Saturday, October 31, 2015

Hope vs horror in Hong Kong on Halloween

On the ferry ride to Cheung Chau this morning, the skies above
seemed unable to decide whether to be gray or bright!
 
I didn't mind because the mingling of gray clouds 
and bright light made for some cool sights :)
 
Actually, what was more horrific this Halloween finding
that it took just 5 minutes to pick up enough glass shards
on the beach to fill up this plastic cup :O
 
This morning, I woke up earlier than I usually do on a Saturday to join in meetup.com group Green Sustainable Living HK's beach cleanup once more.  Catching the slow ferry to Cheung Chau, I went and sat on the open upper section at the rear of the boat to catch the breeze and take in the sights along the way -- and was rewarded by some stunning visuals courtesy of Mother Nature not being able to decide for a while whether she wanted today to be a cloudy gray day or one with bright blue skies and warm sunshine.  
 
At times like that, Hong Kong really can appear so very beautiful.  And you'd think that all its residents and visitors would want to make sure it's that way -- until you encounter the detritus left behind by litterbugs and those others who seem to think nothing of polluting the water and land alike. 
 
From past experience (including a Cheung Chau hike I went on a few years back that took me up to the northern section of the island), I knew to expect to see lots of trash washed up on the northeastern area known in English as Coral Beach and in Cantonese as Tung Wan Tsai.  (As usual, there was lots of glass shards and pieces of styrofoam on the beach but this time around, there also were a surprising amount of footwear and toothbrushes scattered about in the area!) 
 
Even before our group got to the morning's destination though, we encountered plenty of litter -- on the trail leading to it and particularly in the vicinity of two of the pavilions on the hills close to the beach.  As I commented to a couple of other beach cleanup volunteers, the rubbish looked like it was telling a story of what often transpires along the way.  The telltale traces left by those who thought nothing of littering the vicinity began with tissues thrown down post wiping the sweat of those who found it a major slog to get up to the North Lookout Pavilion.  
 
Upon reaching the highest part of Cheung Chau that they in all probability would be willing to go up to, they got out their plastic bottles of water, tea, Pocari Sweat, etc. -- and upon draining them, decided to chuck them down on the ground rather than carry the empties with them to the nearest rubbish bin located a few hundred meters back along the trail.  (Message to the local authorities: you have/had the money to build all these pavilions on Cheung Chau; surely the least you could do is to put rubbish and recycle bins nearby and see that they get regularly emptied?!)
 
Chances are that quite a few people decided to turn back after getting to the North Lookout Pavilion.  Strangely enough, those who opted to venture further -- to another pavilion further down the hill -- appeared to be smokers predominantly; I say this because while we didn't find any cigarette butts on the North Lookout Pavilion, there were quite a few on the floor of the other pavilion!  And yes, again at the lower pavilion, we found empty plastic bottles and used pieces of tissue paper galore.  Oh, and in between the two, I also found some band-aid wrappers.  So I guess someone cut him or herself (or discovered a blister) along that way!

One reason why I made jokes about the litter bugs and the evidence of their presence that they left behind on this paved path was that otherwise, my blood would boil and I'd get angry at the thought that people could be so willing to trash a place that my sense is that they did get some enjoyment out of visiting.  
 
Still, rather than lose faith in humanity, I remind myself that there are people who aren't only willing to pick up after themselves -- but also voluntarily help clean the mess left by others.  So rather than focus on the horror this Halloween, I'm going to try to hope that the tide is actually with those of us who care about the environment -- and are going to do something, however small, to help make (our part of) the world a cleaner, better place. 

Friday, October 30, 2015

From Pui O to Mui Wo via a largely coastal route (Photo-essay)

It's been more than a month since I last put up a hiking photo-essay on this blog, so I think it's high time I resumed the practice.  Coincidentally, the hike I'll focus on in this blog entry followed much the same route as the excursion that a few friends and I went on last Sunday!  

But as it so happens, the first time that I took the coastal route from Pui O to Mui Wo, it was several degrees warmer than was the case last Sunday.  Another difference was that on our first foray into that part of the Big Lychee, my hiking buddy that day and I spent more time photographing buildings -- still inhabited and abandoned alike -- that we passed by and through even while also enjoying the natural scenery and critter spottings made along the way... ;b

Few people are wont to linger near mud flats but I like 
looking to see what interesting critters are out and about there! ;) 
 
This is one of those butterflies that's really hard to take a photo of
because it doesn't stop moving its wings even when inspecting a flower!
 
At Shap Long Chung Hau are some of the prettiest -- 
to my mind! -- village houses I've seen in Hong Kong
 
Part of me can see the aesthetic appeal of living in this area 
but, honestly, it really is pretty far from conveniences
most Hong Kongers take for granted such as a supermarket! :O
 
How many people would believe that this photo
was taken in Hong Kong? :b
 
Sometimes, I think anglers must be inherently solitary folks ;)
 
An abandoned dwelling that nature's taken over
 
The last bit of this hike was on the bit of Lantau Trail Section 12 
that's close to Mui Wo (our final destination that afternoon)

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Debutant director Jody Luk's questionable Lazy Hazy Crazy (film review)

Lazy Hazy Crazy gift folder -- for whom 
would it be best suited to use/be given as a present?

Lazy Hazy Crazy (Hong Kong, 2015)
- Jody Luk Yee Sum, director and scriptwriter
- Starring: Fish Liew, Kwok Yik Sum, Mak Tsz Yi

Who is your target audience?  That's the burning question I wanted to ask Jody Luk, the director-scriptwriter of Lazy Hazy Crazy upon coming out of the screening of her first directorial effort -- which left me feeling perplexed and, frankly, also somewhat dirty, like I had been slimed.

Going into the movie's screening, I knew that -- like with Philip Yung's May We Chat (which I had put on my top ten Hong Kong movies of 2013 list) -- its story revolves around teenaged schoolgirls who engaged in "compensated dating", the polite term used in Hong Kong (and Japan) for what's really voluntary underage prostitution.  I also was aware of Hazy Lazy Crazy's Category III rating and did expect to see bare breasts being shown several times over the course of the film.

However, especially given that the offering's director-scriptwriter is female, I did not expect its cinematography (by Jam Yau) to be so obviously geared to titillate heterosexual males -- with lingering shots of such as long-legged schoolgirls in very short PE shorts and copious scenes featuring full frontal nudity on the part of the females (including improbable ones of the girls uninhibitedly bathing naked on the rooftop of a tong lau) but the men's "private parts" always being conveniently blocked from view. 

What makes things most unsettling is that the three females at the center of Lazy Hazy Crazy, and who are shown in various stages of undress (including "the full monty") in the film -- Malaysian transplant Alice (Fish Liew), bespectacled Tracy (Kwok Yik Sum) and confident Chloe (Mak Tsz Yi) -- are supposed to be 15 year olds, yet are played by actresses who are quite a bit older than their characters.  (For the record: Liew was born in 1990, Kwok in 1995 and Mak in 1991; making them 25, 20 and 24 years old respectively at the time of the movie's release -- although it might be said that their bodies do indeed look like they belong to those of young teenage girls!)

If this were not questionable enough, Lazy Hazy Crazy purports to marry the sexual imagery on view to a coming-of-age tale which appears best suited for female viewers who actually would be below the age required to legally view a Category III film in Hong Kong!  And the offering's schizophrenic nature also manifests itself in the movie's main characters regularly veering between moments of extreme childish innocence and troubling sexual maturity way beyond their years.  

Among other things, at least one of the girls alternates for a substantial section of the movie between having an innocent schoolgirl crush for her school's basketball star (Tse Chit Chun) and maintaining a carnal relationship with an equally good-looking older man (Gregory Wong).  Then there's the curious spectacle of the three of them staying united in their love for a pet dog even while acting like utter bitches towards one another as a result of their being involved in a couple of love triangles!  

After the screening, I fell into discussion about Lazy Hazy Crazy with two male viewers who agreed with me that its first half came close to being "soft porn" but that the latter part of the work seemed to suddenly and improbably turn the movie into a drama about enduring female friendship!  

All in all, it seems as though its inexperienced helmer was unable to decide on a single dominant tone as well as theme for the film, among other directorial deficiencies.  But because of her industry links (with such as the movie's producer Pang Ho Cheung, for whom she's co-scripted the likes of Women Who Flirt) and subsequent clout, she managed to get a film made that didn't deserve to have been -- or, at the very least, would have benefited tremendously from more serious discussion as to what it was trying to say and accomplish.

My rating for the film: 3.0

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Wong Ka Yan is a movie that long-time Hong Kong film fans will want to love (but might not be able to fully do so)

Not the most obvious place for a movie set -- but this section 
of Peng Chau features in a number of Wong Ka Yan's scenes :)

Wong Ka Yan (Hong Kong, 2015)
- Benny Lau, director and co-scriptwriter (with Petrina Wong)
- Starring: Wong You Nam, Karena Ng, Prudence Liew

Back in 2002, when I was still living in Philadelphia, I watched a Hong Kong film that I will forever associate with the outlying island of Cheung Chau.  A charming coming-of-age tale, Just One Look told a story that wove in references to 1970s Hong Kong and Taiwanese cinema, and starred four young up-and-coming talents, including Shine member Wong You Nam.  

Thirteen years later, I'm now a resident of Hong Kong, and earlier this week watched a local movie set for the most part on the smaller and quieter outlying island of Peng Chau that got me thinking of that Riley Ip offering.  A romantic coming-of-age tale set mainly in 1992, Wong Ka Yan contains visual references to 1990s Hong Kong cinema, and has a now actually 32-year-old Wong You Nam playing -- surprisingly well, given the circumstances! -- a young Peng Chau resident who, on a rare excursion beyond his home island, falls in love with a sweet-faced ticket seller at a cinema after just one meeting.

The happy-go-lucky, guitar-playing younger brother of Wai Yin (Prudence Liew), the proprietor of open air food stall Ka On Yuen who bark is far worse than her bite, Chun Yin (Wong You Nam)'s life is forever changed after his fisherman buddy Paul (Tyson Chak) gives him a pair of cinema coupons and he makes use of one of them at a cinema where he meets a girl who appreciates his music.  But as quickly as she appeared in his life, she soon disappears from it.  

Undaunted, Chun Yin launches a determined search for the lass, whose name he remembers as Wong Ka Yan, that involves such as making an on air appeal with the help of a radio DJ and going through the telephone directory that lists scores of people, male as well as female, with that name.  (Wong Ka Yan, we learn, is one of those names that is not only common but unisex -- and belong to people as varied as a male guitar instructor, a female secondary school student, a male detective and more than one housewife!)  Amazingly, the boy-on-a-mission even gets a few of the Wong Ka Yans he contacts over the course of his quixotic quest, including an initially hostile female (Karena Ng), to help him look for the Wong Ka Yan of his dreams!          

Supposedly inspired by a true story, Wong Ka Yan is a modest movie which feels genuinely local, and comes across as having been conceived by true Hong Kong film fans.  One of the increasingly rare Hong Kong productions shot on location in identifiably local settings, its props include historically accurate movie posters and the kind of photos of celebrities treasured by their fans, its cast noticeably includes familiar faces from various eras of Hong Kong cinema (including 1990s character actor Vincent Wan and 1970s kungfu movie actor Jason Pai Piao), and it possesses characters who work in the kind of stand-alone cinema that, sadly, no longer are the norm in Hong Kong.  

In addition, Wong Ka Yan looks to have made use of certain plot elements and narrative tropes associated with older, beloved Hong Kong movies to instill a sense of nostalgia and "deja vu all over again" in those of its viewers who are long time fans of Hong Kong cinema.  One potential benefit of this approach is that it can predispose those film fans to want to like this movie (for what it represents, not just based solely on its own content).  At the same time though, debutant director Benny Lau (who co-wrote the film's script with his wife, Petrina Wong) runs the risk of getting his maiden film inevitably compared to quality works which have injected themselves into the hearts of many viewers and sometimes even into the cultural fabric of Hong Kong itself. 

In my review of Mabel Cheung's A Tale of Three Cities last month, I had expressed my wish that Hong Kong filmmakers would go back to concentrating on producing small-scale works that told personal stories and touched the heart.  The makers of Wong Ka Yan have attempted to do just that -- and for that, I sincerely applaud them.  The problem though is that, when viewed in the cold light of day, theirs is hardly the most polished of works -- with technical deficiencies including acting that can appear overly broad at times and plain amateurish in some instances. 

Then there's the fact of the movie possessing characters whose ultra-romantic ways can come across to those with a less romantic disposition as the height of foolishness, even insanity.   But, then, that was the criticism made by my parents of Chungking Express, a film I love and know that I'm far from the only person out there who does!  And like with that 1994 Wong Kar Wai work, Wong Ka Yan has a song that can be heard more than once over the course of the film, and which one is likely to emerge from a viewing feeling, for better or worse, like one will never be able to get it out of one's head. ;b 

My rating for this film: 6.0

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The cinematic wreck that is The Crossing II (film review)

The National Palace Museum in Taipei is home to thousands 
of artefacts that successfully made the crossing from mainland 
China to Taiwan that those aboard the Taiping had sought to do

The Crossing II (Mainland China-Hong Kong, 2015)
- John Woo, director and co-scriptwriter (with three others)
- Starring: Takeshi Kaneshiro, Zhang Ziyi, Song Hye Kyo

Ten months ago now, I viewed the first part of John Woo's latest star-studded two-part epic and looked forward to checking out the ambitious work's concluding chapter, which was then scheduled to be released in May 2015.  But while mainland Chinese moviegoers only had to wait until July to view The Crossing II (and viewers in Taiwan and Singapore could go see the film in cinemas in August), those of us in Hong Kong have had to wait 10 whole months to check it out -- and even then, this overdue offering is playing on just two cinema screens here (which says much about the anticipated amount of interest -- or, rather, lack thereof -- for it)!

Perhaps because its makers knew that there'd be a long wait before The Crossing II would get into cinemas, they decided to help refresh the audience's memories by repeating some of the scenes and moments in the first film they deemed key in the first third or so of the second movie.  In particular, we are again shown a Taiwanese doctor (Takeshi Kaneshiro) pining for his Japanese sweetheart (Masami Nasagawa), a Chinese woman (Zhang Ziyi) resorting to prostitution to get the necessary funds to continue her search for her beloved who she believes is now in Taiwan, and a Koumintang general's wife (Song Hye Kyo) sent to safety in Taiwan by her devoted husband (Huang Xiaoming).  

But if they really had cared about their viewers, those behind The Crossing I and II would just have made one single film rather than unnecessarily split their offering into two.  For even while it possesses three main sub-plots, this rambling work actually doesn't have sufficient substance to make the decision to structure it as a two part epic seem anything other than commercially driven.  Worse, while The Crossing I tells the stories of six characters, The Crossing II halves the number of the characters focused upon -- and goes on to reveal that only three out of the sprawling saga's six supposedly important characters were on board the Taiping when it made its final journey! 

Considering how much was made in the lead-up publicity about The Crossing being linked to the disaster at sea that claimed more than 1,000 lives, it's really amazing how little of The Crossing II, forget The Crossing I, takes place on the ill-fated Taiping.  Strange too is how neither film is a conventional disaster movie per se; with the first two-hour-plus instalment's copious battle scenes helping to make it feel primarily like a war epic while the second also over-two-hour-long work ends up coming across primarily as a wanna-be romance involving three pairs of lovers who a single Shanghai photographer appears to have separately photographed.

In addition, at two late points in this saga, a female character makes a pronouncement that gets one thinking that John Woo may have intended for The Crossing II to comment on the suffering, but also applaud the endurance, of the women who lived on both sides of the Taiwan Strait during the turbulent times leading up to 1949 -- the year in which the Taiping sank (and no, this is not a spoiler but, rather, a known fact), Chiang Kai Shek evacuated his government to Taiwan and the Communists set up the People's Republic of China on the mainland.  

This would be admirable as well as interesting, if not for John Woo being unable to breathe life into the film's female characters and incapable of having them evoke even half the amount of sympathy one has for The Crossing II's main man.  South Korean actress Song Hye Kyo's manful struggles to play a Chinese woman is almost besides the point when her Yunfen character is not much more than a pretty "flower vase". And while Zhang Ziyi's Yu Zhen is accorded more depth and resilience, the throwaway manner in which her search for her man is "resolved" makes her story seem emotionally flimsy. 

In contrast, Takeshi Kaneshiro's Yan Zekun may have the most tragic life of all but his character also is the most admirable, and his story is the most fleshed out.  Yan Zekun is shown to be an exemplary doctor, dutiful son and caring family man as well as a faithful lover -- and the actor playing him to be a talent who deserves far better than to have to be in a vehicle full of leaks and consequently liable to sink without much trace! 

My rating for this movie: 5.0

Monday, October 26, 2015

The latest additions to my ever-growing "...doing what comes naturally" collection... ;)

Aerial acrobatics, spider style ;b

 The same act, this time performed by a pair of sea slaters!

Among certain circles of my acquaintances and friends, my blog is particularly known for its bug s*x pics.  This is not least because over the course of my hiking in Hong Kong, I've come across, photographed and subsequently put up the photos I've taken of a variety of critters doing what comes, well, naturally to them at certain times of the year!

It all started with my spotting a pair of butterflies lying atop a railing along a trail near Hoi Ha more than six years ago now.  The first thing I noticed about them was that their bodies as well as wings were polka dotted.  The second thing I noticed about them was that they were lying incredibly still.  When I wondered aloud if they were dead, my hiking companion that day (who happened to be my mother) immediately corrected me and pointed out that they were, in fact, in the process of procreating!   

Since then, I've come across many other pairs of butterflies (and moths) engaged in the same act.  In all honesty, it's been interesting to see how certain insects (such as the grasshoppers I memorably spotted going at it up on Victoria Peak, and beetles) do it "doggy style" but many others (for example, stink bugs) don't; with the prize for most amazingly acrobatic position when procreating (insect division) going to the lovely dragonflies (which may well be my favorite s*x pic subjects because they do stay so very still when coupled, thereby allowing me to snap to my heart's content and come up with way clearer and more close-up photos of them than I normally would be able to do so)!  

Over the years, the critters I've captured on camera doing what comes naturally have gone beyond the insect kingdom to include such as tortoises.  And my chance encounters with amorous critters have gone beyond Hong Kong's shores to include frogs going at it in full view at an aquarium in Okinawa and spotting a pair of amorous beetles on the side of the path leading up to a lookout point in Shirakawa-go!

In recent months, I've spotted still other pairs of critters going at it in places where one might not expect to see them at all.  On a seaside path on Cheung Chau, over here in Hong Kong, a pair of sea slaters risked being stepped on by various human passerbys because, it seemed, they just couldn't wait any longer to do what they were so intent on doing!  And while making my way to Kotohira's Kanamaruza Theatre on my most recent Japan trip (which saw me setting foot for the first time on the islands of Shikoku and Shodoshima), I caught my first ever sight of a pair of spiders doing their part to propagate their species! ;O 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Common and more unusual critter spottings on a Lantau Island hike

One of a number of mudskippers spotted early on 
during today's Lantau Island hike


Butterflies and flowers are more usual but also
more colorful Hong Kong hike sights

The waters of Chi Ma Wan looked silvery
and solid this afternoon :)
 
Close to a month after sustaining my toe injury in Japan, I returned to hiking in Hong Kong this week -- with this afternoon's trek taking three friends and I along a mainly coastal route that took us from Pui O to Mui Wo.  With temperatures noticeably more pleasant (as in a few degrees cooler) today than before I left for Japan, it felt easier to move about outdoors.  The downside though, as I lamented to my hiking buddies, was that there appeared to be fewer interesting critters about.
 
Among other things, it's been months since I spotted a stick insect or skink while out hiking.  And strangely enough, I've not spotted anywhere close to as many snakes this summer as I did last year.  (In fact, if anything, this has been the summer of stick insects and stink bugs rather than snakes as far as the more unusual critters spotted go!)   
 
Still, it wasn't as though this afternoon's Lantau Island hike was entirely bereft of critter spottings.  In particular, I saw lots of butterflies fluttering about and a good amount of dragonflies flying around.  Also, as to be expected of a hike through the Pui O area, feral water buffalo abounded in the area -- and to the extent that today's trail was among the most shit covered I've passed along!  Furthermore, what with our passing by a number of streams as well as walking along a largely coastal route this afternoon, we also did spot a number of water birds, notably egrets, about the place.  

And actually, when I looked at the photos I took this afternoon, I was reminded of the mudskippers and crabs I had spotted early on in the hike.  With regards to the unusual looking amphibious fish: While I've of course seen these "fish out of water" before and observed them moving about by using their pectoral fins like legs, I actually hadn't noticed until today that mudskippers have protruding dorsal fines too! 
 
As for the crustaceans: all of those spotted today were on the tiny side and resembled the tiny crabs that the Japanese snack on whole, prompting one of my friends to muse aloud as to whether the ones we spot on our Hong Kong hikes can be eaten in a similar manner!  Also strangely, I can actually remember where -- even if not exactly when -- I made my first crab spotting while out hiking in the Big Lychee
 
More specifically, it was deep in the heart of Tai Tam Country Park, along the section of Mount Parker Road leading towards Tai Tam Upper Reservoir!  And while at the time, I wondered whether a flying bird had dropped it there, I have since learnt that crabs make their homes in streams in Hong Kong, including the many hill streams to be found in the territory. ;b

Saturday, October 24, 2015

More than just the Byodoin temple at Uji (Photo-essay)

The second largest city in Kyoto Prefecture, Uji, lies just 14.44 kilometers from KyotoHome to two of the 17 properties collectively on the UNESCO World Heritage list as the historic monuments of ancient Kyoto, it's easy to get there by train from the former imperial city that was Japan's capital between the yearsr 794 and 1868.  So under normal circumstances, I'd have gone there when I based myself in Kyoto two years ago

As it so happens though, Uji's most famous attraction, the close-to-1,000-year-old Byodoin temple (an image of whose Phoenix Hall is on Japanese 5 Yen coins, while an image of a phoenix statue on the hall's roof can be seen on the 10,000 Yen note), was undergoing a one and half renovation at the time.  Consequently, it wasn't until this past September that I went and visited this pleasant locale which also is famed for being Japan's tea capital on a day trip from Osaka -- and as luck would have it, serendipitously crossed paths in the Byodoin temple's grounds with a friend from Hong Kong who's spending a year in the country! :b
 
On the way to the Byodoin temple, Puppet Ponyo paused to pose 
on the bank of the Uji River with a statue of Murasaki Shikibu
the nickname given to the anonymous author of The Tale of Genji
 
 Another stop made along the way to the countryside retreat turned 
Buddhist temple was for a delicious lunch that included a bowl of 
 
One of a pair of shiny gold phoenix statues standing atop Byodoin's 
Phoenix Hall, that brought to mind Kinkakuji's gold phoenix
 
The Byodoin temple's Phoenix Hall is one of those buildings
whose many details I find amazing
 
A wide-eyed Puppet Ponyo poses with the Phoenix Hall,
which is so much wider than it is tall, thanks to having two
corridors representing wings (along with one representing the tail)
 
Photography is not allowed inside the Phoenix Hall but
in another part of the Byodoin temple, photos could be
taken of these remarkable Buddha images
 
Across the Uji River from the Byodoin temple lies its guardian shrine,
 
 Less colorful and considerably quieter than Byodoin, the Ujigami Shrine 
felt less touristy and more atmospheric  -- and, for me, is a 
"shouldn't miss" along with the far more well known Byodoin temple  :b

Friday, October 23, 2015

Noodle preferences and escalator etiquette in the Kansai versus Kanto region!

A sanuki udon ticket machine at Takamatsu
whose pictures show the many variations of the dish
that can be ordered from its noodle bar
 
This Kansai area ticket machine has an ICOCA 
payment option but fewer helpful pictures on it ;S
 
Even after I left the bastion of sanuki udon that's the island of Shikoku, I still saw plenty of udon bars on my recent Japan trip.  This was because the other section of the Land of the Rising Sun which I visited was the Kansai region (which is also known, but less commonly these days, as the Kinki region) and udon is the favorite noodle of much of this south-central part of Honshu.
 
I think it's pretty much inevitable that in this country of food lovers, its greatest regional rivalry is expressed through food preferences.  As far as noodles are concerned, Kanto region residents are just as likely to say they prefer soba to udon than Kansai region residents are likely to state their preference for the thick white wheat flour noodles than the green buckwheat ones.  In addition, when Kanto region residents eat udon, the color of their soup tends to be darker and the taste of it stronger than that favored by Kansai region udon lovers!  
 
Another noticeable way in which the Kansai versus Kanto divide manifests itself is in the form of escalator etiquette.  In the Kanto region (whose largest city is Tokyo), people on an escalator stand on the right and walk on the left (like in Hong Kong and Britain, among other places).  In contrast, the people of Osaka (the Kansai region's largest city) will stand on the left and walk on the right on an escalator!   
 
However, I've noticed that in Kyoto, people tend to stand on the right and walk on the left on escalators: that is, like Kanto rather than (other) Kansai area residents!  One explanation for this is that this city that's home to many historically priceless structures attracts so many visitors (from within Japan as well as outside of it) that such as "escalator rules" have gotten mixed up there.  So it was interesting to see that when the Kyoto gentleman who shared a taxi with me from Horyuji to the nearby train station stepped on the escalator in the latter transport facility, he stood on the right rather than the left side (whereas I, who had gone to Horyuji from Osaka, did the opposite)!
 
Also, come to think of it, when I visited Kyoto a couple of years back, I had lots of different kind of foods, including soba at a soba specialist which has been serving up the buckwheat noodles since 1465 -- but not once did I eat any udon there.  And after reading about the Kanto region (where Kyoto is located) being where udon fans are more likely to be found than soba lovers, I wonder why and how this came about?! 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Horyuji, home to the world's oldest surviving wooden structures (Photo-essay)

All too soon, it was time for me to leave Shikoku (and its environs, notably Shodoshima).  Happily though, I still had a few more days left to Japan -- and after boarding the train that took me away from the smallest and least populous of Japan's four main islands, and across the Seto-ohashi Bridge (which I had viewed from atop Washu-zan around the same time last year) to Honshu, I went on the shinkansen and a couple of other trains to the first site in Japan to be inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage list.

Prior to my visiting Horyuji, I knew that this Buddhist temple founded in 607 by Empress Suiko (one of just eight women to have ruled over Japan) and her nephew, Prince Shotoku, is home to the world's oldest surviving wooden buildings.  But I didn't full grasp how large the temple complex is until I got there -- and perhaps because it's so vast, that's why much of it felt so deserted and quiet, especially relative to the major temples and shrines of Kyoto (particularly Kiyomizudera)!  

If I had had a better idea of Horyuji's size, I would have allocated more time for my visit.  As it was, I did rush about more than I would have liked.  Even then, I ended up leaving this impressive temple complex so late that I missed the last bus back to the town's train station and, instead, shared a taxi there with a gentleman visiting from Kyoto who also had been spent some time that afternoon under Horyuji's spell... ;)

The view from the Nandaimon, Horyuji's southern main gate
which replaced an earlier structure in 1438

The Chumon (Central Gate) is around eight centuries older,
and on each side of its doorway stand large, fearsome-looking
guardian deities made of clay that date back to the 8th century

Horyuji's oldest structure is its 5-storey pagoda
built during the Asuka period (538-710) to house 
relics in the form of bone fragments of the Buddha

The nearby, similarly ancient Kondo (Main Hall) has
carvings of such as dragons adorning its outer columns
as well as treasured statues and wall paintings inside of it

A few hundred meters away, over in Horyuji's Toin Garan 
(Eastern Precinct), can be found still other designated 
National Treasures and Important Cultural Properties 

The Eastern Precinct's centerpiece, the 8-century-old 
octagonal-shaped Yumedono (Hall of Visions), is said to 
have a particularly mystical atmosphere!

Eden can be found here too -- though, alas, just the
Eden that's the temple complex's Hall of Paintings
rather than the biblical garden of God! ;b 

Puppet Ponyo poses near the Toin Soro (Bell House of the
Eastern Precinct), within which hangs an over 1,000-year-old bell!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Shodoshima's spectacular Kankakei Gorge

The view looking southwards from the 777-meter-high 
observation deck atop Shodoshima's Kankakei Gorge

 A view of the gorge from the Kankakei Ropeway
which runs through this scenic area

I don't think that conventional photos can capture its beauty,
so I added an "illustration effect" to produce the above image ;b 

Especially after my toe injury, I decided that I'd be content if only I could get to check out the old Twenty-Four Eyes set located in what's still an out of the way section of Shodoshima, an island that requires a ferry ride to get to from Takamatsu.  Having done that, it was a bonus to also be able to sample some of Shodoshima's somen and visit the actual schoolhouse referenced in Sakae Tsuboi's influential novel.  

My original Shodoshima excursion plans had additionally included a hike along the side of the Kankakei Gorge.  But while that would now be impossible for me to attempt, I could at least still take the Kankakei Ropeway that would ferry me some 917 meters lengthwise and 312 meters heightwise up to the top of this spectacular gorge in Shodoshima's mountainous interior and, in the process, provide me with great views of that which appears on the 100 Landscapes of Japan list famously compiled in 1927 by two newspapers, one based in Tokyo and the other in Osaka.

Although it's but a short 5-minute-long ride each way, the Kankakei Ropeway's has made CNN Travel's "10 best ropeways in Japan" list.  I can imagine the views being particularly gorgeous in the fall when the leaves of the area's many maple trees become more colorful.  But on the day I went, the scenery was still pretty impressive; with my attention going particularly to the whiteish-gray rock faces of the impressive cliffs that rose above the green forest, and which the ropeway passes so close to that there were times that I felt that I could easily reach out to touch them!     

On my recent visits to Japan, I've made a point to venture into the countryside (to places like Cape Hinomisaki earlier this year and the Kibi Plain last year) rather than just stay in the cities.  While I've enjoyed my time in Tokyo, Kyoto and the like, I have particularly enjoyed my time in the quieter parts of the country.  It might be assumed that this is so because I currently reside in super urban Hong Kong.  But even after my first Japan visit back in 1982, that which I most wanted to revisit of all the places I went to on that trip -- and, happily, did do so 24 years later in 2006! -- was Mount Aso, the active Kyushu volcano which is Japan's largest (and the very one that erupted last month, sending ash falling as far as 4 kilometers away)! :b          

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The real Branch School on the Cape

 You've seen the replica, now check out the real McCoy!
 
 
Inside the three-classroom Misaki-no-Bunkyojo schoolhouse
that prominently figures in writer Sakae Tsuboi's Twenty-Four Eyes

This old schoolhouse was a nice place but Puppet Ponyo looked 
on the anxious side when I placed her on a chair in a classroom there;
maybe she thought she'd have to spend the whole afternoon studying? ;b

Approximately 700 meters away from the Twenty-Four Eyes Movie Village lies an old wooden building built in 1902 to house an elementary school.  The Tanoura Branch School of Noma Elementary School (also known more lyrically as the Branch School on the Cape) held its last classes in 1971 but its schoolhouse has been preserved for posterity, with the original organ, and wooden desks and chairs still in place.
 
This over 100-year-old one-storey, tile-roofed schoolhouse is a well-crafted building which looks like it easily could stand for at least another 100 years.  At the same time, it's a rather simply decorated architectural work which I can't imagine being so beloved if not for the school that it housed being the one cited as that where the admirable Miss Pebble taught in in Twenty-Four Eyes, the influential Sakae Tsuboi novel that was made by Keisuke Kinoshita into a multi-award-winning film.
 
Born in the village of Sakate, not far from this Meiji era school house and also the Nijusho-no-Hitomi Eigamura, Sakae Tsuboi was only able to complete eight years of schooling before going to work, first as a clerk at the post office and town hall, to help support her family.  But the fifth daughter of a soy sauce barrel maker went from these modest beginnings to become a prize-winning poet, writer of children's stories, novelist, and humanitarian whose last words (she passed away at the age of 67 in 1967) were reported to be "Everyone, be friends".
 
Although I haven't come across actual written confirmation of this, I think it's pretty likely that Sakae Tsuboi herself spent time as a student at the Branch School on the Cape.  In any case, her shadow definitely looms large in the schoolhouse -- with film stills from Twenty-Four Eyes decorating one of the classroom walls, and a chalk drawing of Miss Pebble and 12 students adorning a blackboard.
 
Rather than be entirely a shrine to fictional characters though, there also is ample evidence that teaching really did take place inside of this old schoolhouse -- with such as books, maps, an abacus and other teaching aids to be found in the classrooms.  In addition, it's also lovely to see art by actual former students who spent time in the building still up on the walls.  
 
More than incidentally, I find rather amusing that when I visited the Kagawa Museum the day before I went to Shodoshima, I came across a reconstructed model of the Branch School on the Cape in its History Gallery.  So, in just a little over 24 hours, I had stepped in the actual Tanoura Branch School building, a reconstruction of it for a movie and another reconstruction, this one located inside the prefectural museum!  Even funnier is that the museum reconstruction included a view of the sea from its windows that it shares with the movie set rather than the real old schoolhouse -- because you can't see the sea from the old schoolhouse (at least not when I visited, anyway)!