects such as fans,brushes and clothes,the Tokogawa family was,to put it in cold financial terms very well to do and their collection is priceless.
The hina doll collection display runs until April 6th.Admission to the Museum is 1,200 yen while a discount is available if you want to visit the adjoining Garden as well.