I visited Kazakhstan during the summer of 2017, basing myself in the old captital of Almaty. I stayed in a dorm at the Almaty Backpacker’s Hostel, and it was about a twenty minute walk to the center of town. One of my first trips was to the Central Museum to see their collection of Scythian gold.

Almaty is the cultural center of the country and it looks like a modern overlay on an old Russian city. Blonde Blue-eyed Russians seemed to outnumber the native Kazakhs in the city.

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Almaty, Kazakhstan – August 2017

I’m off to Central Asia next week and decided that my usual necklace is too valuable for adventure travel. Thus I created a new one specifically for this trip. One of my goals is to buy more ancient beads and I need examples to show the merchants.

This necklace has a Bronze Age pendant–thogchag; from the Gobi Desert, approximately 500BC; a 2,500 BC ceramic bead from Balkh; Tibetan coral; Tibetan turquoise; Afghan agates and lapis lazuli; Etched carnelians from Taxila, 2,000 years old; Afghan turquoise, 2,000 BC; and Kazakh coral. If anyone is interested it is for sale–$2,500.00!

New Necklace

Antique Bead Necklace

Fire Flowers – 2017

This year’s fireworks display – Fire Flowers [花火] in Japanese – was held on Saturday, July 29th. Rather than the usual, colorful photos, I decided to try something a bit more artsie-fartsie, and not only used Black and White, but I reversed the images to negative. Now they look much more like Japanese Sumo-e ink drawings. I rather like the effect.

Matsuyama – Part 1

Matsuyama (松山市) is the largest city on the Japanese island of Shikoku. It has a population of 516,459. The city’s name means “pine mountain”. Matsuyama was founded on December 15, 1889.

The city is known for the Dogo Onsen [hot spring], which is among the oldest in Japan, The current Onsen building is a Meiji Period wooden public bathhouse dating from 1894.  Matsuyama castle is on top of a scenic hill in a centrally located park. Eight of the eighty-eight temples in the Shikoku Buddhist Pilgrimage are found in and around Matsuyama.

Natsume Soseki, one of the most famous novelists in Japan, lived there early in life and used the city as the setting for Botchan. As a result, there are numerous sites and locales around the city that are named after the main character.  The Botachan Ressha is an antique, diesel-powered miniature train that runs on the city’s tramway.

In Part 1 of this series I shall focus on Issoan, the house and grave of a famous Haiku poet, Taneda Santōka – 種田 山頭火, as well as the nearby Gokoku Shinto Shrine. Parts 2 and 3 with center on the Dogo Onsen  and the Matsuyama Castle.

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Dogo Onsen

Dogo Onsen

Itoigawa City– Niigata Prefecture – Japan

Golden Week; May 3rd-7th gave me five days to go south and hunt for Japanese jadeite. Part 1 of these notes covered my trip to the Oyashirazu Pier, the Jade Museum there and my interaction with the local jade hunters. In Part 2 I shall relate my adventures in the Kotakigawa Gorge and exploring the ancient Jomon village of Chojagahara.

In about 2,500 BCE the Jomon village of Chojagahara, situated on a hill overlooking Itoigawa, was the center of a trade network providing jade for beads and stone axes to Jomon settlements throughout Japan. But by 700 AD jade ornaments had fallen out of fashion and the source for the jadeite was lost. That source, in the Kotakigawa Gorge, wasn’t rediscovered until 1939.

Note for Gem Geeks–a very detailed article on Japanese Jadeite can be found in this issue of the official GIA magazine: GEMS & GEMOLOGY, SPRING 2017, VOL. 53, NO. 1

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Chojagahara Jomon Site & Museum

Chojagahara Jomon Site & Museum