Thursday, July 30, 2009

Museum of Big Drums

On 18-20 July, hubby and I went sightseeing in Hirosaki city of Aomori prefecture and Hakodate city of Hokkaido prefecture. We went by our car up to Hirosaki city, and then used train for going to Hakodate city. We started from our home at about 7.30 in the morning of 18th July. After about 2.5 hours of car drive on highway, we reached Takanosu service (rest) area in Kita-Akita city. We took a bit of rest there and saw the museum of Big Drums, which was located near the service area itself. We were in the museum for about 40 minutes. Later hubby drove for another 1.5 hours and we reached Hirosaki city at about 12.15 in the afternoon. Today I will write about our visit to the museum of Big Drums in Takanosu city.

The museum of Big Drums, called as ‘odaiko no yakata’, was opened in October 1989. The museum is located in Takanosu of Kita-Akita city, and is situated on highway route 7 toward Odate city from the intersection of the road from the JR Takanosu station. The museum of Big Drums exhibits taiko drums from around the world, along with the world's largest taiko drum hailing from nearby Tsuzureko district. The complex of the museum is named as a ‘Road Station of Takanosu’ where people enjoy their rest stop on the highway. The facilities at the museum complex include a main hall for big drums, theater to experience the real sound of big drums, a museum to exhibit drums from around the world, and restaurant and shopping center of local products.
The museum of Big Drums

First we went to the main hall of the museum. In the main hall, a set of six large Japanese taiko drums that exceed 2 meters in diameter and are regularly used at festivals of Tsuzureko shrine were showcased. The largest of them is 3.8 meters in diameter, 4.52 meters long, and weighs 3.5 tons. Also on display was the Guinness world record holding largest taiko drum made using one piece of cowhide, the intensity of which was overwhelming when viewed up close. Today, the Guinness book of records winner is only classified as the second largest one, but still it is 3.71 meters in diameter, 4.32 meters long, and weighs 3 tons.
Huge Japanese taiko drums in the main hall of the museum

Another view of the Japanese taiko drums

Guinness world record holding largest taiko drum

Hubby standing in front of the Guinness world record holding taiko drum

Hubby standing in front of the present largest (left) and the Guinness world record holding (right) drums

Me standing on a platform step ladder next to a huge taiko drum

It was really overwhelming and fantabulous to see the display of such huge drums. We enjoyed seeing them and I even played two of the drums. The drums were too big to play properly but I enjoyed playing them. I compiled a video of me playing two of the drums.
Hubby playing the largest taiko drum of the world

Me playing a taiko drum

Video of me playing taiko drums

The history and tradition of the Big Drum festival of Tsuzureko began in the year 1262. Water for farm irrigation in Tsuzureko village was scarce, and the villagers prayed to the god above the clouds for good rainfall by playing and beating on large drums imitating thunderclaps. In the process of time, Tsuzureko village was divided into two villages, namely Uemachi and Shitamachi. Praying to the gods for rainfall was done separately since then and the people of both villages believed that those who prayed first to the god would get a good harvest. Therefore, the divided villages competed for the festival time of praying to the god first. The competition between the two villages became so fierce that in 1925, serious fights erupted between the two villages during the festival resulting in injuries. So they decided to pray to the god in alternate years. The rivalry did not end there and instead they began competing by building a bigger taiko drum thinking that the village which made a bigger drum would be superior to the other. Since then the villages have been building bigger drums and the result has produced the world’s biggest drum, which measures 3.8 meters and was built by Uemachi in 1996. The Guinness book record holder drum that measures 3.71 meters was built by Shitamachi.

Next, we went to the video theater to experience the real sound of the taiko drums. The ceremony to offer the big taiko drums for the Tsuzureko shrine festival held every July was shown on a 150-inch wide screen set up in the Taikan zone of the Movie Hall, where we experienced the intensity of an actual taiko drum performance and got the feeling of being at a live performance.

Later we went to see the museum of foreign drums. Uniquely designed foreign drums of about 150 types collected from 40 countries around the world were on display. It gave us an overview of the traditions and cultures of several nations of the world. We enjoyed our little time strolling among the displays, and hubby and I played some of the drums. It was really fun. I was rather excited to see some of the Indian drums like dhak, dhol, dholak, damru, tabla, etc. after more than 15-20 years.
Display of drums from North and South America and Europe

Display of drums from Africa

Me standing next to a display of African traditional wear

Display of drums from Asia

Display of Indian Tabla drums

Hubby standing next to a display of asian drums

Hubby playing khong wong, a gong circle used in classical music of Thailand

Finally, we went to the restaurant and shopping center. The restaurant building was located next to the museum of Big Drums. We bought some local food products as souvenir.

After enjoying seeing the museum of Big Drums, we drove to Hirosaki city and reached there by noon. I will write about our sightseeing in Hirosaki city in the next two posts.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Lake Towada

On June 27th, hubby and I went to see Lake Towada. Lake Towada (Towada-ko in Japanese) is neither the biggest nor the deepest lake but arguably the most beautiful lake in Japan. The lake is so beautiful that Japan’s notable travel writer Keigetsu Omachi from the Meiji era admired the beauty of the lake saying ‘There is no other lake as Lake Towada in the world just as there is no other mountain like Mt. Fuji’.
Map of Lake Towada and surrounding area

Lake Towada is located in Towada-Hachimantai National Park, which occupies a mountainous area on the border between Aomori and Akita prefectures. Lake Towada is believed to have been created by volcanic activities about 200000 years ago, assuming its basic shape as a result of a great volcanic eruption of Mt. Towada that occurred about 40000 years ago. It is a double caldera lake located at an altitude of 400 meters above sea level with a perimeter of approximately 46 km. At 59.58 km2 area, the lake is almost square, extending about 10 km from north to south and east to west. The lake is about 327 meters deep at its deepest point, which makes it the third deepest lake in Japan. A Caldera is a large crater created by a volcanic eruption and the mountain ridges that surround a caldera lake are called its outer rim. Lake Towada is surrounded by outer rim composed of mountains 600 to 1000 meters high including Mt. Ohanabe, Mt. Towada, and Mt. Towari. The lake water drains from the northeastern part via Oirase River. The bright blue color of the lake is due to its depth. Two peninsulas Nakayama-hanto and Ogura-hanto stretch out toward the center of the lake and Nakanoumi between these two peninsulas has the deepest part of the lake.

Lake Towada was designated a national park in 1936. A natural forest of beech and Japanese Judas trees is spread around the lake. Wild cherry and Magnolia kobus trees bloom in spring. The forest is covered with fresh green leaves in summer, which all turn red and yellow in fall and provides a gorgeous view. The transparent crystal water of the lake reflects the lakeside rocks and colorful trees creating beautiful scenes through all the seasons. This lake is the most notable scenic sites of Tohoku region and is very popular tourist attraction.

Hubby and I started from our home at about 9.30 am. It took us about four hours to reach Towada lake area by our car. First we went to Hakka Pass (Hakkatoge) observatory deck in Kosaka town of Akita prefecture. In fact, there are three more main observatories named Kankodai, Mt. Ohanabe, and Takinosawa around Lake Towada that offers the fun of viewing panoramic beauties surrounding Lake Towada from various angles. Winding mountain road led to Hakka Pass observatory, which is located at the end of Jukai line road. The observatory is situated at a height of 631 meters and is popular among tourists for its clear full view of the lake, which is believed to be the best amongst all observatories in the area. The highest mountain of the area, Mt. Ohanabe, could be seen in front while the Hakkoda Ranges were visible at the rear. The jutting peninsulas of Nakayama and Ogura were to the right and thick foliage of the lakeside trees could be seen on the left. A stunning landscape weaving together the tranquil surface of a lake surrounded by an outer ring of lava domes, the distinctive forms of the Nakayama and Ogura peninsulas, and thick woods that grow at the lakeshore was simply amazing and breathtaking. After enjoying the view from the observatory hubby bought dango and softcream from a shop-cum-restaurant. We enjoyed eating them at the car parking area.
Hubby standing next to a notice board at Hakka Pass observatory

View from Hakka Pass observatory

Another view from Hakka Pass observatory along with a sightseeing tour bus

Hubby at Hakka Pass observatory deck

Me at the observatory

Me posing at the observatory

A shop-cum-restaurant next to the observatory

Hubby with softcream and dango

After enjoying the view from Hakka Pass observatory, we went to a small town named Yasumiya, which is an area situated at the southern shore around the base of Nakayama peninsula. It was just a 10 minutes drive from Hakka Pass observatory. While parking our car in the area, we realized that we were in Aomori prefecture, and not Akita! Yasumiya serves as a transportation hub and is the tourist centre with Towada Science Museum, hotels, and souvenir shops. Shores of Lake Towada remain largely undeveloped with the exception of Yasumiya, which has a cozy atmosphere and is the busiest area around the lake.
Yasumiya town area

At Yasumiya, hubby and I took a stroll on the promenade along the lake shore, and enjoyed the views of the lake and wild plants growing in the surrounding forest. The lakeside walking trail was simply superb. The bright blue color of the lake was stunning. The peaceful lake, and beautiful mountains and forest brought a sense of peace and tranquility for hubby and me. Both of us felt a sense of inner peace.
Me at the lakeside walking trail in Yasumiya

Me at the lakeside walking trail

Hubby at the lakeside walking trail

Outer rim mountain ridge

On our way to the beach

The view of the lake and surrounding mountains and cliffs can also be enjoyed by using sightseeing cruising vessels. There were 1-2 departures from Yasumiya every hour. It is a one hour trip and took passengers to various points on the lake. We skipped cruising this time. In addition, there were pink dinosaur and swan shaped small paddle boats for boating in the lake. Hubby and I wished to do boating using these small boats. Unfortunately, it was a very windy day and we could not do any boating.
Small paddle boats and cruise vessels at the lake

After about ten minutes of walking, we reached Gozengahama beach. While walking on the lakeside trail, we saw a very small island named Ebisu Daikoku Jima. There were two Shinto shrines on the island.
Ebisu Daikoku Island

Another view of Ebisu Daikoku Island

Me at the beach near Ebisu Daikoku Island

Hubby at the beach near Ebisu Daikoku Island

Hubby and I initially took a long leisurely walk along Gozengahama beach. The waves hitting the lake shore made a superb view at the beach. Later we had lots of fun walking and running along the beach. We both got tired after sometime, and sat and relaxed at the beach and enjoyed the spectacular view all around us.
Gozengahama beach

People enjoying at Gozengahama beach

Hubby posing at Gozengahama beach

Me searching rounded pebbles at Gozengahama beach

Me relaxing at Gozengahama beach

There is a bronze statue of a pair of nude maidens (otome no zou) at Gozengahama beach, which is a symbol of Lake Towada. The statue was sculpted by Koutaro Takamura, a famous poet as well as an artist. The statue was placed by Aomori Prefecture in 1953 to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the designation of Lake Towada as a national park and to honor and recognize the services of the poet Keigetsu Omachi (who introduced Lake Towada to the world), then-governor of Aomori prefecture, and then-mayor of the village.
Bronze statue of a pair of Otome maidens at Gozengahama beach

After enjoying the view of the lake and its beautiful surroundings for about two hours, we walked back to Yasumiya shopping area and restaurants. At a restaurant, we had early dinner of zaru soba (chilled soba noodles topped with shredded nori seaweed) and rice set with Himemasu trout fish, a special local product of Lake Towada. The fish was delicious. Himemasu (chippu) is a trout variety that is a dwarf form of red salmon (Kokanee salmon). In fact, originally Lake Towada was sterile and had no fishes. Sadayuki Wainai stocked the lake with red salmon of Lake Shikotsu in Hokkaido in 1903. Red salmon farming was successfully developed and today over one million salmon are harvested annually. Nowadays red salmon fish delicacies are an important tourism resource in Towada area.
Rice set with Himemasu trout fish

Zaru soba set

Hubby having zaru soba

After dinner we enjoyed the lake and its surroundings for some more time and then started on our return trip at about 5.30 pm. By the time we reached home, hubby and I were tired of the long drive yet we both felt very relaxed and peaceful after seeing the wonderful beauty of Lake Towada.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Hairstyles and haircuts for women in Japan

On 20th June, I had a haircut in a hair salon named ‘Lips’ located in Akita city. After moving to Akita prefecture about two years ago, I had difficulty in finding a good hair salon with hairstylists who could deal with my hair texture and give a haircut accordingly. It may be due to the fact that hairstylists in Akita usually deal with Japanese customers who have extremely flat and straight hair.

By nature Japanese women have silky smooth hair that can be easily arranged into a number of hairstyles. Modern Japanese women desire a dainty, exquisite, and trendy hairstyle. Japanese hairstyles are usually elegant and adorable, which accentuate the facial features and flawless skin tone of Japanese women. The hairstyles for women range from formal traditional hairdos (kimono hairstyles) to ultra modern hairdos. Nowadays most women sport a modern hairstyle. There are many kinds of modern hairstyle that can be broadly divided into three kinds, ‘long’, ‘medium’, and ‘short’, which represents the length of hair. According to my hairdresser, the most popular trend is a bob hairstyle and its variants since it is trendy, fashionable, and manageable. Japanese hairstyles have added features of sophisticated layered cuts, step cuts, and curls to achieve proper texture which add glamour to any hairstyle. In addition, bangs or fringes are a consistent feature in every type of hairstyle. Any trendy hairstyle is complemented with bangs to give an enigmatic look. In addition, coloring and highlighting is very common among people of all ages. Nowadays hip colors having very innovative names are ruling the hairstyles. Teenagers and younger generations usually sport ultra modern hip hairstyles. Inspired by different prevailing cultures such as gothic fashion, the Lolita look, punk, and hip-hop, the young girls are going for asymmetrical cuts and jagged look. Such hairstyles really look very cute (kawaii in Japanese) on Japanese women.

However, the hairstyle that looks cute and elegant on Japanese women, may not work wonders on a foreigner women with altogether different face cut, physical features, skin tone, and hair thickness and texture. Therefore it is a good idea to consult an experienced hairstylist prior to making the final chop. They can usually guide a foreigner regarding what style would suite our face. While I lived in Tsukuba, one of my Japanese friends had introduced me to a hairstylist who owned a hair salon named ‘Poco a Poco’. The hairstylist was really very experienced in dealing with foreigner customers and had a superb technique for cutting hair. His haircut technique was so good that all foreigner women used to say that he has God’s hand! However in Akita prefecture, initially I had difficulty in finding a salon with an experienced hairstylist who could cut my hair to my satisfaction. This is because there are very few foreigners here as compared to the Kanto area, and most of the hairstylists are simply not used to cutting hair of foreigners who have very different hair texture and thickness.

Hair salon ‘Lips’ in Akita city is a nice salon and is located in the heart of the city. It is a small salon and caters to only 3-4 customers at a time. It had a relaxed and private atmosphere. There were 3-4 hairstylists and the person who cut my hair was probably the best one I could find until now in Akita prefecture. The hairstylist recommended a short bob layered hairstyle. I liked her haircut technique and other services. In Japan, when the hairstylists shampoos the customer’s hair, they cover the customer’s face with a towel so that water drops do not fall on the face and also probably to avoid the customer looking up from a strange angle at the hairstylists’ nostrils! My friends across the globe have told me that covering the customer’s face with a towel is not so common in other countries, although I cannot be sure about that. After washing my hair, the hairstylist massaged my neck and shoulder area which was therapeutic. While she cut my hair, soft music was being played in the background. Such small comforts really make a big difference. The atmosphere was very relaxing and I dozed off after some time! However, the hairstylist was in a mood to chat and so she woke me up and enquired about many things related to my hair. She suggested to try a different hair color and also to lightly perm my hair. When I told her that I have never colored or permed my hair in my entire life, she just froze at the place she was standing and told me that it is unbelievable as nowadays girls in Japan start coloring and perming their hair by the time they are 15-16 years old. I just did not have the heart or mood (I was very sleepy due to a nice relaxed atmosphere) to explain to her that in India more than 85% of women have never been to a hair salon! It took about 1.5 hours to shampoo and cut my hair. I was happy and satisfied with the hair cut. She charged 4700 Yen for shampoo and cut, which is the usual charge in Akita prefecture.

Hubby took photos of me before and after the hair cut. I had not cut my hair for more than six months and so the change in the hairstyle looked drastic, though I liked the style very much. The hairstylist and hubby told me that the hair cut was ‘kawaii’. Next day I applied some hair wax and tried to style and manipulate the hair a bit. Hubby again took a photo of me and I uploaded it to a social networking site that I use regularly to communicate with my friends around the world. Some of my friends were shocked to see such a short hairstyle with almost all my hair chopped off :) That goes on to prove the sense of ‘kawaiiness’ and hairstyle trends definitely vary from country to country.
Before the haircut

After the haircut

After applying hair wax

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Mt. Kanpu in Oga city

Hubby and I went to Mt. Kanpu (Kanpuzan in Japanese) in Oga city of Akita prefecture on June 21st. Mt. Kanpu has an altitude of 355 meters and is located at the base of Oga peninsula. It is an elegant looking gentle mountain covered all over with a grassy lawn and is devoid of trees. Kanpu means cold wind in Japanese. Mt. Kanpu is a major tourist attraction of Oga peninsula.

We started from our home at about 12 noon and reached the service (rest) area at the entrance of Oga city by 1.15 pm. It was nice to see the two enormous fifteen meters high Namahage statues welcoming the people to the city. After about 15 minutes of car drive from the rest area, we passed though a winding road in a mountainous area surrounded by forest. After another 20 minutes, we saw Mt. Kanpu covered with grassy lawn. The winding road led up to the car parking area at the top of Mt. Kanpu.
Namahage statues at Oga city service area

Driving through a forest area

Mt. Kanpu

It was a very clear and shiny day, and the view from the parking area located at the top of the mountain was spectacular.
Me standing at the parking area

After enjoying the view of Oga peninsula and the Sea of Japan from the parking area, we started climbing up the stone steps that led to the summit of Mt. Kanpu. It was just a ten minutes climb but we stopped many times to enjoy the magnificent sceneries all around us.
Climbing up the stone steps leading to the mountain summit

Another photo taken while climbing up the steps

At the summit of the mountain, there was a rotating observatory that commands a splendid all-direction 360 degrees view. From here the tourists can enjoy the spectacular scenery and get a beautiful view of Oga peninsula, Hachirogata to the east, the Sea of Japan in the north and south, and Mt. Chokai in the south. Although we did not go inside the rotating observatory, we moved around the summit area and enjoyed the beautiful views from many directions. In the observatory pavilion building, there were shops selling souvenir goods of Oga peninsula and Akita prefecture. We bought a packet containing four bottles of various kinds of Akita sake as a souvenir for my father-in-law. There was also a restaurant to enjoy the sea food of Oga.
Rotating observatory at the mountain summit

Beautiful view from the mountain summit

Hachirogata marsh (left) and the Sea of Japan (right) can be seen

Beautiful scenery viewed from another direction of the summit. Parking area can be seen.

Above photo enlarged. It shows the Funakawa port direction.

A beautiful mountain nearby

Hubby posing at the mountain summit

After enjoying the view from the summit of the mountain, we started walking down the stone steps up to the parking area. While walking down, I took several photos of hubby who was very relaxed after seeing all the beautiful sceneries.
Hubby walking down the stone steps leading to the parking area

Hubby enjoying the beautiful scenery while walking down the steps

Adjacent to the parking area, there was a pillar called ‘chikai no onbashira’. The pillar was constructed by Oga culture group (Oga kinkokai) in the fifth year of Showa period (1930). The charter oath, also known as the oath in five articles (gokajo no goseimon in Japanese), of the Meiji era is inscribed on the pillar. The oath is very inspiring and is considered to be the first constitution of modern Japan.
Me standing in front of chikai no onbashira pillar

Because the mountain is covered with lawn grass and there are no obstacles in the neighborhood, this mountain is a popular place for paragliding. The area of Mt. Kanpu just in front of the pillar is used for paragliding take off. With reservations, veteran instructors are available to make flying experience on Oga peninsula safe and secure for paragliders of all levels. The fabulous mix of sea, sky, and land can be enjoyed. However, it was too scary for me as I was seeing paragliding for the first time. So hubby and I just enjoyed watching many professional and amateur paragliders take off one after the other with perfection and superb understanding of wind speed and direction.
Paragliding take-off area

Setting up and preparation for paragliding take-off

A professional paraglider

Several paragliders preparing to take-off and people enjoying watching them

I compiled a video of two professionals setting up their paragliders, and then they launched off the mountain and flew away into the sky! It was really an amazing view.

Video of paragliding at Mt. Kanpu

Hubby and I enjoyed the breathtaking sceneries around Mt. Kanpu. We left the place at about 4.30 pm. While starting on our return journey, we saw more than 20 people belonging to a motorcycle riding club at the parking area. All of them started their motorcycle at the same time, which made an amazing view and thunderous sound :)
A group of people belonging to motorcycle riding club at the parking area

We had dinner at an Indian restaurant named ‘Peacock’ in Akita city, and returned back home by 7.30 pm. It was a really nice and relaxing day for us.