Saturday, September 28, 2013

Happy Birthday Big C!/孔子、お誕生日おめでとう!/孔子生日快樂!

Supposedly, this is a blog about living in Tainan.  However, I sure have been posting a lot about Japan recently.  Let's take a break from Japan and wish Confucius a happy birthday!
There are Confucius Temples all over the world.  Anywhere Han people have settled it seems, they've got and set up a Confucius Temple.  Since Tainan is the first part of Taiwan that Han people settled in, the Confucius Temple in Tainan is the oldest in Taiwan.  Every year on the philosopher's birthday, they have a ceremony.  It starts at 5 or so in the morning.  Ugh.  Figures that all work and no play, stiff-collar Confucius would have a ceremony that requires getting up before the sun rises.  If it were a Chuang Tzu ceremony, everyone would probably wander in at whatever time they wanted and loll about on the ground, and actually, there probably wouldn't be a ceremony.  Or a temple either.  Chuang Tzu would probably make fun of people who held ceremonies in his honor.  This is why he's secretly the best Chinese philosopher.
At any rate, Confucius:


 Some guy's cellphone in my photo.
 It gets lighter and lighter as the ceremony continues.

 Kids with feathers.

 Scouts helping out with crowd control.
 I think I may have posted a photo of this instrument once before, whenever the last time I visited this temple was.  But here it was outside and lit up by the sun, so this is a much better photo.  They must have used it in the ceremony.  You stroke the tiger's back to produce some sort of sound with the bits that stick up.

 And these are pitched, uh, I don't know what to call them.  They're like gongs, but made of stone.
 Now, on a totally unrelated note, when my friends and I were leaving the temple, we happened across an entirely different celebration at a totally unrelated temple.  Tainan has a bajillion temples, and each one celebrates the birthday of the god housed within on a certain day of the year.  This one just happened to be today.  This is a good chance to see what a typical Taiwanese temple celebration is like.  To get the full effect, blow some fire works up around you while you look at the photos so that you can suffer hearing damage and breath in smoke.



This group of girls performed acrobatics involving doing arches like this.
She picked up a 100 dollar bill with her mouth while in the arch position!
  Doing arches off of benches stacked on top of each other.
 What are these guys doing here?  Hmmm....

 Just drinking some juice boxes.  Nothing weird here.
Ah, so that's what these guys were waiting for!

 Dancing and bubbles!
 And now the procession heads off from the temple to go around the neighborhood.

 And just like that everyone's gone.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Lots of Cats in Muroto/室戸岬、猫豊富である/室戶岬的貓咪


On the second day staying in Ehime, we decided to head down to Kochi to see some of the sights there.  Below is a tourist map of Kochi.  As you can see, it's shaped like a big, upside-down U.  In the middle of the U is Kochi City, the biggest city in the prefecture.  Our plan for this day was to drive down the highway that connects Ehime and Kochi through the middle of Shikoku and comes out of the mountains around Kochi City, and then to drive east along the coast to the cape that sticks down in the east.  This cape is called Muroto.  Our plan was then to return to Kochi City, stay somewhere around there for the night, and then head to the southernmost point of the western cape of Kochi on the next day before heading back up the west coast of Shikoku back to Toon City.  This plan was insane and involved a ton of driving.  Try it at your own risk.


Whale imagery was everywhere in Kochi.  They get a lot of whales off of their coast (which is after all facing the open Pacific) and as a result, this is one of the areas of Japan that has a long tradition of whaling.  It's one of the few areas in Japan where you might come across whale meat in a restaurant or supermarket.  Since I lived in Nagasaki for five years--another place where people eat whale meat--I didn't realize that this was unusual for a long time.  But in talking with people from other parts of Japan, it turns out that in most places, 99% of people have never eaten whale.  It's a very regional thing.

 We stopped at a roadside store to rest, there was this nice-looking bike in the parking lot, totally not locked up.  If this were NYC...
 It took you a mere couple of seconds to move your eyes down to the next photo, but this took us a couple of hours of driving.  We're now at Muroto Cape, the cape that sticks down into the Pacific on the eastern side of Kochi.  This guy, Nakaoka Shintaro, is from the area.  He was a compatriot of Ryoma's (I mentioned Ryoma in the last post) and not only worked with Ryoma, but also got assassinated with him.  Both of them are very well known in Japan, but I feel like Ryoma is for some reason more popular.  It's probably because he wore boots with his kimono, which is a pretty cool look really.


 Watch out for falling rocks!
 The view of the lighthouse from down below.  We went to this lighthouse, so don't worry, you'll be able to see close up photos of it in my next post.  (What?  You weren't worried?  Oh.)

 The coast here has all of these crazy-shaped rocks that resulted from changes in sea level in the area or something.  I forget.
This rock kind of looks like a whale.
 You can see trees like this all the time in Taiwan, but to be able to see one on mainland Japan is unusual.  These trees are tropical plants, so you wouldn't expect to see them anywhere in Japan except for the Ryukyu islands and the Bonin Islands.  However, there is a huge warm current that runs up past Japan's south-east coast called the Kuroshio (Black Current).  I think it's even bigger than the Gulf Stream that runs from the Caribbean to Europe.  The current passes really close to the coast in some parts of Japan like Kochi.  As a result, the weather right along the coast is tempered in the winter, and you can even see tropical fish in the waters nearby.  This tree is probably able to grow here thanks to the Kuroshio's warming effect.


And here's where the cat appearances started.

 There was a large collection of Jizo Buddhas here.  Jizo is the name of one of the Buddhas, and he is commonly portrayed as a protector of travelers, so you see him quite often on roadsides in Japan.  One of the earliest of the statues here in the middle was dedicated to people lost at sea, people who died in tsunamis, and to wish for a bountiful whale harvest.  The rest are mostly dedicated to people lost at sea, and if you walk around inside, you will see inscribed below them "____maru".  "Maru" is a suffix commonly attached to the names of ships in Japan.  Because people who die at sea often get lost first and die from dehydration, there is a tradition of splashing water on the statues to quench the thirst of those who died surrounded by water but with nothing to drink.


 There were also a bunch of crabs hanging out in a pool next to the Buddhas.
 For some reason, in Japan people often put red hoods and bibs on Jizo statues.  Most people I've talked to just give the explanation "people don't want him to get cold since he's sitting outside".  Unlike statues in a temple, Jizo statues are often sitting outside, exposed to the elements, so that makes sense.  Still, why red?  Well, Jizo's other main role, aside from protecting travelers, is protecting the souls of children who died young and aborted fetuses.  Children who die young are said to be stuck on the side of the Sanzu river, separating them from reaching the world of the afterlife.  They sit at the side of the river, naked, and have to pile up stones in repentance for the suffering they've caused their parents by dying before them.  As if that weren't enough, demons also come and knock down their stone piles and beat them with sticks.  Jizo protects these children by hiding them in his robes, so parents will often clothe the Jizo statues in the hope that Jizo will protect their children in return.  The red color comes from an association with the color red being able to protect people from disease and demons.


And on the theme of Buddhism, here I'll address the Shikoku Henro.  Do you remember the German map I put in the first post about Ehime?  It shows 88 temples all around Shikoku.  There is a famous pilgrimage to these 88 temples that has been done for a couple hundred years.  The red sign below is showing where the henro trail goes.  Traditionally, people would walk around Shikoku (what other option did they have but to walk?) and visit these 88 temples.  Nowadays, some people go by car or bus--and I even saw one guy on a bicycle--but you also still see some people walking the course.  I encountered a couple while I was in Kochi.  You can tell who the people doing the henro are because they wear white clothes, so they stick out a lot, especially when they're on a bicycle or in the supermarket buying instant ramen.

Cats are uninterested in walking the henro trail.
 This was a monument to people who died, though I forget what from.
 I suspect that tourists and henro participants must feed the stray cats around here, because there were a lot of them, and they were pretty friendly.

 A Buddhist cave. I'm not sure what this was about exactly.
 I see you!

 Shintaro again in the distance.
Next up, a lighthouse!  Oh boy!