JAPAN in Typhoon Season
Nokogiri Yama and Hachijo Jima

Two typhoons hit Japan while I was in Tokyo this trip, the center of one coming right up through downtown Tokyo. The funny thing is no one seemed to care. Everyone was going about with their day in the pouring rain, food wasn't flying off the shelf, the museum was still open. Other than the sumo wrestlers' Shinkansen being cancelled, and a really long line for taxis, every thing was business as usual. I gather Tokyo has a great flood prevention system. The only reason the Shinkansen and some other trains had been stopped was the fact their destination was in outer-lying regions. A couple of areas in Japan flooded and a few people got washed away in the surf in those areas - but no ill effects in Tokyo. And this was the worst typhoon in over a decade!


I had seen many woodblock prints in the past. But not until I saw an original Hiroshige did I truly appreciate these exquisite works of art. Ando Hiroshige along with Hokusai, Kunisada, and Utamaro are the best known woodblock artists. Utamaro is known for his beauties. Hiroshige and Hokusai mostly did landscapes with Hokusai's images of Fuji being the most recognizable - these are my favorite because they depict the simple life of the old days - and Fuji is ever present. I seeked out collections of ukiyo-e - in fact, I had tried to see one of Hokusai's Fuji prints while in Paris. However, rarely are they on display because they are too valuable to let sunlight ever hit them. I had read about a gallery that sold original woodblock prints and stopped by one day (figuring out the Japanese addresses was a success in its own right). Just the opportunity to handle as many exquisite works as I did was a treat. But one caught my eye, and the opportunity to own an original early print Hiroshige with Fuji and Asakusa in it was more than I could resist.



Mt. Nokogiri is the home of the largest Diabatsu in Japan. It is built into the side of a mountain and includes paths with more than 2000 small buddahs stacked everywhere in these little caves throughout. The mountain is named after a saw because of its jagged edge.


Tokyo Sites and the Nozomi



Hachijo Jima is the southernmost of the volcanic Izu islands south of Tokyo. My first flights to Hachijojima were cancelled due to a typhoon - I get there the second weekend. At the airport I am surprised to find no ticket counter to change my reservations into a boarding pass. Fortunately, there is an agent to help me navigate the automated check-in machines. The island was once an exile for prisoners. It is small and in the shape of the number 8. The volcano is the first thing you see. I stayed in a hotel on the sea side at the base of the volcano (affectionately called Hachijo Fuji).


Unfortunately, despite best laid plans, my beautiful retreat was not on the bus route. After realizing a cab just to the volcano and coming back to retrieve me after a three hour hike, would be more than renting a guide for the day. Enter Chieko. She took me around in her van and we climbed the volcano - too bad it was raining. By the time we got to the top, it was so windy we were probably at risk being blown off the mountain and the clouds had socked in the mountain. I could not see either crater. We hiked down inside the larger crater where there was an awesome pond and several shrines. We saw special frogs in the ponds (that Chieko had never seen in the many daily hikes up the volcano). The last picture is looking don into the larger crater - you can just barely see the left edge.


We also went to an original island hut where the fire is inside out of the rain, I had tea and an 88 year old man played the Hachijo ritual drums. To top off the day we stopped and relaxed at the most incredible onsen I had ever been to - Mihara Onsen - looking over the cliff into the Pacific. I ate special flying fish sushi only available in Hachijo.


The next morning I rented a bike from the hotel and went out on my own. I found an amazing shoreline, and some kids practicing for a matsuri. The coast was all black volcanic scree splashed with broken asian pottery and fresh sprigs of green life growing right out of the desolate black scree. All the coastlines I have seen here in Japan have a really neat, well engineered surf breakers. Instead of irregular chunks of discarded concrete, they make neat geometric shapes out of concrete. I am quite sure they are the result of a lot of engineering analysis hours.


While I was enjoying the tides crashing into the rocks, a lady waded out to the water and placed a plant she had picked in the surf. She wanted the tide to wash it away - she explained the whole thing to me in great detail. Too bad it was all in Japanese - I have no idea why she did it. I headed back to the hotel and hooked up with Chieko again.


She took me to the other side of the mountain to see some of the waterfalls, a famous rock wall, and a stop at a botanical garden for a picnic where there is unique litte deer creature that is special to Hachijojima area. I can not imagine what it must be like to live on this island and get to do these things every day.


The ground crew on the tarmac bowed as we left and the view on the flight out was incredible. You can see my hotel in the first photo (most northeast cluster in the photo). One of the Izu islands Miyakejima has been evacuated for about four years now - it is too volatile (in fact, the water in the sea boils). I was able to see the volcanic island from the plane on the flight back to Tokyo - it was emitting smoke too. And then I see what I think is another huge island - and realize I am actually seeing Fuji poking up through the clouds. What an incrdeible sight!


Another Japanese social with a fancy dinner of sashimi and shabu shabu - followed of course by karaoke - and then a mad dash to catch the last train back to Tokyo.


October 2004

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Susan N. Freeman
Personal E-mail: snf@susannataliefreeman.com
Work Email: susan.n.freeman@boeing.com