Gather ’round and see a few more pictures of Niigata! In case there’s any confusion, my explanations appear under the photos they’re about, not above.
Not a lot of explanation needed here that the caption doesn’t provide. It’s the main train station in Niigata.
Likewise here. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that crosswalk without a crowd of people on it.
This is in the area between the station and Bandai City. (Bandai City is a section of Niigata, not a separate city. I was confused about that when I first arrived.) The buses I ride to and from the university are that color.
I’m going to get fired as a commentator! No “color” to add on this one, either! It will be more interesting when Chris adds the monsters with his digital vandalism.
Okay. Back in the early sixties, during the Great Niigata Earthquake, all the other bridges collapsed, but Bandai Bridge stayed intact, ever standing astride the flood of the Shinano. This is one symbol of Niigata. Tourists come to see this bridge. There used to be a fantastic pub, the Kirin Bandai Beer Hall, diagonally opposite (across the river) from where I stood to take this picture. It had ivy-framed windows overlooking the river, and you could gaze out on the night view of the bridge, lighted with golden lights, as you quaffed your Kirin or your Guinness. Closing that place down is one of the five worst things the city has ever done. Now an apartment building stands there.
This is looking across from the Okura Hotel side toward the Bandai City side.
Sightseers can ride this boat up and down the river on dinner cruises. I always find it somehow comforting when the Anastasia chugs past me. (Its name, you know, means “Resurrection” in Greek.) I’ve always fantasized about jumping off one of the bridges onto its roof as it passes beneath me. I’ve never done it, because I’m not sure what the next step would be. Rescuing the girl, I suppose. But what if there wasn’t a girl on board?
In my younger days, I spent a LOT of time on this riverbank — reading, writing, viewing cherry blossoms in season, playing catch with friends, lighting fireworks (which are perfectly legal here!), practicing my trombone . . . I even set up a tent one night and camped here! (I was only 23 or so — the age at which you do stuff like that.) I remember a few curious senior citizens peering in through the mosquito mesh early the next morning. I only did that once . . .
Very peaceful place. In this park, there is a cage full of big grayish-brown monkeys of the type that inhabit the mountains of Japan and sometimes compete with guests for space in the outdoor hot-spring baths. Well, once about ten or fifteen years back, the monkeys escaped and climbed high up into the park’s trees. Just at that time, Niigata City’s official monkey-wrangler was away in Africa. So it fell to the city employees to deal with the situation. There were a lot of guys from the city hall, all in conservative suits, ties, and wingtip shoes, clambering around through the park, trying to coax the monkeys down from the trees. The monkeys sat up there laughing for about three days, beaning their pursuers on the heads with pine cones. Eventually they came down to eat and went back into their cage.
My parents visited this park. I remember reading a lot of the book Shiokari Pass here, and it was one of my haunts during my first few years in Niigata. The park was another place I came to think of writing ideas and to write. The glimpse of bright red you see is the main front torii gate of the park and shrine.
This stone bench has a central dial engraved with the ancient Chinese symbols for the compass directions. Here are also the hours of the day. I always liked hearing of the Hour of the Ox, the darkest, deepest part of the night, when ghosts appear.
This bridge is covered with wisteria vines. When the pale purple flowers bloom, the bridge has a living, fragrant ceiling and walls.
I’ve heard that this tree is a national treasure of Japan, being of profound age. I think I have the right tree.
These dogs guard the entrances of Shinto shrines. Notice the mouths of the dogs. This one is open, forming the syllable “a.”
His companion has a closed mouth, forming the sound “n.” In the Japanese syllabary, “a” is the first sound and “n” is the last. So the dogs are mouthing the equivalent of alpha and omega, an all-encompassing circle.
The shimenawa is the woven grass rope that hangs on the torii. And smaller versions hang in the entranceways of the homes of Shinto practitioners. The shimenawa prevents evil from entering. On New Year’s Eve, a great bonfire is built here at the shrine, and people bring their old shimenawa and toss them into the flames. People skewer dried squid on long sticks and roast them over the fire, then gnaw on them (it’s like beef jerky, only squid-flavored). And new shimenawa are hung to replace the old.
Here’s a stone lantern, or tourou. The monkey cage is just behind me and to my left. The monkeys were hiding up on the roof of their inner sanctum that day, and I couldn’t get a decent picture.
The first plum (ume) blossoms are a sign that spring is indeed coming.
Yes! The first few years I was in Niigata, I convinced a group of friends (church members and adult students) to come with me out into the pine woods on Midsummer’s Eve, and by flashlight beam, we each read aloud a poem or two we’d chosen for the occasion. This is the actual site of one of our meetings. (We also did that on a camping trip to Sado Island one summer, in a spider-haunted grove.)
Maybe you remember that my friends had a black cat named Pucca. This is where we found Pucca as a newborn kitten, alone and abandoned in the brush, crying and crying. Pucca had a long and happy cat life, but we always wondered about her . . . a jet-black cat, found in the dark woods on Midsummer’s Eve. And she would attack the Bible, biting its pages, but not other books. (Her name was chosen because I had read a poem that night featuring the pooka or pucca from Irish folklore. The name stuck.) We found her near the top of this staircase.
This is where I lived when I first came to Niigata. That was my place on the corner, where that sign is, just above the garage. If anyone remembers the first newsletters of mine — this is where they were written. I was still living here when I started Dragonfly, though much of it was also written at my friends’ place and in Taylorville. Across the street are some houses, then the pine woods, and then the sea. I remember when there would be a storm at sea with high winds, afterwards there would be sand in my apartment.
Niigata City Hall.
I hung out in this park, too, back in 1989-92 or so. It’s between the pine woods and the sea.
This stairway is historic only to me — on it, and in the park and woods around it, I read Algernon Blackwood, Ambrose Bierce, H.P. Lovecraft, and wrote most of A Green and Ancient Light.
It was cold the day I took this picture. Somewhere over there is mainland Asia.
This is where I served as a lay missionary for my first few years in Japan, through the Overseas Volunteer Youth Ministry program, teaching English in classrooms on the second floor. I also taught one day a week at Niigata High School and one day a week at Niigata University. The church’s appearance has hardly changed a bit in all these interposing years.
Niigata High School. My task was to come into the classroom and correct any mistakes I found in the English sentences the students had written on the chalkboards before class. That was one of my favorite jobs in all the years. It was regimented like a military unit — the boys all in black uniforms with gold buttons, though the girls were allowed to dress however they wanted (because when the school began, it was only for boys . . . so the dress code was never added for the girls, although in my day, it was about half boys and half girls). At various times I would privately ask a student, “Doesn’t it . . . you know . . . bother you that the boys have to wear uniforms and the girls don’t?” Invariably the student, whether male or female, would blink in confusion and say, “Well, no.”
The desks were all in rows, and the teacher stood on a raised platform. At the beginning of class, all the students would stand up, and at the command of their class leader, would all bow to the teacher (and I would bow back). They worked very, very hard. It was probably the best high school in the prefecture then (may still be), and the students were striving to pass the rigorous college entrance exams which have an enormous influence on the future of a person in Japan.
The room was packed with desks and people — no place to stand except on the platform. When they would have a space cleared for the arrival of the heating stove in the late fall, before the stove got there, I would always joke “Oh! You’ve finally made a space for me to stand! Thank you!” The students loved that. I wasn’t that much older than the kids in those days, so the girls would blush and whisper and giggle and drop pencils when I came into the room or passed nearby.
Part of my job, too, was to suggest alternative ways to say certain parts of the sentences, and the students would eagerly copy those down. But I always had to watch the Japanese teacher, who stood at the back. There were ways that we actually say things in the States that would have been marked wrong on a Japanese college entrance exam. If the teacher gave me a shake of the head, I would say “Wait! Cancel that!” and the students would smile and note that they’d just learned some “forbidden” English.
There’s just one thing left to say in this post. You may have been wondering about the nostalgic tone of the last couple entries here. There’s a reason for that. After twenty-two years in Japan, I have made the decision to relocate to my homeland.
There’s no calamity, no scandal — it’s just time. Nor is it sudden: this is a decision I’ve been feeling my way toward for close to ten years. The little signs and “nudges” have been steadily accumulating, and . . . well, it’s just, as I said, time. Leaving here is extremely difficult, but I am convinced I’m doing the right thing.
I am returning to the States two days from now. It may be a little while before I can post again, so please be patient. And be assured that, Lord willing and I have safe travels, the blog will most certainly continue. There will be new adventures to chronicle, new points to discuss as the writing life goes on!
I appreciate your prayers for fair winds and happy journeys.