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This view,this beauty
A tear unbidden
Creeps into my eye.

My stay is short
But I shall return to this place
If only my life is long enough.

Such beauty
Gazing upon it
I hope my years are many.

Bokusui Wakayama.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Tsubaiotsukayama Kofun.

   I was in the Kamikoma area of Yamashiro Town on one of my "no plan/getting lost" outings recently when I happened-across something that  left me with a curious taste in my mouth. I was cycling along a lane that bordered the residential area from the forest/hilly area on the eastern side of Route-24
Map Location.
I soon approached a reservoir and, as I was in no particular hurry, I decided to take-a-break and have a banana while taking-in the nearby scenery (there was also a cold wind blowing and the shelter came as a nice respite). I have traveled this lane many times but, on this occasion, I couldn't help notice a narrow track leading-into the bush behind me. Curious, I decided to investigate. 
Map Location.
Before long I soon found myself bush-bashing along a muddy, rutted track through a dense bamboo forest (my kinda' environment). 2km later I emerged into one of the many isolated villages that dot this area.
Map Location.
Unsure of where I was I decided to go in search of a site where I could get a good view of my surroundings. My attention was drawn to a knob (on the right in the image) that would best suit my purposes. 
Map Location.
   To get there I had to weave my way through the many narrow lanes that make up villages such as this.
My destination.
Map Location.
Before long my destination was in sight and, after ascending some steps, I found myself atop my hill which reminded me of One Tree Hill in Auckland City, Aotearoa
Map Location.
From the summit I was treated to a commanding view of the Yamashiro-cho area.
Ikoma-yama (Mt Ikoma).
  In the distance was Mt Ikoma and, in the foreground, was the Kizugawa River. 
Map Location.
To the rear I could see the track I had just emerged from 10-minutes prior.
Information Notice.
But it was this notice that really caught my attention and, with my curiosity beginning to surface, I decided to have it translated so as to shine some light into what it was that I was  standing-on.
   With the assistance of two of my friends (who's expertise in translating Kanji into English knows no bounds) and the nice people at the Yamashiro Regional Museum, I was informed that I was standing-upon the Tsubaiotsukayama Kofun, or Tumulus or Burial Mounds as they are also known. The Kofun were all the rage between the early 3rd century and the early 7th century. This one, it is believed, was built in the late 3rd century, and thus dates from the era of Yamataikoku, which was a kingdom of prehistoric Japan and which was mentioned in Chinese annuals, and might be the same as Yamato, which was later in the Japanese annals. 
   My enquiries failed to ascertain who, if anyone, was buried here but, in 1953, during an archaeological excavation, nearly 40 bronzed mirrors, including 30 god-beast mirrors, were found along with various other things. There is strong theory the god-beast mirrors were mirrors that Himiko, the Shamaness-Queen  of Yamatai recorded in the Chinese annals, is believed to have received them as a gift from the Ruler of a Chinese Ethnic Group.
Mozu Kofugun, Osaka.
It is difficult to imagine what this Kofun looked-like 1,700 years-ago, maybe like the one in the image on the left. But today, if it weren't for the information-board, one wouldn't know what they were standing on. 
Tsubaiotsukayama Kofun.
In the image on the right, which I managed to photo, is of the tomb as it (may have) appeared at the time of construction, with (my) markings of how it looks today.
J.R.Nara Line.
Through the middle of the mound (marked with -) runs the J.R. Nara Rail-Line (the gentleman standing there is a train enthusiast with camera in hand). You can see the steps (marked with +) leading up to the summit (the lane I cycled to get to the mound is marked with =). If you look at this Satellite Image of Tsubaiotsukayama Kofun you will get a better impression of how the mound looks today. 

Hidden-away, on the bottom right of the Kofun, is a monument dedicated to the Tsubaiotsukayama Kofun (marked with #). It just stands there in an empty section with the village surrounding it. I am somewhat saddened by this. With all the restoration and preservation work that has been done on old sites around Japan - Shrines, Temples and Castles to name a few - and the many UNESCO and National Treasures of Japan, this one has been forgotten and sits unnoticed.
   All-in-all this turned-out to be another great outing and, if any further information comes-to-hand, I won't hesitate to pass it on. In the mean time, I plan to do more research into the Yamashiro area as I feel there are more wee secrets to be revealed. Watch this space. 
   Some more interesting reading; Kofun CultureJapanese Bronze Mirrors,Yamato ProvinceKofun in the Nara Basin.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

"A Ride In The Neon Sun" - Josie Dew.

   This is my first attempt at a book review, so please forgive my amateurish attempt and bear-with-me while I tell you about a great book I have just completed reading. The book, needless-to-say, is about an area of the great-outdoors that is very dear to me, cycling, or, in this instance, cycle-touring. I discovered this book at Green e Books in Kyoto City (the trip I later wrote about in a blog titled - "Bookride to Kyoto").
   "A Ride In The Neon Sun", by Josie Dew, I would have to say is the best reading investment I have made for many-a-year and, at just ¥300, the most economical. I love these types of books. I get an immense amount of joy reading of others exploits, especially when the topic is the great-outdoors.
   Bicycle Touring is one of the best (if not the best) ways to see/experience a land/country, and Josie Dew has done plenty of touring with seven books to her credit.
   "A Ride In The Neon Sun", published in 1999, is Josie's first experience of cycle-touring in Japan (she was to return 2-years later, "The Sun In My Eyes" chronicling this trip). The book could be divided into two parts - Josie's experiences, and an insight into Japan - with both being covered with her delightful sense-of-humor. 
   My loyalties, as to whether I was going to like this book were tested early when, on page-8, it was revealed that Josie was originally planning on touring New-Zealand but (something she is not so sure how it happened) she ended-up in Japan instead ( all was not lost, she did venture "down-under" and, as a result of her experience, published "Long Cloud Ride" in 2007). 
   The book reminded me of the month I spent cycle-touring around Ireland back in 1993 - alone, keeping-off the main road, following the coastline, dossing-down in cheap out-of-town hostels (as I wasn't carrying any camping gear, I couldn't camp in places as Josie did) and connecting with the locals. I also experienced the agonies, pains, inconveniences (rain, wind, heat, motorists, tunnels, cycle repairs) but, at the end of the day, I would do it all again.
   Josie commenced her ride while Japan was experiencing the most severe "Tsuyu (Rainy Season)" in 50+-years and, all through this, she continued on her merry way. Then, just as she thought she had survived one weather extreme, she experienced another - the Japanese Summer. Here there are two ways to describe summer - very-hot and extremely-hot - and, when one is out experiencing the great-outdoors on bike, you need copious amounts of fluid. But, if two weather extremes weren't enough, as she traveled-through the Nansei Islands the "Typhoon Season" was about to make her life more hazardous, and unpleasant.
   For the non-outdoorholic (or even the casual cyclists) there will be many questions you will be asking yourself as you leaf-through this book - Why? Are you crazy/mad?  But imagine this; you have been on the road all day, you have discovered this idyllic spot to pitch your tent (location), you set-up camp and put-on-a-brew, then you take-in the scene - overlooking Cape Satamisaki with Kaimondake Volcano (Location) in the distance. Is this heaven or what! 
Sunset at
Kaimondake Volcano


   Throughout this book Josie also gives the reader an insight into Japan and the Japanese people (after living here for 7-years, there were things explained here that I didn't realize) in Layman's Terms, that helps one appreciate the many customs associated with everyday life here. Take for instance the ritual surrounding gift-giving and gift-receiving; when receiving a gift, the recipient has to refuse it. The giver then offers it a second time where it is duly refused again. On the third time, the recipient then accepts it. But, if, after the first or second round the gift isn't re-offered, it means the giver didn't genuinely want you to have it.
   One of the most comical moments in the book happened as Josie was cycling  in the Ooigawa (Ooi River) area in Shizuoka Prefecture; "That night, as I threaded my way through a rainy confusion of coastal backstreets, I washed up at a hotel called Pink River". Up to this stage I had been reading in anticipation of when Josie would experience the Japanese phenomenon of the Love Hotel. ".....there was no reception, no receptionist, no people - just a dingy booth with a wall-mounted door-phone.....". " Laden down with waterlogged panniers in hand I fumbled with the key and flung open the door with my foot and stepped into a rocket" - Images of a Japanese Love Hotel.
   After commencing her trip at Tokyo and cycling down the Pacific Coast to Wakayama City (she avoided Nagoya City by taking a ferry at Cape Irako (map), at the mouth if Ise Bay, to Toba (map) on the Kii Peninsula) Josie took the ferry over to Shikoku. After partly navigating the island prefecture, another ferry-ride took her to Kyushu where, after just a few days of experiencing this prefecture, she was off to the Nansei Islands and the dreaded Habu. I can't stand snakes and, reading the stories of the locals regarding these reptiles, has put me off visiting this area. Her description of her travels here though, makes me feel envious and a need to venture south, venomous reptiles and all. But sadly her stay here was to be cut short, when she received news from back home in England and, within a few short days, she was at the port of Hyuga, on the east coast of Kyushu, waiting for a ship to return her to Tokyo (she did manage to get a look-around the Kumamoto Area and Mt Aso before her departure).  
   My next move is to seek-out (no this is not "Star Trek") a copy of "The Sun In My Eyes"  ( or any other of her books for that matter) so I can read more of her exploits in Japan.
Josie Dew & Friend.
   I would like to take this opportunity to thank Josie for allowing me to quote excerpts from her book and giving me, and I hope a good many other "Outdoorholics", the opportunity to appreciate this incredible piece-of-rock we inhabit through her words. Josie, domoarigatogozaimasu.  
   This now brings me to my ulterior motive for composing this post. That is to encourage as many people as possible to get-out and experience the great outdoors. You don't have to do what the Josie's of this world do (although I'm sure you won't regret it) , all you have to do is, instead of hopping in your car, put some shoes/boots on or get on your bike and do it.