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August: The Return of Souls

August is peak summer season in Japan.  We can look forward to some of the most spectacular fireworks displays and festivals in the world, ...

Scrapbook of Japan

I've done this once before when I had first discovered the wonders of Google Earth.  Once in a blue moon I like to clean out my study; and discovering so many things I had completely forgotten about I decided to put a few things together.     I think a scrapbook is in the works and what I'll do is post up a little history about the evolution of SofJ.  

The number one excuse foreign nationals use when asked about why they  came to/moved to Japan is all the same.   One popular reason "I came here to be with my 'Japanese' girlfriend/wife/fiancĂ©.   Another good reason is because of the green tea, and onsen.   I came here for the kabuki and  Mt. Fujii.   I came here because I wanted to go shopping in Tokyo, and the list goes on and on."   I'm no different.   I came for all the same reasons listed above too.     You remember why you came here?  

The first few weeks in Japan was epic, like it still is to this day.  The first Japanese Budo I got into was Aikido where I trained at the Akikai Foundation, the founding school of Aikido in Tokyo.    I clearly remember having to wake up at 4:30 am every morning just to get up to Wakamatsu-cho from Yokohama in order to make it up for the first of many training sessions.  I had trained until I threw up from exhaustion, literally.    There were some amazing teachers up there, and an amazing experience for me.    Met so many people, too.

Every spring I'd be in Osaka and Kyoto with friends from a drinking club I was a member of for years.  Every spring we'd be in Kyoto enjoying the cherry blossoms and literS of sake!   The large bottle in my hand is called Uazumi, a small Jizake(local sake) from Gifu Prefecture, an area in Japan famed for its great local rice brews and amazing onsen.    I WAS / WE WERE thoroughly wasted.    Hanafubuki, or cherry blossom showers,  fell so beautiful here at this park in Kyoto called Maryuyama Koen.    Two pink pedals were on my blue shirt in the pic.  

On weekends, we used to head up to Gunma to hunt for hidden springs.   Way back in the day,  onsen(s) like Takaragawa and Ikaho were considered hidden, now are  advertised on tourism websites and travel guides.    In the picture below was me at Ikaho in Gunma Prefecture enjoying some konnyaku with a drinking buddy.  This guy turned me on to my first taste of  Japanese sake.  I've been a sake guppy ever since.

Before moving to Japan I had read up about a lot of things and about a lot of people.   The first books I ever read on Japan were translated by Donald Keene,  and I remember one of them was written by  Yukio Mishima.    I purchased every book translated in English about him and read them voraciously before coming here.    I was so fascinated by the man and is story that I paid a visit to his  grave plot in Tokyo, at a cemetery called Tama - Reien in Fuchu.   Actually, another one of my girlfriends took me there because her family plot is also at Tama-Reien.   She was able to clean her father's  stone and then help me find Mishima's father's plot where the remains of Yukio Mishima are.  You will not find a Mishima Yukio plot.   His widow expressly purposed it that way.

That same year I also paid a visit to the Defense Headquarters to meet up with people who knew  Mr. Mishima and who were there during the siege that occurred  during his protest on the Defense building in Ichigaya over 40 years ago.   I have several photos of me standing in the exact same location and held the same tanto that he used there which I am not allowed to post online as part of a security deal I signed with the now Ministry of Defense.  
My winters were spent in Niigata, like they still are now.   This photo was taken at the Angel Grandia, and I was there with three sake buddies from Kanagawa.    The picture below is a handmade tokkuri which I regret giving away to one of my Jukujo!   The sake is called Kakure, and it's a locally brewed sake from Niigata.
The bamboo tokkuri was freshly cut and retained the smell of sweetness when I poured the sake in it.   On the table is the other half which doubles as a cup and a lid.    I should have never given that thing away.  It was absolutely perfect.    Geeking out over sake cups and tokkuris were a big part of the fun of having sake friends.  I have dozens of cups and carafes( tokkuri-type) drinking vessels.  I have no room for any of the them.  If you have a chance to drink sake from a freshly cut cedar masu do it.   Absolutely essential for the sake lover.

There was another sake group I used to hang out with up in Tokyo, two others actually, but they rarely traveled outside of Tokyo and were for the most part transient guest on short stay visas.    Sake is not material.   It is in a sense an ethereal drink.   It's a drink best enjoyed in Japanese nature and with like minded people who share the same passion of the countryside, not necessarily within the confines of four walls.    Bars and taverns offer convenience, but not necessarily the experience that works best with Japanese sake I feel.   Like me wearing the Yukata and freshly out of a hot spa; skin and hair still damp.  And then working up an appetite.    

In a nutshell, my early beginnings were sake, onsen, and friendship based along with jaunts all around Japan, and the Jukujo.      Warming seats in bars and taverns just don't cut it for me if time and money is not the problem.   What does the soul of this country  represent for you?    All of us have our own angle at how we look at things.    I wish to convey this meaning.    


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