Monday, October 13, 2014

Summer travels: Sapporo.

Four hours (and a layover in Tokyo) by plane.
The last adventure of this summer was a trip to Sapporo, the largest city on the northernmost Japanese island of Hokkaido. Caroline and I were graciously hosted by Pastor Okada of the Japan Evangelical Lutheran Church, who pastors four different congregations in the Sapporo area along with two other pastors.

Sapporo is a relatively new city by Japanese standards, as large-scale migration to Hokkaido from mainland Japan only started in the 19th century. Unlike the strategically defensive spiderweb of streets that make up castle towns like Tokyo or Kumamoto, Sapporo's streets are laid out in a grid that makes navigation much easier. The roads are wider there, too, a necessity during Hokkaido's snowy winters. (There are light poles bordering the road every few meters or so whose only purpose is to mark the road's boundaries when the snow is piled high.)

Pastor Okada, as all pastors usually are, was busy with church things for most of the day, so we hung out with her (and her two cats Raira and Hagar) in the mornings and evenings, and during the day Caroline and I trekked out on our own to explore the city. We didn't do nearly as much sightseeing as we did in Korea; our main goal was to relax--and relax we did. The weather was absolutely perfect the whole time we were there--not too hot, not too cold, and not too humid, either, which, coming from a hot, muggy Kumamoto summer, was especially wonderful.

Sanctuary of North Sapporo Lutheran Church.

Mustard plant in the narthex (to illustrate the Parable of the Mustard Seed).

Sanctuary of New Sapporo Lutheran Church.

Exterior of Sapporo Lutheran Church.

Caroline's and my first "tourist" stop was the Historical Village of Hokkaido, an open-air museum that we originally thought we'd only spend an hour or two at. Turns out the museum is huge, and history is fascinating. We ended up being there for four.

The old train station, built 1908, which now serves as the entrance to the village.

The stationmaster's house, built 1885.

Inside the stationmaster's house. Note the combination of things Japanese (tatami mat floors, the kimono, the sliding paper screen door) and Western (the large glass window, the clock, the electric light, the uniform).

Inside the kitchen of the stationmaster's house.

Bathtub in another home from the same era.

Household altars. Shinto on the left, Buddhist on the right.

Hokkai Middle School, built 1909, the first private junior high in Hokkaido.

Inside a classroom at Hokkai Middle School.

Inside the Aoyama family's residence, built 1919. They were apparently fishing magnates back in the day.

In the same building as the Aoyama family's residence, the sleeping quarters of the migrant fishermen that worked for them. You can see their bedding rolled up against the wall.

A horse-drawn trolley that ran through town. (And yes, we did ride it!)

Firefighting equipment in the early 20th century.

These manikins startled us before we realized they were only manikins.

The Kurumasa Inn, built 1919 and in business until 1984.

Inside the old Otaru Newspaper building, built 1909. This is just one of the racks of metal type sorts used in printing. (Standard Japanese has over 2,000 distinct characters--and that's just the "common-use" ones.)

Close-up of one of the racks.

Inside Dr. Kondo's clinic, built 1919. I know he must have helped a lot of people in his career, but old-timey doctor's offices still kinda give me the creeps. (Not pictured: the even more unsettling operating room, where the operating table was just that--a literal wooden table.)

Inside the Hirose Photo Studio, built 1924. Note the glass roof; it allowed natural light to illuminate the photo.

Inside Urakawa Church, built 1894. Sometimes still used today as a wedding venue.

Vessels for use in Communion inside Urakawa Church.

Our last stop at the museum was the dormitory of the former Sapporo Agricultural College.

Exterior of the dormitory, built 1903.

Inside one of the rooms (each slept 4 people).

This was both Caroline's and my favorite part of the museum, not only because of the often humorous look into mid-20th century Japanese college dorm life...

From a postcard (1937).

More scenes from dorm life (year unknown).

They apparently had some kind of annual event where they went out in as little clothing and made as much noise as possible (photo from 1935).

They also held an annual jump-out-the-window-in-your-skivvies-in-the-dead-of-winter contest (photo from 1975).

Same contest, 1967.

...but also because a major part of Christian history in Japan started here. Dr. William S. Clark was a professor of chemistry who was invited to Japan for a year in 1876 during its rapid Westernization and founded the Sapporo Agricultural College (now Hokkaido University)--and he was also a dedicated Christian. Teaching the Bible was technically forbidden in government schools, but Dr. Clark's charisma and popularity led many of his students to Christ. He was also influential in the creation of the "Sapporo Band," a group of Japanese Christian students who gathered together to affirm their commitment to Jesus Christ. Later, a few members of this group would emerge as some of the most prominent Christian leaders in their country.

"Covenant of Believers in Jesus," drafted by Dr. Clark in March of 1877 and signed by over 30 students, pledging to live in Christian fellowship.

That evening, Pastor Okada joined us at the Sapporo Beer Garden for a feast of what in Japanese is called jingisukan ("Genghis Khan"), or mutton and lamb barbecue, a Hokkaido specialty. The name "Genghis Khan" comes from a popular legend that he and his soldiers roasted lamb and mutton on their helmets, so jingisukan is cooked on a convex skillet.

Sapporo Beer Garden.

Delicious jingisukan.

We put our purses in plastic bags and donned aprons, and settled in for what would be a delicious evening full of grilled sheep meat.

Accompanied by frothy mugs of Sapporo beer, of course!

Pastor Okada, our grillmaster for the evening.

The next day Caroline and I headed to Hitsujigaoka Observation Hill, which overlooks Sapporo and is home to a very famous statue of Dr. Clark. "Boys, be ambitious!" were his parting words to his students before he left Japan, and now they're universally known around the country. There is some debate over what his words were exactly--some say they were actually "Boys, be ambitious for Christ," or "Boys, be ambitious! Be ambitious not for money or for selfish aggrandizement, not for that evanescent thing which men call fame. Be ambitious for the attainment of all that a man ought to be," but regardless, the phrase "Boys, be ambitious," has stuck around... and been imprinted on a lot of Hokkaido merchandise.

Not pictured: the couple having their wedding pictures taken underneath it.

Actually, that was one of the disappointing things about Hitsujigaoka Observation Hill. As missionaries, Caroline and I were ready to be inspired by Dr. Clark's work. Instead, what we got were souvenir shops, "wedding chapels" (wedding venues that are designed to look like Christian churches), and an offer to buy a "vow of ambition," a 100-yen piece of paper on which you can write your "dreams or wishes" before depositing it in a box inside the pedestal of Dr. Clark's statue and ringing a special bell. "Dr. Clark will make your wishes come true!!" the pamphlet assured us. Sigh.

Hitsujigaoka Observation Hill.

On our last day, we decided to explore Ōdōri Park, which spans 13 blocks in the center of the city. It made for a nice walk.

There were lots of fountains...

..and interesting topiaries.

This slide, called Black Slide Mantra and designed by Japanese-American artist Isamu Noguchi, was my favorite thing about the park.

You enter from the back, and the staircase spirals up to the top.

The "sunken garden" at the end of the park, old Sapporo Court of Appeals in the background.

At the end of the day, we met up with Pastor Okada for an evening ride in a "Morris car" (a special kind of cable car) up Mount Moiwa, and were rewarded with some spectacular views of the city before heading down the mountain to grab dinner and take one last soak in a hot spring.

The Morris car before we boarded. It looked like something out of Disneyland... or a spaceship.

Sapporo at night from Mt. Moiwa.

Actually, the hot springs we went to were my favorite parts of the entire trip. Working in Japan can be stressful, and the hours tend to be long, but soaking in a hot spring, the art of which Japan has perfected, are the perfect antidote. You wash yourself first before getting in the hot water, and then commence feeling all the stress melt away. When you're pink as a lobster, you know you're done. It's even more lovely in the winter; nothing warms you up quite like sitting up to your neck in mineral-rich geothermally-heated water for half an hour.

We only had two days between returning from Sapporo and the start of school (and one of them was Sunday), so this account has been sadly delayed. I'm glad to finally be able to share it with all of you. Many, many thanks to Pastor Okada for her warm hospitality, delicious breakfasts, and three days of delightful fellowship.

The heart of man plans his way,
but the Lord establishes his steps.

Proverbs 16:9 (NIV)

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Summer travels: Yamaga.

Legend has it that one night long ago, the Emperor of Japan stopped in the town of Yamaga in modern-day Kumamoto Prefecture. A thick fog rose from the Kikuchi River, blocking his vision, so the villagers emerged with lamps to guide him. Today the city commemorates this every year with the Yamaga Tourou Matsuri, or Lantern Festival. Women come together with paper lanterns carefully balanced on their heads and dance in a procession reminiscent of the one that welcomed the Emperor almost 2,000 years ago. The lanterns themselves are beautiful pieces of art, made only of paper and glue. Caroline and I took the 90-minute bus ride to Yamaga with a Japanese friend to enjoy this festival last month.

The festival is such an integral part of the local culture that even the street lights in Yamaga are shaped like lanterns.

We still had an hour or two before the dance procession would begin when we arrived, so we headed over to see another piece of Yamaga history: the Yachiyoza kabuki theater.

Yachiyoza, built 1910.

Yachiyoza was an entertainment hub in the '20s and '30s, but as television emerged in the mid-20th century its patronage began to dwindle and it was finally closed in the late '70s. The building was in such disrepair by the late '80s that it would have collapsed had the denizens of Yamaga not started a movement to repair the place. The building underwent extensive reconstruction and finally reopened in 2001 to much fanfare. Even today it's used for for kabuki plays, concerts, and school recitals.

Inside Yachiyoza.

The ceiling of the theater, covered in vintage advertisements.

Rotation mechanism under the stage.

The day we visited was a bit drizzly, so the taiko (Japanese drumming) performance that was set to be held outdoors was moved into Yachiyoza. If you've never heard taiko, I highly recommend it--just maybe not if you have a headache. The drums are massive; put six or seven on a stage and they could give a Midwestern thunderstorm a run for its money. It's an adrenaline rush and the agile performances are amazing to watch. The drummers were of all ages; my favorite was watching an older gentleman and a probably high-school-aged girl next to each other, both drumming their hearts out. Oh, and every time a piece of dust or debris was dislodged from the ceiling, which was often.


By the time the performance was over it was time for the dance to begin. We were able to catch some of the youngest dancers on their way in to the big shrine at the center of town.

Dancers in procession.

Here's a short video of the dancers in action:

After the dance the fireworks show was set to begin, so we bought some matcha (green tea)-flavored shaved ice and moseyed on down close to the river to watch.

They lasted for a whole hour.

The fireworks were splendid to watch, but by the end of the show we were all pretty exhausted. We worked our way through the crowds back to our bus stop and nearly fell asleep on our way back to Kumamoto City.

Heading home.

It had been a wonderful evening of cultural experience, fascinating history, and delicious festival food. What a blessing to have such things so close to home, and to share them with friends.

Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.
Psalm 119:105 (NIV)