Thursday, July 21, 2011

Hyogo: More on Meibutsu

A larger PDF of this page is available here
After writing last week's post about Toyooka and its bag industry I got the Hyogo prefecture citizen's newspaper in my mailbox... well everyone in the prefecture did. What did it have on the cover? A map of the meibutsu food items produced around the prefecture.

A few of the generally known ones were there:
  • Octopus たこ from Akashi
  • Beef 肉用牛 from, well, all over the prefecture
  • Onions たまねぎ in Awaji
  • Tanba Black Beans 丹波黒 in Tanba, although they put the picture in Taijima and Harima also.
  • Crab かに in Taijima
 Some suprises:
  • Chrysanthemums きく in Settsu
  • Eggplant なす in Tanba
  • Figs いちじく in Settsu
~ Bonus geography lesson ~
The internal divisions of Hyogo that follows the pre-Meiji era boundaries more or less are as follows:
([name in kanji]:[color on map])
  • Settsu (摂津: green) is the area that consists of the urban Hanshin area centered around Kobe and including Nishinoimya. Where I live.
  • Harima (播磨: orange) is the area of mixed rural and industrial use land spanning from Settsu to the Okayama prefecture border centered around Himeji. Spanning the coast from Akashi to Ako.
  • Tanba (丹波: blue)is the rural agrarian highlands that are above the Keihanshin (Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe) urban area. Centered around the town of Sasayama.
  • Tajima (但馬: pink) consists of Hyogo's Japan sea coast and the agricultural areas in in the northern reaches of the prefecture. Centered around the city of Toyooka and the onsen town of Kinosaki.
  • Awaji (淡路: purple) consists of the agricultural island between Hyogo and Shikoku. This area has only recently seen a boom thanks to the Awaji bridge built in the 90's.
The entire paper is free to download from the website here. [in Japanese]

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Japanese Landsape: City of Bags - Toyooka

Toyooka Station 豊岡駅, 2006
Mebutsu is an often used word when talking about one’s city in Japan. It’s of interest to the geographer and Madison Avenue alike. It means, literally, “famous thing,” but it can be better understood as the product a given area is famous for. Almost every city has some sort of mebutsu. Some of them go back ages, some of them are brand new mebutsu that have been designed and marketed--just like the girls from AKB48--to appeal to the Japanese tourist’s pocketbook.

In this photo taken in the Summer of 2008 on a short train trip up to Kinosaki Onsen I stopped in Toyooka to change trains. There was this prominently placed sign stating:

            City of Bags - Toyooka

Bags! Toyooka (豊岡市) the largest city in northern Hyogo, closer to the Japan Sea coast than to fashionable, designer brand loving Kobe is famous for bags? It seems so improbable, but bags have to be made somewhere I supposed. After returning I asked my Japanese co-workers and friends and all of them knew that Toyooka was famous for bags.

A quick Japanese Wikipeida search reveals that the origin of the Toyooka bag goes back to the 8th century. Wicker trucks were produced using the plentiful willows that grew in the head waters of the Maruyama river that flows through the city. In modern times the Toyooka trunks were first presented to the world in during an expo in 1881. Later in 1917 the trunks were improved by coating them with lacquer and fitting them with locks. The development then turned away from wicker to fiber and then synthetic fiber bags. Production of bags and trunks has continued to today and the city prominently features them as the first two items in it’s English language tourist website.

So Toyooka is famous for bags. Almost every city has some sort of mebutsu. What’s your city’s mebutsu? What’s the strangest mebutsu you’ve seen?

A more in-depth discussion of the marketing and development of mebutsu can be found here.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Looking Back #2 - Recycled Roadrunner

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's... well... it's just a bird. A roadrunner to be exact.

07.242003NMRoadRunner-2On the lonely I-10 trucking east through a bit of New Mexico before the long hard stretch of Texas looking out over the Rio Grande is a statue of the state bird, the majestic desert dweller known as the roadrunner... made entirely of trash from a closed landfill. Installed sometime in 2000, Roadside America's readers report that the creator is a mystery, but that it originally was built at the city dump where the bird's "contents" came from and then moved to it's present location.

Ever vigilant, looking out over the city of Las Cruces.

Location: The roadrunner is located on a scenic overlook only accessible by the eastbound lanes of the I-10 as you come into Las Cruces.
Price: Free

Sunday, July 03, 2011

My Local Bar: The Wexford Tavern

IMG 8022 Recently I was asked by Kaley about my favorite place in Japan. This is a hard question. A very hard question for a geographer like myself. The first thing that came to mind were a few of my favorite onsen and sento. I have a site full of them for god-sakes! Then I thought about some of my favorite train stations scattered across rural Japan. What about the temples? None of these single sites however encapsulated my experience here on their own. For Kaley, and you, I wanted to choose a location that I could say has been a massive positive effect on my life and my view of Japan. A place that I hope you could find in your neighborhoods.

I often cannot understand how people living here can complain so much about the country on the various gaijin blogs and message boards. Why don’t I complain like that? Why am I immune to the problems that bother many other fellow foreigners here? A lot of it has to do with mindset and language ability I can imagine, but, very important, is having a sense of community in the place you live. And this, I must add, is independent of Japan but a worldwide phenomenon. Community is important. I’ve lived in an apartment building where I never knew my neighbors. It’s not that appealing and somewhat dangerous.

So where do I find that Community? My local bar: The Wexford Tavern or The Wex as it’s known. Ever since moving to Japan I’ve been going there. The first location was a small 10 seat counter on the first floor of the owner’s house. It was there that I first met Yuko who would later become my wife and the mother to our daughter Mia. Just that fact would should put The Wex as my most important place in Japan. When we got married a few years after that first meeting we also had our wedding party at the bar. It seemed appropriate as most of the people we invited were also regulars or at least sometime customers.

Wedding Party - Sanae's Camera-4
Our Wedding Party
Soon after I first started going to The Wex back in 2005 they moved to a larger location down the street a bit. At the second location I really began to become a regular customer.  I was hard at work studying Japanese and spent much of my time away from my fellow English speaking classmates and drinking in Japanese bars mostly. The Wex became my English speaking time. As I ended up being there more and more and interacting with the Japanese customers it became my Japanese practice time too. Now, in either language, it’s just chatting. My speaking ability has a lot to do with sitting around and blabbering in Japanese for hours about who knows what.

The community at the Wex has beginning language learners to masters of English, Japanese, and a few more languages. It’s a place where you can try out your foreign language ability--a place many of my college students are looking for, but I’m not at liberty to tell them. You’ll often hear someone yelling across the bar how do you say this or that since at least one person there would know. One of the regulars really began speaking English at the Wex and now he comes in and is blabbering on in English to the point that new customers think he’s Filipino! I’ve learned by watching him that the ample usage of the F word is the key to sounding like a native speaker.

10.20 SpamBattle-3
Back when I had a beard.
The regulars at the Wex are for the most part long time residents of Japan, married with children and speak Japanese to various degrees of fluency. The range of personalities and characters makes it interesting. Sometimes we get heated in a conversation, but everyone leaves happy that they enjoyed drinking and chatting. It’s more of a local pub that just happens to be in Japan. It’s not a pick-up bar for Geos teachers here for a year or two. People do meet each other at the Wex. I mean, I met my wife there! The point is that it’s relaxed. It’s a safe place for women to come by themselves. Some customers don’t even drink, Yuko, stopped drinking and smoking sometime before getting pregnant, but she still enjoys having a ginger ale while talking to her friends. It’s the atmosphere.

The Wexford Tavern has played an important part of my life here in Japan and Nishinomiya. Without The Wex my neighborhood would be a totally different place. I’d really, actually consider moving to Shimane or Kagoshima rather than just blow hot air about it. If you’re in the neighborhood, by all means come up and have a drink. I’m sure you’ll have a good time.
Open from 6PM, 7 days a week.