Monday, November 30, 2009

the navel of japan - 諏訪湖 - lake suwa

This view of Lake Suwa -諏訪湖- sometimes referred to as the navel of Japan – was taken on Sunday , Jun21, 1992.

In the vicinity surrounding the lake are three townships – Kami-Suwa - 上諏訪、Shimo-Suwa - 上諏訪 & Okaya - 岡谷.

Being located in the central highlands of the Honshu Island, with clean mountain air, the townships in this part of Japan was developed into centers for precision engineering, emulating the Swiss watch making industries with the likes of Seiko Hattori.

Lake Suwa, though not as famous as her sister lake in Shiga Prefecture – Lake Biwa - 琵琶湖 -the largest lake in Japan - the two lakes are however intimately linked by a melodious song – Lake Biwa Roving song – which any Japanese should be familiar with.

The author of the lyrics of this song hailed from Okaya. The statue of Oguchi Taro stands by the shore of Lake Suwa, and one can listen to the song from the musical box next to it.

There is a museum dedicated to this song, and there is no lack of version of this song in you-tube.

Suwa is also well-know for the Obashira festival. I came to know of this festival when I was there in 1992. Though I just missed it by a matter of weeks, I nevertheless heard from the locals that the festival is held once every 7 years.

It is perhaps the most dangerous of festivals in the Japanese potpourri of traditional festivals. The locals mentioned that in each festival one or two people would be crushed by the giant logs as the revelers rode on it sliding down a steep slope. The next will be held in 2010.

Comes winter when the lake is frozen, there would be a natural phenomenon where the ice would crack and form a pressure ridge cross the lake. The local would relegate this formation as the o-miwatari – a sign that the gods from the Shinto shrines are making the rounds visiting the other shrines located around the lake.

Perhaps that the Japanese are so attached to their land even if they had not been singing their national anthem in schools, is due in no small part to influnce of these culture and traditions -

- thro the poems that they pen to romantic lyrics and sung to enchanting melodies they inculcate a sense of longing, and bond with the tanah that nutured them.
- a love for traditional festivities that sprang from the hamlets ages ago and enjoyed with renew gusto in each cycle of celebration, thus linking them back to a past with deep historical roots.

Ours too – we have it on this island : in the likes of poems by Edwin Thamboo, the joget musical of Geylang, the Chingay’s, ...

If these cultural assets are liken to roots of a people, whereas the roots of Lake Suwa has sunken deep to the soil, the new roots of ex-Shonan, are as yet seems shallow and have yet to develop the same firm grip that has braved the test of time.
Ah, a nation in the making ….


1. Okaya

After having left the Japan upon graduation, and had not visited the country for close to 8 years, the trip was a welcome opportunity to renew ties with the country. It was the start of many trips then, the longest stay being from 13May – 27June 1992

The most frequent hotel to lodge in was in Okaya -岡谷. Daily drove to the workplace along the river bank to another township located close to an hour by car –Chino - 茅野.

Chino was the center of Chinon camera, which wound up its camera business close to two decades ago.

A set of matchboxes collected during the stay then, and I wonder if the hotels and restaurants still continue to make match boxes..


2. Lake Biwa Rowing Song - 琵琶湖周航の歌 - Biwako shyuko no uta

4. Lyrics of Rowing Song of Lake Biwa by the shore of Lake Suwa.