Since feudal times Japan has had a "self government system" which has it's foundation in local community groups known as "Han". Government filters down from parliament through prefectures to cities and towns, then to the districts within them and finally the local han. Everyone knows each other, and there is an obligation to help each other in a crisis. In times of sickness, emergency or tragedy, the leader of the han ( the "Hancho") will notify all the householders and they will gather together to deal with the problem. There are also many regular local events, festivals, cleaning and repair of shrines and temples and other such gatherings that ensure a community identity. One such event is the annual weekend excursion.
This year I am the Hancho of our community, and we journeyed off to niigata for the weekend.
Our journey began with a visit to the emerald lake on mount Bandai, an active volcano. The blue colour of the water is due to minerals from the volcanic activity.
]We then stopped for lunch at the "Bukeyashiki" samurai barracks in Aizu wakamatsu. I was particularly moved be the simple beauty of the tea house.
In the afternoon there was time to visit a garden of iris blossoms, where the whole valley was planted with 60,000 iris bulbs. The essence of japanese beauty is not, however, in a vista of flowers, but rather in a single bloom.
The carp in the ornamental garden of the onsen (hotspring) hotel where we stayed, rose eagerly in the pool at the foot of the waterfall in search of hand feeding.
We visited the shrine of mount Yahiko on the second day. The architecture blended calmly into the forest.
Unlike many shrines this building was unadorned, emphasising the qualities of the timber from which it had been made and the skills of the craftsman that built it.
Our final destination was the fish markets on the waterfront at Teradomari on the Sea of Japan. It was my first visit to the west coast, and my first visit to the beach for four years. The last beach I went to was bondi.
There is nothing like the feel of the sand beneath your feet as the waves lap over them.
Of course no journey is complete without tasting the local beer, so here's cheers!