My weekend was incredibly pleasant. I climbed a mountain called “nihonkoku” (日本国) which is interesting because it means “Japan.” It’s not “Japan Mountain” or “Mount Japan,” but just “Japan.” From what I understand, hundreds of years ago when the border of control by the shogun only extended to the north reaches of this prefecture, nihonkoku and the ridgeline separating its northern and southern watersheds was the dividing line. Hence, the tribes to the north referred to the single mountain as a landmark representing Japan, and the name stuck. This is a great example of synecdoche!
Anyway, intrigued by such an interesting name, I set out to climb it, taking another ALT in Murakami along with me. It’s only 555 meters tall, or about 1800 feet, so it only took us a little under two hours round trip (the mountain guide book I was using said 3 1/2!). We got some great views of the Japan Sea and Awashima Island and the quickly fading red and yellow leaves. Plus, now I have something interesting to bring up during awkward silences in conversation with Japanese friends.
That night, I went to my first shamisen concert. Now, this blog is named in part after the famous three-stringed instrument, but I chose the name rather presumptuously, so tickled by the cleverness and availability of the domain name, that I didn’t consider whether or not I even liked shamisen music. Luckily, I found it very inspiring. The dude on the shamisen, was a seriously cool dude. His name was Fumiyoshi Kobayashi. He was fairly young, but was some sort of master apparently. I just thought he looked extremely badass. While I don’t understand the history of the instrument and music, I found it amazingly enjoyable, almost surprisingly so. It is intense and straightforward, with fast, exciting, well-defined rhythms and melodies. When accompanied by a female vocalist, it carries an amazingly evocative, stirring quality of sadness. The surroundings – the Watanabe-tei traditional samurai house in Sekikawa, where the big huge snake festival was held – added to the experience, including a blisteringly comfortable charcoal fire in the tatami sitting area that left the delicious smell of burning wood in my clothes. It was such a wonderful, nostalgic smell that I slept in the shirt that I wore.
With Chris at the sweet shamisen fire.