Friday, July 31, 2015

Touring Like a Local

I live in the small town of Urasa, Japan. It is located 2 hours by bullet train from Tokyo and is nestled right up against the large mountain range running through the middle of Japan. That means it gets quite warm and muggy during the summer and bazillions of feet of snow in the winter. Here's a map to give you an idea:

Over the last few weeks, I've had the chance to visit some of the notable areas in my surroundings. Here are a few:

1) Rice Fields, Watermelon & Mountains
Everywhere you look, there are rice fields. These plants are currently very green and the rice stalks haven't really sprouted yet (I have no idea if I'm using the correct terminology but, whatever). This creates a lovely landscape. Interspersed between the rice is watermelons. They are delicious! Even though they are grown in our backyard, they are still quite expensive. Everyone here has a wonderful garden and people are very diligent about working in their gardens each day. Lastly, the Japanese Alps provide a lovely backdrop to all the agriculture.

The view from campus
2) The Shrines, Temples & The Naked Man Festival
Though spiritual and superstitious, Japan is not really religious. Here, Shinto and Buddhism fuse together to create a distinctly Japanese spirituality. This is seen in the numerous shines and temples throughout the country. Even in the small area surrounding Urasa, you can find several shines and a rather large temple. The temple is called Bishamon-no-Sato and is in the heart of Urasa.

A few weekends ago, I got to go on the school tour and visit Bishamon-no. What made the tour even more enjoyable was my local high school tour guide. She spoke very good English and shared the history of this beautiful site. Bishamon-no is probably best known for its Naked Man Festival. Though I haven't experienced it myself, it's sounds wild. First, men dressed in loin clothes consume large amounts of sake. They then carry HUGE, lit candles down main street towards the temple. Once there, they scuffle to reach the inner part of the temple. Keep in mind this happens in the dead of winter in a place that gets 10+ feet of snow each year.

Shrine #1
Shrine #2
The water purification pool (at every shrine/temple)

The gate at Bishshamon-no
The temple

What I'd look like at the Naked Man Festival

3) Echigo Winery
Urasa also happens to be the home of the Echigo Winery, one of the more famous wine brands in Japan. I hear that the cheaper wine isn't so good but the more expensive stuff is pretty decent. It also happens to have the best Italian restaurant in town.

4) Urasa Park
Even though it's small, Urasa also manages to have a beautiful park. Here's a few photos to demo for you.

Although small, Urasa has managed to keep me entertained.

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