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Archive for the ‘Aichi’ Category

A new fence upon arrival is barely ever a good sign – and things didn’t get better after that!

Deserted hospitals are amongst my favorite abandoned places, so when I first heard about this little gem somewhere in the Aichi countyside I knew I had to visit it. Sadly it’s barely reasonable to explore locations in Aichi as day trips from Osaka, so when the opportunity for a three day road trip came up in spring three years ago, I was all in. Luckily my buddy Hamish gives me free hand when it comes to planning schedules, so the Aichi Hospital became the first destination of said trip.
Upon arrival we were welcomed by a brandnew bamboo fence, replacing the old metal barrier that had quite a few holes in it – the surrounding fortified with several layers of barbed wire. New fences are always a problem, but physically and morally. If there is still somebody investing in a fence, is the unused location behind it really abandoned? Since we were lucky enough to find a small hole in the thinner part of the barb wired bamboo we took the risk and slipped through, despite the fact that we could have been seen by neighbours. We passed through the empty shell of a small building at the foot of the hill and walked up the (only) road to the hospital… only to find out that the clinic had been mostly cleaned out, too, probably when the fence was replaced.
About half an hour into exploring the Aichi Hospital we heard police sirens. Sirens that got closer… and closer… and closer… And when it sounded like they were in front of the bamboo gate, they stopped. Had we been seen by neighbors, who alarmed the cops? Worried that our way in (and out) was now under police control, we ran out of the building and into the woods, hoping to sit out a possible building search. Nothing happened for painfully long 15 minutes, so we checked out the situation carefully. No coppers, no cop cars. Really just a false alarm.
Nevertheless we decided to finish up quickly – which is what we did, because you never know…

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There are famous local and nationwide festivals all over Japan all year round, but two of them stick out like a sore peni–… uhm… thumb: the fertility festivals near Nagoya, Aichi.
A year ago I wrote in great lengths (no pun intended!) about the second part of the Honen Matsuri, better known as “That Japanese penis festival!” – just in time for you to visit it, as it is held every year on March 15th, no matter which day of the week it is; it’s a Sunday in 2015, so be prepared to see some additional dicks and chocolate covered bananas there…
Last year I also visited the much less famous first part of the Honen Matsuri, better known as “There is another fertility festival in Nagoya?” – it’s always on the Sunday before March 15th (which is March 8th this year, less than four weeks from now!) and it is all about female fertility, symbolized by an enshrined stone vulva; well, at least on paper it’s all about the vajayjay…

The history of the festival, which is held near Gakuden Station on the Meitetsu Komaki Line, just one stop away from the dick-ish penis festival at Tagatajinjamae, dates back hundreds of years and ties directly into the other festival, making it all about… agriculture. Yes, instead of Thanksgiving, it’s kind of Thankspraying – and since fertility is much easier to understand (and to market!) when it’s symbolized by human genitals instead of a tiny kernel and some dirt…

The Himenomiya Honen Matsuri (as the Female Fertility Festival is really called) loosely translates as Princess’s Shrine Harvest Festival and starts at 9:00 a.m. with a prayer service for good crops, followed by a ceremony blessing the kodomo mikoshi, the portable shrine for children. From 11:00 a.m. on a child procession is leading up to the main event venue, the Oagata Shrine – which is super cute as all the little ones are dressed up and their parents, also dressed up, are walking right beside them, proud as peacocks. This is followed by a car parade from 12 o’clock on and the arrival of several mikoshi, portable shrines, carried by up to two dozen young men, in the afternoon. In addition to that, there are all kinds of entertainment, like an amazing drum troupe and the beautiful flower garden of the adjunct Taikokuebisu Shrine. The Himenomiya Honen Matsuri ends at around 4 p.m. with a mochi nage, in which elevated elderly officials shower the masses below with huge rice cakes the size of an adult’s palm.
While the famous *penis festival* is a rather loud, fleshy… flashy… festival where drunk people from all over the world (yes, tons of foreigners, more than I’ve ever seen anywhere at the same place in Japan!) openly celebrate an otherwise suppressed love for everything phallic, the Himenomiya Honen Matsuri is much more subtle and feels like a real traditional Japanese festival, not like a spectacle for tourists from near and far. The usual festival stalls sell almost no frivolous / quirky food and souvenirs, the noise level barely ever goes up, and each element of the festival is just lovely to observe – the colorful costumes and beautiful mikoshi a feast for the eyes. While the ema (small wooden plaques for wishes or prayers) at the Tagata Shrine come in various very explicit variations, there is only one motif at the Himenomiya Honen Matsuri – and last year it showed breasts, but it shied away from spread legs or bent over bodies. Even the vulva shaped stone doesn’t get much attention and isn’t recognizable as such if you don’t pay much attention.
If you are ever in the Nagoya area in early / mid-March I strongly recommend visiting both festivals, if possible. The Himenomiya Honen Matsuri on the Sunday before March 15th is a busy yet halcyon event for the whole family with only a slight sexual connotation, while the *penis festival* on March 15th of every year is one big sausage fest, a party for everybody old and drunk enough!

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I love the Toyoko Inn hotel chain in Japan. Their prices are fair, they are located right next to bigger train and subway stations, they offer free breakfast from 7 till 9.30 and free WiFi / internet 24/7, their staff usually speaks at least a little bit of English, they have a discount and point system for members – and you can make online reservations via their English homepage.

One reason I was hesitating to go on a trip *as mention in the previous blog post* was the fact that I was in-between credit cards for a couple of weeks. (In my experience it’s close to impossible for foreigners to get a credit card in Japan – but I am looking forward to the comments of every expat who got one… I know people who were rejected more than half a dozen times, I tried it once or twice and then got one in Germany…) But you need a credit card to make an online reservation at a Toyoko Inn – or so I thought.
When it was clear that I would spend the first night of my trip in Nagoya I stopped worrying. Last weekend wasn’t a typical time to travel in Japan (unlike *Golden Week*) and Toyoko Inn has six hotels in Nagoya, eight if you count the ones close to the airport – I was sure I would get a room somewhere. So the plan was to show up at one of them and ask the staff to make a reservation for me for the second night, which I planned to spend in Matsusaka – a town famous for its high quality beef, which turned out to be more dead then the cows it is famous for.

Luckily my plan was a good one, so I checked in at the hotel of my choice in Nagoya and asked the staff to call their sister hotel in Matsusaka to get me a reservation for the following night since I didn’t have a credit card. The friendly lady at the counter pointed to the opposite wall across the lobby and asked me to use the internet to make the reservation myself. I repeated that I didn’t have a credit card and therefore couldn’t make the online reservation. The answer was “You don’t need a credit card to make an online reservation.” – so I told her that I needed one when I tried to make one the night before. Since the hotel receptionist insisted that I wouldn’t need a card and was eager to show me that she was right we started the procedure on their English homepage – as usual. Another guest arrived so I filled out the form, scrolled down and… there it was, the section for the credit card information. I left it blank, tried to continue and of course it didn’t work and I got an error message. When the receptionist showed up again she seemed to be very surprised, switched the language settings of the homepage to Japanese and… finished the reservation without having to enter credit card information! She didn’t even have to log out / start the procedure from the beginning, she just switched the language settings and pressed a button to finalize the reservation.

I totally understand that hotels need some kind of security when people make online reservations and that’s the reason I never had a problem entering my credit card information when making an online reservation at a Toyoko Inn, 15 times for trips in 2012 alone. In fact they don’t charge your credit card and you can pay cash upon arrival, it’s just a security measure for no-shows, which I completely understand. Nevertheless I am kind of irritated by the fact that you have to put in your credit card information when you make the reservation in English, but not when you make it in Japanese – to me it implies that Toyoko Inn considers people who prefer to make reservations in Japanese more reliable than people who make reservations in English; which could be considered borderline racist. Again, I understand that (most) online hotel reservations require credit card information. But either it’s a general requirement for Toyoko Inn or not – doing it on the basis of the language chosen on the homepage feels wrong to me, as it means that not all customers are treated equally.

What do you think? „WTF?“ or “WTF!”?

(To end this posting on a lighter note I’ll add some non-urbex photos and videos I took during my three day trip. Inuyama Castle, Tagata Shrine Festival, Mount Gozaisho, Yunoyama Onsen, Toba, Iruka Island, Ise Shrine, … If anybody is familiar with dolphins please have a look at the video and let me know what you think – to me it looks like the poor creature was desperate to get away as it repeated the same motion at the “prison gates” to the ocean over and over again; I didn’t watch any shows on the island and didn’t spend any money there – Iruka Island (iruka = dolphin) was an optional stop on a harbor cruise I took in Toba.)

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