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 [1.17] Hikone's Old New Town, Soanji, Food Last updated 
01 Feb 1999 

Hikone's Old New Town 17 Jan 1999
Today was a nice day again, so I hopped on my bike and tried to find places in Hikone where I had never been. My idea of Hikone at this point was "a small farming town with one big department store and a train station." I had yet to see much of the rest of the city.

I rode most of my usual route (that you see in Pictures 11), but this time took a detour around Hikone castle. On the other side, I found a place called Old New Town. It's a street filled with new shops and restaurants, but I think it's supposed to give you the feeling that they exist in honor of the old way of doing things. There were lots of interesting little stores.

Soanji 17 Jan 1999
The biggest thing in Old New Town is definitely Soan-ji (the suffix "ji" means temple). Here's a stitched-together panorama of the location. This was the first temple I had seen in Japan, so I really didn't know quite what I was seeing, but I tried to take pictures some of the interesting things. (At the time of this writing, I have seen more temples, so I can compare and contrast retrospectively. Keep in mind, however, that I'm no expert on this stuff.)

The first thing I saw on the way in was a small "moat" filled with giant goldfish (carp). Next I came to a giant gargoyle (onigawara). To my left was a very large board filled with names. I first assumed they were the names of the deceased in the cemetary right behind the board, but was later told that they were the names of major contributors (categorized by amount contributed). The amounts, I translated later, range from approximately $25,000 down to $400.

I ventured into the small cemetary, and took a closer look at the stones inscribed with the names of the deceased. This stone has metal-lined flower holders, candles, and a small sake (pronounced sah-kay; Japanese rice wine) cup. I'm guessing that the symbol on the front near the bottom is the "family crest". There was a man there with a family. The family was visiting one of the deceased and the man was chanting Japanese phrases and hitting two pieces of wood together at regular intervals. I'm guessing he'd be classified as a Buddhist monk, but correct me if I'm wrong.

Next I proceeded toward the temple itself. Before I went inside, I took a look at two other structures. One was a small altar with a Buddha statue (nyorai), an offeratory box (saisembako) where one throws a few yen, and a metal container filled with rocks (at the top of the rope). (These items exist at nearly every temple, as I would find out later.) On the other side of the altar was a tall pagoda structure.

I asked a person through a window if it was OK to go inside the temple (in Japanese, of course). After we took off our shoes, he led me and Tom Acker (I happened to meet him in Old New Town by chance) through a few doorways and into the main room. I won't attempt to explain the beautiful gold decor inside, but here are three pictures:
Inside Soan-ji (Center)
Inside Soan-ji (Close Center)
Inside Soan-ji (Statues)

Our guide explained something to me in Japanese, but all I caught was that the temple was somehow new (certain parts were very recently replaced). I told him the room was beautiful, and thanked him for showing us around.

Home Altar 17 Jan 1999
I left the temple, and walked back through Old New Town toward my bike. I saw what some JCMU students refer to as a "porta shrine", although I think it is more correctly called a "home altar". Here's a closer picture of it. I'm not exactly sure if it's Buddhist or Shinto, but I think it's Buddhist.

Quick Japanese Religion Tidbit:
There are two major "religions" in Japan: Shinto, which is a polytheistic, nature-oriented, localized religion, and Buddhism, which is of a slightly different flavor than Buddhism in other parts of the world. Buddhism is more an organized religion than Shinto (which can vary from family to family). The two are often mixed together at the same location, and many Japanese do not completely distinguish between the two. Shinto structures are almost always called shrines, and are almost always marked with torii (toh-ree) gates (you'll see photos later). They're usually relatively simple. Temples are Buddhist, however, and are usually more complex and ornate.

My conversation partner (a Japanese student studying English whom I meet twice a week for a few hours) said that the home altar could be in rememberance of someone who died, or for a local spirit, or for a commemoration, or for any of a number of other things.

A Few More Sights 17 Jan 1999
After leaving Old New Town, I rode around Hikone and found a street called Chuo-Chu. It's very large, has covered sidewalks, and is packed full of stores and restaurants.

After Chuo-Cho, I rode all the way to Minami Hikone (South Hikone; the next town) on my bike, probably a total of at least 9 miles the whole day (which is a lot for a bike with only one gear!)

I saw Joshin, a computer store, stopped to take a picture of a random Japanese house with lots of shrub work, and by the time I got back to JCMU, the sun was setting over lake Biwa.

Food 17 Jan 1999
Here are a few food pictures I've collected:

Wasabi - Japanese horseradish. You can buy it in a tube! If you've ever tried a sushi dinner, it's the little dab of green stuff. If you've never tried a sushi dinner, try one!

Gyouza - pan fried dumplings stuffed with minced pork and vegetables. The package comes with sesame oil, the dumplings, and the dipping sauce. You throw the oil in a pan and brown the dumplings, and then throw some water in and steam them for a few minutes. Oishii! (oh-ee-sheee; that's Japanese for "delicious")

Snow Brand Koohii Nyuu Inryou - Coffee Milk Drink. We keep our fridge stocked with this stuff all the time. It's like chocolate milk with coffee in it. I actually drank this the first morning I woke up after the plane trip. At first I thought "What? Coffee? In a paper carton?! What are these Japanese up to?" But now, I just think, "Ahh, Japanese ready-made foods and drinks."

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