Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Kemari - Ancient Japanese Soccer/Football



"Kemari is hardly a stately sport, being quite boisterous and rough, but much depends after all on where it is played and who plays it."
- Murasaki Shikibu, The Tale of Genji, 11th Century

Kemari is an ancient Japanese sport originally from China which is a mix of soccer/football and hacky sack. Players try to keep the ball in air by using various parts of their body except the hands. The ball called "mari" is made of deer and horse skin.


The players were a type of clothing reminiscent of the style of the Asuka Period or 6th-7th century Japan when Kemari was first introduced to the country. They wear a specially designed leather shoe which they can even wear on wooden floors where usually normal footwear is removed.

Kemari is a unique sport in that there aren't any winners or losers but rather it's a group activity where the individual players' skill and dexterity adds to the ability of the group to keep the ball aloft as long as they can. Thus kemari is a community sport not a competitive one where each player contributes to the group.





Although the sport came from China, kemari is different - not so much in the way of playing but in who plays and the purpose of playing. The Chinese game known as cuju initially was for the warriors to develop their martial skills. It was only sometime later that cuju was adopted by the upper class as a form of entertainment. In Japan, kemari was always the domain of the upper class and was seen as a refined game of skill and grace. It was played by aristocrats known as kuge. Once in the 10th century a group of kuge in the presence of the emperor were able to make 260 passes without the ball hitting the ground.





In later centuries when the samurai became the dominant class, Kemari still retained its place as an elegant non-competitive sport. One samurai lord preferred the gentle arts of poetry and kemari to the martial arts required of the samurai. Unfortunately he lived in the highly competitive age of the Sengoku Period or Warring States Period where numerous warlords vied against one another for power and control. His name was Imagawa Ujizane. His father almost succeeded in uniting Japan under his banner; however, when his father fell in battle, Ujizane's kemari skills did little to save his domain. He eventually was forced to flee and went to Kyoto where apparently he became a renowned kemari player. Although he never regained his old territory, Ujizane and his descendants due to their knowledge of the cultural arts became koke or masters of ceremonies to the Tokugawa shogunate (1603-1867).






A Chance Meeting at a Kemari Match Changes the Course of Japanese History

"[Nakatomi no Kamatari] happening to be one of a kemari party in which [Imperial Prince] Naka no Ohoye played...he observed the Prince's leather shoe fall off with the ball. Placing it on the palm of his hand, he knelt before the Prince and humbly offered it to him...from this time they became mutual friends."
- Nihonshoki (Chronicles of Japan from the Earliest Times to 697 AD)

In the mid-7th Century, Japan was dominated by the powerful Soga clan. Although they had strengthened the Imperial presence over the various ancient clans of Japan, the Soga did so for their own benefit. They finally went too far when they began building palaces and tombs that were more kingly than they deserved. They even went so far as to kill one Imperial prince who opposed them. It seemed nothing could stop the Soga from assuming the Imperial title for themselves.

Nakatomi no Kamatari was a chief of the Shinto religion and his clan was hostile to the Soga for introducing Buddhism to the country due to the Nakatomi being a priestly clan charged with certain national rituals of the native Shinto faith. He looked for a member of the Imperial family that he felt could rise up against the power of the Soga. He found such a man in Naka no Ohoye however he found it difficult to meet with him until Kamatari saw his chance at a kemari match. He retrieved the Prince's shoe and from that moment the two became friends. They soon found they had similar views on the Soga. They plotted together until one day they struck and effectively removed the Soga clan forever.

Naka no Ohoye later became Emperor Tenji and Nakatomi no Kamatari was allowed to take on the surname Fujiwara which was to become a powerful family in its own right a few centuries later. Both men worked on a number of laws and reforms known as the Taika Reform that had long lasting influence on Japanese government and culture. All of this due to a chance meeting over a lost shoe at a kemari match.






I caught this kemari event one spring about a year or two ago at a small shrine in Kyoto. Kemari is often held around the New Years particularly in Kyoto.





Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Kyoto’s Festival of Ages – Jidai Matsuri


Kyoto’s Jidai Matsuri – Festival of Ages 

Kyoto Celebrates History with Festival Parade 


An Imperial Princess with two attendants from yesteryear
Every year on Oct. 22, the city of Kyoto celebrates its long history with the Jidai Matsuri — “Festival of the Ages” — a long procession of participants dressed in the various fashions of Japanese history. The festival was created in 1895 to mark the 1,100 anniversary of the founding of Kyoto as Japan’s imperial capital.
On Oct. 22, 794, Emperor Kammu decided to relocate the imperial capital to what is today modern Kyoto. The imperial capital used to be 30 miles to the east in Nara, a city brimming with powerful, politically scheming Buddhist institutes. While the capital was in Nara (710-794) a certain amorous Buddhist priest nearly got himself named emperor by a lovesick empress. She died, however, before he could make his dream a reality and all the priest received was a swift banishment for his efforts. This incident and the strong influence of the Buddhist Temples on the imperial court, helped to prompt the move away from Nara.
The Imperial Court remained in Kyoto until 1867 when it was relocated to Tokyo. Kyoto was crushed by the news — even today some of Kyoto’s citizens will refer to Tokyo as the “new capital” despite the fact that all of Japan had been ruled from Tokyo since the beginning of the 17th century. Still, pride in their city is unflagging and a few decades later, Kyoto was seen celebrating its long and glorious history. In 1895, the Heian Shrine was constructed, which is a 2/3 scale model of the original imperial palace. The first Jidai Matsuri marked its opening.
The Heian Shrine and the Jidai Matsuri honor the spirits of Emperor Kammu (reigned 781-806) and Emperor Komei (1847-1866), the first and last reigning emperors of Kyoto. The participants in the procession represent famous moments and people who left their mark on Kyoto, Japanese history, and culture. The costumes are historically accurate and have been painstakingly recreated using traditional methods.
The Jidai Matsuri begins at Kyoto Gosho — the old Imperial Palace — and winds its long way to Heian Shrine. There are over 3000 participants in the Jidai Matsuri and the procession lasts for two hours. It takes the participants 2.5 hours to reach their destination at the Heian Shrine.
The Jidai Matsuri follows a reverse chronological order, starting in the mid 19th century and going backward to the founding of the city a thousand years earlier.
The first participants arrive in horse-drawn carriages that would have looked right at home in Victorian London, except for the dress of their passengers. Inside the carriages sit Japanese and foreigners dressed in kimono symbolizing the opening of Japan to the world in the 19th century.

Horsedrawn carriage with Japanese and Foreign Occupants from the Meiji Period
Behind them comes the Royal Army of the Meiji Restoration which fought against the Tokugawa Shogunate government in Tokyo in order to restore the power and dignity of the Imperial Court, led by Emperor Meiji. A number of Imperial supporters actually wanted Japan to remain closed off from the world but after the fall of the Tokugawa Shogunate, it became all too apparent that Japan could not remain isolated any longer.

Meiji Troops – they fought supporters of the Tokugawa Shogunate to restore the Emperor’s power
The Edo Period (1615-1866) is represented by a delegation from the Tokugawa Shogunate paying a visit to the emperor. In 1600 Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first Tokugawa Shogun, won a great battle at Sekigahara which assured his power as sole ruler of Japan. The emperor bestowed upon him the title of Shogun in 1603.

Representatives of the Tokugawa Shogunate
Though he retired in favor of his son two years later, Tokugawa still oversaw much of the governance of the country until his death in 1616. The seat of power for the Tokugawa Shogunate was Edo — modern day Tokyo. Tokugawa Ieyasu’s successors and their ministers were less inclined to deal with foreign affairs and so they passed a series of edicts which basically closed Japan off from the rest of the world for almost 250 years.
Another representative of the early Edo Period is Izumo-no-Okuni (1600) who was the originator of the art of Kabuki. She was once a maiden in the service of the Izumo Shrine, one of Japan’s holiest Shinto shrines, and became famous in Kyoto for her dancing. She created the first Kabuki dance with young women dressed as samurai. The dancing was apparently too distracting for the samurai and other men that the stuffy Tokugawa Shogunate banned women from the stage as of 1629. From then on, all roles, including those of the women, would be played by men.

Izumo-no-Okuni – creator of Kabuki dance with one of her players
A large ornate oxcart represents an official visit paid to the emperor by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1590. Toyotomi arose to power from humble beginnings in the wartorn Sengoku (Warring States) Period. After the death of his lord, Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi continued his master’s work in uniting Japan under one banner.

A colorful wagon pulled by an ox
Under Toyotomi, the tea ceremony rose in popularity amongst the samurai and later other classes. Though a creative and innovative leader, in his later days he foolishly attempted to invade China through Korea, which bogged both countries down in needless destruction and death.
Following Hideyoshi is Oda Nobunaga. His entry into Kyoto in 1569 represented the culmination of many warlords’ life dream during the Sengoku Period. To be able to march into Kyoto and proclaim to fight in the emperor’s name was the ultimate sign of warlord’s success in those turbulent times. Many had been unable to do so because they were beset upon all sides by enemies.

Oda Nobunaga and his troops entered Kyoto in 1569
In 1560, a powerful warlord, Imagawa Yoshimoto, tried to march all the way to Kyoto but was killed enroute in a surprise attack by Oda Nobunaga. Oda fought many battles to quell the warlords who would not submit to his power — he even fought against the militant Buddhist clergy. His bloody career came to an end in 1582 when he was killed by one of his own generals also in a surprise attack.
The gap in years shows with the arrival of Kusunoki Masashige, which jumps the procession back over 200 years to 1330. Kusunoki was a samurai of the early 14th century and fiercely loyal to the emperor. Japan was ruled at the time by the disintegrating Shogunate government in Kamakura (one hour south of Tokyo). Emperor Go-Daigo plotted to overthrow the Kamakura Shogunate, but was exiled. Kusunoki aided in the emperor’s escape and fought against Kamakura forces with skill and ingenuity.

The loyal Kusunoki Masashige
In 1333, the Kamakura Shogunate fell and Imperial power was restored, but only temporarily. Many samurai were dissatisfied with their reward for their aid and with the court noble’s high-handed attitude. One of the chief leaders at the time, Ashikaga Takauji, sided with the discontented samurai and drove Go-Daigo into exile where he set up a rival imperial court in the south which lasted several decades. Ashikaga Takauji then went on to set up a new Shogunate in the Muromachi district of Kyoto. He and his successors have been left out of the Jidai Matsuri entirely. I realized with this conspicuous absence that this “Festival of Ages” is not so much a celebration of Japanese history, but a celebration of Kyoto’s history and its emperor. Those who neglected the emperor have been left out of the procession.
However, in 2007 the gap between Oda Nobunaga and Kusunoki Masashige was finally filled with the added representation of the Shogun Ashikaga Takauji.

Ashikaga Takauji finally gets to appear in the Jidai Matsuri
As for the faithful Kusunoki Masashige, he remained loyal to Go-Daigo and died heroically in battle against Takauji’s forces in 1336. A statue of Kusunoki was erected in Tokyo nearly six centuries later to commemorate his selfless devotion.

Kusunoki Masashige’s colorfully-attired troops from the early 14th Century
Behind Kusunoki comes the Lady Shizuka, a famed Kyoto dancer of the late 12th century, who was the lover of the hero Minamoto-no-Yoshitsune. Hers is a sad story. Yoshitsune was a brilliant Genji general in the Gempei War (1180-1185) fought between the great families of the Heike and the Genji. His success, however, earned him the jealously and distrust of his half-brother, Yoritomo, the leader of the Genji. In 1185, Yoritomo forced his half-brother to flee and live like an outlaw.

Shizuka Gozen (Lady Shizuka): tragic herione of the late 12th Century
Four years later facing capture and certain execution, Yoshitsune committed suicide. Shizuka, pregnant with his child, was captured by Yoritomo. Reportedly, she danced for him and so charmed him that Yoritomo spared her life and that of her unborn child only if it was a girl. Unfortunately, the baby turned out to be a boy and was soon put to death so it would not grow to manhood and seek vengeance for its father.
Representing the Kamakura Period (1185-1333) are the Yabusame Archers. Yabusame is a Shinto ritual with military practicality. A Yabusame archer had to shoot an arrow at three targets spaced out along a track while riding a galloping horse. The first Kamakura Shogun, Minamoto-no-Yoritomo, encouraged his samurai warriors to practice Yabusame to keep their skills sharp. Yoritomo set his capital in the east in Kamakura away from what he thought of as the debilitating influence of Kyoto.
Sometime after Yoritomo’s death, the position of the Shogun was usurped by his wife’s family, the Hojo, who ruled in the name of the figurehead Shogun as Regent. They established a firm government that resisted an attempt by one emperor to overthrow them (which probably reflects the absence of the Hojo in the Jidai Matsuri) and two invasions by the Mongols. They were financially weakened by their efforts to defend Japan against the Mongols. Half-a-century later, the Kamakura Shogunate was overthrown by forces loyal to the emperor.

A Yabusame Archer and his retainers


An Imperial Guard – statues of these guards can be found at certain Shinto shrines
Court nobles and Imperial guards represent the Fujiwara Period (897-1185), a time when the powerful noble family, the Fujiwara, controlled the governance of the country as ministers to the imperial court. One of the most powerful Fujiwara ministers was Fujiwara-no-Michinaga (966-1027). He arranged to have his daughters marry the emperors and have his grandson of one of these unions ascend the throne. In time the Fujiwaras’ power weakened and they had to rely more often on the warrior families, chiefly the Heike and the Genji, to control the country. Eventually, the Fujiwara would be succeeded by the military Heike family who in turn were destroyed by the Genji in the Gempei War.

The fierce Tomoe Gozen – samurai warrior woman
Following in the train of the Fujiwara nobles comes some of the most famous women of Japanese history. Astride a horse dressed in samurai armor carrying the deadly long-bladed naginata is Tomoe Gozen. Tomoe fought beside her husband, Minamoto-no-Yoshinaka, as one of his most trusted captains in the Gempei War. In 1183, Yoshinaka captured Kyoto from Heike forces. His success went to his head and his ever-suspicious cousin, Yoritomo, ordered his half-brother, Yoshitsune, to destroy the would-be upstart. Tomoe fought gloriously in her husband’s last battle. Reports of her end are mixed. Some say she died in battle, others that she took Yoshinaka’s head with her and perished in the sea, and others say she ended her days as a nun.

Famous Writers of the 11th Century: Sei Shonagon and Murasaki Shikibu
The writers Sei Shonagon and Murasaki Shikibu follow the warlike Tomoe. Sei Shonagon (966-1025) was a sharp-witted lady of the court whose observations of courtly life are preserved in her famous work: “Makura-no-Soshi” (The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon). Murasaki Shikibu (980-1014), also a lady of the court, penned the internationally renowned classic, the “Genji Monogatari” (Tale of the Genji).

The first Shogun and his troops returning after a successful campaign
The next military procession is of the early samurai warriors of the 9th century led by General Sakanoue Tamuramaro. Sakanoue was the first military commander to be named “Shogun” by Emperor Kammu. Originally, the title “shogun” was given temporarily to military leaders to subdue the turbulent Ezo (Ainu) natives of Tohoku, the northern region of Japan. This procession depicts the triumphant return of the Shogun Sakanoue after a successful campaign.

A court noble from Kyoto’s early days
Court nobles wearing straight swords come next to greet the emperor of the early Heian Period (794-1185). The colors of their robes signify their rank.

Boys dressed in colorful costumes with bird wings on their backs
Children wearing colorful costumes with the wings of butterflies or mythical birds on their backs precede the arrival of the mikoshi (portable shrine) of Emperors Kammu and Komei.

Mikoshi – portable shrine – of the spirit of the first and last reigning emperors in Kyoto
The Shinko-Retsu (Procession of the Sacred Carriages) brings a close to the Jidai Matsuri. The two mikoshi transfer the spirits of Kammu and Komei to the Heian Shrine.

Late 8th Century Archer who guarded Emperor Kammu’s procession into Kyoto on Oct. 22, 794
Accompanying the mikoshi are 8th – 9th century archers from the Tamba region noted for their skills with the bow. When Emperor Kammu first moved the capital to Kyoto, these archers guarded his sacred procession into his new capital. And with their departure, the Festival of Ages with its glimpse into the past draws to a close.

A Poet of an earlier age peeks out at the modern world

Friday, July 1, 2011

Japan’s Nebuta Matsuri – Giant Floats Frighten and Delight


Japan’s Nebuta Matsuri – Giant Floats Frighten and Delight

Fujin the Japanese God of Wind
“Dragons, griffins, reptiles, fishes, birds there are, all dancing, waving fans, shouting, howling, singing, noising, in one form or another, in chorus perfectly bewildering.”
- Amy Michael-Carmichael, American Missionary to Japan, 1895.
Every summer, Aomori City’s Nebuta Festival brings in flocks of tourists from all over to gaze and wonder at the festival’s huge illuminated floats. Nebuta’s giant floats are the stuff of fantasy and nightmare depicting historical and legendary characters some of whom were of demonic origins.
A samurai fights the Shuten Doji devil who once troubled Kyoto
Visages of snarling faces of humans, animals, monsters, and demons of enormous proportions locked in grisly combat assail the eyes of visitors in a seemingly pagan-like splendor. If a 19th century Christian missionary had ever witnessed the Nebuta Matsuri, they would have probably thought that they had stumbled upon the heart of darkest heathendom. But Nebuta is not about worshipping the forces of darkness or warding away evil spirits. The festival is yet another creative and elaborate way for Japanese to ward away the sleepiness brought on by the summer’s heat through massive quantities of alcohol and gigantically terrifying floats.
Aomori City is the capital of Aomori Prefecture. It is a port city which was founded in the early part of the Edo Period (1603-1867) by the second lord of the Tsugaru clan. The city’s history had been rather quiet over the centuries until WWII when the Americans bombed it practically flat. Aomori rebuilt itself and in recent years discovered buried in its outskirts an ancient city inhabited over 7,000 years ago.
While the city has had a relatively uneventful existence – save for WWII bombings and one earlier fire – it hosts one of the most spectacular and unique festivals in all of Japan: the Nebuta Matsuri.
The Romance of the Three Kingdoms
Ancient Chinese Story A Favorite Nebuta Theme
Chinese Hero Zhang Fei fighting one of his countless foes
The Romance of the Three Kingdoms is a popular re-occurring theme at Nebuta. The Three Kingdoms is ancient Chinese story based on historical events of the 2nd and 3rd Centuries when the Han Empire collapsed. China fell into three separate kingdoms that warred continuously with one another. Lui Bei is one of the prinicipal heroes of the Romance. He and his two brothers fought to restore the Han Dynasty but were unsuccessful. Instead they established the short-lived Shu-Han Dynasty, one of the three kingdoms in the Romance. Zhang Fei was not Lui Bei’s brother through blood but through the swearing of an oath of loyalty. He was great general but sometimes given over to strong drink which affected his judgment at times.
The origin of the festival is one that invites debate among those who care to debate such things rather than spending their time simply gawking at the enormous floats and dancing the nebuta odori dance in an inebriated haze. One theory is that the festival goes far, far back long when much of Tohoku represented a kind of Wild West frontier of hardy settlers and indignant natives.
Nitta Yoshisada a 14th Century Samurai Leader who fought for the Emperor Go-Daigo
In the 8th Century Shogun Sakanoue no Tamuramaro,* led an expedition into the northern regions of Tohoku to subdue the indigenous Emishi inhabitants and increase the territory of imperial Japan. According to legend – but not fact – Tamuramaro built nebuta floats to lure the Emishi into an ambush. Legend states that this occurred in the area that is now Aomori City but in reality Tamuramaro’s campaign only reached as far as modern day Iwate Prefecture.
Suikoden – Outlaws of the Marsh
Another Chinese Classic – Another Popular Nebuta Theme
Heroes of Suikoden
The Outlaws of the Marsh or Suikoden in Japanese is another Chinese classic (Shuihu Zhuan in Chinese) that has received widespread popularity in Japan. Suikoden is a story based on historical outlaws during the Song Dynasty of the 12th Century who resisted corrupt government leaders. The story was set down officially in writing in the 14th century by Shi Nai-an. The story was later translated and adapted into Japanese in the early 19th Century. It became a huge sensation. The story was particularly popular with the lower class who admired the heroes of Suikoden for their defiance of the authorities. Tattoo art based on Suikoden became immensely popular as well.
Another theory is that Nebuta is an adaptation of the Chinese Tanabata festival. Tanabata comes from an ancient Chinese legend about two starred-crossed lovers forever destined to be apart save for a brief time every summer. The custom was to set a toro – a candle placed on a wooden plate covered with Japanese paper – adrift on the water. Nebuta’s floats grew in size and shape over time till they became the unique hulking structures they are today.
Tsugaru Tamenobu – First Lord of the Tsugaru clan
The third theory is a bit more mundane. Nebuta was believed to have come about as a way of warding off the drowsiness that comes with the summer heat. Some servants of the Tsugura lord began walking about in the summer evenings with lanterns. Others began to copy their habit. The word “nebuta” is thought to have been derived from the world “Nenpute” which means sleepy in the local dialect.
The giant decorative floats of today grew out of those lanterns used during the early beginnings of the festival. The making of the Nebuta floats is a community project. Many people will labor to create new floats every year. The principle artwork and design is handled by professional Nebuta artist known as Nebuta-Shi. Some of them have been designing Nebuta floats for decades.
The floats are made of tough Japanese paper placed over a framework of wood and metal. The floats can be up to 9 meters wide, 5 meters high, and can weigh up to 4 tons. They take about three months to construct though the whole process from design to last-minute touches can stretch from the end of one festival to the beginning of the next years. The cost of some of these floats can run upwards to $200,000.
Despite their ponderous weight and size, the Nebuta floats are not “floated” about by motorized vehicles. Good old fashion manual labor is employed to push and pull these massive floats through the city’s streets for nearly two hours. The float handlers will occasionally rush at the crowd as though they planned to ram them. Seemingly at the last moment the reckless advance is halted to the relief of those in the front. The handlers will then show off their skills by twirling their huge burden around. After the parade, the handlers celebrate their release from festive drudgery by feasting and drinking – lots of drinking.
11th Century Samurai Hero Minamoto-no-Yorimasa with retainer killing the Nue, a mythical beast, which had been troubling the Emperor
In the past the Nebuta Matsuri was a wilder affair attracting a rough crowd looking to drink and fight. Men of various districts of Aomori City and Prefecture would gang together and get into fights with other groups. All of them would wear black clothing generally of traditional wear. They were dubbed the Karasu Hanto – crow dancers. When travel to Aomori became more available to the rest of Japan, the number of tourists to Nebuta grew as did fears that the Karasu Hanto would be detrimental to tourism. Nowadays, the police are out in force to keep a tight rein on things. For adventurous types this may take some of the fun out of it.
The Nebuta Matsuri runs through the first week of August for a nearly a full week. At the end of the festival, all the large floats are taken out to bay and “floated” along like their tiny cousin, the toro lantern. However, the Nebuta Floats are not allowed to simply drift off out to sea. They’re brought back and later either taken apart or sent around to other cities and countries for display. Those chosen as the best floats of the festival will reside in the Nebuta Matsuri Museum for the next few years before they eventually deteriorate.
Don’t Just Watch – Join In!
At Nebuta visitors can dress up and join in
Nebuta Dave and friend
Visitors to Nebuta have the option of actually becoming a part of the festival procession if they wish. Fortunately, they won’t be made to push one of those massive floats but they can join in with the groups of dancers. Some dancing groups allow visitors to dance with them. Willing visitors need to rent or buy a Nebuta Odori costume in order to participate.
The Nebuta costume is not an easy thing to put on as I found out. I didn’t realize how bloody complicated it was to put on so the shop staff led me to a small ryokan (hotel) where someone would assist me. Before I knew it, I was down to only my boxers and socks in some strange woman’s living room. I was wondering if I was going to have to pay extra for this.
As she was getting close to grandma years, I relaxed my concern and my beer gut. With the robe, I got an underskirt in a very masculine shade of pink, a yellow sash, a red bow tied on the back, a polka dot head band, and it also came with bells – oh, yes! I removed most of them shortly afterwards as they started to get really annoying very quickly. 
The end of Nebuta can bring a sad sigh to the citizens of Aomori with the promise of coming Winter – it sometimes snows as early as late September. And yet with each festival’s ending there lies the hope of another Nebuta Matsuri just as grand and magnificent as the last.
*At this time the office of Shogun was temporary and was bestowed by the Emperor. Shogun means “Eastern-barbarian queller” referring to the original inhabitants of Northeastern Japan. From the late 12th Century to 1867, the office of shogun became a permant one which the emperor had little say in the matter.
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Tokyo, Japan
Vagabond traveler currently hold up in Tokyo. I've done a far bit of traveling and had a few interesting adventures along the way. This blog is a chronicle of adventures past and present and those yet to come. I’ve been to about 30 countries though some no bigger than a kitchen table. I’ve run with the bulls of Pamplona, hiked the Inca Trail, got mugged in Mexico City, floated down the Nile in an old boat, climbed the Great Pyramid of Egypt, got ripped at Oktoberfest, and rode the notorious Tokyo Yamanote Halloween Party Train.