There are 10,000 Torii Gates that take you to the top of a hill overlooking Kyoto, a city that once served as Japan’s capital. These gates serve as the entrance to the Fushimi Inari Shrine (伏見稲荷大社). The vermillion color (red, originally created from mineral cinnabar) serves to block misfortune and calamity. The gates, donated by companies, organizations, and individuals as an expression of gratitude for prosperity, surround the path of several trails. There are lanterns that light the tunnels of color, creating a wondrous experience in the early evening.
The Fushimi Inari Shrine is in honor of the Shinto god of rice. “Inari Ōkami (稲荷大神, also Oinari) is the Japanese kami of foxes, of fertility, rice, tea and sake, of agriculture and industry, of general prosperity and worldly success, and one of the principal kami of Shinto. In earlier Japan, Inari was also the patron of swordsmiths and merchants.” (Wikipedia) What are Kami? I found this site that gives the best definition. (I liked this site so much I “bookmarked” it on my search engine to use for future ‘exploration’.)
Along the paths, there are many statues of kitsunes (foxes). People of the Shinto faith may leave offerings of food or objects at these locations as they appeal to the spirits. A favorite food of the fox is said to be a fried tofu – aburaage. This article gives a background on the fox and its place in Japanese spirituality and culture. Understanding the background may make you more aware of the use of the fox in today’s Japanese influenced entertainment.
Walking through the beautiful vermillion gates would be very relaxing to me, but I can’t read Japanese. The names of the donating businesses and organizations are written on the gates and I have wondered: If I could read Japanese, would I be reading all those gates as I passed through? When I was in Chile, I found that my mind could relax because I couldn’t read the signs or understand the language. Not being able to understand them made me realize how hard my mind must work all the time to take in the written and audible communication around me. Would walking past these beautiful gates be like walking past billboards if I understood the language?
It is interesting that the god of rice is also the god of prosperity. Rice is important to Japan. It is an important food in the diet and has a long history of cultivation influencing the culture. Please see this important article that explains the deep effects of rice on the culture of past and present. Rice is such an important part of the culture that I will spend more time on this subject – tomorrow.
Japan, slightly smaller in size than California, is located in East Asia. Japan is an archipelago (chain of islands). Over half of the country is mountainous with a large abundance of forests. I gave you a clue regarding the country by telling you that this country has boundaries with six seas/ bodies of water. Can you find them? Four are located on this map. The Inland Sea is located between the major islands. The Korean Strait is located between Japan and Korea. Take a look at your world map to see Korea and Japan. They are not that far apart; are they?
When we visit Japan I believe our main impression will be the cleanliness of the country and the deep tradition of respect seen within the communities. The respect can be seen in how people interact with one another and with how they interact with the environment. I remember watching the country’s early reaction to a disaster and noted the consideration that people had for one another even in one of its more stressful times. I was impressed with the view of a shelf previously filled with water bottles, still holding several water bottles despite the thirst and needs of the people surrounding the area. In their culture, it is dishonorable to take the last of something when someone around may need it more.
I found a wonderful site that gives you an idea of the manners needed to visit Japan. Please take a look at this site. After reading this – How would you feel visiting Japan? Would your habits and manners be good enough for you to feel relaxed around people there or would you be nervous about “messing up” and offending someone? I think I would be worried about messing up but I bet the people there would be understanding of my good intentions.
Would you know when to take your shoes off and when you can leave them on while visiting in Japan? Here is an article that explains when you should remove your shoes. The socks I sent to you are called Tabi socks. Because they have a separation of the big toe from the rest of the toes, you can easily slip them in and out of thongs.
Some areas we visit are very populated and mass transportation is our form of travel. The trains are known for being on time and reliable but we would probably avoid using the trains during rush hour. I found it so amazing that there are people paid to “stuff the trains” – pushing everyone on and getting the doors closed. Watch this youtube showing the workers stuffing the train. Observe how the people are patient despite the discomfort of the closeness of the crowd.
Japan’s national flower is the cherry blossom. The trees bloom around April and people come from all over the world to see the beautiful display. The USA has a famous cherry blossom festival as well, in Washington DC. The beautiful displays of color are the result of an initial gift of three thousand trees by Japan in 1912. They represent the friendly relationship between the two countries. Like family members, our countries have had periods when this relationship was not as good but peace and time have given us the benefit of this bond.
We will explore fascinating sights, sounds, and tastes of Japan in the coming weeks. Enjoy learning about another wonderful country!
I am working to get the boxes packed and out to you this week. Where did we go? I felt like we needed to go back to the Northern Hemisphere. This small country is surrounded by 5 seas. We don’t speak the language. Those are 3 good hints and should help you narrow it down. Can you guess?
Australia seems to be one of the first countries to celebrate the New Year. I can recall watching their fireworks on the last day of 1999 around 9 am of my New Year’s eve. It was a big deal, turning the clock to the year 2000 and we watched the countries from around the world marking that moment. Watch the event as it was recorded. The back drop of that site is the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
The Sydney Opera House is a distinctive landmark as well. You will see it often in your lifetime when Australia marks a significant moment in time. I actually remember when it was completed (1973) and it made quite a big impact with its unusual design. The roof contains large white shell shaped sails providing a dramatic representation of the Sydney Harbour and city.
When I think of Australia I immediately think of the kangaroo. The kangaroo, a marsupial is originally from Australia. Marsupials have pouches. The baby kangaroo or joey is born but is super tiny and moves into the mother’s pouch where it grabs hold of a teat. It is not strong enough to suck so the mother pumps the milk down its throat until it is strong enough to suckle and swallow. The joey stays in this pouch all the time at first and then begins to get out for short periods to exercise its legs at around 4 months old. It will go in and out of the pouch for another three months. Here is a video from Smarter Everyday about kangaroo pouches. (I love Smarter Everyday and encourage you to check them out sometime).
Another really interesting animal in Australia is the platypus. Like a superhero, the platypus can change in significant ways to adapt as needed to different environments. It has webbed feet for swimming that can retract to reveal feet with nails that can move it quickly across land. It has a snout that looks like a duck bill that is used like a radar to locate food on the bottom of the lake. The males retain spurs on their hind legs after birth that are venomous and are usually used in battle with other males during reproduction season. It is one of two types of mammals that actually lay eggs. The females seal themselves in burrows near the water’s edge and lay their eggs. After only 10 days the eggs hatch and like the kangaroo the babies are very tiny, about the size of a bean. The mother nurses her young for several months until they are big enough to swim.
The Koala comes from Australia as well. People often incorrectly call them Koala bears but they aren’t bears. They are marsupials like kangaroos. The baby, or joey is born the size of a jelly bean and lives in a pouch living off milk and substance from the mother’s intestine called pap. This pap is needed to digest the eucalyptus leaves that the koala lives on. The eucalyptus leaves are not rich in nutrients and the koala needs to sleep a lot to conserve energy and allow for the needed energy to digest the harsh food. They are nocturnal (active primarily at night). They don’t live close to one another and have their own ranges or areas of control. The males have a scent gland that they rub on tree limbs to mark their territories.
There are several more types of animals the are indigenous to Australia but one of the animals living there now in great numbers isn’t and it’s causing a big problem. Camels were brought to the continent in the 19th century for transport and heavy work but with invention they were no longer as needed. Now there are over a million feral (wild) camels that roam Australia. They are causing damage to the land and taking up resources of the indigenous creatures. Australia is working to reduce the number of camels and as you would imagine, there is not full agreement in how that should be done. Here is a site dedicated to documenting the camel problem.
Australia is full of animals and eighty percent are indigenous to the country. Take a look at where the country is and you can see why. There are some really interesting looking animals and they are fun to study. Some of the lovely sites I found that you may wish to check out: This blog post by Luke Plunkett and Australia animals with pictures.
There is a town in Australia where people live underground, well about half the people do. They live underground because the surface above ground is just so hot. They live in this inhospitable area because they benefit from the mining of opals. This town is called Coober Pedy (meaning “white man in a hole”). Here is a site that describes the underground nature of the town. Be sure and watch the video link on this site! It is so COOL!
There are different accommodations for tourists who desire a stay in Coober Pedy. Although there are traditional hotels above ground, I found this one and think we would want to stay in something like this. Staying underground would be a unique experience for me. Have you ever slept underground?
There are some interesting things to do while visiting. Some people take an flight over the lowest natural point in Australia. Depending on the time of year you could see a huge lake surrounded by wildlife or you could see a giant salt pan.
(credit – Wrightsair)
Other people sign up to play glow golf. Golfing in the heat of the day wouldn’t be fun but using glow-in-the-dark golf balls might be a pretty neat experience.
Another cool way to get to know the area and the people is to do a “Mail run” with the mailman (no, not a literal run). Here is a link to the site concerning the mail run. I love to take photographs and think this would be an awesome thing to do as a photographer.
Lest we forget – the whole reason for this unusual town is the OPAL. The opal formation begins with the fact that this land was previously under the sea. Watch this youtube to learn about how the opal comes to be. Make sure you stick with it so you can learn about the opal dinosaur!
Uluru or Ayer’s Rock is in northern Australia and looks like a big red mountain on a flat desert. It is actually a big red-colored rock made of sandstone and is over 600 million years ago. The Aboriginal people of Australia, present in Australia for about 10,000 years, call the monolith Uluru.
Only part of the rock is visible above ground. The rock is about 350 meters high. There is an additional 2.5 km (or 2,500 meters) below ground. That means that as high as you see it standing at the foot of the mountain, there is 7 times that much more underground!
The rock is reddish in color due to the iron content of the rock. The iron, normally grey in color, is oxidized giving it an orange color. (Iron in presence of air and moisture = oxidation = rust). I guess you could think of it as a really BIG Rusty rock.
The Aboriginal people own the land and rock but the government has a 99-year lease. You can walk around the mountain in about 3.5 hours but there are other ways to get around it as well. You can ride bikes or take camel rides. You can go all alone or with a tour guide. You are allowed to climb the rock and not that long ago many people did. There have been accidents and deaths while climbing the rock so it really isn’t recommended. For me, the most important reason to not climb this rock is the desire of the Aboriginal people who are the keepers of this sacred site. You can learn more about the cultural importance of this area here.
I would like to be near Uluru for sunrise or sunset. I have seen some beautiful photos of the majestic red rock and would love to share those moments with you.