More black and white photography today! I went through an “artsy” phase towards the end of my JET year and it resulted in photos like this. When I first arrived, Japan’s narrow streets and exposed wires struck me as something distinct and identifiable, and that strong association has stuck. Here I also like that, aside from the parked car, this picture could just as easily been taken twenty years ago as one. There’s something very nostalgic about these side streets and I actually really miss them now that I’m back in the States.
When I was an ALT, I worked at three different elementary schools, one of which was a bit rural. To get there, I had to take a bus down Highway 33 to a tiny station in an area called Morimatsu, and then catch a second bus to the school. Morimatsu, as I quickly discovered, is on the edge of town, and the only thing that’s been updated in about 30 years is the type of vending machine. That includes the bus station, which still uses old-fashioned schedules, written in kanji and read right-to-left, top-to-bottom. I hate to admit it, but it probably took me 10 minutes to fully decipher the thing, even though I could read the text. It was surprisingly satisfying to finally figure it out.
I’ve always liked that, despite all the things that are ultra-modern, it’s not hard to run across things from the past still in use. Comfortingly fixed points in a time of change.
Shiroyama Park (城山公園) is a sizable park in downtown Matsuyama. Shiroyama means “castle mountain”, which is accurate in this case because Matsuyama Castle is on a tall hill in the middle, though you can’t reach the castle from the park itself. The castle deserves its own post, so I’ll talk about it another day, but I only have one decent park picture. Standalone post it is!
My favorite thing about Shiroyama Park is actually the moat that encircles it. To be honest, the interior isn’t very beautiful (wide expanses of somewhat sparse grass broken up by small clumps of trees), but the moat, with its lanterns and decorative cranes, is fantastic. It’s a refreshing break in the otherwise standard concrete-twentieth-century look of the rest of downtown. And, with the path you can see in the picture, it’s also a really nice place to take a walk! It’s a great stop if you’re in Matsuyama and want a break from a day of shopping or busy sightseeing.
Access: Starting at Matsuyama Shi-Eki, walk away from the shopping arcade Gintengai, following the streetcar tracks. You’ll come up to a large intersection and the park will be right across from you. You could take the streetcar, but it would only be one stop and that’s a bit silly when it’s not even a 10-minute walk.
Matsuyama City Station (松山市駅) is one of the two train stations in Matsuyama, the other being the JR station in a different part of town. Referred to as Shi-eki (literally “city station”), it’s where downtown begins, as well as where you can catch Iyo-Tetsu (the local transit company) trains. This picture was taken from one end, looking towards the entrance of the shopping arcade Gintengai. The station itself, with the attached department store Takashimaya, is to the right, just out of the frame. The covered area in the middle is the streetcar station, where you can catch the numbers 1, 2, and 3.
I lived about a 25-minute walk/10-minute bus ride from Shi-eki and have a lot of nostalgia when I look at this picture. It was where I met up with my friends and the starting point of most of my social activities. While it’s almost impossible that I’d ever live in Matsuyama again, I do hope to visit next time I’m in Japan.
After a brief trip to beautiful Oregon, Haecceity is heading back to Japan! Because, really, that’s what most of you are here for. And, since Seattle’s weather heated back up, I’m going to remember Japan’s horrible summers and talk about Matsuyama’s summer night market.
Every summer, from mid-June through July, Matsuyama (the city I used to live in, for anyone just turning in) has a night market. Really, it’s a mini-festival, but everyone calls it the night market. Every Saturday, from five to nine PM, the covered shopping arcades Gintengai and Okaido are taken over by stalls selling everything from kakigori to AKB48 posters to karaage (Japanese fried chicken), as well as stalls with simple children’s carnival games.
The night market is a lot of fun, but mostly in small doses. My friends and I went a couple of times, to eat kakigori and check out a few of the stands selling inexpensive jewelery and the like, but didn’t stay too long. It’s always very crowded, so getting from one end to the other is a challenge, and we only made it 40 minutes to an hour at a time before heading for karaoke instead. It made for an excellent Saturday, though.
Another fun aspect of the night market, beyond food that’s bad for you, is the opportunity to wear yukata! Yukata are light cotton summer kimono and, despite being full-length and long-sleeved, they’re quite cool in Japan’s hot and humid summers. Personally, I think that wearing kimono for no reason is a bit ridiculous, but I definitely encourage it in the right context. It’s different, it’s a chance to experience something very Japanese, and you’ll shock the people around you, which may or may not be a bonus. The night market is the only time I can say for sure that a stranger took a picture of me without asking, so you will get a lot of attention. But it was worth it. No regrets here.
And that’s Matsuyama’s summer night market! Aside from the crowds, it was a low key, enjoyable way to spend a Saturday evening and I remember it fondly. It isn’t enough to warrant a special trip, but if you ever find yourself in the area during the summer, definitely check it out.
Just a short post for this hot and sunny Pacific Northwest Saturday. I’ve lived in two different parts of Japan and, while I’ve shown my host family’s house before, I haven’t posted much of my home in Matsuyama. So today I’m going to share a picture of my old neighborhood, taken last summer during the rainy season. It wasn’t exactly a prime location, but it was a nice place to live.
Now that I’m getting back to blogging, it seems like a good time to start a sort of mini-feature: write-ups of my favorite places in Japan. And I’m going to start with one that most foreigners have never even heard of: Ishiteji.
Ishiteji (石手寺) is a temple near Dogo Onsen, in Matsuyama, Ehime. It’s number 51 on the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage and I first went with my mother and sister when they visited me in Japan last spring.
I’ve talked about Ishiteji a bit before: on the surface it’s pretty normal, but the reason I love it isn’t the main temple, but rather the oddities that lurk a little beneath the surface. You see, if you walk around behind the main complex, you’ll find the entrance to a series of very dark caves that lead through the hill. There are two ways in, but I think one is meant to be an exit because it’s less clearly marked (guess which one we found first), and the whole thing is lined with wall art and filled with 88 stone Buddha statues, one for each temple. I had to turn on my camera’s flash because otherwise nothing would have shown up.
When you get to the end of the passage, you’ll exit onto a narrow, paved road. And if you cross the road to the right, you’ll come across a place that feels old and forgotten about and neglected. A haikyo (廃墟) if I’ve ever seen one. It’s very overgrown and filled with odd, crumbling statues that look more Hindu than Buddhist. Go a little farther and you’ll come across a very unusual building that, according to the map back at the main temple complex, is a mandala. And inside you will find the creepiest collection of wooden statues I have ever seen, in a perfectly round room lit only by skylights.
If it were just a few statues, it wouldn’t be all that noteworthy, but it’s pretty packed. I was finally, on my third visit, able to get the explanation that the monk in charge of the temple is an artist and the statues are his project: he’s making 500 and the round temple is their repository. It’s amazing, really.
A couple more photos from my visits (click to see them in their actual size):
Ishiteji is a fantastic place. Way off the beaten path and 100% worth the trip.
Hours of Operation: The shops close at 17:00.
Access: Take the number 3 streetcar from Matsuyama City Station to Dogo Onsen and hop on bus 8. The stop is Ishiteji and it’ll be about a 5-minute ride. The bus runs every 20 minutes until about 20:00.
Address: Ishite 2-9-11, Matsuyama, Ehime