Ninjas in Iga

As well as being a centre of Kumihimo (braiding), Iga is also the city of Ninjas. It was the birthplace of the Iga-ryu ninja, one of Japan’s leading schools of ninjutsu (the art of stealth).   To advertise this, you see ninja’s everywhere in the city.

As we walked along the street, we noticed that the bollards at street corners were shaped into ninjas

Even their drain covers and road signs have ninjas.

There is a ninja minibus and also ninja trains!

On some of the buildings there are wonderful paintings of ninjas


I loved the painting on the vending machine that was vending alcohol.


Shops are also decorated with ninjas



There were also posters and other signs of ninjas

It was fun looking for ninjas and we enjoyed seeing them all over the place.   This visit I did not go to the Ninja museum but if you ever visit Iga, it is another fun place to go.

This is the last blog from this trip – I’ll blog again on my next travels to different locations.

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Final Day in Iga and in Japan

Our last day in Iga and in Japan was spent at the Tenjin Matsuri festival which was the main day for the festival and all the floats were out.   The parade started at 9.00 am but took a long time to get going because local people either carry or pull the floats and they needed fairly frequent rests.   I took loads of photos so selecting just a few was difficult.   We started off near the conference centre which was pretty crowded and the floats were just getting ready.


The floats had started with some hand held floats starting first and it was a little stop start so we were able to get some photos above the crowds.

Given it was so busy, Julie and I walked up a few streets out of the crowds and found a spot where we could take some great photos. We managed to see Hirosawa-san leading the procession.   He is the master takadai craftsman and head of the Tourist Association and chairman of the Conference we were attending.

Mr Hirosawa

Following the hand held floats, the demons come along to scare the children.   It is thought that if they scream and cry they will be healthy for the next year.   The little girl in the photo screamed for a while but other children were completely unconcerned.


These demons were followed by small hand pulled carts with drums to drive the demons away. There was a group of children followed by teenage girls and then a group of boys who must have been rugby players.   They had some fun by veering all over the road.

Next came some groups walking more sedately and pulling priests in rickshaws.   I loved these boys in kimono with wonderful straw hats.

By this time we had been standing for an hour and the next floats were a long way behind so we decided to go and have an ice cream in a lovely little shop we had visited before.   Their white peach ice cream was delicious and Julie enjoyed her macha (green tea) ice cream.  You are given a cup of green tea as well.   The day before when we had visited the café, I really liked the cup I had and they had similar ones for sale but I wanted the one I had drunk from.   I caused great excitement by insisting I wanted that particular one.   They brought out several from the kitchen but I insisted I wanted the one I had used.   Eventually, they agreed but rushed off to wash it before wrapping it up for me!


Suitably refreshed we went back out to the festival to see the large floats coming through.   When we got out, the parade was taking a rest with the marchers sitting on little stools.   Then a further group of demons came through – these included large demons and lots of children dressed as demons.


We were very amused by the dogs that were out with their families and I managed to get a photo of two of them.


On the large floats there is a platform that people climb onto and then they play musical instruments, primarily flutes.   Each float is accompanied by a group of people at the front, these may be girls in kimono, boys or men in uniform

The fixed wheel floats are pulled on ropes by teams of people wearing haori jackets with different designs on the back. The panels on the floats are covered with beautiful embroidery such as this tiger.


In the photo, the float was taking a break so the girls were posing at the front and people from the upper level were climbing down the ladder on the right to take a rest.


At this point we decided that it was time to go and have lunch so we went off in search of a restaurant.   There was lots of street food but after 5 hours of standing Julie and I wanted to sit down so we wandered away from the main crowded area and happened upon a small restaurant with 3 friends inside.   There were two spaces so we joined them for lunch.   They did warn us that they had already waited 30 minutes for their food but we were not in a rush so we joined them.   It was a very interesting little restaurant.

As well as feeding about 20 people they also run a take away and there was only one chef and one other guy who did everything!   Service was pretty slow and after prompting a couple of times, our order was taken.   The other 3 still had no food.   Julie and I ordered tandoori chicken, rice and salad.

Two tandoori chicken legs turned up but nothing else.   Eventually we started eating – I think we shared a dish and there should have been two legs per serving.   No sign of rice or salad.   The curry and naan bread appeared for the other three and it turned out it had taken so long because they were cooking 20 naan for a festival crew and they could only cook 2-3 at a time!   The naan bread was delicious and Anne and Marie shared theirs with us.   After we had eaten our chicken with naan bread, the rice and salad turned up!   Fortunately Anne had some curry sauce left so we put that on the rice.   The salad was delicious so we ended up having a good lunch even if it was in a funny order.   Still, it used up the time we had before our bus left and we just had time to walk back to the hotel to collect our bags and get them to the bus.


Our bus left at 4pm and we travelled to Kyoto before catching a train to Kansai International Airport where we had a room booked for the night.   The following morning we caught our flight home – another wonderful trip to Japan.

Street Food in Iga

When I visited the festival today I was amazed at the range of street food on offer and how different it is to street food in the UK. It was really interesting and looked great.   I have realised there was still more that I didn’t photograph like their version of shish kebab on a large stick but there is still an interesting selection

This photo is meat on skewers that has been grilled – it looks delicious even though I’m not sure what meat it is!


These are bananas covered in icing and decorated.   There were a number of stalls selling these, all decorate differently.

These are crepes with lots of different sweet fillings. The pictures themselves make an interesting display


We could not work out what Brown Sugar Boba Milk is but it seems to have something in it and is then flavoured with different things


These were great – it is some kind of pancake batter that is squirted into the greased moulds and then, once cooked they are filled with different things and a second pancake is put on top to make it easy to eat. The batter is mixed in a dustbin with something that looks like a drill!


These are dumplings that look delicious and, after cooking on the hotplate are served up in bamboo containers.


This is another type of batter with a sweet filling made in fish shaped moulds


This stall was selling slices of fresh fruit on a stick – melons, mangos, pineapples and a fruit that we couldn’t remember the name.   It is shown at the front and has a white flesh containing lots of seeds.


This stall is selling dumplings with an octopus filling.   The octopus tentacles are on display at the front of the stall with the dumplings cooked in the trays that you can see.


These are roasted chestnuts which are in season now and we loved the packaging.


This stall has pre-made flat breads or crackers (we couldn’t quite work it out) which is covered in cheese and topped with two fired eggs!


In this stall they are making small donuts from what we could see. You can see the lady using a container for squirting the batter into the moulds.   Once the moulds are full they are closed, turned and the dough cooks. When cooked she takes them out into a container.   This stall is clearly popular because they had queues unlike every other stall even though there were several making these donuts so we decided they must be the best!


End of the Braids 2019 Conference

You get a bumper set of blogs today because I have not had the time to blog for a couple of days. As the conference progressed, I seem to have had less and less time to do anything other than socialise!   I was asked to get everyone to sign a card and contribute to a gift for the organisers. However, I was taking a workshop that was quite intense so I did the workshop in the morning and then spent the early afternoon going around every workshop to get signatures. This meant I had to catch up which I did by 6pm when we had a bazaar which was worth visiting and spending money in.   We then had a social gathering which meant I got back to my room about 9.30 having taken no photos and too tired to do anything!

Friday was not much better being the end of the conference. At the end of the workshop, I managed a final visit to the exhibition before we had to take it down.   It was a wonderful exhibition with exquisite work done by many different people.

Once we had taken down the exhibition, I had to rush back to the hotel to change before listening to a final talk and then the farewell party.

The party began with Taiko drumming which is just fantastic and vibrates through the floor.


This was followed by a short speech by Mr Hirosawa who was wearing a kimono and then the Mayor of Iga wearing his Ninja outfit.   I don’t have many photos because I was introducing them and had to stand by the stage while they spoke!


At the end of the Mayor’s speech, we toasted the end of the conference in sake.   After food, I gave Makiko and Shinsaku Tada the card and another card saying that their gift would be coming and also gave a card to Mr Hirosawa.   I also announced the next conference in Denmark in 2022.   After that I could relax and enjoy the party!

Iga had already started setting up for their festival and there was a great picture from the conference centre.


This morning, I was up early for breakfast and to explore Iga a little more before the festival started.   When we went out, they were setting up all the stalls (see the Street Food blog for more) and they had some goldfish which the little girl was fascinated with.

We also passed a stall which had what we thought were marbles but were soft, squidgy and slimy!   She didn’t do much business all day!


We then visited a temple where the reclining bulls had special necklaces placed around them for the festival.


There was a fortune teller who was not doing much business but it was early! It didn’t help that he was fast asleep.


We walked down the historical street that has seven temples which were fairly traditional. This one temple had a building with a roof that was different and the sky was interesting so it makes for a better photo.


We then walked back to the main streets that were getting busier.   The parades had been cancelled because the weather forecast was for rain and at 9.00am it was raining, however by 1pm when the parades should have started, the sun had come out and it was very warm.   Instead of the parade, we were able to see most of the floats coming out of their storage sheds and we also collected stamps at each storage shed which was great fun.

One of the floats had sake on the back but most of the accommodate people, particularly children and are pulled on ropes.

The following pictures show people climbing into the floats, the removal of the ladder and how they turn the floats.   The floats which are 150 years old have fixed wheels so there is an additional wheel at the front at 90 degrees to the other 4 and this is lowered to the ground and the front two wheels are raised.   Then the float is pulled and pushed around a corner before raising the centre wheel and continuing forward.

After walking around for several hours, Julie and I stopped for ice cream in this wonderful little shop and café.   They served us with green tea and we liked the cups they gave us so much, we bought them!


After having something to eat, we went back to the hotel for a rest before coming out to see the lighted parade.   Unfortunately the full parade had been cancelled because the forecast had been rain but one float did parade so we got to see that.

We then saw another float in it’s storage shed with the children practising for tomorrow.   Tomorrow is the large parade when we hope to see all the floats parading through the streets.   This will be a wonderful end to the trip to Japan.


Separately, I’ll write about the street food we saw today and also about the Ninja city!

Braiding Exhibition and Conference Tour


Yesterday I didn’t manage to write anything because it was a really long day and I didn’t get back to my room until 10.15pm.   By then it was too late to download and sort out photos.   It had been a packed day with a lecture in the morning from Reiko Sudo who founded NUNO which is a textile company in Tokyo and she talked about the textile creations at NUNO and the work they have done on re-using textiles and using textiles in different ways.   It was a fascinating talk.

This was followed by a workshop with Bob Gallivan.   I got so concentrated on what we were doing that I forgot to take any photos.   Fortunately one of the other participants posted a couple of photos on Facebook!

Braiding with Bob

I managed to do about 3 inches and then I undid it so I ended the day with half an inch braided but I understand what I need to do.   I just need some quiet time to do it!!!

I ran out at lunchtime to take some photos of the exhibition.   These don’t really do the exhibition justice but they do give a flavour of what is being shown.

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The venue is stunning, being an old building with lots of rooms filled with braiding so we have really been spoiled. It is just a shame that we don’t have time to really study all the exhibits although the organisers have produced a wonderful catalogue of the work exhibited.


In the afternoon, I had more workshop time followed by a talk and then the Braid Society AGM.   I didn’t leave this until nearly 8.30 after tidying up the room and then came back to the hotel and had dinner.

This morning I was up early and after breakfast I took a walk in Iga and since it was a lovely day, I took some photos.

I loved the painting of the ninja and the old wooden house beside a modern brick building was interesting.   I also walked past a construction site which is very different to anything we would see in the UK.

We set off at 9.00 am for our conference tour.   We went to a herb garden first and it turned out that the herbs were all sage plants (salvia) and some marigolds.   The garden was set in a beautiful setting but we only had 20 minutes there which was not long enough.


There was a gardener there that I managed to capture in passing and some wonderful grasses that shone in the sunlight.

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From the herb garden we went to the Spa Hotel for lunch and had two hours there which was far too long but it meant that you could take a hot spa if you wanted to. Ideally we would have had a little less time there because the afternoon was rushed as well but it was ok. They did have a great little car to get around in and some fun rolls in the bakery.

In the afternoon, after a lunch of ramen noodles, we went to the Miho museum.   This was designed by I. M. Pei and is a wonderful building approached through a tunnel and then a suspension bridge.   The roof inside is interesting and across the valley is a buddhist temple and bells.

Unfortunately, we only had an hour at the museum and then we had to get back to Iga where some people were going to visit the studio I went to on Monday.   After helping with this, I came back to the hotel for a quiet evening.

Tomorrow we are back doing workshops for everyone so we’ll be very busy again.


Visiting Hirosawa-san’s Studio

This morning started with an email from one of the organisers, Shinsaku Tada asking me to be MC at the opening ceremony for the conference. I agreed to this since they had sent me the information to present. Firstly I had to introduce Mr. Koichi Hirosawa who was going to give the Opening Address. He is a Takadai Master craftsman in Iga and is the president of the Kumihimo Society as well as the head of Iga-Ueno Tourist Association.   He was giving his talk in Japanese so we had an English interpretation as he spoke.   He was very eloquent and welcomed us all to Iga and to the conference.

Then I had to introduce Mr. Sakae Okamoto, the Mayor of Iga who gave a short speech in English welcoming everyone to Iga and also telling us that the festival at the end of the week was a Unesco National Heritage and he hoped we would be staying to enjoy it.

I had a load of notices to give, each one followed by a translation into Japanese.   I said two sentences in English and it took 5 minutes to do the Japanese explanation.   I then introduced our Keynote Speaker, Jennie Parry who is the President of the Braid Society.

Once all the speeches were out of the way, we all went to our workshops for the day.   I was working on a technique to make a flower.

While we were waiting to go in, we had a wonderful view of the Castle.

iga castle in cloud

Lunch was a Ninja bento box! It was rice with lots of bits on the top like mushrooms, pumpkin, lotus root, fish, egg and other stuff. It was ok and pretty filling.

We then had workshops for the afternoon at the end of which, I went to visit Mr Hirosawa’s studio where he showed us how he makes the silk warps that uses for his braids.   It was really interesting and for those that are not interested, you can stop reading now because I have put in lots of details so I don’t forget!


It started with Mr Hirosawa sitting in his studio with an array of silk behind him.   He has 8 cones of fine silk that he is going to use to put onto a large reel. He takes the 8 strands and they go over a large bamboo cane above his head and then onto the reel that is on his right.

He starts winding and turns the handle 250 times.   He has a counter to help him make sure he gets the number exact.   This measures the warp to be the length he wants.

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He removes the reel off the spindle and puts it on the ground so that he can now wind the strands of 8 threads with another 8 threads to make bundles of 16 threads.


This is wound onto a smaller bobbin that he has weighed to get the exact weight of the bobbin.

Once wound, he weighs the bobbin and silk to get the weight of silk and then calculates (on an abacus) how many more strands he needs.   He worked out that he needed 25 strands ie another 8 and then 1 more so he wound 8 more from the cones and then a further 1 strand was wound with the 24 existing strands in the bundle being wound onto the bobbin.


There was not quite enough silk on the last cone so he knotted in an extra strand to complete the length.

Having produced a length and bundle of 25 strands of silk, then then proceeded to make them into ropes.   Each bundle of 25 is twisted slightly and then twisted with 3 others to make a ‘rope’.   This makes the silk stable enough to be stored and easily separated when it is going to be used.

To twist the ropes, he takes the bobbin and hooks the silks onto bobbins at the far end of the walkway where he is working.


In the picture he has created lots of rope bundles and is pulling the silk back to the beginning having made 8 more.


He then attached them to hooks on the large wheel structure and checked the tension.   Once all the strands had the same tension, he turned the wheel in one direction and then twisted it in the opposite direction to apply twist to the silk.

Once the twisting was completed, he removed it to create one large rope.

rope twisted

This was then made into bundles of 4 ropes and knotted at one end

Making a rope

Once complete, he then went on to demonstrate on the takadai.   He was very happy to answer questions about the braiding and was very patient with us.


It was interesting to see how the wood on the koma (pins) has worn with use.


It was a wonderful visit and a pleasure to see a master craftsman work.

Arriving in Iga Ueno City

We left our hotel in Kyoto shortly after 9 this morning and had to walk to where the bus was parked with all our luggage. The rain had stopped so it was not a problem and we all fitted on the bus with all our luggage.   The journey took about 2 hours and we were driven to our hotels – we were staying at two different hotels in Iga.   We could not check in because it was too early but the hotel looked after our luggage and we set off to explore.

We found the conference centre where they were just setting up and discovered that there was a market across the road so we had a look at the market – hand made crafts and food.   We loved the clamp that the leather worker was using and he had some great products but quite expensive.   Bags started at £100 and purses at £20 going up.


After a look around we came back to a café upstairs in the conference centre.   There was no English menu so using the pictures, Julie and Rosa picked what looked like chicken and I had what looked like beef.   We were all wrong -theirs was fish and mine was pork belly in curry sauce!   We had a small cup of soup to start with which may have been pumpkin and then fortunately, we were given a large basket of different breads.   The first piece of bread that Julie and I picked up because it was on the top, was coated in sugar so one small mouthful later meant that we both put it down to have as dessert.   The next layer of breads was cheese filled, meat filled or coated with bacon and egg. There looked to be some nice brown seeded bread with something in it -the something was fruit so it was another sweet bread.   My curry sauce and lettuce went great with this variety of breads!!!   I didn’t eat the two pieces of fat pork belly in the sauce that was all fat. Needless to say we won’t be visiting that café again!   To be fair, that is the first meal that we have had that has not been great and it was still edible if a little strange.

After lunch we registered for the conference and went for another walk before going back to the hotel to register and get our rooms.   I unpacked and went for a walk before we had to get ready for our welcome evening.   I went for a walk around the park nearby and took some photos of Iga Castle.   It was too late to go in but maybe later in the week.


Iga is the home of the Ninjas so the toilets had an interesting entrance!

Following my walk, I changed to go across the road to our welcome evening.   During the day, the organising team and various exhibitors had set up their exhibits and the exhibition is stunning.   Some of the work is exquisite and I will have to go back to take photographs in daylight.   It is huge and just some amazing work.   Jennie Parry and Diane Watanabe had taken 8 hours to drive down from Tokyo today so they arrive at 6pm.   Due to her other commitments, Jennie wanted to sort out her exhibition pieces tonight so I stayed on to help her.   This meant that we didn’t leave until 8.30pm.

The welcome party was amazing, meeting up with old friends and people I met at the last two conferences.   The atmosphere was just wonderful, helped possibly by the sake and red wine that was flowing.   The only pictures I got were of a Japanese lady who was wearing a kimono and she had braided her obi (the fabric around her middle) so we had to photograph that tonight because she won’t be wearing it tomorrow!


Tomorrow the fun starts and we all get to go to talks, braid and re-visit the exhibition.


Food in Japan

Food in Japan is very different in from the UK and street food near tourist venues is different again.   When we were visiting the shrine on Friday, I had the opportunity to photograph some of the food that was on offer.

This was the restaurant on the street near the shrine with some takeout food on the right and tables inside where you could have a meal.

This was a restaurant that sold meat and fish including sparrow and quail on a stick. The picture shows the sparrow!


Further on down the street was a shop grilling eel and selling eel bones

We then saw someone rolling out what we think is tofu for deep fat frying.   The second photo of his restaurant window shows how the Japanese illustrate their menus so that you can bring the waiter outside and point to the dish that you want.

On Friday night we ate in an Italian restaurant and Julie had a fruit cocktail


Next door to the hotel is a wonderful Boulangerie with interesting ‘hot dogs’


And there is even a nod to Halloween


Finding things to do to avoid the Typhoon

With the threat of the typhoon, we elected to do indoor activities.   We took the subway to Takeda and then a short bus ride to an Antique Market that is put on three times a year. We arrived just after the Market opened however, due to the weather, there were not many visitors which was great from our point of view.   It meant we could look around in peace and enjoy what we saw.   In addition to all the stalls, there was an exhibition of exquisite basketry which we enjoyed.   We think the items were for sale but the cost was way out of our price range.   Even the book describing the exhibited items was outside our price range!

We did find a few bargains. Julie who was shopping with me, bought some block prints and a few other items. I bought some silk and a couple of small items and then we realised that the boxes things were packed in were more interesting because they were tied up with braids.   We upset one guy by asking if we could photograph his box and not buy his vase!


We ended up buying a small piece of ceramics so we could get the box and then discovered that this was cheaper than buying a new box so we felt good about that.

When we had finished, we made our way back to Kyoto centre where it was still raining but we found the needle shop that we had failed to find yesterday.   It was a fascinating shop that has been in place for 400 years just behind the shopping arcade. I bought some needles, a pair of handmade snips and a very expensive bamboo ruler which is pretty useless because it is marked in ancient Japanese measures rather than cm or inches but I couldn’t resist.


A further shopping trip to a stationary store completed our rather lazy shopping day but we enjoyed it despite the continuous rain.   At least we are well out of the typhoon and we have transport to Iga tomorrow sorted so we are in good shape.   There were a couple of good views of the storm moving quickly pass us.

Roketsu Dyeing and visiting a Shinto shrine

The day started with a ride on a bus to a small studio where we were going to try Roketsu Dyeing which is wax resist dyeing.   We all sat down at a table that had a light underneath and a piece of fabric on the table.   We were asked to select a pattern and then, using brushes loaded with heated paraffin wax, we painted the pattern onto fabric.

We tried it first on a practice piece to make sure we could make the right strokes. It turns out that you need to keep the wax as hot as possible and make a sweeping stroke, not fiddling around!   After we passed the test on the practice piece we were allowed to select either a bag, a cushion, wall hanging or t-shirt.   I selected the latter and also chose a design to put on it.


I then spent some time copying the design from the stencil onto the fabric. Having done one layer of wax, we let that dry and then applied a second layer.   If this did not completely cover the first layer, we would get a little shading when it was dyed. The picture shows Penny applying her second layer of wax.


Once everyone had finished putting the wax on the design and it had been checked for completeness, the fabric was taken and wet using water.   When it was wet, the fabric was put into an indigo dye vat.   They were using synthetic indigo so the result was not as startling as the method we use in the UK but the dyeing can be done at room temperature.   We were all togged up in boots, aprons, arm protectors and gloves and given the chance to check they dyeing in the tank.   Once dyed, the fabric was removed and rinsed in cold water and then spun to remove water.   This was followed by a dip in boiling water to remove the wax, followed by a dip in a hot water vat containing soap.


Having removed the wax, the fabric was rinsed in cold water, spun dry and hung out to dry and then ironed.   It was brilliant!


When we left the workshop, we caught a bus to Kyoto station where we took a train to Fushimi-Inari-Taisha which is a Shinto shrine on the outskirts of Kyoto. We stopped to have lunch but Julie and I could not decide what to have so we ended up with ice cream!

The shrine was free to enter and although it is a very famous shrine, I had never visited it.   It has 10,000 red Tori gates and is on many photographs of Kyoto so I had it on my list of things to visit.   The rest of the group decided they would like to come as well.


The entrance is very impressive and then you follow the path up Mount Inari – the path is covered by the red Tori which have been sponsored by businesses. The gates are made from wood so that, when they wear out, companies can be approached to ‘buy’ another gate. There are a few stone Tori but they have stopped making those because they don’t wear out.


I didn’t manage to get to the top because that would have taken another hour but I did climb high enough to get a view of Kyoto.   I also saw a couple of Tori that had just been replaced with new ones.   They had tape marking that they were not set yet.

In the main shrine area there was a shrine for Education and Learning.   Along one side there were thousands of origami cranes which are meant to allow you one special wish which will come true. They are very colourful and there are lots and lots of them placed by students and others.


We caught a different train back into Kyoto and ended up near the hotel.   After a break, we went out for walk and then an Italian dinner.   I thought I was getting pasta but it turned out to be risotto which was fine because it was delicious.