Samurai Dave: The Roving Ronin Report

Rambling Narrative of Travels, Thoughts, and Embellishments

Ryuhyo – Japanese Drift Ice in Hokkaido

Japanese Drift Ice – Ryuhyo

Ryuhyo is drift ice that appears along the northern coast of Hokkaido (in northern Japan) in the Sea of Okhotsk from about late January to early April. Visitors can take hour-long cruises on ice-breaking ships from northern coastal towns like Abashiri. Drift ice is important to the region’s ecosystem because it helps plankton grow which are the base of the food chain for the region. Unfortunately in recent years Global Warming has reduced the amount of drift ice.

This footage is from about 2 years ago that I just now got around to editing. I was in Hokkaido for the Yuki Matsuri/Snow Festival and decided to go to Abashiri to see the drift ice. This was actually my second time having gone before a few years earlier. I was lucky on both occasions to see the drift ice because some days you can’t see it as it depends on the weather and wind conditions.

March 2, 2011 Posted by | abashiri, drift ice, global warming, japan, nature, Ryuhyo, Sea of Okhotsk, snow, video, winter | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Boating Through a Japanese River Gorge – GeibiKei Video

Geibikei is a scenic river gorge in the northern prefecture of Iwate where people can take flat-bottom boats piloted by singing boatmen. The boatmen guide the boats along with poles much with the gondaliers of Venice.

I was back up in Iwate again for festivals (in case you can’t tell I have a thing for festivals). One of them was rescheduled later on the weekend so I had to extend my trip.

With my extra time, I decided to go to Geibikei, a place I visited on a whim 3 years ago with my folks when we were touring the Tohoku area.

It costs about 1500Yen for a 90-minute trip there and back. At the half-way point, you can walk around a bit. On the way back, the boatmen sings traditional songs.

October 23, 2009 Posted by | boating, boats, geibikei, iwate, japan, nature, tohoku, travel, video, vlog, youtube | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Geibikei – Floating Thru a River Gorge in Northern Japan

Floating Through a River Gorge in Northern Japan
Geibikei Gorge – Iwate Prefecture

Flat-bottom boats ply the river in Geibikei Gorge

In northern Japan in the prefecture of Iwate is a little known natural treasure known as Geibikei. Geibikei is a river gorge enclosed by tall rocky cliffs some 100 meters high. Visitors can take large flat-bottom boats piloted by a singing boatmen who pole along the shallow slow-moving river somewhat like the gondoliers of Venice.


The boat pilots guide the boats with poles like the gondoliers of Venice


The round-trip boat journey takes about an hour with a stop in the middle for a quick walkabout. The walk ends at a cul-de-sac where one can try their hand at getting a bit of luck. There’s a hole in the canyon wall across a pool which people try to cast charms into in order to get good luck. For 100 Yen ($1) visitors can purchase 5 stones that have charm characters carved into them. The five are for long life, love, luck, destiny, and your own personal wish.



My first toss went straight into the hole and thinking myself done I gave my other charms to some of my fellow passengers. I forgot until later to see which charm was the lucky one.

Good Luck Charms for throwing

Visitor try to cast their good luck charms into the hole to make their luck come about

On the return, the boat pilot will sing old traditional songs that echo off the cliff walls. It’s a very serene Zen-like experience to be floating along that slow-moving river with the cliffs looming high above, the occasional piercing cry of a bird of prey on the wing, and fish swimming past as the boat pilot sings old folk medleys from long ago.

One of the highlights of the trip is the boat pilots singing old traditional songs as they pole along



My first visit to Geibikei was completely by accident a few years ago. My parents were visiting and having seen Tokyo and Kyoto before, they wanted to venture into the more unknown regions of Tohoku, the northern section of Japan.

A small shrine along the river’s edge



Tohoku is a region which often goes overlooked by overseas travelers especially by those in Japan for the first time. Tokyo and Kyoto and the surrounding areas tend to lure visitors to them and use up much of their time leaving little if any time to explore the hinterlands. It’s a shame because Tohoku has a lot to offer, Geibikei being one such place.




I had only seen the name Geibikei in passing in one of my guidebooks. I had no intention of going there until I stumbled upon a poster of it in Hiraizumi, a town we were visiting at the time. The picture was enough for me to decide to schedule it into our itinerary.




Although close to Hiraizumi, like much of Tohoku, Geibikei isn’t easy to reach. Trains don’t run so regularly as they do further south. We took the southbound train which runs about twice an hour to the little city of Ichinoseki where we transferred to the sometimes-once-hour-sometimes-less train to Geibikei station.



Not much there but there was a convenient store, ever the bastion of civilization in the woolly wilds of the hinterlands or the concrete jungle of Tokyo.




The boats can fit up to 60 people but we were fortunate not to need its full capacity. Instead we had plenty of space to have a picnic and more importantly, drink beer. Like Japanese fashion on land, we had to remove our shoes before boarding.




We passed other boats filled to the gills with giggling school kids from junior high. My folks got a kick out of watching kids just being kids despite being in school uniforms. The kids were laughing and joking and some girls had their feet in the water.




One boat of school kids, however, was quiet and somber. We found out why as it passed us – the school teacher was on that one. The kids on that boat were well-mannered and a little glum, no doubt cursing their luck to have wound up on the same boat as the teacher.




For those adventurous types on the loose in the northern country, Geibikei is certainly worth a visit. Geibikei can be reached in about 30 minutes by train or bus – neither of which run frequently – from Ichinoseki in southern Iwate.




October 3, 2009 Posted by | Blogroll, boating, boats, geibikei, iwate, japan, japanese culture, nature, photographs, photography, tohoku, travel | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Japanese Ghost Stories – The Tree Spirit

Stories of ghosts, monsters, and things that go bump in the night were the favorite past time of Japanese in olden days as a way to cool down on hot summer nights.

This story is about a greedy woodcutter who encounters a tree spirit.

Trees are or were believed to become alive after a thousand years or so.

September 9, 2009 Posted by | folklore, Ghost Stories, Ghosts, japan, japanese culture, japanese folklore, japanese ghost stories, Japanese Ghosts, nature, Storytelling, trees, video, vlog, weird, youtube | Leave a comment

A Tribute to Autumn

A Tribute to Autumn
Photographic montage celebrating the season

Red Autumn Leaves

Autumn – the season of change where the world gives forth one glorious burst of life and color before succumbing to the long sleep of Winter. Autumn is a season of reflection and poets throughout the ages all over the world have given into this poetic self-indulgence.

Chinese Zodiac draped by Autumn Leaves at Mt. Takao near Tokyo

Fall foliage at a lake in Bavaria, Germany

“No Spring nor Summer Beauty hath such grace
As I have seen in one Autumnal face.”
– John Donne (17th Century England)

“…the end of Autumn is in the color of the last leaves”
– Jaukuren (12th Century Japan)

Autumn leaves at night at Rikiguen Garden in Tokyo

“I cannot endure to waste anything as precious as autumn sunshine”
– Nathaniel Hawthorne (19th Century United States)

Autumn sunshine falls on a golden floor

Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria

“Everyone hates to see the Autumn go by
This feeling would seemed to be shared by the Heavens”
– Tayasu Munetaka (18th Century Japan)

Fallen Autumn leaves as seen from an English church door


Painter paints an Autumn scene at Tokyo Station

“Every leaf speaks bliss to me,
Fluttering from the autumn tree.”
– Emily Bronte (19th Century England)

Pagoda at Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, Tokyo

“Autumn is a second spring where every leaf is a flower.”
– Albert Camus (20th Century France)

Chuzen-ji Lake, Japan

Watch Tower of old Edo Castle in Tokyo

A Church in Jonesborough, Tennessee

“Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold,
Her early leaf’s a flower
But only so an hour.”
– Robert Frost (20th Century United States)

“The autumn wind!
The mountain’s shadow
Trembles before it.”
– Issa (18th Century Japan)

Fall leaves frame Kegon Falls in Nikko, Japan

“Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it”
– George Eliot (19th Century England)

Cornfield in the Autumn morning mist – Tennessee

Old farm equipment amongst the fallen autumn leaves

A Hint of Autumn at Hikone Castle

View from Hikone Castle

“Ah, it was the Autumn Wind
Not she that I was waiting for”
– Socho (15th Century Japan)


View from Neuschwanstein Castle

“So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.”
– Robert Frost (20th Century United States)

Fallen golden leaves

The sun sets at the end of Autumn

November 22, 2008 Posted by | autumn, Bavaria, Blogroll, castle, culture, Deutschland, England, entertainment, fall, Germany, japan, leaves, life, music, nature, photographs, poetry, tennessee, tokyo, travel, video, youtube | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Sakura – Japanese Cherry Blossom Montage Video

Sakura – Japanese Cherry Blossoms have been a part of Japanese culture for over a thousand years. They’re the subject of countless poems from waka to haiku.

The Short Happy Life of the Cherry Blossom

This is a photo montage I actually put up a year ago but never made public. It contains shots that I have taken over the years in different locations of sakura. You’ll see scenes from Tokyo, Kyoto, Kamakura, Himeji and few places you may not be aware of such as Ofuna and it’s giant Kannon statue. I put in a few Japanese poems to go along with the photos.

The geisha are from the Miyako Odori which is an annual geisha pulbic dance performance in Gion.

Music by the Secret Commonwealth:

The Secret Commonwealth

March 30, 2008 Posted by | Blogroll, cherry blossoms, geisha, hanami, japan, japanese culture, Kyoto, montage, music, nature, photographs, sakura, secret commonwealth, spring, tokyo, travel, video, vlog, youtube | 2 Comments

Samurai Dave vs. the Juhyo Japanese Monster Trees of Mt. Zao!!!!

Here I face off against the deadly Juhyo – Japanese Monster trees of Mt. Zao – and live to tell the tale!

Juhyo trees are created by snow and ice mixed together by freezing strong Siberian winds that turns them into distorted monsters.

March 19, 2008 Posted by | japan, juhyo, life, monster trees, Mt. Zao, nature, tohoku, travel, video, vlog, winter, Yamagata, youtube, Zao Onsen | 3 Comments

Juhyo – Japanese Monster Trees!!!

Juhyo: Japanese Monster Trees
In winter mild-mannered conifers become hulking monstrosities of snow and ice

Strangely-shaped trees called Juhyo (monster trees) lurk on Mount Zao.

They’re out there lurking in the dark, in the desolate wilderness of winter — the beautiful and eerie offspring of Yuki Onna, the Japanese snow woman spirit. They are the Juhyo, or monster trees. Every winter the trees of Mount Zao in the Yamagata Prefecture undergo a shocking transformation. From mild-mannered conifers, these trees become hulking monstrosities of snow and ice.

Heading up to the summit and the land of the Juhyo.

What makes the trees into monsters is a wintery cocktail of snow and ice shaken and stirred by a blustery freezing Siberian wind. The snow and ice cakes the conifer trees so completely that often the original shape of the tree is so distorted that’s it unrecognizable as such.

To the Japanese, trees in Japan often have a spiritual nature. At many Shinto shrines, trees are venerated as having a kami or type of spirit. One type of spirit is a kodama and it is believed that to cut down a tree containing such a spirit will bring about bad luck, so they are marked off with sacred rope. As with many spirits in Japan, these tree spirits can be beneficial, dangerous or neutral.

Juhyo Kogen – Monster Tree Plateau.

In rural areas, it was thought that if trees reached a thousand years of age, they could come alive, particularly at night, and some were quite dangerous. Woodcutters out after dark had to be extra cautious of running afoul of these creatures.

Me and the Juhyo.

Fortunately for visitors, the Juhyo monster trees are apparently dormant, content to stand still showing off their weird and beautiful shapes. In this respect the Juhyo resemble the snow spirit Yuki Onna. Yuki Onna is the female personification of winter in Japan. On one hand she represents the haunting beauty of snow and ice in her form as a beautiful pale woman with red lips and black hair.

On the other hand she represents winter’s deadlier side as she would freeze her hapless victims to death with her breath or she would lead them astray so they would perish in the wilderness. Like Yuki Onna, the Juhyo are beautiful in their odd way but they serve to remind viewers of the fate that awaits anyone who stays too long out in winter’s domain.

While the monster trees may be docile, the weather is not. Visitors may either encounter perfect weather with sunny clear blue skies in which to view the Juhyo or face freezing cold winds and such thick fog that they can barely see past their nose.

A Christmas tree gone over to the Dark Side.

I had the misfortune of it being a day with weather of the latter sort. The monster trees were practically swallowed by the swirling white mist. The main path was closed off to keep visitors from getting lost and becoming monster trees on their own. Luckily for us monster-hunters, there was a sizable herd of Juhyo next to the visitor center.

During the day — if you could even call it day — the wind was fierce. My face, feet and hands kept freezing while my glasses kept fogging up. It took quite a bit of hot sake back at the center to get the warmth back into my cold bones.

A dinosaur tree?

In the evening, the monster trees really come to life when the visitor center illuminates them with an array of multi-colored lights. At this time the trees really take on the shape of things unearthly. To me, the Juhyo don’t resemble monsters as much as they do the terrain of some alien landscape on another planet.

The Juhyo look like the bizarre terrain of an alien landscape.

The Juhyo are atop Mount Zao in the northern prefecture of Yamagata. Zao, like many mountains, is actually a volcano and an active one at that. The Juhyo can be seen at Zao Onsen, which is reachable, by bus from Yamagata City station. Take the cable car of the Zao Ropeway to the midway point and get on the Sanroku Line, which goes to the top to the Juhyo-kogen: Monster Tree Plateau. The Juhyo exist from mid-January to mid-March depending on current weather conditions.

Juhyo Godzilla

March 18, 2008 Posted by | japan, juhyo, monster trees, Mt. Zao, nature, snow, tohoku, travel, winter, Yamagata, Yuki Onna, Zao Onsen | 3 Comments