When introducing Matsue to foreign digintaries, the mayor and vice-mayors frequently mention that Lake Nakaumi and Lake Shinji, Japan’s fifth and seventh largest lakes respectively, are Ramsar Convention Wetlands of International Importance. And seeing as February 2, 2016, is World Wetlands Day, I figured they would make a good theme for today’s post.

I’ve already been busy lately writing an article about them (or more broadly, about Matsue as a City of Water) as part of my series of articles about Matsue in the Asahi Shimbun’s online English newspaper, Asia & Japan Watch, which is included in their From Around Japan feature. For as many basic infobites one could say about them–like that they are both brackish lakes, and the famous islands found on them, and the foods for which they are wellknown–I figured it would be more fun here to write about what they mean to me.

daisen

Lake Nakaumi:
–Home to Daikonshima, land of amazing peonies.
–The view I always get to enjoy on the way to Mihonoseki, or to Sakaiminato or to Yonago or sometimes to Yasugi
–The spotlight of the incredible view I get from Mt. Makuragi (yet have never managed to get my own photo of)
–A part of the wide view while climbing Mt. Daisen (which I also have yet to take a photo of)
–Home to the recently famous “scariest” Eshima Bridge
–Birthplace of Benkei, near-legendary warrior of the 12th century (who was thought to weild a naginata, yeeeeah, rock on, Benkei)
–That lake I don’t see as often because I have to cross a few mountains to get to it

Lake Shinji:
–That lake I see pretty frequently because I live and work right by it
–That lake people go jogging next to
–That lake people set off little fireworks next to
–That lake with the really, really big fireworks display
–That lake where I’ve seen every romantic scene from couples walking hand in hand to musicans strumming on their guitars and singing as if to the ducks
–That lake I eat my lunch next to
–That lake I walk by on the way to the art museum
–That lake with really, really nice lakeside landscaping
–That lake that provides shijimi clams
–And that made it into a viral video about a guy standing there in winter fishing for clams and giving viewers a pep-talk that they should never give up
–That lake you can see from the highway when riding a bus up from Hiroshima
–That lake you can see from viewpoints in Tamatsukuri Onsen
–That lake you can see even better from Matsue Shinjiko Onsen, because the lake is right there outside the windows from the onsen
–That lake you can see from Matsue Vogel Park
–That lake you can walk down and touch from Matsue English Garden
–That lake that looks like an ocean on a stormy day
–That lake where a swam calmly glided along next to me one day while I was out there eating lunch
–That lake covered with all sorts of migratory birds in winter
–That lake with fish jumping out of the water in summer
–That lake with the exciting sunset boatride on a windy day
–That lake that looks like a painting when all the shijimi clam fishing boats are out there on a sunny morning
–That lake that defies being captured well on panoramic shots taken on my phone
–That lake that has the sad “bride island”
–That lake that mysteriously fades out towards Izumo, the heart of the Land of the Gods
–That lake which is kind of famous for its sunsets

One day, a friend asked me to go to Manai Shrine and Rokusho Shrine with her.

What? I thought. Usually I’m the one asking people to drive me out into the countryside hunting for mythological shrines.

Naturally, I agreed, as these two have been on my visit list since I wrote that first Kojiki manga about Izanagi and Izanagi. Manai Shrine is up a long flight of stone steps and quietly hidden away against a mountain, which made it strike me as a counterpart shrine to Kamosu Shrine, which is dedicated to Izanami and located in the same general area. Rokusho Shrine was located directly next to the local Izumo government offices back in the Heian period, so it was used as an organizational base for all the shrines in the area.

All three of them have the same crest, the character 有 (ari, “to have”) inside of a tortoise shell. The tortoise represents longetivity and is therefore lucky, while 有 is made up of the characters 十 (“ten”) and 月 (“month/moon”), which, when paired together as 十月 mean “October” (or at least, they referred to the 10th month of the agricultural calendar beforehand, but that’s been a mess since the Gregorian switch). Of course, the 10th month is special here in the Izumo region. While it is traditionally referred to as Kannazuki (“the month without gods,” written 神無月 (gods-nothing-month)), only here is it referred to as Kamiarizuki (“the month with gods,” written 神在月 (gods-exist-month), but can also be written as 神有月–there’s that 有 again!). This is because the 8 million gods from around Japan congregate at Izumo Taisha during that time.


Back in the old days…

We visited Manai first, and found it quiet and sparse, in a refined sort of way.



Rokusho turned out a bit more interesting, as we found the remains of some recent festival. “Nan darou…” we both trailed off many times as we noticed things around the shrine, the straw weavings and the gohei (paper streamerson small sticks) left around the trees. “Nan darou… I wonder what this is…?” We found other little things, such as a handwashing font partially hidden under the trees at a back entrance, a boat possibly for use on the nearby Iu River, and a basketball hoop. “Nan darou…”




What really brought my friend out to those southern hills and valley at the outskirts of Matsue was not the shrines so much as the Manai Waterfall, which the nearby shrine was named after, and is said to be holy water with healing properties. It is about three meters high, and nestled away up into the hill, and we made a few rounds around the neighborhood following a handful of different maps trying to find it. “Doko darou… where could it be…” we said over and over.

We asked directions from an old lady taking a break from her gardening who answered us in very thick Izumo dialect, and later on we asked directions from an old man with a dialect almost as thick. He was cheerful and helpful, but trying to be those things sometimes comes off as discouraging. “You’ll see that sign for the soumen shop, and it’ll be right up behind it, you can’t miss it! But nobody’s used it for years, they don’t make nagashi-soumen there anymore. Nobody bothers with the waterfall anymore. It’s nothing much. But yeah, there’s a parking lot, and you’ll find the waterfall right there! It’s too bad about the soumen…”

Little did we inner-city dwellers know about this supposedly famous nagashi-soumen (soumen is a type of thin, white noodle, and when served nagashi-soumen style it slides with water down a bamboo shoot and you try to catch it as it goes by–a popular thing to do in summer). I saw one big sign for it by the road as we passed around the tiny neighborhood and the hill a few times, but mistakenly thought it was referring to the building it was fixed to instead of to the little abandoned stall we found by the other sign the old man told us to look for.



The view from the parking lot

As soon as we stepped out of the car, we heard the sound of water, and found its source much sooner than we expected. Filled though the neglected pond was with fallen leaves, the water was perfectly clear.

“Maybe we should wash our hands with it?”
“A rinse couldn’t hurt.”
“You think it’s safe to drink? Dou darou… I wonder…”
Dou darou… maybe fill your water bottle and then take it home and boil it?”
“Ah, good idea.”
“What will you do with it?”
Nan darou…
“I wonder if it works. Dou darou…
Dou darou…

I took a look around the forested area and noticed this little sight next to the pond.

“Hey, it’s an Inari statue… hhm, the head’s fallen off. That’s unsettling.”
Nan darou…”
Nan darou…”

And then we found another by a tree behind us.

Nan darou…”
Nan darou ne…”

Beyond the tree, there was a little blocked off clearing of mysteriously placed rocks, and the carved ones were not legible.

“I wonder why we can’t go here?”
“I wonder if there’s something buried.”
“I wonder what it says.”
Nan darou…”
Nan darou…”

Neither of were particularly wary, merely curious. We stood and looked up at the branches and fresh spring leaves high above us, rustling in the wind on that cloudy April afternoon. The light and sounds were different in that space from the sleepy neighborhood and rice fields below, the forgotten gathering spot for catching noodles sliding down the supposedly holy water.

“Hmm.”
“Hmmmm.”
“That’s pleasant.”
“Yeah.”
“I’m glad we found it.”
“Yeah, me too.”

We went on trading our darou‘s throughout the rest of that shrine hopping afternoon in the southern stretches of Matsue, and the heart of where the Izumo region used to be ruled from.

In anticipation of 海の日 (Umi-no-Hi, “Marine Day”) this Monday, a public holiday set aside for enjoying and giving thanks for the ocean, here are a bunch of photos of various ocean scenes around Oki! Speaking of public holidays for appreciating nature, the land-locked prefectures (hard to believe there would be land-locked prefectures in Japan, huh? There’s 8 by my count!) can’t enjoy this public holiday like everyone else, so this year they decided to create a new public holiday, 山の日 (Yama-no-Hi, “Mountain Day”) to start on August 11, 2016.

This will wrap up my Oki entries for now, but the content of the rest of the trip might come up in the future, too. For now, enjoy the pretty ocean (and neat Geopark rock formations!)! And then go to the beach! If you’re not land-locked, anyway.






We saw comb jellies at this beach when we went back a little later in the day–they’re so cool! Photos don’t really do justice to how they light up. Oh, and this is one of many beaches appreciated by poets and other high-class people banished to the islands. You can still live a comfortable life here, so they are considered appropriate for banishing nobles to.








A couple weeks ago, I took a wonderful little vacation to the Oki Islands, which were added to the Global Network of National Geoparks last year. Even taking the slow (and cheap) ferry, you can get there from Matsue or Sakaiminato within hours, yet I had not done so until now.

Me? Reusing an old map? Never.

Even for technically being the rainy season, I had perfect timing–despite being the rainy season it didn’t rain during my trip, and since the official swimming season is July-August, my friends I didn’t run into much competition for beach space. Then again, this is Oki–there is always another beach and never the number of tourists you’d find elsewhere.

Besides enjoying the unique sights of the Geopark and the islands’ history, I made sure to go out and do summery things I don’t typically venture to do in daily life. Despite living so close to so many beaches, my bathing suit has had zero use the whole time I’ve lived here. That had to be amended! So I fixed it right away with my first scuba diving experience.

Ready to go! The water at Sotohama Beach was clear, and the sand has a lot of iron, so the beach looks pretty black.

When you arrive at Beppu Port on Nishinoshima Island, the Nishinoshima Tourism Association is directly across from the port, and they have everything you need to guide yourself around and book excursions and workshops for you (thanks, Nicola!). While I was there I sort of decided at random to do some scuba diving with Club Noah the following morning. I was a little bit nervous, but the weather was sunny and windless, the 2~3 hour class was designed for beginners, and I’d have a professional with me to make sure I wouldn’t die in a freak low-speed collision with a rock in 2 feet of water. Perfectly safe, right?

Yeah, perfectly safe. But the first breath underwater was so scary I stood straight up out of the water as if on reflex. Never fear, the guys at Club Noah are used to dealing with people who are sort of freaked out by the thought of deep breaths while you’re surrounded by water. Aided by cheerfulness and patience, I got used to the whole breathing thing, and then we could actually swim around.

It was very shallow water and we only got as far as three meters deep, but there was still a lot to see there. Perhaps we could have gone further if I had been less chicken and more true to my name from the start–just as I was really absorbed in the dive and having a lot of fun and no longer so conscious of breathing, it was time to head back to shore. At least what I saw was pretty!

Goby!

This was a bouncy one that was safe to touch. Gently, of course!

This type of sea slug is called “umiushi” in Japanese–“sea cow.”

We saw rainbowfish that looked more rainbow-y, but this is the one we got a picture of.

No sea horses… but there were lots and lots of horses on Nishinoshima. Next time!

Matsue is often called Mizu-no-Miyako (水の都: City of Water) not only for its place nestled between the 5th and 7th largest lakes in Japan as well four different onsen and border along the Sea of Japan, but especially for the castle canals. Many Edo period castle canals have since been filled in or reduced to only their inner moat, but Matsue retains both inner and outer moats. Many of the streets around the city have been designs around working with the moats to protect the castle and may attacks difficult for intruding armies. Those streets are still the same as well, and though they never needed to prevent an army from advancing an attack, I suppose they are helpful for preventing vehicles from speeding too fast through town.

Pretty typical Matsue scene at Shiomi Nawate, a preserved historic street along the north moat, where the Horikawa Sightseeing Boat always passes. These are some of my favorite pine trees in the world, though this photo doesn’t do them justice.

Another thing that hasn’t changed much since the Edo era is the local people’s love of tea, especially the tea ceremony. Lord Fumai‘s influence remains very present, and not in a gimmicky way. While the Grand Tea Ceremony (大茶会) on the Matsue Castle grounds on the first weekend of October is nationally famous, there are other tea ceremonies and tea events that welcome hundreds of guests throughout the year.

This spring, in a style very fitting for the city of water and tea, there was a floating tea house set up at the northwest corner of the castle mount, called this Ohoribata Chaseki (お堀端茶席, a little clumsy to translate but something like “Tea on the Moat” at its simplest and “A Tea Ceremony on the Banks of the Horikawa” at its most pretentious.)


Held over the course of two spring weekends, anyone could stop in and buy a ¥1000 ticket. It just so happened to be an Omotesenke style ceremony, the style I practice, so I brought my tea-tools to be prepared. This was not necessary, as it was set up for any guest to relax and enjoy themselves, with all the utensils provided and handy explanation from a master as the host prepared the tea. During large public ceremonies that anyone can attend without any previous tea knowledge, usually the host only prepares the first one or two cups of tea while others prepare the rest of the tea in the back so as to speed up the process a bit. In a more private ceremony, the host would prepare the tea for everyone. Another difference is that in a private ceremony the guests would pass along the sweets and come forward to take the tea themselves, but in a public ceremony not everyone knows how to do this, so everything is brought directly to the guests. Therefore, a public ceremony requires a lot more manpower backstage–usually this is a very tiny space, but set apart so as to be non-intrusive to the ceremony.

We started with wagashi right away as we enjoyed the shade and coolness at the water’s edge. This was the first was someone uncomfortably warm days, but the atmosphere inside the tea room was perfect.

As the host wordlessly prepared the tea, another tea master explained the ceremony, decor, and tools to the guests in a way that both practitioners and laypeople could appreciate.

Tea ceremony and the Horikawa Sightseeing Boat. It could only get more Matsue-like if there was En-musubi tied in or something.

After the abbreviated ceremony, we were invited to observe the tools.

The chawan (tea bowl) is Rakuzan pottery. Along with Fujina and Sodeshi, this is one of the three representative styles of Matsue pottery, and it was a favorite of Lord Fumai’s. This particular bowl was made by the father of the current head of the Rakuzan school.

The natsume (tea caddy) is Yakumo-nuri, a local style of lacquerware. One of the characteristics of Yakumo-nuri is that the pattern gets brighter as the piece ages. The chashaku (tea scoop) is also local craftsmanship, and it was made from wood that was removed from the castle during renovations several years ago. Hence, the individual name of this chashaku is “Chidori” (plover) because Matsue Castle is nicknamed Chidori-jo (Plover Castle). For other styles of chashaku, the host can choose from a selection of gomei seasonal names, so a single chashaku can have multiple names. This special type of chashaku, however, doesn’t change identities with the seasons.

They say that the shape of the tea remaining in the tea caddy says a lot about how steady–or unsteady–the hand of the host was.

The ceremony felt very brief, but it was gratifying that the master explaining the ceremony could tell I practice the ceremony–and lucky that he didn’t notice me forget a few bows during the sped-up process, oops! Though this ceremony wasn’t hosted by my school, naturally, everyone knew my Omotesenke teacher by name. There were many other tea events going on that weekend, including a longer, reservation-only ceremony at Gesshouji Temple (where Lord Fumai is buried) that included a meal, but I had other things to do. Nonetheless, my things to do put me on the same route as a few of the ladies who attended the same ceremony I did and who were off to enjoy the ceremony at Gesshouji, and it was fun to enjoy the weather, the spring flowers, and general talk of tea on the way.

This has been an odd winter in the San’in region, which is typically known for the amount of snow it gets compared to sunnier parts of the country. I was told by many people to expect a very cold winter this year. However, while Tokyo had been experiencing heavy downfalls, we had usually been experiencing rain as opposed to snow.

As striking as Matsue Castle appears on a sunny day, there is a sense of it looming over the city on such dreary January days as this, and I can’t help but be reminded of how Lafcadio Hearn described it:

…solid as when first built long centuries ago, a vast and sinister shape, all iron-grey, rising against the sky from a cyclopean foundation of stone. Fantastically grim the thing is, and grotesquely complex in detail; looking somewhat like a huge pagoda, of which the second, third, and fourth stories have been squeezed down and telescoped into one another by their own weight. Crested at its summit, like a feudal helmet, with two colossal fishes of bronze lifting their curved bodies skyward from either angle of the roof, and bristling with horned gables and gargoyled eaves and tilted puzzles of tiled roofing at every story, the creation is a veritable architectural dragon, made up of magnificent monstrosities—a dragon, moreover, full of eyes set at all conceivable angles, above below, and on every side. From under the black scowl of the loftiest eaves, looking east and south, the whole city can be seen at a single glance, as in the vision of a soaring hawk; and from the northern angle the view plunges down three hundred feet to the castle road, where walking figures of men appear no larger than flies.

(“The Chief City of the Province of the Gods”, from Lafcadio Hearn’s “Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan,” 1894.)

Matsue Castle is sometimes nicknamed “the Black Castle”, given that it wasn’t covered in flame resistant white paint like many other surviving original castles of Japan were. It’s managed to survive both rain and lightning despite the lack of this finishing touch. The castle isn’t the only black sight that only seems blacker on a dark, wet day. The area is also lined with many black pines, many of which (not pictured here) are very old have grown into large, unique shapes that necessitate supporting the trees with wooden pillars as they loom over the sidewalks and canals.

Rain or no rain, Sunday means tourists, and I frequently see at least a few of them climbing of the stairs from the Otemae (main) entrance at the southeast end of the castle hill. This is the most photogenic approach to the castle, for sure, with its neatly shaped rock walls and lookout towers. As a reminder, this is the area where they’re planning on rebuilding a historically accurate main gate, and the 5,000,000 yen reward for usable historical photos and materials until March 31, 2014 (so a final push, please help us promote that.)

In May, those bare branches will bloom in to unusual, furry-looking nanjamonja fringe.

While I like visitors to be able to see the castle in all its sunny glory, I live here and see the 400-year-old tower on a daily basis, and frequently take walks around the castle hill even in winter, so I’ve seen its many faces in many different kinds of weather. While sunny days are splendid, it has more mysterious character in the rain.

Matsue Shrine, on the approach to the castle tower

One of the places I find the most character is in the castle’s stone wall. While you can enjoy the alluring, smoothly cut and fitted styles when approaching from the south, I usually like to leave the castle from the north gate–that is, the back gate. This leads to the forest area that the Horio clan decided to leave primarily to nature to protect. Here, the fitted stone walls in which the rocks were mostly left in their natural shapes, melt away into the hills and trees. Eerily quiet as this other world on the back of a tourist location may be on a sunny summer day, the rain highlights the textures of the features that have stood quietly back there for four hundred years of history.

Somebody else thought to wander around my favorite spot. Go find your own, dude, this quiet corner is mine!

If the name is any indication, they used to wash horses in this pond. Now you’ll usually find aquatic birds instead, especially in winter when many of them migrate here. If anyone is, I’m sure they’re enjoying such ducky weather.

Given the choice, though, I’ll typically take sunshine and flowers. Speaking of, March at Matsue Castle means the camellia exhibition, the fragrance of the plum garden, and the start of the spring festival to celebrate the cherry blossoms!

Click for source

Click for picture source!

Click for picture source!
Technically, the entire Mt. Kameda encircled by the canal is Matsue Castle, though usually people picture the castle tower. I stroll around the castle a lot, though where I go depends on what's blooming (camellia and plum blossoms are my favorites, though you can find cherry blossoms and autumn leaves all over the main areas), or if there is an event going on, or what the weather in general is. During Suitoro (the lantern festival in Sept/Oct) there are hundreds and hundreds of lanterns all over the main castle areas and walkways, as well as around the canals, I didn't even bother trying to indicate a sight that is everywhere. The Inari shrine would probably be Lafcadio Hearn's suggested spot, so I included it.

January in Japan is full of firsts, often signified by the prefix hatsu (初). Among tea practicioners, the first tea ceremony of the year is one of the most festive, and is called Hatsugama (初釜), literally, “first kettle.” Having started practicing the tea ceremony last April, this was my first Hatsugama. Not only that, but it was my first time preparing the tea outside of regular practices.

My omotesenke school had ours on the 18th with 18 participants, and in a city like Matsue where the matcha flows like the canals that trace their way around town, I can imagine we were not the first. It seems a lot of places were booked out the previous weekend, but we held ours in the Matsue Club, overlooking the Ohashi river that bisects the north and south sides of town.

I had passed by this building many times before while walking alongside the river, but like many spaces in Japan, I had never imagined how much bigger it was on the inside. They even had a tsukubai set up next to the tea room. Trivial Japanese time! The tsukubai (蹲), the stone wash basin found in Japanese gardens, is so-called because you need to crouch down (tsukubau 蹲う) next to it.

After cleansing, we greeted each other and entered the tea room.

Can you spot the two CIRs?

The day started with preparing the charcoal for the fire under the kettle. During this part of the ceremony, all the guests sit closely so as to observe how the different kinds of charcoal are arranged to prepare the fire, and what a pleasing red glow they have to warm us up during one of the coldest months of the year.

This was followed by okoicha, the highest grade of matcha prepared to about the thickness of paint. This is shared among three guests or so at a time. While the tea master is preparing the tea, the guests partake of a wagashi (Japanese confections). In the case of omotesenke, New Year sweets are green on the inside and white on the outside, like pine branches covered in snow.

Note the “Yanagiwa” next to the scroll. This is a ring made of willow branches, one of many festive New Year decorations. Gold and silver are also indicative of New Years, and we used heavy gold-painted tea cups for the thick tea.

Following okoicha, we changed some tools and decorations out to get ready for o-usu, the thinner style of matcha that is more commonly consumed–and, thus far, the only kind I know how to prepare. Speaking of preparation…

Setting my tools in place.


Sporting my “I’m trying really hard to look relaxed” face.


I’m about to take the whisk I just cleansed out of the tea cup, which is why it is vertical. In Omotosenke, we whisk it diagonally instead of vertically.


Now to bring in the tea.


I wonder how the tea I made tasted?
Note the kan-botan in the decorative alcove. These are winter peonies, and peonies are big stuff here in Shimane.

I don’t think I made any major mistakes, but it felt like it went by really fast! Given the number of participants, the tea-making responsibilities are split up among a handful of people so I only did the first part of the ceremony before switching out with a few other relative beginners, but although it wasn’t as smooth as I would have liked and I felt nervous, I think it was a success (I’m feeling a little more self-conscious after seeing the photos, though!). I wonder how many more chances I’ll get like this throughout 2014? There’s still nine months to prepare for the Dai-Chakai at Matsue Castle…

After the two types of tea ceremonies, we started our kaiseki meal (though this would usually be eaten before drinking tea). Kaiseki can refer to any sophisticated Japanese meal served in courses, and I’ve enjoyed a number of kaiseki meals at restaurants and ryokan around Matsue for fancy work parties, but this was my first time receiving it in tea ceremony style.

Thankfully I had a teacher sitting near me to explain all the steps as we went along, and though we were all fairly relaxed since most of us are classmates who are already acquainted with each other, there was a higher level of formality than I’ve ever had at a work-party (which I already find amusingly formal before the sake starts flowing. Speaking of, there was plenty of sake at this tea party, too).

I did my best, but I could not stay in seiza for very long by that point. My knees still need more training! If I take part in Hatsugama 2015, it will serve as a good comparison for how much better I get over the course of this year.

I’m ready, 2014! Bring on more matcha!

In Matsue (and the Izumo region in general), anything can be given an En-Musubi (縁結び) label.

To break it down, “en” (縁) is our ties to one another–something like fate. The verb “musu(bu)” (結) means to mind or entwine things together. Therefore, a translation for “En-Musubi” can range from “fated encounters” to “match-making.” While it can include any kind of ties we might have with any person, it is especially associated with finding your soulmate, and there are famous En-Musubi spots all around the region. As it is used in many forms, you’ll probably see the phrase get used a lot here, and yes, there are reasons for why the region is so wrapped up in this: En-musubi is what all the gods get together to discuss while they are having their meeting at Izumo Taisha during Kamiarizuki!

Seeing as we’re all a little tangled in all this En out here, even the rain in Matsue is full of it. That’s why it’s called “Enishizuku” (drops of En):

Since it reaches everyone at the same time, touches everything from nature to man-made structures, we are all bound together by the drops of water… Well, that’s a charming way to think about it, I guess. Even my laundry gets to soak up a bunch of En.

In my experience all of Japan gets a lot of rain, but it seems Matsue is particularly well known for having a lot of rain, and the rain at Lake Shinji has been a poetic topic for many visiting writers. It’s not quite like a typhoon when we get storms here, and while Lake Shinji isn’t as violent as the sea, it certainly puts on a show when the wind picks up. Every thirty years or so Matsue gets a flooding problem, but the worst I’ve seen has been the parking lot in front of my apartment–seeing as that part of town was a marsh back in the Edo era.

Matsue has recently started a public umbrella-sharing program. Since a lot of buildings have places to leave your umbrella when you enter, inevitably a lot of them are forgotten if it looks clear again when you leave (I’ve done this a few times. I really miss one of those umbrellas…!). Participating locations put those forgotten umbrellas in specially marked umbrella stands, and anyone who needs them can take them. I haven’t needed to yet, but I’m sure it will come in handy someday!

Well, whether the weather is cold or whether the weather is hot, we’ll weather the weather whether we like it or not. While rain is not my personal cup of tea, I do enjoy all the moats and rivers and lake views around town. That’s why it’s sometimes called the Venice of Japan–but more commonly called the Mizu-no-Miyako: The City of Water.

…and En-musubi.