Sunday, December 09, 2012

White snakes and bridge building...

Friday I enjoyed another Cultural Adaptation trip sponsored by the base. This time we didn't stray too far from base, exploring some of the things the city of Iwakuni has to offer: The Kintai Bridge area and the famous White Snakes of the region.

The first stop was the White Snake Shrine, (cue "Here I Go Again" or 'Is This Love") which was recently reconstructed, using wood from the lands of the family who is descendants of the original rulers of Iwakuni. The wood is a sort of cedar called hinoki. The very top of the shrine is decorated in actual gold. We were able to take rare photographs inside of the shrine because the shrine's grand opening isn't until Sunday, and the gods have not yet "arrived." The shrine's opening is especially well-timed because the next year in the Chinese New Year is the year of the snake.

The chain coming down from the roof of the shrine to the ground is essentially a decorative gutter called an amadoi. The rain is "caught" in the little cups and drips through. Functional, yet much prettier than traditional American gutters. These amadoi are found all around town on the more decorative buildings.

The ceiling of the shrine

A view from the entrance of the shrine.

A view of the entrance of the shrine

This is the altar in the shrine.
 While in Western cultures and the Bible, snakes are seen as evil or sneaky, in the Japanese culute, they are considered to be messengers of the gods, and are, therefore considered special. Espeically white ones, since white is the color associated with gods. The White Snakes of Iwakuni are actually albino rat snakes, which are fairly common. However, the vast number of them in this region - about 800 at last count - makes this area special and considered a national treasure by the Japanese. Now albino rat snakes are protected and you can't kill them. The Sergeant Major of the base happened to be on this tour, as well, and said that maybe a notice should go out to the American residents of the base to let them know not to kill a white snake. I think this is a smart idea. If  the snake-finding resident is anything like my mother, a passionate, and sometimes humorously so, ophidiophobe, said snake would be either scared to death by the eardrum-shattering shrieks, or by the shovel brandished by the shrieker's spouse. Either way would result in a dead white snake... not good for foreign relations with our host country.

I, on the other hand, take after the Kasal side of the family and my paternal cousins and I enjoy a wide variety of animals. Here I am enjoying a 12-year-old female Iwakuni white snake, who seemed to lik me... She remained posed and very calm while I held her, while she tried to escape many of the other (more nervous) tourists.

The half-dozen or so white snakes on display get to enjoy a year-round tropical climate,while the hundreds of others in captivity remain outside. 

This snake skin shed is in the shape of the kanji symbol meaning "happiness." This skin kanji adorns the shrine's brochures and other collateral.

The snakes enjoying "Hawaii."

White Snake and me.
 The final stop on our shrine tour was the white snake nursery, where 300 baby snakes under the age of 3 are cared for before the go out t join there brethren in the elements. A cage like this one houses one or two baby albino rat snakes, which lighten with age. The upside down plant pots are their their houses. Kind of like igloos, I guess.

This baby was born in August.

There were about 8 rows of cages like this one, plus more around the perimeter of the room.

Peeking out the top of his igloo's hole.
Once we said goodbye to the snakes, it was time for lunch, Our tour guide, Akie, recommended a tasty restaurant called Wataboushi, and the unique thing about this restaurant is that you don't order from a menu. There is a set menu and you get EVERYTHING on the day's menu... a great way to try Japanese cuisine!

My lunch tray... I love all the little dishes. I hate for my food to touch!

The menu for Dec. 7, 2012. Unfortunately, I cannot read it.
After lunch, we stopped in a gift store near Iwakuni's famous Kinati bridge. As I mentioned in a previous post, the Japanese don't celebrate Christmas religiously, however they love the commercial fun of it all. This gift shop had lots of that.

 Last, but not least, we went to a nearby warehouse to create a replica of one of the arches of the Kintai bridge, at a fifth of the scale. This activity is hosted by the Iwakuni chamber of commerce and helps tourists understand why the construction of the bridge is so unique. You can see the real bridge behind us in our Christmas photo:

This to-scale wood plan is on the wall of the warehouse so that if anything needs to be repaired on the bridge, the pieces can be made the right size and shape.

The black Velcro straps represent steel bindings helping to hold the bridge together.
Me on top of the replica bridge.
The tour group
These are old supports from the bridge.
A funny thing: This yellow board on top is called something in Japanese that sounds like "ovary." 
I was lucky enough to get a scrap piece of wood that was from the asme wood that was used for part of the Kintsai bridge. I plan to do somethings crappy with it once the family and I have a fabulous photo of us in front of the bridge.

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