David Chart's Japan Diary

March 21st 2009

Once again, a fairly long delay between entries. That's unavoidable, I'm afraid; I have a lot of things to do, and so the diary, as I mentioned last time, gets pushed down the priority order. Still, I've just finished editing an Ars Magica book, so I have a little more time now, so it's time for an update. There are three things to mention from the last month, although only two have pictures.

Izu Ohshima

We went back to Izu Ohshima towards the end of February. We went there last year, as well, with my mother, and we had such a good time that Mum decided to give us another short break there as a joint family birthday and Christmas present. We booked back into the same ryokan, where they remembered us (I guess we were a fairly memorable group), and went back over on the jet foil.

Yuriko and Camellias Yuriko admires the camellias in the camellia garden.

The main reason for going in February was the camellias. Ohshima is famous for camellias, of which there are a lot on the island, and for camellia oil. Every winter, while they are in bloom, they have a camellia festival, so we went to see that. We got the morning hydrofoil, which was rather more crowded than when we went in September. Mayuki didn't much like the hydrofoil, because she was supposed to stay in the seat with us most of the time. Fortunately, it's not a long trip, even though there was a stop at another port on the mainland en route. That meant that we could drive to the ryokan fairly quickly. The rental car we'd booked was waiting for us when we arrived on the island, which meant that we could drive straight to the ryokan and drop off our luggage. The ryokan staff made appropriate "hasn't she grown!" noises about Mayuki, and Mayuki was friendly back. I don't suppose she remembers them, but at least she wasn't shy.

The weather was good on the Sunday, when we arrived, but the forecast for Monday wasn't, so we went to the Camellia Park, part of Ohshima Park, right away. The "festival" bit there was an area of stalls and a stage just outside the entrance to the park; within the park there were lots of blooming camellias to make the atmosphere festive. There were a lot of patterns, and many shades of red and combinations of red and white. The weather was pretty much perfect for walking around and enjoying them, but unfortunately Mayuki was asleep for the first part. She did wake up before we left the gardens, though, and enjoyed running around. I'm not entirely sure whether she noticed the camellias, though.

In Costume Yuriko and me in costume.

At one of the stalls they had dressing up clothes. These are traditional to the island, at least in pattern; a checked kimono and a headscarf with a camellia on, and a belt with a long thin apron. You can just see the apron on mine. However, they are traditional for women. I'm still not quite sure how I came to be dressed in them as well. Mayuki was definitely not impressed by the proceedings, crying and complaining a lot, particularly when the women running the stall tried to get her dressed up as well. You can see in the picture that she isn't very happy.

Mayuki in Costume Mayuki wearing the headscarf.

After we'd had lunch, also in the park, we went back to the festival plaza (as it was called), and this time Mayuki was willing to be dressed up, at least a bit. The kimonos were just a little bit too big, but she let us put the headscarf on her without too much fuss. This time, the women all told her how cute she looked. She did, of course, look cute.

Before that, we had seen the women performing on the stage. The costumes are traditional for what are called anko. I think these are the women who picked the camellias, but I'm not absolutely sure. In any case, there were traditional dances associated with the costumes, and the women performed them for us. There were quite a lot of people there, although I think some of them knew the performers. The dances were fairly slow, with a lot of formalised arm movements while holding camellia blossoms or fans. Some of them fairly obviously indicated rowing boats, not surprising for an island, and some of the others may have been about picking the camellias.

By the time all that was over, the weather had started to turn, and it was getting towards late afternoon, so we decided to head back to the ryokan and rest a bit before dinner. We popped into a supermarket before dinner, remembering from last time that the selection of drinks and snacks available outside meal times at the ryokan was rather limited, and got back in plenty of time.

Kurumiya, the ryokan where we stayed both times, is very nice. It has a good view out over the sea, hot spring baths, both indoor and out, and the indoor ones are open twenty four hours. The food (breakfast and dinner) is also very good. The only down side for people reading this diary is that I don't think they speak very good English. I'm sure they'd be very welcoming of foreign tourists, if you could get round the communication problem. The fact you have to book by phone makes for a difficult start.

Our Room Yuriko and Mayuki settling in to our sitting room.

Anyway, as I said, we got back in plenty of time, and discovered that, this time, we'd been assigned the suite room, a large sitting room with attached bedroom and toilet/wash basin. No bath, but then there's the hot springs, so why would you want a bath in your room? We had a nice view out over the sea, and since we got back fairly early Yuriko decided to take Mayuki for a bath, and then have a bath herself while I watched Mayuki. Dinner was as tasty as expected, and Mayuki behaved herself. The ryokan wasn't busy, with it being a Sunday night, but there were a dozen or so people there, I think. Apparently, they'd had fifty the previous night. I'm rather glad we didn't go then.

After dinner, the ryokan ran a minibus into the main town for the night festival. This is a part of the Camellia Festival, and happens every night. They put up a stage in the large hall at the ferry terminal, and have various performances, different every night. The night we were there, it started with a lottery, in which we won a groundsheet with pictures of the Izu islands on. Next, there was a Japanese taiko (drumming) performance, which I really enjoyed. Mayuki wasn't entirely sure what to make of it. She jumped a bit when it started, and then definitely wanted picking up and holding. After a little while, she decided that she really wanted mummy to hold her, and climbed over to Yuriko. She didn't cry, though, and she did watch the performance.

The second part was a number of dances by the "Super Anko Girls". The fundamental difference between them and the anko we saw at the park was about forty years; I think the Super Anko Girls were all still at school. Their costumes were also somewhat adapted, and the dances were rather faster and more lively. However, they were adaptations of the anko dances; I could recognise some of the hand movements. It was very interesting to see both styles of dance on the same visit; I'd say that the traditions are alive, and adapting to the times.

We got back at about nine pm, and I slipped out to the outdoor baths before going to bed. The air was surprisingly warm, for February, and there was no-one else there, so it was very pleasant.

Monday morning, I was very glad I'd done it the previous night, because it was pouring with rain and blowing a gale. Breakfast was good, and traditional Japanese, but the staff announced that the morning hydrofoils weren't running. That raised a potential problem, and one that does arise with islands: would we be able to get back to the mainland? That led to some consultations through the day, to make sure we could return.

Because the weather was atrocious, we decided to go to the Izu-Ohshima Museum of Volcanoes in the morning. It's a big museum, with great flights of stairs leading up to it, and a massive window wall looking out over the sea. Tokyo Prefecture must have spent a lot of money on it, back when prefectures had lots of money. It also seemed to be a good museum. There was an emphasis on Japanese volcanoes, of course, but then 10% of the world's active volcanoes are apparently in Japan, so a fairly heavy emphasis is reasonable. The labels were all in Japanese, and Yuriko and I were looking after Mayuki between us, so I couldn't read everything, but I did read a bit about Ohshima's last eruption, in 1986.

It seems that, when it started, it seemed to be a gentle eruption of lava, and a lot of tourists came to island to see it, like they do on Hawaii. However, after a few days, the mountain suddenly exploded, splitting along a line and shooting lava high into the air. The whole island was evacuated, although the residents came back within a week or so, and there doesn't seem to have been much damage, in the end.

Over lunch, we called the ferry company, and decided that we would have to get the passenger ferry, rather than the hydrofoil. Our hydrofoil might have been running, but it wasn't certain, and if it didn't run, we'd be stuck on the island. The ferry left an hour or so earlier than the hydrofoil, which unfortunately meant that Yuriko didn't have time to do the camellia dyeing experience she had booked. We went to the workshop anyway, and bought a souvenir, a very nice shawl that Yuriko wears with her kimonos.

We got on the ferry without any problem. It was busy, but far from full. You can pay for full cabins, with beds, but for the four-hour trip from Ohshima, that wasn't worth it. Yuriko fell asleep in the chair (lots of leg room), and Mayuki decided to go exploring. I had to help her up stairs, and then down again, and then walk around one of the decks with her. The boat was rocking quite a bit at this point, because it was still windy, but it wasn't too bad. Mayuki didn't seem bothered by it at all. After we went back down to our seats, in the bowels of the ship, Mayuki started crying and complaining, so we put her in the carry harness and I took her up on deck. She fell asleep as we sailed through Tokyo Bay, and slept until we made it back to port.

Overall, the ferry was good, and we might do it that way next time we go. The ferry to Ohshima is overnight, so you arrive very early in the morning, which gives you more time on the island. It does leave mid-afternoon, but, as I mentioned, the hydrofoils don't leave much later. In addition, you can go out on deck on the ferry, which you can't do on the hydrofoils, and Mayuki can walk around.

Well, I said there were three things to write about, but this appears to be all I have time for today, so I'll have to leave it here. I should be able to do the remaining bits quite soon, though.