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Scarecrows and Swordsmen Make for an Exciting Weekend!

This weekend I had two consecutive day trips!

On Saturday, November 9th, I went to Aioi to watch a swordsmith make a katana and viewed the Scarecrow Festival; I also went on a bit of a hike, and visited an art museum! Aioi was about an hour away from Shirasagi by car. It was at a higher altitude, so it was a bit chilly in the morning. Once the sun came out, though, it got much more comfortable! The autumn leaves were absolutely stunning; there's nothing quite like seeing mountainsides dotted with colorful trees!

The entrance to a main area of Aioi. 

The view from the window of the smithy. 

The swordsmith at work! He was a junior apprentice, which meant he had to do all the work himself, using this machine to pound the steel. Apparently the grand masters are allowed to have apprentices pound the steel manually for them. 

A pond outside the smithy! A watermill fed into it. 

An ivy-covered house! 

Starting a hike to view a shrine in the mountain behind the smithy! 

A tea-house that was on the way to the shrine. It looked abandoned. 

The tea-house again. 

This is a very rare occurrence in nature! It's a cedar tree growing on the stump of another cedar tree. This was where the shrine was located. The tree is supposed to be very lucky (I think)! 

A pond near the main fairgrounds where we stopped to have lunch in Aioi. The trees were beautiful! 
Speaking of beautiful trees, I couldn't get enough of these two rows; one half was in full autumn bloom, and the other was bare-branched. Having the two rows' branches intertwined seems almost philosophical! 

And the following photos below were some of my favorites of the scarecrows in the festival. I photographed them all; this is but a fraction of them!

Quite a few of the scarecrows had Tokyo 2020 themes to them; this one was my favorite. 

Scarecrows in an onsen, or hot spring. 

Sadako from The Ring is very popular here. This scarecrow was popular, too, by extension! 

Hansel and Gretel themed scarecrows! 

This train-themed section was very popular with the kids. 

A Studio Ghibli-themed section! I think there's a symbol for all of the Ghibli movies here! How many can you recognize? 

A random house that was extremely photogenic. 

Yes, there were Buddhist-themed scarecrows. 

I think this is from the recent Ghibli movie; the one with a long name, that I haven't seen. Correct me if I'm wrong! 

These scarecrows represent traditional Japanese "monsters." Apparently umbrellas will come back to haunt you if you lose them, and vampires/zombies will chase after you by hopping. Also beware the scary walls and lanterns!

We then headed to an art museum in what was once a very rich farmer's home. Most of the artworks were ones that he compiled. I couldn't take photos inside, of course, but they were very beautiful! 

This is a reconstructed lords' manor. 

A reconstruction of the Lord's audience chamber (I think). The lord would sit on the raised platform, which indicated his rank compared with anyone else in the room (who would be kneeling on the floor). 

On Sunday we headed to the town of Ohara, which is about an hour and a half away from Shirasagi by car. It was a very misty and rainy day, as you can see from the photo below. We got rained on quite frequently! We visited this area because it was where Miyamoto Musashi, a legendary Japanese swordsman who lived about 400 years ago. He founded the two-sword style of fighting, and he was undefeated in over 60 recorded duels; he was also a writer, a painter, and a metalworker, to name a few of his skills. He was a renaissance man!

We met with a master of the Nitoryu (sp?) Style of fighting, which Miyamoto Musashi founded and received training in footwork and breathing in this very famous style! (Unfortunately the video I took of his demonstration seems to have gotten corrupted, and I have no idea if I'll be able to salvage it at this time; if I ever get it up and running, I will be sure to upload it!)

This building was designed to imitate Miyamoto Musashi's sword hilt (tsuba?), which is shaped like a sea cucumber. Inside was a Junior High School Kendo Tournament (of which none of the photos came out). 

A statue of Miyamoto Musashi outside of a Dojo.

These are rain catchers that can often be found hanging on traditional Japanese-Style buildings. The chains stretch from roof to the ground, and they collect water in a very beautiful cascade. There was a lot of rain, so I was able to catch the chains in action! 

We stopped by an original highway during the Edo period. This road was the only way for the various daimyo (or feudal lords) to visit the Shogun in the capital. This means it was once very heavily trafficked and a hub or all sorts of trading activity. The lords were required to visit the Shogun in Edo every two years, and they had to spend quite a sum of money every day along the way for themselves and their retainers; and of course, the more retainers they had, the more important they were! Apparently the typical trip would run upwards of $200,000,000 in modern money.

A garden right outside a public bathroom. 
Our guide, Keiko, was born in this house! 
Some of the roof decorations can be rather strange. i'm not sure what this guy is supposed to be. 

We stopped by Miyamoto's birthplace and grave on the final stretch of our journey on Sunday. Here's some (more) photos! 
One of the monuments for Miyamoto Musashi. I think it's for where he was born, but I'm not 100% certain. 
I believe that this is Miyamoto Shrine, and that Musashi is supposed to have grown up around here. 

The forests in Japan often have these odd pinetrees which look like they aren't wearing any pants, with the way the majority of the trunks don't have any leaves or branches, except for the tufted bits at the top. 
This tree is being supported by wooden beams. This house is also the one that Musashi's sister is supposed to have lived in. 
A guardian statue outside the shrine by Miyamoto's grave. (It was extremely dark at this point due to the weather and dense foliage, so none of the photos after this point came out.)

Enjoy the photos! I hope to spend more time writing about my experiences here in Japan soon in more blog posts, so stay tuned!


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