Thousands of Miles from Home


Back to Konpira-san

Lets pick this up again. When we last left our hero he had just narrowly escaped the horrors of a Japanese New Year (known to most as JPN, similar to the horrible network television station UPN). No, I'm kidding, Japanese New Year was great and UPN is atrocious, not just terrible.

On January 2nd my host family and I traveled back to Konpira-san, which you may remember as the mountain with all the steps. Mayumi, my host mother, grew up near the mountain and her sister and parents still live in the town. The whole family gave me a huge welcome and after being introducted to everyone we took a short walk to the Sohonzan Zentsuji Temple. The temple is the birthplace of one of the most revered figures of Japanese Buddhism, the high priest Kobo Daishi, also known as "Kukai" (who my host mother referred to as "The Japanese Jesus"). The temple is massive, one of the largest I have visited, but it was also packed with people for the New Year. Numerous hard-to-pronounce national treasures could be seen at the temple including Ichiji-Ichibutsu-Hokekyo-Johon which features Kukai's calligraphy and his mother's drawing of the Buddha, and Sangoku-Denrai-Kondo-Shakusho which looks like a large walking stick and was awarded to Kukai for his appointment as 8th partiarch of the Shingon Buddhist sect. Although my favorite part of the temple was the Kaidan-meguri, a below-ground pitch-black cellar in which "nothing at all can be seen." (oddly ironic for a tourist attraction) You walk with your left hand against a wall, and follow the passage through the darkness until it leads to a chamber dedicated to Kukai's parents.

All that stumbling around in the dark was fun, but the best was yet to come. The next day my host family took me to visit the Otsuka Museum of Art in Naruto City. The museum consists of over 1,000 reproductions of masterpieces in Western Art. In a sense, it's a museum of forgeries. But very precise and accurate forgeries. I'll quote the booklet:

"Masahito Otsuka, Director of the Otsuka Museum, said his group started to make tiles out of the sand of the Naruto straits and thus up to the size of one square meter without blemish or crack. However, after the world oil crisis in 1973 there was no market for its tiles. After a visit in a Moscow cemetery in 1975 where he noticed that attached to many of the tombstones were name-card sized photographs of the beloved which had faded because of ultraviolet rays of the sun, it occurred to Masahito Otsuka that baking the photographs into ceramics would preserve the original color forever. That was how the Otsuka group began making ceramic reproductions of artworks, concentrating at first on Japanese paintings and scenes and that was how the idea for the Otsuka Museum of Art emerged."

Pretty crazy stuff! The musuem was divided into various categories including Antiquity (greek vases, mosaics, murals), Middle Ages, Renaissance (Botticelli, da Vinci), Baroque (Rembrant, Goya), Modern Art (Van Gogh, Gauguin), and 20th Century (Picasso, Dali). On top of the pictures were entire historical reconstructions of wall paintings, ancient ruins, and churches restored to exact replica (these guys are huge copiers). There was even a full sized Sistine Chapel. It took a long time to get through the museum but certainly worth it. I recognized much of the art and had even seen some of the originals in various museums. Or recognized from books, such as the famous portrait of good old Cardional Richelieu, Dr. Seitz's favorite Prime Minister of France.

After the museum we hit another famous spot in Naruto, the Naruto Straits (I listened to Dire Strait's "Money for Nothing" on the iPod to get in the mood). To make a long complicated story short, the Seto Inland Sea (a sea) and Kii Channel (an ocean) meet at the Naruto Straits and create large tidal whirlpools that can be seen from the observational walkway built below the Naruto bridge. In the floor of the walkway are large glass windows that allow visitors to stand directly above the 60 meter plunge to the water below. I gave the experience a big thumbs up, even if it wasn't the best whirlpool season.

After coming home from Konpira-san I caught myself a high fever and upset stomach, spending all day in bed with crazy dreams. My host grandmother took care of me, preparing delicious meals that made me better in no time. So with the sickness out of the way, I'll see what's in store for next week.


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