Monday, September 22, 2008

Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri!

The Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri, allegedly one of the deadliest festival in the world. Although official statistics seem quite hard to come by, judging from the hearsay on the ground and the rather large presence of Prefecture Police, the 4-ton danjiri claim several lives each year. Although I didn't witness any deaths, I did see a constant stream of ambulances speeding into the festival area to combat broken legs, sprained ankles, and a few concussions...

The festival is held on the first full moon of autumn, and is a Shinto procession in Kishiwada, a suburban city in the Osaka Prefecture, to pray for a fruitful harvest. According to the festival's page, it dates back to 1703, when the Lord of Kishiwada Castle, held the first "Inari Matsuri."

Members of the seinen dan, the rhythm and percussion bands of the guilds

The Danjiri Matsuri is comprised of 33 danjiri, massive wheeled wooden shrines with amazingly intricate and beautiful carvings of gods, demons, samurai, and animals. These floats are pushed and pulled for two days and nights throughout the streets of Kishiwada by guilds of several hundred members, chanting and singing throughout the city.

Preparing for the night pull

On the top of the danjiri is the daiku-gata, the carpenters who hold a special place of honor in the guilds. It is the daiku-gata's duty to guide the kumi in pulling and directing the steering of the mae-teko (front rudder) and the ushiro-teko (rear rudder). As the danjiri pick up speed through the narrow streets and make hairpin turns, the daiku-gata goes into convulsions of dance, jumping from side to side of the danjiri and frantically waving his red fans - doing everything possible to ensure that the float doesn't tip over.

A row of lanterns with prayers

The Danjiri Matsuri was filled with games, gambling, great beer, and amazing food. I tried so many things that I never new existed before. When you go to a Japanese restaurants, the normal things you find are sushi, teriyaki, and tempura. There is a whole world of Osaka festival and bar food - simply delcious. Starting with yakitori and kushikatsu, which are some of the more common bar foods - the kushikatsu was amazing. Take any kind of meat, fish, vegetable, or great combos (octopous and cheese!), put it on a stick, dip it in bread crumbs, fry for a few minutes, stupendous! Or the amazing complexities of okonomiyaki and takoyaki. Okonomiyaki consisted of a thin pancake stacked with cabbage, scallions, some bacon, a lot of ginger, a fried egg, and all covered in Worcestershire sauce and mayonnaise. It has everything you need for a hard night out. And as for takoyaki, well who knew octopus balls could be so tasty....

A danjiri going down the street

For my first night in a new country, this festival was simply amazing. Not only was it so different than anything else that I had ever experienced, but I was struck by some of my preconceptions regarding Japan. The thought of wheeling huge carts through human power through tiny streets and around extreme turns was so counter intuitive to my earlier thoughts. Yet for all of the danger, there was an amazing camaraderie throughout the festival. People came together to welcome me, whether through sharing of food and drink, a dance, a few words, or a simple smile. And that will be what I remember most of the Danjiri Matsuri.

Saturday, August 30, 2008


The beach towards the town

Here it is....Gujora Beach, perhaps the most beautiful beach I have ever visited. It's too bad that I don't believe that my photos can in no way display its beauty correctly.

The Bay

About 20 minutes from Okpo by bus, Gujora is part of Hanryo National Marine Park (just off Geoje). Being part of a protected habitat has left the water amazingly clean and pure. Also amazing is that the beach is in a cove of a very large bay, so there are hardly any waves, even in the face of very windy conditions.

The Island with Inner Tubes

I will miss going to the beach when summer is over. Ah well, everything has to end. But until then, I will keep on going....

(and now something off topic)
The Rules of the Beach are:
Let's conserve natural resources.
No dump garbage. Take back please.
No Cooking, No Camping, No fire except permitted area.
No Swimming.
No Shamanism.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Okpo GVC Park

The mouth of Okpo's harbor with barges

In trying to escape from watching Hiyori Lee's U-Go-Girl for about the 50th time, as well as witnessing the poor showing of the USA baseball team against Cuba in the Olympics, I decided to take a hike from Okpo 2-dong to the beach. I had visions of sunning on white sand beaches running through my head, or at the very least, stumbling down a pebble beach into the deep blue water.

A Common Occurrence - Tugboats moving a rig out to sea

Unfortunately, I live on what I thought was a very small island (Okpo definitely is a small place). I mean, come on, I already know all of the blocks in Okpo where all of the (somewhat non-seedy) western bars and foreign clubs are. I know where the jimjilbang is, which noraebangs have western music - I mean, what kind of karaoke establishment doesn't pride itself in at least 2 or 3 Pet Shop Boys selections?

"Of course, you can walk to the beach," I thought to myself. "Why pay 3 bucks for a taxi when you can walk on such a beautiful Liberation Day?"

Hm, it really would've helped to have actually known how to have gotten from Okpo to Deokpo Beach or Gujora Beach. Looking at a map would've perhaps helped....

View Larger Map

So, I started walking. I had a vague idea that if I walked up the steep hill, the beach would be around the corner. Unfortunately, after about 3 kilometers of walking down a highway, the beach just wasn't in the cards.

Although, walking up that hill did provide me with some pretty spectacular views, which hopefully can be seen in these photos. On a clear day, Okpo can perhaps be one of the most beautiful natural places in the world. Except, of course, for the DSME shipyard, which while marring the otherwise beautiful nature of the island, does have a certain bizarre industrial beauty to it.

The temple of Admiral Yi Sun-sin

I ended up going to Okpo Great Victory Commemorative Park, which is about 3 miles down the road from Okpo. The park memorializes the first defeat of the Japanese at the Battle of Okpo on June 15, 1592. The Japanese, under Totoyami Hideyoshi, had invaded Korea on May 23, 1592, laying siege and buring Busan, capturing Seoul, and largely running roughshod over Korea. While largely successful on land, they were defeated time and time again by Admiral Yi Sun-sin and his fleet of Panokseons and Turtle Ships (one of the first ironclad ships in the world).

I think that this will give a better idea as to why Japan invaded:

The plaque in the middle reads:
Japanese culture before Im-jin Japanese Invasion,
inferior to that of Korea, had been desirous of
Korean culture.
Japan organized six special forces to plunder Korea
of its cultural properties.
Japan captured many Korean capanters, workmen,
and took away many Korea treasures and
A majority of Korean cultural properties which are
in Japan today, were taken away during this period.
Japan has developed in cultural respect since Im-jin
Japanese Invasion.

It's a Liberation Day miracle!

Thursday, August 7, 2008


"So what else do you need to know? Stuff about my family, or where I'm from? None of that matters. Not once you cross the ocean and cut yourself loose, looking for something more beautiful, something more exciting and yes, I admit, something more dangerous. So after eighteen hours in the back of an airplane, three dumb movies, two plastic meals, six beers and absolutely no sleep, I finally touch down." - The Beach

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Sandy Hook

The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today.
-Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Fear, uncertainty, doubt - these are all feelings encountered on a daily basis. Sometimes it's to the point in which these feelings dominate one's psyche.
Yesterday, the waves around Sandy Hook were quite choppy. I would walk out to where the smooth sand turned into rocky pebbles, and wait for a minute or two, hoping that the waves died down. Swells of four or five feet would come by, and I would try to jump over them to swim.
However, the majority would sweep me off of my feet and throw me back onto the shore. I would inhale sea water, coughing...Once I landed on my back, getting scraped by a broken sea shell (hopefully no sepsis).
In a way, this natural action of the ocean showed me my freedom, through showing my inability to be in control of all situations. Sometimes, to know that you aren't in control of a situation - it is simply the most freeing of all experiences. I do not know what the future holds, but that is alright. I will take it as it comes, and cherish the present.