Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Sure, you may have seen many electronic crane games in your day (known here in Japan as "UFO Catchers"). But, have you seen one where the prize is...


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

I've Been Stimulated (定額給付金)

A warm and heartfelt thanks goes out to Prime Minister Taro Aso.

As a bonafied taxpayer, I just received my ¥12,000 ($124.478) stimulus check today!

Free money GET!!!

I'm headed straight to the pachinko parlor baby!


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Tokyo Snapshots 2 (もう一度、チ~ズ!)

I just got back from the briefest of trips to Tokyo / Yokohama.  Below are the few pictures I snapped before returning to Matsuyama.


Current Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso is well known for his love of Akihabara. He often speaks of exporting Japan's popular culture, and gained popularity with young people due to his knowledge of manga.

I spotted this sign while walking around Akiba. The big Japanese reads, "Our Taro". The little writing says the equivalent of, "Cool (fashionable) old dude" in Japanese.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Weird eyeball / HAL (2001: A Space Odyssey) style art piece at a train station in Yokohama.

All decked out in my snazzy suit.  This picture was taken via the weird reflective ball.

Alcoholic cat.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Everybody was Cow-Fu Fighting (宇和島市)

Well, I can scratch another one off my list - visiting the city of Uwajima!

Anyone born and raised in Seattle as I was, will be immediately familiar with the Asian supermarket chain known as "Uwajimaya" (the "ya" is the Japanese character for store).

Founded in 1928 by a family from Ehime Prefecture, Uwajimaya now has several stores throughout the Pacific Northwest, including their flagship Uwajimaya Village complex in Seattle's International District.

As embarrassing as it is, I actually had no idea that Uwajima was a place name. I certainly had no idea that Uwajima was in Shikoku, let alone my very same prefecture.

Located exactly two hours from Matsuyama City by highway bus, Uwajima is a sleepy little city nestled in the southern tip of Ehime.

The city is most famous for its bullfights (known as "tougyu" in Japanese). This tradition, which dates back to the 17th century, has more in common with modern day sumo wrestling than it does with the flamboyant, red cape swirling Spanish spectacle.

Here, the bovine athletes are treated like royal celebrities. They dine on premium grass and drink sake. This is about as humane as bullfighting can get. There is a complete absence of injury, blood, and death. Still, I felt a bit uncomfortable watching these huge animals ram into each other over and over again. I'm sure that bulls probably do this naturally in the fields all the time. I'm probably just a softy when it comes to animals.

The local snack in these parts is "jakoten," a fried fishcake made from ground up pulp and bones. Though I despised jakoten with a passion upon first eating it, repeated consumption has led me to actually quite like the stuff.

It wouldn't be a stretch to say that frequent visits to Uwajimaya in Seattle helped spur my interest in Japanese language and culture (not to mention sushi intake). There are many gateways through which one can appreciate a foreign culture - I happen to think that food is one of the best. I did (and still do!) find perusing the aisles of foreign food ingredients and household items in Uwajimaya to be absolutely fascinating.

Forget the 88 temples...this was MY pilgrimage.


The famous Ushi-Oni (cow demon) welcomes you to Uwajima City in southern Ehime Prefecture.

As you can see from the pictures below, Uwajima bullfighting is completely different from the commonly known Spanish variety. Firstly, there is no matador. Another key difference is that the bulls are never seriously injured or killed. Two animals are brought to the center of the ring to square-off in a sumo style match. The fight continues until one bull's knees touch the ground, or an animal flees from the ring. The longest match of the tournament lasted over 29 minutes!

Interior of the bullfight arena. These tournaments are only held a few times throughout the year.

Psyching each other out.

Round One...FIGHT!


Outside the arena you could see the bulls lined up. This guy was cheering on his friend inside.

This bull was the winner. He got a trophy and a special flag.

Since still pictures don't really do the event justice, I took this video so you could experience the excitement firsthand!

Taga Jinja is an ancient Shinto fertility shrine located about ten minutes from Uwajima's city center. Adjacent to the shrine is a sex museum filled with naughty pictures and memorabilia.

Standing erect!

They should offer these in those SkyMall airplane catalogs, alongside the "Swinging Gnome" and "Hippo Family" garden sculptures.

"For anyone who's thought fondly of childhood summers spent masturbating in the yard while gazing at the neighbor's daughter, this centerpiece for your garden or water feature evokes a heartwarming return to innocence."

Presenting the second biggest penis in Ehime Prefecture...I have the first!

For some reason, the only thing I could think of was a warped version of the final scene from Free Willy.

Coming back from the bullfight, I took an accidental detour from the walking path and ended up winding through an elaborate, hillside cemetery. Here is an image of the Bodhisattva Kannon I snapped along the way.

I think Uwajima Castle wins the "cutest castle" category hands down. The dramatic buildup requires visitors to hike fifteen minutes up to the top of a hill, only to be greeted by this quaint, three-story structure. I couldn't help but chuckle. Completed in 1596, Uwajima-Jo is significant because it is one of only a handful of castles to still posses its original, Edo Period central tower.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Cherry Blossoms (花見)

It is now officially the happiest time of the year in Japan - the sakura are in bloom! The cherry blossoms reached full bloom here in Shikoku a few days back, and I made sure to travel to Matsuyama City to see them.

While there are certainly cherry blossom trees in America (most famously in Washington D.C.), there is nothing quite like the "hanami" tradition in the States.

A "hanami" quite simply means a flower viewing. This tradition, which dates back to the Nara Period, today most often takes the form of an outdoor picnic underneath the trees. Families, friends, or coworkers camp out during the day or at night, crack open the booze, whip out the bento, and enjoy the beauty of the flowers.

Today, the more popular hanami sites in Japan, Ueno Park in Tokyo comes to mind, see thousands upon thousands of visitors during the peak bloom period. As I write this post, the blossoms have already begun to fall around campus. By the end of the week I suspect they will be gone.

There are many varieties of cherry blossom trees in Japan. The most famous type in Japan and America is the Somei-Yoshino. This tree dates back to the Edo Period, and is named after the small town of Yoshino in Nara Prefecture where it was first cultivated.

You can see many pictures of Somei-Yoshino trees below. They appear almost white to the naked eye, with just the slightest hint of pale pink.

Other varieties of sakura include Yama-zakura (wild trees that grow in the mountains), Shidare-zakura (a weeping willow style tree), and Hikan-zakura (trees with large, deep pink blossoms).

The sakura are absolutely beautiful, so what are you waiting for!?

Start your viewing NOW!


Mr. Samurai welcomes you to online flower viewing in Matsuyama.

This picture is my own personal favorite.

And now begins my exhibition of photos entitled "Matsuyama Castle +/- Sakura".


(...) you can see, I sort of got carried away with taking pictures of the castle obscured by blossoms.

Look out castle - the sakura are invading!

My postcard shot of Matsuyama Castle framed by the cherry blossom trees.

My sakura flavored soft serve! The Japanese cook a variety of things with cherry blossom, especially around this time of year. Sakura mochi, rice, and anpan (red bean buns) are readily available in stores. The ice cream didn't taste salty like I was expecting. If anything, I'd say it tasted like a rich and sweet vanilla with just a hint of "something special". That "something special" must have been the cherry blossom flavor.

Matsuyama City peeking through the blossoms.

Before I move on to pictures from Dogo Park, I'm including a few generic tree shots. This guy seems to be having a bad hair day.

Sakura reaching for the heavens.

Branch...nuff said punk!

Smile for your closeup Mr. S.

Smothered by sakura!

Welcome to Dogo Park - located just a stone's throw away from the famous onsen. This park is arguably the most popular place to view cherry blossoms in Matsuyama City.

The park was understandably absolutely flooded with people. Most groups could be found in the main plaza, sprawled out on tarps, drinking beer and eating bento underneath the trees.

It is also very popular to view sakura near a river, so that you catch the reflection in the water. Though I didn't visit, the neighboring city of Tobe is said to have many beautiful views like this.

I know it's cliche, but cherry blossoms are in fact my favorite flower. I find that being around the trees in full bloom just puts my mind at total ease.

The famous cherry blossom plaza in Dogo Park. This is arguably the most popular place to view sakura in the city. Sadly, this picture really doesn't do the scene justice - it felt like being in a cloud!

There is an observation platform smack dab in the middle of the park. So, here is one final view of the sakura taken from above.