Japan’s intangible cultural heritage

Japanese_food4I’ve just arrived back on Jeju from ten days in Japan; I’ve got some catching up to do on my blog.  I’m not going to start by posting about of the sights of Tokyo or Yokohama, or the mountains, castles or onsen-bathing Monkeys of Gunma and Nagano – that’ll come later. Instead, here are some photos of my lunch. OK, so they’re not from the same meal but that’s a mere detail.

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I was accused by a colleague (ex-colleague, I should say) of being like a Japanese woman when I got my camera out to take photos of the food that was served. I can understand why it’s such a common thing in Japan; not only are the tastes so good but the presentation is an art in itself. Indeed, Japanese cuisine has just been added to the UNESCO ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage’ list, so I feel justified in posting some of the results in my first blog entry for almost two weeks.

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There’s even a word for it, “washoku”. Long may it last, in spite of the threats from fast food chains and the increased popularity of Western dishes.

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Fishermen on the rocks

Songaksan_from_the_sea5I took these photos a couple of weekends ago, from the boat on the way back from Marado. They’re all of Songaksan, the volcano at the southern tip of Jeju.

Songaksan_from_the_sea3In the space of just a few minutes we approached the coast, rounded a headland and then passed the most remarkable series of rock formations. Songaksan is impressive when you’re on top, looking at the strange, wrinkled, formations you walk on, but it’s even more so when you see it from sea level. Maybe the complex rock formations you can see from sea level explain why the land surface itself is so irregular.

Songaksan_from_the_sea4If you’re looking at the photos on your smart phone, you may not see the fishermen at the foot of the cliffs in two of the photos. The pictures are worth looking at on a bigger scale, I suggest.

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And one more – five full-width photos in one post isn’t my usual format but I have to add the one below with the huge stacks waiting to collapse into the sea.

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More from Mt. Dan

I didn’t just take shots of the panoramas from Mt Dan on Saturday – there were plenty of things to photograph in macro mode. With the sunlight and the colours, it was a treat. Here’s a selection.

The spider is a type of golden orb-web spider. It’s very common here, although I was surprised to see one so late in the year. I guess this is a female as the males are much smaller.

Mt. Dan and the bad feng shui

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We’ve seen the hill in the foreground of the photo above often enough, south of the road between Global Education City and Musuelpo, but I’d not been able to find out it’s name until yesterday; it’s not acknowledged on any map I’ve seen, even though it’s quite a substantial outcrop. Now I find it has two names, Mt. Dan or Bagumji Oreum, the latter (according to a notice on the approach road), because “its shape conjures up a huge bat spreading its wings”. The same notice says that the feng shui is ominous.

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Quite unexpectedly, we found there was a way to the top. It was a bright, clear day (which isn’t bad for 11 days before Christmas) and there were views across the whole of south-west Jeju. The photo above looks southwards to the sea; the photo below looks northwards. There’s a series of oreum on the horizon, and Mt. Halla is behind the promontory in the foreground. Global Education City is in the middle-distance of the photo below, although you can’t pick it out at this scale.

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And here’s one more photo looking southwards – I’ve written about that lump of higher ground in the distance before: it’s Songaksan, the southern tip of Jeju.

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The selfie – alive and well on Jeju

Selfie3I took these photos a while ago but I thought I would publish them today, in celebration of the Oxford English Dictionary’s recent announcement of ‘selfie’ as the word of the year. My spell-checker hasn’t kept up, by the way – every time I use the word it’s underlined in red.

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These pictures were taken on Hallim beach one evening a month or so ago, with the sun setting over the sea and an island in the background. OK, so the setting was nice, but there’s no need to take quite so many selfies, is there?

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At least if you’re holding a smart phone at arm’s length it makes it more difficult to make a ‘V’ sign next to your face with two fingers.

The Art of Travel

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There’s a little café near Global Education City, on the road that turns left from the roundabout in front of O’Sulloc’s Tea Museum and just beyond the Jeju Glass Castle Museum, set nowhere in particular amongst farm houses, roadside shops selling Mandarin oranges, and the like. It sells burgers and drinks and just has a couple of tables and a row of chairs at a bar against one of the walls. It’s one of many that we’ve found that are good to visit and in which to read a book (or e-book) over a hot drink.

It even has a Korean-language copy of Alain de Botton’s “The Art of Travel” on the shelf. Who’d have thought it? It’s an amusing book, taking an unconventional look at travel and talking about things that you don’t find mentioned in the guidebooks.

I also liked the sign on the wall, below.

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Buddhism, loosely speaking

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Marado’s Cheonyeodang Buddhist temple has many of the things you’d expect – the monk, the bell, the Goddess of Mercy, the little cairns – but it’s the other statues that are the really interesting feature.

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For a start, there’s a Harubang – the doleful looking character in the photo on the left. They’re a common sight on Jeju, made of dark volcanic rock, and placed outside gates to give protection against demons.

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 I’ve got no explanation for the rest of the figures in these photos. It may be that a local potter has had some fun with the clay figures with the lopsided faces and incorporated them into his pantheon. There are more crooked-looking faces carved into the rocks in the walls around the temple.

I don’t know what a mainstream Buddhist would make of this. Maybe it’s a case of Buddhism being superimposed on local shamanist beliefs. The figures don’t look as if they’re seeking enlightenment, anyway.

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Marado – South Korea’s southern point

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Half an hour by boat from Songaksan is the southern-most island in Korea, Marado. It’s a very pleasant place on a mild December day – a rocky, grassy place that’s initially reminiscent of Pembrokeshire’s Skomer Island.

Unlike Skomer, it does have several restaurants, at least a couple of B&Bs, a Buddhist temple (more of which in another post), a Catholic church, a lighthouse, and one football goalpost. That list might suggest it’s a reasonably large community, but that’s mainly for the boatloads of tourists. It takes an hour to wander round the island, including time to scramble over some rocks and take it all in.

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As I said before, not very far south (beyond the fishing boats in the photo below) is the newly-declared Chinese air defence zone in the East China Sea. Now South Korea have extended their own air defence zone so that it overlaps the Chinese one. I’m really not sure that doubly-defended is twice as good as singly-defended.

There’s also conflict further south again, where China is in dispute with the Philippines, which The Guardian describes as “one of five countries challenging Beijing’s claims of ownership over the oil-rich South China Sea.”

Ah! Oil, now it begins to make sense.

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On the road to Jeoji

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There was snow visible on distant Halla this morning, but it was bright, sunny and (reasonably) warm in south-west Jeju. On clear days like this, Halla catches the eye, dominating the landscape as it does.

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I took my bike out – yes, I have a bike and it’s a nice one, too. It’s been a long time since I’ve owned a bike and they’ve moved on so much; it’s so light, and gear shifting is precise and effortless.

I took the road towards Jeoji, a not-very-exciting village with an oreum of the same name. I discovered some new roads and came across this grave site beside the road, at the foot of Majung Oreum.

I’ve commented on these graves before, and they’re all over Jeju – in fields, beside the road, in villages, on hillsides. They’re traditionally placed in a location close to the home of the deceased, allowing the dead to watch over the fields they cultivated over their lifetime. The grave itself is often in the shape of a dome, surrounded by a volcanic-rock wall called a sandam. You’ve got to do something with the rocks you remove from the fields, or from your grave site, and building walls is to mark boundaries and offer protection from wandering animals is a good solution.

You’re not allowed to bury people in this traditional way any more.

Haenyo – the women divers of Jeju

Hanyo1This isn’t the first time I’ve posted photos of Haenyo, Jeju’s women divers, and I don’t suppose it’ll be the last. The first time was when I saw them over on the east of the island, going out at a preset time with a commentary for the tourists, and doing a little performance.

Hanyo3There was nothing fake or put-on about the divers at Songaksan yesterday. These were women trying to make a living. You could see them out at sea with their floats, occasionally upending and disappearing below the surface with their flippers the last thing to remain visible.

They slowly made their way around the coast. Once they reached the rocky shore, it was apparent that they were pulling nets full of the shellfish they had caught.

It was also apparent that they were not young; no, they were genuinely old. At an age when many people couldn’t do this even if they wanted to (and were probably enjoying retirement), these women are still going into the sea, in December and with the simplest of equipment; they were then dragging their catch out of the sea and over the rocks. Let me guess that they’ll do it all again tomorrow, and have probably been doing it all their lives. Remarkable.

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