Territory Stories

Sunday Territorian 14 Feb 2016



Sunday Territorian 14 Feb 2016


Sunday Territorian; NewspaperNT




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Community newspapers -- Northern Territory -- Darwin.; Australian newspapers -- Northern Territory -- Darwin.

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Nationwide News Pty. Limited

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Nationwide News Pty. Limited



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44 FRONTIER TRAVEL SUNDAY FEBRUARY 14 2016 NTNE01Z01MA - V1 G ONGS, flutes and drums resound as the colourful Japanese dance troupe on the stage in front of us twist and turn expertly to the beat. The men move determinedly, while the women, resplendent in light kimonos and strange, conical hats, move with more grace. Then its my turn. Against my protests, Im coerced into joining the throng already throwing some moves on the stage. My arms flailing, I try to overcome my innate lack of co-ordination to emulate the slick movements and precisely timed steps Ive just witnessed, but I end up aggressively karate chopping the air while bobbing exaggeratedly from side to side. Enforced public dancing is my idea of hell on earth. Suddenly, in a move akin to being tapped on the shoulder in the dance competition scene from Grease, a white garland is placed around my shoulders. Im instantly confused do losers get garlands? Nope, it turns out Ive won second place! Im amazed. Later, however, I ask someone to translate my certificate and Im told its an award for individuality. Hmmm. This is the awa odori. A dance with a proud 400-year history, originating from the Tokushima prefecture on the island of Shikoku. It has become one of the most representative dances of Japan and as such is now performed worldwide. Its so big it even has its own festival, which pulls in a crowd of more than 1.5 million spectators annually, making it the largest dance festival in the country. And in between festivals, the Awa Odori Kaikan where Ive just publicly humiliated myself offers daily performances alongside a permanent museum showcasing the history of the important dance. Its just one of the unique cultural offerings found in Shikoku. Located in Japans southwest, Shikoku is one of the four main islands that make up the country. Here you can forget the bright lights and big city of Tokyo this island remains a mystery to the average Japanese, let alone foreigners, who rarely venture this far off the beaten path. But for those who do there are attractions aplenty. While Awa Odori is undoubtedly the regions biggest cultural drawcard, its most famous culinary one is even more renowned: the udon noodle, specifically the sanuki udon. The most popular type of udon noodle in Japan today, sanuki is the ancient historical name for Shikokus Kagawa Prefecture, which makes it the birthplace of the udon, of sorts. Its said the best noodles in the country are here, which makes sense in a prefecture with less than one million residents and more than 800 udon noodle shops. Visitors can even go one step further and experience the back (and foot) breaking process that goes into making the noodles in one of the local udon-making classes. After feeding the body, its time to feed the soul. Shikoku is the birthplace of the most revered figure in Japanese Buddhism, KoboDaishi and its also home to one of the oldest pilgrimages in the world. Shikoku Henro or the 88 temple pilgrim walk has seen countless pilgrims circle the mountainous island to visit its 88 temples on foot for more than 1200 years. Each leg represents a stage of the path to nirvana: awakening, austerity and discipline, enlightenment and nirvana, with the entire 1500km pilgrimage taking 40 days or more. However, you dont have to spend months walking to get your Zen-fix. You can easily walk part of the route in a few days or simply take in a temple or two. If that sounds too exerting, opt for a gentle stroll around Takamatsus Ritsurin Garden. Widely lauded as the best in the country, this picturesque park is comprised of a series of ponds, streams, delicate bridges and viewing hills all of which in true Japanese style have been subtly arranged to mimic mountains, rivers, lakes, and forests. Successive rulers have steadily expanded the garden to its present size of 75ha and you can break up your exploring with a green tea pit stop at the historic on-site 17th century tea house pavilion. To counter the activity, make sure to allow at least a full day or two to relax in the quaint hot spring or onsen town of Dogo Onsen. Located in the northeastern outskirts of the city of Matsuyama, this is reported to be the oldest onsen in Japan with a history stretching back more than 3000 years. Its also one of the best places to hit the mat and experience a stay in a traditional ryokan. For the uninitiated, a ryokan is an old-style Japanese inn which typically features tatamimatted rooms, communal baths, sliding screen shoji doors, cushions for seating and a single low table, which is replaced at night by maids with a sleeping futon. After checking in, I undress and attempt to Shikoku, Japan IF YOU CAN CHECK YOUR INHIBITIONS AT THE DOOR, SERENITY AWAITS ON THE ISLAND OF SHIKOKU STORY PAUL EWART Clockwise from main: Pilgrims walking in the grounds of the Iwaya-ji Temple, spa-goers in Dogo Onsen wearing their yukata and carrying their bags of soap and towels, five-storey pagoda Shoryuji temple in Kouchi, Ritsurin garden. Picture: iStock