Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Gotochi Travel Blog: Hokkaido, Part II

After all that time in the city, I was really excited to visit Akan National Park in eastern Hokkaido, which is known for being a great place for hiking, canoeing, and hot springs. Bus service is irregular, so we rented a car in Sapporo and drove across the island. It was about a four hour drive, but it was nice to see all the countryside. I even saw my first kitakitsune (Ezo red fox)!

Photo by tetu

Ezo red fox is a subspecies found almost exclusively in Hokkaido.

Partway through the drive, we stopped for some Genghis Khan, or mutton cooked on a convex metal skillet, supposedly the way the Mongols cooked on their helmets back in the day. The dish is popular in Hokkaido.

This is what ours looked like:

#1751 "Genghis Khan" lamb BBQ
Photo by Nemo's Great Uncle

We stayed at Lake Akan, where there is a hot spring resort and "Ainu Kotan," a village ("kotan" means "village" in the Ainu language) with a lot of tourist shops selling Ainu folk art and an Ainu museum. The Ainu are the native people of Hokkaido.

That brings me to the (possibly) controversial part of this post, because one of the things they sell in the village is bear carvings. Traditionally, bear carvings were reserved for religious items such as prayer sticks and headdresses. When ethnic Japanese took over Hokkaido in the late 1800s, they declared that the Ainu were Japanese subjects, and outlawed Ainu language and customs, including hunting and fishing, so the Ainu had no way to make a living. The Ainu people who worked for Japanese logging companies were viewed as dogs - less than human. Some Ainu turned to wood carving as a way to survive. They took what had been religious items and sold them as tourist souvenirs. Umetaro Matsui, an Ainu bear hunter, became a well-known carver of wooden bears.

Source: Old Photos of Japan

Posta Collect, in their description of the bear carving, completely erase the Ainu. According to Posta Collect, the image originated in souvenirs brought to Japan from Europe. They mention Umetaro Matsui, but not that he was Ainu. Shame on you, Posta Collect. This is a stunningly obvious example of the racism faced by the Ainu today.

No wonder this bear looks like he is crying.

Photo by Sebastian Tauchmann

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Gotochi Travel Blog: Hokkaido, Part I

There were many surprises in store for me on this leg of the tour. When I thought of Hokkaido, I always thought of volcanoes, national parks, snow, and the Ainu people. The gotochi for Hokkaido don't show any of those things. But, since I set out on this journey to discover Japan via gotochi, I tried to remain faithful to that. So, even though I thought I would visit Hokkaido in the middle of the summer, I went in May, so I could see the Lilac Festival in Sapporo.

Lilacs are actually some of my favorite flowers. At home, they bloom around the end of April, just in time for my birthday. It's a bit colder in Hokkaido so it takes them a little longer. This was the 55th year of the Lilac Festival in Oodoori Park, which spans the middle of downtown. There are at least 3 other festivals at Oodoori park that are more famous than this one. The lilac festival is actually a lot more than just blooming flowers, though. There were a bunch of musical performances, food stalls, tea ceremony, and even a flea market. Unfortunately, this event is so non-famous that even the official website doesn't have any decent pictures to showcase.

But! One of the things they sold at the food stalls was Hokkaido sweet corn. Naturally.

famous Hokkaido corn
Photo by Justin Cozart

Hokkaido sweet corn is called "toukibi." It's roasted and covered in butter and soy sauce.

There was one place in Sapporo I still needed to see: the clock tower.
The American-made clock tower is one of the oldest buildings in Sapporo and one of the few remaining western-style buildings there. Built in 1878, it was part of the drill hall of Sapporo Agricultural College. The clock still keeps the time and chimes every hour.

札幌時計台 Sapporo Clock Tower
Photo by Autan

Stay tuned for a bit more controversy (maybe) in the next Hokkaido post.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Gotochi Travel Blog: Nagano, Part II

From Matsumoto we went to Kamikochi, which is inside Chubu Sangaku National Park. No private cars are allowed inside the park and we had to take a bus from Matsumoto Station. The bus station had a food stall selling some yummy snacks I had never tasted before - oyaki.
Oyaki are kind of like Chinese baozi, but the dough is made with buckwheat flour and they are stuffed with all kinds of goodies. My favorite is kabocha squash!

Kamikochi is high in the Japanese Alps, surrounded by Nishihotakadake (2909 m), Okuhotakadake (3190 m), Maehotakadake (3090 m) and the active volcano Yakedake (2455 m).

Misty Morning in Kamikochi
Photo by Joi

A short walk from the bus terminal is Kappabashi, a suspension bridge over the Azusa River. A kappa is an imaginary creature said to be human-like but in reptilian skin. It lives in water and lures unsuspecting visitors in so it can eat their livers. We didn't see any kappa there, though. We mostly saw trees - deep forests of Keshou Yanagi (a kind of willow, Chosenia arbutifolia) and Japanese larch trees surround the bridge.

We hiked further in, to the tranquil Myojin Pond. We stayed overnight at a little lodge called Kamonjigoya and spent the whole next day hiking.

Kamikochi On A Cloudy Day
Photo by Les Taylor

Photo by Kazuhiko Teramoto

Vein of the Leaves
Photo by Maiko Aizawa

I was hoping to see a wild kamoshika, because the website for Kamikochi has a picture of one, and it's on one of the Nagano gotochi.
But we didn't. The English name for kamoshika is Japanese serow (Capricornis crispus). They look kind of like a cross between a goat and an antelope. Maybe next time I'll see one...

Speaking of next time, leave me a comment and tell me which prefecture you think I should visit in my next fake travel blog!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Gotochi Travel Blog: Nagano, Part I

My tour of all 47 prefectures of Japan via ご当地フォルムカード (regional shaped cards) begins in Nagano. First, we visited Matsumoto castle in the city of Matsumoto.

Matsumoto Castle is also called Karasu-Jou or "Crow Castle" because of its black exterior. Along with Himeji Castle, Inuyama Castle, and Hikone Castle, Mastumoto Castle is designated a National Treasure of Japan. It dates from the 16th century, and the keep still has its original wooden interior and stone exterior. Inside the castle is a gun museum.

Photo by Haru

During the Meiji period, the keep started to lean to one side. People said it was because of the curse of Tada Kasuke. Tada and a group of other farmers met at Kumano shrine in 1686 about an exorbitant tax increase. They brought their letter of appeal Matsumoto Castle expecting to turn it in peacefully to the magistrate, but when the peasants heard about his plan, they revolted, robbing stores and attacking the merchants. The executives of the domain agreed to lower the taxes, but a few weeks later Tada and the other farmers were arrested and executed without trial. (The keep was actually structurally deficient at the time, but the story is more interesting. Good thing the keep has since been restored, because we climbed all the way to the top!)

We went to the castle by bicycle from the train station, so I was quite hungry by the time we got back to town. The area is famous for two foodstuffs: basashi (raw horse meat) and wasabi (home to the world's largest wasabi farm). I passed on both and got a big bowl of soba (buckwheat) noodles instead, my fave. For dessert we picked up some delicious Nagano apples from the shopping arcade.

Apple cultivation in Nagano dates from 1874, when the Ministry of the Interior delivered three apple seedlings to Nagano. Mmmm.

Shinshu Ringo
Photo by jpellgen

Next stop: Kamikouchi.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Alkmaar, Netherlands

Alkmaar cheese market
This one was sent in an envelope. :(

Alkmaar cheese market

Alkmaar is located in the province of North Holland. Edam cheese is made here, and every Friday morning from April to September they have a cheese market, which is mainly a show for tourists. In fact, you can't even buy cheese at the cheese market - it is just a demonstration of how the market used to work in the old days. Alkmaar also has a cheese museum.

I've been postcrossing for about 4 years and these are the only two cards I've ever received from Alkmaar. I got them within 2 weeks of each other.

 Stamps from 2003 (left), 2002 (middle) and 2010 (right).

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Glen Canyon, Utah

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Utah
Slot Canyon, Utah

From mmtnsage for the vacation RR.

Slot canyons are very narrow canyons that are taller than they are wide, formed when rivers carve a path into the rock over time. They can be found across the American Southwest as well as in other countries. For example, the Siq, a slot canyon in Petra, Jordan was a location for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Slot canyons can be dangerous to hike in because of the danger of drowning in flash floods.

The 2011 definitive for the domestic postcard rate, showing sage (Salvia officinalis).

Love Horses, Ukraine


Sender Ksenia writes that this is scenery from eastern Crimea. Crimea is an autonomous parliamentary republic within Ukraine.

 These are from the 2010 Europa issue on children's books. The blue one with the horse is "mare's head" and the golden one with the people is "gold shoe."