this cutie was taken by Crazyegg95 in 2005 and is from flickr

for the main blog of poetry, whimsy and maybe beauty, now

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

it works like this

These are two images from Banksy, an artist who is famous for drawing pictures on the illegal apartheid wall that Israel is building to both contain and separate the Palestinian people from their lands and from Israel. He is famous for drawing other artworks, too, as you will see from that link to a gallery of some of his pictures.

This wall been condemned by the United Nations, and to tell you the truth, I cannot understand why there is not more outrage about it. I cannot imagine living behind it. I cannot imagine being cut off from my friends, my family, my farmlands and so on. I can't imagine my daily life spent waiting at checkpoints, under curfew, soldiers raiding my house at will.

The west seemed to condemn the Berlin wall and it also has a lot to say about the division between South and North Korea, but this wall, we fully support it. I mean, it is our money and goodwill that is building it. That is, if our politicians are elected to support us. Why? Well, who knows? The media is not allowed to report on this issue in a truthful or outright manner it seems. This is well documented. Just read the Muzzlewatch blog by the Jewish peace group in the blogroll.

The article that ran these two pictures is an article on the controversy that surrounds Banksy's graffiti art. It is ninemsn, so it is very light. The two captions read:

In 2006 he travelled to Israel to paint a series of murals on the West Bank. That is under the caption of the Israeli soldier and donkey. No mention of the nationality of the soldier there, nor any reason why he might be fully armed against a donkey.

The second caption for the second picture reads: He created this graffiti on a wall separating Bethlehem from Jerusalem. On a wall? As if there are a hundred thousand such walls all over the world, and their existence is perfectly legit, and not to be questioned. As if this wall is not a matter of contention. On the wall, on the apartheid wall. Give me strength.

Possibly, this is the only way that mainstream media can get such strong images through to the general public, but considering how insipid the commentary is, I doubt that people well get how very seriously wrong this situation is. Hopefully it will make some question a little, it will make some query, feel queasy. Journalists need to keep their jobs, but not all of them are ignorant nor without compassion.

How long before those two pictures are removed from the gallery, I wonder? The usual claims made.

Monday, 28 December 2009

a year ago today

Read more.

Apparently, remembrance vigils are being held world-wide (according to Indi-media,and Jews san frontieres.), but food and aid convoys and so on are still being denied entry. The siege continues. The wall is still being built. Water supplies are destroyed and limited. The settlers still settle. Houses still get demolished. A mammoth amount of aid is still provided to Israel, and they are given carte blanche from Australian and American governments to do anything they want.

Also here from Mondoweiss.

Adam Horowitz has a great article on the injustice that injust keeps keeping on.

Photo by Oren Ziv, Active Stills
One such injustice, this is from the West Bank, comes via the site, Artists Against Apartheid.
Abdallah Abu Rahmah, a school teacher and coordinator of the Bil’in Popular Committee Against the Wall, was indicted in an Israeli military court yesterday. Abu Rahmah was slapped with an arms possession charge for collecting tear gas canisters shot at demonstrators in Bil’in by the army, in the creation of this sculpture (seen above).
The arrest is mentioned in this post from earlier this month.

B'Tselem, the Israeli human rights watch group, also has a report on the lack of accountability one year since the attacks.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Why the feigned surprise?

Of course the majority of our politicians, and politicians around the world are in one form or another, war criminals, including Obama, including Rudd, either for their actions or their inaction, but the Israeli war on Gaza last year, bombing people trapped behind borders they are forbidden to cross, not allowing women or children to leave, and the subsequent Australian and U.S. silence on the matter was beyond the pale. Europe will, hopefully, continue to lead the way on this one. This is from Ninemsn, so I will include the article in full, as they tend not to keep their articles.

19:03 AEST Tue Dec 15 2009
Israel has slammed an arrest warrant issued by a British court against former foreign minister Tzipi Livni over her role during the war on the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.

"The current situation has become intolerable, it is time that it change," Israeli ambassador to Britain Ron Prosor told army radio on Tuesday.

"I am convinced that the British government will understand that it is time to react and not content itself with declarations."

The arrest warrant against Livni, current opposition leader, was understood to have been issued by a London court at the weekend and media reports said it caused her to cancel a trip to Britain.

Her office said the trip was cancelled because of scheduling problems.

A spokeswoman for the Foreign Office told AFP that it was urgently assessing the implications of the warrant.

"The UK is determined to do all it can to promote peace in the Middle East, and to be a strategic partner of Israel," she said.

"To do this, Israel's leaders need to be able to come to the UK for talks with the British government. We are looking urgently at the implications of this case."

It marked the latest incident in which British courts have issued, or have been asked to issue, arrest warrants for Israeli officials.

In September, pro-Palestinian activists sought to have Defence Minister Ehud Barak arrested over his role in the Gaza war but a court denied the request on the grounds of diplomatic immunity.

In 2005, a retired Israeli general, Doron Almog, avoided arrest in Britain by returning to Israel without leaving the plane that had landed him in London after he learned an arrest warrant had been issued against him.
It's time the human got back into the humanitarian (*NB, December 28 - the British foreign office did not support this move and pressured the British court to rescind its warrant. I think it is the same legal system which resulted in the arrest of Pinochet. True, I guess, all leaders are liable for arrest if we look at who is responsible for the atrocities committed in the names of governments all over the world. Yet, maybe many places are held more accountable, at least on the surface, than Israel ever has been).

Thursday, 10 December 2009

How we treat educated people and Bethlehem greeting cards

Archive photo of Abdallah Abu Rahmah, Bilin, Palestine, 17.5.2005.

In This archive photo taken on the 17/5/2005 in the village of Bilin, Abdallah Abu Rahmah is seen during a demo against the apartheid wall, while Israeli soldiers try to arrest him.

At exactly 2 AM last night (10/12/2009), seven Israeli military jeeps pulled over at Abdallah Abu Rahmah's residence in the city of Ramallah. Soldiers raided the house and arrested Abu Rahmah from his bed in the presence of his wife and children. Abu Rahmah is a high school teacher in the Latin Patriarchate school in Birzeit near Ramallah and is the coordinator of the Bil'in Popular Committee against the Wall and Settlements.
Photo by : Oren Ziv/

Not too late if you are in Australia to buy these Christmas cards. If you are a Christian, well, you're supporting your fellow Christians. If you are a Christian and a humanitarian, you are supporting your fellow Christians who are also human, and humans who may not be Christian. If you are a humanitarian, but not Christian, well, you'll be supporting humans no matter their religion, so all is good, even when it's not.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

no way through

U.K. short film. Award winner. If we had to put up with this, would we? It's not an exaggeration. Of course people need to be worried about suicide bombers. I would say that far more suicide bombers are made from the 600 checkpoints and the 2 hours that a Palestinian has to wait for an ambulance in Jeruselem (according to the end of this short, B'Tselem would support the figures) and giving birth at checkpoints, dying at checkpoints, and being denied medical attention. I guess the ones who die are no longer a short term problem for the Israeli forces.

This was first seen on the Chronique de Palestine blog pages.

supporting torture - the U.S. and Australia; supporting kids - Olive kids and ASPIRE volunteers

From Australians for Palestine. Australian government supporting the right to torture, and not supporting Israeli humanitarians.
The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) released on Friday a
new report which exposes the shifts in Israel’s combat doctrine as
evidenced in the prosecution of operation “Cast Lead” and from numerous
public oral and written statements made by high ranking military officers
and senior Israeli Government officials.

The report, “No Second Thoughts: Changes in the IDF’s Combat Doctrine In
Light Of Operation ‘Cast Lead’,” demonstrates Israel’s application of a new
combat doctrine during the hostilities in Gaza, which is based on two
principles: (1) Zero Casualties while disregarding the increased risk to
Palestinian civilians and (2) the Dahiyah Doctrine which promotes targeting
civilian infrastructure to cause widespread destruction and suffering among
the civilian population.

It is quite an eye-opener, especially since it comes from Israelis
. This then must make us question why the US and its acolytes –
Australia being one – would vote against the Goldstone Report on war crimes
in Gaza being brought to the UN Security Council for review and action. The
report is available
here (my emphasis).
More about the Goldstone Report:
New York Times Advert in Support of the Goldstone Report, and Goldstone wins Human Rights Award from Sweden NGOs. Australia was one of the 18 out of 132 nations who voted agings the adoption of the recommendations of the report which states that the occurrence of war crimes should be investigated, from both Hamas and Israel, in relation to the Gaza massacre. Fortunately we don't have the power of veto.

AFP also reports
And finally a happy ending to the ordeal of 16 Palestinian families who are arriving in Perth and Melbourne today to begin new lives with hopefully better prospects than had seemed possible when they fled Iraq in 2003 and were stranded in make-shift camps in the desert for more than 5 years.

Please read the press release below and see what ASPIRE – Australian
Supporters for the Palestinian-Iraqi Refugees Emergency – managed to do over
two years and hundreds of hours of voluntary work.
If that cannot be read, go to the AFP website. I was unable to find a direct link, but it might be in their archives somewhere.

Also, fund-raising-wise, AFP reports this about the Olive Kids, Palestinians living in Australia:
On a lighter note, you can read about how the third “Olive Kids” dinner last Sunday raised $18,000+ for Palestinian children in Gaza and secured sponsorship for 50 orphans. It was a wonderfully successful night and in particular showed the enthusiasm and skills of an emerging younger generation of Palestinians very willing to continue the struggle for their people, despite their more privileged circumstances.
Sorry for such lazy writing (as in, I haven't done any) - but I think that exposure to the stories and the amazing work that AFP does is very important.

Military aid, just in case you didn't get it the first time around in the many similar posts on this blog, is somewhat suspect.Seventy-five percent of US military aid to Israel is, by law, given to US arms manufacturers. From the Jewish Voice for Peace blog, Muzzlewatch. Seems a whole lot more money, except in the arms section, of course, could be generated if that 75% was actually channelled into U.S. domestic initiatives. But arms manufacturers employ a lot of people, don't they? In so many ways. And initially, they are domestic enterprises.

I think, if the food riots, shortages, flooding, global warming and so on which will inevitably affect the developed countries as well as further devastate the developing countries are to come about, I mean, even more so, as has been predicted, then the supply of arms is perhaps the only surefire (boom-boom, and boom-boom again) way to guarantee an income with which to maintain a high standard of living. That is, of course, until the inevitable happens. I guess guns can only buy so much food. And the production of food and such is impossible without people and workable land.

Monday, 30 November 2009

slimy, smarmy and safe

I have been neglecting this topic for a while, but it is always there. There are many bloggers and people far more committed than I, and maybe, one day, their efforts will amount to something. In the meantime, there is this picture from the Australian blog, Through Australian Eyes.

and the accompanying text
Shehada Street, Hebron, once a thriving shopping destination, is now a place of fear. Because of its proximity to the ultra-orthodox Jewish settler colonies in Tel Rumeida it is a place to be avoided by the indigenous population, especially women and children. Physical violence and intimidation by Zionist thugs, with the passive encouragement of Israeli soldiers and police, is an everyday occurrence, part of a strategy to force Palestinians to abandon their homes. Read more.
That's wine being thrown in that picture. In the meantime, from the same blog (the writer is a strong Christian, I think, though also anarchist, might cancel each other out?) our slimy, smarmy prime minister has been meeting another man without a conscience:

Ehud Olmert and Kevin Rudd.

I guess the day will come when they'll both have to return their souls to the devil for whatever deal they made with him. Or, to be not so poetic, wake up with some form of compassion. Maybe some people just aren't born with it. This article from Australians for Palestine deals with Olmert's visit, in addition to the article in Through Australian Eyes. This link on the Australians for Palestine homepage, Action against Israeli War Criminals, provides you with address and media outlets where you can voice your dissent if you wish. In addition, various protests have been organised.


Ben White, a Christian (I think), British journalist, who often writes for The Guardian, wrote the following on the 29th November:

Just to give an impression of the dangerous slope we are on, here are a few proposals and declarations made by cabinet ministers in the few months the Netanyahu government has been in power:

● The minister of transportation, Israel Katz (Likud), is promoting an initiative according to which all Arab names on road signs will be replaced with Jewish ones.

● The minister for Tourism, Stas Misezhnikov (Israel Beytenu), demanded that the pope cancel meeting with the Arab mayor of Sakhnin on his visit to Israel.

● The Housing Minister Ariel Atias (Shas) called to stop Arab “spreading” in Wadi Ara, a region densely populated by Israeli-Arabs. he is currently pushing a plan for a city for orthodox Jews in the area.

● The Education Minister Gidon Saar (Likud) ordered that Arabs won’t be allowed to teach the term Nakba, referring to their national disaster of 1948.

● The minister of the Police, Yitzhak Aharonowitz, has told an undercover agent he “looks dirty like a real Arabush” (a Hebrew slang word that carries a cultural meaning very similar, or even worse, than “nigger” in the US).

● The Finance Minister, Yuval Shtainitz, declared that one of Israel’s problems is that Arab women “don’t want to work”.

● and finally, Israel’s Foreign Minister, Avigdor Liberman – a man who disgraces not only the state, but the entire Jewish people – promotes plans for striping [sic] Palestinians of their Israeli citizenship or from the rights is gives them.
His blog is always worth a read. The entries are short, succinct and to the point, and will tell you the everyday occurrences in Israel and Palestine that the New York Times will not touch.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

18,000 homes and counting

House Demolition, Isawia, East Jerusalem, 18.11.09
Bystanders during a house demolition. Escorted by police and army contractors of the municipality of Jerusalem demolished a home in Isawia. Photo by Meged Gozani/
18,000 homes
Israeli Committee Against Housing Demolitions

Saturday, 7 November 2009

on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall

Palestinians, Israeli and international protesters toppeled one segment of the concrete wall, during a demonstration against the barrier in the West Bank village of Nilin, near Ramallah, Friday, Nov. 6, 2009.
The protest in Nilin was held to mark the 20th anniversary to the fall of the Berlin wall, which has been declared an international day of action against Israel's barrier.
The 300 demonstrators managed to topple a part of the eight meters tall concrete wall that cuts through the village's land. The concrete wall in Ni'ilin - five to eight meters (15 to 25 feet) in hight – has only recently been laid on the path of the wall cutting through Ni'ilin's lands, in addition to the already existing electronic barrier and razor-wire.

Photo by: Keren Manor/
Photo by: Shachaf Polakow/

Tuesday, 3 November 2009


Israeli army destroy a Palestinian field, Hebron, Palestine, 29/10/2009.
Atta Jaber shows tomatoes from his field after Israeli army contractors destroyed it and removed the irrigation system near the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba, near Hebron, on October 29, 2009.

The Israeli army claims the field poses a security threat because it is too close to the settlement.
Photo by: Oren Ziv/

Friday, 2 October 2009

Echigo Tsumari Art Triennial - Autumn 2009

Reverse City, Pascal Marthine Tayou

***Update, 6 October. The Echigo Tsumari Art Triennial site has the Autumn programme up in English now. However, I think the finish times for the tour are incorrect on some pages, though not the one I linked to - so you should double-check if you are taking them (it finishes at about 16.15), and it does not have any details of the special train from Niigata or the service bus from Nagaoka (links are in this post). Still, it does have lists of which artworks are open and a lot of other information.***

Okay, the Autumn launch of the Echigo Tsumari Art Triennial for 2009 begins this Saturday the 3rd of October. I'm not seeing much around in English for it, so for those who are curious, I will post what I know. I can't really read too much Japanese, but I have been in touch with the wonderful people who run the Art triennial, some of who have a pretty good working knowledge of English, and so I will put up the Japanese links, and repeat what I was told as accurately as possible, and if you can read Japanese, all the better for you.

Culture Bound Syndrome, Ryoichi Yamazaki

The Autumn part of the festival is running from October 3 to November 23rd. Particularly later on, this should be a beautiful time to visit the Echigo area with all the leaves in the mountains changing colour. Rather than tours running through the week as there were during summer, the tours are limited to Saturday and Sunday. One tour on Saturday and one tour on Sunday. Here is a link to the Japanese site which details that.

The Sunday course includes
*234/The Last Class
*232/"House Memory"
*214/215 "Croquette House" "Shedding House"
*200/Claude Lévèque "In silence or in noises"
all of which I'm very keen to see.

The departure and arrival times are as follows:

Departure :10:15 Tokamachi Station
Arrival: 16:15 Tokamachi Station
Price: JPY5800.-/person

The Saturday course includes Ubusuna House, Antony Gormley and Potemkin among other artworks (that's about all I can read). This website details the artworks, and this article from the Guardian sums up the triennial very well.

Tsumari in Bloom, Yayoi Kusama

There is also pick-up from Echigo Yuzawa Station, and from Nagaoka Station. Details about the Echigo Yuzawa pick-up are on that link posted above. I think it picks up at the Echigo Yuzawa station at 9.15 for a 10.15 start in Tokamachi, and it drops off at Echigo Yuzawa at 17.20 having left Tokamachi at 16.15.

The tours are really pretty good value considering how winding the roads are around the Tokamachi and Tsunan areas and considering I would probably spend more time lost than looking at art. Additionally, the artworks are spread through 760km of countryside, which is quite some countryside. The tours are all in Japanese, but the art speaks for itself. The cost is 5800¥ though you still need to buy your passport if you don't have one (was ¥3500, but the price might have gone down, but I might be wrong on that). The company is called Satoyama Tours, and their number is
0120-865-615. All of the guides are volunteers, quite a lot are local, and they all love art.

The Visitors, Stasys and Kolodziejski /Witaszewski (A+D)

If you are coming from Niigata there is a special train running on the weekend to Tokamachi and back. I can't tell you how fantastic it is to know that. I don't know if it was running in the summer, but I spent a very long time in Tokamachi waiting for the local train to take me to Nagaoka and then to Niigata. Of course there is always the shinkansen or the limited express, but the cost adds up and you still have to get to a station which the faster trains frequent. So, here is the link for the trains, and I will paste the times below as well. The train times on that pdf are the ones in blue.

That pdf also includes an art bus, which I think is free, which leaves from Nagaoka at 7am and gets to Tokamachi (from where the tours depart) at 10. That is a very long three hour drive, but it goes through many of the local areas, so if you wanted to get a feel for the place, you could. If the leaves are already changing, it could be very beautiful. It leaves Tokamachi at 16.20 and gets to Nagaoka at 19.20. If you are going to take the bus, it picks up at the East exit, just opposite Hotel New Otani.

Train timetable from Niigata to Tokamachi and return

Not a terribly clear timetable, is it? Well, if you click on it it will enlarge and is clear, or refer to the original pdf above. The train leaves Niigata at 7.30 and arrives in Tokamachi at 9.52, and the return train leaves Tokamachi at 16.41 and arrives in Niigata at 19.04. Considering my last trip, before I used the courtesy bus provided to Nagaoka (which only took an hour that time - no meandering), had me in Nagaoka at 20.05 and home by about 22.30 after catching a 6.15 train that morning, you can't (or maybe can) imagine how happy I am that this train has been provided.

According to Hyperdia the trains are local, which is good news for price, because they are actually operating as limited express trains. The Echigo staff told me that the ticket price was ¥2180 one way, but Hyperdia says it is ¥2380 (I think this is the price for a reserved seat). However, I got myself an Echigo Two Day Pass which can be used on local trains, and apparently limited express rapid express, as well, as far as Tokamachi. It only costs ¥2500 and covers from Shibata (and a little beyond, but I can't read the kanji) to Tokamachi and again, a little beyond, so it would be well-worth the purchase for anyone leaving from the Niigata city area. I think it has to be purchased before the weekend, though, and you need to specify the dates you will be using it. But, especially if you wanted to explore the area on a non-tour day, it is get on the train get off within the area, you can save quite a bit of money.

Hachi and Seizo Tashima Museum of Picture Book Art, Seizo Tashima

I can only find Japanese information on the two day pass (there is also an Echigo one day pass for ¥1800, but it doesn't extend as far as Tokamachi). But if you print this off your travel agent will know what you are talking about and if you have a friend who can read it, that will help, too. Of course, you might be able to read it, or like me, pick up bits here and there.

Also some information about shuttle buses available in the area during the triennial, but I am not sure if this information includes the Autumn part of the festival.

Fukutake House, 2009

Lastly, if you have the time, the staff are very friendly and are willing to make tour bookings for you and to provide information for you if you email them. The email contact is on all of those links, I think, but just to save you some clicking time: Or: 025-595-6688 (10:00~17:00)There is generally an English speaker on staff.

Friday, 18 September 2009

you are not allowed

Anyone who reads this blog semi-regularly or knows about the issues in Israel-Palestine will know that anyone who has been out of Palestine for six years will not be allowed back in by Israeli authorities. As far as I am aware, though of course those who colonised both Australia and the United States committed acts of genocide and murder, I do not think that any of the indigenous population were not allowed to re-enter the country of their birth and the country of their ancestors' birth, generation after generation, if they chose to leave it for a while. That is the overall country from the western perspective, of course. I am sure that there are Aboriginal and American Indian nations and lands within what became Australia and the United States that the indigenous population were barred and evicted from.

Education is difficult to get in a land under occupation, though Palestinians do strive to educate their children. Even so, to get ahead many leave the area to study overseas. Doing a bachelor of arts, a master of arts and a doctorate all take time. I have written of my friend Toufiq, before, a lecturer with a PhD in linguistics, currently in Oman, fortunate enough to have a Jordanian passport, and soon to immigrate to Canada where, he will at least, have a country.

Considering the state of Israel came into being in the forties of the last century and anyone who wishes to live there, who is of the Jewish faith, or of Jewish ancestry, and their spouses, whether they are from Sydney, the Bronx, or Moscow, can do so, must invoke a particularly bitter chagrin in those denied entry into their land of birth, and not only the land of their birth but the birthplace of their parents and grandparents stretching back to as far as people have lived in the area, or near enough.

During the summer holidays, Toufiq and his family go to Jordan. His sisters come from Palestine, when they can, and another brother, Bassam, comes from the United Arab Emirates. Sometimes the brother working in Saudi Arabia comes as well. Considering that this might be Toufiq's last summer in the region for a while, maybe it was with certain sadness that he realised that his sisters wouldn't be visiting Jordan this time. In his words:
Many times I talked to all my brothers and sisters in Palestine over the phone and asked them to come to Jordan to see us but they said that every year they come to Jordan in the hope to attend Bassam's wedding but nothing happens. So they said if Bassam gets married , they will come to Jordan and if not, they won't.
He comes from a big family. Ten brothers and sisters and Bassam is the only unmarried one among them. He too is highly educated with a doctorate in linguistics.

So, this time around, Toufiq thought he might try and visit Palestine, though in a previous email he had told me he probably would not be able to gain entry. I wrote about it here. This is his account of his thwarted trip.
As you know the last time I left Palestine was in 1984 when I finished my high school and went to Manila to do my bachelor's degree. In the first week of this month (August) I went to the borders of Israel and an Israeli female security soldier returned me [sic] and told me that I am not allowed to enter Palestine and I [got upset] and told her that I am Toufiq from Palestine and I was born and grew up in Palestine she said You are not allowed and she took my passport and gave it to a bus driver and told him to take me to [the]Jordan border.
Yes, Australia exiled Aboriginal people to islands and took children and isolated groups of people. Did it bar them from re-entering the country if they had voluntarily left and now wanted to return? I don't think so. In other ways yes. We had systems similar to the apartheid that exists within the occupied territories. Aboriginal people used to need a licence to travel, to work, and had a curfew imposed. Some of our current policies are incredibly discriminatory. Again, I would not call the policies and times ideal, then and now. I don't agree with them, in the same way that I do not agree with the policies above, in accordance with my belief in the contents and intentions of the Declaration of Human Rights, and the purpose behind the United Nations. And I am constantly saddened that my government fully supports the government that imposes policies which match and currently go beyond its own history of indigenous abuse and apartheid, and fully supports the same government which constantly flaunts and ignores the edicts and writings of international law and human rights organisations.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Day 11, Towadako-Towadaminami-Odata-Akita-Sakata-Murakami-Shibata

From the bus window (hence the green hue), Lake Towada

Magpies and sunlight and glints in the wind. Day Eleven was a long and sometimes pretty, but fairly tedious trip home. It started at 8.30am and finished at about 10pm, if not later. Not because of distance, but the 2.5 stopover in Towadaminami (South Minami), the hour (or was it 1.5?) stop in Odate, the hour in Akita and the hour in Sakata. If I could have caught an earlier train I would have, but it didn't look as if Towadaminami had any hotels to speak of, and I would have got there on the last bus the day previously (about four o'clock) and missed out on the festival. So, it is just one of those prices you pay when using public transport.

The train ride from Towadaminami to Odate runs only in the warmer parts of the year (snow makes it either uneconomical or impossible later). The train guide book I was kind of referring to (mostly talked about shinkansen and limited express, so I used it only as a vague kind of route reference, and for some of the information it had aside from trains) highly recommended this trip. It was half an hour or so, and from a scenery point of view, not bad, but I don't know if it was worth the wait. The bus trip, though, from Towadako to Towadaminami was, climbing the hills and affording a view of the lake from the Akita side of things.

Small shrine with gardens where I whiled away at least an hour in Towadaminami while waiting for my 12.30-ish train

Between Odate and Akita

Additionally, I saw a beautiful sunset as the train followed the coastline into Sakata. I guess I wouldn't have seen that at any other time of day. But if you can get the first train of the day, it nearly always pays to do so.

On the way to Sakata, following the coast

Lost in Sakata

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Day 10, Oirase Stream, Yasumi-Ya, Kunikazai Festival

The walk along the Oirase Stream starts at Nenokuchi closest to Towadako, or starts from Yakeyama at the other end. The most popular walk is an 8.9 km walk (I think) from Ishikedo (Ishigedo)to Nenokuchi. The walk from or to Yakeyama is about 14km.

Looking at the bus timetable, from the Minshuku to the start of the walk was about ten to fifteen minutes. This translates into a conservative hour walk. The bus wasn't going to arrive until about 8, so I set off at about quarter to seven. The beautiful flowers above were wet from last night's rain, and soaking up the morning sun
This sign was on my walk and the road leads to Shingo in Aomori prefecture. Japan's Christians were martyred in the 1700s, I think, possibly earlier, in quite a horrific way. Still, some have always existed since those times, and maybe before. However, the tomb of Christ came about in 1933
when discovery of supposed "ancient Hebrew documents detailing Jesus' life and death in Japan" [5] that was supposedly the testament of Jesus. These documents were allegedly seized by the Japanese authorities and taken to Tokyo shortly before World War II and have not been seen since.
Further from the Wikipedia article:
The town claims to be the last resting-place of Jesus, buried in the "Tomb of Jesus." According to the local lore, Jesus traveled to Japan at the age of 21, where he studied theology for 12 years, after which he returned to Judea at the age of 34.[1] He did not die on the cross at Golgotha. Instead his brother, Isukiri,[2] took his place on the cross, while Jesus fled across Siberia, Alaska, and finally to Aomori, Shingo, Japan, where he became a rice farmer, married, and raised a family.
On reflection, the story is no more bizarre than that of the Mormons, or if we really look back at the more established sects of religion, no stranger than any of their founding stories. There was, as far as I was aware, no bus to this area, or if there was, I just don't think I had the time. I have been fascinated by it for a while, though.
I woke early enough to break the morning's cobwebs, but not early enough to avoid the tour buses, except at this very early stage of walking alongside the road (cars zooming past when they were about) circling the lake. It was before eight, before the first ferries ran, and the minshuku was located in an area where most people would drive, not walk, to the next tourist spot. So, I was able to get pristine shots such as above. The morning was beautiful. It was about a 2 kilometre walk, maybe a little more, to Nenokuchi. My 14 km walk around Lake Onuma told me that the whole walk would take me about 4 hours, maybe a little more, maybe a little less, depending on rests, and inclines, and my own speed, which is generally pretty fast
After taking some pictures from the jetty at Nenokuchi, I started the walk. The stream was very pretty. I have just read that the 'se' of Oirase means rapids. I'm guessing the 'oi' means a lot of, and there were. I really enjoy gentle walks along peaceful, grassy, waterways. I guess most people do. It seems I can just keep going, so long as there are not monster hills, and even then, I usually do okay. I am glad I was early, though, even though I did run into those tour groups. I reached my destination at about 12.30 and caught a 13.18 bus back to Nenokuchi. From the heights of the bus I could see that the path had become crowded, and as I approached Ishigedo, the place where most people start the work, there were more and more people as the day wore on.

I have written about this before, the things that people lose along paths that Japanese put to one side in a fairly obvious and safe place, in case that person comes back to look for it. Small things. I guess that wallets and so on get handed in to the rightful authorities or possibly kept. That make-up bag, though, looks as if it has been tied to the railway tracks. Haaalp! Haaalp! the bark is encroaching!

The paths were a little wet from the rains. It was another reason why I was pleased that I had set out early. They were going to be slush later in the day.
A gorgeous walk with waterfalls all the way along which the tour buses stopped at with predictable regularity. The JR bus had a loop recording, and the driver pulled over at each spot for people to try and grab a glimpse at the very creatively named falls. This one is Kumoi Waterfall, but the guide books just tell me that it is magnificent, not the background of its name.
Kumoi waterfall.

There is a stone slab approaching Ishigedo from the Nenokuchi side which leans over a giant Japanese Judas tree. Ishi means stone, and Kedo, or gedo, means hut. A woman thief, named Omatsu is said to hide in the hut, so, once you've passed that obstacle, the rest of the walk is pretty much without obstacle.
I got to Ishigedo and had a bit of a rest, a soft drink, something to eat (or did I?); avoided or went with the many tourists, including quite a lot of foreigners, thereby proving this site's claim that the area is bustling with foreign visitors. They're the obvious foreign tourists. I am sure that there were a lot who slipped beneath my fellow foreigner radar.

The last third of the walk to Yakeyama is a lot quieter. That's when I started whistling to scare off the bears. There are signs all along the stream indicating flora and fauna and the way the surroundings change in the different seasons. I think the mushrooms above were some form of shiitake, but really, my ability to read Japanese is next to zero.
Walking a lot is tiring, but I think I could cover a kilometre in about twenty minutes. I can swim a kilometre in 25-27, so it seems about right, maybe a little faster, a little slower. Even so, seeing this sign made my heart sing!

It didn't take me long to get to Yakeyama which was an anti-climax after the beauty of Lake Towada and the actual Oirase Stream. There is a youth hostel in town, though, which is good to know if I ever plan any future trips, and my legs were too tired to really explore further. It was pretty warm, pretty humid, still.

I did pass the Oirase Brewery and considered going in, but it was a warm afternoon and would not have been wise. I tried their pilsner later, but it didn't taste any different from the usual Kirin, Sapporo, Asahi lager and so on. I would have liked to have popped into the brewery and seen what else was on tap.

I tried an apple ice cream, or soft serve, which was quite nice. The woman accidentally dropped my first one. I'm so glad that everyone else was being clumsy, rather than me, considering that it's usually my stock in trade (the four falls on Mt. Asahidake aside).

My bus came in forty-five minutes, so I sought out a cafeteria below the gift shop, but I can't remember what I ordered. Something with noodles. It was good value. Again, below ¥1000. The soba in this area is green, flavoured with ocha, or green tea.

The bus took us back through the whole area I had just walked. Nice to travel like this on the way back. Very peopled, now, too, so I felt all smug and self-righteous, or at least thankful and grateful that I'd enjoyed my walk in relative peace and quiet.

The day was hardly over, though. I took a boat from Nenokuchi across to Yasumiya. It was a fifty minute cruise. The pictures were pretty, but similar to the one at the start of this entry, or throughout this one, so I won't post more. They are up on flickr.

Once in Yasumiya, I had an hour and a half before catching the last bus back to my minshuku at 16.30. I could have caught two earlier, ones, but that would have only given me half an hour or so in Yasumiya. The lake, as in Onuma, has paddle boats, both swans and dinosaurs, and statue of two maidens reaching out to one another which is pretty famous. The sculptor is Kotaro Takamura, and the model is said to be his wife who suffered from schizophrenia and died young. It went on display in 1953.

Wandering along this sandy section of Towadako is pleasant. There are couples rowing, grandmothers entertaining grandkids, foreigners with families and pushers (don't I sound like the redneck?), stalls selling konyaku (yam paste jelly kind of thing, one of my favourites) seafood, hot potato (chips), corn and apples. I bought an apple because my fruit intake had been appalling, but Japanese apples, on the whole, apart from being incredibly expensive, are too floury for me. Still, it did the trick.
I hadn't know that this festival was going to happen. The Kunikazai festival is one of the last big festivals of the season. The best of Aomori, Akita and Iwate prefectures (ken) come to Lake Towada. Lake Towada also has its own festivals, including a horse dance (people pretending to be horses) that I really wanted to see, and I did.

It was early hours as these dancers came through, but they were colourful, and skillful. I really like Japanese folk songs accompanied by the very high-pitched shinobue flute.
There was a lot to see, and I was a bit sad to go back to the minshuku, even though I'd be returning to the festival later. Still, I need a bath. The other four people were from Sendai, and they had come over especially for the festival. 2 middle-aged, or leaning towards elderly, couples. They loved their festivals. The Japanese really do. I guess they understand the skills in them more, and that they also have participated in them ever since they were children. With some, such as the awa(o)dori dances, it is relatively easy to participate.
My camera (phone camera) doesn't work well at the night, so I didn't take too many pictures, but this Nebuto float from Aomori is famous. There are hundreds of them when the festival is held in Aomori. There was this big one, and a few of the smaller fan shaped ones here.

The Kanto festival from Akita Ken involves balancing huge top heavy lanterns in ridiculous spots on the dancer's back, chin, palm of their hand and so on. It was exciting to watch.

I really enjoyed a dance involving older men and younger boys, girls too, which was obviously telling some kind of fishing story. It involved taiko drumming, too. Very funny, very skillful. However, the man from the minshuku had said he'd pick us up at 9.20 and I was tired, so I found him at 9.00. I didn't mind, but the grand finale probably kicked on until about 9.45 which was when the others joined us. I should have waited and seen. All of my reading was retrospective, and then it became far more interesting.

Still, I love seeing the people at festival time. As it is a holiday town, many of the men and women are out in the yukata that their minshuku, hotels and ryokan have provided. Little kids play games, eat ice cream, fan themselves with uchiwa fans. It was a really big deal, too, as seen by the big mix of people. The following day the bus passed the campsite and I noticed quickly with fellow foreigner tracking eyes, the large number who were hanging about. They were probably locals, and living in Japan.
Day 11 was the return journey. A trip from the minshuku to town to catch the 8.30 bus down to South Towada Station (Towadaminami eki) where I had to wait until 12.30 for my connection

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Day 9, Onuma - Towadako

About six a.m., September fourth. The entrance to the train station from the youth hostel side. Just as well the sign is large and easy to spot, right? Lucky I knew where I was going.

Being artsy at 6.05 at the Ikedaen Station, waiting for my train to Hakodate, and then from Hakodate to Kikonai, Kikonai to Kanita (Honshu) and Kanita to Aomori

Robot arms. 6.10 at the Ikedaen Train Station

6.15 a.m.! Two carriages, too, for the early morning students and workers.

Some time after 7.10 a.m., a station a few stops after we had left Hakodate

Way down south. I guess we were nearing Kikonai, the station where those with seishun juhachi kippu had to get a limited express to be able to get to Honshu (no local trains available).

A poster at the Kikonai train station. We arrived here before nine. I remember, because I used the bank ATM once 9 hit (no, Japan does not have 24 hour ATMs). Misogi festivals are basically where guys strip down to fundoshi (loin cloths) and purify themselves by plunging into water in the midst of winter. The Kikonai version, dating from the 1800s, seems particularly severe.

Kikonai station

Torii over the ocean. A few people were reading a sign to the right, but I can't read kanji. A Dutch ship sank here, again in the 1800s, 1857 . Maybe it somehow reflects that.

On this ticket I found it a great idea to get out and stretch when you could, considering how long you spent on the train, or actually waiting, therefore, coin lockers were a blessing, though, in these towns, the Japanese staff of the shops in the stations and so on didn't mind you leaving your bags nearby and they'd keep an eye on them. Usually there was something to see. Like this statue of this boy, though what story it represents, I do not know.

The train arrived at 9.31. We'd been waiting since 8.00 or 8.30. Two trains left at 9.31, which is highly unusual at the smaller Japanese train stations, or any of them, actually. So, my fallback of double checking the time to make sure I was on the right train almost had me foiled. There are only five limited expresses a day from Hokkaido to Honshu, so I really didn't want to miss this one. It goes through the tunnel, pretty long, pretty deep, and there is a station at the deepest point of the tunnel. If you book ahead, you can get out and have a tour, but that would mean waiting a couple of hours for the next train. I don't think I could do it. Imagine all that ocean overhead. Still, I had saved my obento (packed lunch) for this part of the journey, so that my 50 minutes of luxury could be enjoyed to the full

We arrived in Kanita at about 10.30 and were shipping out at 11.30 or thereabouts. I'd already explored the shrine opposite the ferry port on my way to Hokkaido, and it was a little far and a little humid to do it again, and so that left me plenty of time to look at the lovely displays in the JR station. Oh, by the time we got to Kanita, on Honshu, toilet paper once more seemed to be a feature of the public toilets.
Every JR station seems to have small displays, created by the staff, I suppose, illustrating the highlights of the area. To be less than accurate, I am not sure if this small display, obviously promoting the benefits of drinking sake in outside onsens, was actually in Kanita or Kikonai

Another poster. Click on it to enlarge. This one is urging commuters to mind their manners, which is fair enough. It is interesting that it is in English. We foreigners are notoriously bad at not adhering to social customs and mores. Rest assured, there were Japanese versions around the place, too

Well, after I'd eaten too much, and done some yoga exercises and stretches which did a little to alleviate the aches and pains brought about from too much sitting and too much lugging around of baggage, the train pulled in and we could sit on it , waiting until it pulled out again (with us on board!, just in case that sentence confused you). This local was going straight to Aomori. It would still take an hour, I think, or maybe a little less. Many more carriages than the local trains up in Hokkaido and further north in Tohoku. You could feel that you were drawing closer to a city centre.

Someone famous came in off one of the other trains. The ladies in my photo were waiting for him. A big guy. I think I'd seen him on the television. I wasn't sure if he was Japanese or not. I'd definitely seen the interviewer. We were told not to take photos. They, camera crew, talent, back up, all went into the small waiting room to film, I guess. The ladies were definitely giddy and fascinated

My second view of this Aomori bridge, or my second time to come into the city, walk along the path towards the turnstile in the train station, to look out the window, and see its elegant arches sweeping the edge of the city

The bus to Towadako, or Lake Towada, left at 1.30, or a little past. Maybe 1.40. I bought my ticket, and again, had an hour to kill. This lunch was delicious. Hotate, or scallops, were in that big omelette-like thing on that huge shell, and the miso soup was full of asari, (clam). I think it was a speciality of the restaurant. Again, relatively cheap, below ¥1000. I went to get an ice-cream (Baskin and Robbins) but the place was under-staffed, and the one girl too busy to serve me. The bus ride to Towadako was going to take three hours, which always seems ridiculous for 76kms, but then, I forget it is a windy road and a lot of it is urban at first, and that the speed limit is not the crazy 120km plus per hour that the Omanis drive.

It was quite a beautiful ride, for which I was pleased, as I had spent ¥3000 on the ticket. The seishun juhachi kippu does not cover bus rides. It went through the Oirase valley, passing waterfalls and the stream, along the way. Also, outside of Aomori, it passed hot springs and rope ways and had lovely views from the mountains and up to them. Of course, the first view of lake Towada is quite breath-taking, or pretty, at the least.

I'd booked my accommodation in Ikedaen by phone. I'm not great at Japanese on the phone. I can do the basics, but it's best if I know where I'm going to beforehand, or I have some kind of map so that I can listen and reinforce what is being said with a visual prop.

The woman had given me the name of the minshuku, and how much it would cost, but I had no clue where it was. I was hoping it was where the bus stopped at Yasumi-ya, though considering the price, I doubted it. The lake is 46km in circumference, though, and I didn't know how I would get there if it wasn't in this centre. The buses really didn't run that regularly.

I went to the visitors' centre (had half an hour to spare before they closed) and they directed me to a very nearby minshuku with a name very similar to my own. I was surprised because it was so close to the lake and the centre of town, how could it be so cheap? (¥3700). It wasn't the right minshuku. The guy looked up my name. Nothing. Then he put in a call to somewhere else and I was picked up. The minshuku in town is called kokuminshuku, the one I was going to is called kokuminshukusha. Koku is the kanji for country.

An older bloke picked me up in not the newest of vans. At first, I was really disappointed, thinking I'd be miles from everywhere. But then, I really wanted to walk the track along the Oirase stream, and this was much closer, and later I discovered that the bus actually stopped pretty nearby.

As I checked in, they assured me that they could drive me into the small town so that I could catch my bus out on Sunday (I was continuing south) and they also asked if I wanted to attend a big festival the following night with three other people. Sure, why not? (post, day 10, in the works).

Anyway, my answer as to the cheapness was because it wasn't the newest, as seen by the photo above. I actually got called up on this phone, and yes, it still works. But it was big (the minshuku). It was a faded glory. It had tennis courts, and a good view of the lake, a huge ofuro (bath). The rooms were large, too. I just guess that Yasumi-ya is the place where people want to stay, but perhaps, in the past, this place had been popular.

What the minshuku didn't have in newness, it did have in small touches. It had a male and female version of the yukata, and it had the heavier brunch coats that you need to wear once it gets a bit colder, and wear it I did.
The other way that they minshuku and so on make money, aside from providing accommodation, was obviously through breakfast and dinner. The breakfasts and dinners in minshuku or ryokan are nearly always worth it, but I could afford one ¥2000 dinner, but not two. The ¥2000 was relatively cheap for what I got, too, which was fabulous mountain vegetables, and delectable serves of fish and seafood. Really, I would have loved to have eaten it the next day, but I was being a little bit careful with money in some aspects.
Additionally, having the set meals means that you are limited to a time frame. If you are the only guest (as I was on Friday, or the only one eating, but I have the feeling that I was the only guest bouncing about that great huge building). I think dinner was served at 6.00, or maybe 6.30, but either way, I wouldn't have minded wandering around the bit of Towadako lake where the minshuku was situated for just a bit longer, but felt I had to return for dinner. Ryokan and minshuku are usually run by family, and you don't really want the whole family to wait around for your return.

Likewise, for breakfast, I often wanted to set out before the 7.30 serving time, and I don't get particularly hungry in the early mornings. And of course, an onigiri (riceball) was and is still cheaper than a set breakfast or dinner, but not as delicious.

Another touch that the minshuku had which hinted at former glory, was that the water in the ofuro came forth from a lion's head spout. Rrowrr. Never mind the falling apart, chipped tiles and so forth. It was clean, and once it had been grand. It also provided pumice stones for scraping your feet, in the same way that the Fuji business hotel in Asahikawa (the ¥3200 one, including breakfast) provided disposable razors. Small touches that were not a part of a youth hostel, and often not seen at all in the more modern business hotels.

Before dinner I wandered down to the lake (past the sign which said DO NOT ENTER! BEARS!)

I wandered past some houses, including one where some small kids were playing with a dog. A mother with them looked at me with some suspicion as I walked by. Though a website I have just found describes Towada as 'A city bustling with foreign visitors' (and I was surprised just how many there were for the festival the next day), I don't think that too many came to this neck of the woods. Perhaps.

Later, the small girl who had the dog came down to the waterfront as I was taking pictures. She had a chat to me and declared that my Japanese is very good, but my pronunciation and faking skills are actually pretty good. Still, we got by and she urged me to come to the festival the following night. Absolutely. Zehi! Everyone was looking forward to it.

I said that I would go, and moved on to admire the lake some more and snap a few more pictures.

Walking back I took note of all the bus-stops, including the one with the minshuku's name. I could have got off there and then when we had been heading to Yasumi-ya, but at least I had some knowledge of the layout of the main town, and where I stood in relation to both it and the beginning of the walk along Oirase Stream (smack bang in the middle, I'd say, though closer to the start of the walk, so, perhaps not). Then this cosmos waved at me from the road as I walked by. Things are a lot wilder in Northern Tohoku than in lots of other parts of Japan.
this cutie was taken by Crazyegg95 in 2005 and is from flickr