Tag: Cultural Highlights

Vending machines in Japan

Vending machines in Japan

As we’ve staggered around dehydrated in hot temperatures, we’ve often been very grateful to see a vending machine.

Vending machines are ubiquitous here, on streets, in stations, by crossroads in the country, even at the top of Mount Fuji. In fact, Japan has the highest usage per person of vending machine anywhere in the world. This is most likely due to the law abiding nature of its citizens resulting in a total lack of vandalism, and the Japanese’s love of automation, they always work and even give change!

In addition to chilled drinks, they dispense a wide variety of snacks, fresh sandwiches and sweets.

Vending machines are such a part of the Japanese psyche that one marketing director used them as a spoof for selling a new line of made-to-measure bras. They weren’t really supplied by vending machines, but it got everyone talking about the bra’s brand on social media.

Japan’s artistic manhole covers

Japan’s artistic manhole covers

Japan is a country full of amazing art, and not all of it’s in art galleries. In every town, we have delighted in finding unique manhole covers, composed of beautiful ironwork, some painted, some not. They really brighten up dull pavements.

Apparently, this phenomenon started in 1985, when a high ranking bureaucrat in the construction industry came up with the idea of allowing municipalities to design their own manhole covers. Soon the obsession took off and municipalities were competing with each other to create the best design.

According to the Japan Society of Manhole Covers (yes, such a thing does exist), there are almost 6,000 artistic manhole covers throughout Japan today.

Kyoto 2 – Temples and Gardens

Kyoto 2 – Temples and Gardens

With 17 Unesco World Heritage Sites, 1600 Buddhist temples and over 400 Shinto shrines, Kyoto offers too much. With just two and a half days here, it was frustrating having to choose only a few sites to see.

Kyoto though has wonderful public transport, so we managed to get around this appealing city fairly easily, despite the fact it was a key holiday weekend with everywhere swarming with visitors, and we were so tired after the Mount Fuji climb.

No wonder Kyoto is such a tourist draw. If you imagine swapping the walled temples for colleges, and the River Kano for the Thames, we could sense a cultural similarity between Kyoto and Oxford, England.

At Fushimi Imari-Taisha we trekked up the hill through the thousands of Shinto shrine gates (torri) which date from the 8th Century. We were astonished by the scale, only managing  to get half-way before joint pains from Mount Fuji defeated us
We loved this intimate temple and garden, part of the Nansen-ji complex. Dating from the 13th century, it has been designated as one of the three scenic historical gardens of Kyoto. On a Sunday morning, without so many tourists, we found here our zen-like calm
The Main Hall (Hondo) at the blockbuster Kiyomizu-dera buddhist temple was undergoing external restoration, so the classic photography views weren’t possible. However, we enjoyed our time strolling around the site’s many features, especially the subterranean walk into the “womb”
On our second evening in Kyoto, we sat by the side of the River Kano drinking Japanese beer. Around us young couples were chatting away and taking selfies. Behind us, on the restaurant terraces, older couples were enjoying rāmen and kane-yo donburi
Tokyo’s most visited temple

Tokyo’s most visited temple

On a searingly hot Sunday morning we took the Tokyo tube to the Asakusa district, walked along the Sumida River, and followed the crowds into the Sensō-ji temple.

Housing a golden image of the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, what we see today is a 1958 rebuild of the original 16th century temple that was destroyed in a Second World War bombing raid.

As pictured above, Roger paid ¥100 to pull out a wooden stick from a silver box to reveal his fortune. Part of it said ‘The moon is covered in cloud. You will have difficulties in making any plans. Do your best and ask for help of others. Then you will be able to catch good fortune. You don’t have to worry; open your eyes and look to the future’.

Some readers may be confused by the swastica image shown above. This is the ancient East Asian Buddhist symbol, supposedly representing the footprints of the Buddha, not to be confused with the Nazi version, which is right-facing (rather than left-facing) and always at an angle.

Given the heat, we were incredibly impressed by the number of women and girls we saw wearing traditional Japanese Kimono, the formal style of clothing associated with politeness and good manners. How wonderful to see tradition being maintained. Don’t they look colourful and beautiful.

Origins of Alice Springs

Origins of Alice Springs

Alice Springs is the first city this gap year that’s actually smaller than we expected. In fact the population is decreasing. It’s usefulness to communications, travel and tourism all declining over the decades.

It owes its existence in the first place to communications, more specifically one of the 12 telegraph stations built out in the bush on the Adelaide to Darwin overland telegraph, a major engineering achievement of the 19th century.

When the telegraph line opened in 1872, linking Australia to the worldwide network, the country’s isolation from the modern world effectively ended. Prior to this, news and letters from Europe took at least two months to reach Australia.

Very quickly the route of the overland telegraph, signposted by its 36,000 poles, became a path for travellers to Australia’s new frontiers. Miners and pastoralists soon arrived and towns like Alice Springs were established around the telegraph stations.

The Katherine Show

The Katherine Show

IMG_7068We were lucky enough to be in Katherine for their annual show; equivalent to a British County Show, with added funfair and rodeo. The evening rodeo was our highlight (the image here is taken from ABC News footage), but the riders were not in the same class as those we had seen in Fort Worth, Texas.

No riders were able to stay on their bucking bronco or bull for the full eight seconds and when one was unlucky enough to be trodden on and lay unmoving on the ground, he was stretchered off with an almost casual approach. Rodeo organiser Russell Green said: “I think one or two of them may have walked away with a broken wrist and some are bandaged pretty heavily.”

In a country where there are so many ways of dying in the wild, Australians have an almost nonchalant approach to danger, but riding a bucking bronco or bull must be one of the highest risk sports. And, of course, some people might say it’s cruel to the animals.

However, it was good to be part of a local tradition and see cowboy – and cowgirl – skills perpetuated in an age when it would be easier on ranches to use quad bikes.

Local horseman Tom Curtain entertained by playing acoustic guitar on one of his horses
In the rooster hall, Silkies on display. First mentioned by Aristotle in 380 BC, they are a breed of chicken known for its silky plumage
Forget the craft and animal displays, most people were there for the fun fair and fast food
Historic Village Herberton

Historic Village Herberton

In the chemists, we read about the morphine-based potion that was killing children. Next door, there’s a collection of lumberjack axes. And across the road, an archetypal 1900’s Australian bar,  with a room designated for drunks.

This is eclectic Historic Village Herberton, situated about 90 minutes inland from Cairns. Over 50 dilapidated wooden building were moved here, on the back of trucks, and lovingly restored to create one of Australia’s most loved living museums.

From magazines to children’s toys, and irons to rusty cars, this is a well maintained museum for die-hard collectors and the curious. And it’s noteworthy that most of these early 20th century objects originated in London, Glasgow or Detroit. So, the age of shipping products half way round the world isn’t new.

And, an historical village for 2017 will have a lot of “Made in China” labels.

Spring arrives in Vernon

Spring arrives in Vernon

The UK’s Daily Telegraph calls it ‘over-rated’ but we decided to take the Okanagan route to Vancouver. This is where Canada has Summer fun – but we’re here three weeks before the season really kicks off. So for us there’s no playing lakeside beach volleyball or picking fruit from the many orchards.

First stop Vernon. A sprawling town of motels, soulless retail and new housing that hides its charms well. However, the expensive tourist brochure prompted us to visit Main Street and a lone historic house. And a local setting out to go kayaking pointed us towards the lakeside provincial park. We enjoyed our brief stay.

Christine gave us a personal tour of the 1910 built Mackie Lake House. With Canada not having the equivalent of the UK’s National Trust, it’s great to see this slice of English life on a Canadian lake so well looked after
Every Canadian town we are visiting seems to have a pathological need to promote on its streets the benefits of diversity. This is from the Vernon “Respect Lives Here” public arts project
Hilary at the peaceful Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park – Vernon is in the far distance. After the snow of the Rockies we appreciate the coming of Spring
Playing the Delta Blues

Playing the Delta Blues

It’s known as the Mississippi Delta. The flat alluvial plain stretching from Vicksburg to Memphis that’s famous both for its fertile soil and its poverty.

We parked in Clarksdale to explore some of the sights associated with the development and revitalization of Delta Blues; one of the earliest styles of blues music.

Pre-WW2 blues music in segregated America was known as Race Music. Only when it was renamed Rhythm and Blues in 1949 did it become accessible to white people – going on to directly influence Elvis Presley, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones.

Women singers led the way recording some of the first blues records. Bessie Smith’s Down Hearted Blues sold 800,000 copies. She died in this former blacks-only hotel after a car accident. She might have lived if they’d let her into the whites-only hospital.
Blues fans know this as the Highways 61 and 49 crossroads. It’s where Robert Johnson made his pact with the devil in his song Cross Roads Blues – which was later re-recorded by Eric Clapton’s band Cream
Morgan Freeman owned Ground Zero hosts blues bands most weekends. Downtown is largely dependant on blues tourism and we met a couple of outsiders – moved to live here by their love of the blues
On the plantation

On the plantation

Driving along the Mississippi you see the old sugar cane plantation houses. Elegant and beautiful. Yet now forever associated with slavery.

Of course the buying and ownership of people is disgusting, but we suspect the reality for the slaves was more nuanced than many might wish to believe today. And, it’s worth remembering,  there are more people – especially women – held in slavery right now than at the height of the African slave trade.

We visited Oak Alley Plantation famous for its unique avenue of 300 year old Virginian Oaks. The dappled sunlight shining through these trees was sublime.