Sunday, January 31, 2010

Ieyasu Tokugawa Hello Kitty

Remember when Mr. Trouble wrote about Ieyasu TOKUGAWA and how after his death he became a Shinto god of sorts? No? Don't worry. I don't remember that kind of stuff either. But the post is here and you can take a look at it, if you want.


Anyway, after his death, this Tokugawa guy got enshrined under the name Tosho Daigongen (東照大権現) and his shrines are known as Toshogu (東照宮). The most famous of them is in Nikko, of course.


He is also famous as the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate (1603-1868) a.k.a. the Edo period. Edo is the ancient name of Tokyo, btw.


It was during the Tokugawa shogunate when Japan introduced the Seclusion Laws, a.k.a. Sakoku (鎖国) in 1633. What that meant was that no foreigner could enter Japan and no Japanese leave. Penalty for violating this law was death.



The countries that were allowed to trade with Japan when this law was in effect (until 1853 or so) were: Korea, China and the Netherlands.



Anyway, enough of this boring historical stuff.


What I want to show you today is the new addition to my Hello Kitty cellphone strap collection - Ieyasu Tokugawa Kitty!


Ieyasu_tokugawa_hello_kitty



So cute, isn't it? I saw it in a gift shop at Kegon Falls and, of course, I had to buy it.

Holocaust Memorial Day in Fukushima

Even though the actual Holocaust Memorial Day was on January 27th, at the Auschwitz Peace Museum in Fukushima (I wrote about the museum here) it was observed today - January 30th. The reason for moving the candle ceremony to a Saturday night was very simple and pragmatic - so more people would be able to attend.

Candle ceremony at the Auschwitz Peace Museum in Fukushima

The scheme worked - according to the museum's staff the turnout was better than expected. And we contributed our two humble selves to the total count as well.



The ceremony started at 5PM with a series of speeches. As most speeches the world over, these were not particularly memorable, even though they dealt with a very serious subject. There was a minute of silence when everybody bowed respectfully, except the TV people who were busy filming everything and everybody, and Mr. Trouble, who was busy taking pictures.

Minute of silence



The main attraction of the evening were the ice candles - basically tea lights stuck into shaped blocks of ice.
Ice candle


Simple but quite impressive. And despite the relatively warm weather tonight, they melted surprisingly slowly.

The priest and the monk

Two religious figures were in attendance - a Catholic priest (from a local Catholic parish) and a Buddhist monk (from the Daitoji temple in Shirakawa, Rinzai school of Buddhism). They prayed for the casualties of all armed conflicts in the world.




Mr. Azuma, the museum's curator wished he could have invited a rabbi as well, but since no rabbi was readily available in rural Fukushima, they had to do without.

Hint - if you want to invite a rabbi from Tokyo, don't hold the ceremony on a Saturday night.

The field in front of the museum was covered with candles. The lanterns were made from old milk and drink cartons. The overall effect was very eerie.

Field of candles




Easy to guess which lantern was ours (we like yummy low fat milk)

When the evening was over, the lanterns were burned in a huge bonfire next to the museum.


Tossing milk cartons into the fire

But the ice candles were simply left to melt on their own.



And that was pretty much it. A few more photos - here.



Edited to add:

Here is a video from the same ceremony in 2011:

Friday, January 29, 2010

Winter Trip to Kegon Falls

Because nothing says “stupid” like a drive to lake Chuzenji (中禅寺湖) in the middle of January, in a minicar (yellow tag car) without winter tires, we immediately decided to do it. Hey, we might be highly educated, but I’ve never said we were smart. 

Lake chuzenji x640


Initially, all we wanted was to go to Nikko. And once in Nikko, we just kept going. And before we knew it, we were on the Irohazaka and since it’s a one-way road up the mountain, we had no choice but continue.


Irohazaka is one twisty mofo of a road, and even if you suddenly wanted to turn around and go back to Nikko proper, you can’t. There’s no such option. You have to go all the way back before you can drive down.


I say “Nikko proper”, because while Chuzenji is still technically within the Nikko city limits, in reality it’s about 20 km away. You see, in 2006 Nikko city swallowed a whole bunch of smaller towns (like Imaichi) and now is the third largest (by area) municipality in Japan. Size? 1,449.87 km². Population? Less than 100,000. Yes, I know that compared to Kiruna’s 20,714.66 km² (or Shire of East Pilbara in Western Australia – municipal area: 379,571 km²) Nikko is tiny, but by Japanese standards it’s huge. 

Nikko tourist information
Nikko City Tourist Information sign


And even what is “Nikko proper” can be debated, because when those other towns were incorporated into Nikko, the main city hall was moved to Imaichi (one of those “other” towns).


But where were we? Ah yes, lake Chuzenji last weekend.


It was cold. Very cold. And windy. The thermometer showed only about -3 degrees Celsius, but with the windchill it felt like a lot less than that. And since we were already there, we thought we might as well be tourists for a day (or at least for as long as we could stand it in the open air) and see the sights. 

Kegon_falls_elevator_sign x800


Kegon Falls (華厳滝) was first on the list, because nothing says “a great weekend” like looking at a half-frozen waterfall while the wind does its best to rip your head off. What can I say? We like to suffer.

Kegon_falls_in_winter_x450


A group of mainly Korean tourists suffered along with us. Koreans are hardy people, they’re not afraid of cold weather. But even they didn’t stay on the viewing platform very long choosing to seek refuge in the gift shop instead.


Kegon Falls is indeed a very pretty waterfall. I guess. I can only assume it’s very pretty during more temperate seasons, because it was really hard to determine the full extent of its beauty last weekend. 

Kegon_falls_ticket_window_x800
Ticket office


To get to the viewing platform you need to take the elevator – tickets: 530 yen adults, 320 yen kids (as of January 2010). Then you need to walk a little bit through an underground (or rather – in the rock) passage, and go down a few steps.

Tunnel_to_kegon_falls_x800
Walkway between the elevator and the viewing platform

Sadly, the viewing platform may not be accessible for people with impaired mobility, but if you’ve been in Japan for more than a week, you should be used to this sad fact. Most places in this country are not exactly wheelchair friendly. And Kegon Falls is no exception.


The waterfall used to be a favorite location for suicide jumpers, but not these days. And I’m not surprised, after all, it’s only 97 meters high. So while it may be a very picturesque place to kill yourself, there are many other, and a lot more convenient, ways to check out.


The most famous Kegon Falls jumper was 18 year old Misao Fujimura (藤村操) back in 1903. A girl rejected his advances and he apparently figured that killing himself was the only way to deal with it. And so he traveled to Chuzenji (which back in those days must have been a rather slow and difficult journey), wrote a farewell poem on a tree trunk and jumped. And that made him famous.


Apart from a dead forlorn teenage poet, Kegon Falls is famous for its beauty and considered one of the finest waterfalls in Japan (along with Nachi in Wakayama prefecture and Fukuroda in Ibaraki). 

Frozen_kegon_falls_x800
Frozen Kegon Falls


I’ll be sure to investigate this beauty in greater detail when the weather gets a bit warmer and the surroundings greener.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Mystery of Shozen Shin

This is another guest post by Mr. Trouble. And this is precisely what happens when you allow a proud Shinto freak take over your blog for a day. Having said that, I must admit that Mr. Trouble did a fabulous job writing about a very local, little-known Shinto god.

It’s always been a controversial issue whether dogs are superior to cats or vice versa. I can say I love both because I (and I was born in the year of the Dog, by the way) understand that each human companion has its own mission: “Dogs be ambitiously obedient and smart. Cats be sexy, noble and useless”, I can has cheezburger, says.




The other day I took my parents’ dog for a walk. His name is Daisuke and this is the name my parents couldn't give their human sons. Why? Their human son was named not by them, but by a priest at Futaara shrine in Nikko.


My parents took me there shortly after I was born and my name is what the priest decided I should have. It also happens to be absolutely non-international and almost every single foreigner bites his tongue when pronouncing my name for the first time.



Anyway, when we go for a walk, my youngest brother, Daisuke, settles himself at particular points where he does his business and while waiting for his mission to be done, one object caught my eye. It’s a rather large stone with the inscription “Shôzen Shin (勝善神)”. “What the heck is that?” I asked myself… 

Shozenshin stone




勝 (Shô) means “win or superior”, 善 (Zen) means “good" or "justice" but not the meditation type of Buddhism, that’s a different kanji (禅=zen). Shin (神) means “god”.


Since we live in the 21st century, I did not have to go to the public library to look up what Daisuke’s favorite peeing point is all about. (Sorry, a lot of this stuff is available in Japanese only.)


It turned out that Shôzen Shin is a local Shinto god equivalent to a Buddhist god called “Batô Kannon” (馬頭観音), a deity which also appears in Hinduism. Unlike the other Kannon (観音), which are frequently depicted as feminine and half-asleep figures in Buddhist iconography, Batô Kannon looks scary as hell.

Painting1

Image: Wikipedia Commons



“This terrifying aspect expresses compassion’s fierce determination to help us overcome inner egotism and outer obstructions,” Wiki says. Whatever.



There are a lot of incidences in Japan of syncretism between two religions, and Batô Kannon and Shôzen Shin are a very good example of that.


Worshiping “Shôzen Shin” is restricted to the northern Kanto area (Tochigi, Ibaraki, and Gunma prefectures) and certain areas in Tohoku (Miyagi, Iwate and more). Even in such a relatively restricted area, the kanji description differs, although the pronunciation is nearly the same (probably due to local accents): 蒼前, 宗善, 蒼善, 正善, 惣善, 相染…



Worshiping Shôzen Shin was quite popular in the Edo through early Showa era (17th century until the 1930s).
Back then, a horse did the job of an automobile. The grandfather of your grandmother of your father had no choice but to use one horse power for everything (just imagine the engine power of your car now!!!). There was a time when the horse died while pulling a cart of veggies or rice. No “horse” insurance could cover that risk. What your ancestors did was to cry a little, eat the body, sell whatever parts they could salvage, and build a grave for their faithful horse companion. Then put the “Shôzen Shin” stone on the ancient route where the animal had dropped dead. (These days you simply go out and buy a new car…)


But why worship in a Shinto way instead of Buddhist???


Here is the complicated part of the relationship between Shinto and Buddhism in Japan.
Everybody knows that the Japanese are one of the more open-minded nations when it comes to religions. We welcome pretty much everything related to gods, and we see a divine spirit in everything from saints, criminals in jail, evil samurai, to foxes and natural even phenomena (thunder for instance), or even objects (knives, pebbles, stones, old trees, and so on). That’s what we call Shinto, and trust me, this is a very concise description.


According to Japanese myths (Kojiki and Nihon shoki), gods were created from Kagu-tsuchi’s body (迦具土神) [(eight from blood: 石折神, 根折神, 石筒之男神 (link in Spanish), 甕速日神, 樋速日神, 建御雷之男神 (link in Portuguese), 樋速日神, 建御雷之男神, head (正鹿山津見神), chest (淤縢山津見神), belly (奥山津見神), sexual organs (闇山津見神), left hand (志藝山津見神), right hand (羽山津見神), left foot (原山津見神), and right foot (戸山津見神)], and Izanami’s bodily secretions [two from her shit (波邇夜須毘古神 - link in Polish, 波邇夜須毘賣神), two from pee (彌都波能賣神, 和久産巣日神) and vomit (金山彦神 - link in Spanish)].


And there are even more that came from Izanagi: tears (泣澤女神), dead skin and wax (禍の神). After the misogi, three gods appeared from his face parts: left eye (Amaterasu-ōmikami - 天照大御神), right eye (Tsukuyomi-no-Mikoto - 月読命) and nose (Susanoo-no-Mikoto - 建速須佐之男命)]. These three are called “Three noble gods”.
“She (= Amaterasu) is also said to be directly linked in lineage to the Imperial Household of Japan and the Emperor, who are considered descendants of the kami themselves”, Wiki says.


The current Emperor, Akihito, is the 125th generation descendant of Emperor Jimmu(神武天皇).

Akihito

Emperor Akihito - great-great-great (repeat 125 times) grandson of gods? (Image: Wikipedia)


When in the 6th century Buddhism arrived from Eurasia in Wa (倭 - ancient Japan), it incorporated domestic gods based on the honji suijyaku (本地垂迹) principle, and deities from both religions were shuffled (神仏習合)…



All right, now it’s time to organize all this information listed above, digest it and try to come to some cohesive conclusion.
I believe that there must have been some charismatic Shinto priest who was responsible for spreading the Shôzen Shin worship out in northern part of Japan. It must have been either an individual or a whole Shinto branch that had enough influence upon the local population, but it did not reach Edo (old name of Tokyo), the center of Tokugawa Japan. That’s why no descriptions are found in history books because history is written from the ruler’s (= winner) point of view.


So here is my speculation. In Tochigi, there is a local Shinto, as well as Buddhist influence of worshiping Ieyasu Tokugawa. The dude became a god in Nikko Tosho-gu (日光東照宮), and after his death we call him Tosho Daigongen.

Toshogu_nikko_bw_x500

Toshogu shrine in Nikko

Adjacent to Tosho-gu, there is the Nikko Futaara shrine (日光二荒山神社), the place where I got my name!!!


Not so many people are aware that this shrine is dedicated to the worship of three mountains: Mt. Nantai (男体山, male), Mt. Nyohou (女峰山, female), and Mt. Taro (太郎山, male). Mt. Taro is said to be the son of Nantai (husband) and Nyohou (wife). Taro is a common name for the eldest son in Japanese families.

Three mountains map



Each mountain has their own assigned gods both in Shinto and Buddhism. Mt. Nantai has Ōkuninushi (大己貴命/大国主神) as a Shinto god and Senju Kannon (千手観音) from Buddhism.


Takiri Hime (田心姫命) from Shinto and Amida Nyorai/ Amitābha (阿弥陀如来) from Buddhism are the gods assigned to Mt. Nyohou.



Ajisukitakahikone (味耜高彦根命) from Shinto and BATÔ-KANNON from Buddhism are for Mt. Taro!!! Of course in Japanese myths, Ajisukitakahikone is a real child of Ōkuninushi and Takiri Hime.

Mt nantai

Mt. Nantai to the left (taken by Mrs. Trouble while driving to work in Nikko)


Monk Shōdo is believed to be the pioneer of developing those three mountains for worship – he built the first shrine on top of Nantai and Nyoho. He also built a shrine on Taro, but a recent survey revealed an even older shrine already there, suggesting that there were more than one Shinto school developing mountains as a place for worship and for religious training. We do not yet know who built the original Taro shrine.


It could be that this party was the one who popularized the worship of Shôzen Shin.


So what's my final conclusion? I think I should ask my youngest “brother” to change his “business spot” to preserve our neighborhood Shôzen Shin stone….






Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Bleeping Typepad - I Hate You! (updated)

UPDATE January 21, 2010




The story continues...


Typepad staff explained that the difference in image quality is due to how Firefox (mac version) handles pictures. That's why supposedly my blogs look so awful when viewed in Firefox, and half way decent in Safari.



That's all fine and dandy, except one thing - such a drastic loss of image quality does not happen with many other blogs hosted on Blogger or on Wordpress.org.

For example, take a look at this link:

It's the same image viewed in Firefox on the left and in Safari on the right. They look almost the same, right?



And now an image from my blog viewed in Firefox on the left and in Safari on the right - link here.


Something is very seriously not right here.



I've compared dozens of red and pink (the loss of quality is the most obvious with these colors) and yes, they do look different in Firefox and in Safari when using a Mac. That much I know.


The thing is that Wordpress.org somehow manages to make those images appear almost the same in both browsers on a Mac. And Typepad does not.


I am really at a loss here and don't know what I should do next. Stay with Typepad and tell Mac people to view my blogs using Safari only? Or move elsewhere?











UPDATE January 20, 2010


PS. To give credit where credit is due - Typepad staff contacted me and they are looking into this issue. Let's hope they can sort it out, because frankly, I am lazy and setting up a new blog elsewhere is a lot of work, and I might just as well stop blogging altogether and starting to write a book instead.


PS2. If you use Safari as your browser, the image quality is affected only a tiny little bit. Firefox seems to be the loser here.


PS3. I uploaded the most drastic examples to flickr and you can see the images and screenshots of how they appear on my blogs side by side here. Use Safari, if you can.





Recently I've moved my photoblog from Wordpress to Typepad, because I already have this blog at Typepad, so I thought "why not? Let's give it a shot". After all, since I'm already paying those asshats, I might as well get something out of it.


Unfortunately, during the last two years, Typepad has gone terribly downhill. While it wasn't as visible with this mostly written blog, it's become painfully obvious with a photoblog. (And with the photos I post on this blog.)


The loss of quality of posted images on Typepad is so significant, that it basically renders the whole process useless.

A photo looks great in a Preview or Photoshop, but then when compressed and mangled by Typepad, it ends up looking like the worst piece of chewed up garbage point-and-clicked by a blind person. The colors look pale and washed out, the contrast is off, the vibrance is gone and the light/dark balance is totally destroyed. The photos look so awful, it's embarrassing to post them.

I think I will be looking for a new blogging plaform very soon.

Typepad sucks. DO NOT start a blog on Typepad. Go elsewhere.

- from a very unhappy Typepad customer who most likely will not be renewing her subscription next month. Or who, at the very least, will be taking her photoblog elsewhere.


Monday, January 18, 2010

On This Day a Year Ago - Antigua and Barbuda one more time

On this day a year ago we were driving around the island of Antigua. Why? Why not. Renting a car was easy and straightforward. The Dollar rep came to our hotel with all the necessary paperwork. She was on time, like all Antiguans working in the tourist/hospitality business that we've encountered.

Because international driving permits are not recognized on Antigua and Barbuda, we had to purchase a temporary local driver's license (US$20.00). The rep simply copied the info from our foreign driver's licenses relying on and trusting our translation of the Japanese text. I found it only slightly amusing. We were honest, but we could have shown her any piece of paper with a photograph on it claiming it was a driver's license from some odd country, and she most likely would have taken our word for it. 

The car was a Nissan automatic, the traffic in Antigua is the same as in Japan, so no problem there. It was a fun day trip.

Drivinginantigua x500

We read numerous warnings about the sorry state of the roads in Antigua, but honestly, they were no worse than some of the pitiful paths we have to drive on in rural Japan. 

Village x500
In many of the villages we passed, we saw either brand new or completely renovated houses. And most of them had signs about room rentals and advertised in-door plumbing, fans, and running water, plus the distance to the beach.

Roadside cafe x500

Roadside cafe with conch shells for sale.

Bay 2 x500

The views were spectacular.

Roadside church x500

Renting a car and doing a self-drive tour was a much better idea than just sitting on the beach. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against sitting on beaches. I love it as much as the next person. But I also love to get around and see stuff.

Valley road sign x500
The car rental rep gave us road maps and we only managed to get lost twice. Yes, I know, one road around the island and we still managed to get lost. What can I say? We're speshul.

Fortunately, most of the major sights were marked on road signs and the locals were helpful and friendly when it came to giving directions.

Jah x500
"No wonder they're so friendly," husband said, "they're all stoned out of their minds."

Drinking donkey x500
At the end of the day we felt just like this donkey - hot, tired and very thirsty.

Bay x500


Saturday, January 16, 2010

Otariya at Futaara Shrine in Utsunomiya

Otariya (春渡祭 or お渡祭 – according to the Encyclopedia of Shinto) is a very local, very minor festival. Not just Tochigi local, but Futaara shine local. Which means, it doesn’t happen anywhere else, but here.

It does, however, happen twice a year – on December 15th, and then again on January 15th.

It started back in the year 838 (give or take a decade), when Futaara shrine was still located where the Parco department store is now.
In December it’s supposed to signify crossing into winter, and in January - crossing into spring.

But if you ask me, I don’t see any spring coming here anytime soon. It’s cold and our water pipes are frozen. And personally, I think that goes a long way towards explaining why people burn things during this “spring” festival. Back in the olden days they were probably freezing to death and needed some ritual fire to warm up and stay alive. So much for Shinto mysticism.


These days during otariya people burn their New Year’s decorations (and other old stuff, even old darumas) in the otakiage ceremony, the priests pray (or fiddle with their cameras), mikoshi is taken out for a walk downtown and dengakumai dancing is performed. And that’s basically it.


Carrying the portable shrine (mikoshi) down the steps for a procession downtown

And oh yeah, people try to get themselves in the path of smoke from the fire, they believe it will bring them luck.


So here it is: the “spring” otariya at Futaara 2010.

Looking at the flames


Hey, he's an Alpha shooter - like me!


A scared little girl posing with Tengu


Priests ready for their priestly duties


The procession leaving Futaara



To see more photos of this "spring" otariya" visit this post on our photo blog.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Auschwitz Peace Museum Japan in Fukushima

I had been hearing stories about a mysterious Holocaust museum in Tochigi prefecture for quite a while. I always filed them in my mind as: “interesting, need to learn more” and then promptly moved on to more pressing issues of the day, like “buy more cat litter” or “should I do the laundry now or wait until tomorrow.”

Then last week I was reading something about Chiune Sugihara and clicked on a link leading me to the Jewish Community of Kansai website. JCCKobe immediately struck me as a very friendly bunch (too bad I live so far away!) and I started to explore their links. Among the usual “Mikvah”, “Shabbat” and “Your Support” there was something titled “Judaica in Japan: Places”. I wasn’t even thinking about the mysterious Holocaust museum when I clicked on the “Places” link. I’ve always assumed our aunt simply either misheard or misunderstood the stories - her English is not that good and she has very selective hearing.


So imagine my surprise when on the JCCKobe site I saw a link to the “Auschwitz Peace Museum” in Shirakawa City, Fukushima prefecture.



Fukushima, Tochigi – it’s easy to confuse the two, they’re right next to each other.


That was last Thursday. Today, Sunday, we just came back from a trip to Shirakawa City.



If you think that backwaters Fukushima prefecture is a very odd place for a Holocaust museum, you are absolutely right. It is.

Getting there is a major pain. The museum’s website is in Japanese only. In Shirakawa, or rather in Shirasaka, where the museum is actually located there are no signs with directions posted, and the only information board by the turn off from the main road is, again, in Japanese only.

Shirasaka station



Luckily, the place is only about a 5 minute walk from the Shirasaka train station – just go straight and when you see a blue information board at the bottom of a hill on your left, turn left. Be careful, it’s a tiny road! If you see koban (police box) on your right, you just missed the turn. (Driving directions at the bottom of this post.)

 Look for this blue sign and follow the white arrow up the hill (update 2011 - the board is now yellow)



You can see two freight train carriages up on the hill and a little yellow house. The little yellow house – that’s the Auschwitz Peace Museum Japan.

Yes, that’s the official name of the place – Auschwitz Peace Museum Japan, and yes, it is about THAT Auschwitz. And if you haven’t heard about the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, you need to stop reading this blog and go back to school, and fast.



The museum itself is tiny but definitely worth a visit. What’s inside is in such a stark contrast to the pleasant surroundings and the cozy location. You will begin by watching a 20-minute movie. (It used to be two movies, one Japanese and one French, but now only the Japanese film is shown. The French production was so graphic that museum’s visitors actually complained.)


Inside the musuem.
(Technically, visitors are not allowed to photograph the exhibits, but we asked nicely, and since I became their very first official Polish supporter, the permission was granted.)


The collection of photographs and artifacts on display is small but appropriately moving. All items are on more or less permanent loan from the Polish State Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau.

“But in Fukushima???” I hear you say…

How the museum ended up there is actually an interesting story.

You see, it all started as a project set up by Shinshin AOKI (青木進々). He visited Auschwitz while working in Europe and the experience moved him so much he decided to organize the Nationwide Auschwitz Memorial Tour “Auschwitz Engraved in Our Hearts” in Japan in 1988.

Actually, the story goes like that:

In 1983 the official Polish state museum at Auschwitz loaned some items to a certain organization (not sure of the name) located in Kurose town (Hiroshima).
Kurose was a sister city of Oświęcim (that's the Polish name of Auschwitz) and because of that wanted to build a branch of the official Polish museum and display the items there. 


I said “was” because in 2005 Kurose was merged into Higashihiroshima and no longer exists as an independent municipality.

Anyway, back to our story. Due to severe budget trouble, Kurose’s proposed plan never came to fruition. Needless to say, the Poles were mighty pissed and wanted the objects returned. That’s when Mr. Aoki appeared. He begged the Polish officials to let him handle the matter. And that’s when he set up the traveling exhibition.




The exhibition was displayed 110 times and eventually found a “permanent” home in Shioya (between Nikko and Yaita), Tochigi prefecture. (The aunt wasn’t lying after all!)

In Shioya, the museum opened on April 16, 2000. It was housed in a building owned by a construction company and which from the outside resembled the harsh exterior of an Auschwitz bloc.


Shortly after bringing the museum to Tochigi, Mr. Aoki was diagnosed with terminal cancer of the esophagus. And in 2001, the owner of the property on which the museum was located decided to sell the land. That’s when NHK (Tochigi branch) did a program about the museum and its imminent end and a group of very determined people stepped forward to save it.





First, a new location was needed. A small farm (about 20 thousand square meters) in Fukushima prefecture was donated. Then, a new building was needed. A 200-year old house in Ibaraki prefecture was donated. Then, people and equipment were needed to disassemble the house in Ibaraki, move it to Fukushima and reconstruct it at the new site. A construction company owner from Nagano donated his time, expertise and money to move the house and 200 volunteers worked to rebuild it in Fukushima. The JR East Labor Union donated the two freight carriages you can see on the hill and built the train track to set them on.

In April 2003 the Auschwitz Peace Museum Japan opened in its current location.


The museum is its own non-profit entity not affiliated with any specific organization and has no corporate links. Its day-to-day operations are handled by Mari OBUCHI (小渕真理) – director and Eiji AZUMA (我妻英治) - curator.

 Ms. Obuchi and Mr. Azuma


Mr. Azuma was kind enough to spend some time with us today and answer our questions. He speaks good English and even if you can’t utter a word of Japanese, you should have no trouble communicating with him. He said he hadn’t been using English enough (most, if not all, of the museum’s visitors have been Japanese - so far), so by all means, please give him a chance to practice.


What else is there to see? In the two freight cars there is a disturbing exhibit of drawings (excellent reproductions) done by Polish school children in 1946 depicting their war memories.


"War Through Children's Eyes" exhibit

In a little brick house by the road, there is a section devoted to Anne Frank (even thought she died in Bregen Belsen, not in Auschwitz).




The museum also organizes an odd event every once in a while.
The next upcoming event – ice candle lighting to commemorate the International Holocaust Remembrance Day - will take place on Saturday, January 30th, 2010 starting at 5PM.
The actual Remembrance Day – the day when Auschwitz was liberated by Soviet troops is of course on January 27th. The event is free, just bring your own empty milk (or other drink) carton to make an ice candle. Don’t worry, the staff will help you!

Auschwitz Peace Museum from the outside




Other info:

Prices: 300 yen children, 500 yen adults, group discount for more than 20 people. Or, for 3000 yen you can become an official supporter with a free yearly pass.

Hours: 10AM to 5PM, closed Tuesdays and during New Year’s Holidays. If Tuesday is a national holiday, the museum is open, and then the following day it’s closed.

Driving directions: from Tohoku Highway exit at Shirakawa IC, take route 4 (go south) until route 184 appears, turn left onto 184 and follow it until you see a large pond on your right. Make the first right after the pond. You’ll see a police box on your left and a blue information board (about the museum, in Japanese) on the right. Turn right by the information board and go up the hill.

Contact: phone: +81 24 821 2108 / fax: +81 24 821 9068,
Website: here


PS. And our entry about the Ice Candle ceremony (aka Holocaust Memorial Day 2010) is here.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Don't Worry, I Have No Idea Either

So… My last post brought me nothing but trouble again. And this time, I really thought I was being kind, straightforward and honest.


However this time, it was the “nice” folks who left me comments on the blog, while the “not-so-nice” ones decided to chew me out in private correspondence. Which is odd, because according to Nomadic Matt’s book (How To Make Money with Your Travel Blog), “travelers are a friendly bunch.” Well, these fans of Matt were anything but, I have to say.


I might be a pretentious looser, but at least I have class. And because I’m such a classy lady, I will not share the names of the gutless wonders who sent me hate mail after reading my review of Matt's book. Don’t worry, I’ll just laugh at you in private, especially since you apparently didn’t have the balls to say in public (probably after reading the positive comments on that post) just what it is that you REALLY think of me.

But hey, that’s OK, and guess what? You weren’t even that original. I’ve heard it all before. Next time, please try harder, I’d expect something far more imaginative from someone who claims to be (or is it “wants to be”?) a writer.


But anyway, for those who don’t know, this is what happened. I bought Nomadic Matt’s book, read it and reviewed it here. And it looks like some of Matt’s groupies took it really very hard, not to mention - very personally.


Instead of commenting on the blog, they sent me emails. And boy oh boy, they sure told me off. So, here’s the summary, in no particular order. Apparently:

  • 1. I’m just sick with jealousy over Matt’s success.
  • 2. I’m lame and my blog sucks (yeah? Then why were you reading it, huh?)
  • 3. With my kind of attitude I’ll never be a popular blogger/ travel writer/ garden gnome.
  • 4. Maybe instead of criticizing Matt’s book, I should spend my time more productively - on ventures that would make me wildly successful and popular.
  • 5. I’m just a desperate hanger-on (or was it just a hanger?) looking for attention.
  • 6. Variations on the above, more of the same, barf, burp, snore, zzzzz…


All this leads me to believe that Matt’s groupies can’t read. Or if they can, they have serious reading and comprehension problems. Why? Because I did not criticize Matt’s book. It is a very good book, overpriced – that’s for sure, but a good book. Just not for me.


But these emails have also taught me a few things. You see, I had no idea that travel blogging was a popularity contest. (Apparently it is). That travel blogging is a lot like high school (apparently it is) where you have the cool kids and the dorks and the bullies (and the dumb bimbos willing to blow the football team captain just to be part of the in-crowd). And that I’m not as delusional as I have previously thought. Some folks are a lot worse and they don’t even know it.


Now, can we all go back to pretending that “travelers are a friendly bunch”, hold hands and sing “Kumbaya” please?



And can you just imagine what would happen if I decided to blog about a truly controversial topic, like the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, or who’s going to win the Superbowl? Sheesh… I’d need sniffer dogs for my mail.

Yo bi there x500

I think this t-shirt sums up this whole matter pretty nicely.