September 17, 2014

Flying over the Seto Inland Sea

Over the three-day weekend, I visited Ohkunoshima, otherwise known as Rabbit Island. (Rabbit posts to follow.) To get there, I took a 90-minute flight from Narita Airport from Spring Airlines, which cost a mere 6000 yen. This makes it cheaper than taking the shinkansen (bullet train).

Another plus is the incredible view of the Seto Inland Sea you can see from the plane. The Seto Inland Sea is a narrow body of water that separates three of the four main islands in Japan. There are almost countless tiny islands on the Inland Sea, many of them uninhabited. According to government data, if you count the practically miniscule islands (bigger than 100 meter in circumference), there are around 730 on the Inland Sea.

 
Bridges like these are a common sight, the result of an ambitious project to connect many of the islands that were previously accessible only by ferry.

 Many of the islands looked like ready-made beach resorts, with their perfect sandy beaches.

The little island on the right was packed with industrial gear, and indeed, aside from fisheries, the islands are known for ship construction, steel production, and oil refining. (This meant that many of the landscape photos I took were marred by huge, ugly red and white cranes.)

It's hard to see in this photo, but the water here was dotted with dozens of traps. Considering the prevalence of squid on the menu in this area, I'm guessing they were squid traps.

A closer look.

 
 Even after eyeballing Google Maps, I couldn't match the islands with their names.

August 6, 2014

Institut français du Japon

The Institut français du Japon, about ten minutes' walk from Iidabashi Station in Tokyo. It is a French government-funded language school and cultural center.


The Institute is tucked away on a hill, and I didn't even know such a place existed until I went there for a film screening. (Though in retrospect, it is not surprising considering the strong French community in the Iidabashi/Kagurazaka area.)

I was surprised by how stylish the space was. This, for example, is a bookstore that sells French literature, language learning-related books, and even magazines. 


The lobby, with a wall-projected clock.


Several of the classrooms have artist-commissioned artwork on the walls. 



The library, which also has a section where you can listen to CDs and watch DVDs of French films.

The children's book section.

 An outdoor space for events.

 A restaurant that serves French cuisine. Apparently the food is quite good!

Candlelights of Odaiba Beach

The other night I chanced upon a lovely sight in Odaiba.


Thousands of candles were lined up on the beach in multicolored bags. They flickered prettily late into the night, and dozens of people walked among the bags, quietly in awe.

After a while, we realized that these candles were lined up in a specific way, and they all seemed to be forming some sort of shapes. Although the stores and restaurants were all closed, we climbed up as far as we could in the beachside buildings, and found...

...that every single cluster of candle made out a specific Odaiba monument. The one on the left is the fake Statue of Liberty, and on the right is Rainbow Bridge. Others were Tokyo Gate Bridge and the Olympics symbol, a nod to the ubiquity of Odaiba in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Cycling to the Windmil

One of the handful of defining characteristics of Sakura (the other being the National Museum of Japanese History) is this windmill, which is visible when you take the Keisei Line to Sakura Station. It is about a forty-minute walk from Keisei Sakura Station, but you can rent bikes close to the station.

It was built 20 years ago as a symbol of Sakura's historically strong ties to Holland, dating back to the Edo era.

In a town with a fiercely aging population, the windmill serves as a rallying point for the community. The area is famous for the flowers planted by schoolkids from neighboring districts: tulips for spring, sunflowers for summer, cosmos for fall.


About seven years ago, the area surrounding the windmill, Inba Marsh, underwent a fairly major reshaping. Rivers leading to the marsh were filled up, and the bike paths leading to it were paved. While it was fairly controversial at the time, it also seems to have led to new constructions such as this: directly across the windmill is a market filled exclusively with locally-grown produce.

There is also locally-grown rice. In fact, the land immediately surrounding the windmill is all rice fields.

Another community project: the small patches of garden rented out to different groups. One had a blackberry bush, which I duly plucked fruit from.

Some of the cosmos were already in bloom when I visited in late July, but they're meant for fall.


More crawfish than I'd ever seen, fighting each other on the edge of a rice field. I was reminded of how much kids like catching them. 

The Keisei train, snaking past.

Polpo

Polpo, a family-run Italian restaurant a couple minutes' walk from Sakura Station on the Keisei Line.

While JR Sakura is fairly bustling, Keisei Sakura has been declining steadily in the past decade or so. This is one of the few proper restaurants in the area, and while the menu and decor have remained unchanged for at least twenty years, its dependability is definitely a virtue.


Despite the solid, inexpensive lunch and dinner sets, I always order my favorites à la carte. First, their vegetable soup... 

...and depending on my mood, their chicken salad with balsamic dressing, or their fried chicken. (Admittedly, I always choose the least Italian things on the menu.)

Vegetable peperoncino, a first for me and off the day's menu.