I went to…山口県
In the middle of May I took a trip with my taiko team to Yamaguchi prefecture. For those of you unversed in Japanese prefectural geography (like me…), Yamaguchi is the most southern prefecture on Honshu, the main Japanese island. (I’m on Kyushu, the southern island. Yamaguchi is famous for a few things, most notably fugu (blowfish) and kujira (whale.)
For those of you with ethical issues, let me come out and say it right now. Yes, I’ve eaten whale. And no, it’s really not worth eating. Anyone who says it’s the most delicious thing on the planet is delusional. Is it bad? Nope. Is it worth killing off an entire species? Certainly not. It’s meat. Plain and simple.
Anyway, we gathered in the morning on a Saturday and piled onto a bus which would take us to our first stop. In true Japanese fashion this trip was to be spent mostly on a bus. It was a quite oshare (osharay – fancy) looking bus, and we got off on the right foot by passing around 500ml cans of beer as soon as the bus was in motion. (It’s approximately 10am.)
After an hour and a half drive we arrived at our first destination, the bridge spanning the island of Honshu and the island of Kyushu. They had some nice places to take pictures, and we hung out there for a while enjoying the wonderful sunshine. The weather was quite favorable for us the whole weekend.
After our bridge stop we headed to lunch, which was underwhelming. After lunch we ran into a group of elementary school singers singing the whale song though, which was interesting. I didn’t understand a thing, though I’m a bit disappointed that it didn’t sound very much like whales. It would have been nicer if it’d been similar to this duo des chats concert.
After watching the performance we headed over to Suzuki Kaneko’s house. “Who’s that?” you ask? I have no idea. Still don’t. But she’s famous, so to her house we went! On the way I saw a sweet VW bus. I also saw a really interesting piece of graffiti/social commentary on a wall which I had to capture. It was the first real taste of “whales!” I’d had since coming into Yamaguchi. It would not be my last.
After another hour or so in the bus we arrived at a small whale museum which talked about the culture of whaling in Japan. Learning about the old ways of catching the whales was quite interesting and further implanted me a feeling that catching whales in and of itself is not necessarily such a problem. The struggle they used to endure to catch a whale, hundreds of people going out on hand carved boats with little more than tiny knives to fight this massive animal is quite impressive and a real test of courage and endurance. I can respect that. Of course the advantage has changed now that we have boats and weapons about the same size of the whales themselves…
Leaving the museum and heading up a steep incline we arrived at one of the more striking places we visited that weekend. A grave for baby whales. According the inscription, some whales which were caught were naturally female, either with baby whales in tow or pregnant. Killing baby whales really was never part of the deal in catching whales, but after taking the mother putting the babies back in the sea was just cruel since they’d never survive. So they built a shrine and a grave for these whales to honor their sacrifice. There are about 70 baby whales/whale fetuses buried at the shrine.
And then we all posed in front of the shrine.
From there we headed to the hotel where we were staying the night. I didn’t take any pictures of the hotel, but it had a lovely onsen and REALLY tasty food. We spent the rest of the evening drinking and socializing which was nice.
Waking up in the morning we did some more sightseeing around the area before heading to Karato Ichiba (Karato Market) where they had tons of super fresh sushi, fugu and whale for eatin’. I did not partake in the whale at that time, but I did have some DELICIOUS sushi and fried blowfish (which is oh so good.) Fugu sashimi (the raw kind) is alright, but they usually cut it so thin you can barely taste anything. Fried fugu is SO juicy and delicious…oh man. We took a few pictures around the market and then wandered into a random outdoor flea market type place with live music and dancing going on.
One performance in particular was a fascinating and disturbing display. It was a hip hop dance group dancing to some crazy US rap music. These girls were bumping and grinding all up on the stage, shaking their behinds like they had something stuck to it. Simulating all kinds of sexual acts and all around acting like the world’s biggest [insert dirty word here.] Oh and also, they were like 8 years old.
I didn’t dare take a picture because if I had done that in the states I would have been arrested immediately. Instead, everyone was clapping along to lyrics such as: “Fuck yeah motherfucker, smack that ass! Work it all up inside.” It was truly disturbing. I did take a picture of the girls who came later who were more my age, just so I could look at that picture and remember everything that was wrong about everything that happened there.
After “enjoying” the performance we headed back to the bus for our journey back. It was a truly fascinating weekend, a real insight into both Japanese people, the way they travel and where they travel to. That’s not to say it wasn’t a lot of fun though!