Samurai Dave: The Roving Ronin Report

Rambling Narrative of Travels, Thoughts, and Embellishments

Geibikei – Floating Thru a River Gorge in Northern Japan

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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Good Luck Charms for throwing

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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.

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

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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.

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A small shrine along the river’s edge

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

Samurai Dave’s 2008 In Review Video

2008 was a busy year for this wayward wanderer though I didn’t travel much abroad due to the high fuel surcharge. I did however travel a fair bit around Japan going to a number of festivals. This is a photo montage of my experiences.

January 13, 2009 Posted by | 2008, culture, festival, japan, japanese culture, Kyoto, life, music, music videos, photographs, photography, tennessee, tohoku, tokyo, travel, video, youtube | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Samurai Dave’s 2008 In Review: Travels, Events, and Festivals

Samurai Dave’s 2008 In Review – Travels, Events, & Festivals

Another year has come and gone and it’s time to look forward to next year while reflecting on the last. This year I stayed in Japan save for two trips home. Fuel surcharges increased to ridiculous amounts sometimes more than the flight cost itself. Fortunately in Japan there’s always festivals going on year round to keep one occupied.

JANUARY
The first of the year saw me checking out the acrobatics of old Japanese firefighters, kimono-clad cuties at Meiji Shrine, Momote Shiki – an archery ritual for new adults, and a bit of sumo.

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Old Style Meets New Style

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FEBRUARY
February brought in a surprise snow storm on Setsubun, a day when Japanese drive devils from their homes in a kind of spring cleaning to symbolically end winter. It’s kind of like a pro-active GroundHog Day with devils. Later, I headed up north to the Tohoku region to face off against the deadly monster trees the Juhyo and hairy devils known as Namahage. I also saw a snow lantern festival and snow festival dedicated to the clever Akita dog. Later in the month, I went to Nikko to see the half frozen Kegon Falls then to Nagano, to see the snow monkeys again.

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Setsubun Devils Survery the Wintry Carnage

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Hirosaki Castle

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Snow Lantern Festival

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Namahage – the bane of lazy children

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Snow Festival for Dogs

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MARCH
Plum blossoms, Japanese St. Paddy’s Parades, Swordsmen, an Anime Con, Sumo in Osaka, and a Giant Penis made for a interesting third month.

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Hands up! Who wants pizza?

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I have no idea who she is supposed to be and I don’t care

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My first encounter with Tokyo Decadance – a risque subculture melting pot

APRIL
April offered up yet another penis festival – this one with a very graphic erect to the sky penis carried by some unconvincing drag queens. I went back to Nikko where old style priests forced people to eat large quantities of rice – unfortunately this was all behind close doors. We only got to see them posing before and after so I don’t know if they actually ate any huge bowls of rice. At one of Tokyo’s major temples, I caught a display of Gagaku which is ancient dance style. A few days later I took in some free outdoor sumo at the controversial Yasukuni shrine. Nearby Yamanashi Prefecture had two festivals to honor their hometown here – Takeda Shingen. One had a parade with armored warriors and the other a re-enactment of his most famous battle – Kawanakajima.

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Festival Sponsored by Viagra

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Damn, that’s one big pipe!

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Ancient Court Dance – Gagaku at Zojo-ji Temple

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Shingenko Matsuri

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Japanese and Foriegners duke it out at a re-enactment of a famous samurai battle

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Samurai swimsuits while protective weren’t terribly comfortable

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Takayama Spring Festival

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Gifu Castle

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Traditional Japanese Wedding at Meiji Shrine

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Yabusame Archer Scores a Hit

MAY
The first week of May is Golden Week – a time when just about the whole country goes traveling. I used to stay in Tokyo to avoid the troubles but after learning about the wonders of overnight internet cafes I started venturing out more. I went back up to Tohoku to see the Uesugi Matsuri which I saw the year before. Here too they re-enact the Kawanakajima Battle but from the other side’s perspective, Uesugi Kenshin, Takeda’s greatest rival. Since the battle was basically a draw both sides can celebrate it and pretend they won. Afterwards I went to Hiraizumi which in ages past was a rival of Kyoto and its replica Fujiwara-no-Sato. Back in Tokyo I saw the artistic chaos known Tokyo Design Festa for the first time. The last part of the month I went to Fukui Prefecture to see a festival with big warrior floats.

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Uesugi Matsuri

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Ancient Dance performed at Hiraizumi

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Kaminoyama Castle in Yamagata

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Playing Old Games at Fujiwara-no-Sato in Period Clothing

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A Ghostly Figure from Tokyo Design Festa

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A Warrior Float from the Mikuni Festival in Fukui

JUNE
June is the rainy season so not as much goes on then so I tend to stay indoors to avoid the rain and humidity. I did take a trip to Yunishigawa to see a festival celebrating the Heike exiles who founded the town. I caught the last day of the festival last year so this year I came to see both main days. I saw again my Biwa Player from last year who surprisingly remembered me. At the end of the month I went to a Tokyo Decadance event.

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JULY
Went out to Chiba to see two new festivals I hadn’t seen before. One was a Gion Festival (Gion is one Kyoto’s big Festivals) at Narita City, the place many people zoom past on their way to Tokyo. The other festival only got an hour of my time due to work and inconvenient train schedules. Still it was an hour wellspent at the Sawara Matsuri with its floats of Japanese gods and heroes. Later in the month I went once again to Soma Nomaoi, the samurai horse racing festival. Can’t get enough of horse racing samurai! Maybe next year I’ll start placing bets.

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Noh at Narita Gion Festival

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Ota Dokan, original founder of Tokyo (then Edo) at the Sawara Matsuri

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Coming around the bend at Soma Nomaoi

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Female riders ride after semi-wild horses on the third day of Soma Nomaoi

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Odaiba in Tokyo all lit up

AUGUST
As it was with last year, August was a busy month for both work and travel. Like last year I took the first week of the month off to travel north around Tohoku to all the different festivals in the region. I went again to the drumming festival of Sansa Odori, the somber but artistic Neputa Festival of Hirosaki, the 3D floats of Nebuta with their scary faces, the Tachi Neputa Matsuri of Goshogawara with its towering floats clocking in at 22 meters, and the bamboo balancing Kanto Matsuri in Akita. In between this I went to some new festivals – the Sansha Taisai in Hachinohe which also gave a display of polo lacrosse, the dancing festival of Hanagasa in Yamagata, and the decorative (but boring) Tanabata Festival in Sendai.

That should have been enough for me but no! I returned to Tokyo via night bus, work the same day then caught another night bus to Nagoya in order to catch a fire festival in Gifu which was pretty freakin’ awesome!

Later in the month I went to Niigata where I saw my third Kawanakajima Battle re-enactment! This time there was celebrity presence. The part of Uesugi Kenshin was played by Gackt. Yes, Gackt! Ok, I never really heard of him before either but he’s big in Japan and there were tons of girls there who normally wouldn’t be caught dead at a samurai festival. The next day despite the rainy morning I went to Sado Island to catch the last day of the Kodo drum concert festival. The rest of the month I stayed in Tokyo where I saw street performances in my old neighborhood Otsuka and Samba which got poured on.

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Sansa Odori in Morioka

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Polo Lacrosse in Hachinohe

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Ornate Float from the Sansha Taisai Matsuri

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Fan-shaped float from the Neputa Matsuri of Hirosaki

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Ghostly Girls from Neputa

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Samurai Float from Nebuta

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Towering 18-meter float at Tachi Neputa in Goshogawara

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Kanto Matsuri in Akita

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Hanagasa in Yamagata

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Tanabata Matsuri in Sendai

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Samurai Dave at Inuyama Castle – oldest intact castle in Japan

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Fire Festival in Gifu

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Yasukuni Shrine on Aug 15th the date of Japan’s WWII surrender

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Gackt is Uesugi Kenshin!

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A Samurai Fights Deer on Sado Island

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Otsuka Awa Odori

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Wet Slippery Samba Girl

SEPTEMBER
I had an old college buddy stay over with his GF in September so the first part of the month found me cleaning my dump of a shoebox of an apartment in prepartion for their arrival. I gave them the nickel&dime tour of Tokyo and took them down to Kamakura to see Yabusame and Diabutsu – the Great Buddha. One day we did a Triple Play – caught Kabuki in the morning, saw sumo in the afternoon, and watch a baseball game in the evening. The fans with their little plastic bats and choreographed cheering was most entertaining!

At the end of the month I flew home for my father’s 60th birthday. Damn fuel charge was more than the damn flight cost! While there I went to Nashville’s very own Parthenon. Yep, we got us one just like Greece except ours is concrete and it ain’t broke!

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Kamakura Sake – they wouldn’t let us have any

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Diabutsu and Diadavidsu

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Japanese baseball fans

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Nashville Parthenon – it ain’t broke!

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Golden Athena

OCTOBER
After my father’s birthday I went to the East Tennessean town of Jonesborough to see a storytelling festival. Storytellers from all over the world go there to tell stories of all sorts. It’s a great event!

On the way back home I stopped at two caves – one, the Lost Sea which has the second largest underground lake in the world and is about to become really LOST if they don’t get more rain in the future. The other cave was Ruby Falls whose billboards I had seen for years and years all over the southeast which perhaps made me avoid it for so long. As it was, it was pretty darn neat. The last night in Tennessee Obama and McCain had one of their debates in Nashville which of course I couldn’t get near.

Back in Japan I was lucky to bump into a street dance festival in Ikebukuro and archery demonstration. I went to Kyoto to see the Jidai Matsuri (Festival of Ages) and the Fire Festival on Mt. Kurama despite the pouring rain. Back in Tokyo I rode once more the infamous Yamanote Halloween Train this time with cops and angry internet nerds.

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A Cowpoke tells it like it is at the Jonesborough Storytelling Festival

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The Lost Sea

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Ruby Falls

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A cat in a sink

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Obama supporters on the night of the Debate

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Bambi, no!!!

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Procession of 1000 Warriors in Nikko

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Samurai Street Dancers

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Golden Pavilion of Kyoto

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Kyoto’s Jidai Matsuri – Festival of Ages

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Fire Festival of Mt. Kurama

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The Joker having fun at the infamous Tokyo Yamanote Halloween Train Event

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Enjoying Tokyo Decadance’s Halloween Bash

NOVEMBER
November 3rd is Culture Day, a national holiday where there’s culture galore to be had. I got up late that day so I missed some of the culture but I did see Tokyo’s version of Jidai Matsuri and later a bit of Kendo at Budokan where the Beatles played many moons ago. Later that week I went out past the airport in Narita to see a festival which celebrated Japan’s history from over 1500 years ago. Young people dressed like the figures known as haniwa which were clay figurines buried or placed around earthern mounds known as kofun.

I went yet again to Kyoto to see a Geisha performance known as Kitano Odori then I went to the costume museum to try on some quite fetching 1000 year old threads. At the end of the month I flew home again for Thanksgiving because I love me some T-day turkey!

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Swan dancers at Tokyo Jidai Matsuri

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A hit, a palpable hit!

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Haniwa Matsuri

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Geisha dances a Wintry Fan Dance at Kitano Odori

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Does this make me look fat?[

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Komaki Castle

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Hikone Castle

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Mt. Takao

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A relic from the mysterious Old Stone Fort in Tennessee

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TURKEY!!!

DECEMBER
The last month! Whew! Long year! While still at home I went over to Lynchburg, home of Jack Daniels to have a bit of southern cooking lovingly laced with whiskey. On my last night in Nashville, I saw a kickass show with Nashville Pussy and rockabilly legend the Reverend Horton Heat.

Once again in Japan, I did a little firewalking at one festival – ok, actually the coals were lukewarm before I strode over them! I went to the 47 Ronin festival again and a fair for selling New Years decorations known as hagoita. Tokyo Decadance had a Christmas event and I was able to see decadent cuties in scanty XMAS attire plus girls were making out together – thank you, Santa!

The last night of the year saw me in the same place where I had rung in the the year – Zojo-ji Temple. Couldn’t believe another year had raced by! It had its ups and downs, its thrills and chills but all in all another fine year. I say that because I didn’t have any stock investments.

I hope 2009 is as equally as interesting and exciting and more importantly sees everyone in much better spirits at the end!

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A sign in Lynchburg – no drunken tomfoolery allowed

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Nashville Pussy

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The Reverend Horton Heat

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Come Firewalking with Me

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The 47 Ronin with their enemy’s head

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Hagoita – decorative New Year’s Paddles

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Tokyo Decadance

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Hello, 2009! Don’t disappoint!

January 13, 2009 Posted by | 2008, culture, festival, japan, japanese culture, Kyoto, life, photographs, photography, tennessee, tohoku, tokyo, travel | , , , , , , , , , | 1 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

Seijin-no-Hi Pictorial Montage Video

The following video is a pictorial montage of Seijin-no-Hi from 2006-2008 taken at Meiji Shrine in Tokyo. The shrine holds an archery ritual which is pictured here known as Momote Shiki in honor of the new adults.The music is by The Sushi Cabaret Club, a band based in Nagoya, Japan:
The Sushi Cabaret Club

January 21, 2008 Posted by | Archery, beautiful girls, Blogroll, Coming of Age Day, culture, event, furisode, japan, kimono, life, meiji shrine, momote shiki, montage, photographs, seijin-no-hi, tokyo, tradition, traditional art, travel, video, vlog, youtube | Leave a comment

Kimono Girls on Japan’s Coming of Age Day – a Dying Tradition?

Japan’s Coming of Age Day
Kimono-Clad Girls a dying tradition?

Kimono-Clad Girls at Meiji Shrine in Tokyo on Coming of Age Day
D.Weber
D.Weber

It was the second Monday of January and once again Japan’s new adults were out and about enjoying their new-found adulthood on the national holiday of Seijin-no-Hi: Coming of Age Day. Many young women sported their decorative kimono with the long-sleeves called furisode. While most young men wore suits, there were a few here and there that wore the formal male kimono known as a hakama.

Japan especially likes marking the ages of its populace and Seijin-no-Hi is no exception. In November, the little ones are all decked out in pretty kimono. Girls ages 3 and 7 and boys aged 5 are honored every year on the Shinto holiday, Shichi-Go-San. Another national holiday is Keiro-no-Hi in September which is respect for elders day.

As for Seijin-no-Hi, the national holiday is only a little over half-a-century old having started in 1948. Now the focus is mainly on the young women in their stunning kimono while the boys get second billing. In the past, however, the emphasis was on the boys. Young men had two coming of age celebrations in which they would change their names. At 12 and 16 they would individually go through their own private special ceremonies. For samurai households, this was a big deal with much pomp and ceremony.

As I usually do every Seijin-no-Hi, I went to Tokyo’s Meiji Shrine which serves as a magnet for kimono-clad girls and avid photographers. Meiji Shrine’s courtyard was packed with people. Disappointingly most of them were visitors and photo-hunting photographers. Occasionally, the dull visage of the monotonous fashion of the throng would be broken up with the arrival of brilliantly colored kimono-clad girls either alone or in small groups. A declining population, rising kimono prices, and a growing disinterest in traditional culture has led to fewer sightings of Seijin-no-Hi’s main attraction.

D.Weber

The price of kimono has risen sharply over the years especially handmade ones. A number of the furisode kimono worn on Seijin-no-Hi are family hand-me-downs, rented, or pre-made from China. The overall cost can be quite staggering. A full-fledged new furisode can be as much as $10,000. And the accompanying beauty make-over with hair styling can run up to a thousand dollars. The appointments have be made months in advance.

Kimono-Clad Girls become celebrities for one day
D.Weber

Why all the hassle and expense?

D.Weber

“For the parents it is their desire. From the day a girl is born they have the desire to dress her in furisode when she becomes 20 in the seijin shiki, take her picture, and send it to relatives as custom requires. In some cases, the mother herself also wore a furisode she received from her mother in her seijin shiki…

D.Weber

“If they have the possibility of dressing their daughter in a Y1,000,000 kimono it is proof that they have worked hard all their lives and can afford it. It is the result of their life work…But the girls do not always understand their parents’ feelings and they say they would prefer a car.”

(from A Companion to the Anthropology of Japan – Fashioning Cultural Identity: Body and Dress by Ofra Goldstein-Gidoni)

Kimono-Clad Girls entering Meiji Shrine
D.Weber

A growing percentage of young women are opting for evening gowns which while still expensive are far less expensive than the furisode and more practical.

D.Weber

At Meiji Shrine, two girls attracted their fair share of attention by their bold mixing of traditional fashion with modern goth chic. For footwear, they eschewed the normal sandals and tabi socks for trendy boots. One of them sported a red heart shaped bag while the other had a death’s head dangling from hers. One of them had braided hair and the other’s hair was short with a streak of red running through it.

A bold mixture of modern and traditional
D.Weber

In this reporter’s humble opinion, I hope that the tradition of wearing the furisode kimono continues. Evening gowns are a dime a dozen throughout the world but the wearing of the furisode kimono is a unique Japanese phenomenon.

D.Weber
Hopefully not the last of the Coming of Age Kimono-Clad girls

January 21, 2008 Posted by | Blogroll, Coming of Age Day, culture, event, furisode, japan, kimono, life, Meiji, meiji shrine, photographs, seijin-no-hi, tokyo, tradition, traditional art, travel | 7 Comments

Samurai Dave’s 2007 In Review Video

Here’s a video-photo montage of Samurai Dave’s 2007 In Review with music by Seven Cycle Theory:

http://www.myspace.com/sevencycletheory

The song is called “Only Once” which I think appropiate for life and traveling. You’ve only got one life – go somewhere and do something!

January 3, 2008 Posted by | 2007, 47 Ronin, Bavaria, Bayern, beer, belly dancing, biwa, Blogroll, buddhism, culture, entertainment, europe, event, festival, floats, geisha, Germany, japan, Kyoto, matsuri, montage, music, New Year's Eve, ninja, photographs, rock, sakura, seven cycle theory, sumo, taiko, tennessee, tohoku, tokyo, travel, video, vlog, youtube | Leave a comment