culture Tag

Bajos del Toro, El Silencio, local tour, Costa Rica
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Off the track in Costa Rica

Bajos del Toro, Costa Rica Every Costa Rican town – even the smallest and most remote – has the holy trinity, it’s explained to me. They each have a church, a soccer field and a bar. With these three things, the people are happy.It doesn’t take me long to see all three of them in the small town of Bajos del Toro, high in the mountains of central Costa Rica. There are only 200 residents here and it feels that way. The main street doubles as a highway and is home to all the limited commerce in town. A few sidestreets lead to some more houses beyond the main road but walking any further than that takes you into the jungle.Bajos del Toro has a school but only 35 students go there. It also has a medical clinic but an actual doctor only visits once a month – the rest of...

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27 January
Yorkin Indigenous Reserve tour, bribri community, Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica
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“Now I feel free on my land”

The Yorkin Indigenous Reserve, Costa Rica We’re battling against the current as we head up the river. In a long wooden dugout – carved out of one single tree – two members of the indigenous Bribri tribe are taking me to one of their small communities at the very edge of Costa Rica, alongside the border with Panama. It takes us about an hour to navigate our way along the waterway, pushing off rocks and avoiding the strongest parts of the fast-flowing river. But the efforts to reach the settlement are nothing compared to the struggles these original people have had to keep their land and their heritage.Like many indigenous races across the world, the Bribri people have become disenfranchised because of the spread of colonialism. Spanish and other Western immigrants treated them like primitive natives and they were denied the same rights as other residents of Costa Rica. That created...

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21 January
Arus na ngael, Galway, Irish language pub
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The Galway Gaelic

Club Aras na nGael, Galway, Ireland The pub looks like many others in Ireland – some people drinking, the taps of beer dominated by Guinness signs, and some friendly barmen standing behind them. But there’s a difference in this one that is noticeable straight away.There are no signs in English. Not the name of the pub, not the posters on the wall, not even on the doors to the bathrooms (which could lead to an embarrassing encounter, I’m sure!). Here in the Irish city of Galway, at Club Aras na nGael, everything is in the traditional Irish language.“Irish occupies a very strange place in the Irish psyche because the majority of Ireland was Irish-speaking up until maybe 150 years ago,” barman Micheal O Leiohin tells me (after he’s poured me a pint).“The great famine and years of immigration devastated the language then at the foundation of the state there were efforts...

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27 June
pachinko, japan, game with silver balls, gambling in japan, pachinko parlours
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Those little silver balls

Pachinko in Japan The little silver balls spurt out into the tray. “Jkjkjkjkjkjkjkjk,” is the best way I can come up with to write the sound they make. The silver orbs glimmer with hope and promise. My fortune could lay with one of them. They are more than just balls in a tray – they are the key to unlocking the treasures within the machine in front of me.The only problem is that I’m not quite sure how to use the key.I'm in Japan and I’ve decided to come into a pachinko parlour to see what all the fuss is about. But it’s a confusing place and it’s already taken two helpful attendants, some terrible Japanese (on my part – I’m sure theirs was fine), and some awkward hand movements (on their part this time) to get this far.If you’ve never heard of pachinko, you’re probably a bit confused right now....

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30 April
bonsai trees, japan, omiya bonsai art museum, saitama, japan
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It’s the small things that matter

Bonsai art, Japan It’s odd. Normally the idea of growing a tree is to make it as large as possible. Or, at least, allow its potential to fill the space available. It seems counterintuitive to intentionally try to stunt the development of a plant, to twist its branches and manipulate its growth in such a demented way.Except in Japan it’s not a matter of ‘stunting’ it. There’s nothing ‘demented’ about it. This is art. This is bonsai.For more than a thousand years, the Japanese have found beauty in manipulating the shape of a growing tree and limiting its size. The techniques of this particular branch of art and the history of bonsai are far too complicated for me to understand but I do appreciate that there is a great skill in a good bonsai artist. They use a variety of methods to mould the final shape – pruning the roots, wiring...

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15 April
daruma dolls, japan, japanese grumpy dolls, takasaki daruma temple in gunma
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The grumpy dolls of Takasaki

Daruma dolls The big round red dolls look slightly intimidating, if you ask me. The colours invoke images of rage and inferno, the facial expressions are on a scale between grumpy and homicidal, and the lack of limbs make me fear there must be hidden powers in the body.These are the Daruma dolls – the traditional hollow emblems of Japanese mysticism – and I have come to the place of their origin to learn more about these iconic figures. Apparently they are not nearly a scary as they appear on first sight.A few of hours northwest of Tokyo, in the city of Takasaki, is a temple called Syorinzan Darumaji. It is here, several hundred years ago, that the first Daruma dolls were made. The priest of the temple made the original wooden carvings in the eighteenth century to give to the local people to bring them luck during a famine. They...

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12 April
Tokyo, Japan, no smoking, no phones on trains, rules, signs
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No jumping on the banwagon

The rules of Japan In Japan, rules aren't mere suggestions. They're not to be bent, ignored, mocked or challenged. They are the rules and all obey. Which makes things very orderly - because there are a lot rules!The red circle with the line through it is as ubiquitous as, say, sushi. Every few metres a sign instructs you that you can't do something. Well before you've even considered an action, you've been told it's forbidden.Thinking of leaning your bike there? You can't!Thinking of walking your dog there? You can't!Thinking of thinking? You can't! If it's thinking of breaking one of the rules, we're talking about.And the people of Japan just accept it. That's the way things are. It's interesting to note that not a single sign includes the threat of a fine or other punishment. There's an assumption that if the people are told something is not allowed, they won't do...

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09 April
cherry blossoms, japan, sakura, hanami, japanese pink flowers, tokyo
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A blossoming patriotism

Cherry blossoms, Japan For centuries, the Japanese have gathered underneath the clouds of pink and white flowers. With the trees in full bloom, the people let their joy and admiration flourish too. For the cherry blossoms are more than just flowers in Japan – they are a symbol of nationhood and the patriotic spirit.It’s for these reasons that the annual arrival of the cherry blossoms is celebrated with such ado in Japan. The exact day that the flowers will bloom changes each year (and is different in various parts of the country). But nightly updates on television news programs in the lead-up keep the citizens abreast of the latest. They wait with anticipation for confirmation of the day they’ll see the buds open in their area.As it happens, I’ve arrived in Tokyo right in the middle of the cherry blossom season. On the streets, in front of buildings, over canals and...

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02 April
ramayana ballet, yogyakarta, indonesia, prambanan temple
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The mythical world of music and dance

Ramayana Ballet, Yogyakarta, Indonesia It's appropriate that with the ancient Prambanan Temple in the background, you are transported back to a time of demons, heroic animals and epic royal quests. It's a mythical world illustrated through dance and music that is the setting for a love story centuries old.The Ramayana Ballet is the most famous performance in the Indonesian city of Yogyakarta. It was only while I was going through some photos of my trip there late last year that I realised I hadn't shared any photos of the incredible show.It's a graceful and fluid spectacle that juxtaposes the grandeur of the large open air stage with the focused detail of the ballet choreography. The whole performance, with the backdrop of the temple, feels exotic and, at the same time intimate. The costumes, the expressions, and the songs draw you in.The tale is an old Indian epic which has become popular...

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29 March