The flower festival of the city of Nagano is held every year in early May. For the occasion, Chuo-Dori, the main street leading to Zenko-ji Temple, is covered with flower mosaics. Cultural performances, such as the lion dance, are also held during the festival. It is also a great chance to enjoy a good Matcha ice cream!
The Katashina River flows rapidly down the Fukiwari-no-Taki wayerfalls. The fall which is about 30 meters wide, has an impressive drop of about 7 meters. Because of its impressive size, it is sometimes referred to as the Japanese Niagara falls after the famous waterfalls located in between Canada and United-States. Access is free and a path follows closely the river and falls. In fact, you can walk right next to the water so that you may take an unpleasant plunge of you are not careful but you get to admire the power of the river from up close!
Sumo is more than a sport. It is deeply rooted in tradition and spirituality. The life of a sumotori is strictly regulated. When in lower ranks, sumo wrestlers must be obedient to their seniors. Wrestlers live in stables, large living complexes that feature, sleeping, eating and training facilities. Several times a year, all wrestlers meet at the major tournaments.
I had the chance recently to attend a Sumo tournament held in Tokyo at the Kokugikan. Upon arriving at the Ryogoku station, one notices the Sumo wrestlers getting off the train and the large posters of sumo wrestlers in the station. The stadium itself, the Kokugikan, is quite peculiar. The seats are divided into two sections. The upper one consists of normal seats. The lower one has what is called a masu-seki. It is a flat space with cushions large enough to fit four people. The sumo stage is at the center, under what looks like the roof of a shrine hanging from the ceiling. The sumo ring is indeed a very sacred place. The ring itself is covered in sand and is encircled by a rope.
Sumo matches are very short. Most lasted a several seconds and rarely exceeded a minute. When the two wrestlers put their fists on the ring the bout starts. They accelerate rapidly towards each other and hit with a phenomenal force. From then on, wrestlers try to force their opponent out of the ring or to fall on the floor. Once the bout is over the sumo wrestlers withdraw and two new wrestlers come for the next match.
Sumo tickets are sold for a whole day of competition. The day starts with the lower ranks and ends with the best wrestlers. Between every division, a ceremonial cleaning of the ring is carried. Most spectators come to watch the upper divisions so it is generally quiet in the morning. Before the uppermost division, Yokozunas, the best wrestlers, performs a special ceremonial entrance.
The Asakusa Culture Tourist information center is located in front of the famed Sensoji temple. The center, which provides visitors with plenty of information on the neighbourhood, is quite popular thanks to the free observatory located on the upper floor. From above, one can see well the main hall of Sensoji as well as Tokyo Skytree and Asahi’s golden poo.
Hoppy dori is a famous drinking street of Asakusa, located just west of Sensoji temple. Many drinking establishments and izakayas are located on that street which was once the meeting place of choice for those who wanted to gamble on horse racing. Hoppy is actually a drink made of a mix of a diluted beer-like soda and schochu. It was a popular beer alternative among gamblers in the days when beer was less affordable. Nowadays the street is popular among both locals and tourists visiting Asakusa.
Tokyo tower was built in 1958 and is an iconic symbol of Tokyo. It measures 333 meters and has a look similar to Eiffel tower but with a red and white look. It is now surpassed in height by Sky Tree (634m) but offers a different perspective on the city that makes it entirely worth visiting. The observation deck offers a superb view of Tokyo’s city-scape. One can also see very well the Zojo-ji temple located nearby.
Hirugami is a popular hot spring area surrounded by the Japanese Alps in the southern part of Nagano Prefecture. Many Onsen Hotels are located next to a river sourced by the pure mountain streams. You can enjoy a walk along the river before indulging a warm and relaxing bath.
The Kawasaki Daishi temple, also officially known as the Heikenji temple, is the most important temple of the city of Kawasaki. The street leading to the temple features many gift stores. Red darumas are among the favourite gifts. This street is also famous for its candies: to add to the festive atmosphere, candy makers cut the candies loudly with large knives in rythm with traditional Japanese music. We visited the temple in July during the wind chime festival when many chime manufacturers exhibit their art at the temple. It is also a great occasion to taste delicious Japanese street food at the many Yatai.
Every year, Kodo, one of Japan’s best taiko ensembles, hosts a summertime music festival on their home island of Sado. The festival takes place in Ogi, a small town (but quite big for Sado standard) nearby Kodo village where the members of Kodo live and train.
During the three days of the festival, many cultural and artistic activities focused on Sado’s traditions and taiko drums are held in the vicinity of Ogi. Each evening, a big show is held on the main stage of the festival. While the last show usually features Kodo’s classics, others feature invited guests (this year featured Braman, a metal band). After the festival is over, Kodo bids farewell to their visitors by performing on the dock in front of the departing ferry. As the sound of the drums fades away, one already thinks of coming back to Earth Celebration.
This collection of photos was taken on our way to the Yajima-Kyojima park for a ride of Taraibune. The area west of Ogi features rice paddies, traditional Japanese architecture and charming narrow streets. Walking around that region is a great way to experience the beauty of Sado while staying in Ogi.